Many people assume that what Wikileaks wants is more openness in government, and that the leaks are designed to make secrecy harder. They point out quite rightly that the response of governments is going to be more secrecy: more documents will be classified top secret, fewer people will be given access.
But the plan isn’t at all to induce more openness. Assange is an anarchist. He thinks governments are a conspiracy of authoritarians. He expects governments to become more secretive; he welcomes this because he thinks it will make them unmanageable. And then somehow the hold of the authoritarians will be broken. Stross notes that the people most exercised about Wikileaks are on the right… the left is pretty much yawning. He takes that as indicating that Assange has stepped on the bunions of the rich and powerful.
Sadly, I think Stross has let hope, and his sf writer’s enthusiasm for a Stainless Steel Rat trick, triumph over skepticism. Think about that last point: Republicans don’t like Wikileaks. Republicans currently attract well over half of the US electorate. There isn’t going to be a mandate for reform, much less tossing out government in favor of left-anarchist heaven.
Think of it this way: we have a Democratic government right now– by its actions, pretty much centrist. If Assange succeeds in weakening a centrist government, who benefits? Left anarchists? No, he strengthens the authoritarians on the right.
What if the right were in power, as it will be sooner or later? Do they care if Wikileaks publishes secrets? Not a bit. When Bush was in power, far worse things were leaked… remember Abu Ghraib? Did the government collapse in favor of the anarchists? The authoritarians just bunkered down and officially embraced torture. Republicans in power use national security as a mantra to continually increase the power, intrusiveness, and unresponsiveness of government. (Remember Bush’s signing statements, which invariably denied the power of Congress to oversee the administration, even when Congress was a rubber stamp from his own party?)
Like all those plans that have a missing step before “3. Profit!”, Assange’s has a missing step before “3. Anarchy!” What is the evidence that increasing the secrecy of governments makes them susceptible to overthrow? Russia and China have shown that obsessive secrecy (and for that matter incompetent government) can be maintained for decades. Assange’s notion is just irresponsible wishful thinking. He probably won’t succeed in nudging the government further right; if he did there’s nothing to suggest that a more secret government would be untenable.
Plus, we should put all this in perspective. American embassies are going to be a lot more careful about what they write down and much more generous with the Top Secret stamp. Big deal. If anyone’s going to muck up the US government, it’s not Assange, it’s John Boehner.