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<nettime> Let's define Wikileaks (and not leave this up to Pompeo)
Geert Lovink on Wed, 19 Apr 2017 10:25:18 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Let's define Wikileaks (and not leave this up to Pompeo)

Dear nettimers,

who has the ‘definition power’ (German: Definitionsmacht) over whistleblower platforms such as Wikileaks? Is it a whistleblower platform in the first place? Does that turn whisteblower facilitators into journalists? Or researchers, for that matter? I have attached an interesting response of Julian Assange to this not-all-that-academic question.

The format of the  “non-state intelligence service” has quite a history (think of Stratfor, once a target of Wikileaks). Are all NGOs non-state intelligence services? How about think-tanks? And how about the virtual aspect of it all, when such entity become organized networks, as Ned Rossiter and I call them? Personally I find the proposition of Assange of Wikileaks as a ‘publisher’ not very convincing (but understand the legal dimension of the term). It’s better to take the definition power in one’s own hands.

Remember this one: we bloggers and homepage users are all publisher. A very German idea. What does it mean when we all start to call ourselves the “editor-in-chief” of our Instagram page? Maybe some of you remember the ferocious debates whether all bloggers were journalists (and could get journalist passes, get protection from the law etc.). To call all users of Facebook users journalists somehow sounds cute and PC, but is, imho, besides the point.

I appreciated the ‘publishing turn’ of Assange a couple of years ago when he finally took some time to sit down and write. The outcome was pretty awesome. The problem of declining investigative journalism remains and looms here in the background. We can put as many documents online as we want but who’s going to read, and understand them?



For immediate release: WIkiLeaks reaction to CIA Director Pompeo's speech on WikiLeaks

In his his first speech in office, CIA Director Mike Pompeo rather than focusing on China, North Korea, or the rise of extremism, chose to announce an offensive against WikiLeaks and other publishers. In doing so Director Pompeo characterized WikiLeaks as a “non-state intelligence service”. This absurd definition would have all serious media organizations (with the exception of state owned media) transformed into ‘non-state intelligence services’— with the explicitly stated goal of stripping constitutional protections for publishers.

History shows the danger of allowing the CIA or any intelligence agency, whose very modus operandi includes misdirection and lying, to be the sole arbiter of what is true or what is prudent. Otherwise every day might see a repeat of the many foolish CIA actions which have led to death, displacement, dictatorship and terrorism.

All serious media organizations are in the business of obtaining information by encouraging sources to step forward. The key difference between media and intelligence is that the media is in the business of publishing what it discovers to a wide audience. WikiLeaks is an award winning media organization that is well known for the accuracy and volume of its publications and its millions of readers.

Unsurprisingly it is the strength of WikiLeaks’ publications relating to the CIA’s illegal activities, including its attacks on France’s presidential candidates and political parties and its attempts to infect its allies and consumer products with viruses that has led to Director Pompeo’s claims that its editor Julian Assange “has no First Amendment protections”. These claims are dangerous and should be critically examined.

Director Pompeo’s statement sought not only to threaten Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks, but to definitively subvert the First Amendment and fundamental notions that are intrinsic to American democracy. The First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting free speech and the press; it is not only a right for the publisher. It is a limitation on the executive designed to check authoritarianism and guarantee the public knowledge and debate which is necessary to preserve the democratic ideals on which the idea of America was built.

As for the CIA’s attempts to demonize a publisher as a “fraud” and a “coward”—the public can judge what is fraudulent about an award winning decade-long record for publishing the truth and what is cowardly about WikiLeaks standing up to years of authoritarian bullying. Director Pompeo lacks irony when he suggests “WikiLeaks should focus its fire on autocratic regimes” while simultaneously calling for a crackdown on free speech.  Director Pompeo’s has attempted to turn both the facts and the First Amendment on its head and finds himself in the company of Erdogan of Turkey (57.934 documents published by WikiLeaks), Assad of Syria (2.3 million) documents) and the Saudi dictatorship (122.609 documents), to name but a few autocratic regimes that have attempted, and failed, to censor WikiLeaks.

Director Pompeo’s efforts to suppress public debate about the CIA's role only serves to underscore why WikiLeaks’ publications are necessary. WikiLeaks will continue to publish true, newsworthy information that contributes to the public debate. 

America’s Founders, with brilliant foresight, understood the absolute necessity for preservation of a free press to foster critical debate about the actions of the government. The alternative is tyranny. 

Julian Assange

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