There must be something in the spring air. The lunatics, the delusional and the kooks seem to be descending upon us from far and wide: Gaddafi, Charlie Sheen, Julian Assange, and Glenn Beck to name a few. They come at us in all shapes, sizes and ethnicity over the media and political airwaves. Just tune into the television, cable, radio, social networks and even in the halls of Congress. As many have lamented this past week, it’s almost impossible to decipher the recent ramblings of Moammar Gaddafi from Charlie Sheen because it all sounds the same. Scary stuff huh when folks like Sheen take to primetime and Twitter for a public meltdown, and a profitable windfall that may have sacrificed his children. You know listening to him was like listening to ranting of the crazy uncle who spent a bit too much time alone in the attic drinking lighter fluid, and diddling himself. Yet, the real embarrassment is that the American media’s executive producers have not shut down this crass profiteering. We’ve always known that: Gaddafi was stark raving mad; Sheen was spiraling out of control with drugs and drink to the embarrassment of his father; Assange had fantasies of grandeur; Beck was another foul mouthed profiteer picking at the underbelly of America’s prejudices; and the new members of Congress were grandstanding while smiling for the television cameras. Alas, we may have finally reached a dangerous level of toxicity from the blitzkrieg of ratings driven dribble passing as American news coverage.
WikiLeaks raises some of the most poignant questions of our time about the power of cyber warfare, the role of hackers, and the future of the Internet. It is not a coincidence that Madame Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has created a whole new effort to explore and fight cyber terrorism. In fact, WikiLeaks and Assange may represent the first of the wholesale anarchists using today’s information highway to do battle. Consider that instead of taking to the streets in protest, this generation may take to the Internet to wage their battles and carry their message. We are living a time represented by the power of Facebook that links over 500 million people together. And if this is true, we may have unleashed a whole new generation of cyber warlords on the world’s information centers.
Many of our brethren are writing about democracy, liberty and the freedom of information pivoting off what they believe WikiLeaks stands for. Julian Assange has been elevated to the “Man of the People” as filmmaker Michael Moore contributes to his bail fund, and the Huffington Post sets up a whole section devoted to whistleblower Fantasy Land. You know, we all need something valiant to believe in during the difficult days of Obama. The obnoxious wealthy are dancing on the heads of US lawmakers. The banks are still doing the Texas two-step, and the Middle Class continues to suffer in silence with simmering rage. There are two deeply divisive wars. China is rising and scaring the heck out of us. The liberals of the Democratic Party continue to act like toddlers, and Sarah Palin is making hay laughing all the way to her off-shore accounts. So Julian Assange, or whoever is backing him, could not have picked a better moment of discontent. They are evoking new archetypes of good and bad in a world that is increasing grey.
Assange is the anti-hero. He has been personified as a man with no country who is a metrosexual kind of guy willing to risk it all to uncover the truth. Yet, we don’t really know much about this man, or what makes him tick. Is he really the wizard behind or the curtain, or there really someone or something else pulling the strings. Is he a hacker extraordinaire, or just a man that is a brilliant online community organizer? In fact and most importantly, what does it mean to be a hacker? Are hackers by definition anarchists, or is it just Julian that wants to topple the establishment at any cost. Or are there droves of these cyber-sleuths trolling the black lands of the Internet looking for back doors into silos of information? Remember Assange was a cryptologist of sorts which is the super duper folks that develop the ways to tunnel into software code. And it may be fair to assume that these same hackers were probably responsible for the DOS (Denial of Service) attacks on Visa, Master Card and others. And if this is true then who is really pulling the strings since these were very, targeted attacks on specific corporations that shut out the money flow for WikiLeaks? The bottom line is that we still don’t know how the WikiLeaks information is gathered and/or obtained. Does it come from this new breed of whistleblowers, such as Private Manning that had a rare blend of tech talents and access? If so; does this new breed even resemble our beloved archetypical whistleblowers circa Daniel Ellsberg, or even Erin Brockovich? And I ask again, have we grappled with the ramifications of an Internet that is locked down in response to WikiLeaks? Are we ready to usher in a new age of restrictions? This sadly will make the debate around net neutrality seem like child’s play if cyber war erupts.
Please note that this post appeared earlier in the day in the Huffington Post.