The Brave New World of Wikileaks Climate change

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					                                                                  december 11, 2010

The Brave New World of Wikileaks
Wikileaks has dealt an unprecedented blow to the power and legitimacy of the west.

     t has been the season for disclosures, in India and in the west.      reports of an accident at a nuclear site in Iran and the report of a
     Secrets which lie concealed in official papers and conversa-          toxic dumping “incident” off Ivory Coast by the multinational
     tions are now suddenly exposed to the harsh sunlight of public        corporation Trafigura. This is just a small representative list of
examination. And it appears that under the heat of all this expo-          the documents that Wikileaks has hosted and published.
sure, even the mightiest empire on earth is wilting.                          All this earned for Wikileaks the reputation of being an irritant,
   Wikileaks started in 2006 as an online repository for holding           but it was a different matter when the website published a video
and publishing secret documents by whistle-blowers and journal-            taken from a US helicopter over Baghdad, showing the cold-
ists. As the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, himself has             blooded killing of unarmed civilians, including two Reuters jour-
said, it was primarily meant for whistle-blowers from China, west          nalists, by machine gun fire and the shooting of those who came
Asia, Africa and the former Soviet bloc countries. The idea was            to rescue them. This caused an uproar, as for the first time, official
that those in the possession of confidential documents of public           Pentagon videos had shown a snippet of an event during an
interest, which their governments or institutions wanted to hide           invasion and subsequent occupation by the US in which up to 1.4
from public scrutiny, would be able to upload them anonymously             million civilians are believed to have been killed. Typically, the
on the website for worldwide circulation and publicity. Starting           US authorities went about hunting for the person who had leaked
with the release of secret Chinese government documents, in the            this video, rather than taking action against those who had killed
first three years of its work Wikileaks largely stayed with this           civilians. Other similar videos emerged from Afghanistan and
mandate which did seem to have a somewhat patronising atti-                were followed by the release of 92,000 documents from the US
tude of the liberal west helping the oppressed people of the au-           and allied armies in Afghanistan. This was an unprecedented act
thoritarian countries fight their dictators.                               and it was after this that Wikileaks became the target of concerted
   During this period, the website was also lauded by the western          attack by the US, Britain, Australia and other countries. Since
establishment for its work. In 2008, it received an award from the         then it has published the Iraq war logs and has now been releas-
Economist, while in 2009 it was Amnesty International’s turn to            ing cables sent by US diplomats from various embassies, including
praise its work for exposing human rights violations in Kenya.             New Delhi. The total number of cables with Wikipedia is in excess
However, as the site started collecting documents from western             of 2,50,000, though they have only released about 1,000 through
governments and institutions, it came under attack. The first              five designated newspapers – New York Times, Guardian, Le
serious challenge to Wikileaks was in 2008 when the Swiss                  Monde, El País and Der Spiegel.
private bank, Julius Baer, initiated legal measures against the               The manner in which the leading “democracies” of Europe and
website and its administrators for publishing internal documents           North America have responded to these revelations has been
that showed illegal money transfers via its branch in the Cayman           acutely revelatory about these regimes themselves. Despite there
Islands. Wikileaks was taken off servers based in the United               being not a single criminal case against Wikileaks it has had its
States, but internet activists quickly “mirrored” this site in other       website shut down, its payment gateways with Paypal have been
servers and the documents remained public, while the bank was              closed, Visa and Mastercard have refused to transfer funds, its
eventually forced to withdraw its legal proceedings.                       bank accounts have been frozen (including the one meant for its
   Since then, and perhaps because of this incident, Wikileaks has         Julian Assange’s legal defence) and, worst of all, elected repre-
become well known in the west and has become a magnet for those            sentatives have called for the murder of Assange. And there is no
who want to expose the wrongdoings of their governments and                certainty that he will not meet an untimely end as various people
institutions. It has published Guantanamo Bay prison procedures,           have, whenever they have crossed Uncle Sam’s path.
private emails of US vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin show-            Unfortunately for the US and its allies, this is a war they cannot
ing her to be avoiding public disclosure norms, the membership             win. The nature of the internet is such that it will be impossible to
list of the racist British National Party, emails of climate scientists    suppress the information which is already out. Wikileaks has
which indicated a possible exaggeration of climate change claims,          been a “proof of concept” and it is merely a matter of time before
Economic & Political Weekly   EPW   december 11, 2010   vol xlv no 50                                                                          7

a hundred similar leaks perforate the plumbing of the global axis        you cannot make informed decisions as a public”. For decades
of power. As Bradley Manning, the junior US intelligence officer         globalisation has meant the seamless flow of capital and com-
who is the likely source of these leaks said when asked why he had       modities, strengthening the axis of the powerful. Now it appears
not handed over this data to Russia or China for large sums of money,    that, for the first time, globalisation of information has struck its
“... because it is public data... [and] because without information,     first blow and the powerful and corrupt do not know “whence”!

All for Food Security
The adoption of the agribusiness model of the United States is supposed to bring food security to India and Africa.

    t is the political and business elite of the United States that      field trials cheap! The agribusiness corporations have devised
    has given concrete shape to the India-US “strategic partnership”.    this route to gain access to India’s biologically diverse crop plants
    Make no bones about it, the partnership is embedded in a             for commercialisation. But there are regulatory hurdles that have
web of private sector ties and public-private partnerships. And, as      to be overcome.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it on 19 July last year dur-      An article in this journal two years ago (“Targeting Regulation
ing a visit to the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, agricul-      in Indian Agriculture”, 29 November 2008) highlighted the
ture would be the “strongest and most important pillar” of such          fact that the AKI, whose board had prominent representatives of
ties. And yet, practically all that has transpired in this realm         US agribusiness, like Monsanto, Wal-Mart and Archer Daniels
since its very genesis on 18 July 2005 – when the then US Presi-         Midland, was trying to bring about changes in regulation related
dent George W Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh              to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), GM seeds, contract
announced the “US-India Knowledge Initiative on Agricultural Edu-        farming, and intellectual property rights in agriculture. Indeed,
cation, Teaching, Research Service, and Commercial Linkages”, bet-       the government immediately fell in line in July 2006 with respect
ter known as the Agricultural Knowledge Initiative (AKI) – seems         to its regulatory requirement for GM soybean-related imports.
to have been kept confidential, the Right to Information Act not-        US agribusiness again seemed to have won the day when the
withstanding. In March this year, the framework of agricultural          Genetic Engineering Approval Committee passed Bt-brinjal for
collaboration broadened with the India-US “Memorandum of                 commercial production, but there was a public hue and cry and
Understanding for Cooperation in Agriculture and Food Security”,         the Minister of State for Environment Jairam Ramesh was forced
which has made way for strategic cooperation in agriculture and          to declare a temporary moratorium on its introduction in Febru-
food security, food processing, agricultural extension, farm-to-         ary this year. But now, the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of
market linkages, and weather and crop forecasting.                       India Bill has sections, for instance, Section 63 that aims to stifle
   The “Joint Statement of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and             opposition to GMOs and GM products and Section 27(1) that
President Barack Obama” issued on 8 November at the end of the           promotes non-disclosure of relevant data and other information
latter’s recent visit to India mentions the decision to “work to-        to the public.
gether to develop, test, and replicate transformative technologies          Slowly but surely the framework of India-US agricultural col-
to extend food security as part of an Evergreen Revolution”. Indeed,     laboration is encompassing all that is within the realm of agri-
the two sides would “adapt shared innovations and technologies           business, from biotech research to farm operations and process-
and use their expertise in capacity building to extend food secu-        ing, and onward to the markets, wholesale and retail. So the en-
rity to interested countries, including in Africa, in consultation       try of the multi-brand retailers like Wal-Mart may not be far be-
with host governments”. Manmohan Singh has lauded the US’ role           hind. Indeed, at the end of Obama’s recent visit, the doors seemed
in launching India’s first green revolution, transforming Indian         to be opening for crucial information, including detailed crop
agricultural production, and has welcomed US collaboration in            output forecasts, coming into the hands of the US departments of
spurring a “second green revolution”.                                    agriculture and commerce, and thus being made available to US
   Much of the inventions of high-yielding varieties of seeds that       agribusiness which will, no doubt, use the data to further its own
launched the first green revolution took place under the auspices        commercial interests. Overall, if all goes well for US agribusiness
of publicly-funded research institutions, but now the intellectual       interests and their Indian representatives, the local agents of the
property rights of the genetically modified (GM) seeds are held by       Monsantos and the Duponts will increasingly be trading hybrid
the Monsantos, Duponts, and Dows of the developed capitalist world,      seeds with “terminator genes”, contract farming will spread, irri-
mainly US agribusiness corporations. They now want India’s agri-         gation and the distribution of water will be further commercial-
cultural research infrastructure – a number of organisations under       ised, land reform will proceed in reverse, food coupons for a very
the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and the state agricul-       narrowly defined “poor” will replace the public distribution
tural universities and colleges – to become business-oriented,           system, and futures trading in foodgrains will flourish, all in the
and enter into public-private partnerships to carry out research in      name of ushering in food security. And, in collaboration with US
biotechnology that has the potential to be rapidly commercialised.       agribusiness, this model will be transplanted in Africa, once
What better way of getting quality scientific labour and access to       again in the name of food security.
8                                                                               december 11, 2010   vol xlv no 50   EPW   Economic & Political Weekly

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