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Julian Assange and WikiLeaks go corporate

November 30, 2010 - Mike Maneval
In my last few entries, I've focused heavily on the deficit and ideas for deficit reduction - and with good reason, as the issue has dominated business news and has serious repercussions, nearly all agree, for our nation's future. And I will likely return to the issue again soon, perhaps looking at potential spending cuts within the health care reform act of 2010, or the impact of President Obama's proposed pay freeze for civilian employees of the federal government, or perhaps expanding on my opening thoughts here on the issue's severe importance.

Yet in the interests of breaking the monotony, I wanted to comment on unrelated matters, and kept my eyes and ears open the past few days for news and commentary on other topics. As always, I found more than I could hope to address, but I did not expect to feel compelled to write about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. Assange is the absolutist who is publishing or circulating leaked documents from the U.S. departments of State and Defense. Yet two developments led me to the point. Assange's announcement his operations soon will target a major U.S. bank, and an excellent article, appropriately long, by Andy Greenberg for Forbes.com.

Greenberg interviews Assange, his collaborators, opponents within our own government and supporters within others. His efforts shed some light on the difficulty the U.S. government faces - and that the private sector likely would face to an even greater extent - in countering Assange's release of documents. James Lewis, formerly with the U.S. Commerce Department, observes: WikiLeaks "is high profile, legally ­insulated and transnational.” Greenberg also speaks with Birgitta Jonsdottir, a poet elected to Iceland's parliament last year as a self-described "realist-anarchist."

Jonsdottir is sympathetic to Assange, as are many in Iceland. The WikiLeaks founder's credibility in Iceland stems back two years, when Kaupthing Bank collapsed. The ripples from this event left the nation with a $128 billion debt, and initially a court injunction prevented an expose of Kaupthing Bank's finances from being aired by Icelandic television's RUV. So RUV directed viewers to WikiLeaks, where the unadulterated expose detailed how at least $6 billion of the bank's capital had been funnelled to a handful in management with little or no collateral. The criminal investigation into the alleged embezzlement continues, and WikiLeaks, in Greenberg's words "became a household name."

As this anecdote implies, my blog title is a misnomer; Assange already has pursued his agenda of holding the private sector accountable to a militant standard of transparency as well. He now is promising to double-down, and says he has information leaked from energy companies, other banks, and pharmaceutical companies. And Iceland may prove to be a valuable ally for Assange. In the initial wake of the scandal, Jonsdottir was elected and is championing a proposal to take shield and source-protection laws from across the world and develop Iceland as the Switzerland of transparency and document-leaking. it remains to be seen if the U.S. can convince Iceland to keep their sights on the target of the Kaupthing Banks of the world, and not U.S. diplomatic and national-security efforts.

 
 

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