Evgeny Morozov : Predicting the future of WikiLeaks: Follow the media!

Via FP | NetEffect (excerpt):

But cynical as I am, I also wonder how much global appetite there exists for stories about corruption in Azerbaijan, Moldova or Mauritania. I suspect that Assange is bound to run into the same global attention problem that Ethan Zuckerman has been trying to tackle for a while now: it’s not easy to get people to care about what’s happening in far-away and exotic lands — and certainly not about their complex politics. I don’t think that the greater availability of classified information, even when backed up by superb technology for anonymous leaking, would substantially change the amount of attention that global audiences are willing to expend on understanding Azerbaijan or Moldova.

Thus, we should not get carried away: the reason why there is so much hype about the cables right now is because they implicate the United States, a country that everyone loves to hate. I bet cables written by diplomats from, say, Cambodia would be barely noticed by the global media. The United States is unique here because it is clearly the only country that has a stake virtually in every part of the globe, so every cable counts. Now, how many cables from Cambodian diplomats in Macedonia can one really read without falling asleep? Probably none: most people don’t care enough about Cambodia, let alone its foreign policy interests in the Balkans.
I clearly don’t think that the story of WikiLeaks is nearing its end with the full release of all the cables. I know for a fact that Assange has been thinking about the kind of relationship that WikiLeaks needs to have with their media partners for years. I suspect his thinking has evolved quite a bit this year, not least because WikiLeaks has become a media’s darling after spending a few years in relative obscurity.

Whatever strategy Assange chooses to pursue, I don’t think it’s possible to get the future of WikiLeaks right without first addressing the media relationship piece of the puzzle.

Read the whole thing here.

Quickie: State power and the response to Wikileaks

Via The Monkey Cage (Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage. – H.L. Mencken), a blogpost by Henry Farell (associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University):

The US response to Wikileaks has been an interesting illustration of both the limits and extent of state power in an age of transnational information flows. The problem for the US has been quite straightforward. The Internet makes it more difficult for states (even powerful ones such as the US) to control information flows across their own borders and others. It is much easier than it used to be for actors to hop jurisdictions by e.g. moving a particular Internet based service from one country to another, while still making it possible for people across many countries to access the service. This makes it much harder for the US and other actors to use the traditional tools of statecraft – their jurisdiction does not extend far enough to stop the actors who they would like to stop.
Even if states cannot directly regulate small agile actors outside their jurisdiction, they can indirectly regulate them by pressganging big private actors with cross-jurisdictional reach. A few years ago, the US found itself unable to regulate Internet gambling firms which were based in Antigua and selling their services to US customers. But the US was able to tell its banks that they would suffer legal and political consequences if they allowed transactions between US customers and Antiguan gambling firms, helping to drive the latter out of existence.
And this is exactly what the US is doing in response to Wikileaks. US political pressure caused Amazon to stop hosting Wikileaks, EveryDNS to break Wikileaks.org’s domain name, eBay/Paypal to stop facilitating financial transactions, Swiss Post to freeze a Wikileaks bank account (in perhaps the first instance in recorded history of a Swiss bank taking residency requirements seriously), and Mastercard and Visa to cease relations with it. This is unlikely to affect the availability of the information that Wikileaks has already leaked. But it may plausibly affect the medium and long run viability of Wikileaks as an organization. This will be a very interesting battle to watch.

Read the whole thing here.

US Embassy Nepal: Is this an ACS job for you?

Via OIG Report No. ISP-I-11-05A -Inspection of Embassy Kathmandu, Nepal – November 2010

It can be extremely challenging for the embassy to assist American citizens in Nepal. Thousands of American citizens visit Nepal each year, often to trek in the Himalaya Mountains. While the vast majority of such trekkers do not experience any serious problems, a small number do. Nepal has very few roads, especially in the mountains where most tourists go. Trekkers often can be days, if not weeks, away from the nearest road. If an American is injured or becomes seriously ill on such a trail, the embassy may need to arrange for a helicopter to fly them to Kathmandu for hospitalization. If an American is missing, it is a huge logistical challenge to organize search teams. Mountain climbing accidents, in which an American is either injured or killed, are also extremely difficult for the embassy to manage, in terms of communications and transportation. In cases involving the deaths of American citizens, the embassy often handles all arrangements for shipping the remains to the United States. Since Nepal is primarily a Hindu country and most people are cremated when they die, funeral homes do not exist in the country. Embassy Kathmandu is the only U.S. embassy in the world that has cold storage facilities for human remains.

Full report is here.