Welcome!

GovIT Authors: Patrick Carey, Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Ignacio M. Llorente, Trevor Parsons

Related Topics: Cloud Expo, Virtualization, GovIT

Cloud Expo: 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
SYS-CON Events announced today that IDenticard will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. IDenticard™ is the security division of Brady Corp (NYSE: BRC), a $1.5 billion manufacturer of identification products. We have small-company values with the strength and stability of a major corporation. IDenticard offers local sales, support and service to our customers across the United States and Canada. Our partner network encompasses some 300 of the world's leading systems integrators and security s...
The BPM world is going through some evolution or changes where traditional business process management solutions really have nowhere to go in terms of development of the road map. In this demo at 15th Cloud Expo, Kyle Hansen, Director of Professional Services at AgilePoint, shows AgilePoint’s unique approach to dealing with this market circumstance by developing a rapid application composition or development framework.
“In the past year we've seen a lot of stabilization of WebRTC. You can now use it in production with a far greater degree of certainty. A lot of the real developments in the past year have been in things like the data channel, which will enable a whole new type of application," explained Peter Dunkley, Technical Director at Acision, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
The major cloud platforms defy a simple, side-by-side analysis. Each of the major IaaS public-cloud platforms offers their own unique strengths and functionality. Options for on-site private cloud are diverse as well, and must be designed and deployed while taking existing legacy architecture and infrastructure into account. Then the reality is that most enterprises are embarking on a hybrid cloud strategy and programs. In this Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo (http://www.CloudComputingExpo.com), moderated by Ashar Baig, Research Director, Cloud, at Gigaom Research, Nate Gordon, Director of T...
"BSQUARE is in the business of selling software solutions for smart connected devices. It's obvious that IoT has moved from being a technology to being a fundamental part of business, and in the last 18 months people have said let's figure out how to do it and let's put some focus on it, " explained Dave Wagstaff, VP & Chief Architect, at BSQUARE Corporation, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Windstream, a leading provider of advanced network and cloud communications, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Windstream (Nasdaq: WIN), a FORTUNE 500 and S&P 500 company, is a leading provider of advanced network communications, including cloud computing and managed services, to businesses nationwide. The company also offers broadband, phone and digital TV services to consumers primarily in rural areas.
The Internet of Things is not new. Historically, smart businesses have used its basic concept of leveraging data to drive better decision making and have capitalized on those insights to realize additional revenue opportunities. So, what has changed to make the Internet of Things one of the hottest topics in tech? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Gray, Director, Embedded and Internet of Things, discussed the underlying factors that are driving the economics of intelligent systems. Discover how hardware commoditization, the ubiquitous nature of connectivity, and the emergence of Big Data a...

ARMONK, N.Y., Nov. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ --  IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced that it is bringing a greater level of control, security and flexibility to cloud-based application development and delivery with a single-tenant version of Bluemix, IBM's platform-as-a-service. The new platform enables developers to build ap...

DevOps Summit 2015 New York, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that it is now accepting Keynote Proposals. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long development cycles that produce software that is obsolete at launch. DevOps may be disruptive, but it is essential.
"People are a lot more knowledgeable about APIs now. There are two types of people who work with APIs - IT people who want to use APIs for something internal and the product managers who want to do something outside APIs for people to connect to them," explained Roberto Medrano, Executive Vice President at SOA Software, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa, at more than US$500 billion, and ranks 23rd in the world. A recent re-evaluation of Nigeria's true economic size doubled the previous estimate, and brought it well ahead of South Africa, which is a member (unlike Nigeria) of the G20 club for political as well as economic reasons. Nigeria's economy can be said to be quite diverse from one point of view, but heavily dependent on oil and gas at the same time. Oil and natural gas account for about 15% of Nigera's overall economy, but traditionally represent more than 90% of the country's exports and as...
The Internet of Things is a misnomer. That implies that everything is on the Internet, and that simply should not be - especially for things that are blurring the line between medical devices that stimulate like a pacemaker and quantified self-sensors like a pedometer or pulse tracker. The mesh of things that we manage must be segmented into zones of trust for sensing data, transmitting data, receiving command and control administrative changes, and peer-to-peer mesh messaging. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ryan Bagnulo, Solution Architect / Software Engineer at SOA Software, focused on desi...
"At our booth we are showing how to provide trust in the Internet of Things. Trust is where everything starts to become secure and trustworthy. Now with the scaling of the Internet of Things it becomes an interesting question – I've heard numbers from 200 billion devices next year up to a trillion in the next 10 to 15 years," explained Johannes Lintzen, Vice President of Sales at Utimaco, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
"For over 25 years we have been working with a lot of enterprise customers and we have seen how companies create applications. And now that we have moved to cloud computing, mobile, social and the Internet of Things, we see that the market needs a new way of creating applications," stated Jesse Shiah, CEO, President and Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 15th Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Gridstore™, the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built to optimize Microsoft workloads, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Gridstore™ is the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built for Microsoft workloads and designed to accelerate applications in virtualized environments. Gridstore’s hyper-converged infrastructure is the industry’s first all flash version of HyperConverged Appliances that include both compute and storag...
Today’s enterprise is being driven by disruptive competitive and human capital requirements to provide enterprise application access through not only desktops, but also mobile devices. To retrofit existing programs across all these devices using traditional programming methods is very costly and time consuming – often prohibitively so. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jesse Shiah, CEO, President, and Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., discussed how you can create applications that run on all mobile devices as well as laptops and desktops using a visual drag-and-drop application – and eForms-buildi...
We certainly live in interesting technological times. And no more interesting than the current competing IoT standards for connectivity. Various standards bodies, approaches, and ecosystems are vying for mindshare and positioning for a competitive edge. It is clear that when the dust settles, we will have new protocols, evolved protocols, that will change the way we interact with devices and infrastructure. We will also have evolved web protocols, like HTTP/2, that will be changing the very core of our infrastructures. At the same time, we have old approaches made new again like micro-services...
Code Halos - aka "digital fingerprints" - are the key organizing principle to understand a) how dumb things become smart and b) how to monetize this dynamic. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Robert Brown, AVP, Center for the Future of Work at Cognizant Technology Solutions, outlined research, analysis and recommendations from his recently published book on this phenomena on the way leading edge organizations like GE and Disney are unlocking the Internet of Things opportunity and what steps your organization should be taking to position itself for the next platform of digital competition.
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect at GE, and Ibrahim Gokcen, who leads GE's advanced IoT analytics, focused on the Internet of Things / Industrial Internet and how to make it operational for business end-users. Learn about the challenges posed by machine and sensor data and how to marry it with enterprise data. They also discussed the tips and tricks to provide the Industrial Internet as an end-user consumable service using Big Data Analytics and Industrial Cloud.