Review of When Google Met WikiLeaks
“Nobody wants to acknowledge that Google has grown big and bad. But it has.”
- Julian Assange
When Google Met WikiLeaks is a jumbled, discombobulating, yet incredibly powerful peering into the background and inner workings of Internet tech giant Google. First released about a week ago, the book centers itself around a meeting between its author, WikiLeaks frontman Julian Assange, and a foursome of Google executives during the summer of 2011. Assange has been stuck in an embassy in London for a few years now, so the books rushed and uneven tempo is easily forgiven. Don’t let it turn you away. Page after page after page is filled with shocking yet, not so surprising information.
The first chapter is a full on “DOXing” of two of Google’s most important executives, Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen (as well as a few others), and it describes in detail their extensive connections with various entities around the world. These connections range widely, from individual activists, all the way up to heads of state and industry. There are a great many tidbits interwoven with the narrative, which also describes in detail the fateful physical meeting. A meeting which, unknown to an incredibly naïve Assange at the time, was a total mock-up by the US State Department.
As the story goes, Google chief executive Eric Schmidt contacted a very busy Julian Assange, who at the time had a generally positive view of the company. To give some context this was right in the middle of WikiLeaks releasing the massive and now infamous Manning leaks and about a year before the Snowden leaks.
Assange states very clearly the meeting was made at the request of the highest echelons of Google, who claimed they wanted to interview Assange. When the meeting happened the Google executives trickled in almost haphazardly and claimed to have “forgotten” their voice recorder for the interview, insisting Assange record the meeting himself and send it to them later.
Getting back to Google chief Eric Schmidt, he has been described as Google’s “foreign minister”. Assange tells us that “Schmidt fits exactly where he is: the point where the centrist, liberal, and imperialist tendencies meet in American political life.” Schmidt was hired to run Google by original founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 2001.
Eric Schmidt’s still water façade runs deep. Since 1999, he and his wife have maintained a strange habit donating exactly equivalent sums of money to both Democratic and Republican senators and governors, as well as past, present and future heads of state. Pre-election Schmidt was a major donor to US President Barack Obama, and post-election he became an important advisor. In the book, while recalling the meeting, Assange states “Schmidt plunged in at the deep end, straightaway quizzing me on the organizational and technological underpinnings of WikiLeaks.” Soon after Assange would attempt to go for a plunge of his own, recalling, “I asked Eric Schmidt to leak US government information requests to WikiLeaks, and he refused, suddenly nervous, citing the illegality of disclosing Patriot Act requests.”
Also at the meeting was Jared Cohen, director of Google Ideas, which is described in the book as a “think/do tank”. Cohen was a senior advisor to both Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. His expertise regards “terrorism, ‘radicalization’, and ‘the impact of connection technologies on 21st century statecraft’”. He moved to Google from the US State Department in 2010.
Assange describes Jared Cohen’s “world” as an “endless soiree for the cross-fertilization of influence between elites and their vassals, under the pious rubric of ‘civil society.’ The received wisdom in advanced capitalist societies is that there still exists an organic ‘civil society sector’ in which institutions form autonomously and come together to manifest the interests and will of citizens. The fable has it that the boundaries of this sector are respected by actors from government and the ‘private sector,’ leaving a safe space for NGOs and nonprofits to advocate for things like human rights, free speech, and accountable government.”
Together, Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen “co-wrote a policy piece for the Council on Foreign Relations’ journal Foreign Affairs, praising the reformative potential of Silicon Valley technologies as an instrument of US foreign policy. Describing what they called ‘coalitions of the connected,’ Schmidt and Cohen claimed that Democratic states that have built coalitions of their militaries have the capacity to do the same with their connection technologies. They offer a new way to exercise the duty to protect citizens around the world.”
Remember what I said about the books shocking-yet-not revelations? Might I remind you now that Silicon Valley was initially established as nothing more than an extension of American war effort during Word War II? The now suddenly enlightened Julian Assange acknowledges in the book that the meeting was “one part Google, three parts US foreign-policy establishment”. He also aptly links Google to its humble beginnings in DARPA, an organization whose other accomplishments include passive radar, stealth bombers, unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), space planes, and switching over to only computer technology, the first GUI, the first hypertext system, as well as the fucking Internet itself.
Oh, don’t forget Jason Bourne.
Anyways, woven into all this information are all the little “tidbits”. There is a good bit about the social movements going on at the time as they relate to all the big players Assange is exposing. There is a large focus on the Egyptian uprising that would go on to dispose not one, but two presidents. Assange states that after the Egyptian Revolution had been triumphed as a victory for American tech companies by the US State Department and Western news media, “suddenly everyone wanted to be at the intersection point between US global power and social media.” He shows how this urge has lead to the fast ascensions of Schmidt, Cohen et al. into the very top rankings of the Western bourgeoisie.
The WikiLeaks boss exposes a number of US State Department rouses, a la Wag the Dog with Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro. He reveals that the story of Wael Ghonim, “internet activist” and one of TIME magazines “Time 100” of 100 most influential people of 2011, was a total public relations stunt put on by Google Ideas and the State Department in order to drum up sympathy for the new narrative the Obama administration was trying to push at the time.
“Under the surface, as a close reading of its internal cable traffic shows, the State Department had for years bet on both horses, supporting and co-opting elements of Egyptian civil society even as it helped to keep Mubarak in power.” (Assange)
Assange also touches on what he calls the “demos” of the Internet. He considers the Internet to be “a people with a shared culture, shared values and shared aspirations.” He makes the claim that “Internet youth” who were “once apolitical” had become something more transformative, referencing the Internet hacker collective Anonymous and their uncloaking of a $2 million dollar per month subversion campaign directly targeting WikiLeaks. He talks about an early episode in the life of decentralized crypto-currency Bitcoin (currently with a market cap valued at over $6.17 billion), and briefly touches on the Occupy movement stating “as early as June, names like ‘Operation: Empire State Rebellion’ and ‘US Day of Rage’ could be heard online, the early reverberations of the popular disenchantment that would by September coalesce into Occupy Wall Street.”
Perhaps the most significant portion of the first chapter of the book is Julian Assange’s direct refutation of the worldview held by the Google execs and government officials he is writing about. He remarks, “Since at least the 1970s, authentic actors like unions and churches have folded under a sustained assault by free-market statism, transforming “civil society” into a buyer’s market for political factions and corporate interests looking to exert influence”.
As marxists and scientific thinkers, we should of course refute the idea that “the churches” were ever “authentic actors” in positive social change. But the point that we should definitely take with a grain of salt is Assange’s recognition of the ever-increasing absorption of aspects of civil society into the bourgeois state, the continued blurring of lines between capitalism in the state. He clearly does not accept this social state of affairs as the “end of history” and refers to capitalism and “advanced” capitalism more than once. These are interesting assertions coming from a man in his position, someone very much apart of the “mainstream discussions” found in the news media, the gym, the coffee shop, the bar or the pub or other places.
Then again, being wanted in Sweden for the alleged sexual abuse of a woman you just engaged in consensual sex with, almost certainly as a guise for extradition to some CIA torture prison, maybe is not such a great position after all.
And just to end part one of this review on a high note, here is the author of When Google Met WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, quoting former First Lady and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It was made during a speech she gave on her world diplomatic tour and was spoken in regards to the then ongoing social movements all over the world.
“You are the vanguard of a rising generation of citizen activists….And that makes you the kind of leaders we need.”
Part 2 coming soon.