Wikileaks (updated)

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The ongoing Wikileaks phenomenon includes so many elements that are obviously good, so many that are obviously bad, and so many that simply are, as huge-scale technological forces of nature, that I am suspicious of any axiomatic "he's a hero" or "he's a villain" judgment about Julian Assange and his associates.

I mention this as a segue to the very valuable compilation that the Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal posted last night, summarizing and linking to a broad range of the most informed and well-argued attempts to "think about Wikileaks." To spend even ten minutes considering the range of views is to get an idea of how long it will be before we fully comprehend the goods and bads of the new balance of power among governments, "normal" journalists, citizens, hackers, corporations, humanitarian organizations, criminal or terrorist organizations, stateless alliances, and everyone else.

I am particularly glad that Alexis included a link to "Ten Theses on Wikileaks," by Geert Lovink and Patrice Riemens, which was published last summer after the initial leaks of the "Afghan War Logs" but which applies well to the later larger releases too. I'd suggest starting there, but Alexis points to many other valuable analyses too.

UPDATE: The Lovink/Riemens article has been updated and the "ten theses" are now twelve. It's here. Three interesting samples:

>>Thesis 8 Lack of commonality with congenial, "another world is possible" movements drives WikiLeaks to seek public attention by way of increasingly spectacular and risky disclosures, thereby gathering a constituency of often wildly enthusiastic, but generally passive supporters.... Following the nature and quantity of WikiLeaks exposures from its inception up to the present day is eerily reminiscent of watching a firework display, and that includes a "grand finale" in the form of the doomsday-machine pitched, yet-to-be-unleashed "insurance" document (".aes256″). This raises serious doubts about the long-term sustainability of WikiLeaks itself, and possibly also of the WikiLeaks model.

Thesis 9 WikiLeaks displays a stunning lack of transparency in its internal organization. Its excuse that "WikiLeaks needs to be completely opaque in order to force others to be totally transparent" amounts, in our opinion, to little more than Mad magazine's famous Spy vs. Spy cartoons. You beat the opposition but in a way that makes you indistinguishable from it....

Thesis 12 We do not think that taking a stand for or against WikiLeaks is what matters most. WikiLeaks is here to stay, until it either scuttles itself or is destroyed by opposing forces.... Despite all its drawbacks, and against all odds, WikiLeaks has rendered a sterling service to the cause of transparency, democracy and openness.<<
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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