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Guest Thinkers

Will WikiLeaks Have Its “Social Network?”

The stories intertwine on the point of personality: is Mark Zuckerberg a genius? Is Julian Assange? At what point does (at least in Aaron Sorkin’s vision of the Facebook founder, now immortalized by David Fincher’s film) the irony of someone socially maladroit creating the ultimate social network remind us of someone diplomatically maladroit creating the ultimate diplomatic resource—or scandal, depending on where you sit to see the show. When future films are made, or books written, about this past year in the life of WikiLeaks, will comparisons be drawn between what one entrepreneur made of the Internet when it came to socializing and what another made when it came to secrecy and intelligence?

Assange and Zuckerberg don’t share a nationality, or even a generation, but they share that classic revolutionary zeal, zeal historically—more often than not—coupled with a shot of insanity. We cannot blame our innovators, even as we endlessly parse their more morally tenuous creations. We cannot blame them; we use their cool tools as we will.

As if by planned synergy, the back-page essay in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, “C.I.A. Agents, Blowing Their Own Cover,” focused on works by former members of the intelligence community, and on how rules against disclosure within that world that have broken down. Alex Berenson writes:

It used to be rare for C.I.A. employees to recount their exploits, or grievances, in print. Now, they’re over sharing as eagerly as the cast of “Jersey Shore.” I’ve written five C.I.A.-related thrillers since 2005. Along the way, I’ve read more than my share of books by insiders, seeking hints of how the agency works — and doesn’t. The books make for fascinating, disturbing reading. Collectively, they shine a bright light on the agency’s darkest secret of all, its inability to do its job at the most basic level.

This is not the OSS.

Mark Zuckerberg’s creation appeals equally to teenagers and politicians: reach out, be heard, raise funds, slam your ex. Julian Assange has given the world something similarly rooted in technology but vastly more sophisticated and more sinister in intent: a weapon for flooding media channels, indiscriminately, with erstwhile “privileged” information. “They have blood on their hands,” former CIA Director James Woolsey told MSNBC. This is not something anyone would say of Mark Zuckerberg.

Still, the story.The story of WikiLeaks is seductive for future Aaron Sorkins because it begins with an excellent thematic cocktail: character flaw, plus drive. Whether that drive is to perform a public service or to gain fame doesn’t matter in the end. Assange, like Zuckerberg, will make enemies in exactly the world he hoped to change, and perhaps the world he hoped to inhabit. (Porcellian; Davos.) If the State Department succeeds in divining ways to stop Assange’s spread, they still will have not killed what he represents—the human fascination with sense of purpose, lack of fear, and an Achilles heel which has been the necessary handmaiden to history: hubris.


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