There’s something strange going on with Russian intelligence & the internet security / civil liberties axis

Julian Assange & Wikileaks have been criticized for distributing pro-Trump Russian-generated propaganda by Edward Snowden. Snowden, despite receiving Russian asylum, has been pretty critical of Putin, even as Assange, whose asylum is provided by Equador, has strangely not been. What is going on?

Snowden and Assange are one of these political odd-couples: they have come to the same matrix of behaviors and assumptions from different political corners, and have ended up in the same precarious position by leaking important enough material to get people in positions of power to want to lock them up or kill them (even though ostensibly this is not the proximate cause of Assange’s asylum request). Snowden comes at this from the direction of the kind of right-reactionary libertarianism shared with Eric Raymond and Robert Heinlein — a distrust of government if and when it is the most obvious threat. Assange comes at this from the perspective of left-anarchism, filtered through the beginnings of cryptarchism that Assange lived through. While they have little in common outside a distrust of states and state secrets, they both have a kind of western-style civil-libertarian stance that’s pretty common but directly conflicts with Putin and his administration.

The only thing that all three of these figures (Assange, Snowden, and Putin) have in common is a deep familiarity with spycraft. Snowden was a contractor to two different american espionage agencies; Putin was in the KGB and brought KGB veterans and KGB tactics to his time in office; Assange, in addition to having a particular interest in exposing spycraft and the internal communications of espionage agencies, comes out of a culture of tech-savvy civil libertarians that since its inception in the clipper chip era has had an obsession with spies and espionage.

If there’s a figure that has even less to do with Assange and Snowden, it’s probably Trump. Putin might have an interest in a Trump presidency over a Clinton one only insomuch as the United States, if competently run, can be a major competitor to and impediment in Russian plans, particularly when such plans clash with those of international organizations in which the United States is a powerful member; Clinton, despite her flaws, is an effective politician and bureaucrat, while Trump is not. Perhaps Assange might dislike Clinton — after all, Clinton is of a piece with the current morally questionable state of governance — but Assange is not stupid and neither a North-Korea-like America nor America as a Russian puppet state aligns with his interests. Snowden has reason to worry about Clinton, considering that if he returned to the United States during a Clinton administration it is clear that she would not step in to save him, but Trump’s Nixonesque strongman stance doesn’t bode well for him either; no matter what happens in November, Snowden is unlikely to be able to return home during the next eight years.

The only explanation I can think of for the current strange behavior of these figures is that each has his own plan and believes himself to be using the others for it. Of course, in such a situation, all three plans will probably fail and all three figures merely add to the entropy of the social universe. Nevertheless, it’s very strange to see the civil libertarian axis of the infosec community take a hard right-hand turn and its anarchistic major figures show solidarity with secretive and famously corrupt authoritarians.

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Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software.

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