The WikiLeaks Worst-Case Scenario, As Floodgates Open To Reveal Informants

Op-Ed: Julian Assange and his former German cohort Daniel Domscheit-Berg blame each other for the circulation on the Internet of the identities of secret informants from diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks. Now, with lives in danger, the organization

Julian Assange (New Media Days)
Julian Assange (New Media Days)
Clemens Wergin

It's the story of two bickering computer nerds vying for a place in history -- of ideologues putting peoples' lives at risk to serve some bizarre notion of "transparency." What critics of WikiLeaks always feared would happen has now happened: the entire batch of 251,000 cables from US embassies around the world has become publicly available -- un-redacted, which means that the names of informants are out there for all to see.

That could not only cost some people their job: in repressive countries and crisis areas, many people could be facing prison -- or death.

How could this happen? It all goes back to the agreement between WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and the British Guardian newspaper. WikiLeaks would give the paper access to certain files if the paper agreed to handle the material with utmost caution and not give anyone else access. Assange provided the paper with a secret password to decrypt the vast trove of data on a special server.

Following the uproar about WikiLeaks, however, and tensions growing between Australian-born Julian Assange and Germany's Daniel Domscheit-Berg within the WikiLeaks organization, the encrypted data made its way to various sites on the Internet.

It seems that following massive hacker attacks on its website, WikiLeaks volunteers distributed material to mirror servers. Some of it appeared on BitTorrent, an Internet file sharing system, for example. Followers of Domscheit-Berg apparently also took material when the German split with Assange. It is entirely possible that neither WikiLeaks volunteer workers nor Domscheit-Berg knew of the trove containing the US documents.

Assange hadn't changed the password

The whole thing would not have become an unparalleled disaster if two other things hadn't taken place, however. The first was that Guardian journalist David Leigh published the secret password in his book about WikiLeaks (Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy). The second was that the German weekly paper Der Freitag printed clues that made it possible to identify the password and the location of the data on the Internet.

The Guardian claims that it published the password because it wasn't deemed relevant anymore. A statement from the paper reads: "It's nonsense to suggest the Guardian's WikiLeaks book has compromised security in any way. Our book about WikiLeaks was published last February. It contained a password, but no details of the location of the files, and we were told it was a temporary password that would expire and be deleted in a matter of hours. No concerns were expressed when the book was published."

Whether out of laziness or sloppiness, Assange had not in fact changed the password – even if in his own statement, he says that not he but The Guardian and "a person in Germany" are responsible for the problem.

Still, the Guardian-WikiLeaks dispute wouldn't have been enough to set off the kind of disaster we are witnessing. What made the difference was the toxic relationship of the two oddballs in the equation: Julian Assange and Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who have not stopped hurling accusations at each other since they split up.

In a book, Domscheit-Berg says among other things that Assange wasn't capable of guaranteeing data safety. He describes Assange as irresponsible and suffering from delusions of grandeur. The German hacker has started a new platform called OpenLeaks to compete with WikiLeaks. For his part Assange has been trying to cast his former colleague in an equally unfavorable light.

The vanity of two nerds endangers human lives

Now that all the names are out there, those who created the disaster -- WikiLeaks and its publicity-hungry head Julian Assange – are refusing to accept any responsibility for the way they handled extremely sensitive data. A WikiLeaks editorial published last Thursday claims that they worked on the preparation of the US cables with 50 media outlets and human rights organizations. It is unlikely that with so many partners there wouldn't be breaches somewhere.

In an email to the German DPA press agency, Domscheit-Berg says Assange is responsible for the disaster. "The people who knew about this problem kept quiet about it for months, and were counting on Assange, who's also known about it for a long time, to react in a responsible fashion by warning those concerned in a public statement," he writes. "That would have been the only correct step. But instead, it was decided to ignore the situation and keep silent…which has potentially endangered people."

Whoever bears the greater responsibility, one thing is sure: they've made the dictators of this world very happy by delivering on a digital platter the names of dissidents and informers looking to undermine the regimes.

Read the original story in German

Photo - New Media Days

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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