Published on 8 Dec 2010

No better than China?

The Nobel Committee selected the right man for the Peace Prize when they chose Liu Xiaobo. The anger triggered in official Beijing over the award indicates they hit the spot. Tate Modern hit the spot when they selected the delightful Chinese artist al-Wei-Wei and his remarkable birdseed show to grace the Turbine Hall. Official Washington, Whitehall and beyond, have complained about the detention of both men. The US and UK governments have loudly accepted their invitations to the Peace ceremony this Friday in Oslo. Whilst a cast of states, with dubious records on human rights themselves, led by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, have responded to China’s request not to attend.

Imagine then that a 22-year-old Russian army Private manages to download all that country’s diplomatic secrets onto a memory stick and circulates it to WikiLeaks and assorted media outlets. Or a 22-year-old Chinese Private does the same thing. In both cases the Private would be threatened with the death penalty or life imprisonment.

Contrast the treatment of 22-year-old US Private Bradley Manning whose own downloading of US documents has secured for him – you’ve guessed it, threats of the death penalty and life in prison. But then consider: would the US or the UK move against an organisation that disseminated this Russian or Chinese stuff find his bank and publishing facilities shut down, and assorted states going after him for assorted crimes?

We all know that if Chinese or Russian secrets spilled onto the internet, Western governments and corporations would be laughing up their sleeves – not least if it were discovered that the Chinese or Russian governments maintained a ‘secret’ database to which they allowed three million officials access.

Do I smell hypocrisy in the air? The original grotesque error committed in the WikiLeaks affair was to establish a secret filing system that allowed three million people access. No one disputes that diplomats and others have sensitive traffic they need to keep secret. Why on earth were so many people allowed access to it?

And so we arrive at a week in which some of the most influential players on the web – VISA, Mastercard, PayPal, Amazon, eBay give the impression of acting in a co-ordinated cyber attack on WikiLeaks. In the same 36 hour period they are joined by a Swiss bank which closes down the bank account of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. This as influential voices in the United States and Canada call for his assassination and for the death penalty.

So we arrive In Sweden, and in a Magistrate’s court in London. Yesterday’s Daily Mail report from Sweden reporting of the case against Assange is worth reading. Lawyers who were in yesterday’s court hearing tell me the presiding magistrate had decided to refuse bail before anyone entered the court. One of the three grounds upon which he refused bail – that Assange’s entry into he UK had not been registered is curious. I spoke last night to a good friend of mine inside the Border Agency. She told me that there is no fully comprehensive record of non-EU nationals either entering or leaving Britain. She added that white males entering on either US or Australian passports are likely to attract the least interest.

Are we then standing idly by whilst a ‘coming together’ of corporate and national interests seeks to deny the citizenry the product of administrative incompetence? Does any of it amount to a conspiracy? Is it all just a coincidence? Is Julian Assange to be martyred on the high altar of cant or of corporate and national self interest? What is hard to imagine is that we are happily entering the departure lounge of the freedoms afforded by the organic anarchy that is the internet.

One last thought – if they can move so comprehensively against WikiLeaks why don’t they do so against porn sites that still drive so much of the web’s business?

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37 reader comments

  1. adz says:

    Porn sites generate big money on the web and children are being exposed to pornography like never before. My son has been given a laptop by his school(state) and it has already been taken away from him due to him playing games and surfing websites that are not suitable for children but not porn as far as i know, although they have access at the click of their mouse.
    As far as nobel peace prizes go, it’s all a load of manufactured garbage to keep us thinking that the system is doing something about peace,yeah right and John Lennon knew so much that his murder was the only solution to keeping us quiet.
    adzmundo Greenpeace & TVP

    1. margaret brandreth-jones says:

      I don’t want the world as one though adz.. although grew up with the beatles

  2. Saltaire Sam says:

    The fact that Swiss bankers, who will go to their death rather than cross a tax dodger or reveal how much (s)he is robbing the exchequer, are willing to move on this guy’s bank account, tells you something very important.

    Just as you point out they could tackle porn and other abuses of the internet if they wished, so they could end the disgraceful tax avoidance that costs this country and others billions.

  3. MarcoB says:

    100% Agreed Jon, hypocrisy is in the air. We are becoming more and more like a communist totalitarian state everyday, we think we have a democracy, instead we have 3 puppet party state that think it’s OK to bail out the banks, make us pay for it and abstain from voting when it suits them to keep this farce going. A free democratic country can only be built on transparency and truth, where the tax paying citizens have the right to know what’s going on, to know where our money is going and have the ability to choose our own destinies. We are quick to prosecute “war criminals” of other countries, it’s time for our leaders to be on trial, for mass murder, miss information and fraud.

    In other news, here is an interview talking about silver and julian assange and how banks and paypal instantly cut him off, no trial, no judge, and you think it’s a good idea to go totally digital paperless society, kiss you freedom goodbye, you step out of line, you riot on the streets, you get turned off, no money for you…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JE_n-qKUhiA

    1. adrian clarke says:

      MarcoB,of course in a democracy we have a right to know , but Wikileaks, assange and his cohorts are not the way forward.They think it is right to hack into “paypal”.I use it a lot for purchases on the net.What right have these internet yobs to try and interfere?They could be hacking into my account and i have no redress.They are a bunch of internet crooks who are no doubt being paid by somebody or some government.If they are innocent and just want to show what is happening within certain countries , where does mr Assange get his Swiss bank account?and why? Did he believe he can launder his ill gotten gains in secrecy through Switzerland?

    2. MarcoB says:

      Adrian, buddy, you can’t fight for freedom without anyone getting hurt in the process. Listen, Paypal has a huge chunk of the market, most websites only support paypal, that is technically a monopoly, that is not capitalist democracy and unfortunately we need more alternatives. Paypal has chosen it’s side, judging Assange guilty without any due process and needs to learn a lesson in neutrality, like Swiss banks have stood for centuries. I would also open up a swiss account for donations if I was about to publish a few countries dirty secrets. If we can’t show that the people protect whistle blowers, will we ever again know the truth about anything. We either fight together or hang separate. Unfortunately wikileaks is looking more sinister from who is backing them, I want to see 100 wikileak clone websites, all sharing and distributing leaks, were information is power1

      And how about this for news, the FED bailed out more off shore banks than their own, including HSBC which was so “solvent” and didn’t need britains money. There are more lies floating around than every before. Article http://maxkeiser.com/2010/12/09/the-fed-and-the-caymans-new-jaw-dropping-bailout-details/#more-16006

  4. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    Jon, I think you have laid out all the questions.
    ? Scapegoating ? deliberate mishandling of one type of information to hide other layers by the compilation of a sloppy filing system.
    ? giving a ‘cue’ to those ready to fight for freedom and almost setting them up
    ? waiting for an opportune time to gather allegations for some martyr or other
    ? A future plan for a presidential election which will not include free health care

    Keeping in with the Saudi Jones’s etc

    Leaking information .. how Important? how specific? How true?

  5. Philip Edwards says:

    Jon,

    I like this bit:

    “Are we then standing idly by whilst a ‘coming together’ of corporate and national interests seeks to deny the citizenry the product of administrative incompetence?”

    I think you are about fifty years too late with this warning.

    Dwight Eisenhower famously warned of the “military-industrial complex” in his TV departure speech of 1960. It was ignored. Since then the USA, Britain and much of Europe have become varying expressions of a corrupt, anti-democratic National Security State. Such a cowardly system will always seek out patsies to divert attention from its ugly assault on the human spirit.

    As for the Nobel Prize, this long ago lost its credibility when it was awarded to, for instance, the war criminal Henry Kissinger and the crackpot economics of Milton Friedman.

    Shame on the Swedes for going along with this latest degradation of democracy by aiding the hounding of Julian Assange. Then again, they still haven’t resolved the murder of Olaf Palme, so perhaps it is par for the National Security State course.

  6. Peter Stewert says:

    “Does any of it amount to a conspiracy?”

    No more than there was a conspiracy to protect the *#@+$ that murdered Stephen Lawrence or Ian Tomlinson’s killer. We have institutions, some poor (Police and CPS), some great (BBC and C4), but all of them with an interest in protecting themselves from interference in their work and from being closed down. Though Wikileaks is being careful to work with journalists to avoid wreckless leaking, they show little restraint and any figure operating in the public eye (or worse, someone that is happy with being overlooked) would be right to assume that records of their work could be published for the world in the future.

    We’ve been on the road to democracy for some time in the UK, slowly moving around and [by turns] forwards. We can expose (excepting, the OSA, d-notices, etc.) government and corporate malevolence, but we also need to make sure that anyone person or group isn’t bullied as is happing with Wikileaks or (as is happing with tax avoidance campaigners #UKUncut) snooped and democratically undermined with “plain clothes” police officers (who are easy to spot being that they are always pushing for more militancy).

  7. Mombasa69 says:

    The Chinese Communist Dictatorship are just beggers to their own demise, the Chinese people wount put up with this crap for much longer

  8. Jim Flavin says:

    The case agaist Assange – and the attacks on Wikileaks – is it all coincidence . Well of course not . He would not be the first to fall into a ” love trap ”- but now will the truth ever be known . Money talks . The whole episode shows the lengths that those who rule us will go to when anyone shows them to be thugs and fools that they are. Corporate USA has attacked him – by withdrwal of sevices to Wikileaks – several credit card companies , banks etc .They HATE this guy who has shown the ruling classes for waht they are . We should all be grateful to this man for what he has done . He may have sown seeds of his own downfall by saying to a reporter – he was going to release info on a large bank . http://www.forbes.com/2010/11/29/julian-assange-wikileaks-business-media-assange_lander.html Any attck or reveltions about the goings on in the Private sector [ unlike the Public sector ] would not be on. We have all paid the price and continue to do so for the ”errors !!!” of the private sector . Here is another report on that topic http://www.thedailybell.com/1564/WikiLeaks-to-Take-on-Private-Sector.html . Its about time we stopped paying for others mistakes .

    1. Peter Stewert says:

      Jim, thanks for the links; whatever else happens hopefully Wikileaks will continue as their biggest leaks look to be in the future. Also, forgive the following pedantry.

      Given the awful/unacceptable (but better than average) follow-thru of rape allegations in the UK I’m reluctant to say anything of the background behind the allegations, even ones that might be false accusations…

      That said, from what I’ve heard (and the background I’ve ran across amounts to an alleged blog posting from one the victims, trusted gossip, and the suspicious behaviour of the Swedish state) there was no love trap. What is happening is more coincidence of timing than conspiracy, a coincidence that I’d suspect the US have asked Sweden (a.k.a. the rendition capital of Europe) to exploit.

    2. Meg Howarth says:

      Peter – Jon provided this link yesterday. Interesting reading, particularly as it comes from the Mail:

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1336291/Wikileaks-Julian-Assanges-2-night-stands-spark-worldwide-hunt.html

  9. Kate says:

    Yes Jon – it stinks of yet another conspiracy. I agree with all that has been said by, well, just about everyone above really.

    Hypocrisy, conspiracy, corruption – you name it.
    PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE don’t let this lie. Assange is just next in the long line of stitch-ups and again, Britain is right up there with the rest of the international ********!
    And PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE keep the Ian Tomlinson issue in the public’s mind. Their collective reasoning is that everything, after a few days, is forgotten and they can get away with it.
    Show them it ain’t so, Jon.

  10. adrian clarke says:

    One last thought – if they can move so comprehensively against WikiLeaks why don’t they do so against porn sites that still drive so much of the web’s business?

    Where have the web moved against WIKILEAKS?? Their revelations are to my knowledge still being published.Where is the evidence that Porn sites drive much of the web’s business.A blog that is of interest as to whether the US and ourselves are as bad as the likes of China or any other represive states ,is spoilt by such an amateurist journalistic statement , reminiscent of the rubbish we can read in the Mirror or Sun.
    As for the US or ourselves being like china.A serious journalist can not even begin to believe that is the case.There is no restriction on criticising the state,and no imprisonment for so doing.Assange was known to be in this country and not arrested for exposing so called secrets.He was arrested on a European arrest warrant , issued by Sweden,and which under European law it is our duty to do so.If other bloggers who do not like that fact, perhaps they might join me in calling for our leaving the European Union and its meddlesome laws

  11. Philip says:

    I think you are overstating the case. If a Chinese or Russian leaked some of the sensitive defence-related material that Assange has, they would be removed – dead. Yes – we might revel in the material they released, but we would expect the Chniese/Russians to do something about it. There is a sort of belief in the West – especially in the media – that ANYTHING & EVERYTHING should be made public. Yes – the arrangements were absurd and much of the material is of only passing interest, but some is important & could put lives at risk. But, as you well know, Chinese & Russian material like this WON’T get made public, so what Assange is doing essentially is weakening the democratic West against the totalitarian East. You appear to think that the freedom of the internet is worth that. I’m not so sure. We aren’t becoming more totalitarian – what the authorities are trying to do is to maintain some level of security over information (which they’ve had for generations) against a threat that there will be no state secrets left in the West, leaving us constantly vulnerable to al Qaeda, the Russians,Chinese, etc

    1. Kate says:

      “Is Sweden really as corrupt as Stieg Larsson’s first novel suggests? Perhaps we all swallowed the PR about their “advanced” society too willingly?”

      Larson was a political activist – and a very active one at that. His works reveal some of the areas of injustice/corruption etc. he wanted to highlight and there are those – a goodly number I believe – who have their own conspiracy theory regarding the circumstances of his own sudden death at such an early age.

  12. worldtuner says:

    One can not help but think there is a conspiracy in play here or is there just something wrong with our bail system…….Julian Assange was refused bail for alleged sexual assault and Shrien Dewani was given bail for alleged murdering his wife…….both were arrested on foreign warrants????????

    1. anniexf says:

      Apparently it was partly because he has no settled address that Assange was refused bail. I gather that when pressed by the judge he gave an address in Australia, which wasn’t acceptable. As Adrian pointed out, we are obliged to co-operate with a formal extradition request from a fellow EU country. The fact that the original charge was dropped for lack of evidence, but has now been resurrected at the behest of a right-wing Swedish politician and lawyer, and that the “new” evidence is now considered compelling, is what stinks of conspiracy.
      Is Sweden really as corrupt as Stieg Larsson’s first novel suggests? Perhaps we all swallowed the PR about their “advanced” society too willingly?

    2. Kate says:

      Sorry, anniexf – pressed the wrong REPLY button! :)

  13. Alice says:

    Julian Assange and Private Bradley Manning should be joint winners of the Nobel Peace Prize next year – for promoting democratic accountability across all nations.

    Yes – UK and US aren’t any better than China in terms of democracy. In China you aren’t allowed to vote at all. In UK and US you are allowed to vote – but on nothing really as once they came into power no party stick to the policies they campaigned on.

  14. ANDREA says:

    Under the mantle of secrecy governments all over the world have been covering up their criminal activities. They have been getting away with this because the media are gagged the moment they seriously question anything. Now Wikileaks is publishing the secret material, governments are clearly out of their comfort zone and screaming “cyber-terror”.
    Who are the real terrorists? The politicians who drag the world into illegal wars or the journalists who uncover their deceitful strategies?
    I WILL COME OUT IN SUPPORT OF FREEDOM OF THE PRESS BY SUPPORTING JULIAN ASSANGE AND SPEND 1 HOUR OUTSIDE WANDSWORTH PRISON ON WEDNESDAY FROM 12-1PM. JOIN ME THERE!

  15. ANDREA says:

    CORRECTION:
    I WILL BE OUTSIDE WANDSWORTH PRISON
    THURSDAY DECEMBER 9, FROM 11-12AM

  16. DU48 says:

    What will happen to Bradley Manning?

    A very good summary by Norman Soloman quoted in utne.com:
    No government wants to face documentation of actual policies, goals and priorities that directly contradict its public claims of virtue. In societies with democratic freedoms, the governments that have the most to fear from such disclosures are the ones that have been doing the most lying to their own people.

    Read more: http://www.utne.com/Politics/Why-WikiLeaks-Matters-Leaked-Diplomatic-Cables-War-Logs.aspx#ixzz17ZRoSiwo

  17. Paul Begley says:

    Events on the Internet (“denial of service attacks” by both sides) seem to support the point I made earlier in the week – the Internet has put itself outside the law in the name of “freedom”, and is now demonstrating that when there is no enforceable law, your freedom reflects your power.
    In effect, this amounts to anarchy. Real freedom can only arise when all parties are equally protected and equally responsible under reasonably just laws, made by democratically accountable governments.

    1. anniexf says:

      I suspect, Paul, that will be the day you look out of your window and see pigs flying…

  18. tthurts says:

    A serious topic and a balanced approach needs to be taken to deal with it properly.

    Yes, to the unbiased onlooker (and more recently even the lowest common denominator is starting to think twice) we are no better than China.

    It seems so easy for us to make criticisms of the Chinese political approach to civil rights. Few of us get a chance to look at the good side of Chinese culture.

    I have been to China and found the atmosphere peaceful and harmonious. This is, of course, the way the Chinese officials would make us have it – they do not want dissidents or outspoken behaviour. In fact, it is part of Chinese culture to be restrained and not make a scene – even when something bad has happened.

    Regarding the Chinese situation – people tend to come out with references to ‘Democratic Freedom’ and ‘Censorship’.

    China has less ‘democratic freedom’ than the west. By this you can see a lack of: Drugs, Pornography, Prostitution, Criminal gangs, Violent crime – you name it. It really is a very safe place. England on the other hand….

    There seems to be a price to pay for ‘freedom’ and who are we to stick our noses in and tell others what freedom they should or shouldn’t have?

  19. tthurts says:

    Back to the freedom which is our lot, we are heading into uncharted territory. Something like an internet equivalent of the McCarthy-ism of the 1950’s.

    The powers that be want to paint a certain picture. The more astute among us may be able to tell fact from fiction. Others are more gullible and might even play along.

    What we have to remember is, even with all the truth revealed about the mistaken threat of Communism – there are still Americans who stand by the views aired by a certain deluded right-wing politician. There are even right-wing politicians that rival the formers viewpoints for delusion and extremism – and they are painting that picture today. Don’t overestimate the intelligence of the general public.

    On the final note of Porn – it is another example of the price of ‘freedom’.

    The sale of it in an unregulated way via the internet is something that needs to be controlled. That will be difficult due to the freedom of the internet. Ultimately, it is hypocrisy to attempt to censor government information on the web and not porn. However, some may see our tolerance to such things as evolutionary. Maybe it’s the same with our tolerance to politics & corruption?

  20. PallMall says:

    If Manning had given the info to a North Korean operative, say, who then passed it on to North Korea then from the US point of view that would be espionage, and a very serious matter.

    But Wikileaks HAS passed it on to North Korea. The fact that it also passed the info onto every other state ‘ hostile ‘ to the US would seem to make it some kind of ‘ super spy ‘.

    We need good accountability and the freedom to criticise the system in a democracy. What we don’t need is the wanton dissemination of classified material.

    Partly I think the sheer quantity of data is an issue too! If it had been a handful of messages it wouldn’t have mattered.

    But from the point of view of the US, surely Assange is no better than a foreign agent? He is an ‘ enemy ‘ of the US. If he was a Russian Agent would the UK arrest and deport him to the US for trial?

    Anyway, he should be treated according to the Law of the Land.

  21. PallMall says:

    The more I think about this the more crazy it seems.

    Surely in order for the government to remain accountable we don’t want its inner dealings to remain hidden among a small ‘ shadowy ‘ elite clique. Which is exactly the fear that many people campaigning for more freedom express.

    How more accountable can it be than open to three million citizens, and still remain confidential?

    But now the finger is being pointed for it being so open?

    Which is it?

    Open or Closed?

    I’m confused as to what is being required of the US?

    If they are open we attack.

    If they are closed we attack.

    It’s the US so we attack.

    Isn’t it the truth that the info Assange has leaked was already as accountable and open to the citizens of the US as it could possibly have been?

    And it’s release now only serves the interests of governments hostile to the US and other democratic states.

  22. PallMall says:

    And what will be the fallout from such an info 9-11 on the US?

    Governments world-wide will be ensuring stricter access and control of confidential data. More seriously, perhaps, it will give the conservative factions of any nation thinking of liberalising ample ammunition to stop that ‘ crazy notion ‘ in its tracks.

    Yes Wikileaks you deserve a medal for giving the planet less open and democratically accountable governance world-wide. You are true heroes.

    If you had been reasonable, responsible and more equitable in your treatment of nations you could have been a force for good. Instead you have become anything but!

    You deserve the political version of the Hollywood ‘ raspberry ‘.

    I seem to remember a guy called Colin who in an attempt to be the fastest gun ended up shooting himself in the foot.

    So I hereby bestow on Wikileaks the ‘ Colin ‘ for the advancement of freedom and democracy in the world.

  23. dan ehrlich says:

    Wrong…Bradley Manning is the one guilty party here….Had Jon Snow served in the military here or in the USA, he would have an oath to keep to his country…there has to be some loyalty somwhere.

    Whistle blowing is one thing, but stealing and disseminating all sorts of secret information is another…in this case its treason and I have no sympathy for this little Welsh rarbit who thought he was being hero but did considerable damage and may have cost the lives of any number of people.

    With power comes responsibilty.

    read http://www.hard-truths.blogspot.com

  24. PallMall says:

    I think there is a distinction to be made between whistleblowing on a particular issue which serves the greater public good and this which is the wholesale indiscriminate release of intelligence for ideological reasons which certainly has not served the public good in the US.

    Manning did the stealing.Wikileaks the dissemination. If Wikileaks can demand accountability from the US they should not be surprised if the US demands it from them in return.

    Perhaps it needs a US judge to make the distinction in Law?

  25. ANDREA says:

    Daniel Ellsberg, the famous whistleblower who leaked the Pentagon Papers about the Vietnam War in 1971, said this about the attacks by the US administration on Assange and Manning on Democracy Now website:
    “If I released the Pentagon Papers today, the same rhetoric and the same calls would be made about me,” Ellsberg says. “I would be called not only a traitor—which I was then, which was false and slanderous—but I would be called a terrorist… Assange and Bradley Manning are no more terrorists than I am.”

  26. PallMall says:

    Is it not up to the will of US citizens to decide if their democratically elected government holds intelligence or not?

    Is not the imposition of the Wikileaks ideology on the democratic will of US citizens an authoritarian stance which circumvents the democratic system in the US.

    Its authoritarianism masking itself as ‘ freedom and democracy ‘.

  27. Mike says:

    I once heard it reported that the countries producing the most web-communicated images of child abuse are the USA and Russia; as if that weren’t bad enough, but it seems that in the USA the porn ‘industry’ legally uses ‘actors’ that previously were molested/brainwashed as minors but have now reached legal age to appear in such films (many of which die related premature deaths i gather). Then people from many countries pay money to the abusers to watch it, and that, my friends, is economics and/or the present-day human!

  28. Clyde Pellman says:

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