Invisible Leaks

by zunguzungu

In this clip from his forum at UC Berkeley, Julian Assange admitted that sources of his had been caught in the past, but argued that “the chances of your source being run over a car are vastly higher” than that of a source of a leaked document being caught:

…there’s a perceptual illusion because every time a source is caught, their name, even their face is in the paper. But every time the NY Times uses a source to inform a story, it’s either, it’s like the source never existed in the first place, because it’s basically an anarchist act, right, leaking is basically an anarchist act, and to be a mainstream publication, you can’t be lionizing source of anarchist acts all the time. So you don’t see the source mentioned at all in the story or you see documents seen by the NY Times or officials speaking anonymously.

But that’s such a small reference that people don’t see the source. So there’s a perceptual bias that sources are getting busted all over bbut there’s not the perceptual understanding that sources are succeeding all over and that the actual chance of being busted is extremely low, even in this incredibly oppressive environment…

Which seems more or less right to me. Wikileaks is getting all the press, but here’s an EPA memo leaked without their help:

“An internal EPA memo released Wednesday confirms that the very agency charged with protecting the environment is ignoring the warnings of its own scientists about clothianidin, a pesticide from which Bayer racked up €183 million (about $262 million) in sales in 2009.”

Or this one, in which it was revealed that the British coalition government secretly believes Britain’s new higher ed scheme will be unsustainable, saddling graduates with a loan burden they’ll never be able to pay off:

Internal government figures, seen by The Independent on Sunday, reveal that a small minority of students paying fees of up to £9,000 a year are expected ever to pay them off in full. Ministers believe most graduates will spend their whole working lives making monthly payments to cover their loans and interest – without ever being able to settle their debts.

A briefing note from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has revealed that: 25 per cent of graduates will repay “at least 100 per cent of the original value of their loans in PV [present value] terms”; the “best-case scenario” foresees a maximum of only half of graduates settling their debts; up to 60 per cent will never pay in full.

Now, this is damning stuff; the idea for the new system in Britain (as for semi-privatization schemes here in the states) is that a university education is so valuable that students should be willing to pay for it, now that the government is not. But that argument only works if the rise in income that  graduates get from their educations compensates for the added debt they take on. If that’s not the case — and this document indicates that it is not, and that the government knows it is not — then one of two things are going to happen: students take on lifetime debt peonage or the population that gets a university education becomes vastly smaller. Either way, much greater class stratification and inequality is the result, something the government gets to ignore only if they pretend students will benefit, financially, more from their university education than they actually will. This document shows that they know that argument is bogus, and yet that they’re going forward anyway.

More than that, it demonstrates exactly what Assange was talking about: the entire story is nothing but a leaked document, and yet who leaked it? You barely even notice that there even was a leaker. And you don’t notice that The Independent’s role here has not been to propagate and disseminate the leaked document, but in fact, to obscure it. They read it and decided which parts were worth emphasizing, and then they excluded those which were not (the author of the report, for example, or other budgetary details). Such details might be much more damning. Yet standard journalistic procedure here is to excise such details, making an editorial choice (and taking the interpretive license) to tell you what the document says. Which is where Wikileaks’ “scientific journalism” comes in, the idea that all leaked documents should be fully released, so that conclusions can be independently checkable (not just checked by The Independent). Which is, of course, Assange’s real sin, and the reason he could be tried for espionage for publishing classified material, while the NY Times and Guardian never will be: he deigned to let us read the news ourselves.