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December 03, 2010

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I hear intelligence services got a lot of their intelligence from simply reading newspapers in the not too distant past.
But I guess that was before streamlining papers for profit by firing reporters and journalists took place.

Well, thanks for the shout-out, though I disagree with the analysis. Or, I should say, I agree with some of the points, but don't think that the outcome is something to be lauded. And I would point out that being willing to die for something isn't accountability, accountability is being willing to make amends, to try and correct errors, taking responsibility. Dumping a quarter of a million diplomatic cables in public view doesn't seem like that. And being willing to die for something still doesn't make it a good idea.

zunguzungu's piece is interesting, but it disturbs me because of Assange's apparent view of any large organization that has privileged communication is a conspiracy. I suppose this is why wikileaks posted the secret initiation rituals of Alpha Sigma Tau. And Sarah Palin's Yahoo email. The original model, which was based on wikipedia software, was that anyone could post anything. From the piece

a conspiracy is something fairly banal, simply any network of associates who act in concert by hiding their concerted association from outsiders, an authority that proceeds by preventing its activities from being visible enough to provoke counter-reaction. It might be something as dramatic as a loose coalition of conspirators working to start a war with Iraq/n, or it might simply be the banal, everyday deceptions and conspiracies of normal diplomatic procedure.

'the conspiracies of normal diplomatic procedure'. Next, the conspiracies of me talking to other people on the internet using my real name, the conspiracies of a family having things that they don't tell outsiders about, the conspiracy of a group of teachers deciding on grades for a group of students. All of these become fair game. Groups of people seem to be essential for getting things done, and zunguzungu seems to describe someone who doesn't believe any group can have a good reason to keep information out of public distribution. I suppose this is anarchistic in one sense of the word, but I don't see how it is related to philosophical anarchism or even the anarchism of Le Guin.

You (or zuzunga?) argue that it is only authoritarian organizations that are going to get dinged, but I'm having a hard time seeing the State Department as an authoritarian organization. Rather, it was the low hanging fruit in this scenario. If you want to make the argument that the State Department is just an extension of the conspiracy that is the US government and the US government needs to be exposed as such a conspiracy, then what precisely isn't fair game? Certainly every branch branch of government would be, and I'm having a hard time seeing why any American citizen wouldn't also be a target. And, as Assange says

Conspiracies are cognitive devices. They are able to outthink the same group of individuals acting alone Conspiracies take information about the world in which they operate (the conspiratorial environment), pass through the conspirators and then act on the result. We can see conspiracies as a type of device that has inputs (information about the environment), a computational network (the conspirators and their links to each other) and outputs (actions intending to change or maintain the environment).

I don't see how anything prevents you from defining any group that operates in the US as a conspiracy. And, as zunguzungu adds:

This is however, not where Assange’s reasoning leads him. He decides, instead, that the most effective way to attack this kind of organization would be to make “leaks” a fundamental part of the conspiracy’s information environment. Which is why the point is not that particular leaks are specifically effective. Wikileaks does not leak something like the “Collateral Murder” video as a way of putting an end to that particular military tactic; that would be to target a specific leg of the hydra even as it grows two more. Instead, the idea is that increasing the porousness of the conspiracy’s information system will impede its functioning, that the conspiracy will turn against itself in self-defense, clamping down on its own information flows in ways that will then impede its own cognitive function. You destroy the conspiracy, in other words, by making it so paranoid of itself that it can no longer conspire:

If we accept this as a true explanation, any communication that you might not feel comfortable having out in public is evidence that you are doing something wrong. And even if you don't think it is wrong, given the full context, if someone decides to take it out of context and force you to explain that context. Is that the sort of systems we want?

My first comment about this was concern about the trust engendered by private communication and how public viewing of that communication and that is still the crux of my problem.

For instance, the Project for a New American Century was a forthright, open collaboration for imperialistic warmonging. If conspiracies require secrecy, it was no conspiracy.

A standard liberal narrative about Iraq is that the government lied to Americans in the runup to war, and that those lies were crucial in gaining political support for the invasion.

Your narrative, on the other hand, seems to suggest that government officials were, in the main, honestly mistaken.

PNAC, in any event, was the public face of the conspiracy, not the conspiracy itself. Every corporation, every government and indeed many conspiracies engage in public outreach, but the fact that part of a conspiracy is conducted in public doesn't indicate that secrecy isn't also crucial to that conspiracy.

Hah, as I was about to say... what politicalfootball said re: PNAC.

In the other thread russell and liberal japonicus, among others, say they distrust Assange because he has no "accountability" -- but he is, in fact, putting his life on the line by his actions.

Oddly enough, "putting your life on the line" is not necessarily the same thing as "being accountable".

Look, straight up, diplomacy requires some amount of confidentiality. Maybe it shouldn't be that way, maybe everyone should just discuss everything in the open so that everyone involved can be aware of every option and position taken.

Come on people now, smile on your brother. Everybody get together, try to love one another right now.

I'm sure you take my point.

Assange believes that secrecy fosters bad governance. That's a very good point.

Assange's solution is to undermine the secrecy part, by exposing whatever he can get his hands on.

You are correct, he is something like a revolutionary. On another blog, a Guy I Know And Respect referred to him as a monkey-wrencher. That's probably a more apt description.

He's taking direct action to make secrecy impractical.

The particular direct action he is taking is to deliberately screw with US diplomatic relations in a fairly random manner.

Maybe there are some opportunities for serious blundering there. Don't you think?

I have no problem with people who "choosing, accept(s) the responsibility of choice".

But Assange is not just choosing for himself. He's "choosing" for, literally, everybody in whole freaking world.

I'd rather he didn't. I don't think he has the chops to choose well, at that scale.

Does this now make it wrong for those conservatives to have hacked those climate scientists' e-mails to falsely claim that they proved that those scientists faked global warming measures and launch the fraud called "Climategate"?

Look, if Assange wants to be all transparent and everything, he can begin by telling us all where he's staying these days.

But he won't do that. And he shouldn't. Because the consequences for him would likely be fairly harsh. Not that they *should* be, just they they likely *would* be.

And whatever folks, if any, who know where he's staying these days should likewise not tell the rest of the freaking world about it.

Because it'll be his hide, not theirs. It's not their choice to make.

Hope you see where I'm going with this.

i'll repeat what i wrote on Balloon Juice:

meh.

i don’t buy Assange’s rationalizations. to me, he looks like a guy who enjoys waving his ass at authority but wants to look like a high-minded revolutionary while he does it.

"hope you see where I'm going with this"

False equivalence avenue? PEOPLE WILL DIE roundabout? No really I'm not sure.

"Because it'll be his hide, not theirs. It's not their choice to make.

Hope you see where I'm going with this."

You're equating a vast government apparatus with one person. The privacy issues are quite different.


"He's "choosing" for, literally, everybody in whole freaking world."

Happens all the time. Scientists who do research are the most notorious examples--if they weren't so damn curious we wouldn't have nuclear weapons. Obama chooses for the whole freaking world and the fact that he was elected doesn't comfort me in the slightest. Elections are only tools for choosing between a handful of people who claim they are going to do various things about a zillion different issues--you can't break it down issue by issue and half the time the politician is lying anyway. Ellsberg chose for the whole world. So do investigative journalists. Etc...

If we had a system of checks and balances that functioned the way it is taught in high school civics classes, maybe the US wouldn't be engaged in Iraq-style war crimes every generation. Or maybe we would--I don't know. I applaud wikileaks because there are no checks to government power that mean very much and it's nice to see someone trying to do something about it.

Cool.

To be honest, cleek has pretty much summed up my feelings about Assange in about two sentences.

US foreign policy is crap, because it's predicated on our sense that we are so special that deserve to rule the world.

If you think Wikileaks is going to substantially change that by ushering in a new age of transparent government, then Assange is your guy.

Personally, I think he's kind of a jerk. He's a sh*t-stirrer.

There's a place for that, and in general I have no huge issue with Assange and/or Wikileaks one way or the other. Some of what they have done, and will likely continue to do, will be helpful, some will be harmful crap. The nature of the project is that they don't make any judgement about that, whatever comes in is what goes out.

The diplomatic dump, specifically, was IMO ill-conceived, because the *useful and legitimate function* of diplomacy requires confidentiality.

That's just the reality of the situation, for good or ill.

But net/net, I wish them luck, and hope nobody gets shot.

And with that, I will bow out of the Wikileaks debate, because I think I've said every useful thing I have to say on the topic.

If we had a system of checks and balances that functioned the way it is taught in high school civics classes, maybe the US wouldn't be engaged in Iraq-style war crimes every generation.

If we didn't have a huge standing army, and if we required Congress to declare war before commiting US troops to any foreign engagement, and if we didn't think we needed to run the whole world thus requiring permanent US military presence everywhere around the globe, and if we didn't use the US military to secure "US interests" consisting of economic investments, and if our economy was not completely reliant on energy sources that we are a net importer of, we would not find ourselves in Iraq-style war crimes every generation.

Feel free to add your own favorites to the list.

If Assange is going to fix all of that, he's got his work cut out for him.

Plus, it's not his job. It's ours.

If you want a job done right, do it yourself.

From what I can see, for Mr. Assange (as for most of the conspiracy theory enthusiasts I know, and I know several), "conspiracy" is equivalent to "any group which does things that I disapprove of." Any group which does things that he approves of, no matter how secretive, is not a conspiracy by definition.

In general, I have observed that most conspiracy theorists (I can't speak directly to Mr. Assange) have an amazingly high opinion of the general competency of those they believe are conspiring. Having spent a fair amount of time in various large organizations, I think that they all could stand to internalize this: "Never attribute to conspiracy what can be adequately explained by stupidity (or incompetence)."

And, while I am (probably over-) generalizing, all of the anarchists that I have encountered have had an amazing view of the probable behavior of people in their ideal world. For the most part, this seems to come down to "I would behave reasonably and fairly towards all others in that situation, therefore everybody else in the world would too." Even making the optimistic assumption that the vast majority would do so, experience indicates that there would be a significant number who would take advantage of the situation.

Which, IHMO, is a major reason why governments came into existence in the first place: the need for some kind of collective security. Because, for anything beyond most primitive existence (and in a location far from anybody else), anything you have is going to attract the avariciousness of someone who finds it easier to just grab it from you than to make/earn it himself.

He's a sh*t-stirrer.

I'd just observe that the term represents an Aussie archetype and runs the gamut from troll or troublemaker to a person who stands up to authority and speaks truth to power. It is the first category in the Melbourne Age's '50 Australians who matter' and can be seen in this obit of an Aussie Anglican priest.

For instance, the Project for a New American Century was a forthright, open collaboration for imperialistic warmonging. If conspiracies require secrecy, it was no conspiracy.

But PNAC was remarkably well hidden, and being well hidden is just another form of secrecy. One thing that helped hide PNAC was media incompetency. If the media responded to PNAC's efforts in the 90s by writing stories describing them as an insane organization devoted to killing many Arabs just because, maybe things would have been different. But because a lot of people in DC and in the media are, frankly, not very bright, they'll believe all kinds of absurd ideas about Arabs.

I mean, PNAC is a Straussian organization, no? Isn't the whole basis of such groups the belief that only a few select men should rule the country while the electoral sheep should be manipulated into doing what the elite want through propaganda and lies? Isn't Strauss' neoconservatism inherently conspiratorial? Or am I missing something?

And then there are injustices like racism, overt or structural. People's actions can match up to promote injustice without there ever been overt, or even conscious, collaboration: it's a conspiracy of *culture*, not secrecy.

Antibiotics don't cure cancer. But you would never say "therefore, they're stupid and no one should use them". If Assange is right, you are absolutely correct that his "solution" won't solve all problems. But that doesn't tell us whether or not it will solve some very big very important problems.

On the facts, I agree with almost all of what russell says, but I arrive at a different conclusion. Says russell:

Assange believes that secrecy fosters bad governance.

This is the radical part of Assange's critique of government, but it remains an open question exactly how radical Assange really is.

We know that he does not release information indiscriminately - else the latest info dump would have taken place months ago.

But his decision-making process is non-transparent. I get the sense that it is not secrecy that Assange opposes, but the secrecy of tyrannical regimes (with tyranny defined by Assange - another good point that russell makes.)

I'm fascinated by this. I think the U.S. and the world are in deep trouble, and I agree with Assange that misuse of the control of the flow of information is a key cause.

Assange's weapon is - again, as russell says - a monkey wrench. Where russell and I disagree is that I think there's a strong argument to be made in favor of carefully targeted sabotage, and it looks to me as though Assange has been pretty darn careful.

I'd add that Assange's influence is constructive for traditional muck-raking reasons: "Sunlight is the best disinfectant." We've learned a lot from Assange about how the world functions, and that's intrinsically a good thing.

I mean, PNAC is a Straussian organization, no? Isn't the whole basis of such groups the belief that only a few select men should rule the country while the electoral sheep should be manipulated into doing what the elite want through propaganda and lies? Isn't Strauss' neoconservatism inherently conspiratorial? Or am I missing something?

Yes, yes, yes, no.

And thanks for calling that out.

I am not of the "my country right or wrong" school. Yet, the United States is my country. I don't particularly care for someone waging cyber warfare against my country, even if in the course of doing so documents are disclosed that reveal something less than complimentary about the US. We don't know how much harm will be done by this. Sen. Feinstein, not known for her hawkish tendencies, seemed pretty shaken yesterday when she declared Assange's actions to be espionage. This implies, from a source I would take as reliable, that real harm was done to legitimate US interests. How can anyone think this is a good thing, that is anyone who cares for the US?

The particular direct action he is taking is to deliberately screw with US diplomatic relations in a fairly random manner.

I don't see evidence that anything is actually getting screwed up.

Maybe there are some opportunities for serious blundering there. Don't you think?

It is certainly possible. But it is extremely hard to say. We have no independent experts. The only people with inside knowledge are interested parties.

Look, the US government establishes petty tyrants all over the world opening up similar opportunities for serious blundering. And no one cares. Its fine. No one faces any social sanction for that at all. So what's the big deal with Assange?

i don’t buy Assange’s rationalizations. to me, he looks like a guy who enjoys waving his ass at authority but wants to look like a high-minded revolutionary while he does it.

I mostly agree with you. But what did you expect? Assume for a moment that the only way we're ever going to rein in the national security state is with Wikileaks like actions. Well, who wants to sign up to be the public face of Wikileaks? Anyone?

I sure as hell don't. I want a normal life with job and kids and a spouse. I don't think the public face of Wikileaks can have that. I mean, I work for a company that does a lot of business with the US government. I can't do what Assange does; I'd be fired immediately. Even if I wasn't, my wife gets government grants; she'd lose them. The truth is, if you buy into Assange's assumptions, the only kind of person who can pull this off is someone who is basically a bit of an asshole, a bit of an egomaniac, a crusader, someone who's not quite right. That's just a structural fact. It is just like saying that politicians in the US tend to be egomaniacial assholes -- it comes out of the structure of the system. Its not about individuals and their pathologies. Its the system.

This is not journalism, this is meta-journalism. This is revolution -- or at least, it's trying to be.
That's why Wikileaks isn't doing what some people want and editing the dumps to include only the important stuff.

This is correct, but I'd add that Assange is also addressing a key failure of journalism in its gatekeeper function. The media have done a lousy job of separating what's important from what's not. Assange is democratizing that function.

zunguzungu's original post is a demonstration of how corrupt the media have become. Despite the fact that Assange is an important public figure with radical ideas and the ability to act on them, the media's response has largely to ignore his motivations and focus on gossip.

Groups of people seem to be essential for getting things done, and zunguzungu seems to describe someone who doesn't believe any group can have a good reason to keep information out of public distribution.

You seem to be taking issue with Facebook, not Wikileaks.

Wikileaks is rather obviously not about posting pictures of you in your underwear. It is about publishing the work product of powerful people involved in politics and large business, which said powerful people do not wish for the rest of us to know.

To complain that Assange is somehow encouraging the invasion of random people's privacy is to be terribly confused.

If Assange is going to fix all of that, he's got his work cut out for him.

Plus, it's not his job. It's ours.

We've failed.

I don't know how to make this any simpler, but we don't know how to rein in the US national security state. Recently, the US national security state decided to start a war for no reason that killed a million people. And no one has suffered. No one has faced even a slap on the wrist for that. As long as no one pays the price, this is going to keep happening. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday, probably sooner than we'd like.

Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, couldn't make the military industrial complex bend to his will -- and it is very clear that Obama can't. This isn't the kind of problem you can fix by electing the right leader. I have no clue how to stop it. I don't think you do either. "Just try harder" is not a solution; we literally don't know how to fix this problem.

Assange thinks he has a solution. Sometimes I look at it and it seems crazy, and sometimes it seems brilliant, but it is something new and different. It has a chance of working, whereas all of our failed ideas don't. We've failed and we need help. We can't be too proud to accept help from wherever it comes. When people are stumped, the new guy trying crazy stuff may be the only solution. Or he might be a crazy guy who accomplishes nothing. Only time will tell. But let's at least be honest about our failure and our need for new solutions.

I think it's even worse than that: it's about caste-based access to information, without regard to its importance. The fact that something is Top Secret and thus not available to just anyone makes it special and significant, and makes the vetted clearance-holder feel special and significant, too. And the social cachet of Secret Knowledge completely overwhelms the fact that non-secret knowledge (a.k.a. "Science") is, scientifically speaking, objectively *better* knowledge.

Daniel Ellsberg talks about this some, in his book about the Pentagon Papers ("Secrets:..." 2003), re: Kissinger, and how "outsiders" were ignored by "insiders". The secrecy creates a form of blindness.

The privileged (government, big organizations) knows everything it *wants* to know about YOU, always has, always will. The past 50 years has given common people the illusion of privacy, while it has always been the exclusive preserve of the powerful and privileged.

You're not going to get that privacy back, but you can level the playing field by exposing the machinations of the powerful.

If you want a job done right, do it yourself.

Isn't that what Assange is doing, russell? Or do you strictly limit this to Americans?

Turbulence says: "But because a lot of people in DC and in the media are, frankly, not very bright, they'll believe all kinds of absurd ideas about Arabs."

Right, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. The fact is, no matter how many file cabinets are spilled into the street, there are way too many people in the country who won't read them, who will believe anything they're told, or whose judgments are made through parochialism and prejudice, rather than reason and analysis. That's why Assange isn't going to make a positive difference. The only thing that can come of the document dump is that people will cherry pick whatever morsel of data that might support their particular point of view. Because although the vast body of data, as a whole, may show a functional and appropriate government, there are sure to be a few scintillating "good parts" to satisfy everyone's apparent need to point fingers and say "I told you so!"

"You're equating a vast government apparatus with one person. The privacy issues are quite different."

Really? Not according to the philosophy talked about above. He has defined conspiracy to essentially mean any formal governmental structure which keeps information, especially information about decision making, private. He justifies this by suggesting that the desire to keep it private is by definition a bad motive. So are there large businesses and governments that keep information secret for what we traditionally see as legitimate reasons? Yes there are.

We just saw that he is willing indiscriminately dump diplomatic communications.

How about abortion doctor's patient lists? What evil are they trying to hide?

Banks with client financial data? Why are people trying to hide their day to day financial data? Think of all the nefarious things that could be uncovered if it were all open.

Hospital patient data? Think of all the good that could be done in the world if that were 100% published and then scientists could use it for research.

Psychologist evaluations of their patients? Why are people trying to hide that? Think of how much better the world would be if we could see how screwed up many of us were and we normalized that.

His philosophy, at least as expressed, is not self limiting.

Through governmental action we have crafted all sorts of structures around privacy. Maybe they aren't the perfect ones, but we still have tried hard to create institutional arrangements which strike an appropriate balance between privacy concerns and public concerns. Assange is pretty much asserting that any such institutional arrangement that he believes is imperfectly crafted or immoral shall be destroyed.

The only reason some of you aren't complaining, is because he doesn't seem to be concerned that secrecy between an abortion doctor and patient is immoral. But that is just lucky, right? Because all his rhetoric about secret dealing suggesting a strong inference of evil deeds could easily apply to that. He isn't interested in wrestled-through institutional arrangements for secrecy and why they might exist. We've already seen that in the indiscriminate diplomatic dumps. Why are you so convinced that the institutional arrangements regarding secrecy that you actually like are going to be sacrosanct?

Assange said: "Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.

Only revealed injustice can be answered; for man to do anything intelligent he has to know what's actually going on."

That sounds like something Scott Roeder could have said. And if he had leaked Tiller's client list instead of killing him, THAT would have been ok, right?

I wish people would stop arguing as though diplomacy and secrecy have been rendered impossible, or that they even could. Less secrecy doesn't mean no secrecy, and less secret diplomacy doesn't mean no diplomacy.

That sounds like something Scott Roeder could have said. And if he had leaked Tiller's client list instead of killing him, THAT would have been ok, right?

It would depend on your agreeing with the premise of an unjust system or not.

Anyone care to discuss why Assange selects the US over say, the PRC, Russia or NKorea, as the epitome of evil?

This thread is further evidence of progressives' collective lack of seriousness when it comes to matters of national security. We have full and free debate over defense spending, civil rights, foreign policy, etc. The consensus that our gov't, like every other gov't, has legitimate security interests that should remain secret crosses party lines, apparently up to the point where progressives sit. Assange's declared intent is to damage our country and ours alone. This point seems irrelevant to many here.

the only kind of person who can pull this off is someone who is basically a bit of an asshole, a bit of an egomaniac, a crusader, someone who's not quite right.

I don't know how to make this any simpler, but we don't know how to rein in the US national security state.

Isn't that what Assange is doing, russell?

All good points. Not looking to wade back in, just noting that there are good arguments both ways.

"It would depend on your agreeing with the premise of an unjust system or not."

But pretty much no one is going to always agree with Assange's appraisal of what counts as an unjust system? Right?

Sebastian--

I've already said on the other thread that there are some things I don't want to see leaked--private medical records, Social Security numbers, helpful plans for constructing nuclear weapons. If someone leaks that sort of information I will call that person an asshole and gladly see him or her prosecuted and sent to prison. I'm perfectly aware that there are hackers out there who'd do that sort of thing or maybe sell private information and of course there's also our government doing God knows what behind the scenes. The fact that I applaud wikileaks for exposing yet more evidence of bad behavior by the US and its allies doesn't in any way compel me to cheer for someone else exposing private medical records and it's bizarre that you apparently think it should. The same is true for the press. I'm glad the Pentagon Papers were stolen and published, but that doesn't commit me to the notion that it would be okay for the NYT to expose the private lives of ordinary people for no justifiable purpose. What is so hard to understand about this?

There is room for improvement in what wikileaks is doing, but I hope they thrive, because we need groups like this and I like the idea of government officials being made nervous that their confidential sleazy activities might be exposed.

Also, what Turb said. Yes, it's our job to make sure that America doesn't have an imperial foreign policy and doesn't commit war crimes, but we're not doing our job.
Every four years we are told that we have to vote for the Democrat or someone worse will get in. That's a compelling argument, but it also means that those of us who follow that advice are flushing our vote down the toilet if we wish to hold our politicians to hold our war criminals to account. That's fine--voting is overrated anyway and picking the lesser of two evils (I mean the word literally) is all it's good for. Wikileaks is one of the few organizations trying to do something about this situation and I agree with Greenwald that the negative reactions people have towards it confirms what a sick society we are.

"Assange's declared intent is to damage our country and ours alone. This point seems irrelevant to many here."

McKinney, I don't think that is true. The reason he doesn't get as many document dumps from Russia or China, is very likely because any person leaking such documents, or suspected of leaking such documents, is more likely to wake up dead--not because Assange wouldn't publish them.

Which of course reveals a slight problem with Assange's philosophy. There is no law of nature which says that authoritarian structures HAVE to respond to this by being more open. They could respond to this by becoming much more oppressive. In which case he has likely made everyone's lives worse off.

"This thread is further evidence of progressives' collective lack of seriousness when it comes to matters of national security."

That's ridiculous. I'm a "progressive" or "liberal" and I'm against Assange's techniques. John Kyl is a conservative and he's against ratifying the START treaty. This isn't a liberal versus conservative debate. It's a deeper debate about how we believe government institutions best function.

The consensus that our gov't, like every other gov't, has legitimate security interests that should remain secret crosses party lines, apparently up to the point where progressives sit.

Also an extremely good point.

Not everything the US does under veil of secrecy is evil, or bad, or harmful.

Assange does not, and does not even intend to, discriminate between what's good and what's not good. He just wants the lid off, and the chips can fall where they may.

If you think things are so rotten that that it's better to let good things as well as bad things be put at risk, you'll see all of this one way.

If you think things are maybe not quite that bad, or even that preserving what's good is more important than exposing what's bad, then maybe not.

Everyone will have to make their own assessment.

But I'm in agreement with McK here. There might not be a "smoking gun" at the moment pointing to a clear causal relationship between Wikileaks disclosures and the compromising of something important and worthwhile, but any reasonable assessment of the risk needs to recognize that they are highly likely to create some damage.

I can't tell you which is better or worse. I'm temperamentally averse to blowing stuff up just to see what happens, so I'm less sympathetic to the Wikileaks project.

Donald Johnson: "I've already said on the other thread that there are some things I don't want to see leaked--private medical records, Social Security numbers, helpful plans for constructing nuclear weapons."

Cool - are you King? There are laws that protect certain kinds of information - why aren't you working to overturn those laws?. We live in a society that has elected people that have made laws that you don't like. So you, because you don't like them, take it as your right to make sure what you want to have happen happens anyway?

I admit, I'm conflicted about the results of the democratic experiment, just like a lot of other people here. But I think we abandon it at our peril. And we do abandon it when we say: Oh, the leaders I voted for aren't checking off everything on my list of agenda items. Therefore; I will use subversive tactics, which may be harmful to others, to override the apparent will of the people [as evidenced by the people who have been voted into power] to make my own agenda items happen.

That sounds great until malevolent people want to implement their agenda using those same means. Then you'll be chanting "Rule of Law!"

Assange's declared intent is to damage our country and ours alone.

This is flat-out false.

Or to put it another way, "this is further evidence that conservatives operate on the assumption that if it's not happening to Americans, it isn't happening at all."

There is no law of nature which says that authoritarian structures HAVE to respond to this by being more open.

Sebastian, I think that pretty well nails a major flaw in Mr. Assange's philosophy. He believes that, by making as much information available as possible, the organizations which are evilly conspiring to do things that he disapproves of will be forced to stop. But in reality, the most likely reaction will be for them (or, at least, those who are really the kinds of evil conspiracies he believe them to be) to become more repressive.

That is, his approach will only work with the groups that he targets which are not, in fact, the kind of evil conspiracies he says he objects to.

"We live in a society that has elected people that have made laws that you don't like. So you, because you don't like them, take it as your right to make sure what you want to have happen happens anyway?"

We do? I thought we lived in a society that passes laws against torture and then doesn't enforce them or prosecute lawbreakers. Are you an American? See, where I live it's weird. It's almost as though the system doesn't work the way it's taught in high school civics class.

Powerful people commit war crimes and get away with it ALL THE FRIGGING TIME and in that context if some hacker gets hold of classified information that embarrasses the powerful I somehow can't help myself if I start cheering.

Also, I take it then that you think Daniel Ellsberg should be jailed and when newspapers publish classified leaked documents we should side with prosecutors and throw the reporters in jail until they cough up the names of their sources. Freedom of speech doesn't mean you get to benefit from other people's lawbreaking, I guess. So what the hell is Daniel Ellsberg doing running around loose? He's corrupted the minds of a generation and now we see the fruits of his misbegotten felonious act--people like me cheering for wikileaks. Shame on you Ellsberg.

There is room for improvement in what wikileaks is doing, but I hope they thrive, because we need groups like this and I like the idea of government officials being made nervous that their confidential sleazy activities might be exposed.

I applaud wikileaks because there are no checks to government power that mean very much and it's nice to see someone trying to do something about it.

I find these views completely mystifying. Completely.

McKinney, I don't think that is true. The reason he doesn't get as many document dumps from Russia or China, is very likely because any person leaking such documents, or suspected of leaking such documents, is more likely to wake up dead--not because Assange wouldn't publish them.

Has he leaked anything from the PRC or Russia? I agree a leaker in either country would be executed. That doesn't mean that there aren't many who, in fact, do risk their lives everyday trying to resist those regimes.

But what really gets me is the celebratory attitude of so many in this thread. It is incomprehensible.

That's ridiculous. I'm a "progressive" or "liberal" and I'm against Assange's techniques. . . . This isn't a liberal versus conservative debate. It's a deeper debate about how we believe government institutions best function.

Liberals and conservatives seem to be in agreement--this is a hostile act of espionage against our country. You know, kind of like an attack that doesn't immediately kill anyone but likely will on down the line. Plus it will impair any administration's efforts to advance US interests. Why so many here are debating whether his approach is "right" or "wrong" in some philosophical sense is beyond me.

If the liberal take on responsible citizenship is that extralegal attacks on US interests are defensible in cases where US policy is not on the liberal-approved list, then just say so. But say it loudly and publicly, in the interest of that openness and full disclosure Assange is being applauded for serving so everyone else will have a chance to know who to vote for, and then plan to be the smallest political party of the 21st century.

This isn't liberal vs. conservative. It's a subset--how large a subset I don't know--of theprogressive/far left fixation with the US as a fundamentally corrupt entity and quite deserving of what Assange has.

I guess the final irony is the high regard progressives claim to have for diplomacy, exactly the arm of our gov't that has taken a direct hit.

Assange's declared intent is to damage our country and ours alone.

This is flat-out false.

Or to put it another way, "this is further evidence that conservatives operate on the assumption that if it's not happening to Americans, it isn't happening at all."

UK, I am always happy to be corrected. If Assange has the goods on Russia, and if he publishes, I'll be the first to cheer. I made the statement you quoted because I've seen nothing from Assange except anti-Americanism.

I will point out, though, that your criticism is on a minor, collateral issue. Care to address my main point?

"So what the hell is Daniel Ellsberg doing running around loose?"

Because his trial was declared a mistrial, because rule of law worked. He might be running around loose for a number of other reasons if his trial had not been declared a mistrial, say, perhaps because the court might have ruled that the Espionage Act was unconstitutional. Again, rule of law might have worked.

I agree that something has gone badly wrong that the torturers weren't prosecuted. But there are reasons for that other than the fact that the entire system is bad, or even that Obama isn't doing his job. The federal judiciary is filled with Republican [I would like to use another term] judges that would decide any case against our government's former leaders purely on political grounds. And as for the Spanish courts deciding these issues, there are a lot of reasons why the State Department would not be doing its job to sit idly by for that.

So yes, I agree that the country is in deep trouble, but what's really wrong with the country is the people.

Scientists who do research are the most notorious examples--if they weren't so damn curious we wouldn't have nuclear weapons.

Probably we wouldn't have nuclear weapons until some large government with lots of cash and a desire to build a nuclear device for the purpose of destroying large numbers of buildings, human beings & other valuables decided we'd build a few.

I don't know that the curiosity of scientists typically results in multibillion dollar superweapon programs.

Which I think is a good thing, FWIW.

But sure, they were curious about unearthing all of the knowledge that made them suspect the possibility that one could build such a device.

I'll be offline for a few hours and like Russell, I think I've said what I have to say, or will after this.

I'm actually not a revolutionary, or not the violent kind. Violent revolutions almost always end badly, IMO. And if we lived in a country where the powerful were held accountable for their crimes (and I do not consider losing an election for a complex set of reasons having nothing to do with any war crimes committed "accountability") then I'd probably take a dim view of people trying to muck up a system that with inevitable flaws seemed to play fair for everyone.

We don't live in that country and so, sapient, when you come at me with this stuff about "rule of law" you sound like someone on another planet. I said this two days ago and evidently none of it sank in. If I stick around I'll probably be saying it several more times.

Since we live in this world, I will continue to cheer for groups like wikileaks which expose the wrongdoing and sleaziness that, yes, Democrats and Republicans, diplomats even, are sometimes involved in. This doesn't mean wikileaks shouldn't clean up its act in certain ways, but I'm not going to get too upset over their (horrors) publication of illegally obtained classified documents.

Sapient, having read your last two posts addressed to DJ, I amend my last post to note that you are, indeed, arguing from a traditional liberal standpoint. DJ is not. Not even close.

Correction, Sapient, my post at 12:50 p.m. is amended.

McKinney, thank you for the acknowledgment. I still believe in our system of government, in a strong functional government (knowing that some dysfunction is inevitable). I share many progressives' frustration that the government has become more dysfunctional than is tolerable. But I don't think that tearing the government down (even nonviolently) is the answer.

It's remarkable reading a thread filled with so many people saying things about Wikileaks' actions that Julian Assange himself denies. By "remarkable," I mean, of course, just like the mainstream media. But seriously; Assange in interviews talks quite a bit about how they go about deciding when to publish and when not to publish; you can decide he's full of shit if you want, but my sense is that you simply don't *know* that he says these things, and would prefer not to know, so that you can continue being hyperbolic. Or that he only targets the US. That's just demonstrably false; wikileaks has leaked material from around the world and its only your own patriotic narcissism (or that of the MSM) that makes it impossible for you to see that.

Why do conspiracy theorists imagine that they are worth conspiring against?

Regardless of what anyone thinks, we're going to try Assange's experiment. I don't know what the result will be. But seeing as how no one here as any idea how to prevent the next pointless war that kills a million people, let alone make restitution to the families of the last million people we're responsible for killing, I'm willing to experiment.

It feels to me like a lot of the anger directed at Assange stems from powerlessness -- people feel this guy is destabilizing their world order and they know that there's nothing that can be done. If that's the case, congratulations! Now you know how people around the world feel when the US invades their country.

I'm in the same boat as Donald. I don't think there's much more that I can say that hasn't already been said.

If Assange has the goods on Russia, and if he publishes, I'll be the first to cheer.

So you approve or disapprove of his methods depending on his targets, and not on the actual wrongdoings that are being exposed. Assange can go after Russia, because they're Bad Guys. But we're Good Guys. Is that it?

I will point out, though, that your criticism is on a minor, collateral issue. Care to address my main point?

It's not a minor issue. There is a hell of a big difference between someone who's attacking the US as the root of all evil in the world and someone who's fighting for accountability wherever that fight can be waged.

On your "main point," I really have nothing to add to what Donald Johnson (and Jacob Davies and others) have been saying, repeatedly -- in the total absence of accountability, transparency, and the rule of law, you make do with what you have.

Plus it will impair any administration's efforts to advance US interests.

McK, I've been around long enough to know how to translate this from Serious Foreign Policy Speak to plain English:

"It might be marginally more difficult to gin up a fig-leaf international 'coalition' the next time we decide to throw some crappy little country against the wall."

Yeah, that would suck, wouldn't it?

Look, if Assange wants to be all transparent and everything, he can begin by telling us all where he's staying these days.

But he won't do that.

the British police, the BBC says, know where he is. "We all" know who his British lawyer is, and his lawyer knows where he is. I see no reason why he should tell "us all" where he is so any crazy can take a pop at him, I really think that would be taking "accountability" too far. Equally -- if we have to make these comparisons -- a POTUS shouldn't be required to tell us where s/he is, at all times, the important thing is that s/he can be reached in case of national need. Assange can, it seems, be reached in case of need.

but my sense is that you simply don't *know* that he says these things, and would prefer not to know, so that you can continue being hyperbolic. Or that he only targets the US. That's just demonstrably false; wikileaks has leaked material from around the world and its only your own patriotic narcissism (or that of the MSM) that makes it impossible for you to see that.

I concede I haven't read everything the man has said. So what if I got that detail wrong? Your use of the descriptor "patriotic narcissism" simply makes my larger point. I happen to consider patriotism to be a virtue so long as it does not extend to blind obedience, chauvinism, lack of discernment, etc.

"It feels to me like a lot of the anger directed at Assange stems from powerlessness -- people feel this guy is destabilizing their world order and they know that there's nothing that can be done."

There's no doubt that I feel powerless, Turbulence. I feel powerless in the face of an electorate who makes stupid decisions, and in the face of a federal judiciary run by Republican politicized hacks. But the current State Department, under Hillary Clinton? I think that part is the very least of our worries. Do you really think it was the diplomatic corps that caused the Iraq War, Turbulence? It had nothing to do with Cheney, Bush and the White House cabal?

So you approve or disapprove of his methods depending on his targets, and not on the actual wrongdoings that are being exposed. Assange can go after Russia, because they're Bad Guys. But we're Good Guys. Is that it?

No, not at all. Here's the deal: I do happen to think that the US is far superior to Putin's Russia in each and every way you might care to call up a a point of comparison. I think the current iteration of Russia is a threat to its neighbors--remember the romp through Georgia? If I were a Russian, even one who opposed the Putin thugs, I would still be angered by an outsider attacking my country. As an American who does have major issues with the present Russian regime and who would like to it exposed, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, so to speak.

Any country who has issues with the US should be delighted with Assange. Countries who view us as allies should not. Why some Americans would support Assange is what is beyond me.


"It might be marginally more difficult to gin up a fig-leaf international 'coalition' the next time we decide to throw some crappy little country against the wall."

Or it might substantially more difficult to address the Israeli/Palestinian issue or treat with N Korea. But, UK, you make my larger point--if it fits the far left's policy views, screw the law, screw the country's interests, screw the harm done, it's what the hard left wants that matters.

But seriously; Assange in interviews talks quite a bit about how they go about deciding when to publish and when not to publish;

I thought it was very interesting what he said about the redactions in the Guardian chat - that Wikileaks works closely with mainstream media, and the amount of currently published documents is related to that.
I'm honestly a bit puzzled - if the leaker had taken the dump directly to a non-US Newspaper, would that make much of a difference? I imagine certain things would be easier to deny or it would just be ignored (especially if it's Non-English media).

But the current State Department, under Hillary Clinton?

Just to give you context, I think that justice will not have been served until Hillary Clinton, and many other Senators of that era, are tried, convicted, and hung in the National Mall. Dem Senators on the intelligence committee begged their colleagues to go read the classified NIE since it was so radically different than the public version before voting on the war but Clinton, among many others, never bothered to do so. When your screw up pretty directly leads to a war that kills a million people, I think you have to be brought to justice. Otherwise, the next time around, Senators will be too lazy to read the damn classified NIE and more people will die for nothing. So phrasing your argument in terms of Clinton running State doesn't really help you when talking to me ;-)

I think that part is the very least of our worries. Do you really think it was the diplomatic corps that caused the Iraq War, Turbulence? It had nothing to do with Cheney, Bush and the White House cabal?

I think the diplomatic corps does what its told. I mean, they're really good at "only following orders". I think there were plenty of people in the diplomatic corps who knew for a fact that the war was based on lies and then refused to do anything about it; they didn't resign and tell all to the press, they didn't leak classified docs, they didn't slowroll or sabotage from the inside. They might have bitched but at the end of the day, they did what they're told. You know what? I don't see a lot of difference between Cheney and someone who takes marching orders from Cheney: at the end of the day, their actions are indistinguishable.

Now the diplomatic corps does lots of things and some of them are unquestionably really good things. But the notion that they're blame free and that most of their time is spent bringing unicorns to cancer stricken children is just wrong. They're part of the US government. Their means differ from CIA or DOD but their ends are the same.

"But seriously; Assange in interviews talks quite a bit about how they go about deciding when to publish and when not to publish; you can decide he's full of shit if you want, but my sense is that you simply don't *know* that he says these things, and would prefer not to know, so that you can continue being hyperbolic."

I've read his recent interviews, and I haven't found a particularly complicated rubric more than what Dr. Science outlines above.

"I see no reason why he should tell "us all" where he is so any crazy can take a pop at him, I really think that would be taking "accountability" too far."

Hmmmm. Let's analyze this from the WikiLeaks moral rubric. We can identify a conspiracy under their definition. This conspiracy is a shadowy organization known as WikiLeaks. Most of its members are not publicly identified. Many of its methods are highly opaque. This conspiracy feels that it needs a very high degree of operational secrecy to get its aims done. It operates largely outside of public accountability mechanisms. If someone were to have access to a cache of their files and the organizations 'private' emails and communication logs, shouldn't that person make such information available to the public at large? Purely for the aim of exposing the conspiracy to the public eye so that its workings, methods and TRUE goals (not just its publicly stated goals) can be inspected? The fact that this information might make it easier for random people who don't like Assange to harass or kill him is just incidental and perhaps regrettable, but secondary to the gosh darn importance of exposing the inner workings of shadowy conspiracies, right?

Right?

Why some Americans would support Assange is what is beyond me.

Some Americans manage to put what they see as fundamental moral values -- don't torture people, don't commit war crimes, etc. -- above their tribal allegiance to their country. And that's beyond you. I get it.

But, UK, you make my larger point--if it fits the far left's policy views, screw the law, screw the country's interests, screw the harm done, it's what the hard left wants that matters.

McK, you're doing such a fine job of figuring out what I'm "really" saying, whether I'm actually saying it or not, that there's no need for me to waste any more of my time here...you're clearly capable of holding down both ends of the conversation from here on out.

Enjoy your straw.

[PS: Bonus comedy points for "it might [be] substantially more difficult to address the Israeli/Palestinian issue." Oh noes! Just when everything was going so well!]

I do happen to think that the US is far superior to Putin's Russia in each and every way you might care to call up a a point of comparison.

OK, how about this metric: starting pointless wars that kill a million people. In the last decade, I'd say Putin's Russia is far superior to the US. I know, I know, 1/6 of the Holocaust isn't really a big deal, but still.

Or it might substantially more difficult to address the Israeli/Palestinian issue

Ha ha ha ha ha ha! You're so funny. You really think the US was about to cut an IP deal if only Wikileaks hadn't come along and published some cables? I mean, seriously? Look, there's not going to be any IP deals anytime soon and it has nothing to do with Wikileaks. You do realize that Israel just passed a law essentially

Some Americans manage to put what they see as fundamental moral values -- don't torture people, don't commit war crimes, etc. -- above their tribal allegiance to their country. And that's beyond you. I get it.

One more time: we've had those and many other debates. You're position is, because the debate didn't end your way, you get to step outside the law. Your fundamental moral values trump all else. It's your way or no way, regardless of consequence. I got that. That's why there are so few of you. Most of the rest of us know how to lose an argument.

I really think that would be taking "accountability" too far

As do I, which you would know had you read my whole comment.

Just putting the shoe on the other foot to check the fit. See also Sebastian's 1:56.

Turbulence, the Iraq war was wrong, but the diplomatic corps didn't cause it. By your logic, you and I should have stopped working and stood in the streets rallying others to do the same and caused massive civil disobedience so that the Iraq war wouldn't have happened. Maybe you did. I didn't. I should have. Someone should expose me.

OK, how about this metric: starting pointless wars that kill a million people. In the last decade, I'd say Putin's Russia is far superior to the US. I know, I know, 1/6 of the Holocaust isn't really a big deal, but still.

You and UK are on the same page. Your moral superiority is so blindingly pure, just and right that, really, anything in aid of vindicating it is perfectly fine. A compelling argument, one you often hear from your counterparts on the Palin wing.

By your logic, you and I should have stopped working and stood in the streets rallying others to do the same and caused massive civil disobedience so that the Iraq war wouldn't have happened.

Actually, Turbulence's argument goes farther: if his fundamental moral sensor is sufficiently offended, those who offend lose their right to privacy and who knows what else.

Do you really think it was the diplomatic corps that caused the Iraq War, Turbulence?

Not to speak for Turbulence, but the State Dept. was certainly complicit. Colin Powell went before the UN in his official capacity as Secretary of State and head of the diplomatic corps and lied through his teeth. The State Dept. were hardly passive bystanders.

This is bomb-throwing. Not all such bomb-throwing is necessarily bad, I suppose. I'd prefer, however, if this was more of a "Pentagon Papers" type of leak. Something that showed, smoking-gun-style, that the gummint was lying through its teeth about something really important.

Instead, what we have is apparently ~250k diplo cables. Run-of-the-mill nuts & bolts stuff, the vast, vast majority of which doesn't do anythign but cause some embarrassment to our diplomats and some foreign leaders. I'd like to believe that the Arab dictators who speak out of both sides of their mouths might suffer some consequences, but I really doubt that. I'm not really sure their populations aren't already deeply cynical about their "leaders" and don't already just assume they lie constantly. And, even supposing that this triggers some sort of action (unlikely, IMO), will the fall-out necessarily be good? I mean, it's sort of like saying "gosh, wouldn't it be great if somebody removed Saddam?"

I'm somewhat sympathetic to Donald Johnson's argument about the total lack of accountability in our government, except I don't see that this particular document dump really does anything to address his concerns. I also think it does real harm to our diplomatic efforts which, in turn, may harm more than just the US of A. I think I'm probably more in the LJ/Sapient camp on this.

Which isn't really surprising, since I'm not an anarchist, revolutionary or part of the "hard left" or whatever that means.

All that said... this might end up being no big deal in the long run (Sec Def thinks that). In which case... *shrug*

McKT: Your position is, because the debate didn't end your way, you get to step outside the law.

The supreme law of the land:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

I think you're probably familiar with it. The people who wrote it weren't afraid of the truth.

I think you're probably familiar with it. The people who wrote it weren't afraid of the truth.

I am. And nothing in the First Amendment authorizes espionage against the country. If you think Assange has a First Amendment right to approach soldiers in uniform and ask that they reveal classified information, I'll have to ask for a case citation or a reasoned constitutional analysis that produces that result.

"or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;"

which, of course, again raises the issue of whether Assange is acting as the "press" by receiving tens of thousands of stolen documents and publishing them on the Internet. If the function of "the press" is just to throw file cabinets out on the street, then sure.

McKT: If you think Assange has a First Amendment right to approach soldiers in uniform and ask that they reveal classified information

I'll have to ask you for any evidence that such a thing took place. As far as I can tell, Manning is alleged to have copied these files on his own initiative and then provided them to Wikileaks - again, on his own initiative - at a later date.

My point about the First Amendment is that the founders of this country strongly believed that openness posed no threat to people of goodwill, and that words alone were not dangerous.

If anything I think this latest release demonstrates that. It is somewhat pedestrian in most cases; it shows the workings of a State Dept that is mostly engaged in reasonably effective work with occasional screwups, much like the rest of us. It's not clear that any harm whatsoever will be suffered by the US as a result, except some embarrassment - but embarrassment is a very valuable emotion in that it leads you to try to avoid repeating the embarrassing act.

I fear authoritarianism and militarism far more than I fear what tiny effect on US interests might be suffered from the knowledge that we - for instance - conspire with Middle Eastern dictators to deceive their populations. (Not very successfully - in fact virtually nothing that was claimed to be "secret" in this file was actually secret to anyone who cared about it.)

Turbulence, the Iraq war was wrong, but the diplomatic corps didn't cause it.

Sapient, you're an attorney, right? If the standard of responsibility is "were you solely responsible for the Iraq war" then obviously no one was at fault. But that's not the sort of standard we deploy anywhere in life. There are degrees of responsibility. So yes, the State Dept was not solely responsible for Iraq. But they were partially responsible for how things turned out, and they were 100% responsible for not taking serious actions to stop it once they realized it was all built on lies.

By your logic, you and I should have stopped working and stood in the streets rallying others to do the same and caused massive civil disobedience so that the Iraq war wouldn't have happened.

Did you have access to super-secret classified information before the war proving that the government's case was nothing but lies? Because a bunch of people in the State Dept did. They did nothing. So they bear some responsibility. You and I (presumably) did not. So we don't bear nearly as much responsibility. Is this really a difficult moral principle to understand?


Your moral superiority is so blindingly pure, just and right that, really, anything in aid of vindicating it is perfectly fine. A compelling argument, one you often hear from your counterparts on the Palin wing.

Yawn. A pointless personal attack. How dull.

Actually, Turbulence's argument goes farther: if his fundamental moral sensor is sufficiently offended, those who offend lose their right to privacy and who knows what else.

So, diplomatic cables, which are intended to be read by other people and are made available to millions of people are "private". Intriguing.

An example of a previous dump of stolen documents:

The Brown & Williamson Tobacco Control Archives

What happened next

It's a little bit silly to get upset over this. An online document repository with millions of people who have access? That is not secret. That is not even confidential. The only surprising thing is that it took this long to happen.

They did believe that words alone aren't dangerous, but I don't think they were talking about diplomatic secrets which they themselves engaged in. For example, see especially page 82. And that's the first google result I got for Jefferson. I'm aware by reading the biographies of the other early Presidents that secret diplomacy was par for the course, because that's the way it has always been done.

"So we don't bear nearly as much responsibility." Perhaps we don't bear as much responsibility, Turbulence, but we bear some if we were sentient and realized that the inspectors weren't being given a chance to do their job, etc. I doubt that every state department official who has been "exposed" bears any more responsibility than we do - there are probably a handful.

lj: You (or zuzunga?) argue that it is only authoritarian organizations that are going to get dinged, but I'm having a hard time seeing the State Department as an authoritarian organization.

Er, wait. You're having a hard time seeing an organization that requests credit and biometric data about people with whom it's engaged in nominally good-faith negotiation as authoritarian? How openly does one have to oppress others in order to qualify as authoritarian around here?

If we accept this as a true explanation, any communication that you might not feel comfortable having out in public is evidence that you are doing something wrong.

I don't see how that follows. It strikes me as a category error, in the sense that your then-clause only works if "right" and "wrong" are empirically accessible attributes of a particular activity, rather than decisions made by individuals. You're clearly not taking the position that private communications should always be kept private no matter what. So why are you reluctant to accept that it's the actual possessor of some piece of nominally private information who must decide when the line has been crossed?

Note that some people (certain Agents of the State, your parents when you were younger, your employers when you are at work) explicitly take the position that any communication that you might not feel comfortable having out in public is evidence that you are doing something wrong. How is this different? Are the ethical standards for revealing private communications between individuals not applicable to private communications between agents of institutions?

Sebastian: If someone were to have access to a cache of their files and the organizations 'private' emails and communication logs, shouldn't that person make such information available to the public at large?

Thank you for making my point. Wikileaks is indeed a conspiracy and I suspect that Assange would agree that their organizational structure renders them far more vulnerable to leaks than, say the Apache Foundation or the ACLU. Now all you have to do is persuade someone with access to their internal deliberations to share them with you. So this doesn't seem like a very good argument against the current leak.

Sapient: Turbulence, the Iraq war was wrong, but the diplomatic corps didn't cause it.

This is a bit vague, but it's hard to come up with an interpretation that makes any sense. The diplomatic corps, as an institution, certainly participated in causing the Iraq war, and it wasn't just Colin Powell. Remember how the "coalition of the willing" came about? Who do you think did all the cajoling and browbeating and bribing necessary to put that together? If you think very carefully you may even be able to remember what happened to those diplomats who did express their misgivings.

Some samples of wikileaks revelations

link

link

I think this stuff matters and to say that "well, we knew that kind of thing goes on" is like saying we don't really need to talk about politics at all, since it's just one damn thing after another. A POV I often have myself lately.

I thought I agreed with Sebastian yesterday--he was suggesting that wikileaks should have only exposed, say, Middle East documents or documents that exposed wrongdoing but not released identifying information about innocent Afghans or about talks about what to do with a paranoid state like North Korea. That's reasonable. But now it sounds like the new meme is that the exposure of classified documents is in itself a Really Bad Thing, like releasing private information about innocent individuals. So I don't agree with Seb today.

"It feels to me like a lot of the anger directed at Assange stems from powerlessness "

I think that's true of much of the backbiting between far left and liberals. It depends--some liberals are actually quite comfortable with how the US behaves overseas and just think Bush ruined everything by being crude. George Packer and other pro-Iraq war liberals are like that. That type of liberal doesn't agree much with lefties anyway. Other liberals agree with much of what the far left says, but disagree on what to do about it. Neither side really has a clue on what to do, but thinks it can see quite clearly what is wrong with the other side's ideas. Much shouting ensues.


Most of what is said here in the past couple hours looks about the same as what was said in any given two hour period in the past two days, including what I just typed (except for my theory about the far left and liberals, which I've been waiting to spring on the world). So it's time to bag it.

I'm just curious, does anyone here think I was unfair to their moral rubric in my analysis (at 1:56) of the morality of leaking on Wikileaks?

This conspiracy is a shadowy organization known as WikiLeaks.

Of course, they are not abusers of authority, since they don't have it. They are not a powerful government or multi-national corporation.

But pretty much no one is going to always agree with Assange's appraisal of what counts as an unjust system? Right?

Sure, which negates my point not at all. And no one is going to always agree with anyone, so then what? Should we all do nothing?

But, UK, you make my larger point--if it fits the far left's policy views, screw the law, screw the country's interests, screw the harm done, it's what the hard left wants that matters.

But I think our government does things that are not according to the law and not in the country's interests. That's why I think the Wikileaks dump is a net positive. It exposes things I think are wrong.

Your moral superiority is so blindingly pure, just and right that, really, anything in aid of vindicating it is perfectly fine.

Anything? Like what? I assume you have something in mind far worse than releasing documents. I don't know why you would have such things in mind, but your statement strongly implies that you do. And how is it that your apparent moral superiority is so much better than anyone else's? I mean, people think that what they think is right, otherwise they wouldn't think it, right? Disagreeing with you must imply an inappropriate sense of moral superiority, even if it's because people are pissed about lots and lots of dead people.

Frankly, my experience during the Bush II years is that bad, authoritarian government does *not* necessarily create much resistance, and that there is no true need for a "conspiracy of the powerful".

Media incompetence is a big issue, both in terms of specifics and in terms of narrative (ie not just that they fail to locate or present vital details, but that they allow themselves to become ruled by what narratives are 'acceptable', rather than speaking truth to power).
But there was also a lot of information being hidden from us in the runup to the war: that the administration had been discussing Iraq since Day One, that many of the sources (eg Curveball) for the intel being presented to the people were known fabricators, etc.
My guess is that this wouldn't have mattered. Available info didn't stop eg Condi Rice from lying about how the aluminum tubes were only really useful for centifuges, or help the MSM to utilize that available info to debunk her. I think that the biggest problems don't revolve around lack of information or the use of secrecy.

But Assange is not just choosing for himself. He's "choosing" for, literally, everybody in whole freaking world.

And not publishing would also be choosing for everyone. Furthermore, there's no way to "choose" this just for oneself, it's an all-or-nothing proposition.
In that sense, it shares a property with the abortion debate. I am pro-choice, but (unlike McTex) it is not a mystery to me how someone who believes that abortion is murder feels that merely abstaining from it themselves as a personal choice is insufficient. Just as it is not a mystery to me that those who opposed slavery or racial discrimination felt that they needed to change their entire society (sometimes by extralegal means) rather than just adhering to their personal moral code.

If you think Wikileaks is going to substantially change that by ushering in a new age of transparent government, then Assange is your guy.

I suspect people could think that this is important as a symbolic act rather than something that will, itself, usher in a new age etc. We are certainly having a spirited debate on the subject now.
I read a book some years ago based on the proposition that secrecy in the modern age would be problematic, and that we should change the social contract to one of complete openness- rather than having secrecy dependent on one's ability to keep secrets, make everything public.
As Seb points out, there are some gigantic downsides to this. There is also some upside. It's worth talking about, anyway, if for no other reason than to consciously make the choice between them rather than having it as a default assumption.

Sen. Feinstein, not known for her hawkish tendencies, seemed pretty shaken yesterday when she declared Assange's actions to be espionage. This implies, from a source I would take as reliable, that real harm was done to legitimate US interests. How can anyone think this is a good thing, that is anyone who cares for the US?

It is easy to imagine that Feinstein's view of what damages the people of the US as a whole could be conflated with what damages the current US government and its institutions- being a member of both and drawing a great deal of power and prestiege from her role in the latter.

We live in a society that has elected people that have made laws that you don't like. So you, because you don't like them, take it as your right to make sure what you want to have happen happens anyway?

Well, there's a history of people doing things that are illegal because they think that those things are right. That doesn't justify all illegal activity. Whether that justifies wikileaks is an individual opinion. But we shouldn't pretend that everything illegal is de facto immoral.
The same could be said of the judgement as to whether a given government is moral or immoral, whether targeting its secrecy is legitimate or illegitimate.
All a long way of saying that the question of illegality is pointless, we still end up asking whether the underlying positions are moral or immoral ones in deciding whether the lawbreaking is morally justified or not.

That is, his approach will only work with the groups that he targets which are not, in fact, the kind of evil conspiracies he says he objects to.

Or, ones that are still somewhat responsive or controlled by public opinion. Won't work on Stalin, might work in the US (insofar as you accept his original thesis that the US is a repressive, secretive state). And even in a repressive state, publishing the truth can have a strong effect (even if it is a much riskier proprosition).

Another old example, from 1979: The H-Bomb Secret

""Assange's declared intent is to damage our country and ours alone.""

"This is flat-out false."

UK, I am always happy to be corrected. If Assange has the goods on Russia, and if he publishes, I'll be the first to cheer.

Im not sure if the "happy to be corrected" means that you're acknowledging that your statement about his *declared intent* was false. As usual, Im amazed at the ability of some people to manufacture facts out of thin air, and even more amazed that they don't stop to question their own motives or rational abilities when those falsehoods are exposed. Does this not give you pause, that your brain fabricated a falsehood and that you believed it enough to state it as a fact?
And- you'll be the "first to cheer"? Will you also maybe be the first to re-evaluate your entire argument that his real purpose is to damange the US in particular rather than his *declared intent* to damage governmental and extra-governmental conspiracies?

I concede I haven't read everything the man has said. So what if I got that detail wrong?

That detail is the crux of your position that wikileaks is anti-American rather than waging a general campaign against (some kinds of) secrecy across the globe.
Although your position that you'd cheer for wikileaks if they leaked documents damaging to the Russian government makes an argument from principle on your part kinda tricky as well. Unless you would like to invoke American Exceptionalism- which is naturally not a particularly persuasive argument to non-Americans, and not all that persuasive to many Americans either.

Why some Americans would support Assange is what is beyond me.

Odd, since it's been explained multiple times by different people in different ways. Understanding the other side's argument is an important thing even if you disagree with it. Understanding it might help you, for example, attempt to refute it. Rather than misunderstanding it as you have and then attempting refutations of those mistaken assumptions.
For example, you keep asserting that wikileaks supporters are 'damaging US interests'. I strongly suspect from the statements made that wikileaks and their supporters believe that they are operating to the benefit of the people of the US (and the rest of the world). They may be profoundly mistaken on that point. But your assumption of the opposite merely makes you incapable of grasping their actual position and working from that point.

I doubt that every state department official who has been "exposed" bears any more responsibility than we do - there are probably a handful.

First, there is no privacy issue here: a professional's work product is not something they can claim a privacy right on. I can't tell my boss "you can't look at the code I just wrote for you because it is deeply private and reveals my innermost thoughts and dreams" -- I mean, that's nuts.

Therefore, all this talk of "exposing" diplomats is nonsense. Their work product was available to millions of people before Wikileaks came along. They had no privacy interest in it before and still have none now.

Secondly, the point of exposing them is not to punish them for past misdeeds. The point is to make future horrors less likely.

I'm aware by reading the biographies of the other early Presidents that secret diplomacy was par for the course, because that's the way it has always been done.

Jefferson's an interesting example, because in other contexts, when it suited him politically, he was all for disclosure.

Which, in turn, got us, probably unnecessarily, into a "quasi-war".

Two sides to every coin.

The people who are so mad at Assange for harming American interests should be mad at the people who decided to publish this material to hundreds of thousands of other people without sufficient access controls or consideration of the possibility of disclosure or partitioning on even a minimal need-to-know basis or auditing of access or any other very basic, minimal security procedures that are routine in commercial settings.

You can never fully protect against a determined insider, but there are any number of ways to reduce the risk and to mitigate the scale of the damage that could have been and should have been applied in this case.

If someone had lost a memory card with all this information on it in a bar and it found its way to Wikileaks I think we'd be talking a lot more about the incompetence of the person who dropped it. Well, this was institutional incompetence of just the same type and of a much larger scale. It is no surprise that the institutions that failed so spectacularly in protecting their own secrets would like us to pay all our attention to Assange, but if you fall for it all you're doing is guaranteeing a continued lack of oversight and a repeat of the same kind of leak.

Which you would think is slightly more important than expressing your rage at some non-American who only did what any foreign news organization would have done with a leak like this. If you truly cared about preventing more incidents of this type, you'd be hammering the DoD and State over their pathetic computer security.

"Two sides to every coin."

Well, it's easy to point to instances where failed secret diplomacy got us into wars, but harder to decide where other secret diplomacy may have kept us out of them. That's the whole trouble with diplomacy - we only notice what didn't work out so well.

If you truly cared about preventing more incidents of this type, you'd be hammering the DoD and State over their pathetic computer security.

Amen!

I'm just curious, does anyone here think I was unfair to their moral rubric in my analysis (at 1:56) of the morality of leaking on Wikileaks?

I thought your analysis was too shallow to bother refute, but here are some quick points:

(1) There is no reason to believe that those documents describe a complete "moral rubric" for making decisions as you put it. In fact, you've conjured up a rubric out of thin air. The document in question discusses various ways of thinking about how organizations process information to achieve their ends and how those ends can be altered or frustrated by revealing information, but it is not a rubric.

Even if you thought there was a rubric buried in there, there's no reason to believe such a thing represents the totality of Wikileaks ethical notions. I mean, lots of Americans revere the Constitution, but the Constitution says nothing about murder being wrong, yet many Americans still believe that murder is wrong -- how could this be?!

(2) Wikileaks is distinguished from the US government in several ways:

a. Wikileaks is not an authoritarian organization

b. The US government has far greater powers to compel people to behave as it wishes. Steal data from Wikileaks and (literally) nothing will happen to you. Steal data from the US government and you will likely be arrested and perhaps executed. When either organization goes bad, good people on the inside may want to do something, but while people in Wikileaks can do all sorts of things without suffering consequences, people in the government cannot.

c. Wikileaks has a lot less power to do harm: it does not have nuclear missiles for starters.

d. Wikileaks does not have a long history of doing horrific things, like starting a war for no reason that kills a million people.

"The document in question discusses various ways of thinking about how organizations process information to achieve their ends and how those ends can be altered or frustrated by revealing information, but it is not a rubric."

Well it is all we have right? Because they are shadowy conspiracy (even under their own definition).

"Wikileaks is distinguished from the US government in several ways"

Sure, but they are clearly a conspiracy, both in their own sense and a classic sense. And they weren't just talking about the US government. In fact McKinneyTexas was rightly jumped on for suggesting that. Their ethos, so far as the shadowy organization has revealed, would seem to suggest that leaking Assange's location would be ok.

And speaking of that, if it is true that the UK police know where he is, leaking the documents from them would be ok too. I mean authoritarian police forces keeping secrets=bad.

"Even if you thought there was a rubric buried in there, there's no reason to believe such a thing represents the totality of Wikileaks ethical notions."

Actually I'm pretty darn confident that Wikileaks would come up with some justification why their own rules don't apply to them. That is a classic among human institutions--exempting themselves.

To look on whether Assange has committed any crimes under US law from a different point of view, McKinneyTX should consider that there isn't any provision under US law that protects classified information once it has been improperly divulged to the uncleared.

If someone who hasn't been granted the proper clearances breaks into a facility to steal some secrets, that's espionage, and (guessing, here, but it's not a stretch) theft, breaking and entering, and probably a few other crimes. If someone is the recipient of classified information given to him, the crime committed is not by the recipient, but rather by the last person who touched the information who had the proper clearance.

Bradley Manning has committed a crime in transferring classified data to Assange, but Assange has (as far as I can tell) committed no crime in making the data publicly available.

What's really surprising about all of this, IMO, is that it took so long to happen. You simply could not, I think, publish even a decent subset of this stuff in print media.

Many commenters here are going to be confused when the NYT and Assange are not prosecuted for the leaks. When that failure to prosecute takes place, remember that it was explained in this thread. The Constitution really does have a First Amendment.

I'll add that the leaker can be prosecuted - he has no first amendment right to reveal secret information.

Sapient's view is particularly weird:

which, of course, again raises the issue of whether Assange is acting as the "press" by receiving tens of thousands of stolen documents and publishing them on the Internet. If the function of "the press" is just to throw file cabinets out on the street, then sure.

The content of speech is specifically what the First Amendment is about. And of course Assange is "the press" - or is engaged in "speech" - for First Amendment purposes.

"of course Assange is "the press" - or is engaged in "speech" - for First Amendment purposes."

"of course"? Cite?

If I throw a file cabinet full of papers into the street, am I "the press"? If I steal documents and distribute them to others, is that "speech"?

Well it is all we have right? Because they are shadowy conspiracy (even under their own definition).

Look, you can't take some random document and treat it as the entirety of the ethical system used by a particular group of people. At least not unless said document was explicitly written for that purpose.

I mean, I could take any one of your comments and conclude "Sebastian does not find murder to be morally wrong -- look, he never says that he does so clearly he doesn't". This sort of argument is just wrong, and really trivially wrong. Surely you can do better.

Their ethos, so far as the shadowy organization has revealed, would seem to suggest that leaking Assange's location would be ok.

I'm having trouble distinguishing them from a newspaper. People give them documents. They process those documents and then put them on a website. That's it. This doesn't seem very shadowy. They're not engaging in covert action. In fact, beyond publishing, they're not engaging in any action.

Oh, and politicalfootball, I said it's questionable whether it's protected. I did not say I know for sure what the courts would say. And I don't think what the NYT is doing is the same as what Assange is doing since they're publishing selected texts. They certainly have a valid First Amendment claim.

Sapient: If I throw a file cabinet full of papers into the street, am I "the press"?

If you publish them in a book or a newspaper or on a website you certainly are the press.

If I steal documents and distribute them to others, is that "speech"?

Assange did not steal documents.

Of course, throwing filing cabinets in the street was literally what happened in Germany after WWII and in the former Communist countries after the Communist governments were overthrown.

Some bad things happened to some people as a result, I am sure. Some people's privacy was invaded. But the people of those countries and of the world also learned what really happened, and people are still studying those documents to understand it better.

Would it have been better to have a carefully-edited selection? Who do you trust to curate that?

If Wikileaks is a conspiracy, so what? They aren't, as has been pointed out many times, a powerful government or multi-national corporation. And I really doubt Assange feels any compulsion to expose my wife and me for our conspiracy to convince our children that all the toys we recently bought and intend to give them on the 25th of this month actually came from the North Pole. Sheesh.

"They're not engaging in covert action. In fact, beyond publishing, they're not engaging in any action."

Actually we don't know where they get their information.

"Look, you can't take some random document and treat it as the entirety of the ethical system used by a particular group of people."

I'm not taking a random document. I'm dealing with the interviews from Assange, the leader of the organization, which is pretty much the information we have available to us. And I'm not "taking it out of context". He was trying to describe the philosophy under which they operate. If I can't take their leader's word on the philosophy under which they operate, what do you want me to do?

I don't even know who else to ask, because most of the people who work for them are secretive about their identities.

"I'm having trouble distinguishing them from a newspaper." I can usually find out who works at a newspaper. Newspapers rarely hide the identities of nearly all their employees.

If I steal documents and distribute them to others, is that "speech"?

The distinction is that, as far as we know, Wikileaks/Assange did not steal the documents. As Turbulence pointed out, they published documents.

I don't know if it is illegal to publish something that someone else has illegally obtained. I tried to figure that out today by looking at the New York Times Co. v. United States wiki today and I couldn't. However, I suspect it is not, because the NYT published the Wikileaks cables and I think their lawyers would advise them not to if doing so put them at serious risk of criminal charges. I do not see a difference between what the NYT did in publishing the leaks and what Wikileaks/Assange did in disseminating the leaks.

"I can usually find out who works at a newspaper. Newspapers rarely hide the identities of nearly all their employees."

"Usually" and "rarely" are not the same as "always" and "never." If you think that secrecy and hidden identities preclude an organization from being a newspaper, you should say so. The way you qualified your statements means you have in no way ruled out the possibility that Wikileaks is a newspaper. For example, I am usually shorter than NBA players, but Nate Robinson is still in the NBA.

I'm not taking a random document. I'm dealing with the interviews from Assange, the leader of the organization, which is pretty much the information we have available to us.

Can you please quote the specific bit where Assange says "and this is the ethical rubric by which Wikileaks operates"? I had assumed you were working from the pdf that Dr Science linked to. But in the interviews I've read, I haven't seen anything like the ethical rubric you're claiming that you know all about. So, show it to me. It would make your case, well then at least you'd have something besides mindreading.

And I'm not "taking it out of context". He was trying to describe the philosophy under which they operate. If I can't take their leader's word on the philosophy under which they operate, what do you want me to do?

Where? What precisely did he say? Quote please.

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