Nice (securitizing) move!

Today THE representative of american intelligenzija Sarah Palin made some remarkable comments about Wikileaks spokesperson Julian Assange and the release of classified US documents.

  • „Assange is not a “journalist,” any more than the “editor” of al Qaeda’s new English-language magazine Inspire is a “journalist.” He is an anti-American operative with blood on his hands. His past posting of classified documents revealed the identity of more than 100 Afghan sources to the Taliban. Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders?“
  • „Did we use all the cyber tools at our disposal to permanently dismantle Wikileaks?“

How do we understand these messages? What is the purpose of this kind of communication?

Within political science,  especially in international relations exists a theoretical framework to understand those kind of speech acts. During the early 1990s a concept called „Securitization“ was developed mainly in Copenhagen by Barry Buzan and Ole Wæver which describes how actors try to influence the sphere of politics and – since politics is connected with the public sphere in democracy – public opinion. What is the deal? As Wæver summarizes it:

What then is security? With the help of language theory, we can regard ‘‘security’’ as a speech act. In this usage, security is not of interest as a sign that refers to something more real; the utterance itself is the act. By saying it, something is done (as in betting, giving a promise, naming a ship). By uttering ‘‘security’’ a state- representative moves a particular development into a specific area, and thereby claims a special right to use whatever means are necessary to block it.’’ (Wæver 1995: 55)

What Palin (and other actors) do here is to reshape the nature of the Wikileaks release. By posting it as an existential threat, namely uttered by the terms „blood on his hands“ and by claiming (without any proof by the way!), that 100 sources have been revealed to the Taliban, and are therefore in danger, she tries to legitimize extraordinary means to block the constructed threat.

What are those extraordinary means? First at all, she claims that Assange is not a human person, he is an anti-american operative. By comparing him to the editor of Al-Quaeda News source she indirectly calls him a terrorist (other Republican elites have done this before). By that Assange is no longer a legal person but a person outside the law. Non-legal-persons do not enjoy civil liberties and the rule of law, since they are enemies of the state. We all know what happens to happens to persons outside the law in prisons like Guantanamo. Furthermore she demands publicly a bounty hunt to catch Julian Assange. This is a classic example of constructing an enemy which serves the purpose of an in-group/out-group dynamic which unites a community. „We“ are good and the „other“ is bad and therefore must be destroyed. Second, she invokes the idea of using US military infrastructure to pursue DOS (denial of service) attacks towards the wikileaks website, which is illegal in the most western states.

What is at stake? We have seen that by constructing an existential threat she tries to legitimate unlawful means such as bounty hunt and illegal attacking of websites which stand directly against civil liberties and the rule of law in liberal societies. She sacrifices the rule of law for the sake of security. Furthermore she forgets that Wikileaks is not Julian Assange. It is a network (such as Al-Quaeda is) and will not be destroyed by hunting down the PR spokesperson.

We have to ask ourselves if it is necessary to start panic and trash all of „our freedoms“ and civil liberties because of the uncloaking of the already known by Wikileaks. The incompetence of German foreign minister Westerwelle is not a hidden fact, if one looks at public opinion polls in Germany and that Italian prime minister Berlusconi’s is addicted to „livin la vida loca“ is nothing new at all.

The harm that is done by the release of the diplomatic letters might be very limited but serious harm  might be done if we follow those  politicians with limited minds which try to undermine the rule of law by constructing panic and existential threats (which does not exist). The Former UK ambassador Murray made a reasonable point we should keep in mind:

The well paid securitocracy have been out in force in the media, attacking wikileaks and repeating their well worn mantras. These leaks will claim innocent lives, and will damage national security. They will encourage Islamic terrorism. Government secrecy is essential to keep us all safe. In fact, this action by Wikileaks is so cataclysmic, I shall be astonished if we are not all killed in our beds tonight. Except that we heard exactly the same things months ago when Wikileaks released the Iraq war documents and then the Afghan war documents, and nobody has been able to point to a concrete example of any of these bloodurdling consequences.

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