|The WikiLeaks website continues to release leaked US diplomatic cables [Reuters]
Al Jazeera's senior political analyst Marwan Bishara answers key questions about the long-term effect of the 'Wikileaks affair' as the website continues to reveal secret files that expose, disturb, and embarrass Washington, and hampers its relations with various countries and leaders around the world.
- Does "freedom of expression" apply to Wikileaks?
It certainly does apply, especially when the leaks distributor is a "publisher" and when the leaked documents continue to be published by some of the most prestigious newspapers in the West, that has long boasted about its freedom of the press.
However, certain US and Western leaders contend that Wikileaks cannot enjoy protection under "freedom of information" because they believe it has launched an "information war" against the US that involves espionage, and an attack on US national security.
Some went as far as to compare it to a 9/11-like attack on US diplomacy. From their security perspective, this is a "terrorist" assault on the state, and not just any state, but the world's leading superpower.
- But how realistic is this approach?
Who would have thought that a website could one day be regarded as "hostile territory" and its staff as "enemy combatants"? But that's precisely the concept of an "asymmetrical warfare" that Pentagon planners have been preparing for.
Al-Qaeda might have provided the ultimate case of a hostile and harmful non-state actor that holds "asymmetrical values" or rejects international norms of conduct, but "asymmetrical wars" have been defined over the last two decades to include all unconventional wars including drug wars, international terrorism, even certain forms of planned violent acts by globalisation and environmental activists - but especially cyber threats.
- Isn't the reference to war a bit of a stretch ?
It is if you're thinking of 20th century security norms. But it's President Obama who has appointed the first cyber warfare general, Keith Alexander, who must be pretty busy, not only with Wikileaks, but also with this week's "Operation Payback", the codename chosen by web activists taking revenge for the attempts at suppressing or closing down the Wikileaks website and arresting its founder, Julian Assange.
Operation Payback will open the eyes of many to the nature of cyber space as the battlefield of the future, regardless of whether they succeed in seriously, or temporarily, crippling various sites such as Mastercard, PayPal and Amazon, whom they accuse of collaborating with or succumbing to the US government to close down Wikileaks.
Arming thousands of their "troops" with LOIC software (downloaded at a rate of a thousand per hour) to "bombard" hostile websites with traffic, the new groups of young tech-savvy hackers will be accused by security-minded establishments of launching a new "cyber war".
Instead of treating these as social rebels who are involved in a form of cyber protest or civil disobedience they arre cynically seen as the enemy along with Wikileaks in the hope that the cyber security establishment, and its countless affiliated companies, strengthen the electronic arm of the military-industrial complex that will, in all likelihood, start a new terrible and costly cyber(arms) race.