Welcome!

GovIT Authors: Ignacio M. Llorente, Trevor Parsons, Kevin Jackson, Carmen Gonzalez, Lori MacVittie

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
We are reaching the end of the beginning with WebRTC, and real systems using this technology have begun to appear. One challenge that faces every WebRTC deployment (in some form or another) is identity management. For example, if you have an existing service – possibly built on a variety of different PaaS/SaaS offerings – and you want to add real-time communications you are faced with a challenge relating to user management, authentication, authorization, and validation. Service providers will want to use their existing identities, but these will have credentials already that are (hopefully) i...
"Matrix is an ambitious open standard and implementation that's set up to break down the fragmentation problems that exist in IP messaging and VoIP communication," explained John Woolf, Technical Evangelist at Matrix, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Connected devices and the Internet of Things are getting significant momentum in 2014. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, examined three key elements that together will drive mass adoption of the IoT before the end of 2015. The first element is the recent advent of robust open source protocols (like AllJoyn and WebRTC) that facilitate M2M communication. The second is broad availability of flexible, cost-effective storage designed to handle the massive surge in back-end data in a world where timely analytics is e...
How do APIs and IoT relate? The answer is not as simple as merely adding an API on top of a dumb device, but rather about understanding the architectural patterns for implementing an IoT fabric. There are typically two or three trends: Exposing the device to a management framework Exposing that management framework to a business centric logic Exposing that business layer and data to end users. This last trend is the IoT stack, which involves a new shift in the separation of what stuff happens, where data lives and where the interface lies. For instance, it's a mix of architectural styles ...
The Internet of Things will put IT to its ultimate test by creating infinite new opportunities to digitize products and services, generate and analyze new data to improve customer satisfaction, and discover new ways to gain a competitive advantage across nearly every industry. In order to help corporate business units to capitalize on the rapidly evolving IoT opportunities, IT must stand up to a new set of challenges. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jeff Kaplan, Managing Director of THINKstrategies, will examine why IT must finally fulfill its role in support of its SBUs or face a new round of...
Cultural, regulatory, environmental, political and economic (CREPE) conditions over the past decade are creating cross-industry solution spaces that require processes and technologies from both the Internet of Things (IoT), and Data Management and Analytics (DMA). These solution spaces are evolving into Sensor Analytics Ecosystems (SAE) that represent significant new opportunities for organizations of all types. Public Utilities throughout the world, providing electricity, natural gas and water, are pursuing SmartGrid initiatives that represent one of the more mature examples of SAE. We have s...
The Internet of Things will greatly expand the opportunities for data collection and new business models driven off of that data. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, discussed how for this to be effective you not only need to have infrastructure and operational models capable of utilizing this new phenomenon, but increasingly service providers will need to convince a skeptical public to participate. Get ready to show them the money!
One of the biggest challenges when developing connected devices is identifying user value and delivering it through successful user experiences. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Mike Kuniavsky, Principal Scientist, Innovation Services at PARC, described an IoT-specific approach to user experience design that combines approaches from interaction design, industrial design and service design to create experiences that go beyond simple connected gadgets to create lasting, multi-device experiences grounded in people's real needs and desires.
P2P RTC will impact the landscape of communications, shifting from traditional telephony style communications models to OTT (Over-The-Top) cloud assisted & PaaS (Platform as a Service) communication services. The P2P shift will impact many areas of our lives, from mobile communication, human interactive web services, RTC and telephony infrastructure, user federation, security and privacy implications, business costs, and scalability. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Robin Raymond, Chief Architect at Hookflash, will walk through the shifting landscape of traditional telephone and voice services ...
Scott Jenson leads a project called The Physical Web within the Chrome team at Google. Project members are working to take the scalability and openness of the web and use it to talk to the exponentially exploding range of smart devices. Nearly every company today working on the IoT comes up with the same basic solution: use my server and you'll be fine. But if we really believe there will be trillions of these devices, that just can't scale. We need a system that is open a scalable and by using the URL as a basic building block, we open this up and get the same resilience that the web enjoys.
The Internet of Things is tied together with a thin strand that is known as time. Coincidentally, at the core of nearly all data analytics is a timestamp. When working with time series data there are a few core principles that everyone should consider, especially across datasets where time is the common boundary. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Scott, Director of Enterprise Strategy & Architecture at MapR Technologies, discussed single-value, geo-spatial, and log time series data. By focusing on enterprise applications and the data center, he will use OpenTSDB as an example t...
The Domain Name Service (DNS) is one of the most important components in networking infrastructure, enabling users and services to access applications by translating URLs (names) into IP addresses (numbers). Because every icon and URL and all embedded content on a website requires a DNS lookup loading complex sites necessitates hundreds of DNS queries. In addition, as more internet-enabled ‘Things' get connected, people will rely on DNS to name and find their fridges, toasters and toilets. According to a recent IDG Research Services Survey this rate of traffic will only grow. What's driving t...
Enthusiasm for the Internet of Things has reached an all-time high. In 2013 alone, venture capitalists spent more than $1 billion dollars investing in the IoT space. With "smart" appliances and devices, IoT covers wearable smart devices, cloud services to hardware companies. Nest, a Google company, detects temperatures inside homes and automatically adjusts it by tracking its user's habit. These technologies are quickly developing and with it come challenges such as bridging infrastructure gaps, abiding by privacy concerns and making the concept a reality. These challenges can't be addressed w...
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Chief Architect for the Internet of Things and Intelligent Systems at Red Hat, described how to revolutioniz...
Bit6 today issued a challenge to the technology community implementing Web Real Time Communication (WebRTC). To leap beyond WebRTC’s significant limitations and fully leverage its underlying value to accelerate innovation, application developers need to consider the entire communications ecosystem.
The definition of IoT is not new, in fact it’s been around for over a decade. What has changed is the public's awareness that the technology we use on a daily basis has caught up on the vision of an always on, always connected world. If you look into the details of what comprises the IoT, you’ll see that it includes everything from cloud computing, Big Data analytics, “Things,” Web communication, applications, network, storage, etc. It is essentially including everything connected online from hardware to software, or as we like to say, it’s an Internet of many different things. The difference ...
Cloud Expo 2014 TV commercials will feature @ThingsExpo, which was launched in June, 2014 at New York City's Javits Center as the largest 'Internet of Things' event in the world.
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.
"There is a natural synchronization between the business models, the IoT is there to support ,” explained Brendan O'Brien, Co-founder and Chief Architect of Aria Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at the 15th International Cloud Expo®, 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...