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An Absurdly Expensive Spectacle

Guarding Assange in London

by BINOY KAMPMARK

They set the rules about what a win was.  They lost in every battle they defined. Their loss is total. We’ve won the big stuff.

– Julian Assange, Salon, May 10, 2013

We live in an age of austerity, if we are to believe the scorched earth cult that has taken over most Western governments. Budgets are being slashed by economic irrationalists.  Outlays are being trimmed. The nippers and snippers are doing their worst, and here, we have an astonishing statistic.  The British government, through its police arm Scotland Yard, has spent somewhere in order of $5 million “guarding” Assange.  The term is itself odd – guarding suggests that he might come to harm, that protection is required.  The harm, of course, is purely down to the fact that the British government might just bag him and ensure his swift departure to a country that has not, as yet, laid formal charges.

In this queer fantasy of rented laws and comic security, it is of greatest amusement that Assange, even in Ecuadorean quarters, has managed to get information of the chatter that has been taking place in GCHQ.  It was obtained via a request made under the Data Protection Act.  That much he revealed in an interview with Spanish television programme Salvados.  Those darlings in the bunker were certainly happy to wonder what might happen to the dissident Australian.

When those in the secrecy business start pondering about set-ups, you know you are onto something rich. One member in GCHQ messaged a colleague: “They are trying to arrest him on suspicion of (XYZ)… it is definitely a fit-up… their timings are too convenient right after Cablegate.”  Timing, convenience – purple material indeed. The other suggests that Assange is being a “highly optimistic fool” if he believes he won’t be extradited, a perfect position if one is to say that foolishness demands an even greater act of foolishness to expose the absurdity of it all.  With almost quixotic enthusiasm, Assange has set himself the task of pushing not so much the envelope as the entire tray to the edge to see how far he can go.

The scene is dark and hilarious.  There are officers at corners, officers in neighbouring buildings.  “Police sit round-the-clock in a communications van topped with an array of antennas that presumably captures all electronic forms of communication from Assange’s ground-floor suite” (Salon, May 10). There are payments for overtime.

The point to be made here is that Assange has become a security analyst’s wet dream, though it might be more appropriate to call it a flood dream, copious volumes of fantasy and fear that have come together with a huge cheque.  A vast security apparatus has been put in place to keep tabs on the Australian’s movements ‘in Ecuador’ as it were.

This security establishment has embellished, extended and demonstrated what sort of threat he poses to their staple of secrets. When one considers that efforts of surveillance and prosecution include the efforts of contractor ManTech of Fairfax, Virginia, an outfit that has spent some $2 million this year for a computer system designed to handle the prosecution documents (Salon, May 10), we are not so much in Robert Ludlum territory as the padded asylum.

The latest estimate of Assange’s rising bill of costs is merely skimming the surface.  Those costs are incurred by the British government alone.  The global breakdown is bound to be stupendous.  The U.S. security apparatus, comprising such entities as the Army’s Criminal Investigative Department, the Department of Justice, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the Diplomatic Security Service have people on the case.

The Australians, in an attempt to tighten the noose around one of their nationals, have obliged to help their Washington masters in trying to find ways of revoking Assange’s passport. This avenue is not surprising, given that the Australian government is notoriously indifferent to the fate of its own citizens, always keen to help other friends wanting their own nationals.  Assange is in distinguished company in this regard, as the renowned Cold War journalist Wilfred Burchett suffered similarly at the hands of the Canberra drudge in the 1970s.  In both cases, it would seem, publish and be damned.

Whether the British tax payer starts foaming at the mouth at the extensive and expanding bill will be something worth seeing.  The bloody mindedness of the British government is considerable.  The spectacle has ceased merely being absurd. It has become absurdly expensive.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com