Speaking through a live video feed on Skype for a crowd of about 3,000 people at the South by Southwest Conference (SXSW) held in Austin Texas, Julian Assange expressed his dismay over the lack of oversight of the NSA by president Obama and asked “who really wears the pants in the administration?” The founder of Wikileaks who has released troves of classified information pertaining to US diplomatic and military operations now lives as a fugitive in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. In many respects Assange’s speech was like a press release as he has indicated that Wikileaks which was founded in 2006 will be releasing a new collection of classified information.
This announcement shares the same nature of secrecy with the collection of data Assange has declared that he is about to reveal. He has chosen to neither disclose a time frame nor reveal anything about the content of this new information. This is so that the concerned individuals, the “perpetrators,” do not have the chance to prepare themselves or “get a heads up.” To his credit, there is no credible speculation as to what this disclosure contains. With all his bravado in hiding, Assange was pulling the strings about getting the word out about Wikileaks. However, he is hardly the star attraction of this years SXSW conference. That distinction goes to Edward Snowden who shall also be participating through a live online feed on Monday from Russia where he seeks temporary asylum.
Glenn Greenwald formerly with the Guardian newspaper who was Snowden’s key link will be joining the SXSW conference as well on Monday from Brazil where he now lives in exile. By choosing to focus on online security and privacy matters on the Internet, this year has been an usual one for the SXSW conference. This is because the conference usually focuses on successful start-ups who develop new social networking tools. While Assange may have asked Obama to wear pants with respect to handling the mess of the NSA, he has only praise for the work whistle-blowers like himself do.
At the SXSW conference, he said that it was a golden age in reporting on national security issues. The many American reporters who have chosen to do this kind of work have had to flee from their country fearing persecution. Assange described them as valiant ‘refugees,’ and spoke about his present living situation in the Ecuadorian embassy in London as every national security reporters dream, because the police cannot touch him. “It is a no-man’s land as far as coercion is concerned,” he contended, describing himself to be very fortunate.
These ‘refugees,’ are a response to what Assange describes as a ‘military occupation of the Internet space,’ a phenomenon he believes to have very serious consequences which the average person is able to grasp now because of the efforts of individuals like himself. In addition, the internet has become more of a political space which is a welcoming and an important trend to counter the intrusion of nation states and private media companies who exert almost limitless power. Taking on the Obama presidency by asking who wore the pants, Assange intended to open up an important question as to who ran the shots when it came to controlling the government. Was it the civilian branches of government as it should be or is the real show being controlled by security agencies? With 8 months having passed after the Snowden revelations and no punitive measures taken against the NSA, Assange raises a very important question.
By Unni K. Nair