Belmont Club

Information Arbitrage

The announcement at the Frontline journalist’s club says “following the Frontline Club’s involvement with WikiLeaks we would like to invite our members (only those that are paid-up) to join us  … with the chairman of the board of trustees John Owen … [to] explain the decision-making process behind the Frontline Club’s association with WikiLeaks.” But in the Club’s homepage they say, “all events are open to the public”.  The basic contradiction of the modern age is the small print under “information wants to be free”  reads “pay to see more”.

And would ‘more’ include access to the 2,000 bank offshore accounts from Julius Baer Grand Cayman that has been released to Wikileaks by a former employee? In principle, it might.  At a news conference in London Assange announced he would delay releasing these accounts to the public until they could be reviewed. But who will review them?

Two sources familiar with the material said it was dense and not self-explanatory. One of the sources said the material contained a handful of names that might be recognizable.

Even in cases where names seemed familiar, the source said, there is no way to be sure from the material supplied to WikiLeaks of the identities of account holders and further investigation would have to be done to confirm the account holders’ identity.

Jack Blum, a former Congressional investigator and Washington lawyer who has been advising Elmer, said Elmer would not be releasing any names or corporate names from the data cache because the account data outlined financial “structures” which are “difficult to figure out what is going on.”

Like every other intelligence operation, Wikileaks is doomed to divide its activities into collection, analysis and dissemination.   Those three things are what everyone in the information business does. Assange’s problem, even if his whistleblowing system is secure (paging Bradley Manning, paging Bradley Manning) is that he still has to solve the analysis and dissemination problems.  People can get him stuff, but he still needs a mechanism for sifting through the raw data and fencing it. Julian Assange’s squabbles with the Guardian over money are well known, and the subject of an earlier post. That’s the fencing problem.

The problem Wikileaks now faces with the Grand Cayman data is how to turn raw data into product. To do that it has to “crowdsource” analysis to volunteers, but those volunteers cannot be the public otherwise there would be no point fencing it. After all, if information that “wants to be free” is already downloadable for nothing then there is no point selling it to the Guardian.  Reviewers must therefore be persons who come to an agreement with — Julian Assange — there being no competent contracting party other than himself — to do something in confidence. But in exchange for what? How long can “volunteers” be content to remain in Julian’s shadow. The need to “crowdsource” and disseminate opens Assange to the danger of internal leaks as disagreements arise over other aspects of his intel operation.

My guess is that Wikileak’s “monopoly rents” period is ending.  Other players in the information game are going to improve upon and take away segments of Julian Assange’s business.  Maybe  the journalism business will evolve into units who source data, determine its provenance and ‘vouch’ for it before subsequently routing it through nodes of “reporters” who turn it into product, before imposing some kind of DRM on it for downloads over Smartphones.  In that world, information will be “free” to the extent that any individual piece of information can eventually be presented for sale, but it will not be monetarily free.  Since everything passes through the value chain, it all has to be paid for. Poor Bradley Manning forgot the most important lines of film dialogue in history, from the movie Die Hard.

Hans Gruber: Mr. Takagi. How do you do. My name is Hans Gruber. Nice suit. John Philips… London?  I have two myself. I’m told Arafat shops there too…

Hans Gruber: (Examining a model of a Nakatomi Industries project in Indonesia) And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept. For there were no more worlds to conquer. The benefits of a classical education.  It’s beautiful. I always enjoyed models as a boy. The exactness, the attention to every foreseeable detail… perfection.

Takagi:  This is what this is about? Our building project in Indonesia? Contrary to what you people think, we’re going to develop that region… not ‘exploit’ it.

Hans Gruber: I believe you. I read the article in Forbes.  Mr. Takagi, we could discuss industrialization of men’s fashions all day, but I’m afraid my associate, Mr. Theo, has some questions for you. Sort of fill-in-the blanks questions actually…

Takagi:  I don’t have that code…! You broke in here to access out computer?!? Any information you could get — they wake up in Tokyo in the morning, they’ll change it! You won’t be able to blackmail our executives or threaten.

Hans Gruber:  SIT DOWN! Mr. Takagi… I’m not interested in your computer. I’m interested in the 640 million dollars in negotiable bearer bonds you have in you vault. Yes… I know about them. The code key is a necessary step in accessing the vault.

Takagi:  You want… money? What kind of terrorists are you?

Hans Gruber:  Who said we were terrorists?  The code key, please…?

Takagi: It’s useless to you! There’s seven safeguards on our vault, and the code key is only one of them! You’ll never get it open!

Hans Gruber: Then there’s no reason not to tell it to us.

It’s about the money, Bradley. It’s always been about the money.

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