Setec Astronomy. What is it? Setec Astronomy is an anagram: “Too many secrets.” It is from the 1992 film Sneakers, the central plot of which is centered around a black box which, when connected to a computer, has the ability to hack into any government mainframe on the planet, and was created by a leading mathematician. The box presents dangers and opportunities for those who are in possession of it. The film is of course fiction, but its plot has some interesting parallels to today’s world. The line between reality and fiction was then, as it is now, blurred.
Julian Assange, the founder of the Wikileaks website, knows what it is to have secret information. He has achieved what few if any journalists or organizations have been able to achieve by using the Internet as a source of mass distribution of secret information. He has presented to the public information and images that they were not meant to see. He has incensed governments around the world, especially the Americans, with images of U.S. troops shooting innocent civilians from the safety of their helicopter in Iraq. Wikileaks has released diplomatic cables which are considered classified, or secret, although they read more like the gossip column of Hello magazine than confidential government communiqués.
Why shouldn’t the public have the right to know this information? Governments are constantly pushing for greater disclosure from financial markets and banks, and rightly so. Why should these same governments then be exempt from disclosing how the taxpayers’ money is spent in defense and diplomacy? Wikileaks has laid bare the fact that there are too many secrets.
Any court of public opinion would judge the footage of U.S. troops shooting innocent, unarmed Iraqi civilians from their helicopter as grotesque. This is just one of the hundreds of thousands of documents and pieces of information that Wikileaks has made public. What struck me the most when I saw this footage was the complete abnegation of responsibility from those involved. Troops firing their weapons first had to gain permission to do so from central commanders, who presumably were not in the helicopter at the time. When permission was granted, they fired, killing innocent people on the ground. The footage is akin to a video game, devoid of emotion, regret or responsibility. The only reason for this to have been kept secret is to protect the perpetrators of these war crimes. No wonder the coalition governments wanted it kept secret.
So will the truth set us free? It will certainly make life less complicated. You never forget the truth. Wikileaks and the Internet is a part of a new era of social conscience. We should not seek to censor information, especially when that information is owned by the public via their governments. Secrets are for those who are afraid of competition, but competition creates efficiencies, and should not be kept secret.
The current financial crisis has shown that bank secrecy has been the cause of much of the current financial crisis. Banks that still do not disclose the true state of their balance sheets, particularly with regard to derivative positions, are ticking time bombs which will ultimately explode. What will happen if Wikileaks, as it is promising, begins to release information on large banks? Most likely, it will cause a run on these banks, and further weaken the financial system causing it to change in order to survive.
There is a good side to this process. Knowing the true state of banks and their balance sheets will remove the ability to manipulate markets, particularly commodities, in which reports of tricky dealing are rife. Banking secrecy, or lack of transparency on the over-the-counter market, is there only to protect markets which are moribund. Given the level of taxpayer-funded bailouts to the banking community, it would follow that the shareholders, being the taxpayer, deserve total disclosure on the true state of their assets, the banks.
Julian Assange is a hero to some and a criminal to others. He is clever, but whether Wikileaks survives is largely irrelevant. What is relevant, however, is that the need for such levels of secrecy in the 21st century by our governments is overstated at best, and completely unnecessary at worst. We no longer live in a mono-polar world, where information can be distorted or withheld from the public for the benefit of those trying to force an outcome. Ground invasions into oil- and mineral-rich countries may have worked in past centuries, but it is proving to be a total failure today. We live in a multi-polar world, where pro-active engagement between governments and their public is critical. Public fear should make way for social responsibility. It will require a paradigm shift not only in the way that the public thinks, but the way our governments behave towards information and its disclosure.
Global Markets are anything but integrated. What if we had a paradigm shift in the way we think, the way we actually do business with each other, between nations. Balanced global trade can only occur if we have transparent, accessible, efficient markets, with standardized contracts and on a standardized platform of global exchange. We are on the cusp of achieving this, although most people cannot see it. Sam’s Exchange aims to give its readers a clearer view and a platform for discussion. Markets, trade and economics are in fact nothing more than the result of our thoughts and actions expressed in numbers, not the reverse.
Sam Barden is CEO of SBI Markets General Trading LLC, a Dubai-registered trading and advisory company. Barden, 39, has worked in the global financial markets for more than 17 years in Europe, Russia and the Middle East. He has advised and executed strategic transactions for both the government and private sector, in particular in energy and commodity markets, advising various energy producing nations on their strategic market developments and interaction. He holds a degree in economics and finance from Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia.