A taxonomy for the suppression of dissent

Unless you live under a rock, you have heard about Wikileaks. Along with several newspapers, Wikileaks has been releasing confidential diplomatic documents for several days. Noam Chomsky has said that these documents reveal a profound hatred for democracy.

It is unclear to me whether Wikileaks makes the world better. However, we shouldn’t allow large corporations and governments to silence any legitimate organization, whether we agree with its goals or not. As they say, they may come for you next.

Brian Martin has been studying dissent for years. He outlines the recipe being followed by governments to suppress dissent:

  1. The first tactic of outrage minimisation is cover-up. The Wikileaks web site has been taken down due to repeated denial of service attacks. To this day, the major search engines continue to return the hyperlink http://wikileaks.org which Americans have blocked. (Hint: you have to go to http://wikileaks.ch/ to work around the block.) Essentially, corporations such as Amazon, Paypal, Mastercard and VISA have agreed with the American government to silence Wikileaks. Indeed, the chairman of the US Senate’s committee on homeland security called on “any other company or organization that is hosting Wikileaks to immediately terminate its relationship with them. Wikileaks’ illegal, outrageous, and reckless acts have compromised our national security and put lives at risk around the world.” Yet, we have not been told how Wikileaks’ actions are illegal. And the claim that lives have been put to risk appears unfounded. It is worth pointing out that the Klu Klux Klan and numerous other extremist groups are free to host their content on American servers. You can also donate to the Klu Klux Klan with VISA or Mastercard. Nobody is worried about an American web site stating that its authors “support the voluntary repatriation of everyone not satisfied with living under White Christian rules of conduct back to the native lands of their people”.
  2. The second tactic is denigration of critics. It has been (falsely) reported that Assange is accused of sex crimes or even rape. Yet, neither Wikileaks nor its founder Assange have been charged with any crime. In fact, Wikileaks has not been formally accused of any wrong-doing.  There is strong evidence that governments are attempting to make Assange appear as a criminal, irrespective of the facts. Indeed, he was recently denied bail. Yet, the Guardian reports:

    Katrin Axelsson from Women Against Rape said it was routine for people charged with rape in the UK to be granted bail. Assange is yet to be formally charged by the Swedes. Axelsson also said Sweden had a poor record bringing rapists to justice: “Many women in both Sweden and Britain will wonder at the unusual zeal with which Julian Assange is being pursued for rape allegations … There is a long tradition of the use of rape and sexual assault for political agendas that have nothing to do with women’s safety.”

    There are claims that Wikileaks has been publishing indiscriminately a large set of documents: the opposite is true as Wikileaks has been publishing documents one at a time, together with several major newspapers. By all accounts, Wikileaks is behaving as a news organization, publishing documents only after carefully consideration.

  3. The third tactic is reinterpretation (…). If you search for wikileaks cables “nothing new”, you find hundreds of thousands of documents. Ironically, it is both claimed that the wikileaks cables reveal nothing, while also being life threatening. Hilary Clinton has claimed that the Wikileaks cables show that Iran is vastly recognized as the major threat in its region. Yet, that is not what the cables reveal. Rather, we have learned that the local populations feel threatened mostly by the Americans and the Israelis—and this is reported by American diplomats.
  4. The fourth tactic to minimise outrage is to use official channels to give the appearance of legitimacy. Assange has been arrested. He faces deportation to Sweden and then to the United States. Interpol has placed him on its most-wanted list.
  5. The fifth tactic to minimise reactions to corruption is intimidation (…) The founder has been repeatedly threatened with assassination. And not just by right-wing extremists: a well-known scholar, professor Flanagan went on television to call for the assassination of Assange. (Interestingly, I don’t recall hearing any scholar calling for the assassination of Ossama Bin laden.) Assange’s bank account in Switzerland has been closed.

Further reading: Clay Shirky and Tim Bray.

Disclosure: I am funding Wikileaks by my donations.

Update: Donating to Wikileaks has become more difficult now that VISA and Mastercard have blocked Wikileaks. However, companies such as xipwire are offering convenient alternatives.

22 thoughts on “A taxonomy for the suppression of dissent”

  1. So basically you are saying anyone has the right to steal classified information from the USA Government, which mostly has information that does not help anyone, and only make them look like fools.

    I think there is a limit on how much information people should be able to have, would you like a grant reviewer to have all the different talks and conversations you had about any project (doubts, opinion on the grant reviewer, importance of the grant).

    I think diplomatic cables are only useful for those who they were intended to.

    Basically, if you mess with a government private information, and do not expect any retaliation from them, either you are a fool or too naive.

    I think the true question is this: What now? What good things have come out of that? Only history will tell.

  2. @Palafox

    So basically you are saying anyone has the right to steal classified information from the USA Government

    Wikileaks did not steal classified information from the USA. That’s a false accusation. And a serious one. Please check your facts. You have been misinformed.

    Wikileaks received classified information. It happens all the time to news organization worldwide. What we have here is a difference in scale.

    Wikileaks, along with The New York Times, The Guardian and Le Monde has been publishing selectively the cables.

    The USA has to come up with a legal charge against Wikileaks. The State Department keeps on saying that Wikileaks is breaking the law. That’s usually for the courts to decide. When you think someone is breaking the law, you bring them to court. That’s what the American government should be doing. They should not be working to shut down Wikileaks without a court order.

    And why wouldn’t they also go against the New York Times, The Guardian and Le Monde? In fact, they are much more effective than Wikileaks at spreading the content, given that we can hardly get at the Wikileaks web site.

    What Wikileaks is doing is legal. The diplomatic cables have been released by newspapers all over the world. These newspapers have not been charged with anything. Wikileaks has not been charged.

    I don’t like that the Klu Klux Klan has a web site where they advocate nothing else than white supremacy. Why isn’t the government shutting down the Klu Klux Klan? Because they are not breaking the law. That is why.

    If you are not breaking the law, and live in a democracy, then the government has to leave you alone. Dissent is necessary within a democracy. If you suppress it, you are no longer living in a democracy.

    What the US government and corporations are doing to Wikileaks is precisely the type of things China does all the time to suppress dissent.

    As Naom Chomsky stated, we are finding out that the leaders of the American government hate democracy.

  3. I know wikileaks did not steal the information, it was a leaker as it is.

    The point is, if you want to compare the USA with the Chinese establishment, you should go and try to give that Nobel Prize next week to the winner ;).

    What Assange did was to give the leaked information a Forum, that is what the USA government is not liking. We have had leaked information since years, but until now it had not a forum for all of it to be stored in.

    About the Klu Klux Clan, I agree with you, but then again, there are lots of sites advocating Jewish Supremacy, Christian Supremacy, Black Supremacy, etc etc, and no one is shutting them at all either, USA has been holding their racism pretty well.

    Wikileaks have been targeting the US government for a long time without any retaliation, if they are so heavily advocating to open info, why not Russia, or China, hell, I’ll love to check some leaks of Mexico.

    Assange quarrel with the US seems petty and not at all for freedom of information, since he is not targeting EVERY country, but the USA.

    When we have leaks of Cuban Government oppressing their people, or the Chinese holding the Yuan, or the Mexican Corruption, I’ll believe in wikileaks cause, other way is just a spoiled kid wanted to make a point picking the fat guy in the park.

  4. @Palafox

    When (…) I’ll believe in wikileaks cause (…)

    I did not write that I believed in Wikileaks’ cause. I specifically wrote “It is unclear to me whether Wikileaks makes the world better.”

    Can’t we agree that there is a difference between liking someone, and standing up for someone?

    Once those in power are allowed to pick and choose who can speak and who must remain silent, then we have lost freedom and democracy.

    So I stand up for Wikileaks. They are being suppressed without just cause.

    The American government does not like what Wikileaks is doing? Big deal. We are not asking them to fund Wikileaks. There are many things I don’t like. I don’t go around crushing people or shutting down their sites.

    A democratic government can’t do that. What it is doing is anti-democratic.

  5. @Palafox

    As for the fact that Wikileaks is a forum for dissent. Do you honestly think that the cat isn’t out of the bag?

    The music labels have been trying for years to keep MP3 from popping up left and right. Shutting down Napster failed to help.

    The world is changing. Data wants to be free.

    The Catholic Church tried to prevent the bible from being printed without permission. They failed.

    The US Government will fail to kill the idea of Wikileaks.

    Whether we like it or not, we are entering a more transparent world. It will be more difficult for anyone (including you and me) to hide.

    You cannot fight such changes.

    I must stress that I do not know whether this is a good thing. I just don’t see how you can prevent the change.

    (New laws will fail.)

  6. I believe we are discussing the essential question of “who owns the information”. MP3’s are copyright protected and are owned by the labels. Is it illegal to copy an entire disk of music? of course it is, the fact that the product of an artist happens to be easily shareable (music) is what makes it so easy to steal from them.

    The problem of wikileaks is the fact that it does not offer context or analysis, and so far the people I have seen analyzing the documents have yet to actually discover something they did not know.

    I think the main problem is that the information concerns the USA government, and that is the reason they are being shut down in America, as far as I know they have allowed NYTimes to publish the cables (big case for anti-democracy there right?) with no greater problem.

    If USA were that drastic they would have had the new domain firewalled, or the NYTimes and any other sources shut up (like the chinese do)

    Do not scream they are heavily antidemocratic, because they are not, and what they have done resembles not a bit what the chinese do. They have let Assange published too much leaked information that is theirs and has no business being in the public domain, but for causing problems for USA. What would you do if someone leaked a paper of yours and someone else used that information? Some information is meant to kept private

    And by the way, by giving them money they do not need (Assange has quite good saving from what I’ve heard) you are advocating and helping their cause.

  7. Even their latest credit card processor has been cast out by Visa and ordered to stop processing donations. The only option left for a while is wire transfers. If the current “democratic western world” and its economic machine can do this, the implications are incredibly scary. Basically, they could “shut down” any other organization on any grounds, by cutting funding means !

    I find it appalling that Julian Assange would be put on a world list of highly-sought criminals when rapists and incestuous parents get away in every country for actual rape, not “allegations” of rape. While I do not suggest Julian Assange is clear of any wrongdoing in this case (due process must take its course), it is obvious he is the target of a smear attack.

    So saddening that “democracy” is invoked whenever it fits the interests of the powerful, but actual democracy means nothing when the people are at the base of it.

  8. Is it illegal to copy an entire disk of music? of course it is (…)

    Why “of course”? It has been declared legal to download MP3s off the Internet in Canada, where I live:

    http://news.cnet.com/2100-1025_3-5121479.html

    (…) so far the people I have seen analyzing the documents have yet to actually discover something they did not know.

    I’m sure the American government is not learning anything. But scholars certainly are learning new information. Did you listen to Noam Chomsky’s analysis?

    What would you do if someone leaked a paper of yours and someone else used that information? Some information is meant to kept private (…)

    If the consequences are serious, I would take them to court. I would not call for their assassination as American leaders have done. (Which, by the way, is illegal in Canada and Flanagan may very well end up in court because of what he did.)

    And by the way, by giving them money they do not need (Assange has quite good saving from what I’ve heard) you are advocating and helping their cause.

    Yes. I started helping them the minute the American government took them down.

  9. @Palafox

    “When we have leaks of Cuban Government oppressing their people, or the Chinese holding the Yuan, or the Mexican Corruption, I’ll believe in wikileaks cause, other way is just a spoiled kid wanted to make a point picking the fat guy in the park.”

    They’ve leaked an assassination order by a Somalian Sheikh, documents in Peru’s “Petrogate”, reports of Nuclear accidents in Iran, financial misconduct by an Icelandic bank, and the list goes on. Yes, the USA is the principal topic, but not the only one.

    “The problem of WikiLeaks is the fact that it does not offer context or analysis…”

    On the contrary, efforts are made to confirm and vet the releases. Traditional news organizations are involved in all this. Something like 1% of the cables have been released: the information is not just being wantonly distributed.

    “…and so far the people I have seen analyzing the documents have yet to actually discover something they did not know.”

    The 1946 UN convention forbids spying on the secretary general, turns out we were doing that (and via diplomats rather than traditional spies, which is apparently significant). Diplomats were lobbying Russia on behalf of Visa/Mastercard. Did everything need to be leaked, I’d agree, no. But it’s not true that everything was old news or unimportant.

    “as far as I know they have allowed NYTimes to publish the cables (big case for anti-democracy there right?) ”

    Lieberman has suggested their actions were criminal as well.

    “What would you do if someone leaked a paper of yours and someone else used that information?”

    What should I do? If the information is used illegally, I can try to get that prosecuted. If the information was stolen, I can try to get that prosecuted. But if a friend of a mistress reveals an affair I’m having, what is it you think one should do? Be careful with your secrets, because you only control them as long as they stay that way.

    Just because WikiLeaks might be distasteful, doesn’t mean the government can suppress them. Just because China is bad at human rights, doesn’t mean we can’t hold other governments to higher standards.

  10. The problem of wikileaks is the fact that it does not offer context or analysis, and so far the people I have seen analyzing the documents have yet to actually discover something they did not know.

    Then so what?
    Why all the fuss is “all this was already known”?
    This lousy argument has been trumpeted all over the place.
    And what does this has to do with MP3 copyright?
    You are either a paid troll or a nutbar, please do no bug Daniel.

    Actually all this is just a CIA triple-cross black op.
    (ROFLMAO)

  11. Ha Leon, brace for a little more “bad times” for you and your ilk:

    Whatever the reason behind Kremlin’s unexpected love for Wikileaks, in coming days and weeks we will probably see a whole lot more technological support for Wikileaks originating from Russia, now that Russian …uhm… computer enthusiasts can …err… network for the good of Wikileaks in relative safety, knowing that the FSB will not be breaking down their doors in the middle of the night.

  12. First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.

    — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  13. The overall point is that:

    It does not matter who called for Assange’s assassination, if you see the people who did it, they are the usual wackos who among other things have called Obama a Muslim (or the famous birthers), denied global warming or repel don’t ask, don’t tell.

    I am not been paid by anyone but the Japanese Government on a Scholarship and the random part time job. My opinions are my own, as I hope everyone’s else in here. Believe me were I on a payroll I would not be suffering my ass off in a PhD ;). So you should watch your mouth and do some research.

    Funny no one replied regarding the fact that the US government has not firewalled LeMonde, El Pais, and many other sources that report on wikileaks, and last time I saw, NYTimes.com was still up and running.

    The reason wy they cut the server service from wikileaks, is the same reason why servers having child porn and other kinds of things are also hosted in Europe (Pirate Bay is over there as well). I am not sure, but probably is illegal to host those documents in a public access server, specially regarding that kind of information.

    I have yet to choose a side, but I would not be in such a hurry to condemn Assange or to donate to his cause, the only thing I know is that history will tell whether this was a good idea or not, after all, some of the reporters that discovered the Watergate, at some point hoped they did not published those documents.

  14. @Palafox

    The reason wy they cut the server service from wikileaks, is the same reason why servers having child porn and other kinds of things are also hosted in Europe (Pirate Bay is over there as well).

    Amazon stopped supporting Wikileaks because the US State Department said that Wikileaks was breaking the law by distributing these cables. However, we have yet to know which law was broken. And they cannot invoke copyright law: the cables are clearly “work of the United States government” and as such, by section 105 of the US Copyright Act they are essentially public domain.

  15. @Palafox

    This is an order from the president to its government agencies. It does not apply to Wikileaks or the New York times.

    In any case, if the law has been broken, then the government should charge Wikileaks.

  16. “What the US government and corporations are doing to Wikileaks is precisely the type of things China does all the time to suppress dissent.”

    — agreed. On the other hand, US govn could be doing this all the time, as well. The comment seems to suggest otherwise. 🙂

    I’m wondering if the US govn (e.g. both parties) openly advocate an internet great wall, what measures could the US people take against it?

    I guess pretty much nothing, just like the US people could do pretty much nothing for wikileaks, just like the US people did pretty much nothing to stop the Iraq war. Given the govn’s propaganda, it could easily happen that the majority voice of the US people would be shouting FOR the war. One should be grateful that that is not the case.

    Maybe sites like wikileaks are the start of something that the people CAN do toward a more righteous govn.

  17. Maybe sites like wikileaks are the start of something that the people CAN do toward a more righteous govn.

    It is an interesting position.

    But I think it may be too much to ask: a righteous government. Some people are surprised to see that Obama is often continuing the policies initiated by Bush. But I am not. The idea that in a democratic government, we elect people who then work for us is… a nice utopia… but it is also totally unrealistic. At best, a democratic government will cater toward the interest of the wealthy citizens.

    I think that to dramatically improve matters, we’ll have to replace democracy by something else. A demarchy is probably the most natural next step.

    It could be that Wikileaks is really initiating the collapse of democracy. We live in interesting times.

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