Beware the Celebrity Who Refers to Himself in the Third Person

So advises Jemima Khan regarding Julian Assange in The Times today [£]. She is the latest in a long string of former Assange supporters to have a wakey wakey moment about the WikiLeaks wide boy, and deserves credit for going public rather than slinking away silently and without apology as have many other people who once defended him.

In fairness to all his dupes, Assange clearly is a talented con man, and The Times notes that he continues to be astonishingly successful at mulcting people to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds.* He will never be completely isolated. Just as even the most twisted conifer retains some sap, enough people tend toward adolescent idealization or inability to admit error to ensure that Assange retains a few groupies in perpetuity.

Khan also argues, and I strongly agree, that Assange should be forced to face his accusers in a rape trial. His narcissism, sense of entitlement and chronic dishonesty are all consistent with being a rapist, but let him have his day in court before rendering definitive judgement (or more accurately, let the women who are accusing him have theirs, as he is the one who is preventing the trial from happening).

The Ecuadoran government has painted itself in a corner by staking national prestige on protecting Assange, and it is not clear that they can climb down without feeling humiliated. The US, UK and Swedish governments are probably in no mood to do Ecuador any favours, but nonetheless should do the decent thing: Agree to allow the Ecuadoran embassy staff to send Julian out for coffee and then feign shock as they denounce his ensuing arrest. Assange will milk his apprehension for more publicity, but a good relationship with Ecuador simply matters more in the long term than does this vile little man.

*However, it has to be said that none of the RBC bloggers who wrote about WikiLeaks was taken in by him even for a moment.

Secret Diplomatic Communication and Peace in Ireland

Regarding the WikiLeaks affair, I wish to associate myself publicly with the wise comments (posts below) of the Senators from the University of Chicago and UCLA. Let me give a concrete example of why they are correct about the value of secret government communication.

A few months ago, I had the honor to meet Lord Trimble, after he had given a candid account of his Nobel Peace Prize-winning work helping negotiate an end to the Troubles. He maintained that the IRA ceasefire and the Good Friday agreement would not have happened had not the groundwork been laid through secret communications between the subset of IRA leaders who wanted peace and Prime Minister Major. Had those communications been dumped onto the Internet by WikiLeaks, the IRA members concerned would almost certainly have been murdered, and the peace-seeking members of PM Major’s administration would have been eviscerated in the press and had their careers ruined (possibly bringing down the government in the process). That would have killed the Irish peace process for at least a generation — what IRA member or British politician would dare to re-open “secret” communication once the likelihood of public exposure was made so plain?

Some of the pro-leak comments I am seeing around the web seem to stem from an (not entirely unhealthy) instinctive suspicion of the motives of powerful government actors. But those actors don’t just communicate to their peers in other governments, they communicate with quite vulnerable people, for example, pro-democracy groups in Iran, human rights activists in Burma and dissident nuclear scientists in North Korea. Siding with Wikileaks is not therefore logically equivalent to opposing concentrated power and central government authority…in some cases it can effectively mean sentencing grassroots activists either to persecution or complete exclusion from diplomatic contact.