« capital | Main | The Dangers of Secret Diplomacy »

November 30, 2010

Comments

I mean, are all the people critical of the Wikileaks dump in favor of governments being able to act in total secrecy about everything, or what? (I don't think so, btw.)

"Who has said that s/he wants all diplomacy conducted totally publicly?"

hsh, In this case I see no middle ground that many are trying to carve out. Either there is an expectation of confidentiality or there isn't. Either diplomacy can be pursued with that expectation or it can't.

If Wikileaks act is imperfect but, as a whole acceptable, then it can't.

Thats the problem with it. It is pretty much all or nothing.

hairshirthedonist, I'm in favor of Freedom of Information laws, and I'd like to see more transparency in government generally. I'm opposed to the State Secrets privilege. But I don't really think that the State Department needs to disclose diplomatic communications as a general matter. Certainly there should be some scrutiny as to how long they should remain classified, or under what circumstances they should be released.

Other governments share information with our diplomats in the belief that our diplomats can keep a secret. It's a good thing for our diplomats, who represent our interest, can gather information in confidence so that they will have the tools to make better foreign policy. Obviously, it's up to citizens to elect people to use that information to make wise policy.

In this case I see no middle ground that many are trying to carve out. Either there is an expectation of confidentiality or there isn't. Either diplomacy can be pursued with that expectation or it can't.

Sigh. In a previous comment, I asked:

Finally, the US government can always say "this is a one-off; screw ups happen and this one won't happen again" -- and that's a pretty credible argument. Right now, Wikileaks has one and only one DOD leaker, and he's behind bars facing a long prison term. Its unlikely they'll be able to find someone who can steal lots of diplomatic cables in the short term (and hey! NK will no doubt collapse any day now!). Can someone explain to me why the Chinese government would simply assume that leaked diplomatic cables are just going to be the new normal?

Unless you have a good answer, your assumption that no one can ever assume any diplomatic confidentiality in the future is wrong. Since that assumption underlies your whole excluded-middle argument, I think you need to justify the assumption before we even consider your excluded middle argument above.

"But the US is not at war and has not faced any serious threat of war in decades."

I tried but, there are a couple of hundred thousand soldiers who have been (or currently are) in Iraq and Afghanistan who would beg to differ.

Either there is an expectation of confidentiality or there isn't.

Look, any attempt to keep something secret has some possibility of failure. It's not so much confidentiality as successful secrecy. I could promise to keep our correspondance confidential, but it doesn't mean someone couldn't break into my office or hack my computer. There's no guarantee. All the information that was leaked was written (in the general sense). It was also put onto a network that, as has been noted, some PFC had access to. Which brings me to this quote from a previous comment (bolding mine):

Whereas Wikileaks' goal (I believe this has been stated explicitly, at least by Assange, who I think can be assumed to speak for Wikileaks for purposes of this comment) is to make institutional secrecy more expensive, difficult, and unreliable in general, thereby forcing the USG (and other powerful organizations) to adopt a more transparent posture in general.

"I think you need to justify the assumption before we even consider your excluded middle argument above."

A broad acceptance of this, its happened twice mind you, as being imperfect but ok would lend itself to the Chinese wondering if it will happen again.

So let me ask a clarifying question, when saying this isn't a bad thing because it exposes the bad with everything else are you saying it would be ok if it happened again?

If it is viewed as an imperfect but acceptable activity then they would have every reason to believe it would happen again.

Again, assuming one time or two isn't the end of the world, what is your view if they did a new dump of US classified data every six months?

In short, let's force governments to pick their secrets more selectively, rather than allowing them to make things secret on the most minimally plausible of bases. Make it hard so they'll only do it when it's really worth it.

It's a good thing for our diplomats, who represent our interest, can gather information in confidence so that they will have the tools to make better foreign policy

Exactly right, if not exactly grammatically coherent. For example, consider the leaked cable with the following summary:

1. (SBU) Summary: The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has long gone to great pains to highlight the distinction between Americans and Canadians in its programming, generally at our expense. However, the level of anti-American melodrama has been given a huge boost in the current television season as a number of programs offer Canadian viewers their fill of nefarious American officials carrying out equally nefarious deeds in Canada while Canadian officials either oppose them or fall trying. CIA rendition flights, schemes to steal Canada's water, "the Guantanamo-Syria express," F-16's flying in for bombing runs in Quebec to eliminate escaped terrorists: in response to the onslaught, one media commentator concluded, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that "apparently, our immigration department's real enemies aren't terrorists or smugglers -- they're Americans." While this situation hardly constitutes a public diplomacy crisis per se, the degree of comfort with which Canadian broadcast entities, including those financed by Canadian tax dollars, twist current events to feed long-standing negative images of the U.S. -- and the extent to which the Canadian public seems willing to indulge in the feast - is noteworthy as an indication of the kind of insidious negative popular stereotyping we are increasingly up against in Canada. End Summary.

This is followed by an interminable show-by-show summary of Canadian television shows, beginning with one headlined ""THE BORDER" -CANADA'S ANSWER TO 24, W/O THAT SUTHERLAND GUY".

Now, if this diplomat knew this information would be leaked, would he have felt free to undertake an honest and unbiased evaluation of the portrayal of Americans on Canadian television, an evaluation necessary for the development of our foreign policy?

Does anyone fail to see how badly this threatens our national security? Is war with Canada even avoidable at this point?

Doesn't the leak of this memo shows why those calling for terrorist attacks against Wikileaks are fully justified in arguing for illegal assassinations?

This is the type of information that the government must protect. Obama has utterly failed to keep this under wraps, and now we are doomed.

Doomed.

"Whereas Wikileaks' goal (I believe this has been stated explicitly, at least by Assange, who I think can be assumed to speak for Wikileaks for purposes of this comment) is to make institutional secrecy more expensive, difficult, and unreliable in general, thereby forcing the USG (and other powerful organizations) to adopt a more transparent posture in general."

I don't really care what he wants. He is a spy and should be treated like one.

He can't make it practical for the USG not to have secrets, and I have expressed my views of him clearly above.

I don't really care what he wants. He is a spy and should be treated like one.

What if I want that too? Meaning more (as opposed to total) transparency? Or someone else? We're talking about the idea, not the man.

He is a spy and should be treated like one.

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - - that's all."

I think in a sense Mr. Dumpty's last statement is correct here, if the United States ends up charging Assange under the Espionage Act and ultimately obtains his conviction after all appeals have been exhausted, then we will have indeed seen who is to be master.

So let me ask a clarifying question, when saying this isn't a bad thing because it exposes the bad with everything else are you saying it would be ok if it happened again?

It would depend. How much bad realtive to everything else, and what constitutes the everything else? If there weren't so much secrecy and so much mayhem being committed in secret, maybe another dump wouldn't be okay (whatever that means). Actions can be justified (legally, morally, practically, etc.)under some circumstances, but not others, right?

A broad acceptance of this, its happened twice mind you, as being imperfect but ok would lend itself to the Chinese wondering if it will happen again.

What was the first time?

So let me ask a clarifying question, when saying this isn't a bad thing because it exposes the bad with everything else are you saying it would be ok if it happened again?

I'm saying that until it happens more than once, we have no rational basis to just assume that confidential diplomatic communication is GONE forever and ever.

You seem to assume that the US government is literally powerless to stop leaks: that it cannot protect secret data with primitive auditing software for example. I don't accept that assumption. In truth, the US government has many options and it will undoubtedly start employing some of them now.

If it is viewed as an imperfect but acceptable activity then they would have every reason to believe it would happen again.

But it is clearly not acceptable: Manning is going to go to prison for many many years. That's how our society signals that some behaviors are unacceptable: we imprison people for long periods of time. Surely you know this, so why do you need me to explain it to you?

Again, assuming one time or two isn't the end of the world, what is your view if they did a new dump of US classified data every six months?

That it doesn't matter because the US government is so #@%@!%@ stupid that we're all going to die very soon. I mean, I expect that Wikileaks will produce data dumps for quite a while, but I don't think they're going to be continually getting new stashes of diplomatic cables.

Look, what Wikileaks did with Manning is, in one narrow respect, sort of like what Al Queda did with 9/11: it was a spectacular one-shot operation. The minute you play that card though, the defenders can easily defend against it, so you only get to play it once.

"Right?"

But by that logic the Chinese would not, and should not, accept your one off explanation. There simply is not a middle ground.

"Donald Johnson, the lines that you personally draw about what should be kept from the public supports my earlier point. We all agree that some stuff shouldn't be disclosed - we just may disagree about what that stuff is."

That's the main point. And I don't trust the government to make that decision--I really don't and nobody should.

"That's why the document dumping is a bad idea - no one who represents our collective interests (not to mention your particular interests or mine) is really scrutinizing the information for what legitimately is harmful."

Again, this cuts both ways. I don't know what the hell my government is doing in my name and probably wouldn't like a lot of it if I did.


"We vote for an executive who, to a certain degree, carries with him the trust of the people (until impeachment or the next election)."

You totally lost me here. There's no accountability. Bush wasn't impeached and he won't be prosecuted. Checks and balances in our system don't work. We need groups like wikileaks, because nobody else is doing a damn thing to make the government accountable.

Gotta go.

There simply is not a middle ground.

There is and always has been nothing but middle ground. It has always been that any given secret could have somehow gotten out, even before Wikileaks. It is also still possible, despite Wikileaks, to keep a great many things secret.

If I tell you something "in confidence", can you infer that I'm not lying to you? If I whisper a secret in your ear, can you be sure I'm not keeping something else secret from you? If I talk to you about someone else behind his back, can you be sure I'm not talking to HIM behind YOUR back?

If you're a diplomat, American or otherwise, you're a naive fool to assume that the answer to such questions is "yes". Confidentiality is no proof of sincerity.

Maybe our diplomats will get to hear fewer things, after this Wikileak dump. But I don't take it for granted that they will hear fewer true things.

--TP

"Wikileaks is not in the business of enforcing which is baby and what is bathwater and we, as observers, are not in a position to enforce that distinction either."

And they are just as callous as the Pentagon about who they hurt on the way. The fact that Wikileaks dumps information, even about people secretly helping the US in Afghanistan, essentially condemning them to death, doesn't strike me as a wise balance between secretive and non-secretive. And the fact that Wikileaks doesn't even try to strike that balance makes it difficult for me to think their project is laudable. If they were trying to strike the balance I could see their point. Since they do not, it seems just like one set of callous SOBs thumbing their nose at another.

Here's what Theodore Roosevelt had to say about Wikileaks:

Behind the ostensible Government sits enthroned an invisible Government, owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible Government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics, is the first task of the statesmanship of the day....

Here's what the Department of Defense had to say about Sebastian's claims:

"The initial assessment in no way discounts the risk to national security," Gates wrote. "However, the review to date has not revealed any sensitive intelligence sources and methods compromised by the disclosure." The defense secretary said that the published documents do contain names of some cooperating Afghans, who could face reprisal by Taliban. But a senior NATO official in Kabul told CNN that there has not been a single case of Afghans needing protection or to be moved because of the leak.

And yet, Duff Clarity, note Theodore Roosevelt's secret diplomacy with Japan. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/19/books/19book.html

Duff Clarity is correct that there's a lot of silly stuff disclosed by wikileaks. It appears to be a "sensitive but unclassified" document written by some unnamed state department official given some task (of course, we don't know the context), perhaps to analyze whether the CBC has a bias in its reporting about the United States. Are we shocked at the report? Do we want to fire the official who made the report for being silly or over the top? What's the point? Is anyone really surprised by this? If anything, it's an argument in favor of the federal pay freeze, no? Or maybe reducing state department staff? Of course, most of the advocates for wikileaks are also outraged by the federal pay freeze, and would oppose cutting government. (For the record, I do not oppose the freeze, but do opppose cutting government.)

Donald Johnson has "gotta go" so this comment may be lost on him, but obviously he doesn't trust the government, and thinks he has no effect on it. So what the hell does he care about what wikileaks reveals? How does wikileaks make anybody accountable, when our system of government itself is a failure? What does wikileaks exactly do for him? Nobody is going to be prosecuted as a result of wikileaks. Is there anything that wikileaks reveals that he thinks is going to change anything that troubles him?

Tony P. says "If I tell you something "in confidence", can you infer that I'm not lying to you?" No (duh) but if someone posts a load of stuff on the Internet, can you trust that it's all authentic? Or can you know the context in which it was created? Or do you trust that all of what seems to be said in random documents is true?

People who are loathe to trust the people they've elected, or public servants who are working for policies that are promoted by people who we've elected - these same skeptics are happy to welcome the efforts of people who take stolen (embezzled) data and disclose it without scrutiny. It seems crazy to me.

"But a senior NATO official in Kabul told CNN that there has not been a single case of Afghans needing protection or to be moved because of the leak."

The leak you are quoting about was yesterday, right?

It seems crazy to me.

Why on earth should anyone trust the US government - have you been living under a rock for the past 10 years? I don't trust politicians in general, but trusting the US government is particularly naive.

And btw, there is a rather limited choice of people and parties to elect in the US, and many who do vote don't do so because they trust those people, but because they regard them as the lesser evil.

I had to go for a few hours--I couldn't finish my previous remark and in the meantime have forgotten what I was going to say.

"but obviously he doesn't trust the government, and thinks he has no effect on it. So what the hell does he care about what wikileaks reveals?"

followed later by--

"People who are loathe to trust the people they've elected, or public servants who are working for policies that are promoted by people who we've elected "

I can't fathom how anyone could believe this. You make this sound like it's some sort of personal foible on my part, but I can't understand how anyone could look at American history or anyone's history and say something like this. I could go on a pretty long rant about the history of America and the human rights violations we've either committed ourselves or supported secondhand and nobody was held accountable. It would be boring and obvious, and yet somehow the obviousness doesn't seem to have sunk in. There is no accountability on such issues, not for high-ranking people and that's probably why we keep having things like Abu Ghraib happen. I know what a patriotic believer in the civil religion of America and democracy is supposed to say--"trust the people we elected" and so forth, but good Lord. When I vote I either vote for a marginal protest candidate (which I can afford to do in my state) or I vote for the lesser of two evils. By the time someone gets to the top of a national party ticket they've long since ascended way above the point where they have to give a damn about the Amnesty International vote. (I just saw that novakant said almost the same thing as I was revising this.)

In the current political climate there is essentially no chance that the government will police itself. It's usually like this in most places in most times--just because a country is a democracy doesn't mean that the voting population is going to get all worked up because a bunch of foreigners were mistreated. That's almost never going to be at the top of any country's political agenda. The Democrats clearly aren't going to waste any political capital going after Bush's war crimes--apart from other issues which matter more to voters, a lot of them probably worry that if you start that precedent, it's likely to come back and bite the Democrats. Also, if there had been an investigation most of the press and the pundit class would have lined up with what Obama actually did say, which is that we need to move forward. (Which for some reason isn't a line of reasoning that our rulers use when lesser beings are guilty of lawbreaking.) That's also why Israel really had little to fear from the Goldstone report--what chance is there that US government officials would support war crimes investigations into the actions of a close Western ally? Maybe some judge or prosecutor in some European country might cause some embarrassment, but all Western governments understand the rules here--war crimes trials are for bad people on the other side, not people like us.

So what I want from wikileaks is a change in the public mood and maybe they can push us a little bit in that direction. You're not going to get this from the government and you're not going to get this from most of the mainstream press. If you change the public mood maybe, just maybe, a war crime overseas will become as intolerable for most American voters as, say, overt racial discrimination is supposed to be now.

Glenn Greenwald had a link to a piece in the Economist which made my point better--any institutional check on the power of a government to do rotten things overseas is probably going to be subject to regulatory capture by the very people it is supposed to oversee. That's why you need wikileaks and groups like them.

As for concerns about wikileaks, I'd prefer that they ally themselves with some human rights organization like Amnesty International, so they'd be very careful about hurting innocents with any document dumps. Possibly they are getting better about this (Glenn seems to say so). But hearing government officials pontificate about this is laughable.

Are we shocked at the report?

Yeah, I am. My tax dollars paid for that?

For some nefarious spy to watch Canadian television and report back that Americans are depicted on Canadian television as nefarious spies?

Those tax dollars could have paid for schools, could have helped homeless people train for jobs, could have paid for medicine for sick people that couldn't afford medicine, and I'm paying the CIA equivalent of Roger f*cking Ebert to watch Canadian television and figure out that, well, they're depicting us accurately, something must be done!

Yeah, I'm shocked. And more than a little pissed off.

And...this has to be kept secret? This is super-secret confidential material? Reviews of Canadian TV shows?

WTF.

"Why on earth should anyone trust the US government - have you been living under a rock for the past 10 years? I don't trust politicians in general, but trusting the US government is particularly naive."

So what's your plan, novakant? And how does wikileaks help you to achieve it?

No (duh) but if someone posts a load of stuff on the Internet, can you trust that it's all authentic?

No (duh) but if the people quoted do not deny the authenticity of the "load of stuff", I have at least a small reason to believe it.

I feel even more confident in the authenticity of the "load of stuff" when those railing against the leak PROCLAIM that it's authentic stuff and that's why the leak is damaging.

--TP

Digby has a post on wikileaks and sordid US behavior involving the deaths of Spanish journalists in Iraq.

link

It's about what I expected from the people I voted for. I certainly didn't vote for Obama expecting anything else on human rights--I was hoping for better things on the domestic economic front.

I attempted an earlier comment, so I hope that it doesn't also appear, but...

Donald Johnson, I share your despair about the country's apparent inability or unwillingness to hold the criminals responsible for Iraq, and the crimes of Abu Ghraib, and other objectionable actions, accountable. I just don't think that the wikileaks disclosure does anything at all to further that cause.

Instead, it reveals the mundane silliness of the kind that Duff Clarity objects to that sometimes occurs in bureaucracies - it becomes a "Holy crap - my government is engaged in absurdity." But anyone who's had anything to do with any large organization, including government, takes it for granted that a certain amount of absurdity becomes part of the institution. It's impossible to be so "lean and mean" that every analyst provides brilliant commentary.

In other words, people who are inclined to hate government bureaucracy will certainly get plenty of ammunition from the random revelations of stupid stuff. The bigger picture is more difficult to assess, because among the voluminous volume of stuff that's released, the unsurprising, regular, worthwhile, every day, boring work that is done by the state department staff goes unremarked. And although it's not revelatory, a large percentage of the work that's done might be useful or important. Or, even if it's just monitoring what's happening in diplomacy day to day, it's an accumulation of knowledge and relationships.

I have had friends and family who have worked for various the U.S. government, including the state department. Not all of the employees there are tasked with bringing about world peace. So what if some Canadian analyst is charged with looking at Canadian broadcasting and making an assessment of what the Canadian media thinks of the U.S. I see nothing wrong with that, even if the particular memo (maybe written by an entry level analyst - who knows who wrote it) seems ridiculous. These papers aren't U.S. foreign policy bulletins - they're work product of individual bureaucrats, some of whom might be inexperienced or even poor performers. It's impossible to know when a random document is read out of context.

I just noticed Tony P's comment. I don't know who he's talking about has "PROCLAIM"ed that the entire load of documents is authentic. What I've read is that there was a refusal to confirm their authenticity. Certainly some of them seem to be, but it's impossible for anyone to confirm the authenticity of 91,000 documents in a week.

When Assange ends up dead, solving the mystery will look like "The Orient Express".

http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/2010/12/they_play_dirty_plutonium_sandwich_edition.php?ref=fpblg

"I just don't think that the wikileaks disclosure does anything at all to further that cause."

It is adding to our detailed knowledge about the hypocrisy of our government. If it doesn't further the cause it will be in large part because our society (or the pundit and political and journalistic class) orchestrates outrage over "nihilists" like Assange while calmly "moving on" with respect to US government crimes and deceptions.

Wikileaks' goal (I believe this has been stated explicitly, at least by Assange, who I think can be assumed to speak for Wikileaks for purposes of this comment) is to make institutional secrecy more expensive, difficult, and unreliable in general, thereby forcing the USG (and other powerful organizations) to adopt a more transparent posture in general.

Then Assange is a dumbass, because people rarely respond positively to embarrassment and threats.

If the State Dept takes any action in response to all of this, it will be to increase, rather than loosen, the secrecy of its communications.

I'm all in favor of increased transparency in government, and IMO a lot of US foreign policy is [email protected]

All of that said, there is a lot of value in people in a diplomatic context being able to speak candidly, and having their words published for the world to see just does not further that end.

It's not the end of the world, life will go on, Assange is neither a spy nor a terrorist. I just don't see this as being a particularly constructive action on Wikileaks' part.

Indiscriminate classification and secrecy is stupid and counter-productive. Indiscriminate disclosure, likewise.

"Then Assange is a dumbass, because people rarely respond positively to embarrassment and threats."

So exposing vicious hypocrisy is counterproductive. It's bad to reveal that Arab dictators secretly urged the US to bomb Iran and it's bad to reveal that a Yemen government official joked about their willingness to lie on our behalf as we launched air strikes inside Yemen and it's bad to show that the Obama Administration pressured the Spanish government not to allow its justice system to investigate Bush's war crimes. People rarely respond positively to embarrassment and threats. You've given an argument not against indiscriminate disclosure, but any disclosure that embarrasses or threatens people. Assange's philosophy is precisely that of investigative journalism in general--a good journalist should always start with a presumption of bad faith when the government keeps secrets and only assume good motives when proven.

"there is a lot of value in people in a diplomatic context being able to speak candidly, and having their words published for the world to see just does not further that end."

If they weren't candid in private we wouldn't have the opportunity to learn how contemptible their actions are when their words were leaked. The fact that it doesn't further their ends is a plus.

I'm wondering how much positive good is actually done in the world via secret negotiations that couldn't better be accomplished by open discussion. Secrecy might occasionally be justifiable but the presumption should be against it.

Obama ran on a platform of open government. He lied. Nobody who actually gets into power seems to want open government--that's just a line for the rubes. I suppose everyone understands this and that's why there is so much outrage at Assange.

Assange, btw, could be a vicious hypocrite for all I know--if, for instance, he really is a rapist I hope he rots in prison. I also hope wikileaks continues.

I don't know who he's talking about has "PROCLAIM"ed that the entire load of documents is authentic.

Sapient, please: are you seriously suggesting that the various patriots calling for the head of Assange are doing so on grounds that he made stuff up?!?

BTW, if I was writing all this as a spy novel along the lines of The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, Assange would secretly be an American agent planting disinformation in the guise of a leak, and the hysterical denunciations of him would be encouraged in an effort to get certain foreigners to fall for the disinformation. That certain Americans would be getting riled up over the whole thing is a feature in this scenario, not a bug.

Incidentally: it is customary, in spy novels at least, to bury your nugget of disinformation in a heap of "chickenfeed" -- real but trivial information that seems to damage or embarrass yourself. That's how you make a "leak" seem real to the adversary you're trying to fool. It makes the "leak" seem real to everybody else too, of course, but that can't be helped.

I know it's ridiculous to even suggest that the Wiki "leak" could possibly be a government disinformation ploy. But it's no more ridiculous than the idea that sapient seems to be defending -- namely that some of the "documents" could be forgeries but the US government doesn't know they're forgeries.

--TP

I'm going to say that there's a tremendous amount of bad argumentation going on, mostly in the area of false equivalency. Wikileaks' state department release is not equivalent to destroying confidentiality in diplomacy. The specific case about North Korea is concerning in one sense (what are those crazy NKers gonna do with that?) but on the other hand I'm actually kind of reassured to discover that China and South Korea are willing to discuss it with Japan. That's a big change from say thirty years ago, and a good one. And actually, given the very strong information control the NK government has inside NK, I suspect the real answer is "not much."

However, there's a big difference between that and some of the other stuff that's in there. You guys are experiencing a very big blind spot, which has been pointed out by Turbulence and Daniel Johnson; your analyses are completely driven by US centric interests and domestic concerns.

I'm a Canadian. I think it's very useful for me to know that the US diplomatic corps consider the elites of my country to suffer from an "inferiority complex" and carry a "chip on their shoulder." I think it's extremely useful to know that the person in charge of CSIS (the Canadian Security Intelligence Service) apparently has utter contempt for my views (and the views of a very large majority of Canadians) on things like civil rights, privacy rights, children's rights, and the right of the citizenry to determine the broad policies of government.

That's extremely useful for us as Canadians to know.

You know, there's another thing to consider in what Assange and his colleagues are attempting to do here. One of the big criticisms of the blogs is that they're parasitic on the press, because you're dependent on them for information. Well, there's a gigantic amount of information available to you on wikileaks, and that information is going to be growing all the time.

Apparently they have had so much data given to them that they are having to work their way through it. I saw a TED talk that Assange gave a while back. He said that they'd put a lot of effort into improving their data handling infrastructure, and that many more leaks were going to be forthcoming, and not just from governments.

Your dependence on the press for information is over. Journalism has suddenly found itself in an era of amateurs again. No wonder the professionals are steaming mad.

"The specific case about North Korea is concerning in one sense (what are those crazy NKers gonna do with that?) but on the other hand I'm actually kind of reassured to discover that China and South Korea are willing to discuss it with Japan. That's a big change from say thirty years ago, and a good one."

I don't understand why you think that your reassurance is worth the problems it could cause in NK's reaction. Is that reassurance to your psyche worth the death of even one person in a crazy North Korean overreaction?

The fact that Assange doesn't seem to give the slightest bit about that is a problem for me. I firmly believe governments over-classify information and that they need lots of oversight. I also firmly believe that leaking the names and addresses of Afghan informants or risking disaster over North Korea shows a callousness that matches the forces he wants to fight. Leaking regarding misconduct is one thing. You can gain public disapproval of bad actions that way. Leaking just because seems likely to backfire because by exposing secrets that should actually be secrets you are turning the public against you. He has a cause I want to be sympathetic to, but he is making it very hard.

What donald and octopunch said. And sapient, you might want to read donald's link or this one. That's not diplomacy, but bullying by a hegemon and if you're really interested in holding the US accountable for Iraq etc. you should be happy that this has come to light.

Or how about the US colluding with the UK Foreign Office in circumventing the ban on cluster bombs.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/dec/01/wikileaks-cables-cluster-bombs-britain

I got the impression (from the media that are not sympathetic to Assanga&Co) that Wikileaks took some care to redact stuff that could get people killed (like names and addresses).
---
As far as 'no secret diplomacy' goes, I think the intention was not to have all talks take place where everyone can hear them but that
a) the fact of talks should be public
b) the topics discussed should be public
c) results or lack thereof should be public
That means
a) no conspiratorial meetings
b) no secret deals, esp. not attached to public ones (like the secret protocol to the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molotov%E2%80%93Ribbentrop_Pact>Hitler-Stalin Pact)
---
The infant Soviet Union did a 'wikileak' by publishing huge amounts of internal documents of the former tsarist regime* . That's still a major source for historians.

*iirc the German government followed suit but did so in a very selective way. It hid some German malfeasance but exposed a lot of embarassing stuff about the other powers in order to fend off the (ridiculous) claims of a exclusive guilt of Germany concerning WW1.

Tony P, no, I don't think what you posit is ridiculous at all. It wouldn't surprise me at all to find out that someone was behind the document dump who had a specific purpose in mind, either to spread disinformation, or to create a certain hysteria. For example, the seemingly universal hope that somebody bombs Iran's nuclear program seems to be a plus for the John Boltons of the world. That's only one of the many reasons why the information isn't trustworthy, even if it is mostly or all authentic.

polyorchnid octopunch, thanks, but I think my US centric interest is perfectly appropriate when the leaks consisted of alleged US diplomatic documents - they're my documents in that I am a citizen and they belong to my government.

And by the way, as someone who's been an editor, there's a big difference between data dumping and publishing. The press has used data processing techniques to cherry pick "the good bits" out of tens of thousands of documents, most of which might show the boring work of constructive diplomacy.

novakant, I'm not at all surprised that the US pressured Spain not to prosecute Bush administration people. It's a typical (if in this case distasteful) job of diplomats to protect American citizens from foreign prosecution when there's an argument for it. Obviously, I wish there was a prosecution here. But, as with most of these "revelations," we knew what the policy was - if anyone's surprised about the details they haven't been paying attention. In other words, Hartmut's wishlist of what should be public is substantially already available. Were you surprised that the US state department would be dissuading foreign prosecutors from bringing charges against US citizens?

Or how about the US colluding with the UK Foreign Office in circumventing the ban on cluster bombs.

I am normally a bit leery about linking to Teh Grauniad, but that article looks pretty solid.

This does seem boil-downable to a cost-benefit calculation, and it's funny to see the same pundits who are fetishistically fond of the "ticking time-bomb" justification of torture erupting in tantrums about how improper this all was. Not to say that the content of this specific leak justified the leak, but the question should not be confined to whether this specific one was justifiable. The argument here seems to be going back and forth with the antileak arguers emphasizing the terrible terrible costs of leaking, with little attention paid to the potential benefits. And the (ob? con? in?)verse. but how can you make a serious cost benefit argument without a net benefit calculation? Also, if you argue that this leak was not worth it, you imply that another leak might be. But shouldn't we be more concerned with the process than with the results? As for proleakers, if we encourage this sort of leak, even if this leak is beneficial, the next one might not be. Wikileaks is unaccountable to us and we have no power over them to prevent harmful leaks. Similarly, even if the government is right, and some of the stuff revealed hurts our interests, if we're more concerned about a CBA then why aren't we wondering the this is net beneficial?

I am in a rush but I guess I am just wondering if we want to be principled or utilitarian about this, or is our sole principle utility?

Sebastien: the death of even one person? Are you serious? The United States is responsible for the deaths of around a million people in Iraq over the last decade (and don't give me that Iraq body count bs; I'm quite happy to take Lancet's word for how many have died) and you're trying to feed me crap about the possibility of one death due to the NK stuff?

Don't piss on me and tell me it's raining. Given the US's behaviour over the last ten years, any idea that you guys can lecture anyone about the morality of this is laughable on its face and actually a tragedy when you start to look at the details. It's pretty clear that you don't really give a damn about people's deaths, unless they support your argument.

Why on earth would you think I give a tinker's damn about your US centric view of the whole thing? Why should Assange? he's not an American. To be frank, your assertion that my perspective doesn't matter because I'm not an American is both insulting and perfectly illustrates why most of the rest of the west has come to view your country in such contempt over the last decade; you perfectly illustrate the antediluvian arrogance of current-day American politics.

Plus I've got one final clue stick for you; those documents aren't yours any more than their mine; your US citizenship only matters in any real sense to the degree that you're an authoritarian follower; in any real sense you cannot claim ownership of those documents. The most you can do is complain about how much of your money was used to produce them. If you believe otherwise, well, I've got a great bridge between Windsor and Detroit to sell you.

So exposing vicious hypocrisy is counterproductive.

Yes, it's very possible for the exposure of vicious hypocrisy to be counterproductive.

I'm wondering how much positive good is actually done in the world via secret negotiations that couldn't better be accomplished by open discussion.

That's a very good question.

Obama ran on a platform of open government. He lied.

Lied, or failed. Or both. Hard to say which. But yeah, not such an open government.

Nobody who actually gets into power seems to want open government

Right you are.

That's not diplomacy, but bullying by a hegemon

Maybe this will come as a big surprise to everyone, but US foreign policy for at least the last generation or two can be summarized as follows:

"bullying by a hegemon".

For a non-trivial amount of that time, and for a non-trivial number of the actors, the *explicit goal* of foreign policy has been to establish and maintain total, full-spectrum political, economic, and military dominance of the entire freaking world. Full stop.

Of course we tried to get Spain to drop their criminal investigation of Bush era war crimes.

Of course Yemen lied about who was bombing their own citizens.

Of course some Arab nations would like us to attack Iran.

And of course, the US engages in vicious hypocrisy in its foreign policy.

The US is a nation nominally predicated on the natural and inalienable equality of all people, on popular sovereignty, and on the rule of law, and it is simultaneously engaged in a program of total global dominance in every available form.

Vicious hypocrisy is baked in.

All of that is true, *and* Assange is a reckless and irresponsible actor.

Has he read all of the docs he dumped? Has anyone? How does he know what is valuable to expose, and what is dangerous? What qualifies him to decide what is worth the risk of exposure, and what is not?

It's not just nations that are prone to hubris, hypocrisy, and bad behavior.

Given the US's behaviour over the last ten years, any idea that you guys can lecture anyone about the morality of this is laughable on its face and actually a tragedy when you start to look at the details.

It should go without saying that Sebastian is not the US government, and so is not appropriately grouped in with that set of "you guys".

Slartibartfast: he's certainly arguing the US government's position on this. So yeah, I think that's a fair statement to make.

I had no idea that Sebastian was taking the US government's side. I think that Sebastian might have a nice chuckle over the implied notion that he's supportive of some large subset of what the government does.

hilzoy, just as an example, was once a front-pager here, and she makes her living lecturing on ethics. What if she and the US government were in accord on something; would that make her opinion wrong, automatically?

I say not. This is one of the many, many, many reasons why it's most effective to argue the point, and not make some guilt-by-association attempt.

US foreign policy for at least the last generation or two can be summarized as follows: "bullying by a hegemon".

the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt could tell us some good stories about how the country of Panama was created, i'm sure. and he'd have some interesting things to say about what the Spanish-American war meant to the US's place in the world.

we've been a bully for at least a century.

Re: russell at 8:51

While many of the commenters here may be aware, at least generally, of the sins of the US government, some, probably many, people are not. Too many people in this country trust their government too much is some areas, while, at the same time, not enough in others, I think. Excessive trust seems focused on foreign affairs, and I think that's dangerous. Opening people's eyes about how our government really operates, or simply verifying those things people might suspect, or even putting the clarification of specifics on known generalities is a good thing.

Maybe Assange is irresponsible. But maybe the leak is a net good, regardless. And maybe not. I don't claim to know. We might know after some time has passed, or we might never, really. I tend to think it's a net good.

I'm also interested to know what people think about Julian's question:

I am in a rush but I guess I am just wondering if we want to be principled or utilitarian about this, or is our sole principle utility?

I liked this comment (via Greenwald) from NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen:

The watchdog press died, and what we have is WikiLeaks instead.

After reading my comment, it seems I'm being a bit US-centric myself. It's good for people in other countries to know what their governments and ours are up to as well, and us theirs.

Regarding Julian's question, I'm not sure where I'd draw the line between utility and principle. I tend to think principle is utility with a longer and broader view in mind. I'd view the strong possibility of leaks in general as a sort of systemic input into the dynamics of international relations. Assuming this is a new or amplified as a result of Wikileads, the question is how nations deal with the new system dynamics. Even if there's a net negative effect in this first instance, once adjustments are made in behaviors, how does it play out and what different effects will the next event have based on those adjustments? I'm not suggesting that there's necessarily an answer that is or will ever be known, but that's my thought process.

"Has he read all of the docs he dumped? Has anyone? How does he know what is valuable to expose, and what is dangerous? What qualifies him to decide what is worth the risk of exposure, and what is not?"

Who gets to decide what is valuable and what is dangerous? The government? God help us. Or are we supposed to trust our wonderful responsible press corps, the same press that generally acts like governmental stenographers. (Is anyone besides me continually irked by the way the NYT Week in Review reads like it was written by someone who empathizes with US government officials as they try to rule the world?)

There's no answer to the question of who watches the watchers, but clearly, beyond question, you can't trust the government to do it and you usually can't trust most of the mainstream press either.


Ugh's Greenwald link mentions quite a few things that wikileaks has revealed so far. I can't see any downside to what they've done that compares to the benefits of releasing this material. And I completely agree with the Jay Rosen quote. Wikileaks is what an adversarial press really looks like, which is why the press hates them so much.

I also don't see a significant difference between Assange and Ellsberg (and neither does Ellsberg). IIRC, the Pentagon Papers began as Robert McNamara's study of how the US got into Vietnam. You could say it was an attempt at serious self-examination by the government, something that got leaked. So the reward for serious self-examination was that the government was exposed to the world, and furthermore, other countries could have concluded that you just couldn't trust the US government to be discreet if they can't even keep their own dirty secrets under wraps. So maybe Richard Nixon and Eric Holder are right--we've got to crack down on these wildly irresponsible self-appointed messianic figures and trust our elected officials and their appointees to do the right thing in secret.

I have come to love Big Brother.

"Sebastien: the death of even one person? Are you serious? The United States is responsible for the deaths of around a million people in Iraq over the last decade (and don't give me that Iraq body count bs; I'm quite happy to take Lancet's word for how many have died) and you're trying to feed me crap about the possibility of one death due to the NK stuff?"

The problem is that the two prongs of your argument don't appear to be rationally related to each other. First, the people who are doing the dying and will be doing the dying are the *South Koreans*. Right? Your self-righteous rant about the evils of the United States seems weirdly displaced in that context. I realize that you're Canadian, and not much interested in either party, but it still might be worth noticing that the recklessness of the disclosure hits a party other than the one you think did the wrong.

Second, Assange could have designed the document dump to be about Iraq, or Iraq and Iran, or the Middle East and not released the cables about North Korea or other areas where he would run huge risks with innocent 3rd parties.

Third, Assange could have designed the document dump to focus on malfeasance. This would have been more narrowly tailored to punish/restrict/deal with your complaints about American actions without putting the lives of 3rd parties in danger.

If he had acted in that way, I would have been much more supportive. I'm very much open to the idea that targeted leaks about American malfeasance could help clean certain things up. I'm not particularly convinced that a reckless and reflexive dump of all information does the same thing. It causes problems like for example allowing distraction from the malfeasance by focusing on the recklessness.

Assange seems completely callous to the idea that people who aren't even his target are going to be hurt by some of these leaks. If you want to argue that the US has earned the pain they get out of this fine, but since he could have tailored it to get that pain without as much 3rd party danger, he still seems very reckless and callous about the 3rd world people he put directly in the line of fire.

Sebastian, I trust you and have no trouble believing your point re: Assange's callousness (though I have not read enough to judge for myself). However, here is why some liberals are calling hypocrisy.

[Bush] seems completely callous to the idea that people who aren't even his target are going to be hurt by some of these [wars]. If you want to argue that [Saddam] has earned the pain [he] get[s] out of this fine, but since [Bush] could have tailored it to get that pain without as much 3rd party danger, [Bush] still seems very reckless and callous about the 3rd world people he put directly in the line of fire.

Since the cost in life and money (that other form of life) is quantifiable and depressingly high for the iraq and afghan wars, and since wikileaks has so far killed no one and cost nothing that I am aware of (though I appreciate it may take time to incur these costs), Glennzilla et al are indignant at the indignation.

I don't care as much about the hypocrisy because it's all very meta; the actual issue of leaking and its merits are much more important. Unfortunately I am at work and was recently berated for too much surfing, so I will need to think of something to say about that later once I am bold again!

The Korean issue Sebastian raises might be an example where Assange is wrong--I don't know enough to judge that.

But Sebastian seems to be conceding it is legitimate for a private organization to obtain classified documents and leak them, making its own judgments on what it can leak and what it can't. Of course they should try not to hurt innocent people. I agree with that. It's what the press is supposed to do, but they seem too deeply embedded with our government to remember they are supposed to be adversarial.

Wikileaks says it did filter the documents to redact names of people or groups who could be put at risk.

here is why some liberals are calling hypocrisy

Sebastian could be an utter hypocrite in this regard for all I care. For nontrivial issues, Sebastian's argument has merit (or doesn't) regardless of what he says or does in other situations.

Julian, the funny thing about your argument is I'm pretty darn sure you don't buy it in the Saddam/Bush/Iraq case. So why are you bringing it forward in Assange's defense?

Assange seems completely callous to the idea that people who aren't even his target are going to be hurt by some of these leaks.

In a very well-stated nutshell, this is my objection to what Assange is doing, in this case and in others.

Slarti, I agree with you, which is why at 10:58 am I said:

I don't care as much about the hypocrisy because it's all very meta; the actual issue of leaking and its merits are much more important.

I was explaining my opinion of the cause of liberal indignation at conservative indignation.

Sebastian, I did not present it as a defense of Assange. I meant that Assange is similar but not congruent (in the triangle-y sense) to Bush, based on my analogy. The difference, as I pointed out, is scale, and so far there have been no deaths from this leak, while in Iraq there have been hundreds of thousands of deaths. What I am asking is whether we care about the result or the process?

Basically, I mean that Bush broke the rules and Assange broke the rules. Which rules and how broken are debatable, but they did. The question is how much rule breaking we tolerate? Is it based on results? Do we have rules about which rules you can break? I want to know people's opinions on this, because I think we are arguing in circles when we fixate on the specific harm and good of these decisions. That's because our predictions of what will do good or won't are so frequently wrong. The best we can do is refine the process.

Here's something relevant to the argument that people were (callously) put at risk by Wikileaks.

http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=61411

WASHINGTON, Oct. 25, 2010 – Despite WikiLeaks’ attempt to redact the names of Iraqi informants from its recent leak of classified military reports, some of those people are still in danger, a Pentagon spokesman said today.

On Oct. 22, WikiLeaks released more than 400,000 sensitive documents chronicling military operations during the Iraq war from 2004 to 2009.

“We had identified 300 or so people whose names were [mentioned in the documents] that possibly would be put at risk if their names were published,” Pentagon spokesman Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan said.

Of that group, he added, the names were removed but “in a few dozen cases there’s still information that could identify those people.”

Such remaining information includes job titles, he said.

The U.S. Central Command has the names of those potentially at risk and “is deciding whether they’re going to make notifications or not,” Lapan said.

(...)

It appears, even from the critical standpoint of the Defense Department, that there was an effort to protect people from harm by redacting their names. Perhaps this was an imperfect effort, but it doesn't sound "completely callous."

Assange seems completely callous to the idea that people who aren't even his target are going to be hurt by some of these leaks.

Let's keep two things in mind:

(1) During past Wikileaks releases, there were many complaints about how Wikileaks was endangering people, cause people to get killed etc. But none of these claims have been substantiated. Even the DOD has had to walk them back because there is just no evidence to support them.

We can't ignore this: historically, many claims about Wikileaks' "harm" have been overblown and poorly supported. Therefore, we should treat new claims with some skepticism. And that leads us to...

(2) There is still no basis for believing that any Koreans are going to be harmed by Wikileaks' release at all. Such claims rely on the assumption that the Chinese government will conclude that it cannot ever have confidential diplomatic communication with the US. There is simply no reason to accept this assumption.

Russell, I understand that you object to the fact that Assange risked harming those who were not his targets. My question is: would you refrain from objecting if he had harmed them less or reduced the risk of harm? What if the benefit of harming them were greater than it currently is, and the harm were constant?

If this is about utility, then we're in "torture the guy who knows where the bomb is" territory, even if you object to this iteration of lawbreaking (although I am not sure Assange broke the law, and if so if it was U.S. or int'l law). If your objection is instead against leaking itself, that is a different debate.

That applies to the Iraq War logs, not the latest release, btw.

Assange seems completely callous to the idea that people who aren't even his target are going to be hurt by some of these leaks.

I agree that Assange is callous in a narrow sense; but so what?

I mean, this sort of callousness is something we casually accept from soldiers and police officers (for example). Every American soldier is "callous" in the same way: since the military does occasionally do horrific things, joining it necessarily requires a certain indifference to the inevitable victims. But we don't judge them to be bad people. So what makes Assange different? Is it because the (at the moment highly theoretical) "harm" he does is not in service of an authoritarian state organization? I mean, if Assange did his thing while working for the Swedish intelligence service, would we still care about his callousness?

Sebastian, the problem with your "argument" is that Wikileaks did redact names and other identity information from the documents.

Frankly, you're just parroting talking points.

"I mean, this sort of callousness is something we casually accept from soldiers and police officers (for example). Every American soldier is "callous" in the same way: since the military does occasionally do horrific things, joining it necessarily requires a certain indifference to the inevitable victims. But we don't judge them to be bad people."

I don't see why I have to judge or not judge Assange as a 'bad person'. Who cares? His acts are callous to the harm against people who are not his target. I don't have the slightest problem criticizing his act in the presumably sincere pursuit of whatever his unclear mission is with respect to the US government. I don't have the slightest problem criticizing the acts of a military torturer even in the presumably sincere pursuit of the defense of his country. You're doing the same thing Julian seemed to be in his earlier comment (though he seems to have somewhat clarified it since)--putting forth an argument in defense of Assange that you would certainly not accept in defense of a military torturer, or a grunt who thought it was ok to kill everyone in a neighborhood to get at an informant.

"Such claims rely on the assumption that the Chinese government will conclude that it cannot ever have confidential diplomatic communication with the US. There is simply no reason to accept this assumption."

First, you're putting huge weight on 'ever'. How about 'often'? Second, what about the problem of the North Korean reaction to knowing that Japan, South Korea, the US and China are all actively planning *together* about what to do when the NK state collapses? You can't imagine that being a problem? Lj seems to be able to, and I certainly can. This is exactly what I mean about callous. Assange threw a bomb into an already incredibly touchy situation, with incredibly high stakes, and with apparent disregard for the complexity of the problem. He did it either to get at one of the parties (the US) or out of some ideologically pure belief about information needing to be free. The people most likely to pay the cost of this disregard are not Assange's target (in this case they are the North Koreans or Afghan people who probably were trying to make their country a better place and probably other people that we don't even know about in other countries affected by the leaks). So either they are counted as acceptable losses, or he didn't even bother worrying about them.

I think it is great to try to hold the US accountable for its misdeeds. I don't think it is great to have lots of other people pay for it *especially when you could take steps to avoid it*.

He could have released the cables re: the Afghanistan/Iraq situation alone. He could have released things that documented American misdeeds. He could have been discerning about sensitive diplomatic situations like North Korea. He didn't and he wasn't and he doesn't seem interested in doing so.

"If this is about utility, then we're in "torture the guy who knows where the bomb is" territory, even if you object to this iteration of lawbreaking"

Turbulence and Donald Johnson: you going to let this pass as a pro-Assange argument?

Must-reading re: Assange's rational for 'radical transparency':

Because we all basically know that the US state — like all states — is basically doing a lot of basically shady things basically all the time, simply revealing the specific ways they are doing these shady things will not be, in and of itself, a necessarily good thing. In some cases, it may be a bad thing, and in many cases, the provisional good it may do will be limited in scope. The question for an ethical human being — and Assange always emphasizes his ethics — has to be the question of what exposing secrets will actually accomplish, what good it will do, what better state of affairs it will bring about. And whether you buy his argument or not, Assange has a clearly articulated vision for how Wikileaks’ activities will “carry us through the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity,” a strategy for how exposing secrets will ultimately impede the production of future secrets. The point of Wikileaks — as Assange argues — is simply to make Wikileaks unnecessary.

As they say, read the whole damn thing. Rosen, Weaver & Shirky (who calls it "the best thing about [Wikileaks] ever written") are citing this as the definitive analysis of the overarching 'why' behind Wikileaks.

My question is: would you refrain from objecting if he had harmed them less or reduced the risk of harm? What if the benefit of harming them were greater than it currently is, and the harm were constant?

I guess my point here is that Assange is not in a position to assess any of the above, nor to mitigate any harm that his actions do cause.

I don't think Assange is a terrorist, or a spy, or likely even a criminal. I don't know if he's even a particularly bad guy.

I don't think he should go to jail, I don't think Wikileaks should be shut down. I think the reaction to this leak, and (probably) to a lesser degree the Afghanistan leaks are overblown. I think the transparent attempts to discredit and/or threaten Assange are idiotic.

I just don't particularly see him as a particularly responsible guy.

Sure, as far as we know, nobody has been shot in the head and left for dead in the street because of what's been put out on Wikileaks. But that's not the only kind of damage that can flow from these kinds of indiscriminate disclosures.

Assange may, in fact, not be indifferent to the difficulties he creates when he dumps this stuff in public. For all I know, it keeps him up each and every night.

What I do know is that he is not in a position to realistically evaluate the impact his actions will have, and he absolutely does not have the resources to do anything to mitigate that impact.

Maybe we're at the point where our foreign policy and diplomatic relations are so irreparably FUBAR that the best thing to do is hang any and all dirty laundry out to dry and let the chips fall where they may.

I hope that's not true, because that would be one hell of a crappy place to be.

But even if it is or isn't true, I don't see Assange as being the guy to know that, or to understand how to make it better.

He's not commenting on foreign policy, he's not making a principled argument about state secrecy.

He's now an active, purposeful participant in the whole mess.

I'm not he's in a position to be that guy.

The dude's a loose cannon. He's Some Guy With A Website. And he's f***ing, in a very direct way, with international diplomatic relations.

I don't see that as a good thing.

No one would even know who Assange is without people (person?) having funneled data to him. I don't think he's even violated any laws.

He's not my favorite person on the planet right now, but I think there are probably others who would have done same as him, given the chance. It's really the guy who swiped the data who should be getting the lion's share of vilification, no?

It's really the guy who swiped the data who should be getting the lion's share of vilification, no?

He and whoever the people were who decided to put such supposedly sensitive information where it could, apparently, easily be obtained en masse.

He and whoever the people were who decided to put such supposedly sensitive information where it could, apparently, easily be obtained en masse.

Assange is an Australian national. I don't believe his activities are constrained by US law.

Maybe there's some international law that applies, here, that I'm unaware of.

Huh? I'm talking about the Department of State. Some PFC was able to get gobs of info and hand it off to whomever.

And what does vilification have to do with US law?

russell: Maybe we're at the point where our foreign policy and diplomatic relations are so irreparably FUBAR that the best thing to do is hang any and all dirty laundry out to dry and let the chips fall where they may.

With respect, I think that point was passed in early 2003, when the US falsified evidence that Iraq was developing nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons as a pretext for a war of aggression.

History is not going to judge that very kindly. In fact it's going to be called a war crime. So things have gone pretty badly wrong already and I for one would like to figure out how to prevent it from getting any wrong-er since I happen to live in and be a citizen of, respectively, the two countries responsible for the whole thing.

And if the loyal opposition in those countries won't do anything to shed any light on what the hell is going on, it falls to the rest of us to try to find out. And if that means some potentially dangerous information gets out in the open, that is an acceptable price to pay for the not at all potential danger of more wars, in which hundreds of thousands of actual people will actually die.

As noted above, nobody appears to have actually been harmed by the previous releases related to Afghanistan and Iraq, contra dire warnings from the DoD. Even if they had, people die every day as a result of things the US/UK/NATO does.

Let me put it simply: we still do not know why we invaded Iraq in 2003. Anything that may shed some light on how our governments actually work would be welcome for the citizens of these democracies, who are the ones who actually die for and pay for the wars that result.

We don't know why we invaded a country and overthrew its government on utterly false pretexts that pretty much everyone in both the US & UK governments knew were false. We don't do that on a regular basis, so the superficial arguments about wanting to "look tough" don't explain it away. (Obviously they helped get a lot of people on the bandwagon though.)

I'd like to know why. I'd like to know why war with Iran has such a constituency in Washington. That the king of Saudi Arabia - a country notorious for bribery and corruption - is eagerly pushing it in private while US politicians and officials push it in public is information that I think is quite important for the citizens of the US to know.

Ah, I see the problem.

By "vilification", I was really meaning "consequences". I have no idea why I chose that word, and it's completely understandable if you're wondering if I've gone even more off my nut than usual.

Sebastian: I think it is great to try to hold the US accountable for its misdeeds. I don't think it is great to have lots of other people pay for it *especially when you could take steps to avoid it*.

Sebastian, Novakant said this shortly before you posted:

Sebastian, the problem with your "argument" is that Wikileaks did redact names and other identity information from the documents.

Can you respond to his claim?

Then you quote me:
"If this is about utility, then we're in "torture the guy who knows where the bomb is" territory, even if you object to this iteration of lawbreaking"

Sebastian: Turbulence and Donald Johnson: you going to let this pass as a pro-Assange argument?

But that is not a pro-Assange argument. I said "If." My point was that "if" Russell objected based on the harm from the leak, then he was implicitly stating that the harm, and not the leak, was the problem.

I haven't posted a pro- or anti- Assange argument. I have been asking people to clarify the grounds on which they object to the leak.

I judge myself more harshly than Assange--all this talk about his being an egomaniac and so forth is just the usual collection of insults that are thrown at any radical who manages to grab the microphone for a moment and make his or her case. He's got to be a nut, or those of us who live in this society and accept as a given that there is no accountability for the powerful are at best confused and at worst smug, complacent and complicit. Assange, for all his faults (leaving aside whether he's a rapist, which is inexcusable if true) is trying to do something about this sick society. I sit at the computer and type angry letters to the NYT or politicians or rant away in a blog comment section. Assange's life choice seems far more admirable to me.

"Let me put it simply: we still do not know why we invaded Iraq in 2003. Anything that may shed some light on how our governments actually work would be welcome for the citizens of these democracies, who are the ones who actually die for and pay for the wars that result."

What do you mean, we don't know why? There are many reasons why and all of them were bad. But the fact that we were able to do it is because enough of the stupid electorate voted Republican or Nader in year 2000 so that the 5 right wing members of the Supreme Court were able to call the election in his favor. Thereafter, it doesn't matter what secret negotiations or diplomacy occurred. Bush had the power to start the war, and did it with a sloppy authorization from Congress. There is nothing in Wikileaks or any other document that we need to know since there are very public rationales from PNAC, Cheney's oil company friends' interests, Halliburton's interests, and many others. Who needs to uncover secret diplomatic discussions to understand all that?

And knowing, as we know now, that there were no weapons of mass destruction, the stated casus belli, there is every reason for citizens to demand a full inquiry into everything leading up to that war. Unfortunately, the citizens have moved on.

I don't think that 'if' argument about torture will get you very far here, but we will see. I'm noting my objection to it and moving on.

As for redaction: In past leaks they redacted some information, though it is still very possible to get exact names of people working in Afghanistan even from that dump. I feel strangely reluctant to additionally show you this, on the off off off chance that one of the names I easily found hasn't been noticed already. But if you look in the documents yourself you can construct easy searches to get Afghan people who helped the United States. If you have any computer search skills at all, I encourage you to look for yourself.

This dump was even less redacted (in one of the interviews he said he didn't have time...) and the question doesn't pertain to the touchy diplomatic issues (like NK) anyway.

Maybe this is one thing that bothers me. I am open to the idea that sometimes you see things so horrible that you have to leak them rather than be complicit in hiding them. The first big dump, some months ago, had some of that. I can understand Manning and Wikileaks working together to expose potential war crimes, or even expose how the war is going in a different direction from how it is generally portrayed in the media.

I don't get that out of this dump. There is no dramatic moral imperative to leak so that we can find out that some functionary in Canada thinks Canadians have a chip on their shoulder. There is no moral imperative to risk the NK reaction to the fact that Japan and South Korea and China are partially putting aside their enormous history to figure out what to do when NK collapses.

I felt like I could understand the previous mega-leak, even if I thought it wasn't done ideally. This one, I don't understand. It seems there is very little upside, very little moral necessity, and a big potential downside (or a lot of big potential downsides).

But if you look in the documents yourself you can construct easy searches to get Afghan people who helped the United States. If you have any computer search skills at all, I encourage you to look for yourself.

Comments like this seem bizarrely disconnected from the reality of war in Afghanistan. In the areas of Afghanistan where people might be in danger for helping the US, the Taliban have already infiltrated damn near everything. They already know a great deal more about the US and people helping the US than the US knows about the Taliban and people helping the Taliban. The notion that the Taliban might need to go on the internet and read some english language documents to learn facts that they already know in far more detail is just...daft. I mean, this is the whole basis of the Taliban's strategic advantage to the US: far superior local knowledge and intelligence.

So yes, I'm sure you can find the name of, say, a local police chief who worked with the US on raiding some Taliban compounds. But given that several of his police officers are likely on the Taliban payroll, I'm pretty sure that Wikileaks is irrelevant to the chief's well being.

"I don't think that 'if' argument about torture will get you very far here, but we will see. I'm noting my objection to it and moving on."

In court, I think an attorney has to state the grounds for his objection before it's noted. Can you do me the courtesy of stating objection?

My impression (which is uncertain, since you have spoken so vaguely) is that you think I am arguing for torture. If that is what you think, you have badly misunderstood me. I have not stated a pro- or anti-torture argument. Neither have I stated a pro- or anti-Assange argument. I have repeatedly said that I am asking the posters here which of two possible (as I see it) grounds they are using to either decry or support Wikileaks.

The reason I brought up torture was to compare the arguments used in its support by other people [i.e. Not Me] to the arguments used against or for wikileaks on this blog.

My point was that russell and several others seemed to be arguing that Wikileaks would be bad or good based on how much harm/good the leak dump caused.

This is, in my view, like saying that torture is bad or good based on whether the victim has or does not have information.

I very specifically did not state how I felt about torture. For the record, I am against torture on legal / principled grounds.

Sapient, from the link donald posted above:

In Spain, the WikiLeaks disclosures have dominated the news for three days now. The reporting has been led by the level-headed El País, with its nationwide competitor, Público, lagging only a bit behind. Attention has focused on three separate matters, each pending in the Spanish national security court, the Audiencia Nacional: the investigation into the 2003 death of a Spanish cameraman, José Cuoso, as a result of the mistaken shelling of Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel by a U.S. tank; an investigation into the torture of Spanish subjects held at Guantánamo; and a probe into the use of Spanish bases and airfields for extraordinary renditions flights, including the one which took Khaled El-Masri to Baghdad and then on to Afghanistan in 2003.

These cables reveal a large-scale, closely coordinated effort by the State Department to obstruct these criminal investigations...

Without the leaks, this scandal wouldn't have been front page news. Since Obama has shown no interest whatsoever in transparency and is in certain respects even worse than Bush, it is little wonder that some people have decided to take matters in their own hands and I believe that, under the circumstances, it is a good thing.

"Unfortunately, the citizens have moved on."

They were told to move on by Obama, who compared any investigation into Bush's crimes as a possible "witch hunt", and this is the prevailing view of the political class in this country.

"Who needs to uncover secret diplomatic discussions to understand all that?"

Again with the secret diplomatic discussions. I never realized liberals made such a fetish of this until yesterday. Sebastian may have a legitimate point wrt Korea, but when I hear the phrase "secret diplomatic discussion" I tend to think something bad is probably going on, and according to some of the wikileaks documents, such suspicions are often correct. Which is what one would expect. The North Korea case is special because that regime seems weirdly irrational (unless I'm getting too much mainstream spin in my reading) and so I can understand why one might want to be circumspect in discussing how to respond to them. In most cases, though, "secret diplomacy" probably means "lets conspire to tell lies to the Arab public and live down to their low expectations of us" or "let's agree in private that the Honduran coup was illegal, but not say so" or things of that nature.

What's weird about this thread is that we're spending all this time talking about what a bad thing wikileaks is, and not about the bad things wikileaks has revealed. There are some, you know, some mentioned in this thread and others you can find discussed elsewhere at other blogs. It's not all gossip and titillation about Ghaddafi's mistress (not that there's anything wrong with that).

As for nihilism, it is starting to have its appeal--part of the far left is certifiably nuts (a topic for some other thread), but to my mind so are mainstream liberals (on different subjects) and I won't even get started on the conservatives. Assange is a dreamy-eyed idealist if he thinks he can whip some sense into this country by revealing that our government is lying. He doesn't know America.

russell: What I do know is that he is not in a position to realistically evaluate the impact his actions will have, and he absolutely does not have the resources to do anything to mitigate that impact.

I submit that there is no such person or group of persons anywhere in the world in such a position and with the resources to mitigate the impact. None.

What does Assange do with his cables then?

This is, in my view, like saying that torture is bad or good based on whether the victim has or does not have information.

Not really. The very act of torture is harmful, morally and physically, in and of itself. Government-sanctioned torture discredits the sanctioning government morally to other governments and citizens around the world. There is nothing inherently immoral about releasing information, at least not in the same sense. You are necessarily harming someone when you torture. Releasing information - not so much; it can be completely harmless or not, depending on the circumstances.

@Jacob Davies: it already has been judged as a war crime, not that you'll ever hear that on TV in the US. Certainly most of the people I know here (I can think of two people I've discussed this with over the last year who disagreed with me) thought the invasion of Iraq was a war crime. Jean Chretien sure had a lot of faults, but everybody I know thanks $DEITY that he kept us away from THAT tar baby.

Sebastien: given that the excessive secrecy about what the folks on the ground were saying to the US government in the leadup to the Iraq war enabled your government to lie the American people into that war, I'm not sure how that's a distinction with a difference.

Further back in the thread: I don't think the NK government isn't going to do any such thing as shell Seoul, because if they in fact launched a serious war against SK and started shelling Seoul, the response by SK and the US would be both prompt and devastating, and Kim Jong-Il knows this. He may be a complete sociopath, but I suspect he likes things the way they are just fine, and launching an all-out assault on SK would put an end to that for good.

Once you have wikileaks doing anything much more than checking for the possibility of lethal reprisal, they're engaging in the selective editing that is so problematic and that people would castigate them for (whose crisis merits attention... whose crisis gets left untouched?)

Wikileaks' goal (imho) is to permit the crowdsourcing of journalism. This is the flipside of the destruction of the monopolization of the means of distribution for journalism... wikileaks destroys the monopolization of the means of production. This might not be so necessary were it not for the abject failure of the professional journalists to do their jobs. At this point they even openly boast about being stenographers, and have been since the start of the first Gulf War at least (anyone else remember Dan Rather proudly announcing that they were in no way going to do anything that might damage the war effort on the eve of the land invasion on the nightly news?)

And as an aside, and completely OT: I for one welcome our new arsenic-based overlords!

@Donald Johnson: All that stuff (the titillating factor) is all part of the propaganda push to get the US public to ignore what they've got there. Also, you guys here are still fixated on "America!!!!!11!!!1!!". I wouldn't be surprised to discover that he was very pessimistic about the likelihood that the US citizenry would take what they should out of this; your fellow citizens are very well anaesthetised, I'd say. The citizens of other countries, now... that might be a little different.

"In court, I think an attorney has to state the grounds for his objection before it's noted. Can you do me the courtesy of stating objection?"

This isn't a court, and treating it like one is tedious. But, normally, in this forum, justifications based on the ticking time bomb scenario or similar justifications get slammed rather hard as being unrealistic hypotheticals that don't add much to the discussion. See for example here, here, here and lots of posts here

You just aren't going to get far with it in this forum, and I'm kind of surprised you haven't gotten jumped on already.

"I have not stated a pro- or anti-torture argument. Neither have I stated a pro- or anti-Assange argument. I have repeatedly said that I am asking the posters here which of two possible (as I see it) grounds they are using to either decry or support Wikileaks."

I speak only for myself, but this pose is getting irritating. Asking for clarification can be useful for the conversation if you're having one. You aren't Socrates, make your argument.

If you believe *as you imply* that Wikileaks is analytically similar to ticking bomb torture, lets discuss it.

I don't think anyone here *other than you* has made that comparison, and I'm not sure that anyone here thinks it is a valid one. And of those who do think it is a valid one, it is likely to be a slam dunk AGAINST Wikileaks considering how little utility the ticking time bomb scenario is considered to have around here (which in my opinion is the correct judgment about its utility).

I agree that there are cases in which a leak can cause no harm, and no cases in which torture causes no harm, but it seems to me to be beside the point in the case of a leak that you know will cause harm but you think will cause sufficient good to justify the harm. In such a case, you (or Julian Assange, or whomever) are doing a cost benefit analysis. Glenn Greenwald does not dispute that the latest Wikileaks dump may cause harm, he's arguing that the harm is outweighed by the utility of the leak. Your point stands that there are some leaks which, by causing no harm (except possibly to the perpetrators thereby implicated), are necessarily and categorically unlike torture. However, I think that many leaks entail at least some harm, and that means we're in ends-justify-the-means territory, which is the same place torture defenders stand.

Sebastian, I suspect that no one has jumped on me because no one besides you thinks I am arguing in favor of the ticking time bomb argument. I am not in favor if a ticking time bomb argument. I am unfavorably comparing one of the Wikileaks "defenses" to the ticking time bomb argument. I am frustrated because I am trying hard to write clearly, and I know you might be exasperated with me, but if you seriously think I argued that the ticking time bomb scenario is a) valid and b) supports Wikileaks, I would deeply appreciate it if you'd show me what I said that resembles those statements. I have repeatedly stated the opposite of both those premises.

Donald wrote above:
"lets conspire to tell lies to the Arab public and live down to their low expectations of us" or "let's agree in private that the Honduran coup was illegal, but not say so" or things of that nature."

Yeah, I wonder if this is outrage fatigue or something, but I guess spying on the UN, squashing torture investigations or protecting governments from their own populations are just how things are done and everybody knows it's happening, when we get (more)details about it's...gossip? Not newsworthy? Hmmm..

Here's another typical example, an
AP article which mainly deals with the rape allegations, but it also contains this:
The latest batch of leaked documents included a frank assessment from the American envoy to Stockholm about Sweden's historic policy of nonalignment — a policy which the U.S. ambassador, Michael Woods, seemed to suggest was for public consumption only.

Sweden's military and intelligence cooperation with the United States "give the lie to the official policy" of non-participation in military alliances, Woods said. He added in a separate cable that Sweden's Defense Minister Sten Tolgfors fondly remembers his time as a high school student in America and "loves the U.S."

Woods cautioned American officials not to trumpet Sweden-U.S. cooperation in the fight against terrorism too openly.

"The extent of this cooperation is not widely known within the Swedish government," he said. "Public mention of the cooperation would open up the government to domestic criticism."


No, in your initial comments you deliberately and obtusely don't state whether or not you think they are valid and you deliberately and obtusely don't state whether or not you think they support Wikileaks. You even explicitly said that was what you were doing in your later comments.

In any case, I honestly don't see the slightest resemblance between the torture argument and the Wikileaks argument, in defense of Wikileaks or otherwise. If you want to flesh out the analogy so we can talk about it, I'd be thrilled to. Otherwise, I can't.

However, I think that many leaks entail at least some harm, and that means we're in ends-justify-the-means territory, which is the same place torture defenders stand.

Julian, there is no act or non-act that doesn't have the potential for negative consequences. Now, you might be able to say that you must act based on that which you can know or have some reasonable level of certainty about, lest you be paralyzed by uncertainty. So, if you know or suspect a given leak (or whatever) will cause harm to someone, you are morally left with deciding if that harm is worth whatever benefit there is to gain, as you said - it's a cost-benefit analysis, relative to the costs and benefits of not proceeding.

The problem I have with the torture comparison is that it focuses on those who would attempt to justify torture. There are those who would not justify torture under any circumstances because torture is so inherently abhorent. It simply can't be right in absolute moral terms. There's no such thing as a cost-benefit analysis, because the cost is infinite. It is not some morally neutral act, like passing on information.

The morality of passing on information lies solely in its consequences. It's like urinating. It's okay to urinate in a toilet, but wrong to urinate in someone's face, at least outside of certain obscure circles.

I think this discussion has shifted from: "Is the Wikileaks dump a net good or net bad?" to "Do the good parts justify the bad parts, regardless of how they net out?" In which case, the response is "Does failing to leak the information cause harm, and can that harm be justified?" I think the best you can do is minimize the harm of releasing the information, at least below the level of harm that would be caused by a failure to release the information, but as much as can reasonably be expected given the limitations of foreknowledge.

Sebastian, I would suggest that Julian is arguing in good faith and that, if you find his argument tedious or frustrating, that you just don't participate. It's just a suggestion. Your tone seems to be getting too harsh (IMO, of course - feel free to ignore this).

deliberately and obtusely

This needs toning down a bit, I think, Sebastian.

"The morality of passing on information lies solely in its consequences."

Bah. This is the crux of the whole argument. Barring negative secondary consequences it is ok to steal and dessiminate classified information. Wrong. The act itself is wrong.

My point was that russell and several others seemed to be arguing that Wikileaks would be bad or good based on how much harm/good the leak dump caused.

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.

Whether that is a good or bad thing depends on your point of view about lots of things extraneous to Wikileaks.

I'm basically in agreement with Jacob, and Donald Johnson, and mostly with Turbulence, on the issue of the quality of American foreign policy.

We want to rule the world. In fact, we sort of insist on ruling the world. That's a crappy agenda. Full stop.

I'm just not convinced that Assange's project of "open governance through vandalism" is going to bring about the result he claims to be looking for.

Assange is, himself, something of a fanatical idealogue. The visionary thing is laudable on its own merits, however I get very nervous when people like that get their hands on the levers.

What, exactly, would *not* be fair game for disclosure in Assange's world?

Particulars about weapons capabilities?
Travel plans for important players?
Details of upcoming troop movements?

He's not just a guy calling for open governance anymore. He's a player. He's *forcing* a particular, uncontrolled and indiscriminate type of "open governance" on everyone in the world, ready or not, to whatever opportunistic degree he can.

And unlike many if not most of the other players involved, he's really not accountable to anyone.

I get to vote for or against Obama in two years. I have exactly zero influence over what Assange says or does.

So I'm extremely wary of the guy. My two cents.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad