pavlos hatzopoulos on Sun, 12 Dec 2010 15:59:40 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> 3+1 notes on wikileaks


1. Wikileaks inhabits the terrain of the liberal notion of transparency

Wikileaks embodies the dark side of the government-sanctioned
transparency campaigns of the Sunlight foundation, of Lawrence Lessig
and so many others. Dark and sanctioned transparency crusades,
however, are not radically different. In a way, both, ultimately aim
at “making government more transparent”, although the liberal
crusaders undertake this task with state blessing and state funding,
while Wikileaks against it. Wikileaks works against the will of
government officials (not all of course, since it depends on the
cooperation of some as key leakers), while the liberal crusaders work
in a relationship of managed tension with government officials, always
complaining that government is, at times, hypocritical in its support
of transparency or it is not prepared to go all the way. Sunlight type
of projects that map where state money is spent or that attempt to
correlate the voting patterns of congressmen with the donations they
receive and the type of lobbyists they meet, can be read as
supplements to Wikileaks. In a way, Wikileaks merely enforces the
acceleration of the transparency machine.

2. Wikileaks embodies the apotheosis of the informatic digital spectacle

The struggles around Wikileaks involve the sky-rocketing of the
informatic digital spectacle to mass consumption. The Wikileaks drama
forces into plain view all the undersides of the otherwise regular
operation of digital networks. With Wikileaks, exceptions are
aestheticised and become the core of digital mobility. DDoS attacks
both in favour (by the legion of anonymous) and against wikileaks (by
right wing hackers, backed or acting independently, of the Pentagon).
The refusal of DNS hosting to Wikileaks. The dispersed spread of
hundreds of wikileaks mirrors around the world. The newly created
mutations of various wikileaks projects baptised as Brussels- ,
Balkans- , and for sure many other -wikileaks’ to come. The battles
over encryptions, decryptions, and anonymity. The informatic digital
spectacle takes flesh through the aestheticisation of network
mobilities, with Wikileaks embodying the key aesthetic signifier in
this process. The informatic digital spectacle produced by Wikileaks
seems also to revolve around issues of connectedness and the
possibilities to ephemerally ban it .

The televised spectacle of leaking is supposed to reveal culpability:
to point the finger at the officials who did wrong (who abused power,
who broke the law) and to push for their removal from the web of
government. Think of Watergate as the exemplary case in this regard.
Wikileaks reveals, on the contrary, in a kind of self-referential way
simply that government cannot control information, nor its informatic
communication channels. In Cablegate, there is no culpability
involved, no officials accused of abusing their power or breaking the
law. The leaks reveal exactly this: that leaks cannot be contained,
the pure fact that the state cannot control anymore the mutations of
the digital informatic spectacle.

3. Wikileaks opens the defunct source code of government

>From the perspective of the hacktivism’s ethic, Wikileaks is crucial
since it is opening “the source code of government”. Even if we don’t
argue against this, what does this source code reveal exactly? And now
that we have it, what can we make this code to do? Pretty much
nothing: the code is defunct. A code organising everyday government
activities: meetings of government officials with other officials, or
key-informers, or trusted interlocutors, their assessments on any
situation they deem critical, their proposals for actions that are
mostly out of context and unrealised. The state relies on
communication channels that are out of synch and permeable, on
key-informers who are of irrelevance, on megalomaniac officials who
enjoy 19th century style geopolitical ambitions.

Cablegate, as were the Afghan war diaries before it, becomes merely a
self-referential process of revealing information that we have either
already suspected it exists or that is otherwise of no productive use.
In terms of digital informatics, cablegate reveals that the state has
lost its key role as innovator in digital informatics.

3+1. Is there something left to disclose?

Leaking is not the same as disclosing. The leaking performed by
Wikileaks does not imply the disclosure of the web of power that
government puts into motion. The problem is not so much that the
embassy cables or the war diaries have not been yet fully analysed by
the traditional journalistic media with which Wikileaks cooperates or
by other analysts. Instead, the leaking seems to capture government
information whose revelation does not signify any radical change in
the contemporary operations of power. The mythologisation of these
pieces of information rests mainly on the popular perception that were
supposed to be kept secret by any means, although they were probably
already a target of inter-state espionage and already discussed in
closed diplomatic circles. Opacity is not, in other words, a principal
barrier for democratic governance. Power (including governmental
power) seems to operate in the contemporary world, more in terms of
making access possible, of propagating openness, of disclosing and
making things known rather than by enclosing, hiding, or preventing
access. Contemporary government operates primarily through processes
inclusion rather than exclusion.

Instead of persisting on revealing and renouncing the violence
enforced by our exclusion from government and its operations, we need
to start thinking critically on the violence that is entailed by our
inclusion to the webs of government and their informatic channels.

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