Wikileaks: The Illusion of U.S. Omnipotence

This analysis of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange's vision of American power has been making the rounds. According to the author, Wikileaks' objective is not to release information that the government wants to remain secret just for the sake of releasing the information, but rather to provoke a reaction within the government that will ultimately undermine its ability to function effectively. Andrew Sullivan highlights this passage as the takeaway:

[W]hile an organization structured by direct and open lines of communication will be much more vulnerable to outside penetration, the more opaque it becomes to itself (as a defense against the outside gaze), the less able it will be to "think" as a system, to communicate with itself. The more conspiratorial it becomes, in a certain sense, the less effective it will be as a conspiracy. The more closed the network is to outside intrusion, the less able it is to engage with that which is outside itself . . .

To the extent that this does accurately express Assange's view of the "conspiracy" of American power, it reflects a common illusion among conspiracy theorists regarding their object of obsession: that of omnipotence. But U.S. policy and power are already undermined by human-introduced barriers to open communication -- such as personal and institutional ego, factional and institutional power struggles, and run-of-the-mill, everyday errors, oversights and incompetence -- to a far greater degree than they are undermined by the kinds of technical barriers that might go up as a result of Assange's efforts. Toss in systemic barriers to open communication -- such as ineffective interagency mechanisms, and a system based on discrete rather than holistic approaches -- and you've already got the U.S. policymaking process pre-9/11.

Now, in the meantime, some of the post-9/11 reforms have helped address some of the systemic barriers, but the idea that these problems have disappeared is laughable, as is the idea that U.S. policymaking and power approach the kind of streamlined, omnipotent conspiracy that Assange imagines he's battling.

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