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Friday, December 3, 2010

Wikileaks and the Global Geography of Cyberwarfare



The guerrilla cyberwarfare that currently exists between Wikileaks and the various governments that are desperately trying to crush it reveals the global, fast-paced, dizzying, and irrevocably spatial nature of the confrontations of the 21st century unfolding on the web.

The media tends to present this as a virtual struggle between government and non-government hackers over the control of the information flowing through the non-space of the internet. Yet it is apparent that this is also a confrontation over the control of servers based in myriad places: actual computers anchored in particular national territories, which spread the content of Wikileaks all over the globe through a sophisticated network of allied sites that try to hide those locations.

This is why the main target of the US government and its hackers have been these servers, which Wikileaks activists keep moving around from one country to the next as they are subjected to relentless cyber-attacks.

The geography of the guerrilla cyber-activism of Wikileaks was clear from the start. A Wikileaks team worked on its "Collateral Murder" Video, which documents the murder of civilians in Iraq by the crew of a US apache helicopter, in Iceland, the country with the most strict freedom of information and whistleblowers-protection in the world.



And until recently, Wikileaks has relied on a Swedish internet service-provider which then routed submissions to a server based in Belgium and then to servers in other undisclosed countries with strong legal protection for freedom of expression. But in the past few days the cyber attacks on Wikileaks have been so fierce and sustained, that the website has been effectively shut down and the activists shifted to servers in multiple parts of the planet including the Amazon.com server for a brief moment. After Amazon abided by US pressure last Wednesday, the server shifted to Switzerland for a few hours, and according to the last media reports (December 4) the site is now based in servers located in Holland, Germany, and Finland.



That most of these servers are in northern European countries reveals that there is a consistent spatial thread in this global cyberwarfare, for these national territories provide relatively safer if ultimately fragile havens for cyber-activists. A minister in the government of Ecuador led by Correa announced it offered Julian Assange and his activists a safe haven from international prosecution, but then backed down. The social democracies of northern Europe, in this regard, are the main spaces contributing to shaping the global geographies of these cyber-confrontations by challenging the attempt by the US government to turn the globe into a smooth space for its attempts at censorship. Yet the fact that the Interpol hunt for Julian Assange was initiated by a Swedish court also reveals the fragility of these havens, and the fact that powerful actors within this countries have fully sided with the US.

The move by Amazon and now PayPal to cut any ties with Wikileaks also reveals that this elusive network is under attack by a common corporate-state front that is openly hostile to the idea of a transparent and democratic access to the web. And the overall aim of this move is to restrict the number of actual places from where these activists can do their work.

Meanwhile, Julian Assange is a hunted man, who has been on the move and in hiding for several months. The corporate media and right-wing politicians in the US are presenting him and his fellow activists as "cyber-terrorists" and "enemy combatants" with "blood on their hands" that should be "taken out" by the CIA. The irony is that those responsible for, or complicit with, the murder of countless numbers of men, women, and children in Iraq and Afghanistan are now accusing those denouncing those crimes for having "blood on their hands". George Orwell could as well have written a book called "2010".



Following a trend accelerated by 9/11, the language of "terrorism" is now being used to demonize any type of democratic activism on the web. The US government is increasingly sounding like the Chinese government in this regard, a worrisome move. And the struggle over Wikileaks also involves the attempts by various states to capture an elusive body moving in space, that of Julian Assange.

This is why the cyber-confrontations currently involving Wikileaks are so important for those of us who believe in a democracy not ruled by unaccountable corporate and state power. And it is equally important to keep in mind that this cyberwarfare is an extremely dynamic, mobile, horizontal process over the control of space. A reminder, in other words, that what we call "globalization" or "cyber-activism" involves not only flows of information moving across the world at dizzying speed but also the actual control of mundane spaces: such as computers sitting on a desk somewhere in Iceland, Finland, or Holland.

The struggle for a global democrary, therefore, should include demanding our respective national governments that it is imperative to protect these spaces from state attempts to crush free access to information that concerns us all.

5 comments:

  1. Las redes virtuales parecieran constituirse cada vez más en la continuidad de las luchas geográficas pero sobre otros medios...
    Hoy en P-12 Mario Wainfeld recuerda ironicamente al cono del silencio del super agente 86 y otras ficciones cinematográficas y literarias...
    En suma lo que este episodio de ciberguerra reafirma es la naturaleza narrativa de las disputas por el sentido.
    Lo dicho y lo no dicho, lo publicable y lo que es menester que quede oculto y en esto se juega tambien el maridaje de los organismos de inteligencia (con sus desinteligencias) y las corporaciones de medios que seleccionan y editorializan aquello que debía quedar oculto.
    Advierto que a fuerza de circunstancias este espacio bloguero que creaste para ensayar acerca del vínculo entre espacio y política se deslizó del análisis de los cuerpos en la calle, a los cuerpos del agro y ahora se ancla momentaneamente en los cuerpos ocultos visibilizados en formato digital.
    Aparecen ahora cuerpos de bandoleros clandestinizados como el de Bin Laden o el de Julian Assange que circulan como imágenes de la amenaza al orden o a su seguridad. Despiertan admiración anarquista como antes lo hiciera el de Bailoreto o el del Che. Cuerpos de otros tiempos en los que la conquista de territorios y la construcción de la leyenda se jugaba en combates cuerpo a cuerpo.
    Guerrillas posmodernas, propias de tiempos en que predominan los dispositivos de simulacro. Ya no desplegadas en la selva de tupida foresta, sino en esta selva discursivamente sobreinformada que sin embargo requiere de soportes físicos para sostener este otro espacio, este territorio tambien en disputa entre los Estados y entre los aparatos políticos y las organizaciones civiles que confrotan o burlan los discursos hegemónicos.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This whole episode has been fascinating for so many reasons it's hard to know where to begin -- not least for the global/geographic elements you highlight here.

    One, as you note this affair has highlighted just how fragile and arbitrary free speech on the web is... the concentration of infrastructure in a country that is so hostile to dissent (that its companies rush to cover merely to avoid criticism or extra-legal threats) has been exposed. And given that in the current web environment there may be only a dozen or so web hosts that are robust enough to withstand the DDos attacks being sent at Wikileaks, I find it hard to believe some of the more techno-utopian pronouncements about power and information we've been hearing the past week.

    One of the excerpts from a cable that caught my eye referred to the Chinese attitude to the Internet:

    The message delivered by the office, the person said, was that “in the past, a lot of officials worried that the Web could not be controlled.”

    “But through the Google incident and other increased controls and surveillance, like real-name registration, they reached a conclusion: the Web is fundamentally controllable,” the person said.

    In a Guardian Q&A that was posted last week, Assange suggested that Wikileaks had hosted with Amazon and other US-based providers was strategic, "deliberately placing some of our servers in jurisdictions that we suspected suffered a free speech deficit in order to separate rhetoric from reality"... but then again, there have been a rash of surprisingly amateurish IT decisions that make me wonder if Assange covering some questionable judgment with bravado.

    That said, I hadn't really read Assange's written stuff closely until this past week, and am surprised how interesting I find it... I thought his comments on the limits of blog culture were especially provocative, I hope to write a post on that myself.

    It seems counter-intuitive that the most notorious act of online information activism yet would lead me to the conclusion that the web is an even less free place than I thought... but so far that's where I am headed. Then again, the fun part of this whole saga is how it keeps on surprising us.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This whole episode has been fascinating for so many reasons it's hard to know where to begin -- not least for the global/geographic elements you highlight here.

    One, as you note this affair has highlighted just how fragile and arbitrary free speech on the web is... the concentration of infrastructure in a country that is so hostile to dissent (that its companies rush to cover merely to avoid criticism or extra-legal threats) has been exposed. And given that in the current web environment there may be only a dozen or so web hosts that are robust enough to withstand the DDos attacks being sent at Wikileaks, I find it hard to believe some of the more techno-utopian pronouncements about power and information we've been hearing the past week.

    One of the excerpts from a cable that caught my eye referred to the Chinese attitude to the Internet:

    The message delivered by the office, the person said, was that “in the past, a lot of officials worried that the Web could not be controlled.”

    “But through the Google incident and other increased controls and surveillance, like real-name registration, they reached a conclusion: the Web is fundamentally controllable,” the person said.

    In a Guardian Q&A that was posted last week, Assange suggested that Wikileaks had hosted with Amazon and other US-based providers was strategic, "deliberately placing some of our servers in jurisdictions that we suspected suffered a free speech deficit in order to separate rhetoric from reality"... but then again, there have been a rash of surprisingly amateurish IT decisions that make me wonder if Assange covering some questionable judgment with bravado.

    That said, I hadn't really read Assange's written stuff closely until this past week, and am surprised how interesting I find it... I thought his comments on the limits of blog culture were especially provocative, I hope to write a post on that myself.

    It seems counter-intuitive that the most notorious act of online information activism yet would lead me to the conclusion that the web is an even less free place than I thought... but so far that's where I am headed. Then again, the fun part of this whole saga is how it keeps on surprising us.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This article is close to what I'd written too. Great minds thinking alike? ;-)

    ReplyDelete