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Role of social media in recent Arab revolts

Chennai: The world media is abuzz with the ongoing agitations in Arab world against dictatorial regimes. @CNN in TTwitter has declared that current revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and currently Libya are #TTwitter revolutions. With this a great debate is raging … Continue reading

Wikileaks war: Is this the first cyber war?

Chennai: The War cloud hovers over the cyber space, as the first concerted cyber war started by anonymous supporters of Wikileaks, intensifies.

Wikileaks started releasing, in a series of disclosures, thousands of United States diplomatic correspondence to the extreme embarrassment of the US State department. It is widely believed that US government has put pressure on US based web hosting companies urging them to stop hosting Wikileaks’ website, which resulted in the expulsion of Wikileaks from Amazon’s servers and leaving Wikileaks without operating main site. This, along with the arrest and possible extradition of its founder, Julian Assange, on rape charges and withdrawal of MasterCard and PayPal services to the Wikileaks organisation triggered what is called Operation Anonymous by the supporters of the Wikileaks.

Operation Anonymous started launching its cyber attack on MasterCard and PayPal web sites bringing their web services with Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS). Other targeted sites are Swiss Bank PostFinance which froze Assange’s finances and site of US Senator Joe Lieberman, who claimed to have contacted Amazon to pressure it to stop hosting the WikiLeaks site.

Thousands of Wikileaks supporters are downloading the software, which was used in the DDOS attack, in support of Wikileaks in the virtual war declared on it by the US Government. US and UK governments have sounded the alarm bells in anticipation of further cyber attacks. So far it seems like supporters of Wikileaks are winning. Support for Wikileaks is also pouring from various quarters. Navi Pillay UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed her concern over the pressure being created over the Wikileaks website. Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism faculty and officers wrote an open letter to the US President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder urging the government to treat Wikileaks as engaging in journalistic activity and to protect it under the First Amendment of the American Constitution. Questions were also raised about the actions of companies that are denying services to the website. An interesting development in this issue is that Wikileaks’ Iceland payment processor, Datacell ehf, toook legal action against MasterCard and Visa for breaching their terms of service with the provider by blocking payments to the whistleblowers’ website for a week, although that could be extended.

Julian Assange, though targeted by the western governments, was termed as the “Man of the year” by Time magazine, and is finding support from various quarters. Number of celebrities turning up to offer Assange, his bail money is a testimony to this. But his persecution has not stopped. Even though he was granted bail by a British court he was sent back to jail as Swedish prosecutors decided to appeal against his bail. With Assange still in the jail and still Wikileaks regularly releasing the cables it looks like the momentum generated by the whistleblower website has gained a greater proportion and is not dependent on its founder.

Wikileaks has its share of critiques who are arguing that in this cyber war business has become a casualty, and some argue that this movement is nothing but a vicious war launched by few people and they are able to launch attacks mainly because security analysts are unable to understand their opponent’s tactics, as DDOS attacks were used against other websites in the past. What ever may be the case, Wikileaks and its actions have triggered a serious debate, whose outcome will define the future of internet freedom.

WikiLeaks: The world’s most ambivalent response to stark truth

Nemmani Sreedhar

Chennai: Later part of July 2010 saw unprecedented activity in the world media, and set the proverbial cat among the pigeons. Wikileaks– a relatively unknown organization till then- released 92,201 internal records of actions by the U.S. military in Afghanistan between January 2004 and December 2009, into the public domain. Dubbed as ‘the biggest leak in intelligence history’ it graphically represented the way Americans conducted their “war to liberate Afghanistan from Taliban.”  The situation was exacerbated when Wikileaks, undeterred by pentagon’s warning not to publish any more papers, released 391,832 similar reports called ‘Significant Action in the war (SIGACT),’ this time about the American war in Iraq.

The content of Wikileaks’ revelation contradicts the statements made by

A road side bombing in Iraq

American officials through the years, that they did not have any information about civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. The reports which were written by solders from war field, describes shootings, roadside bombings, and the execution-style killings and targeted assassinations that left bodies in the streets of Baghdad at the height of sectarian violence that pushed the country to the brink of civil war. What is also exposed in these disclosures is the fact, that suspects were deliberately handed over to the Iraqi torture squads, and their plight was conveniently over looked.

Curiously though, the response of the media ranged from a mooted coverage of war crimes, inspiring a well intentioned and helpless silence at the best, to a derisive yawn of insensitivity at the worst. The world failed to even acknowledge the America’s dubious conduct in the war, particularly when it claims that it is never an aggressor, but is always a defender of liberty and equality along with other virtues, and never tires of preaching to the whole world about the sanctity of human rights. The media is now engrossed with the ridiculous debate of whether it was ethical to publish those records.

The ongoing debate is structured as if the very act of violence on a flimsy pretext is less heinous than the act of releasing the papers which chronicle those acts into the public domain. Pentagon’s contention is that because of these exposed documents lives of American soldiers are in peril. In an opinion piece on the Fox News site, Christian Whiton while calling upon US president to declare people associated with Wikileaks as enemy combatants, expressed his dismay by saying “How much will our information-collection capabilities have to be diminished, and how many of our friends and collaborators around the world must die, before President Obama and his friends on Capitol Hill start caring more about national security?” Will Mr. Whiton elaborate, about who those friends are and what they collaborate on? Perhaps they may be collaborating in some subversive plots in the greater interest of democracy and liberty for rest of the world.

In an article in Guardian, Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked confidential Pentagon papers chronicling Vietnam war, contends that information revealed by Wikileaks does not endanger the safety of any American either in Iraq or in Afghanistan, and since July 2010 not a single life was lost owing to the publishing of secret documents. Instead, he says, that Pentagon should be held accountable for its activities and if 15000 American lives were lost instead of Iraqi lives the response of American government would have been different.

One more notable development of these expose is the role being played by media in character assassination of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. In an article in Salon, Glenn Greenwald says that Assange is being victimized just like Daniel Ellsberg during President Nixon’s time.

Even though the New York Times defended itself against the criticism of its coverage of the issue and also on the issue of attacking Assange, one issue remains unanswered. Does Pentagon want the whole world to believe that there was no violation of all the principles that America stands for, by its army in Iraq and Afghanistan? Did anyone really belive that Uncle Sam invaded these countries to distribute chocolate candy? War is a dirty business, and even America should not have unreasonable expectations, that in this age of instant information its atrocities can be camouflaged. Once the juggernaut of war machine starts to roll, collateral damage is unavoidable. It is the responsibility of the government, to keep the objective of the war on track, and to hold accountable the people responsible for their lapses. Rather than trying to gag the media it will be in the larger interest of civil society that American government takes some corrective measures.

Media houses, whose influence is disproportionate, should not fall into the trap of jingoism and should sensitise the societies so that proper checks and balances remain in the system.