In my studies of military history and human conflict, which I consider vast but not yet comprehensive, I have come up with a single original saying that I consider to be an actual quotable profundity. “In all conflicts, regardless of power, technology or even sides, the battlefield is going to get it's ass kicked.” If you think about it you will instantly find it to be always true. A field full of cavemen with clubs and stones knives will get trampled and ruined. Europe was flattened by World War II. Should there be a nuclear war between America and whoever we are angry with this week the whole world will suck fallout.
Barrett Brown and Julian Assange are having one hell of a fight for control and direction radical transparency movement. It has made the movement into the battlefield not an army. As discussed, the battlefield always looses. The battle has expanded from a war of words between two very headstrong and personally difficult men into one for control of movement infrastructure. The battle has degenerated into a proxy war for the board of the Courage Foundation, which Assange seems to have a stronger influence in, and may serve as a gateway for Brown to boosting his Pursuance Project up as an alternative to Wikileaks.
Both men have supported each other in the past. Brown was a beneficiary of the Courage Foundation when he was imprisoned and has received some small amount of money since, which he says he no longer needs. Assange is in grave danger of loosing his asylum bid and somewhat safe harbor in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Brown, although obviously not pleased with Assange, still publicly rallies to defend the latters right to remain alive and free.
What neither man has considered is the battlefield and we soldiers who should be fighting a very different war. When I say “we soldiers”, I mean the other work a day stiffs who are underpaid radical journalists looking to engage with actual raw data that is the stuff of our stories. When former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (Lt. Gen USAF ret.) called Wikileaks a “stateless hostile intelligence agency” he was correct in my view. As a journalist I consider myself a spy. I've made the comparison more extensively in one of my books. The late Steig Lasson, who was an anti-fascist researcher and best selling author, made the same comparison explicitly in his Millennium series. The difference between James Clapper and myself is two-fold. He has a staff. I do not. He works for governments. I work for the public, which means you personally and collectively.
In that context, within those metaphors, Assange and Brown are not generals, although they seem like they would like to be. They are arms dealers, and this customer needs some orders filled. Watching this fight is like watching the CEOs of Colt and Remington beat each other with tire irons in a waffle house parking lot at 3am somewhere on the outskirts of Hartford. Excuse me gentlemen, but I'm in a foxhole in Columbus and I would really like some bullets.
This ego clash is a side effect of the very American over engagement with celebrity and it has been a problem for many social movements and this one in particular. Chelsea Manning is a brave woman, and many people have opinions on what she did and why she did it. Her prosecution, imprisonment and release get more attention than the actual substance of her leaks. When they are discussed, they are discussed in terms of their existence: “How have they hurt American intelligence or foreign policy?” not “What does this reveal and what is the morality of it?”.
The same is true for Edward Snowden. Media engages with him as a person, a product and image. They discuss the what is right or wrong about what he has done. Very few people roll their sleeves up and read the actual documents, make the connections, and discover the many stories great and small that they reveal or confirm.
This tendency has poisoned Wikileaks recent work. The triple release of the DNC, Clinton, and Podesta email files has drawn screams about Russia which I am convinced is a false narrative. It has caused Assange to take a partisan drift against all things democrat and Brown to align himself with the Russia narrative. As a working journalist during the last election, I was getting a completely unique story every day out of those files. Not one word of one email in all three of those releases has been denied by their authors. Again, the existence rather than the content of the files became the issue and therefore those in power control the narrative.
While Barrett Brown was in prison, I was briefly part of his Project PM. I was proud at the time to have been invited to join because of some of my work on the death of Michael Hastings. The project, which is what got Barrett locked up in the first place, was 8 months into existance began to crowd source a deep investigation into the vast trove of material leaked by my friend Jeremy Hammond. Lacking an editorial board or any form of coordination, and lacking direction without Brown actively helming it, the project did not engage with the material in any organized fashion. I made solid connections through it and I am proud to still work with some of them (they know who they are) but it did not produce the results it could have and it did not alter the national dialogue like it should have. Jeremy Hammond is a good, hardworking and humble man. I will not say that he went to prison for nothing. I will say that if we all had done a better job with the information he garnered, he would be free by now. This is a practical effect of ego over work focus.
As I have seen from my time in the antifascist movement, where I met Jeremy Hammond, it is the day to day work that gets the job done. On top of getting the data, he was part of a hard fighting crew of anti-fascists battling for the legendarily tough streets of South Chicago. He would downplay all that, but reality is reality, street fighting is street fighting and South Chicago is and always will be tough.
When we loose focus on the day to day work, when struggle languishes, that is when the infighting begins. The root word of movement is move. Political movements, which is what the radical transparency movement is, are people in motion. When this motion stops, it is like a parked car with people fighting inside it for control of the divers seat. This would be a comic image because this thing we are trying to get going is not a bus, it's barely a sedan and we have people diving over the front seats from the back, the horn blaring because of an odd elbow and upside down foot prints on the windshield.
Having been on many cross country road trips I can assure you they start to suck when you fight over the radio. Here is the reality check gentlemen, we have to haul the entire population across the country and we need to be building more cars not fighting over this or that car or which we should use.
Journalists do not need to compete. There is not world wide shortage of oppression and secrets. The worst thing about human rights reporting is job security. I am one hundred percent sure that tomorrow, when I finish my first cup of coffee, I will be seeing fresh pictures of dead children killed en masse in a school or on the way to school. They will have been killed by some weapon that was fired by some thing that can fly. The weapon and the flying thing will have been made in the United States or Europe. I am part of the collective body that causes that. That makes them my responsibility.
I will add that responsibility., which I can not even hope live up to, to the insanely long list of stories that need my attention. Local stories about crime and the corruption of those in power, from the statehouse to small town school boards here in Ohio. My work on those two examples is fuel by the same mechanism as stories on national and international events. That mechanism is me receiving data from leaks and leakers and coupling it with public records before I even start asking people questions. Again the actual information trumps the personalities whoever they might be.
Assange and Brown are fighting over political direction and personality. That fight has spilled into infrastructure. The fact that it can spill over materially to the point that it effects board compositions is a problem. The internal workings of the organizations involved have their own problems.
In the case of the Courage Foundation, the composition of the board is all wrong. The raison d'être for it is supporting and defending prisoners in a decentralized conflict. People who are actual prisoners are not on the board and do not have top-level input. This can be done and it is the model used by the Anarchist Black Cross Federation. Policy, priorities and allocations of resources are determined in large part by a committee of prisoners elected by other prisoners. Although they have some measure of voting participation, it is understood that people on the outside of the prison walls are primarily there to support and defend people inside under the instruction of the people being supported and defended. The Courage Foundation should reorganize on similar grounds.
I've looked briefly at Barrett Brown's new organizational vehicle, called the Pursuance Project. I think I'm supposed to endorse or join it or something. In my brief look, I saw a chart with some vague place for me where my workflow gets organized by other people with some encryption stuff. I'll pass, but thank you.
I'm one motherboard and one video card from turning the computer scrap pile on the other side of my office into a Secure Drop. I won't be needing somebody else's encryption. I had one running for a couple of months and I'll get one running again soon. I have sufficient skills and sufficient coffee. That means I'll be manufacturing my own bullets too, gentlemen. With the security angle covered by that and other things, anywhere on the Pursuance chart that I don’t see my name I see the words “your boss”. There is a reason I work for me. I'm happy to work with other people on occasion, but that is because I like them and we collectively have pieces of the same thing. In my life I don’t need a chart with the my name and the words “your boss.”
Wikileaks itself needs to refocus on releasing more and new information and indexing what information it does have better. Like start making with the more usable wiki part. They need to raise money to pay people to organize what they have already published. I got a great story out of the DNC leaks on pro-Clinton voter suppression in Rhodes Island. The irony there is that I stumbled upon it while looking for the former Mayor of Columbus' doings as a lobbyist. I wanted to start to examining the relationship between Democratic Party machine politicians locally and Central Committee people nationally. This is part of what I meant earlier when I talked about my own foxhole in the information war and wanting these two guys to shut up and pass the ammunition. In this case I also meant label the bullets by type and caliber please and thank you.
I make the news and I read the news. Nothing I see in any news makes the world look better any at given moment. So do both of these men. Neither of them seems to be someone I'd personally like. Barrett Brown enjoys fighting on twitter too much. Observe:
I said it before and I'll say it again Julian Assange deserves to be free and to speak. He also is a weird guy on a weird headtrip and he can't crash on my couch.
Both men should be defended and supported. For the rest of us, furthering this fight is a distraction from the work we need to be doing.