Here's looking at you, kid
Here's looking at you, kid

Julian Assange, currently holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, has released another tranche of stolen documents.

The contents of “Vault 7”, released by Assange's  WikiLeaks, purportedly reveal the extent of CIA hacking capabilities.

The source of the leaks claims to have acquired the files from a dataset that was being circulated among CIA contractors and, according to WikiLeaks, released the files to initiate a debate about the “security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyber weapons”.

A total of 8761 documents is the first in what WikiLeaks promises will be a series of releases, but they already outnumber the total number of documents in the Snowden files which exposed NSA surveillance capabilities.

WikiLeaks claims that the CIA has “lost control of its arsenal” of cyber-weapons as it reveals zero-days for attacking popular consumer products including the iPhone, Android and Windows mobile operating systems.

In a nod to commonsense, WikiLeaks has declined to release the “armed” software “until a consensus emerges on the technical and political nature of the CIA's programme and how such 'weapons' should be analysed, disarmed and published”.

With this release, it would appear that Assange is throwing fuel on the anti-surveillance debate in the hopes that this time he will succeed in burning the house down.

What we know about him is that he doesn't play well with many people, and a range of former supporters now disavow him. Alan Rusbridger, the former editor of the Guardian who worked with WikiLeaks to publish the Snowden files, has said that Assange didn't like to be edited and was all in favour of indiscriminately dumping all of the NSA documents into the public domain.

One possibility is he hasn't released the CIA hacking tools because he is not in possession of them.

Of course we cannot see into his mind, but we can judge him by his actions and what we see is a man who has armed himself with the sword of truth and the shield of justice, a self-appointed defender of righteousness.

God save us from self-righteous men.

Initially Wikileaks appeared as an independent means for whistleblowers to release confidential documents that might be in the public interest, and the Snowden leaks did open up the debate about the limits of state surveillance. But Assange  appears to have increasingly aligned himself with Russia, a notorious kleptocracy, and sought asylum from Ecuador, a country with a rather lengthy rap sheet on the Human Rights Watch website.

Why has he not exposed the nefarious activities of these two countries? Is it a quid pro quo for favours rendered or the fear of upsetting someone who wouldn't hesitate to deal with him “extra judicially”?

Russia is also thought to be using Wikileaks to anonymously publish the results of its own surveillance, an arrangement Assange appears to be content with.

Working from a position of almost complete ignorance of spycraft, surveillance and the legislative and regulatory frameworks, he has nonetheless seen fit to pass judgement on the activities of countries which, while not blameless, are nonetheless a hundred, nay, a thousand times cleaner than the countries that he pals around with.

Which leaves me wondering – will Assange be happy with the results of this ‘debate' if the public says, let the CIA have its hacking tools? Because if it's a debate he wants to have, then he has to accept that there are two or more possible outcomes.

There's every chance that the debate could tip against him. While the majority of Americans (54 percent) disapprove of its government collecting surveillance data, and an even greater percentage of non-US people disapprove of it, how are they going to feel if the CIA and other agencies are denied the tools that have allowed them to disrupt and prevent terrorism?

As the debate progresses, the argument will be put forward that people are less safe when intelligence agencies can't conduct surveillance. What's more, it should become clear that the intelligence agencies aren't interested in reading your emails or listening to your phone calls – unless you are up to no good.

Whether anyone – especially Julian Assange – will listen in this era of “echo chamber” sound bites that masquerades as political discourse is another matter.

I suspect that Assange will only hear the answer that suits him.

* The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of SC Media or Haymarket Media..