Is there a revolution afoot?

The WikiLeaks battle is stirring the disaffected to action

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It will be most interesting to see how WikiLeaks defenders respond to the effort on the part of the establishment to put it out of business and punish them.

So far measures have included efforts to deny WikiLeaks financial services and websites from which to work; the dubious arrest and imprisonment of WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange on behalf of the Swedish government; and efforts led by the U.S. government to ostracize WikiLeaks and Mr. Assange as irresponsible criminals.

WikiLeaks supporters have responded by cyber-attacking the websites of PayPal, MasterCard, VISA, Amazon.com, the Swedish government and those that kicked off WikiLeaks.

One particularly interesting target is the Swedish government. Most people -- or, at least, most Americans -- see or saw until recently the Swedish government as relatively benign, generous in its distribution of the country's wealth and liberal in its respect of civil rights.

This image has been somewhat modified by the portrait of the Swedish government presented in the three recent films of Stieg Larsson's books, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," "The Girl Who Played with Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest." The government is seen in the films as closely linked to the military-industrial-intelligence complex and heavy-handed to the point of cruel in its approach to dissidents and opposition. It wouldn't be difficult to imagine Lisbeth Salander -- "The Girl" -- in the ranks of the hackers harassing PayPal, MasterCard, VISA and the Swedish government.

Remember, though, that whatever misery the U.S. government is suffering at this point, it is self-inflicted damage.

The origins of the communications vulnerability that led to the massive leaks is perfectly understandable. The further the U.S. government dug into what occurred on 9/11 the clearer it became that the attacks might not have occurred if there had been better communication among its intelligence arms. The CIA had the names of some of the killer hijackers, for example, but did not communicate them to the State Department, which issues visas, or what was then called the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which mans America's borders. So that had to be fixed.

Unfortunately, the only department with enough money and personnel to mount a government-wide database was the Department of Defense, 3 million strong, and staffed in part by people who -- for various reasons -- couldn't be trusted to protect the confidentiality of the information that came into their hands. And so there we were.

The Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kevin Rudd, placed the responsibility squarely where it belongs: "Mr. Assange is not himself responsible for the unauthorized release of 250,000 documents from the U.S. diplomatic communications network. The Americans are responsible for that," he said.

American politicians now busily fantasizing about prosecuting Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks need to bear in mind that if the matter were to come to court, the question of how the secret U.S. documents were so easily swiped would come out. Where the decisions occurred within the U.S. government that made the leaks possible would be interesting to know, indeed.

There is some thought that the struggle between WikiLeaks attackers and defenders may evolve into a major showdown between the military-industrial-governmental complex and the disaffected and alienated, hackers and otherwise. There is some feeling out there that the establishment has been busy shafting the lesser rungs of society, with some success, and that it is now time for the underclass to strike back.

The rape of the economy by Wall Street firms, the unseemly haste and vigor with which the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama rushed to bail them out and the fervor of the now-restored financial sector to grant itself its habitual massive year-end bonuses is the kind of thing that gets people's backs up.

The giant tax break congressional Democrats and Republicans are granting America's rich -- providing an unnecessary $225 billion to the country's richest 2 percent through lower income and generous inheritance and capital gains tax rates -- is further evidence to lesser mortals that America's leaders do not care about them and deserve to be damaged, with the big corporations they nurture, whether it be by WikiLeaks or by skillful hackers with nose-rings.

The hackers are organizing their counterattack. They are employing their thorough knowledge of the cyberworld by coordinating chat-rooms and networks. There are pirate parties proliferating across national lines. There are people who are angry, not only at the attacks on WikiLeaks and Mr. Assange, whom they consider to be heroes, but also at the establishment in general.

Another manifestation of that anger probably was the attack in London last week on the car of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall by a mob that included British students angry at university tuition increases.

If these confrontations turn into a larger conflict, those on the establishment side should remember that they will be fighting the hackers, who are predominantly young, on their ground -- in cyberspace.

It would be better if this face-off did not turn into some sort of mini-revolution. Those get messy.

On the other hand, it would be wise for all of us to remember that such cataclysms occur when growing numbers of people are hungry, without jobs, without housing, without much hope and with a feeling that their governments are more interested in the well-being of the bankers, financiers and politicians than in theirs.


Dan Simpson , a former U.S. ambassador, is a Post-Gazette associate editor ( dsimpson@post-gazette.com , 412 263-1976).


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