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November 30, 2010

Holding US journalism in contempt
Posted by Teresa at 09:49 PM *

Some of the most interesting commentary I’ve seen in the wake of the latest Wikileaks release has been about the US news media’s habit of cravenly pandering to the government.

From the Guardian, Simon Jenkins, US embassy cables: The job of the media is not to protect the powerful from embarrassment:

The state department knew of the leak several months ago and had ample time to alert staff in sensitive locations. Its pre-emptive scaremongering over the weekend stupidly contrived to hint at material not in fact being published. Nor is the material classified top secret, being at a level that more than 3 million US government employees are cleared to see, and available on the defence department’s internal Siprnet. Such dissemination of “secrets” might be thought reckless, suggesting a diplomatic outreach that makes the British empire seem minuscule. …

These disclosures are largely of analysis and high-grade gossip. Insofar as they are sensational, it is in showing the corruption and mendacity of those in power, and the mismatch between what they claim and what they do. …

Clearly, it is for governments, not journalists, to protect public secrets. Were there some overriding national jeopardy in revealing them, greater restraint might be in order. There is no such overriding jeopardy, except from the policies themselves as revealed.

Glenn Greenwald is strongly recommending this startling BBC interview with Bill Keller, Executive Editor of the New York Times, and Carne Ross, consummate diplomat and former British Ambassador to the U.N. As transcribed in Greenwald’s column:
KELLER: The charge the administration has made is directed at WikiLeaks: they’ve very carefully refrained from criticizing the press for the way we’ve handled this material. … We’ve redacted them to remove the names of confidential informants … and remove other material at the recommendation of the U.S. Government we were convinced could harm National Security …

HOST (incredulously): Just to be clear, Bill Keller, are you saying that you sort of go to the Government in advance and say: “What about this, that and the other, is it all right to do this and all right to do that,” and you get clearance, then?

KELLER: We are serially taking all of the cables we intend to post on our website to the administration, asking for their advice. We haven’t agreed with everything they suggested to us, but some of their recommendations we have agreed to: they convinced us that redacting certain information would be wise.

ROSS: One thing that Bill Keller just said makes me think that one shouldn’t go to The New York Times for these telegrams—one should go straight to the WikiLeaks site. It’s extraordinary that the New York Times is clearing what it says about this with the U.S. Government, but that says a lot about the politics here, where Left and Right have lined up to attack WikiLeaks—some have called it a “terrorist organization.”

The essential piece is Glenn Greenwald’s WikiLeaks reveals more than just government secrets. It’s a shame Salon couldn’t come up with a better title for a flaming and spectacular piece of political analysis that uses phrases like “morally deranged barbarians” to discuss ways in which the WikiLeaks flap reflects the degradation of American political culture.

Note: Greenwald isn’t talking about WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange. He’s skewering the likes of Wolf Blitzer, Sarah Palin, the aforementioned Bill Keller, and CNN’s journalistic standards in general.

And something to look forward to in 2011: Assange has announced that early next year, “a major American bank will suddenly find itself turned inside out.” Should be interesting.

Comments on Holding US journalism in contempt:
#1 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2010, 11:19 PM:

Our gallant press corps should have a monument to its service to our nation and freedom. I'm thinking four monkeys, covering their eyes, ears, mouth, and ass, respectively.

#2 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 12:03 AM:

A previous, really disturbing example of the same phenomenon was the weird response of many MSM types to the Rolling Stone story that ended McChrystal's military career.

And there are a lot more. I don't understand the mechanism, but it seems to me that the major, respectable US media function in ways that alternate between the sort of adversarial relationship with the powerful you might ideally hope for, and something very much like a propaganda organ of the powerful. (Not exactly of the state, but of the sort of bipartisan consensus of the people at the top in US society.) This became painfully obvious right after 9/11. I knew several people who'd grown up in the USSR and in client states, who commented that the media coverage around that time felt very much like what they'd grown up with. (This led me to start down the road of broadening my news sources using the internet.)

I would very much like to understand this. I've seen people from many different political and social points of view note that the US media seems weirdly controlled at times. And yet, at other times, it really doesn't. The same top newspapers that often seem like propaganda organs for the government also occasionally break stories that are deeply embarrassing to the government or the other powers that be.

#3 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 12:26 AM:

Is it too much to ask for afflictions to the comfortable, and comfort to the afflicted?

#4 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 12:34 AM:

albatross #2: Part of the "weirdly controlled" aspect of the media is the fact that far more than half of this nation's journalism corps is practicing lazy journalism— they don't seek out the stories themselves, they just report on what everybody else is reporting on. So if the initial story is controlled, the rest of it follows suit.

I'm really not kidding about this. I can see lazy journalism all the time and it's inexcusable in this day and age.

"The same top newspapers that often seem like propaganda organs for the government also occasionally break stories that are deeply embarrassing to the government or the other powers that be."

The latter would be when a reporter actually bothers to dig a little bit...

For a perspective on this sort of thing, think of the housing bubble. Think of all of the lockstep stories on how housing could only go up. Now the story is "nobody saw it coming." Except... I was on The Housing Bubble Blog back in 2005, and posters—both professionals and non— were describing exactly how the bubble was going to play out based on mortgage rate resets. Now the topic is how the sob stories of people losing their homes tend to overlook how the people in question should have had their house paid off, or who were driving expensive new cars, or whatever. (Not to say that there aren't people who are losing homes due to unfortunate circumstances beyond their control—it's just that the newspapers seem to report on people whose public record shows that the circumstance in question was greed.)

#5 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 12:50 AM:

I was nearly struck dumb when the NYTimes said one of the hottest revelations in the leaked cables is that all the Middle Eastern autocrats would like us to take down Iran: No kidding? Who'd have thought it!

#6 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 12:59 AM:

Teresa, as I said at my place, "is it any surprise that the Saudis and the Gulf States (Sunni Muslims all) expressed deep concern about Shia Iran's attempts to develop nuclear weapons? It's not even much of a surprise that they'd just as soon have the Americans bomb Iran; when have the Saudis in particular not wanted the US to solve their problems? Is it any surprise that the US and South Korea have developed plans for the possible collapse of North Korea? I would hope there would be contingency plans for such an event."

Ooh! Guess I'm as qualified to be an analyst as any of those high-paid NYT guys!

#7 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 01:12 AM:

B. Durbin @ 4:

Similarly, a lot of "journalists" report a story by reprinting a news release; this is about as lazy as it gets.

Note: Slashdot is reporting that Interpol has issued a warrant for the arrest of Julian Assange on charges of rape that were first pressed, then retracted, then pressed again in Sweden a couple of weeks ago. The timing of this warrant seems a tad suspicious in terms of the obvious desire of the US government to either arrest or vilify him. If the British government were to arrest him and then "accidentally" send him to the US instead of Sweden ...

#8 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 01:13 AM:

albatross @2:
The same top newspapers that often seem like propaganda organs for the government also occasionally break stories that are deeply embarrassing to the government or the other powers that be.

Perhaps I'm overly cynical, but much of the time now, when I hear of a breaking story that embarrasses someone in power, my first thought is which rival power or powerful person benefits from it?

Barring Wikileaks, I can think of only one significant exception in recent years: the British MP expense scandal. There are probably others I am forgetting.

#9 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 01:15 AM:

Albatross @2: Not exactly of the state, but of the sort of bipartisan consensus of the people at the top in US society.

The phrase you're looking for is "the ruling class". It's a phrase that Americans have been trained to flinch away from.

#10 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 01:15 AM:

Linkmeister @ 6:

From the Saudis' point of view, having Israel bomb Iran's nuclear plants would be even better: Iran's nuclear program would be curtailed and they could issue harsh statements about how awful the dirty Israelis are, and how they'll be sure to thrash them severely just as soon as they have a chance.

#11 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 01:19 AM:

Bruce Cohen (Managerspreker) @7:

I note, without getting into the facts of the rape accusation*, that the only charge than rape more likely to cause the people who do not disapprove of Wikileaks to distance themselves from Assange would be something involving minors.

I give it even money that that comes up in the next few weeks.

-----
* I do not know the facts at all. But a genuine accusation can be used, publicized and pursued by the authorities for ulterior purposes.

#12 ::: Pat Kight ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 02:25 AM:

B. Durbin @5: I'm a recovering journalist, out of the business for nearly 20 years now. It's not just laziness, although that's part of it; it's also the fact that, particularly among the Washington press corps, journalism has turned into a game of currying favor with the power elite in order to get (carefully controlled) "scoops" and remain among the favored.

It wasn't this way when I got in the game, in the 70s. Back then, the journalist/government relationship was viewed by both sides as adversarial - and that was considered a good thing; I can remember long, after-hours discussions with my newspaper and wire service peers about what we'd be willing to go to jail for, and the circumstances under which we'd allow a source to go unidentified (they were few, and dire).

I don't quite know how or when it changed; the rise of journalists-as-celebrities was certainly part of it. It makes me crazy, and sad, and I can hardly bear to read newspapers (much less watch television news) any more.

#13 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 02:45 AM:

I maybe have a slightly different perspective on some of this.

Background: I have an account on Second Life. Using a name based on my SL username, I've been submitting reports to CNN iReports for the past six months or so. Part of how things get done, CNN holds a couple of weekly meetings in world, where iReporters can meet up with a couple of CNN people, and discuss what's happening.

Maybe my stories tend to be a little old-fashioned in the writing, in style at least. After all, I'm over fifty years old. I've read Fowler, rather than the Chicago Manual of Style, and I approach journalism more in the manner of Eric Blair than of Tony.

But I feel I'm actually doing something, not just seeing something and repeating it, but doing some analysis, trying to see past what is sometimes a press release or announcement.

About 2/3 of the stories I've posted have been tagged as "vetted by CNN". I'm not sure that's much more than flattery.

Anyway, seeing the stuff that gets posted by other people, from SL and elsewhere on the site, there's some real drivel sometimes. And if you see some amateur video footage on CNN, it likely came through the iReports system. We're all unpaid stringers for the modern media.

I'm not going to tell you the name I use, and I'd appreciate it if you don't speculate here. Let's not tell Google everything. But you can have a look at the current Stories from Second Life and see for yourself. I doubt you'll misidentify a fluorospherean. Or just click on the link from that page to the iReports homepage.

Some of my stories I'm quite pleased with. Some, I wonder if I was being a little too clever. But if you want to be a journalist investigating things, putting together the scattered pieces of a story, maybe you should forget about getting paid. Maybe, when the histories get written, the badge of honour will be the Interpol warrant, rather than a Pulitzer.

#14 ::: bkd69 ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 04:43 AM:

Wait, what?

Let me see if I'm understanding this...

The NYTimes receives a preview copy of the Wikileaks dump.
The NYTimes wishes to publish the Wikileaks dump in advance of Wikileaks' own publication.
Being a good citizen, the NYTimes goes to DC to see what should be redacted in their publication.

I'm not sure just where the biggest editorial fail occurs here. Approaching the government for a priori approval is certainly a whopper, but how could they not pick out the more innocuous communiques on their own? And how do they not realize that no matter what they elect to publish, anybody with Internet(3) is going to be able to have full access to a much less redacted version of the dump very shortly after they publish?

Lord knows there's plenty of meat on these bones, no matter what particular flavor of ox you prefer to gore (personally, my preference is for overclassification of documents), but this admission stands out as a giant lightning rod of confession that they really, really are missing the point of both journalism and the internet.

#15 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 05:14 AM:

Well, the NYT is now infamous for being little more than a US government branch. After all, Assange didn't give them anything this time, because he was pissed off at how they framed the Iraq War Logs.

Now, had I been the Washington Post editor or any other NYT competitor, I would have glued myself to Assange's phone (and/or the Guardian editors) right after the war logs fiasco, swearing on the soul of my children that "we'll stick two fingers at the feds if you just give us the scoop next time". This hasn't happened -- without the Guardian hacks' fear of gag orders, nobody in the States would have been able to see the cables in advance. American media simply don't do real journalism anymore, they just produce government-approved gossip.

I think this is reflected very well in Bob Woodward's career.

#16 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 05:15 AM:

There's some indication that Wikileaks has used the NYT as a go-between to get US government input in the screening and redaction process.

I don't have that on any kind of real authority, but it's been mentioned, unsourced, in a couple of articles.

#17 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 06:28 AM:

Here in the UK, the must read summary of the uselessness of our media (not just newspapers, since the same companies and methods hold true in all areas and methods of journalism) is "Flat earth news" by Nick Davies.

Heck, I'm British and can entirely understand why the Saudi's would want the USA to attack Iran for their own purposes. This is real life, folks (you all already know) and the world is not divided into goodies who can be entirely trusted and baddies who cannot.

It did occur to me that a cunning government operation would be to release counter propaganda and misinformation via wikileaks, which after some confusion would end up discrediting it as a source of information. I do wonder how close to life Macleod's "Execution channel" is.

#18 ::: Nicholas Whyte ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 06:34 AM:

Disclosure of interest: I work for Carne Ross, who is cited in the original posting.

But why does anyone expect to get anything at all informative or authoritative in the New York Times, or from any major American news source? Don't most people just read it for entertainment and for a reaffirmation of what they have always believed to be true?

#19 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 07:23 AM:

This is probably the best description of the NYT/Wikileaks relationship.

Apparently CNN and WSJ were also offered the material, and refused. Sigh.

#20 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 07:37 AM:

Bruce Cohen@10

Also note (as Matt Yglesias pointed out) the "private communications" are not necessarily any more indicative of the true views of the Saudis etc. than the public statements are. The "private communications" are playing to an audience just as much as the public statements are. It's just that they're playing to two different audiences.

#21 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 08:09 AM:

eric @ 3... Been watching "Inherit the Wind" again?

#22 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 08:11 AM:

The first words from 1978's Superman...

"...In times of fear and confusion, the job of informing the public was the responsibility of the Daily Planet, a great metropolitan newspaper whose reputation for clarity and truth had become the symbol for hope in the city of Metropolis..."

"This is no fantasy..."

#23 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 08:12 AM:

I'm finding the whole exercise in "How dare Assange!" fascinating. Who are governments supposed to serve? In whose interest is the press supposed to act?

Why, above all, are so many people surprised that diplomats are reporting on what's going on in the countries where they're stationed?

#24 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 08:37 AM:

I'm not looking forward to the next Wikileaks dump, at least insofar as what it's likely to do at my workplace. I've worked in support for investment banks for fifteen years (doing DTP and graphics), and am currently working at "a large US bank" that acquired a large investment bank several months after Lehman fell. Rumor speaks strongly that ours is the bank in question, and I expect that when the documents come out, IT will be auditing every single click on the net by every employee for the past year (at least); the net nanny's settings to be made as restrictive as possible; and even more rules on who can and can't do what and go where will be put in place. (These days, those rules are something of a joke, with large numbers of folks carrying smartphones, but it's the blade hanging over us that adds unnecessary tension. I foresee a very unpleasant shift meeting, and a really unhappy supervisor who is required to lay down the laws he disagrees with vehemently.)

Aside from McClatchy's, is there even one reliable US-based news service of any size remaining?

#25 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 08:38 AM:

Also, too (yeah, too much hanging out at that other blog), it's astonishing how Swedish and now international law enforcement suddenly ramped up the charges against Assange when he embarrassed the US (and some allies). Quelle coincidence. (Not.)

#26 ::: Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 08:59 AM:

I'm suspicious of the theory that Assange's rape charges have anything to do with political pressure. This is not because I trust the Swedish government to do the Right Thing. Of course I don't. But I have followed the case in the Swedish press quite closely, and it seems clear that what he is accused of - by two women independently - is of consensual sex which turned non-consensual when he refused to put on a condom for the second or subsequent bout.

Whether this is "rape" is in itself an interesting question, and indeed the offence in Swedish is "sexual assault" or something similar (I'm not sure of the official translation). In any case, it turns into even more of a his-word-against-hers complaint than most rape stories. But if I were trying to frame someone that's not the charge I would use.

#27 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 09:02 AM:

Bruce @25 -- you've seen Counterpunch's takedown of the rape allegations, I trust?

Guthrie, @17: I am informed that the technique for dealing with irritating political bloggers described in "The Execution Channel" has been noticed happening in parts of the middle east.

#28 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 09:04 AM:

Charlie Stross @27: I hadn't, but now have. Thank you very much for that; the site is now bookmarked.

#29 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 09:33 AM:

Charlie @27, maybe it's just a tone thing, but that Counterpunch article makes me mildly uneasy.

#30 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 09:42 AM:

Charlie, 27: That's not a takedown, that's wittering from a fanboy who doesn't much like women.

#31 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 09:42 AM:

The Counterpunch article is slut-shaming the victim and is clearly antifeminist. This is not the takedown I'd have wanted to see in a defense. I saw nothing about evidence, and a lot of angry ranting.

#32 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 10:04 AM:

General unease noted. Good ears. Abi's right, though; we don't know exactly what happened. Neither of course does Counterpunch, which ought not assume Assange is blameless, or vilify his accuser. Meanwhile, the US media shouldn't assume Assange is guilty (when they're not otherwise busy accusing him of treason, or calling for his murder via Special Ops).

What concerns me is that it's an argument that could eat this whole thread. Can we please not do that, or not do it yet?

#33 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 10:09 AM:

Fragano @ 23 said:

Why, above all, are so many people surprised that diplomats are reporting on what's going on in the countries where they're stationed?

I find myself stunned by the shock!horror!outrage vibes the media is trying to whip up over this one, too. I mean, surely anyone with a functioning political IQ knows diplomats are, first and foremost, spies. They're in a country to negotiate and provide a presence, but at least part of that presence is an information-gathering presence. The only difference between the average diplomat and the average "secret agent" is the diplomats are the spies the host country knows about.

As for the rest of it, my response to a lot of it was along the lines of "US Diplomats Pompous and Overbearing to Overseas Allies: Film at Eleven" - or in other words, the telegrams in general didn't point out anything which wasn't widely known already.

#34 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 10:18 AM:

I find I'm slowly getting angrier at my government and its lapdog media. Two or three million people had unchecked access to this material, but my government is outraged that I can read it? What am I now, a peasant?

If the matters discussed in these cables were fit subjects for genuine operational security, no way would millions of government employees have unchecked access to them.

This isn't about security. It's about caste-based access to information about the world and how it works.

#35 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 10:26 AM:

Teresa writes: What am I now, a peasant?

You're not a member of the ruling class.

Unfortunately, the people in control of your media obviously are members of the ruling class.

#36 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 10:34 AM:

I'm no expert on government information systems, but I don't believe a "secret" security clearance gives one unfettered access to all documents classified as "secret". There has to be a fair share of compartmentalization going on.

#37 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 10:42 AM:

Wikileaks either isn't, or at least shouldn't be, mainly about Julian Assange (I don't know enough about their internal affairs to say which one of these is the case).

It's a common habit of right-wingers to associate everything they don't like with one or two Designated Evil Person(s), who then get demonized endlessly, but it's kind of annoying how in this case, some left-wing or generic radical Wikileaks fans seem to do the same in reverse.

One of the whole points of the internet in general, and of things that have "wiki" in their name in particular, is that stuff shouldn't depend too much on specific individuals, and that it shouldn't be too difficult to replace any specific participant. So if Wikileaks would be in serious trouble if Assange would go to jail (after having committed a crime or after having been framed), they're doing something wrong.

#38 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 10:49 AM:

Steve C., there used to be, but after 9/11, in an attempt to increase information sharing between different government agencies, they apparently did give everyone with a "secret" clearance access to all documents marked "secret". Or at least that's what I've read in background articles on the matter; I've never worked for the US government or had access to particularly secret information, so I can't tell how accurate these reports are.

#39 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 10:50 AM:

Theresa, @32: Thread-eating is bad. And I share your (and TexAnne and Ginger's) unease at the misogynistic tone of the article. I am, nevertheless, disturbed by the timing of the allegations.

Also: This isn't about security. It's about caste-based access to information about the world and how it works.

Yes, exactly. And that's what Assange is addressing. Interesting analysis here.

#40 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 10:52 AM:

TNH @ 34: "Slowly"?

#41 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 10:56 AM:

Charlie, 39: I don't dispute that the timing is odd. But if there really were something behind it, why is Misogynist Lad your only source?

#42 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 11:03 AM:

Andrew @26

I have an uncomfortable feeling that it's enough of a charge to trigger all sorts of investigative awkwardness. For instance, it's a sex crime and, if he's currently in the UK, that would be enough to trigger a search of his computer, checking for possession of child porn, and for the new category of "extreme porn". The latter is poorly defined, and the charges which have been made, so far, have been thrown out because of some serious mishandling of evidence.

This report of the Tony the Tiger case seems to show a pretty clear instance of the sort of abuse by Police that could happen.

#43 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 11:23 AM:

Charlie @39. that article, and the stuff about conspiracies, does make me think of The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. That's about organising a conspiracy, and while it does somewhat gloss over the danger of relying on Mike, we do get a hint of what could have happened, right at the end.

Maybe that's enough to explain why the promise of that revolution is lost. No Mike means no risk of an effective second revolution.

And now I'm thinking about the cyberwarfare rhetoric, and wondering how long it is before those valiant cyberwarriors are pursuing cyberterrorists, and drawing attention away from other criminality.

#44 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 11:41 AM:

zunguzungu goes to the source, and reads Assange's essays on what he's trying to do.
Julian Assange, “State and Terrorist Conspiracies":
"he begins by describing a state like the US as essentially an authoritarian conspiracy, and then reasons that the practical strategy for combating that conspiracy is to degrade its ability to conspire, to hinder its ability to “think” as a conspiratorial mind."

It's a useful analysis which I haven't seen anywhere else.

#45 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 11:45 AM:

TexAnne @41: because I did a quick hack job rather than in-depth research. Note, however, this (and see also other comments on that thread). NB: looks like the Counterpunch guys got Anna Ardin's political affiliation 180 degrees out of whack -- she's a Christian Democrat, according to the other sources (centre-right wing).

#46 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 12:03 PM:

A security clearance does not mean you have access to all the information your clearance level might permit you see.

There are gatekeepers for each compartment (usuallly higher in the chain of command) who decide on a case by case basis how much access those with that level of clearance get to that compartment.

There are folks with security clearances in HHS, I work with a few. In this office, the "secret" info is likely to be personal medical information, as we do Medicare related audits. Once this info is no longer needed, it is destroyed.

#47 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 12:08 PM:

Anybody else here reminded of the Pentagon Papers? (Interestingly, the mechanics of that leak also relied upon a piece of new-ish technology whose potential was perhaps underestimated by the Serious People in Charge--the photocopier).

If you don't remeber the Pentagon Papers, for one reason or another, the Wikipedia article, while subject to the usual disclaimers, has an overview with a good range of sources and links. Please note the clever action of Senator Gravel in having large portions read into the Congresional Record, and the constitutional reasons underlying this maneuver.

As distressing as that release was to many in places of power, I think we were the better for it. I also think the position of the US press currently is affected to some extent by that event--they know that, legal or not, pleasant at the time or not, the leakage of the Pentagon Papers was important and necessary. However, the current leading figures in the press do not have the stones to deal with the sort of blow-back experienced at the time by those who published any of the excerpts. In addition, the corporatization of most major American media outlets plays a part; few large corporate entities will rock the boat for anything outside of what the management perceives to be the corporation's direct, immediate interest.


In looking over Greenwald's piece, I find the quote from Defense Secretary Gates interesting. Let us not forget that Gates is an old CIA hand, and recalls the fall-out from other releases of Things We'd Rather Not Have Everyone Know.

#48 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 12:14 PM:

Off on a tangent, I'm reminded of Al Capp's marvelous creation, the Bald Iggle. This sad-eyed creature had the unfortunate habit of causing anyone who looked at it to tell the unvarnished truth. I might be stretching a metaphor, but Wikileaks is kind of a cyber Bald Iggle. And will likely meet the same fate.

http://www.lil-abner.com/igglealb.html

#49 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 12:24 PM:

fidelio @ 47... If I remember correctly, the Pentagon Papers led Norman Rockwell to paint 1969's "Right to Know".

#50 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 12:27 PM:

Serge # 49 -

The Pentagon Papers came to light in 1971.

#51 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 12:29 PM:

Theophylact, I am sometimes a slow-grinding mill.

#52 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 12:32 PM:

Rockwell was working from what used to be considered Basic Civics. I'm equally disturbed by the number of public figures and younger citizens who no longer have that body of knowledge.

#53 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 12:37 PM:

Steve C... I stand corrected. That being said, it's a great painting, and a reminder that Rockwell wasn't blind to the flaws of America and still loved her for what She could be.

#54 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 12:40 PM:

Teresa @ 52... younger citizens who no longer have that body of knowledge

How many of them, having 'matured' after 9/11, have never really known things to be different from what they're used to? (Yeah, time for me to go get my cane and rant about my front lawn.)

#55 ::: Sten ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 12:44 PM:

Charlie @ 45: No, if it matters in any way, she is definitely a Social Democrat politician. She is also a member of the Christian Socialists of Sweden (Broderskapsrörelsen), which could possibly be the reason for the confusion with the Christian Democrats.

#56 ::: DanR2 ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 12:58 PM:

As with the Pentagon papers, so with Wikileaks, can it be said (to echo the surveillance supporters of today):

"If you haven't don't anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about."

(not original to me, alas)

Working out the moral equivalency really ties me in knots.

#57 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 01:24 PM:

For the record: when I said I didn't know the facts of the accusations of rape, what I meant was that I am not a court of law, and cannot say whether Assange is guilty or innocent. I entirely believe that the accusation is...not ordinary, but the same as any such accusation involving a less visible person. And that makes it a matter for the courts to arbitrate. Speculating about its legitimacy is many miles outwith my comfort zone.

What I was trying to point out was the fact that the accusation can be used, and I suspect is being used, as a way of undermining and attacking Assange in areas entirely unrelated to the actual allegation.

And I would not put it past some people to see the effectiveness of this charge in so doing, and invent a worse one out of whole cloth. If we're already seeing calls for his assassination, I think we can assume the gloves are well and truly off.

#58 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 01:36 PM:

OK, I dunno. I'm of two minds on this.

I think diplomacy requires secrecy within the ranks. I think the problem here is that so many people had unfettered access to these cables, not that we didn't. I'm not so sure Assange has done the world (and particularly the cause of peace) any good.

OTOH, government needs to be more accountable and transparent. I don't like being lied to about what's going on in a war, but do we really need to know that a low-level diplomat is telling his boss that the Chinese think North Korea is acting like a spoiled child? That diplomat's boss DOES need to know it, but we don't want the North Koreans to know it, and we don't want the Chinese to know we can't be trusted to keep such things private.

Some guy on the radio today was saying that Assange is an old-fashioned anarchist, who believes the US government entirely lacks legitimacy and is using any means at his disposal to pour sand in its gears. I don't know if I'd go that far, but he does seem to be indiscriminate. The current dump probably won't get anyone killed, but the previous one probably did.

I guess my current evaluation of Assange is "loose cannon on the ship of the pro-government-transparency navy." Some of his disclosures are good choices, things that should be publicized. But I also feel protective of our people in e.g. Afghanistan, and our friends there, who are put in danger by other revelations. My guess is that this acts against government transparency in the court of public opinion.

In fact some government organizations are already tightening restrictions on who gets to see certain things, which may be good bad, depending on which things and which restrictions.

Now probably someone will tell me that actually no one was endangered by the previous dump, and/or someone will tell me why that was a good thing too. I'm willing to be corrected on this, but I warn you that I will react badly to being told that our soldiers/sailors/marines/airmen being killed is a good thing under virtually* any circumstances.

Shorter me: if Assange keeps the government from lying to us, good. If he makes diplomacy harder, bad. If he gets our folks or friends killed, very very bad.
_____
*That 'virtually' is because, OK, if someone is about to open up full-auto on a group of civilians and someone else plugs him to save them, probably the best thing to do. Actually I probably still wouldn't call that "good," but better than the alternative.

#59 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 01:40 PM:

To clarify, I'm generally against pretty much anyone being killed, even our enemies, and certainly not-friends not-enemies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Exceptions (people whose death I hope for) are on the order of Osama bin Laden.

#60 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 01:50 PM:

Xopher @58, you are making a fundamental category error -- and so are a lot of other talking heads -- because you're looking at it through a lens tinted with American exceptionalism:

Assange is not American, and despite the current body of leaks coming from the US State Department, this isn't about America. In fact, the most serious repercussions of these leaks are likely to be felt elsewhere; for example, it's already looking possible that the current disclosures will force the sacking of the Governor of the Bank of England (although I don't expect that particular juicy tid-bit is getting much airplay in the US media).

The leaks are an attack on the practice of state secrecy throughout the entire developed world -- a trans-national system or authoritarian reinforcement that is not unique or local to the United States.

PS: I don't hope for Osama bin Laden's death. That would make him a martyr. What I hope for is his apprehension and indictment before a court -- preferably one that can hand down a lengthy jail sentence, but not the death penalty (see martyrdom above) after demonstating unequivocal proof of guilt (which is frequently presumed in the US media, despite a shortage of physical evidence having been presented in court so far[*]).

((As it is, Bin Laden is very close to achieving the status of an Emmanuel Goldstein figure. And that would be Bad.))

[*] I believe ObL is almost certainly guilty, but no less deserving of the presumption of innocent-until-proven-guilty than anyone else. Because if we ditch that proviso, we ourselves are no better than terrorists.

#61 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 01:51 PM:

Typo fairy strikes again: that should have been "a trans-national system of authoritarian reinforcement ..."

#62 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 01:51 PM:

Xopher @58:
If he gets our folks or friends killed, very very bad.

What if, at the same time, he stops other people being killed? Does that matter?

I don't think this is simple. I understand that lies are necessary in politics, but we must also acknowledge they complicate things, to the point that there are no right answers, or true justice, or clean hands where they are used.

Humans can't write straight with crooked lines. We can write straightishly, as long as you don't look too close. But if we do it too long and too lovingly, we forget what straightness really is and get lost in the delights of the intricate and the indirect.

#63 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 02:06 PM:

Charlie, these are from the US Department of Defense (first wave) and the US Department of State (second wave). So all of them at least involve the US.

That said, I agree that it's excessively US-centric to focus only on that. I think if it makes diplomacy harder, that's a bad thing. That's true if it makes diplomacy harder between China and North Korea, too (deliberately picking countries on my Bad Guys list). Diplomacy helps keep people from being killed, in general. When diplomacy ends, war begins. That or just Not Speaking, which doesn't help anyone either.

But most of the diplomacy suppression of this dump will come, not from the revelation of the content, but from the fact that the US couldn't keep these cables under wraps. It's erosion of the trust in privacy that will cause the trouble, and that will primarily impact US diplomacy—though certainly other countries may worry that they're vulnerable to an Assange attack, he seems mostly to have a thing for harming US interests whenever possible.

Again, I'm ready to be corrected on this.

Abi, that's the kind of case I meant by my footnote. I know it gets more complex than my simple take-out-the-psycho scenario.

#64 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 02:17 PM:

Xopher, I seem to recall a discussion at an SF convention -- I can't remember if it was on a panel or in the bar -- in which PNH (I think it was Patrick, and not Bruce Schneier -- I may be misremembering) opined that the big question of the 21st century would be how we learn to deal with Too Much Information.

This isn't that earthquake ... although it might be one of the leading tremors.

#65 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 02:21 PM:

re 58/60: I'm going to side more with Xopher this time; I think effects of this are more directed at the USA than at other countries because, to be blunt, the diplomacy of other countries by and large is not so universally important.

I've read some of the cables, more or less at random. It's pretty clear that, unlike the Pentagon Papers, there's no great secret hidden here. The very fact that most of the discussion of the material is metadiscussion is sufficient evidence. A lot of what I did read is either reportage which was routinely classified by virtue of the transmission channel or was just some person's opinion of more or less dubious plausibility.1 And while I think execution is an excessive response, I see no whistle-blowing exculpation here. Lock him up, I say.

The obvious bureaucratic response is going to be to change the communication channels to compartmentalize this stuff better. From a "need to know" basis there's really no reason for an Army PFC to have access this stuff, and the diplomats aren't going to give up secrecy. As for the media, I don't know that I can accede to the NYT approach, but I'm as adverse having them being used by non-governmental powers as I am having them being used by the government. This isn't the powerless vs. the powerful; it's a struggle among powers.

The one real revelation in this, as far as I can tell, is hardly worthy of the name: it's that the Obama administration really doesn't have any particular foreign policy ideas, so they are mostly dealing from the deck that Bush left them with.

1 An example of the latter is the statement by Sarkozy's "sherpa" that Gordon Brown was invited to the D-Day observances in 2009 in order to prop up his government. Really? Could they really have gotten away with not inviting the British to that? It seems unlikely.

#66 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 02:44 PM:

C. 65: I'm going to side more with Xopher this time; I think effects of this are more directed at the USA than at other countries because, to be blunt, the diplomacy of other countries by and large is not so universally important.

Actually, that wasn't my point. My point was that Assange got these from a US source, so it compromises the US more than it does other countries.

#67 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 03:07 PM:

All this arguing about Assange and whether he's a good person or not, and whether Wikileaks' behavior has been more commendable or more reprehensible, is entirely beside the point.

If Wikileaks didn't exist, something else would, doing much the same thing. If Wikileaks is rolled up, other opportunities will arise for other people to do similar things, revealing vast troves of not-very-well-hidden damaging information about the various powers and principalities that run the world we live in. Because that's simply the way things are now.

What's striking about the video Teresa linked to is that the diplomatic veteran in the conversation, Carne Ross, clearly gets that. He's not remotely interested in arguing about the moral rights and wrongs of the situation. He just immediately takes a very reality-based attitude: this is what it is, this is now something we're going to have to cope with. It changes things. That change is here. Time to assess.

As Cory Doctorow keeps pointing out, it is--failing collapse-of-civilization scenarios--never going to get technically more difficult to copy data. On the contrary, it gets easier and easier to copy more and more of it. It's possible that the governments of the world will respond to this fact by imposing greater and greater controls, so that we all wind up living under regimes more like China's, or Iran's. But that won't happen overnight, and meanwhile, the speed with which it becomes easier to pull off exploits like this, using the many, many points of vulnerability exhibited by something as ramshackle as the US government or the great financial powers, is increasing at a very steep rate. I am by no means sure that we can all be rounded up into pens quickly enough to beat that curve.

I also wish more people would think about Teresa's point in #34: "If the matters discussed in these cables were fit subjects for genuine operational security, no way would millions of government employees have unchecked access to them. This isn't about security. It's about caste-based access to information about the world and how it works." The fact is, the stuff in these cables was accessible to literally millions of people. This means we're not looking at anything resembling operational security; what we're looking at is a caste system. A wobbly caste system--the most dangerous sort.

Yes, there is "compartmentalization," and yes, there will now be attempts to reform the system, but all this is very much like the post-9/11 hyper-focus on preventing airline-related terrorism. The next 9/11 probably won't involve airliners, and the next Wikileaks-type event won't involve diplomatic cables. The fact is that the way the world now has to be run inherently means that lots of people have to be (at least partly) in on various secrets, scams, wheezes, and gags. Even in the more authoritarian parts of the world. It's not a stable arrangement.

For years techno-optimists have been waiting for the curve of exploding infotech to destabilize the Chinas and Irans of the world. (Remember the "Twitter Revolution" we fondly imagined was happening in Iran?) It may be that they've been making a mistake comparable to Karl Marx's belief that Communist revolutions would happen first in the most industrialized countries--Germany, Britain, or the United States. It may be that the first world power that gets permanently knocked for a loop by a world in which everyone can carry terabytes of data in their shirt pocket--and transmit it to anyone else with ease--will be us.

#68 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 03:14 PM:

#67 PNH

"It may be that they've been making a mistake comparable to Karl Marx's belief that Communist revolutions would happen first in the most industrialized countries--Germany, Britain, or the United States. It may be that the first world power that gets permanently knocked for a loop by a world in which everyone can carry terabytes of data in their shirt pocket--and transmit it to anyone else with ease--will be us."

This reverses that popular 80's t-shirt: "He who dies with the most stuff wins."

He who has the most stuff loses.

Love, C.

#69 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 03:17 PM:

By now everybody should have gotten it. Why is the press and why are journalists such wusses? Because the media is owned by the power elite, the corporate overlords and their representative gummits officials. So why yes, the media is serving them, not democracy or voters, or people or even factual, rational information.

It's been like this since the 80's, when they learned the lessons of the Civil Rights and Vietnam erra -- the class wars are won in the media.

By now this situation is so concentrated (and even monopolized - corporatized) that it can't be ignored.

Love, c.

#70 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 03:23 PM:

For someone to do what Wikileaks is doing, they probably have to have a pretty uncompromising commitment to openness of information to the exclusion of other values. Among other things, I think Assange and company are at serious risk of being dealt with very harshly, either via violence[1] or via the life-wrecking deniable f--king around with that a very wealthy and resourceful organization can give you. The kind of person who would think "Gee, this disclosure might make diplomacy somewhat harder in the next decade" would probably also think "Gee, wouldn't I rather raise a family in peace rather than making lots of armed, violent, powerful, and wealthy enemies?"

More fundamentally, what I've seen of "responsible journalism" in the US over the last decade has left me without much faith in the idea that someone whose job/role is to make information available to me should also be in the role of deciding which information should be withheld from me, to accomplish some valuable social goals.

I don't trust Julian Assange[2] to decide what information should be withheld from me, for the same reason I don't trust the New York Times or Barrack Obama to decide that. People who put themselves in that role often seem to fall into the related role of trying to spin or withhold information to accomplish their preferred policies, or to further their career, or their financial interests. That way lies the near-unanimous agreement of US mainstream media on the dire threat posed by Iraq's WMDs, the decision never to use the word "torture" describing actions of the US, the media black hole surrounding the St Paul protests/beatings, etc.

Outside of really well-defined rules like not publicizing the names of minors involved in crimes or alleged rape victims or undercover agents, I think we're better off with information sources that don't try to play gatekeeper. There's just too much temptation to find yourself lying or spinning things or leaving big gaps in the information conveyed to make your own position or policy preferences more likely to come out on top.

[1] My sense is that, if Assange's car blew up tomorrow, it would not become a political issue in the US. God help us.

[2] I get the reason for scrubbing out identifying information, as Wikileaks has in previous leaks. But a little of that goes a long way.

#71 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 03:27 PM:

Teresa @32: I'm sorry. I certainly didn't mean to derail the thread.

#72 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 03:33 PM:

re 66: Fair enough. But I think for instance an expose of Italian diplomatic traffic would probably reveal nothing more embarrassing (besides Berlusconi's propensity for off-the-wall comments) than showing the extent to which that country might be acting as a conduit for US diplomacy.

#73 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 03:33 PM:

Lines from an IM conversation:

Abi: I see albatross has unpacked what I was going to say about whether or not Assange himself is important (my main point of disagreement with you). I think his treatment is part of the dialog between The Powers That Be and The Rest Of Us, and worth examining therefore

me: Oh, sure, I never meant to discourage that conversation

Abi: I kind of took your first line as meaning to

me: Well, what I was trying to do was sweep aside all the pointless "Assange, good guy or not" back-and-forth

Abi: But it's not really about whether they're inherently good or evil; in that I do agree. But that extra layer out from the essence: are they seen as good or not? That's important.

#74 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 03:39 PM:

Constance #69:

And yet, mainstream media sources also carry what looks like real, damaging information about the powerful. Perhaps, as abi suggests above, this is mainly about conflicts between different factions that exist in the ruling class[1], but it looks to me like there's something else, something messier, going on.

Perhaps the media are serving some of the same purpose as economic statistics in the Soviet Union. That is, the economic statistics might be spun or made-up to paint a promising propaganda picture, but economic planners still needed some kind of reality-based numbers to do any kind of planning or decisionmaking. In the same way, you can see a piece like the Washington Post's excellent Top Secret America series as information for the powerful, which accidentally leaks down to us[2][3]. The powerful people in the country need information on which to make decisions, and informing those decisionmakers is important. But other MSM products seem to me to be targeted at the people outside the circle of powerful decisionmakers, and those seem to me to be inclined to lie by omission, to oversimplify complex issues into soundbites or emotionally charged images, etc.

[1] I think this phrase is useful, but also subject to over-literal interpretation. Our ruling class is fuzzily defined and includes many different kinds of power and background, for all that it also involves some substantial shared values and ideas and a great many shared interests. George Soros has power, and so does John Roberts, and so does Rahm Emanuel, and so does David Broder, and so does Sarah Palin, and so does Arnold Schwartzeneger. But no two of them have the same kind of power, and it's not clear how to compare the power of these people pairwise.

[2] And we're not exactly *not* in the power elite, either, since it's fuzzy and many of us have a lot of influence in some areas of the world.

[3] This also fits with my sense, post-9/11, that the powerful people in the US were scared sh-tless by the combination of 9/11, anthrax attacks, and DC sniper attacks. That's part of why even the high-quality stuff was so strongly affected--the powerful people writing and reading the Washington Post were seriously worked up and frightened and mad and hurt.

#75 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 03:46 PM:

Patrick/abi:

Perhaps part of that dialog on Assange is about whether he is deserving of the normal restraint that governments give media sources, and it's happening both from the powerful to us, and among different factions of powerful people. At some level, surely, someone has proposed killing Assange in some spectacular way, or disappearing him, to discourage people from annoying us in this way in the future. Obama and company will decide what to do with that proposal based on how they think powerful people will respond. Will lots of reporters and columnists see this as a threat against their freedom and turn against the administration? Or will they go along silently, as they did with (for example) the bombing of Al Jazeera offices and the killing and kidnapping of journalists in Iraq?

Normal voters matter in this calculation, but probably not as much as high-level journalists, publishers, and other important people. (If killing Assange turns many of the tech billionaires who give money to fund political campaigns off, this matters a lot to Obama and company as well, I think.)

#76 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 03:57 PM:

I can see a government-approved Internet appearing. Or the current Internet becoming functionally equivalent to one over the space of ten or twenty years.

#77 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 04:01 PM:

albatross @75:

There are more penalties in play than death, of course. In some ways, dishonor is more effective: it's cheaper, it can be untraceable, and it can be crowdsourced until too many people are complicit for any refutation to gain traction.

As you quite accurately termed it, the life-wrecking deniable f--king around with that a very wealthy and resourceful organization can give you.

I've noticed this trend in the treatment of other people who have crossed TPTB, even by being awkwardly innocent of the charges leveled at them. People don't seem to get exonerated any more; they just get convicted of a lesser, often unrelated charge. Brush up against the law, is the lesson, and you'll get smudged.

Best not to get involved. Move along.

#78 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 04:16 PM:

re 67: Well, the other "solution" is business as usual: accepting that low-grade embarrassments like this are going to happen, doing what one can to keep it from happening often and try to keep them small when they do happen, and then continuing to pass around "secret" information. No one person has read all this stuff, and from what I can see most of it is crap anyway; I didn't gain any significant privilege, for instance, in knowing that Prince Andrew is said to go shooting with a couple of Saudi sheiks (and if I don't have that story exactly straight, it's a measure of the unimportance of the matter). There's a degree to which I lost interest in Greenwald's analysis of the reaction because of my own sense that most of the comments are routine and obligatory (e.g. Clinton has to say that this is a loss to national security).

That's why when I see "caste-based access to information" my first reaction is "calling it 'information' exaggerates the merit of most of it", followed by "I'm glad I don't actually have to read all this stuff" and "there's not really much I can do with all this new-found 'knowledge'." A great deal of the dynamic has nothing to do with the value of this information to anyone, but rather to the social position gained to posting it and posturing about it. There are already people predicting that the promised bank expose isn't going to reveal anything surprising.

The one connection that I don't see anyone making is between this and the Rutgers video, when they are pretty much the same thing. It's not that people or institutions are going to be living without privacy; too much happens for anyone to sort through it effectively. It's that people and institutions will have to muddle through acting as if privacy existed, because mostly it will; but the dynamic of exposing others will thread through life like hemorrhoids or shingles.

#79 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 04:24 PM:

re 69; I think the answer as to why the NYT "wimped" was that they got brownie points for Taking the Material Seriously, as opposed to that irresponsible Assange.

I do recommend going to the Guardian site and reading five or six cables at random just to get a sense of how numbingly unimportant so much of this stuff is.

#80 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 04:35 PM:

C Wingate:

I think this is the nature of raw data generally. Most of it is pretty routine and boring, even if there are occasional surprises, and even if the whole pile of data, taken together and analyzed, yields some useful information.

This No Comment post describes one cable that has some potentially pretty interesting information in it. Here is another potentially juicy bit.

#81 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 04:37 PM:

C Wingate #78:

Yeah, I think "information will leak" is going to become the new normal. Wikileaks is a nice PR target, but short of the US government somehow taking over the whole internet or blocking access to unapproved parts of it to US citizens, it's simply not going to be possible to avoid having leaked embarrassing information come out from time to time.

#82 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 05:16 PM:

re 81: Well, it always was normal, at least from the 1970s on.

And does anyone really think that we wouldn't put pressure on the Germans in the el-Masri case?

Potentially the riskiest cable is something like this one. The risk is indirect, to people who would like to work with the USA but whose local politics are too risky to do so openly. One really cannot trust someone like Wikileaks to catch all these sensitivities, never mind whether they would even bother to do so, but I can definitely see someone connected to the Taliban or to al-Qaeda using these cables as a source of intel on their enemies.

#83 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 05:27 PM:

Teresa @34 writes: "I find I'm slowly getting angrier at my government and its lapdog media." [...]

The generally useful Reporters Sans Frontieres annually issues its RSF Press Freedom Index, which you might want to check out some day. The USA really should not have any competition for the #1 spot on that list every year, but it's been a long time since it was even in the top ten. (Still, there are a lot of countries where it's worse. Alas, only a few of them are in Europe.)

p.s. I've been in grief over my government and its lapdog media for so long that I've now powered through anger and bargaining. I was making slow, steady progress climbing out of depression until just this week when I stalled out and suffered a relapse.

#84 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 06:26 PM:

Xopher @ 63

"Charlie, these are from the US Department of Defense (first wave) and the US Department of State (second wave). So all of them at least involve the US."

Actually, the first wave was about Daniel arap Moi, and the second about Bank Julius Baer. You're thinking of the 19th, 21st, and 22nd waves (roughly, kinda, depending on what you count as a Wikileaks release versus something they hosted that really came from elsewhere, and also not counting a few singleton documents).

Wikileaks certainly isn't exclusively concerned with the US. There have been significant releases concerning Icelandic (Kaupthing Bank), British (BNP membership list, JSP 440), Swiss (Bank Julius Baer), Australian (internet censorship lists) and international (Bilderberg Group, UN) institutions.

The US releases have been very large, and they have been of great significance. I don't think there's anywhere near enough evidence to say this is a result of deliberate policy on Wikileaks' part, though. It may be luck, it may be that given someone with a certain degree of access to Kaupthing Bank's files, and someone with the same access to the State Department's, the second informant can just get more documents. It may simply be that all of this is coming from Bradley Manning, and Manning was just an exceptionally fruitful informant. Right now it's hard to tell.

#85 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 06:53 PM:

#70 albatross


Did you notice one of the biggest mouthpieces of the rightwing, neocon corporate media, etc. today turned on dubya?

Richard Cohen's column today in the WaPo is titled, " WikiLeaks provides the truth Bush obscured." So where was Mr. Richard Cohen cheerleader for WMD in Iraq, torture by another name is well, whatever, mission accomplished isn't he just gorgeous, and let's bombbombbomb Iran, back in the day? Why has Cohen turned? Who gave him the order? Qho is the director now of the politbureau? The Koch brothers?

Yes, something else is going on, and we don't even know who is giving the orders.

I was not joking nor exaggerating when some time ago I said that reading the papers now takes all the skills that a Kremlinologist used to draw upon back in the day. What are they really saying?

Love, c.

#86 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 07:43 PM:

I'm not an IR expert or even student (the IR community must be poring over the released cables and students are planning new theses), but one of the most lurid pieces, the Caucasus Wedding, which received a WP article to itself, was perhaps the most telling.

It's okay to make fun of boorish people (a kilogram nugget of gold, a gold-plated gun, banquets serving large hunks of boiled sheep and cattle, and overweight guys dancing the legzinka) as long as they're Caucasian. Hey, they're from the Caucasus!

The author of the cable may just have been venting after having to endure the boiled animal parts and the endless vodka toasts and the assault on his personal taste. But Milbank's article shows more.

US contempt for developing-world peoples and leaders is dispersed through the cables; this is not surprising, but the diplomatic elite wanted to maintain a condescending facade of civility in order to expedite US interests. Now the US pundit elite / ruling class is in a swivet.

#87 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 07:49 PM:

Devin, I stand corrected.

#88 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 08:12 PM:

There are more penalties in play than death, of course. In some ways, dishonor is more effective: it's cheaper, it can be untraceable, and it can be crowdsourced until too many people are complicit for any refutation to gain traction.

It seems like that brings us right back around to the potential threadjack: rape is almost the perfect choice for that kind of operation if the target is male, because there's a substantial number of people who will immediately jump to the conclusion of guilt and it's nearly impossible to refute definitely.

Although I also feel that the focus on Assange is very much beside the point; the information is either true or false, revealing it is either harmful to someone (in a getting-people-killed sense, not an embarrassing-those-in-power sense) or not, and whether or not Assange committed a rape has no bearing on either question. Which is even more of a reason to suspect it of being a deliberate distraction.

Strictly speaking, it could be true *and* a deliberate distraction: most rape convictions, never mind indictments or arrests (I'm not sure which is a better analogy for the current status of the case against Assange), don't make the front page of the town they occur in, let alone in other countries.

#89 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 08:13 PM:

Xopher @ 58: "I think diplomacy requires secrecy within the ranks. I think the problem here is that so many people had unfettered access to these cables, not that we didn't. I'm not so sure Assange has done the world (and particularly the cause of peace) any good."

This was my first reaction as well. The analogy I thought of was lawyer-client privilege: it's a channel that has to be protected, for all that it might contain exactly the proof needed to convict genuine criminals, because not protecting it makes the entire criminal justice system dysfunctional. Diplomats' communications need to be confidential for the same reason they need diplomatic immunity. Without it, the system breaks down.

Then I read Greenwald's piece, which opened my eyes to bizarre hostility so many journalists and pundits feel towards the existence of Wikileaks. It's really quite frighteningly ignorant of the supposed role of the media as the watchdog of government, and when coupled with a brief mental review of the past several decades of increased governmental surveillance and secrecy, makes an incredibly good case for the existence of Wikileaks. If our media isn't going to serve as an antipole to government, then some body has to.

Charlie Stross @ 64: "PNH (I think it was Patrick, and not Bruce Schneier -- I may be misremembering) opined that the big question of the 21st century would be how we learn to deal with Too Much Information."

I kind of feel that that was one of the big questions that constituted modernity. One of the major trends within modernization was an explosion in the ability to gather and render comprehensible large amounts of information--there was a whole suite of tools and ideas invented to get a handle on huge datasets, how to collect them and verify them and especially how to operationalize them. In a lot of ways, that's what the bureaucratic state is: a big information collecting and utilizing machine. And it seems to me that an awful lot of the twentieth century's struggles can be seen as struggles between different ideas about how that information and the power it conferred ought to be distributed, and particularly how much of it we were willing to let gravitate towards the state. I mean, that's where the right to privacy has its genesis, isn't it?

What I think is happening now is that technology has unleashed a capacity of information gathering and manipulating on a whole new order of magnitude, and we've just barely begun to get a sense of what changes and disruptions that will entail.

#90 ::: Larry ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 08:24 PM:

From what I've read most of it is crap that I don't see serving any good. Personally I'd rather they filtered the cables for interesting bits versus a raw dump. I find the NY time thing something I am ambivalent about to some degree. Why? Redacting things like names seems like a good thing in most of these The vetting to the gov't if it is ok to publish I am more wary of but I can see why they might do it.

There are a lot of issues that are the fallout of this leak. Assange for all his good/bad is irrelevant to the larger picture I think. Questioning his motives really is a distraction at the moment. It is like when repubs get caught doing something bad and they go "WELL THE DEMS DID IT TOO!"

I have to agree with C. Wingate @ #82. A lot of this is a common sense reaction in light of the situations. It's also something that Wikileaks probably won't understand the full picture on when they leak. Maybe that is why the NY Times is vetting it? They realize the big picture might have repercussions? I did dl the whole package and am slowly going through it. Some of it is interesting as an exercise to try and tie them to news events.

#91 ::: Larry ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 08:28 PM:

heresiarch @89: I've always thought the press was not keen on wikileaks because it jeopardizes their sources and their ability to get them. I am sure the afghan leaks did expose a lot of informants to harm, probably death.

#92 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 09:07 PM:

By the way -- Charlie Stross @ 64: "PNH (I think it was Patrick, and not Bruce Schneier -- I may be misremembering) opined that the big question of the 21st century would be how we learn to deal with Too Much Information."

I don't think this was me. I actually think this challenge has been going on for a long time -- I even put up a sidelight recently linking to a discussion of this.

#93 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 09:09 PM:

heresiarch #89: "What I think is happening now is that technology has unleashed a capacity of information gathering and manipulating on a whole new order of magnitude, and we've just barely begun to get a sense of what changes and disruptions that will entail." Yeah, exactly.

#94 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 09:51 PM:

Xopher @58: I'm willing to be corrected on this, but I warn you that I will react badly to being told that our soldiers/sailors/marines/airmen being killed is a good thing under virtually* any circumstances.

Is it worse for them to die for the sake of governmental transparency than for the sake of neocon power fantasies, or Halliburton's bottom line, or political expedience?

#95 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 10:56 PM:

Avram, you don't understand. Fealty to the idea that we mustn't criticise The Troops is a basic tenet of our civil religion.

And if they should happen to shoot at a few brown-people civilians for laughs, we mustn't punish them too harshly, either. "I didn't want to hurt anybody, I didn't want to scare anybody." Well okay then. I think we've all learned something here.

#96 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 11:12 PM:

Patrick, hey, I'm not even talking about criticizing the troops themselves. I'm willing to concede, for the sake of the argument, that each and every member of the American military is a special snowflake of superheroism, a rifle-toting saint in combat boots.

I'm just pointing out that, even if Assange's disclosures get some troops killed who otherwise wouldn't've been, it's not Assange who put them in harm's way to begin with. If the lives of our troops are so precious and valuable, then why haven't we brought them home?

#97 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 11:16 PM:

And now I just read that CNN link. "Sport killings"; "body parts as war trophies". Plead guilty to four counts. Nine months in confinement. Jesus fucking Christ.

#98 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 11:49 PM:

re 85: Richard Cohen was somewhat worth reading back thirty years ago when he was mostly writing about local issues. Why anyone ever paid much attention to him beyond that, I'll never understand.

re 86: I think this guy is bucking for a job at the Atlantic. Or maybe Salon, but at any rate nobody would have blinked twice had this appeared in that sort of magazine.

re 89: I'm not convinced I should be taking the anti-Wikileaks stuff too seriously. The incestuousness of the politicos and the journalists is extremely old news, if one was ever paying attention; conversely I can see attributing to the Wikileaks people as base a motive as simply keeping the notoriety flowing. It's an opportunity for people to pound their chests about responsibility but I have to doubt how much they sincerely mean it (where sincerity is measured in actions). There is a danger in fraternization but the relentlessly adversarial approach seems to me to put one in equal peril of getting captured by a different set of tropes.

#99 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 11:50 PM:

Is it worse for them to die for the sake of governmental transparency than for the sake of neocon power fantasies, or Halliburton's bottom line, or political expedience?

Avram, you don't understand. Fealty to the idea that we mustn't criticise The Troops is a basic tenet of our civil religion.

Patrick, hey, I'm not even talking about criticizing the troops themselves. I'm willing to concede, for the sake of the argument, that each and every member of the American military is a special snowflake of superheroism, a rifle-toting saint in combat boots.

OK, I fucking HATE the neocons and Bushistas, and I fucking hate that our troops were put in harm's way first for an incompetently-handled war, then for a completely unnecessary and aggressive war, and I fucking hate that we can't get out of those places cleanly without causing even more deaths than we already caused by being in there, and I fucking hate that all those innocent civilians have died in these neocon-contrived, Bush-Administration-lied-about, Halliburton-profiting, politically fucking expedient fucked up stupid godsdamned wars.

And I know our troops aren't saints. I'm just against people dying for stupid reasons, far from home, and did I mention for stupid reasons? And also I have personal friends in the military and I don't want them to die.

Do I really have to say that every godsdamned time?!?!?! Kali fucking Durga on a skateboard.

#100 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2010, 11:54 PM:

Xopher, if you're going to blame Assange and Wikileaks for (possibly) endangering the troops, then yeah, you need to be reminded that Assange and Wikileaks aren't the ones endangering the troops.

#101 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 12:10 AM:

As a nitpick, what reason is there to think anything leaked so far jeopardizes US troops? I get that it might jeopardize our informants, if they're exposed and then done in by our enemies, but that doesn't seem like it has a direct connection to the safety of our actual soldiers.

#102 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 12:26 AM:

Larry:

I don't get how wikileaks has much impact on reporters' sources. Most national security reporters' sources are in the US. Most US reporters reporting on the war are embedded with US soldiers. The Taliban are already in a shooting war with them, so it's hard to see how leaked embarrassing or infuriating information is going to make them more vulnerable.

The serious risk I've read about is that some of the earlier leaks disclose the identity of our informants or secret allies in Afghanistan. That's a serious problem, but it can't really have much to do with reporters' sources. If you're living a double life whose exposure will mark you and your family for death, you hardly ever hold press conferences.

I'd say Wikileaks is an entirely different kind of threat to many national security reporters. A *lot* of national security stories in the big newspapers are basically built around leaks from anonymous sources. This is more-or-less what makes these reporters employable.

Now, enter Wikileaks. There's this huge massive disclosure, which includes hundreds of little tidbits that would have worked as little anonymously-sourced details to toss into a story, and at least a couple dozen that would have made stories on their own. Suddenly, the reporters whose main asset is their golden rolodex of reliable leakers find that their asset has been devalued--there are much juicier leaks and gossip and weird funny stories available for free than what those reporters can get.

Further, if the leaks endanger the career of one of such a reporter's sources, he can be expected to be pretty unhappy when that source loses his value. I expect that's what really happened with the angry media reaction to the article that ended McChrystal's career.

#103 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 01:29 AM:

This wonderful sequence of comics and words makes a broader point, but it made me think a lot about the way media tends to focus on the immediate news to the exclusion of everything else. It's Assange and Wikileaks 24/7 right now. But in another week, it will all be down the memory hole, and we'll be talking about some unrelated scandal or manufactured outrage or whatever. Distraction is something we mostly do to ourselves, that makes us dumber.

#104 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 01:30 AM:

tnh @ : 34
If the matters discussed in these cables were fit subjects for genuine operational security, no way would millions of government employees have unchecked access to them. This isn't about security. It's about caste-based access to information about the world and how it works.

Yes, I think that's correct. And it's what makes this situation similar both morally and legally to the Pentagon Papers. In both cases a great deal of information about the military and diplomatic policies of the US are and were classified to prevent the voters of the US from finding out about them; in most cases the "enemies" whom the policies and operations were aimed at already knew what was happening.

Let's take two examples, one from today and one from Vietnam. Today the US is waging undeclared war using armed UAV drones within the territory of Pakistan, a nation theoretically in alliance with the US. I doubt that the people they're shooting at don't know about it; even if you assume that operational details of the (illegal) drone attacks need to be classified, the fact that they are occurring at all should not be.

Now for Vietnam: in 1967 many hundreds of aircraft sorties were flown over Cambodia, and a great deal of munitions were dropped from those planes on Cambodian soil, even though, again, Cambodia was not at war with the US. This information was classified (TOP SECRET NOFORN IIRC. meaning that even most Senators or Representatives were not cleared for that level of classification). The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops knew they were being bombed, but the US government had stated publicly to its people that the bombing was not taking place. One of the reasons that the Pentagon Papers were greeted with approval by so many people and institutions (including the NY Times, ironically) is that they disclosed activities like the bombing of Cambodia that the US government was trying to hide from its own country.

Certainly classifying documents to hide the contempt that US diplomatic personnel feel for many foreigners and foreign governments isn't a large moral issue, though it flies in the face of the increasing difficulty of controlling information, as Patrick has pointed out. But classifying documents to prevent the people of the US from knowing that their government is involved in illegal activities and activities that those people have been told are not occurring is definitely a moral and legal issue.

#105 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 01:45 AM:

There's a general principle of "need to know" associated with issuing any particular classified document to any particular person cleared for that level of classification. The reason for the three tiers of classification, Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret is set expectations about how much effort should be expended to ensure access restriction and checking of need to know. The three tiers are (theoretically) based on the damage unauthorized access to a particular document could do to the interests of the US.

It's those expectations that are affected by indiscriminate, unnecessary, and excessive classification of documents: classifying documents that won't damage US interests, or will damage them less than would be expected by the level of classification potentially reduces the effort that can be given to documents which could be damaging. Classifying documents in order to hide misfeasance, malfeasance, or criminal activity damages the rule of law.

I have seen classified documents which were literally laundry lists for senior officers. I have no idea under what theory they were classified, but I bet the officers involved would have been really embarrassed if the lists were published with their classifications.

#106 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 02:59 AM:

C. Wingate @ 98: "The incestuousness of the politicos and the journalists is extremely old news, if one was ever paying attention; conversely I can see attributing to the Wikileaks people as base a motive as simply keeping the notoriety flowing."

That wasn't really my point. I'm prone to looking at things in a pretty abstract light--a light under which it's easy to see ways in which WikiLeaks' actions do not contribute to the creation of an ideal world. But when I think about it in the context of the situation on the ground (not implying that that situation ought to be a surprise to anyone), WikiLeaks might nonetheless serve a beneficial function; a useful corrective if not an ultimate good. In a somewhat similar fashion, I take it as a matter of course that if not now then soon notoriety will become a main motivation of WikiLeakers; whether their actions do good or ill in the world is orthogonal to that.

Avram @ 100: "if you're going to blame Assange and Wikileaks for (possibly) endangering the troops, then yeah, you need to be reminded that Assange and Wikileaks aren't the ones endangering the troops."

Surely there are enough different ways of endangering the troops that we needn't insist on a singular cause?

#107 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 04:12 AM:

I get that it might jeopardize our informants, if they're exposed and then done in by our enemies,
To paraphrase Patrick and Avram above, what has endangered the informants is the act of informing on their fellow countrymen to an invading army. Not Wikileaks. As a general rule, collaborators have traditionally been rather unpopular during wars.

#108 ::: Dave Langford ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 05:20 AM:

#64, #92: the big question of the 21st century would be how we learn to deal with Too Much Information.

This is a central theme of John Brunner's The Shockwave Rider (1975), which took several of its cues from Alvin Toffler's Future Shock. And incidentally "predicted" a kind of Wikileaks -- a software worm that digs out net information and tells the public what it needs to know. The implausibility wasn't so much the leakage as the worm's quasi-AI ability to make such delicate judgments. Enough people in this thread have worried about the human ability to do the same.

#109 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 05:59 AM:

Dave, funny you should mention The Shockwave Rider -- that wasn't it's only prescient theme, and you may be unsurprised that it's on my to-re-read list. (I'm planning on revisiting it's other big theme -- future shock -- in a future novel: it seems to be time.)

#110 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 06:49 AM:

re 103: It's funny because back when I was reading those books I had the sense that Huxley's vision was more likely to happen here than Orwell's. But then, now we seem to some extent to be trying to have both....

re 104: Maybe I'm paying attention more than most (and while that's probably true for the nation as a whole, it probably isn't in this venue) but thus far I'm not seeing much in the way of big secret surprises coming out of this; the worst I'm seeing are things that I hadn't specifically known but which are consistent with what I had already known (e.g. operations in Pakistan). For example, here's a Beeb headline: Wikileaks: Russia branded 'mafia state' in cables. I think I first heard this a decade ago; I suppose one could cook up some sort of a diplomatic flap about people being that honest in what they thought was a private medium, and to the degree that diplomats act out the concern that frank assessments are going to end up in the headlines, frankness is is going to be replaced in-channel with the kind of diplomatic lying that is only supposed to appear in the headlines. That's not a positive development.

That's where I continue to see a distinct difference between these leaks and the Pentagon Papers. It's one thing to leak documents about a specific thing; it's another to commit what is to a very large degree an act of diplomatic voyeurism. To continue with the example I just gave: as a revelation it doesn't amount to much other than the knowledge that the diplomats were actually paying attention. But if I'm assuming that the diplomats are paying attention, I don't see this as much of a gain. However as something one says at embassy parties it plainly lacks. The Russians may know that they are being thought of this way but as a practical issue of diplomatic psychology it does matter whether it's being said out in the open; people act differently when people are calling them jerks than when they know that people think they are jerks. I think that competent diplomats are going to continue to make the sort of assessments that comprise a very large part of this traffic and hope or take action to see that it doesn't get blabbed about too much,and congresscritters, unfortunately, are notorious blabbermouths. But if routine revelation of what they say becomes the norm, it's going to be an impediment to decent foreign policy and diplomacy, because they'll stop saying them.

#111 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 07:18 AM:

I was under the impression, from various sources, including the operator's manual for an ex-army Land Rover, that the British classification system has "Restricted" as a bottom level, essentially covering all the routine stuff that doesn't look as though secrecy makes any sense. In effect, it's saying "don't start talking about stuff."

But Britain does see things slightly differently to the USA--compare "Crown Copyright" to what happens in the USA where government-created documents are "Public Domain".

Incidentally, which is that Peter Ustinov film where he plays a prime minister, shuttling back and forth between US and USSR ambassadors with more and more prolonged sequences of "they know that you know that..."?

Now everyone knows what the US knows.

#112 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 07:40 AM:

C. Wingate, #98: "re 86: I think this guy is bucking for a job at the Atlantic. Or maybe Salon, but at any rate nobody would have blinked twice had this appeared in that sort of magazine."

The author of the now-widely-read "A Caucasus Wedding" cable is William Joseph Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and the highest ranked Foreign Service officer in the US. He was the American ambassador to Russia from 2005 to 2008. He was briefly Acting Secretary of State in the interval between the departure of the Bush Administration and the confirmation of Hilary Clinton. I doubt that he's looking for a job at a magazine.

Personally, I thought the piece was interesting and thoughful, not at all "lurid" as sara describes it in #86. Perhaps my failure to discern "contempt for developing-world peoples" in it reflects a fault on my part. But it seemed to me to do a very good job of both storytelling and educating. I didn't come away from it thinking "Wow, Central Asian people are horrible," I came away from it thinking "Wow, the world is really diverse and complicated."

#113 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 08:13 AM:

C. Wingate, how long can you go on (1.) deploring the leaks, and (2.) complaining that leaked material is trivial, boring, and not worth reading? Not to mention stuff like dismissing William Joseph Burns as some guy who's bucking for a job at The Atlantic or Salon. It feels like you're running on automatic.

Furthermore -- and this is addressed to more commenters than you -- if anything in those cables is terribly sensitive hush-hush information, what the bleep was it doing on a channel that literally millions of people have access to? Unless and until proven otherwise, I don't believe any of it is that hot.

#114 ::: Chris Suslowicz ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 08:18 AM:

Dave Bell @ #111

There's an overview here or there's the option (I suppose) of downloading the wikileaks copy of JSP440 if you suffer from insomnia or are going to be snowbound for several weeks (I haven't bothered to do this, not because it's still classified, but because I suspect it will be incredibly boring).

The only thing I bother about from a security classification point of view is: has it been declassified, or was it no higher than RESTRICTED and published over 30 years ago. That deals with any security implications, and the only other thing to check is Crown Copyright - if I want to reprint something, is it more than 51 years old - usually they are, being WW2 signals manuals.

#115 ::: caffeine ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 08:45 AM:

On the subject of clearances and access...

I've worked at three different federal agencies and had at least a secret-level clearance at each one. At no point would I have been able to access the leaked information. Even when I had access to SIPRNet.

First, the concept of "need to know" really is important. Had I been noticed rummaging around in files that didn't resemble anything I should be working on, and couldn't explain why I had a need to know, there would have been repercussions. Second, most federal workers and contractors only have access to the files they need. For example, at the Department of Energy I only had access to one folder in the massive shared drive of files.

I'm generalizing, but at my best guess, there couldn't have been more than a couple of hundred people with access to this particular information.

I'm not saying that a lot of people couldn't access this information, but it's certainly not the case that all three million people with clearances have unfettered (or even partial) access to a level of information that other citizens do not.

On another note, overclassification of information really is a problem. Most of the people I've worked with at federal agencies routinely classified everything as For Official Use Only (FOUO), which prevents the information from being released under FOIA. No one wanted to take responsibility for not marking a document that might later prove to have had FOUO-worthy information.

#116 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 09:42 AM:

As a nitpick, what reason is there to think anything leaked so far jeopardizes US troops? I get that it might jeopardize our informants, if they're exposed and then done in by our enemies, but that doesn't seem like it has a direct connection to the safety of our actual soldiers.

Yeah, this came up a lot when the Iraq war logs were leaked. Generally it went along the lines of:

-- Wikileaks is endangering people's lives!
-- How?
-- It's identifying US informants in Afghanistan!
-- Really? Where? In which document?
-- Well, I can't tell you that. It'd endanger them even more.
-- But I'm not in the Taliban.
-- Don't be naive.
(end of conversation)

I remember commenting at the time that "Wikileaks endangered lives in Afghanistan" was becoming one of those things that Everyone Serious Knows. You know, like "Iran is building a nuclear bomb" and "Iraq has WMDs".

#117 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 09:44 AM:

Relevant:
American officials in recent days have warned repeatedly that the release of documents by WikiLeaks could put people's lives in danger.

But despite similar warnings ahead of the previous two massive releases of classified U.S. intelligence reports by the website, U.S. officials concede that they have no evidence to date that the documents led to anyone's death.


Read more: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/11/28/104404/officials-may-be-overstating-the.html#ixzz16xwaamnh

#118 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 10:01 AM:

Teresa #113:

The thing I love about the "there's nothing to see here, move on" talking point w.r.t. Wikileaks disclosures is that they've fueled front page stories in every newspaper on Earth for several days now. These are, in fact, the kinds of leaks that reporters routinely use as an important part of national security stories, often sourced anonymously.

The grain of truth there is that most of the cables are apparently pretty routine and dull, and that most of the disclosures aren't Earth shaking revelations, but rather things that we might have suspected but didn't know. But that's often the way of important news stories--often, people suspected X was going on for a long time, but finally, there's hard evidence of X. That matters. For example, I wasn't at all shocked that we were carrying out massive illegal wiretapping for several years, and I guess many other people with some familiarity with the relevant issues weren't either. But it was still valuable to get confirmation instead of "gee, I bet those guys are tapping everyone's phone."

#119 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 10:24 AM:

Chris @114,

Thanks for the reference.

I saw one mention that some of this Wikileaks stuff goes back to 1966. That sort of suggests that somebody though it was worth the trouble to get the data onto computer, back then or since, and keep it accessible, which might be interesting in itself.

A fairly obvious possibility: current $GLORIOUS_LEADER was a junior official in 1966, and was dealing with various routine matters. A junior US diplomat who regularly meets him files an assessment, which is now of current interest.

Having $GLORIOUS_LEADER knowing what was said about him could be awkward.

#120 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 10:39 AM:

Patrick #93:

As an SFnal speculation:

Suppose it turns out to be impossible in practice to operate organizations larger than some lowish number (maybe in the thousands, like a fairly big company or medium-sized city government) without constant widespread deception and lying.

Now, what happens when social/technological changes make it impossible to maintain that level of widespread deception and lying. You could have some kind of effect where most national governments and large companies basically have no choice but to fracture in to smaller organizations, because you just can't keep everyone pointed in the same direction when you can't keep most of them in the dark and feed them BS.

For more crunchy goodness, link it to technology. Countries with tightly restricted technology can keep their citizens working together and keep their countries together, but they're also much less effective, able, and wealthy as a result. Think North Korea vs Hong Kong.

#121 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 11:48 AM:

I read Xopher's line in #58 that Avram questions in #94* as simply a pre-emptive strike against trolls.

*"I warn you that I will react badly to being told that our soldiers/sailors/marines/airmen being killed is a good thing under virtually* any circumstances."

#122 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 11:56 AM:

re 112/113: Perhaps I ought not to bother with the slightest attempt at a sardonic tone, as my intent was to express the same admiration as PNH. Back in the day, the equivalent article in the Atlantic might have been written by someone like Burns or at least one of his classmates. I was brought to recall a passage from Shirer in The Nightmare Years and Melville Grosvenor's reportage of the crowning of the King of Tonga back in the days when he was president of the NGS. Do you really think so little of the writing in these magazines now?

re 113/118: Having wasted some time rereading what I wrote, I do not see where I "deplored". And I don't know that there's nothing to see, but only that so far there hasn't been anything to see. I gather that Manning thought that there was some really embarrassing and revealing stuff, but what I've come across thus far hasn't risen to that level. If something comes along, I'll change my mind, but right now from my viewpoint it's not living up to the hype.

#123 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 12:06 PM:

Meanwhile, in breaking news, notoriously corrupt organisation awards business to recently-dubbed "criminal state"...

http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/9250585.stm

#124 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 12:42 PM:

Albatross -- There are no neutral filters. To be a gatekeeper is to impose policy. I'll bet you know that already. And you're right: a little scrubbing goes a long way.

Bruce Adelsohn, you didn't derail the thread. I was saying that of all the ways the conversation might go, some branching paths struck me as being more interesting at this moment. (See previous.)

Albatross again @74: I think there are ways in which getting over 9/11 is harder for people who weren't there. They don't have that reassuring sense that it happened and they got through it. For them, it's perpetually something that might happen, so it stays scary.

C. Wingate @78: I can either say nothing about that second paragraph of yours, or I can spend half the afternoon discussing it -- and I have an overdue copyedit to finish. I'll pick out one thing: you will please refrain from referring to conversations on this or any other subject in terms of "social position gained [by] posting it and posturing about it." You will most especially not use that kind of language to describe conversations in which you've been a major participant. Just don't. Thank you.

j h woodyatt @83: Same here. I'm hoping it's just a bug that's going around.

Devin @84: I don't think WikiLeaks just got lucky. There are a lot of people who have access to bodies of information they feel ambivalent about. If they were to act on those feelings -- which they may not know how to do anyway -- it would be easy for their bosses to figure out who they are. WikiLeaks gives them an address where they can send the data, and makes passing judgment on it a free-for-all open question.

And then there's the disgruntled ex-employee. All organizations have them. They're staple commodity in intelligence gathering.

I'm betting we'll see a lot more of these revelations.

Larry: Unless you're showing up as new because you've just changed your address, welcome to Making Light. Do you write poetry?

#125 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 12:52 PM:

C. Wingate, it's possible I'm misreading your tone.

#126 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 01:00 PM:

TNH -- I think C. Wingate @78 was referring to the actual media discussions of the Wikileaks materials as "posting [by Assange] and posturing [by NYT, etc]", rather than referring to any actions on this forum.

#127 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 01:13 PM:

heresiarch 106: Surely there are enough different ways of endangering the troops that we needn't insist on a singular cause?

Just so. When a big truck filled with gasoline turns over and breaks open, it or the highway may be poorly designed, the driver may have been drunk, it may have been overfilled, etc. All those stages are important and the people who did them are culpable—but so is the guy who walks by, says "oo, a big pool of gasoline, what fun" and drops in a lit match.

I thought it was obvious I wasn't trying to put all the blame for the Afghan war on Julian Assange. (Apparently it was not.) But there are people who make things better and people who make things worse...and I'm not even saying that Assange is one of the latter, just that I'm not entirely certain which he is.

ajay 117: Very relevant, and quite reassuring to some of my concerns.

Mary Aileen 121: I read Xopher's line in #58 that Avram questions in #94* as simply a pre-emptive strike against trolls.

Thank you. It's good to know it's not impossible for it to be read as I meant it. I'm not sure how I could have clarified it. Happily, no one has said anything of the kind (the kind being "well, sometimes our troops deserve to die"), and maybe I didn't need to say it at all; but apparently I'm an idiot.

#128 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 01:13 PM:

C Wingate:

And I don't know that there's nothing to see, but only that so far there hasn't been anything to see.

Hmmm. We must just be looking at things very differently. Newspapers and news websites have had Wikileaks-based stories on their front pages for the last several days. Serious, in-depth analysis of these cables and what they mean is appearing all over the place.

Off the top of my head, consider the report that Saudi officials were urging us to attack Iran. It sure seems to me like that kind of leak, coming from "unnamed administration officials," would have made the front page of the New York Times on almost any day in the last several years.

This page has at least five Wikileaks-derived stories that look to me like serious, high-value news stories, the kind of stuff you get a good newspaper in hopes of reading.

Juan Cole's list of top ten revelations so far. He seems to think these are kinda big deals.

Foreign Policy has established a blog to discuss the leaks.

El Pais has been running front-page stories for several days on these leaks as well.

I found this NPR piece fascinating largely because of the weird parallels with the bombing of Cambodia we did during the Vietnam war.

If your comment is that nothing has been as shocking as, say, the Abu Girab photos or the revelations surrounding Watergate, I agree. But if you think the New York Times and Washington Post stories driven by these leaks are worthwhile in the sense of being real news (and it's hard for me to see how to avoid that conclusion), then I don't see what the value is in talking as though the Wikileaks leaks are some kind of uninteresting gossip being unduly hyped.

#129 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 01:31 PM:

Something of a distraction from the main business of the thread, but perhaps amusing nonetheless: the local view on wikileaks where I live appears to be that it's all an American plot to discredit Turkey

In other local news: Unconfirmed rumors that Istanbul may not be the centre of the universe appear groundless...

#130 ::: Larry ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 01:38 PM:

Albatross @102: I was merely stating the what I believe they were saying as to why the press is upset. Not sure I buy it. I think with McChrystal is was more a matter of that the reporter "broke the code." and now they'd all suffer the after effects. They were pissed because it exposed their little feedback loop and jeopardized some of that.

For those stating we should have never been there, etc. Yes we should not be there but we are there so we have to operate on two levels. The first is trying to get them out of there quickly. The second, and what I think is where the danger comes in, is that we want to minimize casualties of us troops there. The soldiers deployed there have to deal with the situation. So if a local informant does have info that could save their lives then I think that informant, who is taking a huge risk, should be protected. This time they are taking the time to do a better job redacting names as well from what I understand.

Going back to first causes here clouds some of this I think.

Unrelated but Wikileaks is going to disclose their spending and salaries. Good for them to do that to head of any accusations that might pop up.

#131 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 01:51 PM:

"...the local view on WikiLeaks where I live appears to be that it's all an American plot to discredit Turkey."

Why would Americans think to plot the discrediting of turkey? For the vast majority of them, it's principally a delicious and healthy alternative to goose for Christmas dinner.

#132 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 03:02 PM:

It's all part of the devious plot to spring tofurkey upon an unsuspecting American people.

#133 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 03:44 PM:

Bruce Cohen @7: Similarly, a lot of "journalists" report a story by reprinting a news release; this is about as lazy as it gets.

I'm coming in late, so this is doubtless old news, but I'm tickled by the convergence with this thread.

#134 ::: Per Chr. J. ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 04:06 PM:

A little while back, I found this report from a British ambassador to Thailand quite amusing in its frankness (se especially paragraph 19). But I guess that there was a certain period of time from when it was written in the 60s and it was commonly available.

As to the leaked US reports, I have seen several comments here in Europe expressing approval for the State Department and the level of insight expressed in some of the reports are rather a nice surprise.

#135 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 05:23 PM:

Charlie Stross @39: And that's what Assange is addressing.

Interesting. I've been speculating lately how it would look for organisms to attempt to communicate across "logical types."* (Frex: how does an individual human communicate with a meme?)

I think maybe zunguzungu's description of Assange's strategy might be one such example.

* Need a better term for this.

#136 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 06:19 PM:

Here's what I think about the accusations against Assange: the powers that be are baking a big schadenfreude pie, and they aren't particular whether the flavorings are natural or artificial.

#137 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 06:35 PM:

@52: Another book on my fantasy list: Teresa Nielsen Hayden's America, vol 1: Basic Civics

#138 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 06:40 PM:

WikiLeak!

Man finds that corporate jobs do induce headaches.

#139 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 07:48 PM:

I think it's worth noting that Ellsberg himself thinks Wikileaks is doing extremely important work exactly along the lines of what he did with the "Pentagon Papers". (Which, of course, it is.)

I wonder how many more years the US would have been futilely fighting and killing in Vietnam, if the NY Times of 1971 had gone to Nixon's government and asked, page by page, "Please sir, is it OK with you if we publish this?"?

#140 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 07:57 PM:

My point of view on the leaked cables (and the NTY's going to the government on redacting) is a bit different, because of an experience my father had: I can go into it because I believe all the parties are dead and I'll futz up the details. Basically he had a client who became convinced that his mail was being tampered with. The client complained and started an investigation that ended up with a couple of postal inspectors being put into federal prison for a long time. As part of the investigation my dad's client was given the raw FBI investigation files, which he showed my dad: you know, the ones that Jack Anderson insisted were Woodward and Bernstein's sources because he didn't believe in "Deep Throat" and wasn't getting drops from Mark Feldt. The raw docs (and I wish I could remember the code number for them--it's mentioned in All The President's Men) are EVERYTHING that a FBI agent doing the investigation is given, without any winnowing for probability of claims or accuracy thereof: that comes later, and Dad said that you could sure tell the difference. The current releases seem to be the same sort of thing: reports from the field before any winnowing takes place. This isn't finished stuff like the Pentagon Papers: this is the stuff that might have been used to compile a similar report

This ties into the NYT's decision to check on material, I think. Since at least the Kennedy Administration the NYT has periodically gone to the government over material that could reveal an ongoing government activity and said "We're going to publish this unless you can give us a good reason not to." From what I remember they usually leave out names of individuals who the government says might be threatened or killed if they were mentioned: the Pentagon Papers, being an actual completed report with no individuals mentioned who could be snuffed was considered a special case. In that instance whey they did their "we're printing it" discussion the Nixon Administration tried to block them in court since the Nixon Admin. had no valid objections they could use outside of the report being secret.

I think that the question of whether the NYT checking with the current admin is not a new example of the rightward swing of the paper, or of bad reporting: it's just the way they've operated for the last 50 years and is probably a vestige of their old "no troop movements in wartime" rules, which I remember is pretty much they only justification that Molly Ivins considered of value when it comes to prior restraint. My apologies of any of this sounds foggy: the pain meds they are powerful. If I'm talking through my hat please let me know.

#141 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 08:04 PM:

Andrew @26: you wrote: "consensual sex which turned non-consensual when he refused to put on a condom for the second or subsequent bout.

"Whether this is "rape" is in itself an interesting question"

Erm. I know nothing about this particular case, but in a case where it was an established fact that there was non-consensual sex after the person said no ... well, there is no question, let alone an "interesting" one. That's rape.

#142 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 08:20 PM:

And Fox runs an Onion article..... And they wonder at our contempt?

#143 ::: Bob with a pseudonym ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 09:21 PM:

HlnS@141:

Whtvr t s tht Mr. ssng hs dn n Swdn wth th wmn n qstn ds nt ppr t hv bn rp by ny cnvntnl dfntn f th wrd. Th cnsnt f bth wmn t sx wth ssng hs bn cnfrmd by prsctrs.

#144 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 09:33 PM:

Bob with a pseudonym @141 @143, given Teresa's comment @32 that this is "an argument that could eat this whole thread", and that you have no posting history here, and that you seem to have misread the actual content of the comment to which you are replying, you are stepping way out of line. Hence, the removal of vowels from your comment.

#145 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 09:36 PM:

Avram, you mean Bob @143.

#146 ::: heckblazer ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2010, 09:42 PM:

I don't find the Interpol red notice to be terribly nefarious. Interpol basically acts as an information clearinghouse for police departments, and a red notice just means that jurisdiction X has issued a warrant for person Y. Julian Assage's
notice
says exactly that: "Arrest Warrant Issued by: INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC PROSECUTION OFFICE IN GOTHENBURG / Sweden".

The merits of the underlying Swedish case is a separate question. It's also completely irrelevant to the merits of Wikileaks. From what I've seen the site has been a boon in general, but the latest round of State Dept. cables make me uneasy. That's specifically because they haven't revealed any substantial wrongdoing while at the same time burned a whole bunch of State's sources.

#147 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2010, 08:23 AM:

Speaking of Interpol red notices, Nigeria just issued one on Dick Cheney, for bribery (which he allegedly committed on behalf of Halliburton, IIRC).

Have fun watching US talking heads contort themselves into simultaneously saying that complying with Interpol red notices and catching international criminals is the Most Important Thing Ever (as applied to Assange) and also something we absolutely, positively shouldn't even consider doing (as applied to Cheney).

#148 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2010, 02:41 PM:

re 124: If I gave the impression I was talking about the discussion here, I wasn't; it's been a good discussion so far. What I'm saying is that there are other dynamics out in the media and government, etc., that determine a lot of the responses in ways that are independent of the content of the cables--routine, if you will.

re 128: My interpretation is governed in large part by my personal reaction that the "important" material is not surprising to me. It has tended to either tell me things I already knew from elsewhere, or if novel in specifics it fits into the picture I already had without disrupting anything. To that degree the publicity is pulling things that might have appeared in the bowels of the A section, or more likely in journals like FP or Harpers or the Atlantic, closer to the front of the paper. And perhaps it's making people a little more knowledgeable, and working against the complacency of those who take official assurances that All Is Well too seriously. But as someone at FP put it, the overall message to me is U.S. Diplomats Aren't Stupid After All, and that really there is a core set of journalists who have been covering these regions for a long time and who aren't (all) stupid either.

Let me go with a particular example: We have Blank Hounshell in FP talking about 10 Conversations That Just Got a Little More Awkward: Turkey. I appreciate his analysis of how putting all this assessment out in the open is a political problem. Now Turkey is not a place I know much of the political specifics of, so some of this stuff is new to me, but not terribly surprising. But did anyone do anything wrong? And should our diplomats not make these sorts of assessments behind the scenes?

Meanwhile, Glenn Greenwald again:

[I]ncidentally: one of the more Orwellian aspects of this week's discussion has been the constant use of the word "diplomacy" to impugn what WikiLeaks did, creating some Wizard of Oz fantasy whereby the Pentagon is the Bad Witch of the U.S. Government (thus justifying leaks about war) while the State Department is the Good Witch (thus rendering these leaks awful): that's absurd, as they are merely arms of the same entity, both devoted to the same ends, ones which are often nefarious, and State Department officials are just as susceptible as Pentagon officials to abusive conduct when operating in the dark[.]
This strikes me as hyperbolic in the extreme, starting from its one-would-like-to-think-naive picture of the executive bureaucracy as being possessed of a single will, and progressing right through the reality that the diplomats are not usually bombing and shooting anyone. Even the reasons for secrecy tend to be different. The few revelations of wrongdoing and even lying about how well things are going are swamped by the sheer volume of simple reporting and thinking out loud, yet it appears that it is the latter that are going to cause most of the serious damage here as foreign politicians react to having their foibles discussed in the newspaper. The doctrine of transparency which Greenwald lays out following the passage I've quoted is the enemy of candor; the ambassador to Eherwhonistan has to be able to tell State, "Look, the president here is a nutcase" without having it automatically blabbed to the world at large.

#149 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2010, 03:10 PM:

C Wingate @ 148... the ambassador to Eherwhonistan

And HERE is our ambassador to Fredonia.

:-)

#150 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2010, 03:58 PM:

Simon Jenkins again, on how British journalism did the right thing if (as many believe) it scuppered our bid to host the 2018 World Cup by exposing corruption in FIFA.

(The name of the poster @143 sounds rather like a riff on the name that I use here. For the record: I am not he or she.)

#151 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2010, 04:50 PM:

Whee! The leaks are getting tastier:

A potential "environmental disaster" was kept secret by the US last year when a large consignment of highly enriched uranium in Libya came close to cracking open and leaking radioactive material into the atmosphere.

The incident came after the mercurial Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, suddenly went back on a promise to dispose of the weapons-grade uranium, apparently out of pique at a diplomatic slight received in New York when he was barred from pitching a tent outside the UN.

Leaked cables show that the shipment of seven metal casks – each weighing five tonnes and only sealed for transport, not storage – were left on the tarmac of a Libyan nuclear facility with a single armed guard. As US and Russian diplomats frantically lobbied Libyan officials, scientists warned that the uranium inside the casks was highly radioactive and rapidly heating up. The material was originally part of Gaddafi's nuclear weapons plan.

This doesn't reflect well on Gadaffi, but we already knew he was an idiot. What's more worrying is that he had 5.2Kg of HEU -- quite possibly weapons grade -- in the first place, with a security regime that sounds like a damp cardboard box.

#152 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2010, 05:32 PM:

praisegod baregones @ 129:
... the local view on wikileaks where I live appears to be that it's all an American plot to discredit Turkey

Wait -- Ahmadinejad assured us that it was a US plot directed against Iran!

Those devious Americans....

#153 ::: heckblazer ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2010, 12:08 AM:

Raphael @37:
"Wikileaks either isn't, or at least shouldn't be, mainly about Julian Assange (I don't know enough about their internal affairs to say which one of these is the case)."

It just hit me that the reason why Assange is the focus of any Wikileaks story is because that's the way he set things up. His face is on the main page logo and all of the "Cablegate" pages I've looked at (BTW, if the site still has DNS problems try http://213.251.145.96). In all of the articles I've read so far about Wikileaks he's the sole named source for the group (my reading is admittedly not comprehensive). It's obvious he's not running it alone, but there's no easy way to see who else is involved. And exactly how much do they raise and where does it go?

In other words, for a guy who advocates some very radical transparency for business and government he runs a pretty opaque shop - the CIA's webpage has more organizational info. Sure, the releases so far seem pretty solid and a track record shouldn't be sneezed at. Still, how do we know the vetting process can be trusted? Does Wikileaks kill stories Assange just plain doesn't like (Assange has said in interviews says he gets the final say)? Do they bribe sources for juicy documents? Blackmail potential targets? Short the stock of companies they're covering? Is Assange's defense fund actually going to his legal defense?

I have no particular reason to think Wikileaks has done anything wrong, but the position of power it's built creates the temptation, and I don't see any checks to prevent it from happening. And Assange should be the last guy on Earth to say "Just trust me."

#154 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2010, 12:22 AM:

Teresa 52:
But if the younger generation doesn't know it any more it will cease to be basic civics (if civics by definition the custom the populace knows)

#155 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2010, 01:45 AM:

Peter Erwin @ 152

I didn't say I endorsed this interpretation...

The ability to come up with an ingenious conspiracy theory involving Turkey about almost anything is a deeply rooted feature of the local political culture here. Right now, I suspect someone is coming up with a theory as to why holding the soccer world cup in Russia is mostly motivated by an attempt to undermine Turkey's chances.

C. Wingate @148: Well, yes and no.Take the UK case Charlie mentioned above. It doesn't come as much of a surprise to me to learn that Mervyn King put pressure on elected politicians tobe bigger deficit hawks than they would otherwise be; so in a sense, learning about it is a Mandy Rice-Davies moment. ('He would say that, wouldn't he'). On the other hand, the fact that it's now impeccably documented means that one can't be decsribed as a conspiracy crazed nutter for saying so.

There are (at least) two things that make a big difference to any conversation one might have about political matters. One is what you know. The other is what is common knowledge. Thinking about the effect Wikileaks has on what you know is only half the story here.

#156 ::: Spiny Norman ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2010, 01:59 AM:

Constance @ 85: I have no idea whether Richard Cohen is useful. But he is, unquestionably, an idiot.

#157 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2010, 04:41 AM:

Hotting up eh? I'd rather things didnt warm up that way they did in Libya.
Meanwhile, it also seems that the tories promised a pro-america regime when they came into power, whereas I, as a briton, would like them to have a pro-united Kingdom slant. Toadying bastards.

Liam Fox, now the defence secretary, promised to buy American military equipment, while the current foreign secretary, William Hague, offered the ambassador a "pro-American" government. Hague also said the entire Conservative leadership were, like him, "staunchly Atlanticist" and "children of Thatcher".
...
The frontbencher admitted that there was an opposed faction within Tory ranks. "Fox asserted that some within the Conservative party are less enthusiastic, asserting that 'we're supposed to be partners with, not supplicants to, the United States'. Fox said he rebuffed these assertions, and he welcomed the ambassador's reassurance that senior US leaders value the UK as an equal partner."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/dec/03/wikileaks-cables-us-special-relationship

#158 ::: RobW ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2010, 04:44 AM:

@ #26 ::: Andrew Brown

Whether this is "rape" is in itself an interesting question, and indeed the offence in Swedish is "sexual assault" or something similar (I'm not sure of the official translation). In any case, it turns into even more of a his-word-against-hers complaint than most rape stories. But if I were trying to frame someone that's not the charge I would use.

The charge is ill-defined and relies entirely on testimony and no evidence. As you say, it is literally a "his-word-against-hers" case ("most rape stories" really?? ok, i'll leave that for now), but one party is globally controversial for having a long history of pissing off the most powerful people in the world.

So if

A) conviction relies entirely on whether a thoroughly despised individual's denial of having committed a poorly-defined but titillating crime is believed by a jury, and

B) a conviction is not necessary to smear and therefore discredit the individual and any sex-related charge is guaranteed to get maximum press coverage,

then this is exactly the sort of charge I would use to frame someone.

Note: I am not saying he's being framed. Just that it's certainly plausible given the circumstances and nature of the charge.

I haven't been following the case at all, really. I'm far more interested in Wikileaks than Assange, and in Assange's own words on that subject than in anything he did or didn't do in bed. Further note: say he's totally guilty on all counts. So what would that have to do with anything regarding wikileaks.org? How would it discredit his ideas on information and power?

@ #96 ::: Avram

I'm just pointing out that, even if Assange's disclosures get some troops killed who otherwise wouldn't've been, it's not Assange who put them in harm's way to begin with. If the lives of our troops are so precious and valuable, then why haven't we brought them home?

On that note, if this event contributes in any way to ending the occupation sooner than without it, does Wikileaks get credit for contributing to world peace and the subsequent prevention of uncountable needless deaths?

Does the potential harm of an unnamed, yet identified (by deduction) informant being killed outwiegh the potential good of, say, ending or at least slowing the pace of drone strikes in Yemen, thus saving the lives of gods-only-know-how-many (at least hundreds, probably thousands) of anonymous civilians who happened to live in the wrong village?

Ok, back to the rest of the thread now.

(To the Nielson-Haydens: If I've not thanked you before for this excellent blog, thanks.)

#159 ::: RobW ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2010, 04:58 AM:

Oh, and on the subject of informants being put at risk, besides what Emma said at #107, I'll note that the US State Department hasn't a great record of looking out for informants' interests. For one thing, they did let all this leak in the first place. For another, informants and translators in Iraq, promised safety in a new stable country and finding themselves now living under constant death threats, have begged the US for asylum and been denied. It's pretty shameful, really.

#160 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2010, 05:53 AM:

Julian Assange would probably still not be the most controversial person ever nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

#161 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2010, 09:44 AM:

Spiny Norman @ #156: appalling. Apparently, Gabriela will never have to figure out how many cans of paint she'll need to cover the walls of her bedroom, or how many pounds of potatoes she'll need if she wants her casserole to feed 8 instead of 6.

Jesus. A calculator is useless if you don't know how to set up the problem.

#162 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2010, 09:48 AM:

Lila @ 161... Heck, why learn how things work inside when their being black boxes is sufficient?

#163 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2010, 10:28 AM:

Lila @162, there's a little more depth in the story that prompted the Richard Cohen article, but that doesn't save him from being a fool.

The girl he was responding to needed to pass algebra to be able to graduate from High School, and had failed algebra six times. So she dropped out.

But there's a huge gap between sympathy for that situation, and what he wrote. Failing the class six times: what were the teachers doing? Turning "most people don't use that level of math in their lives" to "math is useless" is only part of what he did wrong. He claims to be a writer, and fails to communicate.


#164 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2010, 12:48 PM:

#156 Spiny Norman

Why, yes, he was and is. Which is why he was such a perfect mouthpiece - synchophant for the neocon agendas.

Why is why all the more that piece to which I linked is so interesting in diciphering what the media masters are broadcasting by their minion writing that dubya is a liar and a coward, when until now the Line on Our Bush2 was the opposite of that.

Love, C.

#165 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2010, 01:08 PM:

heckblazer @ 153: I'm not saying your speculations are unwarranted, but consider the flip side of them: WikiLeaks needs a public name and face if it's going to have more accountability and trust than, say, 4ch*n. But to the left, because of the nature of what they're doing, they know various representatives and tools of the Powers That Be will be out for their scalps. It is possible that Assange has set himself up as the sole public face and name behind WikiLeaks in order to protect the people working for and with him from harassment - and worse. Far, far worse.

Given the man's demonstrated ego, I'm not saying this is the most likely or strongest factor. But it could well be a factor.

#167 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2010, 04:37 PM:

TexAnne @ 166... Time for my Capitaine Renaut impersonation?

#168 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2010, 06:31 PM:

TexAnne @ 166:

I can even see some logic in PayPal's argument (though my own dealings with them left me with a bad taste in my mouth years ago, so I say f*ck 'em if they can't take a joke), but that line from EveryDNS about not wanting to undergo massive DDOS attacks strikes me as untenable in at least 2 ways:


  1. If every infrastructure provider pulled out at the first sign of criminal activity against their customers, there wouldn't be much infrastructure. Where's the courage needed to not negotiate with terrorists and criminals :-)?

  2. From the reports I've read it doesn't seem like the attacks were that intense. In fact, one report said that the main exploits in use were the result of inadequate sysadmin on the part of Wikileaks.


#169 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2010, 10:09 PM:

I have an inchoate, perhaps indefensible, and yet powerful sense that conversation about this whole range of issues would be improved immeasurably if we could all just fucking stop one-upping one another over what is and isn't legitimately surprising.

(Note: I am talking about conversation between actual human beings in this thread, and in other threads on Making Light. If you want to perform the "WTF, You Didn't Know That?!?" superiority-dance on the New York Times or the Washington Post, please, go with God.)

There are things that amaze me because I didn't expect them; there are things I've known for a long time and which mostly inspire in me a tired sense of yes yes yes, that again, yes. This is almost certainly true for you as well, but you know something? They're different things.

If we spend our goddamn lives sneering at one another over whether we were angered or amazed or appalled at exactly the right time or not, we'll have wasted our goddamn lives. So stop it. Do we want to trade knowledge and understanding, or do we prefer to spend our time on this earth looking for chances to lord it over others based on others' moments of naivete or ignorance? I assure you, we're all naive and ignorant about a lot more than our precious self-images, at any given moment on any given day, would like to admit. The chances for one-upmanship are never-ending. But ask yourself: Is that kind of thing what you want out of your one and only life? Is it what you want at the end of all things?

#170 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2010, 10:12 PM:

Thank you, Patrick.

#171 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2010, 10:27 PM:

(and yes, I've done the same thing sometimes, and probably will again. But this conversation is a climax forest of the tendency.)

#172 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2010, 11:00 PM:

Spiny Norman @ 156: Richard Cohen is also the author of this quote: "In a post-Sept. 11 world, I thought the prudent use of violence could be therapeutic."

Patrick Nielsen Hayden @ 169: "I have an inchoate, perhaps indefensible, and yet powerful sense that conversation about this whole range of issues would be improved immeasurably if we could all just fucking stop one-upping one another over what is and isn't legitimately surprising."

I hadn't realized it but that's a huge part of what's been making me uncomfortable in this conversation.

#173 ::: heckblazer ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2010, 12:24 AM:

Mark @ 156:
"I'm not saying your speculations are unwarranted,"

Just to emphasize, I would *very* *much* like my speculations to be proven wrong.

"but consider the flip side of them: WikiLeaks needs a public name and face if it's going to have more accountability and trust than, say, 4ch*n. But to the left, because of the nature of what they're doing, they know various representatives and tools of the Powers That Be will be out for their scalps. It is possible that Assange has set himself up as the sole public face and name behind WikiLeaks in order to protect the people working for and with him from harassment - and worse. Far, far worse."


I have considered that scenario and indeed find it extremely plausible. The problem is I have no data to come to a conclusion, and Assange doesn't seem to accept that sort of reasoning when other people use it. That troubles me.

Another examplary detail of what troubles me is that on the support page (mirror currently working) Wikileaks requests money for Assange's legal defense fund and assures us "These funds will be used exclusively for defence costs," and then give instructions on how to wire funds to Assange's Swiss bank account. This is not a way to build up my trust.

Then again, maybe my reaction is just because his hair makes him look like an anime villain :).

#174 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2010, 12:38 AM:

heckblazer #173: Wikileaks requests money for Assange's legal defense fund and assures us "These funds will be used exclusively for defence costs," and then give instructions on how to wire funds to Assange's Swiss bank account. This is not a way to build up my trust.

They need alternative donation paths that are more difficult for their enemies to whack since Paypal defenestrated their donation account.

#175 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2010, 12:49 AM:

In the meantime, here's this, sent to the grad students in Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs:

[ From: Office of Career Services
Date: Tue, Nov 30, 2010 at 3:26 PM
Subject: Wikileaks - Advice from an alum
To: "Office of Career Services (OCS)"
Hi students,

We received a call today from a SIPA alumnus who is working at the State Department. He asked us to pass along the following information to anyone who will be applying for jobs in the federal government, since all would require a background investigation and in some instances a security clearance.

The documents released during the past few months through Wikileaks are still considered classified documents. He recommends that you DO NOT post links to these documents nor make comments on social media sites such as Facebook or through Twitter. Engaging in these activities would call into question your ability to deal with confidential information, which is part of most positions with the federal government.

Regards,
Office of Career Services ]

Included was a

[caution from the official, an alumnus of the school. Students who will be applying for jobs in the federal government could jeopardize their prospects by posting links to WikiLeaks online, or even by discussing the leaked documents on social networking sites, the official was quoted as saying.

"[The alumnus] recommends that you DO NOT post links to these documents nor make comments on social media sites such as Facebook or through Twitter," the Office of Career Services advised students. "Engaging in these activities would call into question your ability to deal with confidential information, which is part of most positions with the federal government." ]

Plus you have a couple hundred K by now in student loans to pay back ....

Love, C.


#176 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2010, 01:50 AM:

What has been irking me about the whole thing is 1: Assange isn't an American, he can't commit treason against the US.

2: The whole brouhaha about, "illegally" publishing classified documents. People who have no clearance, don't have a legal obligation to protect classified material. Yes, there are ways in which (and I've advised Teresa on it in the past) including the classification markings can be problematic, but the legal repercussions are pretty much nil.

Why? Because one has to sign on to the idea. When one gets a clearance part of the deal is being told what happens if one violates the classification. Absent that formality one is (last I checked) not responsible for them.

That distinction is why Ellis, the NYT Robert Novack, etc. weren't nailed for the Pentagon Papers and the Plame outing.

So PayPal isn't being honest (or hasn't looked at the law) when it says wikileaks is, ipso facto, breaking the law with the classified material it has published.

To the best of my knowledge the previous leaks related to Afhganistan, haven't been proved to cause anyone to be killed. More to the point, if done properly, there ought not be information which makes it possible to personally ID anyone.

One of the things we had the hardest thing teaching people was how to make identifications of sources specific enough to prevent them from being enrolled twice. Why? Because we knew that it was possible a report might fall into the hands of someone ignorant enough to reveal the information they had on the source of the material, and we didn't want our sources getting burned.

So the failing (if any) was on the part of the lower level supervisors, and the analysts up the chain, who didn't make sure that such a leak (which we always told people might happen) didn't get someone burned.

I don't really think that likely, and so the bruiting of it seems more hyperbole than fact (and Gates said as much). If State isn't smart enough to protect their sources, well that's State's fault.

#177 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2010, 03:56 AM:

PNH @169:

While I agree that cynicism is one of the most tiresome markers in dominance games, I think that some consideration of whether or not we're surprised is actually relevant here.

Because, as Terry @176 notes above, Assange hasn't broken the law in publishing the cables. Someone (Pfc Manning is accused of it) downloaded them and passed them to an unauthorized person. That's illegal. But Assange is not a US citizen, and has never‡ signed any form of commitment to maintain the secrecy of classified information passed to him. What law with jurisdiction over him has he broken?

What's currently happening to him, and to Wikileaks, is what happens to people who break unwritten laws, like Thou† Shalt Not Piss Off The Powers That Be*. You can't look up the penalties for that in a statute book and be deterred; you have to learn it by example. So the extent to which we, collectively, are surprised at how things are going is a measure of how soon we, collectively, are going to see another lesson on the same subject. When we all know to keep our little heads down, when we all expect this crap to come raining down on our jesters and coyotes and awkward sods, when we no longer are surprised, then TPTB can relax for a while.

Each individual's position on the journey from surprise to weary cynicism is a datapoint, a temperature measurement in a discussion of climate change.

------
‡ To my knowledge, and I bet we'd have heard about it if he had.
† Unless thou art otherwise well-connected
* Lèse majesté, but we're all egalitarians and can't call it that.

#178 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2010, 04:53 AM:

The law is plain for all to see:
It says what you may do, and what
You can't. Piss off the Powers that Be,

At need, ignore their stern decree,
At will. The law cares not a jot.
The law is plain for all to see:

An act is called a felony
By law alone. No, vile despot,
You can't. Piss off! The Powers that Be

Protect us and our liberty
For let this never be forgot:
The law is plain for all to see.

And you obey it faithfully
Or find that durance vile's your lot,
(You can't piss off.) The Powers that Be

Charge everyone a modest fee,
For vigilance. We pay the shot.
The law is plain for all to see,

Although we find it costs a lot -
The law is plain for all to see:
You can't piss off the Powers that Be.

#179 ::: heckblazer ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2010, 08:41 AM:

Earl Cooley III @ #174:
"They need alternative donation paths that are more difficult for their enemies to whack since Paypal defenestrated their donation account."

Sure, but it isn't hard to set it up with some transparency. If instead the instructions were "please wire money to this bank account in the name of Julian's Awesome Defense Fund, Inc. at a bank in a country without strict bank secrecy laws" my alarm bells wouldn't be going off. If the money really is just going to be spent on his lawyers and related expenses there is no good reason to avoid independent accounting.

#180 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2010, 10:04 AM:

Dave Luckett (178): ::applause::

#181 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2010, 10:05 AM:

We're little people and of small account
we live our little lives and fret about
our jobs and loves and health and hopes and dreams
we're not the movers of the world, we have no schemes,
nobody's listening although we call,
we don't affect the sum of things at all.

And yet we do, collectively, we count
when we are outraged, all of us, about
some breaking scandal kicking down our dreams
we can bring great ones down, despite their schemes
when we all gasp at once, when we all call
our typhoon blows and we can change it all.

So for the powerful who don't account
to anybody for their power, it's all about
keeping us passive, selling us cold dreams
to keep them undisturbed in all their schemes
our cynicism helps them so we call
it ordinary when they crush us all.

"Business as normal," "Why trust that account?"
"Everyone cheats", "So what about
this thing surprised you?" "Banish those pipe dreams!"
"Didn't you know it works by these old schemes,"
"Wise up and roll your eyes," "Cringe more," and "Call
a spade a spade," to dig a grave for all.

#182 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2010, 10:09 AM:

heckblazer @ 179 ...
Sure, but it isn't hard to set it up with some transparency. If instead the instructions were "please wire money to this bank account in the name of Julian's Awesome Defense Fund, Inc. at a bank in a country without strict bank secrecy laws" my alarm bells wouldn't be going off. If the money really is just going to be spent on his lawyers and related expenses there is no good reason to avoid independent accounting.

Perhaps it's stating the obvious, but it seems to me that many people might have a desire to donate with reasonable anonymity... something that's not going to happen in a country without sane or decent privacy laws, banking or otherwise.

#183 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2010, 10:23 AM:

Dave Luckett #178:

Very nice!

#184 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2010, 11:11 AM:

abi @ 177... we all expect this crap to come raining down on our jesters and coyotes

...along with anvils, cliff fragments, leftover dynamite, catapults and such.

#185 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2010, 11:16 AM:

About urination and the Powers That Be... I wonder what airport security would do if I went thru wearing a t-shirt displaying the Fourth Amendment. I'd probably be very glad that I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU.

#186 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2010, 11:45 AM:

These might help clarify what are valid arguments and / or criticisms for and against Assange himself, Wikileaks as an organization, and what the objective of Wikileaks may be, which does seem to be one of evolution rather than stasis.

Assessement of the evolution of Assange's thinking and Wikileaks here. As an aside, I'm really pulling hard for this incisive, analytical mind and capacity to express itself so coherently, that it successfully complete its Ph.D. program -- and gets a tenure track appointment to a faculty.

Then this, to clarify "Why prosecuting WikiLeaks' Julian Assange won't be easy," and not just because Assange isn't a U.S. citizen.

[ What law did Assange violate? It will surprise many that there is no statute making it illegal to reveal classified information. There are statutes that criminalize the disclosure of very specific types of classified information, such as the identity of a covert operative (think Valerie Plame) or "codes, ciphers or cryptographic systems." But there is no catch-all law that simply says, "Thou shalt not disclose classified information." ]

Love, C.


#187 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2010, 12:30 PM:

Serge @185, a friend linked me to a vendor selling underwear emblazoned with the text of the 4th Amendment in metallic (and therefore radio-opaque) ink. Would you like me to pass that link along?

#188 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2010, 12:45 PM:

Rikibeth @ 187... Thanks. My wife told me about it a couple of days ago. I thought about getting it, but decided that vestments that hide something until the Security Theatre uses its devices of superscience would be tempting Fate. On the other hand, they could not object to the Constitution being shown in plain sight. Right? Right. And I'm still waiting for that Brooklyn Bridge to be shipped to New Mexico.

#189 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2010, 01:19 PM:

c.f. Patrick @169...

I'll confess here to being surprised at the events summarized here. It's not that I didn't know how precarious a position Wikileaks occupies, but rather that I'm genuinely surprised that ICANN, Amazon, Paypal and various other supposedly neutral entities would cave in what seems like an effort coordinated by the U.S. government to suppress journalism.

A friend of mine recently pointed out that, back when I was still telling people that America hadn't yet become a fascist state, but that it was on the road to becoming one, this was one of my criteria for recognizing when the time had come to defect to the West. Hmmm.

#190 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2010, 04:27 PM:

Serge #188: Instead of the Brooklyn Bridge, perhaps you could settle for this one?

#191 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2010, 04:43 PM:

Thank you, poets. May your fate never be that of Cinna.

(IOW, God be merciful to thee, a Cinna?)

#192 ::: heckblazer ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2010, 11:39 PM:

Earl Cooley III @ #174:
"Perhaps it's stating the obvious, but it seems to me that many people might have a desire to donate with reasonable anonymity... something that's not going to happen in a country without sane or decent privacy laws, banking or otherwise."

I suspect those people wouldn't have been using Wikileaks' PayPal account back when it was active. And seriously, in the US and Western Europe I see no risk to donating to a legit legal defense fund, most especially when it's for a guy who has made it his mission to loudly publicize official and corporate wrongdoing. If someone did mess with donors, Wikileaks would very loudly expose the wrongdoing.

Note also that I'm making a distinction here from the donations to support Wikileaks itself. Those also give wire instructions to accounts in countries with bank secrecy, but there I see a colorable argument that donors risk a charge of something like funding terrorism. Plus, those accounts also aren't in Assange's own name.

Constance @ #186:
"These might help clarify what are valid arguments and / or criticisms for and against Assange himself, Wikileaks as an organization, and what the objective of Wikileaks may be, which does seem to be one of evolution rather than stasis."

Thanks! That gives me some confidence, since it looks like Assange is steadily learning and the stuff I find worrying is likely due to him flying by the seat of his pants (I suspect one big reason why the existing press resents Wikileaks is that he is publicly and proudly re-inventing the wheel).

To turn my criticism around and make it positive advice, I think Wikileaks needs to make its governance transparent because it will help it stay honest and keep its legitimacy. Given the precedent of Roman Polanski, I doubt a rape conviction would hurt Assange and Wikileaks very much. A solid conviction of wire fraud or insider trading, however, would completely destroy their credibility. The best way to prevent that is to have open governance since that way everyone can see Wikileaks is on the up-and-up while preventing the ability of someone to cook up evidence for false charges.

Peter Erwin @ #152:

“Wait -- Ahmadinejad assured us that it was a US plot directed against Iran!”

This is actually an example of why I think transparency would help Wikileaks. Because really, from the Iranian perspective you have this mysterious group that leaks American documents that do minimal harm to the current US government while hurting Iran. If it was clear that Wikileaks was not funded and operated by the CIA it would make it a lot harder for Ahmadinejad to claim otherwise with a straight face.

That also relates to why I think the hammer didn't come down earlier. The Afghan cable leak and the Iraq leak were different than the latest one. For the US they had real whistleblower content that also had the main effect of making the previous administration look bad. That makes stomaching them easier. For the other powers they mainly made the US look bad, and sticking it to the US is still a great way to gain political points. That's not so with the latest cable leak . It lacks evidence of wrongdoing that would justify it on whistleblower grounds, so as far as the US government is concerned Wikileaks has crossed the line from journalism into into plain old espionage. Worse, some of the stuff embarrasses the current government. These cables also reveal other countries' dirty laundry, which will tick off the governments involved. It also shows to those governments not directly affected that they could be next.

Threatening every government at the same time strikes me as a bad strategy, since it gives you nowhere to go to ground. OTOH, I think once Wikileaks publicly announced they had all of those diplomatic cables they had no choice but release them eventually. Up to now they've presented themselves as radical outsiders standing up to The Man. To suddenly backpedal saying “nevermind, we're not releasing these cables, they aren't that exciting” would make Wikileaks look like a sellout and alienate everyone who supported them and helped build it up to now.

#193 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2010, 05:31 AM:

heckblazer #192: Earl Cooley III @ #174: "Perhaps it's stating the obvious, but it seems to me that many people might have a desire to donate with reasonable anonymity... something that's not going to happen in a country without sane or decent privacy laws, banking or otherwise."

Careful with the attributions, please. xeger said that in #182, not me.

#194 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2010, 01:41 PM:

So, as of today, BBC is reporting that Assange's swiss bank account was frozen, and that he's soon to be arrested in the UK on a rape charge that originally popped up and then went away after the last leak.

Of course, this is entirely about neutrally and carefully following the rules, not about making an example of someone who pissed off the powerful.

Similarly, the demands by the administration that federal employees not look at the Wikileaks cables directly (depending on which agency, they may or may not be allowed to read them on their own computers at home, and they may or may not be allowed to read them on mainstream media sources) are simply about neutral enforcement of rules about classified information. As is the helpful advice offered to some Ivy League students w.r.t. not being seen to comment on or link to information about the leaks, lest they not be offered government jobs. Certainly, this isn't a thuggish attempt to silence discussion of these cables and the surrounding issues. We're not that kind of country, after all.

The patriotic hackers who keep the site under attack, the patriotic businesses who suddenly discover that doing business with Assange is violating their terms of service agreements, all this is spontaneous patriotism and public spirit.


#195 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2010, 05:46 AM:

He's been arrested in London. Of course the craven government of his (and my) country will do nothing to protect him, because our great and powerful allies might not like it. The Attorney General of Australia has been idly speculating about withdrawing his citizenship even before the arrest. People, never be a citizen of a craven vassal state, kay?

#196 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2010, 10:37 AM:

Yet another angle from the Chronicle of Higher Education: Why WikiLeaks Is Bad for Scholars

I'm a bit skeptical of his thesis, but there it is.

#197 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2010, 12:49 PM:

Dick Cheney needs to have the same sort of treatment as Assange; after all, they're both wanted by Interpol.

#198 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2010, 01:18 PM:

heckblazer@192

I don't think anyone's linked to it on this thread, but I seem to remember that there was a move to have Wikileaks designated as a terrorist organisation.

I assume that if that happened, anyone who dropped a large chunk of cash in Assange's direction would become indictable for 'material support' of terrorism. I wouldn't, myself, feel all that confident that public outrage would protect me in that sort of situation.

And I'm white, middle class, and (relatively) well-connected.

#199 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2010, 01:27 PM:

On designating wikileaks a terrorist organisation, see this.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/atlantic/20101130/cm_atlantic/iswikileaksaterroristorganization5978

Not currently what the State Dept wants, but the Republican who is in line to be Chair of the Homeland Security Committee is calling for it.

So apparently it all depends on whether Obama has got the backbone to stand behind his own officials on an issue like this. My impression is that he hasn't got that good a track record on issues that one might take to be related.

#200 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2010, 01:32 PM:

Juilan Assange and wikileaks aren't on the OFAC list. yet.

#201 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2010, 01:43 PM:

albatross @ 194: "The patriotic hackers who keep the site under attack, the patriotic businesses who suddenly discover that doing business with Assange is violating their terms of service agreements, all this is spontaneous patriotism and public spirit."

Of course! It's not at all like how in October the Chinese government halted rare earth exports to Japan over a territorial dispute--when they claimed "entrepreneurs in the industry had decided on their own to stop sending shipments to Japan because of their personal feelings toward Japan," that was just a patently false cover for their unofficial economic warfare. Our patriots coordinate their actions without any behind-the-scenes government manipulation. Thank goodness such a wide gulf separates us from those unaccountable, authoritarian foreign regimes.

#202 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2010, 01:52 PM:

heresiarch @ 201, albatross @ 194:

You know what: I'm normally inclined to be cynical about these things. But didn't Assange say that the next bunch of leaks would be from Bank of America?

Given that, it's not entirely impossible that that might have been enough to induce a few financial institutions to have 'patriotic feelings' without outside prompting.

#203 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2010, 02:05 PM:

Acccording to the Guardian Guardian the State Department has just released the following Press announcement:

The United States is pleased to announce that it will host Unesco's World Press Freedom Day event in 2011, from 1-3 May in Washington, DC.

And Senator Lieberman has apparently suggested prosecuting the New York Times under the Espionage Act.

On the topic of Karl Kraus, nothing much occurs to me.

#204 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2010, 02:32 PM:

And of course, Patrick got there on the front page 10 minutes before me; and without doing
this.

#205 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2010, 03:22 PM:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden @ 169: "There are things that amaze me because I didn't expect them; there are things I've known for a long time and which mostly inspire in me a tired sense of yes yes yes, that again, yes."

There's another category of things: those which I've known for a long time and still inspire me to heights of outrage and incredulity, or at least ought to. It seems to me the distinction between outrage and surprise is often collapsed in our usage simply because in life they generally do coincide; even horrific, awful things lose their frisson from sheer monotony. But their history and familiarity don't make them any less awful, and we ought to remain angry about them. That's how we change them. Cynicism is a survival strategy, not a revolutionary strategy.

Which is to say: I reserve the right to outraged at things which everyone already knows.

#206 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2010, 09:34 PM:

Another reason to hold them in contempt:
not covering Ralph fucking Nader so that people can actually understand where he's coming from and what he really is.
I'm seeing people talking about him as if he were a real third-party candidate, rather than a hit-and-run spoiler.

#207 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2010, 09:59 PM:

P J Evans @206: My husband is still pissed off at our state Green Party, because a couple of cycles ago, he voted for a particular non-loony Green Party presidential candidate ... who, two weeks after our primary, bowed out of the race and told all his delegates to vote for Nader. Stank of a setup to high heaven.

As my husband shouted then, "You idiot, if I'd wanted to vote for Nader, I'd have #$*&%ing VOTED for NADER!"

#208 ::: heckblazer ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2010, 03:06 AM:

Earl Cooley III @ #193
“Careful with the attributions, please. xeger said that in #182, not me. “

My apologies. Obviously I was careless.


#194 ::: albatross @ #194
“So, as of today, BBC is reporting that Assange's swiss bank account was frozen,”


That's why setting up a dedicated fund is a good idea. It shows that the funds really are purely for his legal defense, and makes it harder for governments to turn off the tap. I'm also not surprised that Swiss Post Finance froze his account on a technicality (I'd like to learn more about their terms but their website is still under a big DOS attack). Switzerland has been getting major heat in recent years over its bank secrecy (most recently over UBS actively selling tax evasion packages to Americans). Assange's money is small beer, and sacrificing him makes the US a bit happier.


“ and that he's soon to be arrested in the UK on a rape charge that originally popped up and then went away after the last leak. Of course, this is entirely about neutrally and carefully following the rules, not about making an example of someone who pissed off the powerful.”


The UK arrest should be expected. Assange has a warrant issued by a fellow EU state, and it's survived two appeals in that state's courts. The denial of bail is also what I expected, as he has shown himself to be a flight risk. It definitely an aggressive pursuit though.

Incidently, is there some dark secret about the Swedish judiciary that I'm missing? I'd understand fleeing China because of fear of a rigged trial, but Sweden? Rated the #4 least corrupt country in the world? (Note I am a paralegal, so I am predisposed to think the proper action is to show up at court.)


“Similarly, the demands by the administration that federal employees not look at the Wikileaks cables directly (depending on which agency, they may or may not be allowed to read them on their own computers at home, and they may or may not be allowed to read them on mainstream media sources) are simply about neutral enforcement of rules about classified information. “As is the helpful advice offered to some Ivy League students w.r.t. not being seen to comment on or link to information about the leaks, lest they not be offered government jobs. Certainly, this isn't a thuggish attempt to silence discussion of these cables and the surrounding issues. We're not that kind of country, after all.”


I spoke tonight with a friend who has a top secret clearance (and we all know that the friend of some guy on the internet is always right :), and he confirms that since the Wikileaks documents have not been declassified it is illegal for him to view them, full stop. He also says that having classified documents on a non-secure computer is also a no-no that can get you in major trouble (apparently the technical term is “spillage”). Given the policies in place and the high-profile nature of the leaks, I really do think that telling federal employees not to look at the docs is a PSA and not censorship.

I agree the student warning is just plain stupid; acting different when you lack the affirmative duty to protect secrets is different from when you do should be expected. Sadly I've gathered it is the routine sort of stupid that governs security risk calculations (Who should the CIA hire, a kid who just graduated from American University, Cairo, speaks fluent Arabic and Farsi, and regularly visits Iran, or the kid who graduated from Oberlin College with equally good academics who's a monoglot who's never stepped outside the great state of Ohio. The answer, of course, is the Ohio guy as he's the lower security risk).

Oh, and for the record I find calls for Assange's assassination to be disgusting, and proposals to try him in the US legally dubious and a dangerous precendant. I at first thought this went without saying, but upon reflection emotions are running high enough that it may not be so obvious.

#209 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2010, 09:22 AM:

Maybe he should hire Roman Polanski's defense team. Or his PR firm.

#210 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2010, 10:34 AM:

#208 heckblazer

Back when I had a top secret clearance, it was NOT illegal for people to read what was out in public, it WAS illegal to confirm it. The line, "I can neither confirm or deny" or "No comment" was a standard response/disclaimer regarding information out in public that the person might actually know something material about.

And I deplore the use of classification to protect the likes of Prescott Bush, Nazi associate who should have been charged with and convicted of collaboration with the Nazis but his buddies classified the information and buried it until long past the statute of limitations ran out, the 2001-2008 misadministration in all manner of vilenesses up to and including gross negligence and mismanagement and accessory to mass atrocity and mass destruction and mass murder (FBI Washington HQ brushing off field offices which were begging for warrants to do search and seizure on the 9/11 mass murders, one of the field office managers actually said he was trying to prevent someone "from flying a plane into the World Trade Center." -- the chain above him which blocked it, to me are guilty of at the least accessory to mass murder, destruction of property, and converting the USA into a police state) and all the other succoring and protection of those acting in harmful ways whose doings get covered over and obscured and hidden by classifying the information and blocking access to the informtion behind the stamps "For Official Use Only," "Confidential" "Secret" "Top Secret" etc. and charging anyone releasing such information with high crimes and misdemeanors

#211 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2010, 11:37 AM:

It's kind of disappointing that Wikileaks hasn't effectively zapped any of the criminals from the Bush administration.

#212 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2010, 01:34 PM:

#211: Yeah. I keep hoping that Bush White House emails are leaked. That's one boil that needs lancing.

It's also kind of disappointing that Wikileaks hasn't leaked suppressed arrest records and crime scene from the Glenn Beck Drunk After Hours in a Petting Zoo incident.

Hey, a guy can dream, right?

#213 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2010, 01:40 PM:

re 175: I have come across a report that the State Dept. repudiated this warning.

#214 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2010, 03:08 PM:

Quoting from a piece on the Atlantic's website by David Samuels:

It is a fact of the current media landscape that the chilling effect of threatened legal action routinely stops reporters and editors from pursuing stories that might serve the public interest - and anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or lying. Every honest reporter and editor in America knows that the fact that most news organizations are broke, combined with the increasing threat of aggressive legal action by deep-pocketed entities, private and public, has made it much harder for good reporters to do their jobs, and ripped a hole in the delicate fabric that holds our democracy together.

I would love to see comments from other people who know firsthand whether this is true. I have talked with a close friend of mine who worked for several years as a newspaper reporter before going to law school, and her take was that journalism in the US has gone way downhill in the last couple decades. In fact, her comments sounded like a longer version of what Pat Kight said in #12, above.

#215 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2010, 03:30 PM:

Another sideline: This old thread covers many of the same issues we're discussing here, in particular about whether the press is more likely to see an outsider like Assange (or any blogger) as one of "us" (a fellow journalist) or one of "them" (an outsider trying to horn in on the action).

#216 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2010, 06:32 PM:

C Wingate (196): I don't believe the leaks are bad for scholars, as they provide many more hooks on which to hang a paper. Why, one can write a paper from the pre-leaks perspective, and then another correcting oneself with post-leak information.

Earl Cooley III (197): Cheney would need need to leave the "secure undisclosed location", wouldn't he?

Finally, I agree with Heckblazer (at 208) that the best thing to do is to show up in court, especially if, as I have read, the maximum fine for what Assange is accused of is $715.

#217 ::: Lin D ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2010, 07:50 PM:

The thing I noticed about the State Department's warning to students is that the leaks have been going on for months, and the State Department is only now telling students not to look/post/comment. Does that mean anything seen/posted/commented on before the warning is ok?

#218 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2010, 11:57 AM:

Older:

From what I read on BBC, the potential sentence would be as long as four years in jail.

#219 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2010, 12:18 PM:

This is without question the most shocking cable released so far.

#220 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2010, 02:13 PM:

heresiarch @219 - that kind of content leaves you wondering what precisely reasons 1.4 (B) and (D) for classifying a cable are.

#221 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2010, 02:17 PM:

heresiarch @ 219: Congratulations. You are the first person to ever successfully do *that* to me. My instinct has never failed me when it comes to videos. (Well, instinct and that I mostly don't like watching videos all that much.)

#222 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2010, 02:27 PM:

heresiarch @219:

Yes, that one's of particular interest. I've been pointing it out to people on Twitter. It's definitely getting reactions in the wider 'sphere.

#223 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2010, 02:52 PM:

heresiarch @219: That is truly shocking! I can safely say I have never before seen such depravity.

#224 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2010, 06:01 PM:

I'm glad I'm not the only one reacting this way. When you come across something like that, you feel a little dizzy, a little crazy, like the world you're living in isn't quite the world you thought it was. You have this urge to share it, just to make sure that everyone else is seeing the same thing, shares the same sense of shock. It's a comfort to know I'm not alone.

#225 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2010, 12:11 AM:

I even managed to share it with a friend of mine -- also a government type -- and boy was she upset! The government has a lot to answer for!

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