Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Hysteria for Women, or: What has Julian Assange got that David Aaronovitch hasn't?

So did Wikileaks really help spark the Tunisian revolt? Probably. I think commenter 'eleny' on some messageboard I was looking at had it right:

"Maybe people believed that there was corruption. But when they had concrete examples in the words of their leaders it infuriated the citizenry."
Believing is one thing but knowing is all important. And facts appear to be what WikiLeaks provides.

Secrecy, its degrees and varieties and its penumbra of deniability and doubt, is a favourite topic in these my sporadic and desultory remarks. I haven't attempted anything approaching thorough investigation or analysis of the situation in Tunisia, but the idea that a credible source certifying previously penumbral factoids can catalyse latent resentment seems fairly plausible to me. (One aspect is the idea that publicity provides a standard around which previously private opinion can rally, as in the Emperor's New Clothes parable.)

But letting that issue dangle unargued, I'll turn instead to the burning question of the moment: what would Serious Political Analyst and unwonted but determined Radio 4 colonist David Aaronovitch have to say about this? I don't know the answer to that either, which is probably good for the old equanimity. I imagine he subscribes to one of the 'power to the people as long as they do what we want' arguments that have emerged among the neocons and all the usual suspects, but again, I don't actually know, and don't intend coughing up whatever it costs to find out.

What I do know, though, thanks to a recent foraging expedition among some old chip wrappers, is what Aaronovitch was writing about Wikileaks in his Times column a few months ago. And in light of some evidence that Wikileaks is capable of having a role in some pretty spectacular and broadly welcome events, it seems worth looking at what he was saying then in some detail.

The Times, Thursday December 9 2010, Opinion, p33

This is no Robin Hood. They were our secrets

The Assangeists don't trust the State to run foreign or defence policy. So why do they trust it to run everything else?

David Aaronovitch

I had the same conversation half a dozen times yesterday in different forms and on different media. Wasn't there something strangely "convenient" about the legal process under way to investigate sexual allegations against Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks? What this must mean, if anything, is this: is there some kind of plot whereby Mr Assange's enemies have somehow procured these charges to silence him? In other words the Yanks have secretly (ha!) leant on the Swedes, the Swedes have silently manipulated two women, and there we are, halfway to the fourth Stieg Larsson novel, The Girl with the Badly Constructed Condom.

Aaronovitch has approximated accuracy here: what people were saying - huge numbers of people who are not normally interested in observing conspiratorial behaviour - is that Mr Assange's enemies have had a hand in these charges. But not necessarily to silence him - perhaps to spoil his attempt to gain permanent residence in Sweden, perhaps to taint his reputation, perhaps to hobble, disrupt or undermine the work of Wikileaks, and perhaps of course - watch this space - in order to get him into custody while they decide on the best way to inveigle him into the US penal system or its Kafkaesque shadowland. The latest development in the extradition proceedings against Assange have an irrelevant magistrate giving his decision (against Assange), in the certain knowledge that appeal proceedings will begin with his words still hanging in the air. [Edit: since that was written, a District Judge has taken the appeals procedure another unedifying step closer to exhaustion.]

Anyone who is interested in the motivation and merits of the action taken against Assange by Swedish prosecutors can find plenty of material on the web; I'm not going to analyse it in detail here. One can certainly say, though, that these suspicions are not exactly tinfoil-hat territory - the US is indisputably out to get Assange, the charges are incredibly dubious on a large number of counts, and the announcement that Assange had surrendered to custody was followed with amazing swiftness by an announcement from the US state department that they 'may' seek to extradite Mr Assange - out of the Anglo-Swedish frying pan and directly into the inferno, Stateside.

Aaronovitch does his best to isolate a weak and paranoid-sounding strand from the web of evidence: so his chosen quote is "convenient" ( not that he is necessarily quoting any actual words he has actually heard, of course). "Isn't this a bit convenient?", as in 'isn't it convenient for the international Jewish Illuminati that this earthquake should keep the West Kettering UFO Working Group's inaugural conference and buffet off the front pages?'. The idea is to suggest a very weak circumstantial case, one so weak that it can only be hinted at. But Aaronovitch is really pushing it here - not many are going to fall for his Emperor's New Clothes schtick this time. Avert your eyes, gentle reader, for the Grand Panjandrum Aaronovitch stands before us, naked and quivering with indignation. (My concern is not of course to spare his ample blushes, but to save you from a disturbing and, I fear, indelible image.)

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Scarlett in the Black

John Scarlett, who as head of the JIC showed such independence in ensuring that nothing dodgy could get into any dossiers or anything like that, has now been appointed to the board of News International (Roy Greenslade, his background link.), which is supposedly meant to ensure the independence of the Times papers (you know, the ones hidden from the scrutiny of bloggers behind a paywall.)

Which for the most part a nice sinecure to add to his previous rewards in the shape of a brief stint as head of the SIS, and the consequent KCMG.

But the Eye (1283, 4 Mar 2011, p5) points out that this is splendid timing given that the Chilcott inquiry is going to be rolling out its bland admonishments soon, to be analysed in forensic detail by the News Corp titles, no doubt.

From the link supplied by Greenslade:

217. It is questionable how effective the Independent National Directors have been, even with the increased powers that Rupert Murdoch agreed to give them. The system was strongly criticised by Harold Evans who was Editor of The Sunday Times when Rupert Murdoch bought it, and who was then appointed as Editor of The Times. Mr Evans had fought for the increased powers of the Independent National Directors but in practice, he found they provided him with no effective protection. In his autobiography he wrote that none of the guarantees that Rupert Murdoch gave to safeguard editorial independence "are worth the paper they are written on—unless the proprietor shares the spirit of them. If he does, they are merely ornamental; if he does not, they are unworkable … Internal freedom cannot be acquired by external rules"[91]. Andrew Neil, Editor of The Sunday Times from 1983 to 1994, agreed "It was a conceit invented ... to allow Mr Murdoch to take over these papers in the first place, and it was put in place for that reason. It was not really put in place to protect the independence of the editors" (Q 1689).

I'm sure Scarlett will feel very much at home in such a setup, especially one run by the equally reputable Murdoch.