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Julian Assange on Governments as Networks

During the war on terror, government agencies began modelling terrorist groups as networks of conspirators.  Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, uses this same model to critique and work against the organizations that made it.  In his three short essays and papers, “The non linear effects of leaks on unjust systems of governance,” “State and Terrorist Conspiracies,” and “Conspiracy as Governance,” Mr. Assange uses this model as networks to identify the weaknesses of governments that he wishes to exploit through WikiLeaks.  These titles are not as controversial as they sound; Mr. Assange uses the term ‘conspiracy’ in a more general sense then is usually used.  He refers to any concerted, hidden effort as a conspiracy and then applies this to most non-open government agencies.

Suppose that we have a network with a node for each member of a conspiracy, such as a terrorist group.  We may then places edges between each node if those nodes may communicate and then may give each edge a ‘weight’ proportional to how much important information goes between those two conspirators.  Mr. Assange notes that a conspiracy performs better when members are able to communicate more effectively.  In the extreme case of total disconnectedness, there is no conspiracy at all and the members are acting in isolation.  As such, if anyone wishes to disrupt a conspiracy, they would naturally look to reduce the ‘conspiratorial power’ (which Mr. Assange approximates as the sum of the weights on each edge in a connected component).

One way to reduce the conspiratorial power is to remove edges at random, slowly impairing the ability to communicate.  However, it is often faster to remove a few edges that break the network into two connected components.  This cuts the conspiratorial power in half with relative ease and is clearly more efficient than an untargeted approach.

This is the model used by anti-terrorist agencies and the usual means of removing edges involves cutting down on travel and communications and killing or turning the conspirators.  Julian Assange applies this same model to government organizations, particularly those that are secretive, by using his more inclusive definition of conspiracy.  Making ‘leaks’ easier causes those government organizations to be more cautious, more suspicious, and less able to communicate within themselves or to other organizations for fear of leaks.  This causes communication to be inefficient and to hurt the ability of the organization to understand and react to its environment.  Leaks do not directly affect the network or conspiratorial power, but rather induce agencies to strangle their own communication ability.

But Julian Assange is not an anarchist and does not want all government to go.  Rather, he notes that the effects are ‘non-linear’ – the groups which are the least open are most effected. Furthermore, the groups which are the most unjust are must heavily affected by each leak and most fearful of possible future leaks. So, by creating an environment where leaks are easy, Julian Assange hampers governments which are unjust and secretive while giving a relative reward to those that are transparent. Judgement of the politics involved is left to the reader, but Mr. Assange’s papers make a compelling network-theoretic argument.



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November 2012