Welcome!

Government Cloud Authors: Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, Derek Weeks, XebiaLabs Blog, Peter Silva

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
The Jevons Paradox suggests that when technological advances increase efficiency of a resource, it results in an overall increase in consumption. Writing on the increased use of coal as a result of technological improvements, 19th-century economist William Stanley Jevons found that these improvements led to the development of new ways to utilize coal. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Mark Thiele, Chief Strategy Officer for Apcera, will compare the Jevons Paradox to modern-day enterprise IT, e...
What happens when the different parts of a vehicle become smarter than the vehicle itself? As we move toward the era of smart everything, hundreds of entities in a vehicle that communicate with each other, the vehicle and external systems create a need for identity orchestration so that all entities work as a conglomerate. Much like an orchestra without a conductor, without the ability to secure, control, and connect the link between a vehicle’s head unit, devices, and systems and to manage the ...
In this strange new world where more and more power is drawn from business technology, companies are effectively straddling two paths on the road to innovation and transformation into digital enterprises. The first path is the heritage trail – with “legacy” technology forming the background. Here, extant technologies are transformed by core IT teams to provide more API-driven approaches. Legacy systems can restrict companies that are transitioning into digital enterprises. To truly become a lea...
DevOps at Cloud Expo, taking place Nov 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 19th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. 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 dev...
Cloud computing is being adopted in one form or another by 94% of enterprises today. Tens of billions of new devices are being connected to The Internet of Things. And Big Data is driving this bus. An exponential increase is expected in the amount of information being processed, managed, analyzed, and acted upon by enterprise IT. This amazing is not part of some distant future - it is happening today. One report shows a 650% increase in enterprise data by 2020. Other estimates are even higher....
What are the new priorities for the connected business? First: businesses need to think differently about the types of connections they will need to make – these span well beyond the traditional app to app into more modern forms of integration including SaaS integrations, mobile integrations, APIs, device integration and Big Data integration. It’s important these are unified together vs. doing them all piecemeal. Second, these types of connections need to be simple to design, adapt and configure...
In his general session at 18th Cloud Expo, Lee Atchison, Principal Cloud Architect and Advocate at New Relic, discussed cloud as a ‘better data center’ and how it adds new capacity (faster) and improves application availability (redundancy). The cloud is a ‘Dynamic Tool for Dynamic Apps’ and resource allocation is an integral part of your application architecture, so use only the resources you need and allocate /de-allocate resources on the fly.
19th Cloud Expo, taking place November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy. Meanwhile, 94% of enterpri...
SYS-CON Events announced today that CDS Global Cloud, an Infrastructure as a Service provider, 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. CDS Global Cloud is an IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) provider specializing in solutions for e-commerce, internet gaming, online education and other internet applications. With a growing number of data centers and network points around the world, ...
Information technology is an industry that has always experienced change, and the dramatic change sweeping across the industry today could not be truthfully described as the first time we've seen such widespread change impacting customer investments. However, the rate of the change, and the potential outcomes from today's digital transformation has the distinct potential to separate the industry into two camps: Organizations that see the change coming, embrace it, and successful leverage it; and...
SYS-CON Events announced today that LeaseWeb USA, a cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider, 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. LeaseWeb is one of the world's largest hosting brands. The company helps customers define, develop and deploy IT infrastructure tailored to their exact business needs, by combining various kinds cloud solutions.
Major trends and emerging technologies – from virtual reality and IoT, to Big Data and algorithms – are helping organizations innovate in the digital era. However, to create real business value, IT must think beyond the ‘what’ of digital transformation to the ‘how’ to harness emerging trends, innovation and disruption. Architecture is the key that underpins and ties all these efforts together. In the digital age, it’s important to invest in architecture, extend the enterprise footprint to the cl...
There are several IoTs: the Industrial Internet, Consumer Wearables, Wearables and Healthcare, Supply Chains, and the movement toward Smart Grids, Cities, Regions, and Nations. There are competing communications standards every step of the way, a bewildering array of sensors and devices, and an entire world of competing data analytics platforms. To some this appears to be chaos. In this power panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, Bradley Holt, Developer Advocate a...
WebRTC is bringing significant change to the communications landscape that will bridge the worlds of web and telephony, making the Internet the new standard for communications. Cloud9 took the road less traveled and used WebRTC to create a downloadable enterprise-grade communications platform that is changing the communication dynamic in the financial sector. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Leo Papadopoulos, CTO of Cloud9, discussed the importance of WebRTC and how it enables companies to focus...
Internet of @ThingsExpo has announced today that Chris Matthieu has been named tech chair of Internet of @ThingsExpo 2016 Silicon Valley. The 6thInternet of @ThingsExpo will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
A strange thing is happening along the way to the Internet of Things, namely far too many devices to work with and manage. It has become clear that we'll need much higher efficiency user experiences that can allow us to more easily and scalably work with the thousands of devices that will soon be in each of our lives. Enter the conversational interface revolution, combining bots we can literally talk with, gesture to, and even direct with our thoughts, with embedded artificial intelligence, wh...
Big Data has been changing the world. IoT fuels the further transformation recently. How are Big Data and IoT related? In his session at @BigDataExpo, Tony Shan, a renowned visionary and thought leader, will explore the interplay of Big Data and IoT. He will anatomize Big Data and IoT separately in terms of what, which, why, where, when, who, how and how much. He will then analyze the relationship between IoT and Big Data, specifically the drilldown of how the 4Vs of Big Data (Volume, Variety,...
Technology vendors and analysts are eager to paint a rosy picture of how wonderful IoT is and why your deployment will be great with the use of their products and services. While it is easy to showcase successful IoT solutions, identifying IoT systems that missed the mark or failed can often provide more in the way of key lessons learned. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Peter Vanderminden, Principal Industry Analyst for IoT & Digital Supply Chain to Flatiron Strategies, will focus on how IoT de...
Ask someone to architect an Internet of Things (IoT) solution and you are guaranteed to see a reference to the cloud. This would lead you to believe that IoT requires the cloud to exist. However, there are many IoT use cases where the cloud is not feasible or desirable. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Dave McCarthy, Director of Products at Bsquare Corporation, will discuss the strategies that exist to extend intelligence directly to IoT devices and sensors, freeing them from the constraints of ...
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...