Looking for Needles in a Haystack – Libraries and the Assange Case (Part 3)

In this third part of our quest for the librarians´ support for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks Mikael Böök takes a look at what that support would mean in practice. In line with the distinction he made in part two between the man and the thing, he will here focus on the demand to preserve the WikiLeaks in the libraries, for the public and for posterity.

>> See part 1 and part 2.

By Mikael Böök, Isnäs, Finland

You should not just say it, you should do it too. This is how I perceive Michael Gorman`s remarks (see his comment on the previous two parts of this posting). And I fully agree! 

«The Wikileaks trove is present and should be preserved, just as every part of the human record, good bad or indifferent, should be preserved. How to do that?», Gorman asks. 

On my personal bookshelf I have a copy of Michael Gorman`s book Our Enduring Values, published back in the year 2000. I have also procured myself with the revised edition, from the year 2015. When I now re-read passages from these books, I cannot but agree with many of his “traditional” views. In particular, with the view that the “traditional” library must survive and will survive (like Gorman, I prefer to put the word “traditional” within quotation marks, because, like him, I don’t want to believe that the libraries will disappear and be replaced by something else).

Now, let’s do a rapid overview of the document collections at WikiLeaks.org.  

The sample of  items that are currently featuring on its front page gives a first impression. Here  is a listing with snippets from the press releases:

The Intolerance Network,  05 August 2021. Over 17,000 documents from HazteOir and CitizenGO, Spanish right-wing campaigning organizations. They use high level lobbying, a large network and grassroots mobilizations to hinder advancements in LGBTQI, reproductive rights and secularization.

Fishrot Files – Part 2, 26 November, 2019. Today WikiLeaks releases documents pertaining to the Fishrot case that have come to light as a result of investigation into bribes, money laundering and tax evasion. These investigations have been launched by several institutions across Norway, Iceland and Namibia as a result of WikiLeaks’ Fishrot publication earlier this month.

OPCW-DOUMA – Release Part 4,  27 December, 2019. Today WikiLeaks releases more internal documents from the OPCW [that is, Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. M.B.] regarding the investigation into the alleged chemical attack in Douma [Syria] in April 2018.

Pope’s Orders, January 30, 2019. Documents released by WikiLeaks today shed light on a power struggle within the highest offices of the Catholic Church. 

US Embassy Shopping List, 21 December 2018. A searchable database of more than 16,000 procurement requests posted by United States Embassies around he world. 

Amazon Atlas, 11 October 2018. WikiLeaks publishes a “Highly Confidential” internal document from the cloud computing provider Amazon. The document from late 2015 lists the addresses and some operational details of over one hundred data centers spread across fifteen cities in nine countries. To accompany this document, WikiLeaks also created a map showing where Amazon’s data centers are located.

Dealmaker: Al Yousef, 28 September, 2018.  Today WikiLeaks publishes a secret document from the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) International Court of Arbitration, pertaining to a dispute over commission payment in relation to a $3.6 billion arms deal between French state-owned company GIAT Industries SA (now Nexter Systems) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). 

A motley bundle, right? The staff of Wikileaks, however, does classification and cataloguing. The six main classes of the WikiLeaks, as featured in the Main Menu at WikiLeaks.org, are:

  • Intelligence
  • Global Economy 
  • International Politics 
  • Corporations 
  • Government 
  • War & Military

The catalog with short descriptions of the by now 67 main catalog posts is found behind the Leaks-link. When you go to the  posts you will then often find sub-catalogs, separate search facilities, etc. See, for instance,  the “Public Library of US Diplomacy” (Government) which gives access to 

  • The Kissinger Cables — 1,707,500 diplomatic cables from 1973 to 1976.
  • The Carter Cables — 367,174 diplomatic cables from 1977.
  • The Carter Cables 2 — 500,577 diplomatic cables from 1978.
  • The Carter Cables 3 — 531,525 diplomatic cables from 1979.
  • Cablegate — 251,287 diplomatic cables, nearly all from 2003 to 2010.
Mikael Böök speaking at the European Social Forum in Malmö, Sweden, September 2008

In addition,  many posts also link to the newspapers and media that have contributed to the publishing of the Leaks (the long list of Partners, which we already mentioned in Part 1, is  linked from the topmost menu).

I cannot avoid the thought that the librarians would do best to copy and preserve the WikiLeaks collections as they are, with the formats and structures that the WikiLeaks staff has given them, and with the assistance from WikiLeaks staff that I do not doubt that they would gladly offer, if asked. This method is also motivated by the principle of provenience of archivists.

Ideally,  all National Libraries should keep their own copies of the WikiLeaks, and provide their publics with translations into their national languages of at least their structure.  It would, however, already be a great step forward if at least one institutional library somewhere would rise to the challenge. Perhaps that institutional library should be managed by the IFLA?  

In principle, and technically, copying and setting up the WikiLeaks is not difficult because of the electronic format of the Leaks,  but in real life it is complicated, firstly, by the fact that the personnel of the institutional libraries are not really in control of their computers and web servers. I will here leave this first obstacle with this generic statement.  (Comments and further discussion would be welcome.) Anyway, suppose  that the librarians, somewhere, are both sufficiently independent and technically savvy, and that they go ahead in spite of the risk of budget cuts and/or other repressive countermeasures from their financiers. 

How would they do it? Clearly, it would not be enough to just get a copy of the WikiLeaks up and running on their web server. To begin with, they would need to put it in context, and for them — as well as for us who try to envision the thing — the context is the “traditional” library.  

WikiLeaks is undoubtedly a pioneer, but there are many other similar things,  and even other pioneers, such such as Denis Robert and Ernest Backes with their now almost forgotten revelations about Clearstream (2002) , not to speak of the revelations of Edward Snowden (2013) which should never be forgotten.  The LuxLeaks and The Pandora Papers, which “reveal the inner workings of a shadow economy that benefits the wealthy and well-connected at the expense of everyone else” also deserve mentioning — these were contributions from more  “traditional” investigative journalists.  The list could be expanded almost endlessly, because there has been and there still is a vibrant society that exploits the internet and the digital mode of information in the right way, in order to defend and even enlarge the public sphere, the democracy and the human rights. 

The practical method would be what I should like to call double bookkeeping. The term itself is not important, but the line of thought behind it might be. In order to organize and present all that social, economic and political information which the demos (the people) needs for their kratein (their ruling), “the highly organized and structured environment of the library, featuring authority control, controlled vocabularies, bibliographic standards, the artificial language of classification, and so on” (from Our Enduring Values, the chapter on Rationalism) continues to be a necessary condition, but is it also a sufficient condition? I think that it is no longer a sufficient condition. No longer, because the internet does not do this necessary librarian’s work automatically, and neither do the big business corporations (the GAFAM corporations and their Chinese counterparts)  do it in the interest of the peoples.

The only organization that, as far as I understand, can do this is the library. Not the library alone, but the library and the media; the librarians together with the journalists, writers and publishers. This also signifies a bigger role than hitherto for the libraries and for the librarians as publishers (publishers not only of scientific articles, journals and books, as the current concept of “library publishing” is defined, but also of things like the  WikiLeaks.)

Double bookkeeping would mean to apply, in parallel with the present classification and cataloguing, a second set of classes and a second system of cataloguing.  The following is an example of a taxonomy of the social information of  which the WikiLeaks is a current important instance:

  • Alternative economies
  • Children
  • Culture
  • Debt, taxation and public finance
  • Dignity, human being diversity, discriminations 
  • Education  
  • Environment and energy
  • Food sovereignty, peasants and land reform 
  • Gender issues and women struggles
  • Health
  • Housing and human habitat
  • Human rights
  • Knowledge, information and communication 
  • Labor and workers
  • Migration
  • Peace and war
  • Political institutions and democracy
  • Trade and transportation
  • Transnational Corporations
  • Water
  • Youth 

Where would the various catalog posts of WikiLeaks.org fit in? I leave it to the reader to give this taxonomy a try. There will surely be need for some cross-referencing! On the other hand, it is clear that the WikiLeaks only fit into some of the above main classes. My point with choosing this particular taxonomy is that it has its own history;  it has actually been used by at least be some professional librarians in some places – namely at some of the World Social Forums (see Addition 1 below).

The kind of taxonomy of which the above is an example resembles – more or less —  something that must be familiar to every librarian. Compare it with  lists of government ministries (departments) in modern states! The likeness is not accidental, because this kind of taxonomy  is based on the human and social needs, rights, freedoms and duties in a  in a particular state or, as in the current example, in “another world” (the slogan of the World Social Forum was/is  “another world is possible”). The classes try to be an expression of what politics is supposed to be about in a modern state as well as in another possible world. They, or at least their wordings,  are of course time-bound, especially in times of rapid technical and social change.  Yet they also own a durability, to the extent that basic human and social needs are constant or at least stable.  

I hear an objection. Your double bookkeeping will politicize the library! Agreed, a discussion about that is badly needed. But, hand on heart, is it unpolitical to leave Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks to their enemies, be silent, and pretend that nothing has happened? Would it not rather be apolitical? Can a library that wants to be a pillar of democracy and human rights be apolitical?

Addition 1 about librarians at the Social Forums 

Some years ago — it already seems a long time ago! — people from the global south and the global north (although in smaller numbers from Russia and China) used to convene at World Social Forums (WSF), starting in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in the year 2000 and in regional Social Forums, such as as the African Social Forum, European Social Forum and the US Social Forum.  A number of librarians also took part in these, especially during the WSF in Mumbai 2004 and some years after, ending at the WSF in Dakar 2011.  In her keynote speech at the WSF-workshop “Democratization of Information with a Focus on Libraries” (Mumbai 18-19 January 2004) the then IFLA chair Ms Kay Raseroka, university librarian from Gaborone, called on the librarians to participate in the World Social Forum. Librarians should document the World Social Forum and the information brought there by the thousands of organizations and social movements, she also said. (See my report from that workshop in ISC Journal No. 19, here or here. For more information about the participation of librarians in the WSFs you may want to have a look here.) 

Addition 2 A quotation from Michael Gorman’s Preface to Our Enduring Value (revised edition 2015)

“In the last years of the twentieth century, I wrote about the mounting fears of invasion of privacy caused by accelerating developments in digital technology. I had seen nothing yet. Those vague fears, that queasy unease were born in a time when we knew nothing of two massive developments in the century yet to come. The events of September 11, 2001, led to the War on Terror and a concomitant expansion of state surveillance, the true dimensions of which are even now only dimly perceived, even after the revelations of WikiLeaks and Snowden. At the same time, large sections of the population became ensorcelled by the twin delights of online purchasing and social media. These two horsemen of the privacy apocalypse offered consumerism and social interaction, each without the tedious and often messy necessities of personal contact. Today’s Internet adds online porn, online gambling, and online “gaming”; so, given a pizza delivery company, anyone can live an entire sort of life in the solitary basement of her choosing. The digital Mephistopheles did not demand your soul in return for their “gifts”—just your privacy.”

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