As someone whose job is to study hackers, I have nothing but admiration for the journalists and authors who have penned wonderful books on hackers. Bruce Sterling is one of those luminaries and without fail, I always assign a few chapters from The Hacker Crackdown, which reveals in stunning and humorous ethnographic detail the cultural logic of the hacker underground. Given that WikiLeaks can only be understood in light of hacker values and traditions, I was wondering when Bruce Sterling would chime in to connect the dots between WikiLeaks, the organization, and the wider culture of hacking from which it emerged.
He finally did, and like most of his writing, it is a tour de force: lyrical and seductive, thought provoking with many excellent points. It is important to read. But by the end, I felt Bruce Sterling the fiction writer's presence was too strong in painting a problematic, one-dimensional and static picture of the role of hacker culture in the WikiLeaks saga; the gist is that once a black hat hacker, always a black hat hacker.
But first, the single most problematic statements concern not Julian Assange but Private Bradley Manning. According to Sterling, Manning is a black hat hacker in the making whose downfall follows from the fact he was guided by a false picture of hacking. In the words of Sterling, he "believes the sci-fi legendary of the underground. He thinks that he can leak a quarter of a million secret cables, protect himself with neat-o cryptography, and, magically, never be found out."