API Journal Authors: Pat Romanski, Derek Weeks, Elizabeth White, Yeshim Deniz, Liz McMillan

Related Topics: @CloudExpo, Containers Expo Blog, Government Cloud

@CloudExpo: Article

Julian Assange, Cloud Computing, and the Decline of Skill

Just Because You Can Do Something, Should You? Should He? Should We?

Julian Assange: was this the face that launched a thousand probes? Apparently so, as the Australian's threatened release of hundreds of thousands of documents (about 15,000 of them marked "secret") from within the United States government regarding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has made him some very powerful enemies and sparked a global debate on government transparency and journalistic responsibility.

As many others, including my colleague Jeremy Geelan, have reported, the Assange/WikiLeaks leaks raise very serious questions about governance and security within the US federal IT infrastructure. The US government simply must answer, and answer soon, if one low-level soldier really did have access to all this information; if so, why; and in any case, what will be done to tighten things up about two dozen notches.

Newly Found Power
This case also reveals the power of the Web, and the power of Cloud Computing. The WikiLeaks site can continue to be relocated almost anywhere in the world. This may be inconvenient to Mr. Assange, but who said taking on powerful governments was ever convenient?

Surely, even if WikiLeaks wears out its welcome in the Western world, there will be somebody, somewhere willing to host the site and deliver its information from the clouds to the desktops, notebooks, and smartphones of the world.

Also most assuredly, Mr. Assange's antics will encourage others to leak and reveal previously hidden communications on a scale unimagined a generation ago.

But should it? Are we really launching into a new era of heroic whistle-blowers, unprecedented revelation, and therefore, governmental transparency?

Start with the fact that the leaks have, so far, revealed nothing earthshaking. That diplomats obscure the truth in their public statements, that even close allies snoop on each other, and that perceived societal pressures cause country leaders to, uh, lie now and then are well-understood realities.

One little subtext also involves the rather indiscriminate use of secrecy classifications for many government documents. It reminds me of grade inflation or clothing sizes. Yesterday's 3.5 GPA is today 4.2, that women's size 4 is more like an 8, and you can fit into those 36-inch pants because they're really 38.5 inches around. Confidential often isn't really anymore, and numerous investigations have noted that the use of Top Secret is often inappropriate, sometimes comically so. The inconsistencies and labyrinthian nature of the US government's classification and compartmentalization programs are numerous and profound.

Computance and Skil
But to me, the big, overriding issue here is one of competence, or rather, a lack of such by Mr. Assange. His quest is admittedly driven by ideology, and he has brought the wrath of governments upon his shoulders in unskillful, inept fashion. Although his WikiLeaks releases have been compared to the Pentagon Papers and Watergate revelations, there are critical differences that beg to be outlined.

The first difference is that Neil Sheehan of the New York Times (with the Pentagon Papers), then a few years later, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post (with Watergate) were journalists first and foremost. They were skilled in their craft, careful with their source material, and committed only to weaving together stories of substance based on what their training and skill told them was important.

In the Pentagon Papers case, the whistle-blower, Daniel Ellsburg, was privy to policies and documents that outlined a long-term, massive web of lies by the Lyndon Johnson administration regarding the Vietnam War. The Times coverage, and later coverage by the Washington Post, focused on specific aspects of the papers that revealed the government deception that led to untold deaths of American soldiers and Vietnamese soldiers and citizens.

The Times was also provided some cover by the reading of many of the documents into the public record by a United States senator who also felt there was a compelling story to be told. These revelations were a bit more serious than whether Angela Merkel is cautious (you don't say?) or Vlad Putin is bossy.

Watergate was an equally serious story, one in which an infamous "third-rate burglary" turned into a massive cover-up headed by President Richard Nixon and which eventually led to a near-constitutional crisis and finally, to Nixon's resignation.

Although both of these famous cases eventually led to the release of voluminous information for reporters and historians to pick through for the next few hundred years, in neither case was the source material itself the entire story.

A Filterless Environment
But with WikiLeaks, Mr. Assange placed himself in the simultaneous position of whistleblower and publisher. Although he has apparently sent the documents he's leaked so far to several leading news organizations, it seems he's holding onto the possibility of having no filter between what he has been given and what he will release. In that case, he would exercise no editorial judgment in the matter. This may be seen as the point of the whole exercise; after all, we're entering our second decade of the decline of mainstream media and the rise of citizen journalism.

To me, this is the huge flaw in Mr. Assange's approach. Citizen journalism is no better than the citizens who report it. It is just another function of Warhol's "15 minutes of fame" dictum, in which there are precious few arbiters of taste or talent in deciding who or what is of consequence. So, during the present era, we've migrated from Marilyn Monroe to Kim Kardashian, from Robert Culp and Bill Cosby to Snooki and The Situation, from Tammy Wynette to Miley Cyrus, and from Sheehan and Woodward and Bernstein to Julian Assange.

There are certainly any number of very strong, even marvelous writers out there, reporting with craft and passion on politics, business, music, film, sports, etc. And there are certainly any number of mainstream media companies pounding out dreck--from Yahoo's groundbreaking coverage of topics such as "pitfalls of watching shopping channels" to the San Francisco Chronicle's "reports" on high-end real estate, to the present-day Washington Post's obsession with "narrative" and "arc" rather than, you know, reporting.

All of this, the good and the less good, have been driven by the insatiable appetite of the Web for more information every second of every day. What Mr. Assange has done is a manifestation of this.

Let Me Ask You This...
But I would ask the civil libertarians in the crowd--the folks who are heaping unadorned praise on Mr. Assange and unvarnished scorn on the US government and its allies--has WikiLeaks really accomplished anything positive? Are governments going to be more likely or less likely to be transparent? Setting aside the strident rantings of the Joe Liebermans of the world, has there been damage done?

Would you enjoy it if every email you have sent out for the past five years was suddenly subject to public scrutiny? Even if you've committed no crime and are the world's most loyal and productive worker bee, have you ever passed along a dirty joke or a nice boob shot? Do you think you might be unfairly judged if you have and this information was suddenly in public circulation?

The leaker Daniel Ellsburg was prosecuted in the wake of the Pentagon Papers crisis. As is known to happen, the prosecutors overshot their mark, did some bungling, and he was not convicted of anything. The Nixon administration further rattled its saber at the media during the Pentagon Papers and the Watergate episodes. Nothing came of it. The First Amendment ruled, as it should today.

Again, these two cases revealed true government malfeasance, the kind that brings entire administrations down. The WikiLeaks case has done no such thing. If Mr. Assange were to have combed through the materials he received, found a great story that simply must be brought to light, then reported on it, he would be on much steadier ground today.

As things stand, Reporters Without Borders is among the organizations that are critical of his approach. Even if he has not yet endangered national security (and I think most people doubt he has), his approach does have the potential to endanger the lives of many people doing deadly work. To argue that all war-related information should be available to everyone is very naive. To be deadset against war is honorable, and to uncover its abuses honorable.

But it seems that Mr. Assange's actions are neither. Although his site says it is committed to keeping governments open, his actions will no doubt lead to further government attempts to control the Internet and Web, yet add no value to body politic. We should never underestimate the inherent potential of fascism within any society. There had already been a lot of hot-and-heavy talk of an "Internet kill switch" in the US (by the egregious Sen. Lieberman, among others). Skillful, useful reporting will not hand any victories to those in favor of such mad ideas; unskilled, random leakage of any and all things will.

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

@ThingsExpo Stories
@ThingsExpo has been named the Top 5 Most Influential M2M Brand by Onalytica in the ‘Machine to Machine: Top 100 Influencers and Brands.' Onalytica analyzed the online debate on M2M by looking at over 85,000 tweets to provide the most influential individuals and brands that drive the discussion. According to Onalytica the "analysis showed a very engaged community with a lot of interactive tweets. The M2M discussion seems to be more fragmented and driven by some of the major brands present in the...
WebRTC has had a real tough three or four years, and so have those working with it. Only a few short years ago, the development world were excited about WebRTC and proclaiming how awesome it was. You might have played with the technology a couple of years ago, only to find the extra infrastructure requirements were painful to implement and poorly documented. This probably left a bitter taste in your mouth, especially when things went wrong.
The Quantified Economy represents the total global addressable market (TAM) for IoT that, according to a recent IDC report, will grow to an unprecedented $1.3 trillion by 2019. With this the third wave of the Internet-global proliferation of connected devices, appliances and sensors is poised to take off in 2016. In his session at @ThingsExpo, David McLauchlan, CEO and co-founder of Buddy Platform, discussed how the ability to access and analyze the massive volume of streaming data from millio...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Pulzze Systems will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Pulzze Systems, Inc. provides infrastructure products for the Internet of Things to enable any connected device and system to carry out matched operations without programming. For more information, visit http://www.pulzzesystems.com.
Successful digital transformation requires new organizational competencies and capabilities. Research tells us that the biggest impediment to successful transformation is human; consequently, the biggest enabler is a properly skilled and empowered workforce. In the digital age, new individual and collective competencies are required. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Bob Newhouse, CEO and founder of Agilitiv, will draw together recent research and lessons learned from emerging and established ...
Enterprise IT has been in the era of Hybrid Cloud for some time now. But it seems most conversations about Hybrid are focused on integrating AWS, Microsoft Azure, or Google ECM into existing on-premises systems. Where is all the Private Cloud? What do technology providers need to do to make their offerings more compelling? How should enterprise IT executives and buyers define their focus, needs, and roadmap, and communicate that clearly to the providers?
One of biggest questions about Big Data is “How do we harness all that information for business use quickly and effectively?” Geographic Information Systems (GIS) or spatial technology is about more than making maps, but adding critical context and meaning to data of all types, coming from all different channels – even sensors. In his session at @ThingsExpo, William (Bill) Meehan, director of utility solutions for Esri, will take a closer look at the current state of spatial technology and ar...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Streamlyzer will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Streamlyzer is a powerful analytics for video streaming service that enables video streaming providers to monitor and analyze QoE (Quality-of-Experience) from end-user devices in real time.
You have great SaaS business app ideas. You want to turn your idea quickly into a functional and engaging proof of concept. You need to be able to modify it to meet customers' needs, and you need to deliver a complete and secure SaaS application. How could you achieve all the above and yet avoid unforeseen IT requirements that add unnecessary cost and complexity? You also want your app to be responsive in any device at any time. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Mark Allen, General Manager of...
SYS-CON Media announced today that @WebRTCSummit Blog, the largest WebRTC resource in the world, has been launched. @WebRTCSummit Blog offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. @WebRTCSummit Blog can be bookmarked ▸ Here @WebRTCSummit conference site can be bookmarked ▸ Here
Cloud based infrastructure deployment is becoming more and more appealing to customers, from Fortune 500 companies to SMEs due to its pay-as-you-go model. Enterprise storage vendors are able to reach out to these customers by integrating in cloud based deployments; this needs adaptability and interoperability of the products confirming to cloud standards such as OpenStack, CloudStack, or Azure. As compared to off the shelf commodity storage, enterprise storages by its reliability, high-availabil...
The IoT industry is now at a crossroads, between the fast-paced innovation of technologies and the pending mass adoption by global enterprises. The complexity of combining rapidly evolving technologies and the need to establish practices for market acceleration pose a strong challenge to global enterprises as well as IoT vendors. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Clark Smith, senior product manager for Numerex, will discuss how Numerex, as an experienced, established IoT provider, has embraced a ...
DevOps is being widely accepted (if not fully adopted) as essential in enterprise IT. But as Enterprise DevOps gains maturity, expands scope, and increases velocity, the need for data-driven decisions across teams becomes more acute. DevOps teams in any modern business must wrangle the ‘digital exhaust’ from the delivery toolchain, "pervasive" and "cognitive" computing, APIs and services, mobile devices and applications, the Internet of Things, and now even blockchain. In this power panel at @...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Super Micro Computer, Inc., a global leader in Embedded and IoT solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Supermicro (NASDAQ: SMCI), the leading innovator in high-performance, high-efficiency server technology, is a premier provider of advanced server Building Block Solutions® for Data Center, Cloud Computing, Enterprise IT, Hadoop/Big Data, HPC and ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that SoftNet Solutions will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. SoftNet Solutions specializes in Enterprise Solutions for Hadoop and Big Data. It offers customers the most open, robust, and value-conscious portfolio of solutions, services, and tools for the shortest route to success with Big Data. The unique differentiator is the ability to architect and ...
In the next forty months – just over three years – businesses will undergo extraordinary changes. The exponential growth of digitization and machine learning will see a step function change in how businesses create value, satisfy customers, and outperform their competition. In the next forty months companies will take the actions that will see them get to the next level of the game called Capitalism. Or they won’t – game over. The winners of today and tomorrow think differently, follow different...
“Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CloudBerry Backup is a leading cross-platform cloud backup and disaster recovery solution integrated with major public cloud services, such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform.
In past @ThingsExpo presentations, Joseph di Paolantonio has explored how various Internet of Things (IoT) and data management and analytics (DMA) solution spaces will come together as sensor analytics ecosystems. This year, in his session at @ThingsExpo, Joseph di Paolantonio from DataArchon, will be adding the numerous Transportation areas, from autonomous vehicles to “Uber for containers.” While IoT data in any one area of Transportation will have a huge impact in that area, combining sensor...
More and more brands have jumped on the IoT bandwagon. We have an excess of wearables – activity trackers, smartwatches, smart glasses and sneakers, and more that track seemingly endless datapoints. However, most consumers have no idea what “IoT” means. Creating more wearables that track data shouldn't be the aim of brands; delivering meaningful, tangible relevance to their users should be. We're in a period in which the IoT pendulum is still swinging. Initially, it swung toward "smart for smar...
The best way to leverage your Cloud Expo presence as a sponsor and exhibitor is to plan your news announcements around our events. The press covering Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo will have access to these releases and will amplify your news announcements. More than two dozen Cloud companies either set deals at our shows or have announced their mergers and acquisitions at Cloud Expo. Product announcements during our show provide your company with the most reach through our targeted audiences.