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Julian Assange : Dangerous Vigilante or Symbol This World Needs?

December 2, 2010 1 comment

It’s the kind of story that Hollywood thrillers are made out of.  A man, with a slightly troubled but otherwise unremarkable past, sets out to inform the everyday person the horrors of a far away foreign war, to hold the military and the nation accountable of their words and actions, and turns his sights next on a financial industry that first robbed the people, and then duped the government into paying them for it.  He founds a website and shines a bright light on the murky international realm, grabbing the attention of the whole world in a matter of hours and goes underground as governments around the globe attempt to silence him – truly a real life Mikael Blomkvist.
 
Or maybe it’s a more appropriate back story for a Hollywood villain.  A man wanted for rape obtains stolen military and diplomatic documents, illegally publishes them and jeopardizes the safety soldiers, diplomats and special operatives abroad before announcing that he’s prepared to deal the killing blow to an already severely crippled financial sector – somewhat reminiscent of a Bond villain.

Artist's Rendition

It really doesn’t matter which way you look at it, I’m not sure which side I stand on myself, but it’s undeniable that the real story coming out of the latest WikiLeaks revelations is what to do about site-founder Julian Assange.
 
Very few of the leaked cables so far have contained sensitive information or anything that wasn’t already assumed, guessed or known by the general public let alone the government officials who made/make the decisions based on the material.  The Queen is more popular than Prince Charles? Canada has an inferiority complex when it comes to the USA?  Barrack Obama is wildly popular abroad?  The Arab states aren’t particularly fond of the Persian state?  Shocking, really.
 
It’s not to say that there isn’t information of note.  China considering the Korean peninsula under Seoul for instance or the confirmation Iran’s long range missile capabilities is interesting to those interested in international on-goings; but remember, governments already knew all this any way.
 
What’s really interesting is the reaction to the man behind the leaks.  All governments have come out with the party line condemning the act (though I’m sure there are a few who appreciate the confirmation of some long held suspicions).  But some have gone much further than others.  In the past week Sarah Palin has called for Assange to be hunted with similar resources to those being used to find Osama Bin Laden, Bill O’Riley called for his execution on the O’Riley Factor, U.S. congressman Pete King, the ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, has called for JA to be classified as a terrorist under the Espionage Act and WikiLeaks to be recognized as a terrorist organization, and prominent Canadian conservative pundit Tom Flannigan, one-time mentor to Stephen Harper, has gone as far as calling for his assassination. And all this is on top of renewed charges of rape against JA in Sweden that has landed him on Interpol’s most wanted list.  As he often does, Assange has gone into hiding, official whereabouts unknown.
 
Now, if Assange did commit the crime he’s accused of, or if there’s really enough evidence around it to make him a person of interest, he should of course be brought in and questioned and if necessary tried to the fullest extent of the law.  But there is an underlying a problem here.  He’s now well known worldwide, particularly in Sweden where he’s based his operations for some time. How can a trail just be about the alleged crime and not about the leaks? Is it possible anymore for Assange to get a fair trial anywhere?  The charges has been brought and dropped over a year ago and only recently brought up again – could the accusation be brought on by JA’s sudden fame? One certainly hopes not, but it wouldn’t be the first time either.
 
It may be because global public has been Fox News-ed or CNN-ed to death; but does no one recognize real journalism anymore?  You hear people clamour for the banishment of the punditocracy, wanting just the hard news and the chance to make up their own minds (Sarah Palin said so a couple weeks ago, though I’m not sure she knows what “news” is…); well, here it is.  What Assange has done is no different than what Woodward and Bernstein did when they broke Watergate. Assange is not DeepThroat, he didn’t steal or leak the information.  He received it and published it for the world to see.  Yes, there have been one or two cables that come to close to identifying informants abroad, potentially endangering them and from a moral viewpoint I don’t believe those should have been published. But is there anything illegal about it?
 
I don’t know.  I’m not well versed in international law.  But if they were to find him and try him I’m not sure they could get him on anything to do with the leaks themselves, and really isn’t the more important issue here the lack of security in the U.S. electronic filing system?  Who missed 250, 000+ documents being copied or downloaded?  Why is there not an alert that red-flags when any document is copied or downloaded let alone 250,000?
 
Perhaps of greater concern, or interest depending on what side you’re on, are the leaks JA has promised next concerning the financial sector.  In a recent interview when he revealed he had the information, JA mused that he could take down one or two banks with the release.  With the recent troubles in the financial sector and the public emotion that’s come with it, it’s those leaks that will likely prove the most
damaging.