Open government is strongly correlated to quality of life. Open government is compelled to answer injustice rather than causing it. Plans by an open government which are corrupt, cause injustice or do not alleviate suffering are revealed and so opposed before implementation. If unjust plans cannot reach implementation then government will be a force for justice.
In the last two chapters, we looked at the issues with digital payments, but when you think about donations you wouldn’t assume they have the same problems as payments have. For example, when donating money to a charity, like Charity Water, they don’t have to be worried about charge back fraud because you’re voluntarily giving them money.1 But the same problem with third-party censorship is relevant here as well.2
Imagine a country doing something really horrible, like purging intellectuals and political opponents, that would put the government in a bad light. Journalists trying to report on this event may find it difficult or impossible to accept donations to continue their work. A payment processor (which is necessary for digital donations)—perhaps under pressure from the government—might block donations or break the journalist’s anonymity,3 making donations to truth-seeking journalists very difficult or outright dangerous.
Donations are an excellent use case for cryptocurrencies, as they cannot be censored even by the most powerful nations in the world. And as I’ll argue in this chapter, this is a real concern.
A powerful example of censorship is the Tiananmen Square Massacre in China in 1989. It was a student-led protest which was forcefully suppressed by hundreds of thousands military troops, killing large numbers of demonstrators and bystanders.
“This gun-happy soldier, he’s firing indiscriminately into the crowd and three young girl students knelt down in front of him and begged him to stop firing,” she says quietly, gesturing with her hands in a praying motion.
“And he killed them.”
China has gone to great lengths to cover up these events. Twitter is censored by default in China and anyone caught tweeting about Tiananmen might get arrested. On the anniversary they have police escorts for the victim’s families who want to visit the graves—to keep them away from journalists.
Censorship is a global problem and is a big problem in for example Eritrea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia. A more modern problem is manipulation on social media, with the goal to control public opinion. One way is to use trolls (fake user accounts) and another is to censor opinions that don’t fit your narrative.
WikiLeaks is a relevant example for illustrating the importance of uncensorable payments as it shows the influence powerful actors have over payment processors and, in turn, the funding for WikiLeaks. We will focus on the Chelsea Manning leaks and the aftermath, where WikiLeaks got their donation channels shut down for exposing government atrocities.
I’ll bring up the events surrounding Julian Assange, because they give context and might be relevant to the story of government abuse, but it’s not about him or any other person in particular. Even if Julian Assange is guilty of rape, it does not change the importance of the leaks or WikiLeaks as a concept, which goes above individuals.
This is not a glorification of WikiLeaks—they have endangered individuals via their leaks. Instead I hope to show that uncensorable donations are important, because exposing government atrocities can lead to your donations being blocked (and government atrocities should be exposed).
Oct 4, 2006
WikiLeaks was launched as a news site for collaborative editing, similar to how Wikipedia is edited by volunteers. Despite their similar names the sites aren’t related. In 2010 WikiLeaks stopped being a wiki, but the name remained the same.
Today many equate WikiLeaks with Julian Assange, but he’s only one of many people involved. Sometimes he’s described as the founder, editor-in-chief, or director.
The Chelsea Manning leaks
July 5, 2010
First I must caution you: it’s very easy to become numb when you read about these leaks. The sheer amount of horror is enough to overwhelm you and might cause your brain to suppress your emotions, maybe out of self-defense. But try to remember that this happened to real people—it’s not just a mass of text and numbers. Please don’t relegate this as just another forgettable statistic.
Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning) is a former soldier of the United States who provided WikiLeaks with nearly 750,000 military and diplomatic documents. They were released in batches and spread out over a period of time. Some of the content was absolutely shocking and caused global outrage, I’ve tried to pick out some notable leaks:
WikiLeaks uploaded a video of a Baghdad helicopter attack in July 12, 2007 with the title “Collateral murder”. It’s a video of how an attack helicopter killed a dozen innocent people, including two Reuters news staff.
Except now we know it’s not an RPG but a camera held by a Reuters journalist.
03:45All right, hahaha, I hit [shot] ‘em…
04:55Oh, yeah, look at those dead bastards.
06:57Come on, buddy.
07:01All you gotta do is pick up a weapon.
After killing a bunch of people, they’re looking at an injured person crawling on the ground wanting him to pick up a weapon—so they’re allowed to kill him.
07:59Picking up the wounded?
08:01Yeah, we’re trying to get permission to engage.
08:04Come on, let us shoot!
Then, a van enters the scene and they’re rushing in to help the wounded. But now the rules aren’t that important anymore—they want to shoot!
10:35Oh yeah, look at that. Right through the windshield!
10:39All right. There were uh approximately four to five individuals in that truck, so I’m counting about twelve to fifteen.
There were two children behind that windshield who got seriously injured. Their father was killed for trying to help the wounded on the street.
When Reuters tried to get answers for how their reporters died, the U.S. military claimed they didn’t know how they got killed, and that all dead were insurgents. They also didn’t know how the children got injured, despite having the video footage.
Afterwards, the military investigated the issue and concluded that the actions of the soldiers where in accordance with the law of armed conflict and its own “Rules of Engagement”.
In 2006, a group of U.S. soldiers entered a house in Iraq where they executed at least 10 people (9 civilians), including an infant and four other children—all five years or younger—and elderly women. They called in an airstrike to cover up the evidence, but postmortems showed they had been handcuffed and shot in the head.
We’re quick to call them terrorists, but viewed from another angle the U.S. soldiers are the terrorists. Just imagine foreign soldiers entering your neighbour’s house and executing everyone there, including the children…
The soldiers were cleared of any wrongdoing by the U.S. military, after the military initially denied that the events happened at all.
One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter
While U.S. officials had previously said no logs existed of civilian deaths in Iraq, leaked cables told another story. 66,081 civilian deaths had been logged out of a total of 109,000 deaths between 2004 and 2009. That’s 60.6% of all dead being innocent people—a horrifyingly bad ratio.
Leaked cables also indicated that U.S. authorities had failed to investigate hundreds of reports of torture, rape, abuse and murder by Iraqi security officials.
Countless numbers of civilians killed—while soldiers are laughing—and systematic cover-ups to hide it all.
To me, Chelsea Manning is a hero for bringing this to light. Yet how was she thanked? Like all whistleblowers, she was made an example of; she was court-martialed and sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Sexual assault allegations against Julian Assange
Shortly after the massive leaks, Julian Assange was accused of sexual assault in Sweden. The timing might be a coincidence; or if you’re a conspiracy theorist you might say they’re manufactured by the U.S. government, in a way to reach Julian Assange.
In November, when Assange had already traveled to London (the charges were dropped to be picked up again after he left Sweden), an international arrest warrant was issued by the Swedish police via Interpol.
Our payment service cannot be used for any activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity.
Even if you don’t like conspiracy theories, it’s not a stretch to say the U.S. government put pressure on PayPal in their effort to shut down WikiLeaks.
Dec 7, 2010
This further developed into a Banking Blockade that the Bank of America, VISA, MasterCard and Western Union also joined. WikiLeaks claim this destroyed 95% of their revenue, and they had to resort to cash reserves.
The blockade was later found to be illegal and today WikiLeaks again accept donations via PayPal and credit cards, but they suffered large damage at the crucial time when the world was in uproar over the leaks.
WikiLeaks accepts Bitcoin
Jun 14, 2011
After being shunned by banks and payment processors, WikiLeaks turned to Bitcoin, because nobody—not even the U.S. government—can block Bitcoin transactions.
Why did it take almost a year before WikiLeaks started accepting Bitcoin? Satoshi made this appeal in the de-facto discussion forum at the time:
Basically, bring it on. Let’s encourage Wikileaks to use Bitcoins and I’m willing to face any risk or fallout from that act.
No, don’t “bring it on”.
The project needs to grow gradually so the software can be strengthened along the way.
I make this appeal to WikiLeaks not to try to use Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a small beta community in its infancy. You would not stand to get more than pocket change, and the heat you would bring would likely destroy us at this stage.
Which Assange cites as the reason they held off introducing Bitcoin donations.
Assange applies for political asylum from Ecuador
A couple of weeks after the Supreme Court’s final ruling in U.K. that Assange should be extradited to Sweden, he walked into the Ecuadorean embassy in London and applied for political asylum. The stated reason was fears that Sweden would send him to the U.S. where he would risk the death penalty under espionage charges.
Assange was granted asylum on August 16th and his stay at the embassy would be longer than anyone would have thought.
Chelsea Manning’s sentence is commuted
Jan 17, 2017
President Barack Obama commutes Chelsea Manning’s prison sentence. Important to note it only reduced her sentence, it doesn’t change the fact that she was convicted. She spent almost 7 years of her original 35 year sentence in prison.
Chelsea Manning is jailed again
Chelsea Manning is jailed again for her refusal to testify against Julian Assange. She objected to the secrecy of the grand jury process and says she has already revealed everything she knows at her court martial.
Assange arrested at the embassy
After almost 7 years at the Ecuadorien embassy, Julian Assange finally leaves the embassy and is arrested.
When Assange first sought asylum many people said it was only to avoid the Swedish charges and he used fears of the U.S. as a pretext, but in hindsight the fears might have been real.
Observers are denied entry to the Assange hearings
During Assange’s extradition hearing, where the U.K. will rule on extradition to the U.S., Amnesty International were blocked from observing the hearings. They claim the hearings were intentionally locked down:
The judge wrote back expressing her “regret” at her decision and saying: “I fully recognise that justice should be administered in public”. Despite her regret and her recognition that scrutiny is a vital component of open justice, the judge did not change her mind.
Amnesty International have monitored trials from Guantanamo Bay to Bahrain, Ecuador to Turkey. For our observer to be denied access profoundly undermines open justice.
A farcical extradition hearing
The human rights activist, Craig Murray, was allowed to observe and he’s been documenting the hearing on his blog, and it’s not an exaggeration to call the hearing a farce.
Witnesses were prevented from taking the stand because the U.S. managed to block any reference to the torture at Guantanamo (which we know is true):
The next witness, Andy Worthington, was at court and ready to give evidence, but was prevented from doing so. The United States government objected to his evidence, about his work on the Guantanamo Detainee files, being heard because it contained allegations of inmates being tortured at Guantanamo.
In another instance, the prosecution—with the cooperation of the judge—tries to hide the fact that Assange was caught with a razor in the cell, which would imply that Assange is thinking of suicide:
For Baraitser [the judge] to try to protect both Lewis and the prosecution by pretending the existence of the blade is dependent on the outcome of the subsequent charge, when all three people in the cell at the time of the search agreed to its existence, including Assange, is perhaps Baraitser’s most remarkable abuse of legal procedure yet.
The existence of the blade was not in doubt. Julian Assange had attested to it and two prison warders had attested to it. Baraitser said that she could only base her view on the decision of the Prison Governor.
The Governor’s decision was at paragraph 19. Baraitser told Fitzgerald she could not accept the document as it was new evidence. Fitzgerald told her she had herself asked for the outcome of the charge. He said the document contained very interesting information. Baraitser said that the Governor’s decision was at paragraph 19, that was all she had asked for, and she would refuse to take the rest of the document into consideration.
The hearing is full of problems like these. The prosecution changed their accusations hours before and the defense not getting enough time to prepare, that the defense was prevented from questioning key witnesses and that there will be no closing speeches in the hearing.
There’s another theme in the WikiLeaks story: How the U.S. government instead of admitting these horrible events, punishing the responsible and making sure they never happen again, seem to do everything to cover them up.
This idea that American soldiers are unconditionally heroes, regardless of what they’ve done, makes me both angry and sad. Donald Trump has for example expressed concerns over soldiers being prosecuted for war crimes, and considered pardoning them. This includes a Navy Seals soldier who (allegedly) killed a 15-year old defenseless kid with his hunting knife and shot unarmed civilians.
Those aren’t the actions of a hero.
Of course, covering up or rationalizing events isn’t a U.S. only phenomena. Here are other examples:
Maybe you’ve heard that 1 of 200 people of all people alive today are related to Genghis Khan? That’s because he raped young girls wherever he went.
In Scandinavian countries we talk about Vikings with pride.
But the word Viking originally refers to actions of a group: “to viking”, “to pirate” or “to pillage”. And pillaging means killing, stealing, raping and taking people as slaves. Not unlike the actions of the U.S. soldiers who executed children—which we find so revolting.
How leaders like Ceasar and Kim Jong-il were glorified.
It was even forbidden to talk about them negatively.
… if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ … ‘Reality control’, they called it: in Newspeak, ‘doublethink’.
I know what some of you might say and others might feel: you don’t want to know about these horrible things. It’s true that you’ll feel better if you’re unaware and you’ll probably personally be better off if you act like these never happened.
But if we practice collective ‘forgettance’, where we all pretend these never happened, they will continue to happen. This is why what Chelsea Manning and WikiLeaks revealed about the Iraq war is so important: we’re forced to confront the truth.
While the U.S. government was able to coerce payment processors and banks to drop WikiLeaks, they could never prevent Bitcoin donations. Even China, with the world’s largest internet censorship, cannot censor cryptocurrency transactions. The best they can do is force some exchanges to cooperate—but that can be worked around, for example by selling bitcoins in person for cash or by avoiding fiat altogether.
It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are, you can always accept donations digitally via cryptocurrencies. Even the most powerful nations in the world cannot prevent them, which is something unique for cryptocurrencies.