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[liberationtech] Julian Assange: A Call to Cryptographic Arms

Eugen Leitl eugen at
Mon Dec 3 04:14:57 PST 2012

1 December 2012

Julian Assange: A Call to Cryptographic Arms

Excerpted from Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet, by Julian
Assange with Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Müller-Maguhn and Jérémie Zimmermann. OR
Books, New York, 2012, 186 pages, Paper. Buy online. Cryptome review of the

Pages 1-7.


This book is not a manifesto. There is not time for that. This book is a

The world is not sliding, but galloping into a new transnational dystopia.
This development has not been properly recognized outside of national
security circles. It has been hidden by secrecy, complexity and scale. The
internet, our greatest tool of emancipation, has been transformed into the
most dangerous facilitator of totalitarianism we have ever seen. The internet
is a threat to human civilization.

These transformations have come about silently, because those who know what
is going on work in the global surveillance industry and have no incentives
to speak out. Left to its own trajectory, within a few years, global
civilization will be a postmodern surveillance dystopia, from which escape
for all but the most skilled individuals will be impossible. In fact, we may
already be there.

While many writers have considered what the internet means for global
civilization, they are wrong. They are wrong because they do not have the
sense of perspective that direct experience brings. They are wrong because
they have never met the enemy.

No description of the world survives first contact with the enemy.

We have met the enemy.

Over the last six years WikiLeaks has had conflicts with nearly every
powerful state. We know the new surveillance state from an insider's
perspective, because we have plumbed its secrets. We know it from a
combatant's perspective, because we have had to protect our people, our
finances and our sources from it. We know it from a global perspective,
because we have people, assets and information in nearly every country. We
know it from the perspective of time, because we have been fighting this
phenomenon for years and have seen it double and spread, again and again. It
is an invasive parasite, growing fat off societies that merge with the
internet. It is rolling over the planet, infecting all states and peoples
before it.

What is to be done?

Once upon a time in a place that was neither here nor there, we, the
constructors and citizens of the young internet discussed the future of our
new world.

We saw that the relationships between all people would be mediated by our new
world, and that the nature of states, which are defined by how people
exchange information, economic value, and force, would also change.

We saw that the merger between existing state structures and the internet
created an opening to change the nature of states.

First, recall that states are systems through which coercive force flows.
Factions within a state may compete for support, leading to democratic
surface phenomena, but the underpinnings of states are the systematic
application, and avoidance, of violence. Land ownership, property, rents,
dividends, taxation, court fines, censorship, copyrights and trademarks are
all enforced by the threatened application of state violence.

Most of the time we are not even aware of how close to violence we are,
because we all grant concessions to avoid it. Like sailors smelling the
breeze, we rarely contemplate how our surface world is propped up from below
by darkness.

In the new space of the internet what would be the mediator of coercive

Does it even make sense to ask this question? In this otherworldly space,
this seemingly platonic realm of ideas and information flow, could there be a
notion of coercive force? A force that could modify historical records, tap
phones, separate people, transform complexity into rubble, and erect walls,
like an occupying army?

The platonic nature of the internet, ideas and information flows, is debased
by its physical origins. Its foundations are fiber optic cable lines
stretching across the ocean floors, satellites spinning above our heads,
computer servers housed in buildings in cities from New York to Nairobi. Like
the soldier who slew Archimedes with a mere sword, so too could an armed
militia take control of the peak development of Western civilization, our
platonic realm.

The new world of the internet, abstracted from the old world of brute atoms,
longed for independence. But states and their friends moved to control our
new world -- by controlling its physical underpinnings. The state, like an
army around an oil well, or a customs agent extracting bribes at the border,
would soon learn to leverage its control of physical space to gain control
over our platonic realm. It would prevent the independence we had dreamed of,
and then, squatting on fiber optic lines and around satellite ground
stations, it would go on to mass intercept the information flow of our new
world -- its very essence even as every human, economic, and political
relationship embraced it. The state would leech into the veins and arteries
of our new societies, gobbling up every relationship expressed or
communicated, every web page read, every message sent and every thought
googled, and then store this knowledge, billions of interceptions a day,
undreamed of power, in vast top secret warehouses, forever. It would go on to
mine and mine again this treasure, the collective private intellectual output
of humanity, with ever more sophisticated search and pattern finding
algorithms, enriching the treasure and maximizing the power imbalance between
interceptors and the world of interceptees. And then the state would reflect
what it had learned back into the physical world, to start wars, to target
drones, to manipulate UN committees and trade deals, and to do favors for its
vast connected network of industries, insiders and cronies.

But we discovered something. Our one hope against total domination. A hope
that with courage, insight and solidarity we could use to resist. A strange
property of the physical universe that we live in.

The universe believes in encryption.

It is easier to encrypt information than it is to decrypt it.

We saw we could use this strange property to create the laws of a new world.
To abstract away our new platonic realm from its base underpinnings of
satellites, undersea cables and their controllers. To fortify our space
behind a cryptographic veil. To create new lands barred to those who control
physical reality, because to follow us into them would require infinite

And in this manner to declare independence.

Scientists in the Manhattan Project discovered that the universe permitted
the construction of a nuclear bomb. This was not an obvious conclusion.
Perhaps nuclear weapons were not within the laws of physics. However, the
universe believes in atomic bombs and nuclear reactors. They are a phenomenon
the universe blesses, like salt, sea or stars.

Similarly, the universe, our physical universe, has that property that makes
it possible for an individual or a group of individuals to reliably,
automatically, even without knowing, encipher something, so that all the
resources and all the political will of the strongest superpower on earth may
not decipher it. And the paths of encipherment between people can mesh
together to create regions free from the coercive force of the outer state.
Free from mass interception. Free from state control.

In this way, people can oppose their will to that of a fully mobilized
superpower and win. Encryption is an embodiment of the laws of physics, and
it does not listen to the bluster of states, even transnational surveillance

It isn't obvious that the world had to work this way. But somehow the
universe smiles on encryption.

Cryptography is the ultimate form of non-violent direct action. While nuclear
weapons states can exert unlimited violence over even millions of
individuals, strong cryptography means that a state, even by exercising
unlimited violence, cannot violate the intent of individuals to keep secrets
from them.

Strong cryptography can resist an unlimited application of violence. No
amount of coercive force will ever solve a math problem.

But could we take this strange fact about the world and build it up to be a
basic emancipatory building block for the independence of mankind in the
platonic realm of the internet? And as societies merged with the internet
could that liberty then be reflected back into physical reality to redefine
the state?

Recall that states are the systems which determine where and how coercive
force is consistently applied.

The question of how much coercive force can seep into the platonic realm of
the internet from the physical world is answered by cryptography and the
cypherpunks' ideals.

As states merge with the internet and the future of our civilization becomes
the future of the internet, we must redefine force relations.

If we do not, the universality of the internet will merge global humanity
into one giant grid of mass surveillance and mass control.

We must raise an alarm. This book is a watchman's shout in the night.

On March 20, 2012, while under house arrest in the United Kingdom awaiting
extradition, I met with three friends and fellow watchmen on the principle
that perhaps in unison our voices can wake up the town. We must communicate
what we have learned while there is still a chance for you, the reader, to
understand and act on what is happening.

It is time to take up the arms of our new world, to fight for ourselves and
for those we love.

Our task is to secure self-determination where we can, to hold back the
coming dystopia where we cannot, and if all else fails, to accelerate its

-- Julian Assange, London, October 2012

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