|Originally published in the Aug. 2010 Socionomist|
In his two-part April and May study published in The Socionomist, Alan Hall predicted that:
- A continuing long-term trend toward negative social mood will cause society to become increasing fearful. This movement will lead to polarized views toward authoritarianism.
- Increases in surveillance and other authoritarian activities will lead to escalating anti-authoritarian actions.
- Anti-authoritarian activity will in turn generate legislation and other actions to curb freedoms.
- Whistleblower websites like WikiLeaks will increasingly illustrate that an unfettered Internet undermines governments’ ability to control information. The days of such unrestricted sites on the Web are numbered.
- Paranoid governments will seek the authority to shut down large blocks of the Internet, citing security concerns.1
Hall’s forecasts are playing out in rapid fashion.
WikiLeaks Becomes the Hotspot
In early July, WikiLeaks released 91,000 secret documents related to the war in Afghanistan. It was the largest intelligence leak in U.S. history. The White House at first downplayed the revelations as well-known problems. The media did as well:
Unlike the explosive Pentagon Papers published in The New York Times during the Vietnam War in 1971, the files don’t show top U.S. officials misleading the public about the war’s course.2
But the dismissive attitude changed rapidly. On July 25, WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange, claimed he had evidence of possible war crimes. On July 27, he started a war of words:
He scoffed when the Frontline’s moderator spoke of British soldiers “giving their lives” in Afghanistan. “To what?” he asked.3
Just two days later on July 29, the U.S. government suddenly went from soft on WikiLeaks to very pointed:
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen strongly condemned WikiLeaks … . Gates said the [early July] leak was “potentially severe and dangerous for our troops, our allies and our Afghan partners … .” Mullen was even more direct and said that WikiLeaks “might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier.”4
A former CIA director followed up by describing the leaked documents as “priceless” to America’s enemies. On August 3 the Washington Post joined the chorus, calling in an editorial for the U.S. government to break international law if necessary to stop WikiLeaks. The government should “contravene customary international law” and use “intelligence and military assets to bring Assange to justice and put his criminal syndicate out of business,” it said.
On August 3, just nine days after the White House dismissed the revelations as old news, a U.S. Congressman said that U.S. Army intelligence analyst Private Bradley Manning, the alleged source of the leaks, should be executed for treason.
WikiLeaks’ quick rise to firebrand status is but one fulfillment of our forecast for increasing conflict over authoritarianism. In the three short months since Hall’s study, the Washington Post published its “Top Secret America” investigation, a two-year project that describes the immense post-9/11 national security buildup in the United States as “a hidden world, growing beyond control.” Even more significant is the “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010,” introduced by U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman on June 10. The law would empower the president to “shut down the Internet, disconnect its networks, and force web sites, blogs, providers, search engines and software companies to ‘immediately comply with any emergency measure or action.’” The Baltimore Chronicle describes the proposed law as a “kill switch for the Internet.5
Meanwhile, a number of other nations continue to negotiate the sweeping Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which the European Commission says would establish international agreement on enforcement of intellectual property rights but which anti-authoritarians claim will curb freedoms. An international panel convened in June by the American University Washington College of Law said the ACTA has:
… grave consequences for the global economy … . [It would] curtail enjoyment of fundamental rights and liberties, … encourage internet service providers to police the activities of internet users, … [and] encourage this surveillance, and the potential for punitive disconnections by private actors, without adequate court oversight or due process.6
Negative social mood is eroding fundamental rights in the European Union (EU). Member states have varying standards of civil liberty. The Union allows each country to use a “no-evidence-needed” European Arrest Warrant to require any other member state to arrest, detain and extradite criminal suspects—even if those suspects have committed nothing deemed a crime by the extraditing state.
The number of European Arrest Warrant detentions in Britain has risen 43-fold since 2004 … . They can spend long periods in jail – here and abroad – for … offences which are not crimes in Britain. Foreign prosecutors do not have to present evidence to the British courts, just demand the person be “surrendered.”7
Why This is Happening
In April, Hall explained how such major ideological conflicts can develop rapidly in formerly concordant societies:
A society’s authoritarian impulse is rooted in social mood … A bearish mood can push a society with very low interest in authoritarianism into a significant authoritarian/anti-authoritarian conflict.8
Hall’s study included a five-step graphic illustrating the process. Figure 12 shows step 3, which depicts where Hall believes the U.S. is situated currently. To see the full graphic from the April issue, click on the figure below.
WikiLeaks continues to push its agenda. On July 16, Assange said that the video it posted of a U.S. helicopter killing a dozen civilians in Iraq had inspired “an enormous quantity of whistle-blower disclosures of high caliber … . There are many things which are very explosive.” The founder also threatens to release a video purportedly showing a U.S. massacre of civilians in Afghanistan. CNN reported, “[Assange] said the site’s hope is that such video ‘will change the perception of the people who are paying’ for the war.”9
Time Running Out?: Wikileaks’ hourglass logo may be more appropriate that its advocates realize.
The site also posted for download a huge, encrypted file labeled “Insurance.”4 The file appears to be graymail—a thinly veiled threat to reveal state secrets. Should something happen to Assange or the web site, those who have downloaded the file would need only the password, not yet disseminated, to open it. On August 5, the Pentagon demanded that WikiLeaks recall all the leaked Department of Defense documents from the web and return them. Recalling the documents is impossible, as Hall noted in his study. On August 10, the Obama administration asked allies Britain, Germany, Australia and others to crack down on WikiLeaks with criminal charges and severe limitations on Assange’s international travel. On August 12, the Pentagon warned that WikiLeaks’ next posting will be more damaging than the initial release. As the conflict festers, the U.S. is no doubt rethinking its relations with Iceland, whose parliament voted unanimously in June to offer legal protection to whistle-blower sites like WikiLeaks and their employees. One sponsor of the legislation said, “They are trying to make everything opaque. We are trying to make it transparent.”10
Serious authoritarian/anti-authoritarian conflict is just beginning, Hall reiterates. Hall says, “The WikiLeaks saga could end abruptly if the authoritarian impulse to extinguish the site prevails. Regardless, the struggle between secrecy and transparency—and authoritarianism and anti-authoritarianism—will continue to intensify.”■
1,7 Hall, A. Authoritarianism: the wave principle governs fear and the social desire to submit. (2010, April, May). The Socionomist . 1April, May, entire issues; 7May, 1.
2 Page, Susan. (2010, July 27). Army begins probe of leaked secret afghan war files. USA Today, 1.
3 Associated Press. (2010, July 7). Editor says source of afghan info is unknown. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/ printedition/news/20100729/wikileaks29_st.art.htm
4 Zetter, Kim. (2010, July 30). Wikileaks posts mysterious ‘insurance’ file. Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/07/wikileaks-insurance-file/
5 Lendman, S. (2010, July 15). Under threat: a free and open internet. Retrieved from http://baltimorechronicle.com/2010/071510Lendman.shtml
6 Text of urgent acta communique. (2010, July 23). Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property. Retrieved from http://www.wcl.american.edu/pijip/go/acta-communique
7 Gilligan, A. (2010, August 21). Surge in britons exported for trial. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/7958202/Surge-in-Britons-exported-for-trial.html
8 The wave principle governs fear and the social desire to submit. (2010, May). The Socionomist, 1.
9 Galant, R. (2010, July 16). Wikileaks founder: site getting tons of ‘high caliber’ disclosures. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/web/07/16/wikileaks.disclosures/
10 Mackey, R. (2010, June 17). Victory for wikileaks in iceland’s parliament. Retrieved from http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/17/victory-for-wikileaks-in-icelands-parliament/
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