Book Review: ‘When Google Met WikiLeaks’ by Julian Assange
‘When Google Met WikiLeaks’ is a collection of reflections, essays, and information about the complex relationships between the networks of Google, WikiLeaks, and a vast array of geopolitical issues. In the first chapter, you dive in immediately to a section devoted to understanding the context of the initial meeting between Assange and Google CEO Eric Schmidt — the theme of the entire compilation. As I moved along through the chapters, I was surprised by how informative and well written it was; it was fast paced, to the point, and I was thoroughly caught up in the narrative that Assange laid out. Not wanting to miss a beat, I read most of the footnotes and sought to further flesh out many of the political and economic landscapes that Assange introduced and explained from his fascinatingly unique vantage point.
For those who aren’t (and are) familiar with the connections: Assange points out a web of relations existing between simultaneous phenomena — e.g. Bitcoin, the Occupy movement, the events surrounding Chelsea Manning, specific U.S. NGOs/PACs, the Ukraine and Syria crises, and so forth. If you’re already a news junkie, like myself, it will provide a thought-provoking and coherent map of events from Assange’s perspective within the arena. If you’re being initiated into the politics and history of the situation, what Assange provides is a glimpse of an overview into the complexity of cyber espionage, hacktivism, corporate corruption, and the military industrial neocolonialist complex from the point of view of a high profile insider.
The urgency and relevance of these issues is highlighted by Assange’s suggestion that what this is all really about is a struggle existing just under the radar of much of the mainstream — a struggle for the integrity and future of the Internet. The strength and safety of a free internet being something absolutely necessary for the critique of governments, access to information, the perpetuation of justice, and the freedom of peoples.
Assange also defends his ideology in this work, addressing the NSA, “cyber terrorism”, and his criticisms of Google as one of the most powerful, and therefore dangerous, institutions existing today. Next comes a series of actual transcripts between Schmidt, others, and Assange — for which not much can be said here except that the personalities, intelligence, and character of each recorded member is displayed sometimes explicitly, other times completely ambiguously. While you read the transcipted section, you'll likely find yourself asking; “What more is at stake? What other interests are being protected?” Assange attempts to futher answer these sorts of questions — and numerous others that will undoubtedly come to you as you read — in the last two sections of the book. He makes arguments for the type of convoluted hypocrisy that exists within corporations like Google and he further defends WikiLeaks as an essential sort of news venue. While there is an inherently moral undertone and purpose to the writing, it isn’t so much a simple attack on corruption and injustice as it is a matrix of intersecting and overlapping ideas — serving to illustrate the informational and experiential basis of Assange’s ideology to date.
One particularly poignant moment in the book is when Assange describes that a more honest and transparent form of journalism is one that uses citation as scientific writing does. I personally think this is one of his most insightful and necessary comments in terms of his broader conceptual framework. As you will see, Assange makes much use of citation throughout his own compilation.
I understand that some have critiqued Assange as being “not much of a writer” -- perhaps considering his personal investment in the nature of the content (as a person often defending himself, his actions) -- and the fact that a large portion of ‘When Google Met WikiLeaks’ is “merely” a transcript. However, I think that Assange's hints of anger and defensiveness show us the important and utterly human aspects of the effects of these issues. And I would add that the point of this book is not creative writing — it’s somewhere in between an academic article on moral, political, and economic theory, a historical record, and a manifesto.
I’d suggest anyone on any side of these debates, and those who have yet to realize where they stand, read this invaluable selection.
/ Eloisa Lewis