Welcome to the Global Shadow State – Julian Assange talks turkey about Wikileaks
Julian Assange reaches to take a book from a shelf behind him – any book. The commodity in which he
deals is information, and he wants to make a point about how information travels, and why. Or does not
travel, and why not. About what he calls “the media information flow economy”. He asks one to bear in
mind that before founding Wilileaks he studied quantum mechanics, “and I do try to look at the
media information flow economy scientifically”. Assange posts as a point of departure that if salient information is withheld, or held in secret, then the opportunities for conspiracy are enhanced. If information flows freely, or is procured from those who keep it secret and made to flow freely, then the
conspiracy dissipates, or is diluted, since it depends on secrecy. But conspiracies do not exist in castles or fortified stockades any more, he says, and so we return to the book he has pulled from the shelf.
Unsurprisingly, in a club founded and owned by a television camerman, it is a manual for a videocamera. “This book may tell you something about Vaughan Smith, and that he is a cameraman”, says Assange. “But there are multiple reasons why the book has arrived on the shelf. How did it get here? It has arrived as the result of a miasma of interests. Our first step back is to the bookshop. We had enough money to be buying the book in the first place. Before that, it was shipped here by a distributor and before that, the printers and various people involved in the production of the book itself.
Before that there is the manufacturer of the camera, and people who may have subsidised the book. All of these interests needed to be satisfied for this book to arrive in my hands.” But this is not a seminar about Derrida or post-modern deconstruction of a book, we are talking about information and about war. “There is a miasma of interests behind the spread of information – and the reasons a piece of information reaches you,” says Assange, and these reflect the kind of information it is. “There are many kinds of information, the simplest of which is what I call positional information, which only reaches you because of the status of the person or interest conveying it. A prime minister makes a statement that is totally vacuous, but it has import because it is said by the prime minister.” Boy, is that
familiar. “Much of the Bible, and other religious texts, are bad literature, because they neeed to encode
a logistical and incentive system to replicate and distribute themselves. Bullying followers to tithe is
bad literature but distribution subsidies must come from somewhere.”
But what about a classified or “top secret” document, which Assange considers “worth something just for the fact that somebody wants to keep it secret”? “That will be a different kind of information. It is an important document that is not good at spreading itself. A Cannon log book has a way of bribing its way onto a bookshelf, while a sensitive secret document is important to a bunch of people but does not have a mechanism to spread itself past the barriers it faces.”
Assange calls what he does in the simplest terms “getting hold of hot stuff, putting it out there in the
public domain then waiting to see what the response is”. He calls what the media and others then do with the leaked and presented information “re-reportage”, a flow “into the media information economy”, where it will be “sloshed around incentive networks and into history”.
“I’ve had a very interesting experience, presenting the organisation’s agenda, and defending it,” says
Assange. “I’ve learned a lot and changed my mind about many things over the past four years, and I
wasn’t a complete fool four years ago. You could call it a shift in perspective”.
What Assange thinks he has found, like a rip-tide cutting between the hundreds of thousands of
documents relating to specifics, is documentary evidence of what he calls “the global national security
shadow state. It is a vast patronage system which has tremendously increased its economic size over the past 10 years”, and is in itself part of the great “miasma of interests” that brings us, or denies us,
information. “It’s possible to call part of United States the centre of gravity, but it is not correct to call it an institution of the United States alone – it is a vast, amorphous patronage and financial system of which the military is an integral part, made up of hundreds of thousands of players acting secretly in what they see as their own self-interest.” The amorphous nature of the “global shadow state” with America as its centre of gravity but not its fortress or epicentre brings Assange’s analysis much closer to that expounded in the pioneering and experimental best-seller of 2001, Empire by the American academic Michael Hart and the then Italian political prisoner Antonio Negri, than to conventional and doctinaire leftist analyses like that of Noam Chomsky. What Assange describes is something like an extended documentary appendix to, and affirmation of, Empire.
“The global security shadow state is not a small group of people acting in a conspiracy to take over
the world,” he says “although the system as a whole may be heading that way.” This is no more the
cabalistic trilateral commission sketched by the American libertarian right any more than it is
Chomsky. Assange tries an analogy of its undemocracy: “It’s a bit like Bulgaria on a grand scale.
There it is, Bulgaria, a phantom state that adapts its overt policies to the stated desires of western Europe.
But under the surface, the application of justice is non-existent, the control of resources is utterly
undemocratic, all miasma and surface gloss, with the truth nowhere to be found.” Except in the documents revealed by Wikileaks….
To read the rest of this article please subscribe to the broadsheet.