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November 30, 2010

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Sorry Julian, I expressed my frustration inappropriately.

@slartibartfast: wake up and smell the coffee. The US likes to claim the mantle of the most perfect democracy ever... which makes all of you guilty by association, whether you want to be or not.

As for the goodness or badness of the leaking... well, that really depends on whether you think you're in or out of the power elite. I'd like to suggest that most if not all of the people here are out, and if they identify with them they are deluding themselves. I'd like to refer you to the words of a truly great American, George Carlin: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acLW1vFO-2Q

Barring negative secondary consequences it is ok to steal and dessiminate classified information. Wrong. The act itself is wrong.

Marty, do you think it was wrong for Allied spies to steal and disseminate classified Nazi secrets?

Doesn't the "classified" part carry imply any burden on the body classifying the information? I mean, what if you were abducted in the middle of the night by the FBI and someone in the executive branch decided to classify any information regarding your status or whereabouts or the circumstances of your abduction? Would that be okay? Would finding that information out be stealing, and would passing it on to your family be wrong?

The crux of this whole thing is really about authority, isn't it? You wouldn't object to the US government deciding it was okay to disseminate the same information Wikileaks, did, at least not for reasons other than the potential harm it might cause, would you? Oh, but it's THEIR information, right? Even though it concerns a lot of people other than them, that is. You trust that authority all you like. russell, too, it would seem.

poor editing there - extra words and commas

Marty: Barring negative secondary consequences it is ok to steal and dessiminate classified information. Wrong. The act itself is wrong.

What does "barring negative secondary consequences" mean?

Is it "wrong" for an American to copy and distribute documents classified by the Russian government?

Is it "wrong" for an Israeli to copy and distribute documents classified by the Iranian government?

What sort of "wrong" is this, exactly? The sort that applies only when it's the US doing the classifying?

hsh slipped in there with a similar sentiment.

hsh,

I admit, and have deleted a few comments that raised the question, that I think it is bad because it is US information.

That being said, there is a reason that everyone spies secretly, it is against the law everywhere. If Iran catches a US spy, an actual one, I would have no expectation that they would not try and execute him unless there was a leverage point (swap etc.) they could use that saved him.

He would be a spy and would be treated accordingly. Would I want my government to spy where possible? Yes. Consequences versus risk. Human intelligence is always best. However, I recognize Iran's right to deter us or try their best to spy on us.

When we catch them, I expect us to use foreign spies to obtain whatever leverage we can, up to long prison sentences if nothing else.

Assange is not a spy:

Assange is not an American citizen.
Assange is not in the United States.
Assange did not access classified computer systems in the United States.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/dec/01/wikileaks-cables-us-espionage-law

It's possible, though rather unlikely, that he might be extradited to the US from the UK; it's unlikely that he would be convicted of any crime because of this little thing called the First Amendment.

russell, too, it would seem.

I think the question is less whether I trust "that authority", and more whether I trust Julian Assange.

russell, in what sense do you need to trust him? He is reliant on sources who provide him with information on their own judgment. For instance, I think it's highly unlikely that anyone knowing the design secrets for thermonuclear weapons is going to pass them along to him.

Some info here on how Wikileaks worked with the newspapers to redact names from the latest release: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/11/28/104404/officials-may-be-overstating-the.html

It wasn't a totally indiscriminate dump the way the Afghan documents were.

It's okay. You're right that I contradicted myself. I'm sorry, I got a bit flustered. I was trying to not take a position earlier because the analogy between torture and wikileaks is accurate or inaccurate regardless of my approval or disapproval of torture, and I wanted to keep it simple. I did not intend to be coy or provocative by not disclosing that I abhor torture. I thought it was superfluous, sort of like having to wear a flag pin or constantly praise the troops.

I don't know how much clearer I can make my analogy. It may not be good, in which case you're free to criticize it as hsh and russell both have, but your assertion that I need to "flesh it out" does not help me in the slightest to determine what, exactly, you're unclear about. Russell and HSH both understood my point well enough to dispute it. I would much rather you do the same than have me endlessly reiterate my analogy with no inkling as to which portion of it is insensible to you.

So:

I think that Wikileaks and Torture are alike in that both are illegal(this needs some qualification because Assange has not been indicted yet, but I am treating leaking of classified info in general as illegal), and both are typically, in my experience defended with an "ends-justifies-the-means" argument. This is in the same camp as "let's plant drugs on this guy because, even though we didn't find any, we know he's out here dealing." The idea is that we circumvent the law to achieve the outcome we want but do not trust our due process to produce.

I asked Russell if he was taking issue with the end results of the Wikileaks dump, because my point was that merely protesting the results left open the possibility that a different leak would be fine.

russell said:

"To be clear: I'm not saying Wikileaks is bad, or good.

I'm saying Assange is a freaking loose cannon. And that's pretty much all I'm saying."

Which means russell falls, according to my interpretation, into the camp of "process." russell doesn't care if this specific leak is bad or good. In russell's, and my, view (forgive me for taking your name in vain, but you're the closest thing to a saint around here)Wikileaks is flawed not because it failed to do enough good this time around but because it is outside of our democratic process. Wikileaks / Assange has no accountability to the people whose lives their leaks affect, it/he is constrained by nothing more than personal judgment.

HSH pointed out the distinction that torture, unlike a leak, is always harmful. I had not mentioned that, and it's a weakness in my analogy. However, I think that there is still a similarity between leaking which is harmful or risks harm (as even Glenn Greenwald concedes this latest dump may) and torture, because both are methods the lie outside the approved process, and both appeal to ends-justify-the-means logic rather than principle.


in what sense do you need to trust him?

Well, frex, I wonder how he is going to do any due diligence with the Russian documents he claims that he has. Redacting documents in a foreign language is something I wouldn't feel comfortable doing, even if it were in a language that I had a good feel for but wasn't a native speaker. Of course, if he is claiming he has them, but doesn't, that raises issues of trust as well.

Redacting documents in a foreign language is something I wouldn't feel comfortable doing

There's more to Wikileaks besides Assange. He's not going to be the one redacting Russian language documents.

Of course, if he is claiming he has them, but doesn't, that raises issues of trust as well.

I'm sorry, but have there been any cases where Wikileaks announced a set of documents but then refused to provide them? I mean, you seem to be imputing bad faith here and I'm trying to understand: is there any basis for that?

As I noted in my first comment, he said that he was going to publish the bank communication and I wondered why he hadn't done that before doing this. I'm not imputing bad faith, and there are lots of reasons not to trust someone other than bad faith. I tend to feel that he regards any large group that uses privileged communication as being a conspiracy, but beside that, he seems to have moved to a place where he doesn't really feel constrained by any concerns that are offered by others. Of course, this isn't to say that this happens in a vacuum and given the pressures that have been brought to bear, he is probably encouraged to think this way.

This latest dump seems to be the third part of the materials apparently obtained by Manning. Ironically, Wikileaks adopts the same government speak about refusing to confirm or deny who obtained the documents, which seems to put us back to square one in game theory concerning what sources to trust. Also, when the methodology went from small sets of documents to sets numbering in the tens of thousands, the difference in number has become a difference in kind. Russell mentioned at one point that Assange doesn't really know what he's opened up, but you believe that he has everything firmly under control.

And I believe it is only with this document set (but not the original video that may have been the initial part of what Manning may have given wikileaks) that wikileaks has announced what they were doing, whereas previously, they were just placed on the site.

Furthermore, the group of people analyzing these documents is no more than a handful, which sort of denies the logic of crowd outsourcing.

lj: Wikileaks adopts the same government speak about refusing to confirm or deny who obtained the documents

Protecting sources is standard in investigative journalism. Or do you think Woodward and Bernstein should have thrown Mark Felt to the wolves?

russell, in what sense do you need to trust him?

That's a funny question.

Need / not need, I'm not sure how that comes into it. I *don't* trust him.

He has a huge agenda, and he's not accountable to anybody or anything other than his personal sense of mission.

I don't trust people like that. To me, Assange is the flip side of the guy who will destroy the village in order to save it.

Wikileaks / Assange has no accountability to the people whose lives their leaks affect, it/he is constrained by nothing more than personal judgment.

That's about the size of it, IMVHO. That, plus I'm not seeing "personal judgement" as Assange's strong point.

there are lots of reasons not to trust someone other than bad faith.

Precisely.

I have no idea of Assange is a good guy or a bad guy. I'm not sure it matters either way.

Dumping a quarter million diplomatic cables in one go sort of takes it past a question of good intentions.

you're the closest thing to a saint around here

I want to show this to my wife, she will get a very good laugh out of it. :)

I *don't* trust him. He has a huge agenda, and he's not accountable to anybody or anything other than his personal sense of mission.

Well, I could say the same about the US government - and they've got guns ...

Protecting sources is standard in investigative journalism. Or do you think Woodward and Bernstein should have thrown Mark Felt to the wolves?

Jacob, did you take any time to look at the links about the outing of Publius? You might want to understand what happened with that before you crank up with the 'are you still beating your wife' questions.

At any rate, I'm not sure if I would call Wikileaks a 'publication' and Assange a 'journalist', so your analogy is not really clarifying. And the question is not throwing anyone to the wolves, it is whether you trust them. Did you still trust Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair?

These leaks tell us more about the Leftist media that have reported them with such fascination and shock. They’re all ’surprised’ that Arab countries are worried about Iran? Well that’s probably because normally, instead of reporting the reality of foreign affairs, they recycle isolationist, Leftist propaganda: http://bit.ly/fyPjVo

To you guys (lj, russell, julian) who are suggesting that there's a process to be followed and what do you do about the fact that wikileaks is not able to be controlled... what do you have to say about the situation where that process is broken and has been suborned by the people in charge of that process?

I mean, it's not like you can really call this a hypothetical question, given recent history.

At any rate, I'm not sure if I would call Wikileaks a 'publication' and Assange a 'journalist' ...

That's some awfully restrictive definitions there, lj.

Making information available to the general public is "publication". Passing it secretly to the KGB, say, would be espionage. Keeping it entirely to yourself would be ... pointless.

And I have to say, without meaning to offend you in particular, that I despise the vagueness of the word "journalist". I prefer the plainer "reporter" to designate someone who reports information.

Incidentally, it may have been Bob Woodward that I first heard use "reporting a story" to mean gathering information rather than disseminating it. That annoys me too. Guess I'm really cranky this morning.

--TP

which makes all of you guilty by association, whether you want to be or not

We're determined to explore the entire set of named logical fallacies today, aren't we?

Well, Tony, I didn't bring up the notion of journalist, Jacob did. And he said 'investigative journalist'. What precisely has Assange and Wikileaks 'investigated'? I'm not offended, but I just don't see posting volumes of text on a webpage as publishing.

And poly, I hope that my long comment on Doc Science's newest post may go towards addressing your question, but to give you the nickel version, Assange's goal is not to fix any process, but to blow the process up so that it is no longer possible. If the process you refer to is the process of diplomacy, what precisely do you propose will take its place?

Well, I could say the same about the US government

There are definitely folks in the US (and pretty much any other) government about whom I would say the same.

So what? How does that make the Wikileaks dump a good thing?

Does it actually *change the behavior of the people and institutions that folks object to in any constructive way*?

If you think things are at a point where "blow it up and worry about the damage later" is a useful approach, you probably think Assange is on the right track.

If you don't, not.

In this case, I don't.

"I just don't see posting volumes of text on a webpage as publishing."

Thank you. It's like thowing a file cabinet into the street.

I think that Wikileaks and Torture are alike in that both are illegal(this needs some qualification because Assange has not been indicted yet, but I am treating leaking of classified info in general as illegal), and both are typically, in my experience defended with an "ends-justifies-the-means" argument. This is in the same camp as "let's plant drugs on this guy because, even though we didn't find any, we know he's out here dealing." The idea is that we circumvent the law to achieve the outcome we want but do not trust our due process to produce.

State-sanctioned torture and cops' planting drugs on people involve the authorities abusing their authority. There is a positive feedback loop where power takes power, leading to corruption and a breakdown in the very rule of law. It's not the same as someone outside of power simply breaking the law, which does not render the law itself invalid and without meaning.

If Assange did break the law, I wouldn't really have a problem with his being prosecuted for it, at least not from a legal standpoint. But that doesn't mean that I wouldn't still think that what he did was a net good for the citizens of the world and democracy in general.

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