For more than a decade I have worked in different ways to understand the fundamental shift we are going through as we enter the age of transformative transparency and contribute to concrete changes in a more sustainable direction. Julian's work with Wikileaks has been an opportunity to follow how one important aspect of transparency, governmental diplomacy, challenges traditional ways of thinking. Over the years I think that people have both overstated and understated Julian's role in relation to transparency. He might not be the best person when it comes to analysing the development of the web/connectivity (although it should be said that he is light-years ahead of most journalists that are criticising him/have opinions regarding him). He’s style of communication is honest in its frustration of how little most people, and especially journalist and politicians criticising him, knows about the things he does. I can understand that people get irritated with his style. Still the issues he brings to the table, not only by talking about them but actually doing things, should be enough for people to separate his personality from the issues. I know they (especially journalists) are driven by envy/frustration of not understanding, but why can’t they allow a person that is so much more intelligent and deliver so much than they do some slack?
Reading the book I realised two things: 1. I have been affected by all the writing about his incident in Sweden and begun reading this as if Julian was a person like many others who talks a lot but have not really delivered much. I was reminded that he, and people like those he wrote the book with, are not in the middle of the battlefield of what Marshall McLuhan described as the 3rd world war [“World War III is a guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation.” From Culture Is Our Business (1970)]. They are something much more interesting, they are the Oppenheimer’s and Einstein’s of the 21st Century, i.e. they are creating and understanding the weapons of this third world war as well as discussing how dangerous these weapons are. 2. The development of ICT/connectivity have moved so fast that even this avant-garde are actually left behind in their own area in some ways. We now move from a text based connectivity where individuals produce much of their data, to a image and multiple sensor connectivity where data is produced and processed distributed. In this new situation privacy and surveillance is something very different from what is described in the book. This new situation require a slightly different approach than the (text)crypto-strategy that is the focus of this book. Or maybe they don’t think it matters as we already live in the world where, in Julian’s words “only … a high-tech rebel elite … is free, these clever rats running around the opera house”. Although I guess from a Chinese perspective I think Julian is aiming for 2020 (that is the year for the “White Metal Rat” in Chinese zodiac, and that should be a good year for him).
What is different with this book compared with anything I have read from (or about) Julian/Wikileaks is that it is written from a perspective when the authors talk a lot about what they have experienced, not speculation. You might argue with some of the descriptions, but overall this is a powerful testimony.
What we have is a group of people that have first-hand knowledge of what it means to be part of the avant-garde that push this transparency in a certain direction (in their words “privacy for the weak, transparency for the powerful”), when powerful groups want something else.
I'm fascinated how many of the mainstream journalist that tried to put a tin foil hat on Julian, or only focus on his sexual history. I can understand that the tabloid press focus on such things, but anyone with even some journalistic honour should focus on the actual issues. Yes Julian uses a rhetoric that is filled with big words, and sometimes the sentences does not add up to something coherent. But if you take a step back it is hard to find someone who is so well read and also have first hand experience of things that most people (especially journalists) only read about, and often don’t even understand when they are provided the facts.
So while there are many that I think have better ideas and understanding about many of the different consequences of transformative transparency (I would count myself in that group ;)) Julian and some of those close to him belong to the first group in history that know first-hand what happens when you provoke powerful countries, US in particular, with transformative transparency in the area of security policy.
Many will probably say that it is too much focus in the technical (code) aspects of transparency, only a little legal and economic discussions, and hardly any cultural or geopolitical understanding. But why ask of one, short, text the answers to all questions?
Only the short texts about the need for a general purpose computer, the history of Stuxnet and a call for a discussion about “cyber peace” should be enough to make most editors blush when they look at what they publish instead of cover stories like that.
Of course there are many things I would like to included, and many things that I think could be elaborated, even something that I think should be rewritten, as it will provoke more than inspire. But it inspired me to draft a few new projects and tweak a few on-going projects and that is more I than I can say about most books. It is a book that I think anyone who is interested about the freedom of information and how the world look like from a perspective when you are living a revolution, not just talking about it, should read.
I also think Julian’s call for Utopia as "many", not one system, should be discussed further. What fundamental freedoms are needed and how can people get together around a non-fundamentalist idea, when the current growth/industrial/centralised/product/neo-liberal paradigm is so strong?