Monday, December 20, 2010

The revolution will be digitised

US vice-president Joe Biden has raised the stakes in a global cyber war between those fighting for the right to information about the secret activities of governments and those who protect the warmongering interests of global capital.

By denouncing WikilLeaks founder Julian Assange as “a high-tech terrorist who has put lives and jobs in jeopardy”, he virtually signed a death warrant. Biden also confirmed that the US government is actively seeking a way of charging Assange with espionage.

After originally downplaying the leaks, the second most powerful man in the US Biden has added to Sarah Palin’s baying for blood. Palin has called for Assange to be pursued "with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders”. And we know how the US treats “enemy combatants”.

Assange and his lawyers are currently fighting his extradition to Sweden where the WikiLeaks founder faces charges of sexual molestation, the subject of a salacious witch-hunt in yesterday’s Mail on Sunday. Accusations by two Swedish women he met last August are being talked up in order to cloud the real issues and fuel a character assassination campaign.

The real problem, as Assange himself has said, for the world’s political leaders is not simply that WikiLeaks continues to exist as an organisation. It is the courage of the whistleblowers inside state institutions who actually provide the leaks in the first place.

People like US army intelligence officer Bradley Manning. Manning, who is accused of handing over 90,000 classified Afghan war logs to WikiLeaks, has just turned 23 after being held in solitary confinement for 200 days.

He is detained at Marine Corps Base Quantico, in Virginia. He spends 23 hours a day alone in a standard-sized cell, with a sink, a toilet, and a bed. US website, The Daily Beast, writes:

The conditions under which Bradley Manning is being held would traumatize anyone. . . He lives alone in a small cell, denied human contact. He is forced to wear shackles when outside of his cell, and when he meets with the few people allowed to visit him, they sit with a glass partition between them … When he was first arrested, Manning was put on suicide watch, but his status was quickly changed to “Prevention of Injury” watch (POI), and under this lesser pretence he has been forced into his life of mind-numbing tedium.

Manning is not the only young person who involved in this secretive cyber and information war. In the past fortnight, the conflict over WikiLeaks drew in thousands of “hacktivists” who brought down credit card companies who refused to process WikiLeaks transactions. A hackers’ collective called Anonymous, organised a mass “DDoS” attack on websites which acted against Assange and WikiLeaks.

DDoS means “Distributed Denial of Service”, and involves the use of “collaborative tools where supporters can voluntarily attach their machines to a botnet in order to assist with a DDoS attack. The preferred tools are usually some version of the Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC) software.”

Sound like a sci-fi thriller? It is – except it’s true. And young people around the world are being arrested for it. Two Dutch hackers, one aged 19 and another 16 were seized last week, as was a 17-year-old in Manchester. The Met now even has a special e-crime unit called PCeU which specialises in tracking down such people. In Switzerland and Sweden this hackers’ movement has taken the political form of the Pirate Parties.

The case of Julian Assange is about much more than one Australian campaigner. It has taken the war against non-democratic, repressive and secret states into a new dimension. For all Biden’s bluster, the Americans can’t shut down WikiLeaks because its site is replicated by supporters around the globe.

In Britain, students used social networking and micro-blogging to mobilise recently, giving the police the run-around. The notion of the all-seeing, all-powerful state is taking a battering. There is no doubt that the revolution will be digitised!

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

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