WikiLeaks is a new concept to the global stage, though hardly new to people who have been involved in computer security for a while. This article does a very good job of boiling down the essence of the site.
The question keeps arising, why do people do this? The answers are varied, but money is among the least-likely reasons. Pfc. Manning was a classic “disgruntled employee” case. Others may be traditional whistle-blowers. Still others may be working for competing companies or foreign governments. In all cases, there is reason to release the information only if it is more valuable to the leaker if the information is public than if it is privately held by the leaker.
But there’s more to the equation than this. Why does Julian Assange do this? To get a sense of the answer, one needs to look at his past. He was born in 1971, and so was among the first generation of people who could have used a computer in the home. WarGames was written about people like him, who had the normal curiosity of a teenager, coupled with a knack for cryptography.
This interest in cryptography is important. It appears that there is a high concentration of people within the cryptography community that have Asperger Syndrome. Such people tend to be intelligent, in part because one of the symptoms is an intense focus on things that they can study alone; but they also have an inability to empathize. It also tends to breed unrealistic hubris, as a side effect of years of experience in outsmarting others, coupled with the inability to see social warning signs because of the lack of empathy. This could help to explain why he seems to be unable to understand the degree to which his actions are putting himself at risk.
Furthermore, there is a substantial “freedom” subcommunity within the broader computer technology world. The fundamental tenets of this subcommunity are that software and information should be freely available, without profit motive. It was this group that produced Linux and other open-source software. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a more formal and refined manifestation of an aspect of this philosophy. In a less formal and more raw fashion, so is Hacktivismo.
When you put these pieces together, it becomes much easier to understand Assange’s motivations. It’s not that he wants to bring the United States down. Rather the free-information philosophy is more important to him. A lack of empathy and ability to see the bigger picture leads to this behavior. It should be easy to understand this if you look at it through the lens of an individual’s personal political ideology. We see this sort of behavior on this very site all the time.
It’s hard to say what will happen if he loses his life over this. Perhaps someone else will fill the void; there is certainly no shortage of people who share his philosophy and mental state. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine one who would consider Assange a martyr, and would take up the mantle in his honor.
- WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange Is Now Not Accused of Rape (Updated) [Wikileaks] (gizmodo.com)
- “Sweden Issues Second Arrest Warrant for WikiLeaksâ€™ Assange” and related posts (hawaiireporter.com)
- Meet the people who want Julian Assange “whacked” (arstechnica.com)
- Could WikiLeaks Survive Without Julian Assange? (abcnews.go.com)
- Legal process keeps Assange free for now (foxnews.com)