This is my second review of a book on WikiLeaks, a subject which holds almost indefinite fascination for me, the first being David Leigh and Luke Harding's WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy.
The book I am covering today is Greg Mitchell's self published The Age of WikiLeaks: From Collateral Murder to Cablegate (and Beyond). Before proceeding, however, it's worth checking out this video:
This video is an apt place to start because Mitchell's book is extremely different to Leigh and Harding's in that it offers a view from across the pond where, if Mitchell's account is accurate (and I fear it is), the mainstay of public opinion is that Julian Assange is a "traitor" ("what country, exactly, was he betraying?" (p. 121) asks Mitchell) and should be executed. Although Mitchell's account aims to be as detached as possible, his liberal views shine through and it is clear that, to his mind, the hypocrisy of the land of the free has been completely exposed by the reaction to WikiLeaks.
Mitchell's book works across a twofold, double-bound structure. At one level, it is more tightly focused than the Guardian piece, detailing the organizational history as portrayed in the US media and events as they unfolded from, as the title puts it, Collateral Murder to Cablegate. On the other, it moves to examine the unquenchable desire for transparency as a phenomenon that extends far beyond a single organization, noting with excitement the proliferation of leak drop-points among journalistic organizations. The two contradictory scopes of this structure proves interesting and allows Mitchell to use his experience liveblogging WikiLeaks to great effect.
That said, the slight downside to this volume is its descent into reciting, verbatim, elements of the blogging effort. While there is enough material here to merit the book, a simple rewrite of these passages into new analytical prose would have fixed the issue. On the other hand, Mitchell's volume does not have any of the technical inaccuracies that plague the Guardian book (it also has none of the self-serving pomposity of an inept spy narrative that can be found there, either) and is frequently simultaneously funny and poignant. For instance:
In interview with Texas Tribune, key Democratic Rep. Silvestre Reyes hits WikiLeaks and "catastrophic" damage it may cause. His reason for maintaining secrecy? He compares it to a man and a wife in their bedroom. "Governments have the same kind of privacy expectations." Apparently while they are fucking us.
Overall, Mitchell's book is a useful addition to the WikiLeaks canon, but for a UK-centric reader such as myself, whose main experience of WikiLeaks in the press (I did, actually, like them before they were cool, I'll have you know) has been through the Guardian, the prime value lies in gauging the temperature of US reaction. It is feverish, to say the least. The American right come across as more deranged than ever and the voice of reason seems hard to find. Mitchell's book is, also, a welcome break from the constant speculation on Assange's personal legal problems. Indeed, Mitchell approvingly takes his cue from Assange himself: "Do you want to talk about the deaths of 104,000 people or my personal life" (p. 83). Mitchell wants to talk about those deaths.
The final part of Mitchell's book about which I want to write is the attention drawn to the unexpected effects of WikiLeaks, which leads me to some closing remarks of my own. It has not been in the exposure of democratic corruption where real change has taken place as a result of these leaks. Indeed, it is with dismay that we see a form of "patriotism" that consists not in ensuring that what one's nation does is right, but in defining that relationship as a priori analytic. Indeed, as I write this, the Huffington Post has written a defense of Bradley Manning that turns around exactly this problem. Furthermore, as many, including Leigh and Harding, have pointed out, Tunisia's recent uprising, which served as a domino precursor (perhaps there is some truth in the old US adage?) to events in Egypt, were precipitated -- at least in small part -- by WikiLeaks revelations of corruption. The entire Middle Eastern region has been disturbed. On the other hand, citizens of Western democracies who should have been hit incredibly hard by these leaks have rolled over, exhibited hegemony with their own governments even while being, as Mitchell puts it, fucked. It would seem that democracy is one of the ultimate defenses for the individuals who act corruptly within it. By acting under supposed mandate and with a get-out clause for the populous come next polling day, the margin of what will be tolerated within these supposedly benevolent regimes is, it would seem, disproportional. Why is it that when a dictatorship tortures for years and years and then the dirt is dished the people rise up, yet when it is shown clearly and unambiguously that Western democracies are rendering, torturing and committing atrocities it becomes unpatriotic to mention it?