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Decentralization of WikiLeaks

thoughts & comment — 21 Aug 2010
WikiLeaks is vulnerable because it has an out-dated central-style leadership. If it is to survive the coming decade, it will have to disperse that authority out into its network structure. Only then will it become an unstoppable force.

WE HAVE ALL HEARD ABOUT WIKILEAKS, the internet whistle-blowers website where confidential/classified material can be published with little concern over source-disclosure and confidentiality. WikiLeaks is changing the world by not allowing governments, corporations and other organisations to act with impunity by hiding behind legislation that supports a veil of secrecy, secrecy that green-lights a continuation of their abuse.

The only way to make governments, corporations and other organisations accountable for their behaviour is to take away their right to privacy — their right to cover up wrongdoing.

Of course, organisations that perpetrate abuses, are outraged, like the American military when video was released of its soldiers unlawfully killing civilians in Iraq, and then bragging about their exploits afterwards as if the whole thing were a video game (which is probably was to many of them). "Haha… did you see that? Haha… I just shot at that car and it smashed into that other car… haha…" Not very funny for those poor civilians struggling to make a living.

WikiLeaks is now under a lot of pressure from the most powerful military in the world to stop revealing US military secrets, some of which are undeniable war crimes. The organisation is also being universally accused, even by human-rights organisations, of putting informants lives at risk, informants whose names appear in some of the released documents. However, the good that WikiLeaks does in uncovering secrets at this time far outweighs the bad that can come from having secrets uncovered. We live at a time in history that might be called "the great uncovering", when consciousness wakes up to what is going on around it and the primitive behaviour of mankind brought finally into check.

The problem with WikiLeaks is, when you think of it, you think of Julian Assange, the cofounder. (I don't mean this disrespectfully — Assange does a GREAT job and I can't really imagine anyone else in that role — but the problem is in the role itself.) Assange has a very high public profile, and has become the face of WikiLeaks, and this is the organisation's Achilles Heel. For as long as a single person represents an organisation fighting some of the greatest military forces ever to have amassed on this planet, that organisation is weak. For if anything should happen to Assange (God forbid), WikiLeaks could potentially be eliminated, at least from public awareness, because the organisation and Assange are synonymous in the public. So Assange provides a head for the enemies of WikiLeaks to try to target.

But it does not have to be as dramatic as elimination: any unsavory character flaw uncovered in Assange becomes a character flaw associated to WikiLeaks. And any dirt that is dug up on Assange, whether legitimate or not, will muddy the water for WikiLeaks as well. So by having Assange as the head of WikiLeaks, the fate of both of them becomes dangerously entwined.

Why give such an important organisation such human weakness?

WikiLeaks have realized their fragility and have released a 1.4Gb file for download to try to disperse their secret files to the wider community for safe-keeping, to take some of the focus off themselves. Whilst this is a step in the right direction, as long as Assange is the public face of the organisation, and as long as he is seen to be central to its control, it will never be as strong as it could be.

Here is an alternative idea that would make WikiLeaks more resilient to government attack.

The internet was originally developed from a number of computers that were networked together so that they would survive any military strike. The thing about a network is that if you take out one node, information just reroutes over remaining nodes. This makes the structure very durable.

As part of the internet, WikiLeaks has this level of durability in its physical structure. However, it has an old-style central-node structure in its management profile, with Assange as this central-node. And yet, the two are not actually compatible. Why not make the organisation so dispersed and networked that there is no head which can be targeted?

How would it work?

Every time you centralize power in an organisation, you weaken that organisation. That is not to say that there should be no centralization of power, but just enough to facilitate wholistic interaction. Take the human brain / nervous system. There is no central seat of consciousness. Consciousness is a quality that comes from the whole, from the interaction of the network, and memories are stored holographically. This makes it incredibly resistant.

So WikiLeaks, to have some real resilience, needs to decentralize its identity by making the organisation itself much higher profile that any of its founders etc. It would function on a dispersed cell-basis, and material would be assessed by a community and decisions made by the collective. If such an organisation gets infiltrated, the infiltrators would always be in a minority and so they would not be able to introduce false information or block/distort true information.

Each cell would have its own domain name and IP address, so that if the domain WikiLeaks.org is cancelled by a government in some way, or if government hackers bring down the website, there are plenty of others that can take up the slack. The key is self-replication. Cells multiply, and with each multiplication a new copy of the secret files is made, a new node is added to the WikiLeaks network.

You could take it further and have some computer program like a screen-saver type program that stores pieces of the WikiLeaks data on every single subscriber. There would be millions of them around the world, with the same info being stored on tens of thousands of computers so that any modification of data is easy to spot. This way, not only is control decentralized, but the secret files are decentralized too, but in a much more efficient way than the indigestible 1.4Gb download mentioned above (who wants that sitting around on their hard-drive). Data would be saved holographically across the entire network, which would make it very difficult to erase.

So technology should focus on finding ways to disperse information, rather than being used merely to find ways to protect centralization. Dispersal is where you find safety. But dispersal also brings a sense of connection and responsibility to each person who subscribes to the network, and in this way WikiLeaks becomes a real political force of millions of people worldwide who are standing up for the end of government and commercial abuse. So it is not just data that needs to be dispersed, but authority and responsibility as well. It is the people who decide the fate of governments due to their voting power, and so it is the people, yes as many of them as possible, that should be running organisations as important as WikiLeaks.

Research has shown that collective decisions are invariably good decisions. Ask a million people to vote on which is the best of two possible decisions and they practically always pick the right one, with a success rate far higher than any individual, no matter how expert that individual might be.

So having Julian Assange as the personality and head of WikiLeaks actually weakens the organisation, throwing it back to a 20th Century power profile. If WikiLeaks is to survive the next decade, it will have to become a true network in all dimensions, including its management.

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