I admit it. My favorite three publications are The Wall Street Journal, especially the Weekend Edition, the New York Times Sunday Edition, and The New Yorker. No three newspapers/magazines do it better, at least IMHO. The current New Yorker has a long story about the fruit industry, with Driscoll Farms featured. If you ever wanted to know anything and everything about strawberries, here is your chance. I ran out of energy after three or four pages (0ut of six) but still learned a lot. However the "piece de resistance" of this issue is an article on Wiki-Leaks, which of course features Julian Asssange, the founder, brainchild, L'Enfant terrible, man in charge, and "Man Without a Country," a virtual prisoner in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since his charge of rape in Sweden (recently dropped after three years) and charges of Espionage lodged by the U.S. government.
The article is loooong, pages 36-61, albeit one albino-esq full-page photograph of Assange, several small New Yorker cartoons (wonderful!), and one strange page on pigeon cartoons intercede. The author, one Raffi Khatchadourian, seems to have developed a rapport with Assange over several years, and has access from time to time. The story winds back and forth, and deals with some of the primary disclosures of massive amounts of information by Wiki-Leaks, including Edward Snowden's NSA classified data dump and Chelsea Manning's massive military files from Iraq and Afghanistan as well as diplomatic cables from the State Department. These cables comprised half a million gigabytes of secret and sensitive information belonging to a superpower. Since then, Assange has published millions of documents from corporations, public figures, international trade agreements, and foreign government records.
His whistle blowing has resulted in real harm to the owners of the documents, altered public perceptions of war and state power, and have damaged personal privacy. Some lives may have been put in danger as well. Assange was raised in Australia by his mother, who moved around very often. He is very bright, and depending on whom you talk with, a defender against state power and fearless activist. But also he is a driven, obstinate man who sees technology as a way to be a truth teller and lets the chips fall where they may; a man (to restate the author's words) with no core beliefs except for augmenting his own power.
The newest chapter of Wiki-Leaks's disclosures involves information from a "persona" called Guccifer 2.0, which involved massive hacking from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta's personal accounts. The US intelligence establishment has stated with total certainty that the information was stolen by Russian agents for the purpose of aiding Donald Trump's election campaign. Assange may or may not know the source, and of course he is not saying, however the author of this article spends many pages and BTUs of logic in confirming that conclusion. A complex chronological timeline is developed, and both the availability of information as well as then-candidate Trump's statements track the release of this information, with the additional backup of Donald Trump Junior's meeting with a representative of the Russian government, when he was offered "information damaging to Hillary Clinton." In late summer, Guccifer 2.0's releases appeared to focus on the election swing states, but by September, the leaks centered on the national campaign, including 679 megabytes of D.N.C. information online, followed one day later with emails hacked from Colin Powell and a number of Clinton's aides. All of these came from Gmail accounts including some audio clips.
The lengthy article circles around and back and forth with multiple visits to Assange in the embassy, along with various specific dates of information available to Wiki-Leaks and others from this source, called a "persona." Assange's attitude seems now to be to be denial that the source was Russian intelligence, but the author states that this is "untenable," and uses the next five or six pages of the article to stack one chronological bit of information on top of another to prove that the vast trove of information came from what is called a "cutout," which means that the Russians routed it through another "front." Assange contends that truth is what matters, that he released the truth, and as a journalist, that is what counts. He seems to think it makes less matter that people are hurt or that public beliefs are shifted, since the information is based on the truth, using the analogy that "bullets of truth everywhere" will compensate for the bodies that are cleared away.
From communications theory standpoint, there are signals and there is noise. Assange's strategy is to eliminate the difference, to make it all available, and let that be the end judgement. It makes no difference to him, apparently.
One of Wiki-Leaks' recent bursts of information was a very sensitive and critical assembly of NSA software tools designed to penetrate systems and harvest information. The code itself is of the most valuable and secret nature, and the release not only included valuable information, but rendered the tools useless as soon as they were disclosed.
One of the overriding themes of Assange's belief structure is that the Presidency of the US has become too strong. Before the election, he was a favorite of the Republicans, but now the new CIA Director, Mike Pompeo, has declared Wiki-Leaks to be a "hostile non-state intelligence agency," and revived the Espionage charges against Assange. This is an important development, since Assange always has felt sheltered by the fact that no publisher (a key word) has ever been prosecuted for publishing true information. Not all Republicans now have turned on Assange: Sarah Palin and Sean Hannity still support him along with (as the author says) a "coterie of right-wing trolls."
So how does the article end? After a long meeting in the embassy, near midnight, Assange indicates that the American empire, as he describes it, might be collapsing. The reader is left to decide whether it's from within or without. Or a combination of both. "This could be the beginning," he is quoted to say. But there appears to be no exit from the embassy for this a man without a country, or of his being one of the most hated (and to some admired) man in the world.
Please feel free to post a comment here on the blog, or email me directly at <email@example.com> with any remarks. Also, I'll very much appreciate your recommendation of "Contact Sport" and/or "Reunion" to friends and book clubs. In addition, I'd be pleased to appear at book clubs and/or radio clubs within a two-hour drive of Austin to discuss either book.