Ross Douthat had a pretty interesting take on Julian Assange and the method to his madness:
Assange, being a clever guy, is well aware of this reality; indeed, his own writings suggest that he’s counting on it. Like the Marxists of yore, he’s a heighten-the-contradictions kind of guy. Here’s his theory of what WikiLeaks might accomplish:
The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive “secrecy tax”) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption. Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.
The hyperbole of certain Republicans notwithstanding, Assange is not a terrorist. But he has this much in common with al Qaeda: In response to what they perceive as the inherent injustice of the American empire, both the jihadis and the Australian anarchist are willing to take steps that they know will make the United States more imperial in the short term — in Al Qaeda’s case, acts of terrorism that inspire American military interventions in the Muslim world; in Assange’s case, information dumps that inspire ever-greater secrecy and centralization in the federal bureaucracy — in the hopes that the system will eventually collapse under its own weight and “more open forms of governance” (or, I suppose, a global caliphate) can take its place.
The problem, though, is that the American national security state is almost certainly more resilient than either Assange or Osama bin Laden seems to think. Which means that their efforts at sabotage have little chance (by design) of prompting any actual reforms in the system they despise, a vanishingly small chance of actually bringing the whole thing to its knees — and a substantial chance of just making life worse for everybody, inside and outside the United States government alike.
It may be cathartic for critics of state power to cheer when Assange sticks an online thumb into leviathan’s eye. But WikiLeaks is at best a temporary victory for transparency, and it’s likely to spur the further insulation of the permanent state from scrutiny, accountability or even self-knowledge.
Because I am emo and pessimistic today, and because of the fact that the national security state has done nothing but gain power in the last few decades, I think Ross is right. What is unsaid, though, is what else can be done? The alternative is to do nothing.