Want to Know Julian Assange’s Endgame? He Told You a Decade Ago
By Andy Greenberg
Oct 14 2016
Amid a seemingly incessant deluge of leaks and hacks, Washington, DC staffers have learned to imagine how even the most benign email would look a week later on the homepage of a secret-spilling outfit like WikiLeaks or DCLeaks. In many cases, they’ve stopped emailing altogether, deleted accounts, and reconsidered dumbphones. Julian Assange—or at least, a ten-years-younger and more innocentAssange—would say he’s already won.
After another week of Clinton-related emails roiling this election, the political world has been left to scrub their inboxes, watch their private correspondences be picked over in public, and psychoanalyze WikiLeaks’ inscrutable founder. Once they’re done sterilizing their online lives, they might want to turn to an essay Assange wrote ten years ago, laying out the endgame of his leaking strategy long before he became one of the most controversial figures on the Internet.
In “Conspiracy as Governance,” which Assange posted to his blog in December 2006, the leader of then-new WikiLeaks describes what he considered to be the most effective way to attack a conspiracy—including, as he puts it, that particular form of conspiracy known as a political party.
“Consider what would happen if one of these parties gave up their mobile phones, fax and email correspondence—let alone the computer systems which manage their [subscribers], donors, budgets, polling, call centres and direct mail campaigns. They would immediately fall into an organisational stupor and lose to the other.”
And how to induce that “organisational stupor?” Foment the fear that any correspondence could leak at any time.
“The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive ‘secrecy tax’) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaptation.”
WikiLeaks would publish its first leak the same month as that blog post, a communication from a Somalian Islamic cleric calling for political assassinations. Three years later it’d put out the Pentagon and State Department leaks provided by Chelsea Manning, and six years after that, leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton advisor John Podesta would lead to the ousting of DNC Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and shake Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
The last decade has shown just how prescient Assange was. Take, for example, the Russian hackers who published private files from the World Anti-Doping Agency after Russia’s athletes got banned from the Olympics for doping. “Now a group like WADA has to take everything they say to every person into account. They have to think, this could leak,” says Dave Aitel, a former NSA staffer and founder of the security firm Immunity who focuses on cyberwar and information warfare. “The idea is, ‘If we can prevent them from having secrets, they have to operate very differently.’”
That move comes straight from Assange. “It was a crappy, annoying manifesto,” Aitel says. “And it was ahead of its time by many years.”