Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Loose Lips Sink Ships

I am somewhat torn concerning Wikileaks. On one hand, I am an advocate of the free flow of information and the elucidation it provides. But on the other hand, I am a stickler for loyalty, and releasing thousands of confidential documents to an international audience is deplorable.

Just a brief background on the issue: Wikileaks is an organization which serves as an outlet to government insiders to release documents which would otherwise never see the light of day. Earlier this year, Wikileaks released almost 92,000 pages of classified documents concerning the Afghanistan War. More recently, Wikileaks leaked 250,000 classified diplomatic cables between various U.S. embassies and Washington, D.C. Recently (and seemingly* coincidentally) the editor in chief of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, was arrested in the United Kingdom pursuant to a warrant for extradition to Sweden on charges of sexual offenses. Assange refused to consent to the extradition, and a court in the U.K. denied bail. In response, other people affiliated with Wikileaks threatened to release all of the remaining diplomatic cables, which have thus far only slowly been made public after editors redact the names of persons who could come to harm if their names were released.

It would be one thing if the leaked documents uncovered some sort of deception of the American people, like the pentagon papers did, but these documents seem to be leaked merely for the sake of leaking documents. For example, one document reveals a list of potential terrorist targets around the world which could impact the United States. Revealing such information does not show impropriety on the part of the Government, but rather simply undermines its effort to keep our country safe.

I am curious about people’s thoughts on this issue. Specifically, how harshly should the persons who leaked the documents to Wikileaks be punished (if at all)? Does this rise to the level of treason (18 U.S.C. § 2381)? Or, conversely, do you think that the people leaking these documents are heroes?

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109 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This doesn't speak to your broader questions, but I'm not sure if it's accurate to say that Wikileaks actually leaked 250,000 documents. According to the following, they obtained that many documents, but leaked only 960 of them to the press . . .

http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/12/07/wikileaks/index.html

12/07/2010 1:14 PM  
Blogger William said...

I also would put a caveat on that 'coincidentally.' Perhaps, 'seemingly coincidentally'?

12/07/2010 1:43 PM  
Blogger McTwo said...

My understanding is that Wikileaks turned over the full release to various news outlets, such as the New York Times, and is releasing documents on its website as either a. Wikileaks editors redact and assess the correspondence or b. a news outlet publishes an article about a piece of correspondence.

See this.

12/07/2010 1:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a faulty comparison here of the Pentagon Papers with these latest Wikileaks documents. Granted, WL has the technological capacity to barf a quarter million docs in one gushing heave. But that's not how they've done it. As another comment suggests, they leaked the full trove to certain news media outlets. When they publicly release documents, they incorporate redactions advised by those outlets.

It's not as if every page of the PP publicized an instance of government culpability! The WL documents do show official deception or, at least, bad behavior. (See the Greenwald link for an account.) The comparison with the PP fails, because the technological factor permitting WL to gather and transmit vast amounts of documents at the speed of light doesn't somehow render the process gratuitous, a leak "merely for the sake of leaking." It just makes it less costly in a significant sense.

12/07/2010 2:55 PM  
Blogger James said...

It is difficult for me to understand how a self proclaimed “advocate of the free flow of information” could be so misinformed about the nature of the Cable leaks, their impact and whether or not they are helpful to a strong, informed democracy (and a safer world in general).

Why have you jumped to the knee jerk conclusion that releasing these documents is “deplorable?” Is it the fact that they’re available to an audience outside of the US? When Wikileaks released the approximately 92,000 documents in the “Afghanistan War Diary” we heard the same arguments about how the US or US citizens were being made less safe by the leaks. And yet, not a single death has been attributed to the leaks. Instead, we were made aware that the US government put the number of civilians killed by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars at about 100,000.

You cite the Jerusalem Post article and then discuss how it shows that the US is made less safe by these leaks, yet in the very body of the article it states, “Importantly, none of the targets gathered by the the State Department were under the control or management of any US agency and the cable explicitly ordered personnel not to seek host countries' assistance in identifying critical infrastructure targets.”

All of these things show impropriety on the part of the US government: Spying on the UN Secretary General and members of the security counsel on UN soil in direct contravention of several treaties, to which the US is a signatory nation. The fact that we continued to illegally supply Honduras with aid after it the democratically elected government fell to “an illegal and unconstitutional coup.” That we’ve begun supplying Israel with bunker busting weapons so it can make strikes against Iran should Iran develop nuclear weapons capabilities. That we let the Vice President of Afghanistan keep $52M in cash that he couldn’t account for. That we continually push Palestinians into giving up concessions in a “peace process” that the Israeli government says privately beforehand will not be allowed to work. That a Libyan shipment of enriched uranium to Russia, brokered by the United States, was nearly the cause of an environmental disaster in Tripoli, in 2009. That we’re trading Guantanamo refugees for political influence. The list goes on.

We have a right to this information. This is our elected government supposedly acting on our behalf. These cables expose a fair amount of wrongdoing by the Obama administration. Please, read the cables for yourselves and don’t believe people when they tell you, “ It would be one thing if the leaked documents uncovered some sort of deception of the American people, like the pentagon papers did, but these documents seem to be leaked merely for the sake of leaking documents.” You can reach them at: http://www.wikileaks.ch/cablegate.html

In the coming months the rest of the cables will be released (they have not all been released to news media, but are released to the media a little in advance of their public release). Based on the current state of US secrecy law, Wikileaks is likely not criminally responsible for anything (no matter what Eric Holder says), but we will see how far the Obama administration is willing to distort the law to further the interests of those in power.

I cannot stress this enough: Read the cables for yourselves. Don’t simply believe what the major news networks and the government talking heads want you to believe and don’t trust anyone on this topic who tells you in the same sentence that they’re “an advocate of the free flow of information” and “a stickler for loyalty.”

12/07/2010 3:15 PM  
Blogger James said...

That's barely the WSJ 2:52. It's just an op ed hatchet piece that compares Assange (someone who's done a fair amount of work fighting Chinese authoritarianism as well as US authoratarianism) to the Unibomber.

12/07/2010 3:22 PM  
Blogger Toney said...

I'm neither as for the leaks nor longwinded as James, but I do find the whole situation endlessly fascinating. James conveniently doesn't acknowledge that there is potential harm to soldier and citizen life represented by leaking classified documents, but does make the broader "our government should behave itself" argument.

Anyway, all of this aside, there is an area where no lives will be risked by leaked intelligence: corporate America. This is the stuff I want to see. The smoking guns that for whatever reason the government can't get to. If they exist, I want them hung from every flagpole with the hopes that people that stubbornly reject oversight in the name of business efficiency comes to their senses and realize that trusting the big 4 (big 3) to do what's in the best interest of Americans may be not be so wise.

12/07/2010 3:34 PM  
Blogger James said...

The claims have been made about the leaks endangering lives, but they're always abstract and, as I said, no one has been able to show that they have.

I do think that narrative distracts from the real narrative, though: which is that the US consistently endangers and/or causes the deaths of civilians across the globe through many actions, some of which I listed above and others of which can be found in the cables or in the New York Times, the Guardian, etc. Yet, the focus is shifted back to Wikileaks potentially endangering people in the abstract while the leaks themselves show actual, concrete behavior on the part of the US government that is endangering lives. So what is the right answer? Not leak and let business proceed as usual? I don't think so.

I am in agreement that the upcoming corporate leaks will reveal some very interesting information about how corporate capitalism operates in the US.

12/07/2010 3:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why my comment quoting from and pointing to a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed piece keeps getting deleted. Perhaps because it doesn't conform to the widely held view that Assange is an open information hero. But it is Assange himself who says his actions are not about transparency, they are about destabilizing the US government, which he considers a "conspirator." His actions need to to be viewed in that context.

Or as Mr. Assange told Time magazine last week, "It is not our goal to achieve a more transparent society; it's our goal to achieve a more just society." If leaks cause U.S. officials to "lock down internally and to balkanize," they will "cease to be as efficient as they were."

12/07/2010 3:48 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

3:48, Google blogger sometimes takes time to post comments (one of the very many reasons it sucks) and that may explain the issue you are having . . . at any rate, although I can't speak for the NSA, I can say that N&B is not deleting your comment. I promise.

12/07/2010 3:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blogger is likely running a blunt spam algorithm that detects comments with too many or the wrong sort of embedded links. Comment appears, then disappears. Same thing happened to me when I tried to link to this:

http://opiniojuris.org/2010/12/07/lieberman-want-the-new-york-times-investigated/

...in response to the treason allegations.

12/07/2010 4:00 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Embedding your link may help. Click here to learn how.

12/07/2010 4:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Embedded links are what signals the spam detector red flags. That's why the subsequent comment, featuring a naked link, has persisted while the earlier one, with the embedded link, vanished.

12/07/2010 4:22 PM  
Blogger McTwo said...

James: Are you of the opinion that no document should ever be considered "classified"?

12/07/2010 5:32 PM  
Blogger James said...

Instead of asking me an abstract hypothetical, why not talk about the actual content of the leaked information?

12/07/2010 5:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obviously he can't be tried for treason because he's not a U.S. citizen. Too bad people in Congress don't get that.

This is how he supposedly could be tired, though I haven't read it closely enough to say I agree with it: http://www.slate.com/id/2276592/

12/07/2010 6:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

James: Because you don't get to decide after the fact whether the release of classified information is potentially harmful. You can't say, "Look, no one got hurt. So it's OK.''

12/07/2010 6:02 PM  
Blogger McTwo said...

Exactly, 6:02.

Also, 6:00, I meant whoever internal to the U.S. Government released the classified documents to Wikileaks, not Assange, in terms of the treason possibility.

12/07/2010 6:08 PM  
Blogger Toney said...

I agree. While you (James or others) may say "hey, these leaks show the US Government is responsible for the deaths of innocents", there is still the risk of loss of US soldier or civilian life, however abstract it may be. In addition, consider the fact that the release of these documents may not prevent any deaths. It could very well be that the release of these documents doesn't change US foreign policy at all, in which case no lives would be saved that otherwise would have been lost. The opposite could also happen; other countries may say "hey, the US is participating in actions x, y, and z, that means we can too", in which case additional lives may be lost by transparency.

My point is this: any tangible possibility of harm to US lives doesn't require deaths directly attributed to the leaks to put you in the uncomfortable situation of risking lives other than your own in the name of government responsibility. This may be a noble goal. It may be the right thing to do. But it also may come at a very steep cost that someone other than yourself will pay.

12/07/2010 6:17 PM  
Blogger James said...

It's PFC Bradley Manning, and will hopefully be regarded like Daniel Ellsberg.

I'm pointing out the lack of proof of actual damage to humans caused by the leaks as a response to the Administration's position on them and to the knee-jerk cable news reaction to them, not as an argument for the leaks.

My point is that the US Government continues to seek to censor the leaks, to smear Assange, etc.

These sorts of leaks have, historically, been some of the most powerful ways to hold our government accountable, but I suppose some of you are still angry about Woodward and Bernstein publishing their leaks.

The US Government has acted illegally. Some of these leaks show that very clearly. Some of them are from years ago and show the US's racist attitude towards other countries, like Iran, for instance. Some of it simply details how the diplomatic corps works.

12/07/2010 6:23 PM  
Blogger Armen said...

James, I'm a little perplexed. You shun the world of "abstract hypotheticals" but then sort of offer an abstract hypothetical about the greatness of leaks. If you are focusing on specifics, then shouldn't you distinguish between the leaks that involved the U.S. conduct of the Iraq war vs. the diplomatic gossip that is the subject of the latest release. What improper conduct has come to light? Conversely, do you need body bags before acknowledging that harm to U.S. interests can be substantial with these sorts of embarrassing leaks?

12/07/2010 6:39 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

I keep going back to his motivation, which is to hobble what Assange sees as a terrorist state (the U.S.) by disrupting its ability to function in secret. If that's his true motivation, then the content of his leaks is almost irrelevant; they only need to be secret and alarming enough to force the U.S. to react by adapting how government officials communicate with each other. Assange doesn't government officials to be able to communicate effectively with each other because that makes it easier for them for them to propagate their crimes on others. If the government is more guarded with the information it shares internally, then it's less effective.

Assange cares less about the content of the cables themselves than he does about the fact that making them public disrupts our whole government underworld. It's not transparency for the sake of transparency, it's transparency as a means to poke the U.S. in the eye.

Think about it: If our government has to spend all its time doing damage control over the Wikileaks scandal, it has less time and opportunity to do what Assange considers to be so offensive. The fact that the cables are themselves mildly interesting at times is merely a side benefit that feeds his power and the government's unease.

People keep asking why Assange doesn't also go after other governments. The answer is because he hates the U.S.

12/07/2010 8:49 PM  
Blogger James said...

Michael, you're actually factually incorrect. Wikileaks was started in conjunction with Chinese dissidents and the first few years were focused almost exclusively on China.

The premise of your question is also flawed. Wikileaks is, as the name indicates, a news agency that publishes leaks that it receives. Wikileaks didn't actively uncover any of the documents it is leaking and instead received all of them from individuals who chose to act as whistle blowers and release the material.

Regardless, the US government has an impressive record of criminal activity since the end of World War II. Wikileaks is, certainly, an organization that is trying to expose (and therefore limit) such activity. I'm not sure why you're treating this as such a revelation as it's obvious.

12/08/2010 11:09 AM  
Blogger James said...

Also, ridiculously enough: http://wonkette.com/431902/u-s-state-department-hilariously-announces-world-press-freedom-day

12/08/2010 11:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't have the energy to wade into this right now, but I just wanted you to know, James, that I'm totally on your side. Just because the N&B conservatives are much more vocal in this debate doesn't mean their opinion is the majority view.

just my $.02 of support.

12/08/2010 11:24 AM  
Blogger James said...

As one example (that's getting some press today), a US corporation engaged in the hiring of boys for sexual relations with Afghan leaders. The Afghan leaders were very upset about the potential for this practice to be leaked to the international press (which happened, PBS did a story on it not so long ago).

In this instance, it's not wrongdoing by the US government per se, but it is certainly wrongdoing by a US company acting under US government contracts in Afghanistan.

Read the cable here:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/213720

12/08/2010 11:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm really pretty disgusting with James' position on all of this.

12/08/2010 12:01 PM  
Blogger James said...

Can you please stop being disgusting with my position? It's gross.

12/08/2010 12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But they turn me on so much!

12/08/2010 12:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Setting aside the leaked diplomatic cables, can we all agree that the DDOS attacks perpetrated by Assange's supporters are deplorable (at least those against the lawyer representing his rape victims). It's hard not to see Assange et al. as a bunch of thugs who no one would mind seeing in prison if they hadn't set themselves up as champions of free information.

12/08/2010 12:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Setting aside the leaked diplomatic cables, can we all agree that the DDOS attacks perpetrated by Assange's supporters are deplorable (at least those against the lawyer representing his rape victims). It's hard not to see Assange et al. as a bunch of thugs who no one would mind seeing in prison if they hadn't set themselves up as champions of free information.

12/08/2010 12:38 PM  
Blogger James said...

You need to separate Anonymous from Assange. They're not the same people and they certainly don't have the same motives.

Of course, you've failed to mention the concerted DDoS attacks against Wikileaks' .com page and the considerable government pressure that led to their DNS kicking them off, Amazon withdrawing use of server space (which they'd let Wikileaks use since 2007) and Paypal shutting down their ability to take in donations through that service (fun fact, Paypal will still let you donate to the KKK).

It's interesting that you've left all of that out, but have instead focused on individuals not associated with Wikileaks responding to the government's attempt at censorship.

And, of course, by focusing on Assange and not the leaked material, you're already playing into the hands of those who would have him extradited (an Interpol Red Warrant's been requested for Cheney, but of course there's little movement on that).

12/08/2010 12:44 PM  
Blogger McWho said...

James because I have to bill time today, I will limit my response to your view as thus:

I am astonished by your complete lack of reason and misguided focus on ideological purity rather than reality.

Try growing a pair and telling the family of one of those diplomats that they could get fired-or far worse-killed for giving an honest impression in a supposedly confidential comminque. We WANT our government to be able to candidly discuss the failings of foreign leaders, for example. We do not want them to have to testify under oath in front of the world that Karzai is an idiot and horribly corrupt.

12/08/2010 2:23 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

I'm with the Mc___'s. I understand the appeal of Wikileaks and its founder. Sticking it to the man, empowering the masses--it all seems very heroic and cool. I would definitely have bought into it at one point in my life.

Now, I see that it's far less black and white. It really boils down to this: do we prefer that Julian Asange is in charge of these documents, or that the US government is in charge? God knows, I don't have the utmost trust in the US Government, but I know less than nothing about Julian Asange. I'm not ready to put him in charge. In any case, doing so seems to run contrary to the rule of law.

I think this whole thing has been beneficial, to some extent, because it gave people a window into how the sausage gets made. It will probably leave us with an even healthier skepticism about US foreign relations, and it may encourage the Government to come up with a more reasonable classification policy.

At the same time, allowing it to go further could be incredibly dangerous. I don't support the means being used to stop Asange, but I also am not sure I want to empower him any further.

In short, I am officially changing my relationship status with this guy to "it's complicated."

12/08/2010 2:58 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

*Assange. Told you I know less than nothing about him. Didn't even get his name right.

12/08/2010 2:59 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Oh, also, I heard on the radio today that the Berkeley City Council is considering a resolution to deem Assange a hero and demand his release. I'm sure the Fed will be like, "Oh, ok."

12/08/2010 2:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

H/t to Dan. James, it looks like you're living in the right place! http://washingtonexaminer.com/blogs/beltway-confidential/2010/12/berkeley-may-pass-resolution-honoring-army-private-who-gave-class

12/08/2010 3:27 PM  
Blogger Toney said...

Yeah, James is way off on this. Exposing US criminal activity is a good thing no doubt. But putting Assange in charge of it, leaving the determinations of what info releases are or aren't harmful to US life up to him... that's batshit crazy.

It's a cowardly thing to risk the lives of others in the name of the greater good, especially when the benefits of releasing this info are uncertain at best.

12/08/2010 3:51 PM  
Blogger Toney said...

Also, speaking of cowardly, what's with the annoying font McTwo? Are you on the terrorist's side now?

12/08/2010 3:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it fair to say that we can move on from the childishly ignorant position taken by James and start discussion about what the government should do/should have done about this mess? Was the Obama intelligence apparatus negligent in allowing this disclosure? Should there have been assassinations/disappearances? Would the Bush administration have taken a different stance?

I haven't heard much on this point in the mainstream media, but I think it's important take a critical look at these kinds of egregious breaches in security.

For those who don't think we should take violent action against future leakers, what alternative do we have? I agree with the previous poster who said this leak isn't entirely bad because I think this an opportunity to have a discussion about covert tactics.

12/08/2010 4:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nobody is "putting Assange in charge" of anything. That reveals a complete misunderstanding of this controversy. Recall: WL and multiple news media organizations are vetting the documents prior to release, presumably sensitive to potential risks to lives. There have been substantially meaningful disclosures of government wrongdoing. Do you want the government in charge of those documents? This is the whole point of investigative journalism and of whistleblower protection. The calculus, as of now, is exactly the opposite of what Toney describes. The certain benefit of exposure of official misdeeds already far outweighs what has so far proven to be only a hypothetical risk to others.

12/08/2010 4:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I'm probably not on James' side in this, but some of these posts attacking him are barely arguments at all. What's "childishly ignorant" about his argument? Do you really think he evinces a "complete lack of reason?" Seems to me that he's done his research and is more informed about the issue than anyone else here.

I haven't come to any conclusions about this whole thing yet, but the chest-thumping and the ad hominem attacks are distinctly less impressive than what James has said so far.

12/08/2010 4:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoa whoa whoa. You insulted someone for a childishly ignorant position and then put out state-sponsored assassinations of individuals neither charged or convicted of a crime as a viable option? Take er easy brah. I'm as serious about national security as the next gal, but killing someone for leaking information he broke no law to attain? Irresponsible, maybe. A death sentence? Surely you've got to be either kidding or a lunatic.

12/08/2010 4:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Should there have been assassinations/disappearances?

Kind of terrifying to know I go to school with someone who thinks this way.

12/08/2010 5:19 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

I may or may not be a “cowardly, dickless mouthbreather,” but I am probably in a different camp than James on this one, and I am definitely spending a lot of time thinking about WL in general. I don’t know if my thoughts will be principled enough for you, but they have nothing to do with James, which I suppose is a good sign. Here they are:

1. I don’t see Assagne as a journalist. It’s a fuzzy, maybe even non-existent line, but I feel he has announced too much of an agenda to qualify for that kind of neutrality. Think of it this way: if Assagne is a journalist, then O’Rilley and Beck get to be journalists, too.

2. If he’s not a journalist, he must be something else. I don’t know what, exactly, to call it. But whatever the name, he declared for himself a diplomatic, techno-war with the United States. He has released confidential United States documents with the intent to embarrass our leaders and hinder our foreign relations. We ought to be able to bring the full scope of our own diplomatic muscle to bear on him. Yes, I’m talking about pressuring Sweden to extradite and Amazon to cut off Kindle access to WP documents. I see that as fair game.

3. The idea that he is a hero is simultaneously ridiculous and irrelevant. Who cares whether gets to be a “hero” – the question is how to go forward.

4. The idea that these documents are special because lives may hang in the balance is also out of touch. That’s an easy claim to make, a tough claim to back up, and (in the end) a claim that just plain sounds bigger than it actually is. Releasing the documents may just as easily save lives – it is silly to try to decide whether these things should be released by trying to win an argument over whether lives will be won or lost.

5. Joe Lieberman never ceases to disappoint me. He is seizing a no-lose political moment to self-promote. The legislation he has proposed to address the problem (Google “SHIELD Act”) will, by overbroadly criminalizing legitimate journalism in addition to what WL has done, do far more to hurt this country than the releases WL has made to date.

6. China shut down all access to WL in the blink of an eye. People who are all riled up on blood-lust for Assagne should ask: do we really want to be just like them?

12/08/2010 5:21 PM  
Blogger Beetle Aurora Drake said...

State-sponsored killing of individuals neither charged or convicted of a crime is routine for any country that fights wars.

There are very good reasons why the U.S. should not assassinate Assange, but "due process rights for foreigners openly seeking to harm the United States" probably doesn't rank that high among them for most folks. As with most foreign policy issues, the cheap, simple, and ideologically pure solution is a luxury reserved for the people who are not in charge (i.e. us).

Now we have Assange and Wikileaks backed by terrorists (whether you think Assange could be called a terrorist or not, the folks seeking to inflict damage on WL's perceived enemies meet most of the relevant aspects of the definition). James's solution to the problem is to change the subject, but that's not really an option for folks with responsibilities.

12/08/2010 5:27 PM  
Blogger McTwo said...

Font looks normal to me; what does it look like to you Toney?

12/08/2010 5:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Patrick, great post. also, where did my dickless mouthbreather's comment go? Damn you Blogger!!!

12/08/2010 5:40 PM  
Blogger Toney said...

Treason.

12/08/2010 5:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Patrick's bullet points, in reverse:

6. Precisely.
5. Lower your expectations.
4. Precisely, give or take.
3. Precisely.
2. See 1.
1. Fuzzy or non-existent, yes. But if that's the case, then we need to adjust what we mean by journalism and consider including these sorts of accumulations of documents as worthy of respect. The Beck/O'Reilly example is absurd. Putting intentions aside, WL is in the business of collecting document troves, virtual archives, which establish context and reflect facts. Fox opinion personalities are in the business of spinning highly selective snippets of data. On the other hand, WL does provide commentary and some editorial background. They don't simply dump what they haul.

Even if WL isn't professionally credentialed or suitably "fair and balanced"--and c'mon, you can count the number of genuinely F&B MSM reporters on a hand or two--it isn't the case that their mission is to harm foreign relations per se. It is more to reveal the distortions and transgressions of the US and other governments. Why is this revelation important to us? See 6.

12/08/2010 5:55 PM  
Blogger Andrew Fong said...

Regardless of the morality of leaking, nothing stays classified forever. You can't shut off information, only delay it.

Patrick points to how China shut off access, but even China's censorship regime is fairly porous. It routinely breaks down all the time -- largely because (1) human beings can outsmart automated filtering if persistent enough and (2) China depends enough on access to the Internet that it can't just shut down the whole thing altogether.

Going forward, it might just make more sense to assume that all sensitive documents will be leaked within a certain time-frame and adjust contingency plans around that time-frame.

Dan, I think it's a mistake to assume that this is about whether Julian Assange is or is not in charge of that information. Even if Assange is gone, it gets leaked to someone else.

12/08/2010 6:10 PM  
Blogger James said...

What I find interesting is the obsession with Mastercard's website. The US hires US contractors who engage in hiring child prostitutes and we are worried about Visa and Mastercard.

Do you have any idea why these sites are under attack? Because under political pressure from the US Government they stopped allowing transfers to Wikileaks via their cards. This is digital civil resistance to what people have rightly identified as government censorship.

People keep throwing the word terrorist around, but it's unclear who the terrorists are. Am I a terrorist for contributing money to Wikileaks?

Patrick, I think you've exhibited a fundamental misunderstanding about what being a journalist is. Journalists should give access to information. Why is it Assange's responsibility NOT to release the information? Why should he decide that the US Government is correct? Instead, he allows all of us to decide what we think about the US Government's actions. I'm not sure it really matters what you consider Assange, unless, of course, you're trying to make some statement about Assange's motives (which, again, don't really have anything to do with the material that's been leaked- material that shows the US Government has done many things that are illegal under our current laws).

When the US Government commits crimes it will seek to cover them up. That's all that's happening here. Does everyone who has spoken out here disagree with the leaking of the Pentagon Papers? With the actions of "Deepthroat" and Woodward and Bernstein? How do you square those situations with the current one?

Why are we leaving decisions about the lives of countless civilians around the world up to a government that has shown no problem over the last 60 years with killing innocent civilians as long as it's supported by opening foreign markets to US companies and installing "friendly" regimes, regardless of whether or not the people in said countries are in favor of said regimes.

12/08/2010 6:49 PM  
Blogger James said...

There is a reason these documents were leaked. From a press release put out by Ellsberg (Pentagon Papers leaker) and the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (group of former CIA colleagues and other admirers of former intelligence analyst Sam Adams), "So shame on Barack Obama, Eric Holder, and all those who spew platitudes about integrity, justice and accountability while allowing war criminals and torturers to walk freely upon the earth. … the American people should be outraged that their government has transformed a nation with a reputation for freedom, justice, tolerance and respect for human rights into a backwater that revels in its criminality, cover-ups, injustices and hypocrisies," and "Motivation? WikiLeaks’ reported source, Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, having watched Iraqi police abuses, and having read of similar and worse incidents in official messages, reportedly concluded, “I was actively involved in something that I was completely against.” Rather than simply go with the flow, Manning wrote: “I want people to see the truth … because without information you cannot make informed decisions as a public,” adding that he hoped to provoke worldwide discussion, debates, and reform."

I appreciate the conversation with those who are interested in discussing the leaks in particular. Have any of you who would rather discuss Assange's private life, the DDoS attacks against MC/Visa, etc. read any of the leaks?

And Patrick, why is it you associate yourself with your government, a government that tortures, kills, lies, spies, and breaks all manner of US and international law. Who is this "we" you talk about that wants to bring its diplomatic muscle to bear on Assange? And what right, legally, as in, founded in current US law, do we have to extradite him? Point to me exactly what he has done, legally, that the NY Times, etc. have not in publishing the contents of these leaks.

Why is it you'd rather your government commit crimes in secrecy than you know about them?

12/08/2010 6:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So are you saying that for the sake of transparency, nothing should ever be classified?

12/08/2010 7:36 PM  
Blogger Beetle Aurora Drake said...

James, the distinction you make between "digital civil resistance" and "terrorism" is not a particularly meaningful one, and seems to come down to who you agree with. The viewpoint "those who cooperate with the U.S. government are to be attacked" is still a threat of violence against those who refuse to acquiesce to the demands of nongovernmental entities. If you feel it is just in this case, suit yourself, but a nontrivial number of Americans, myself included, will side with our government, flaws and all, over anonymous thugs.

There are multiple topics in the world, and it is possible to be concerned with them simultaneously. While you don't want us to discuss things like these attacks, or Assange's motives, they seem reasonably on point for this post. At the end of the day, none of us are actually going to do anything about any of this, so we'll talk about what we want.

Manning gave the information to foreigners, not to American journalists. This matters to me, and changes him from a whistleblower seeking to improve his country to a traitor to his country. Maybe it doesn't matter to you.

12/08/2010 7:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always like Beetle's comments. I also don't think Patrick said the things James says he said.

12/08/2010 7:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

James, I think the difference b/w Woodward and the current situation, and consequently the answer to your last question, is that many of the documents leaked (and yes I have read as many of them as my finals-addled brain could take)did not have to do with our government committing crimes. They had to do with our government massaging the gears of diplomacy to do accomplish worthwhile goals (weakening N. Korea by ensuring Russian oil for China is one). Because of the leaks, diplomats will be less willing to deal with us, and our already waning international leverage will be decreased. This makes us a weaker country. If Assange had just released documents about US contractors hiring boy prostitutes, I don't think there would be any backlash. Just like when WL released video of the helicopter killing Iraqi civilians in 2009. There was some grumble from the armed forces, but all in all, WL's efforts were appreciated. So no, in answer to your last question, I don't think a majority of people want government crimes covered up.

But Woodward and Bernstein were lauded because they gave us highly tailored evidence of corruption at the highest levels of government. If that's all Assange had done, I think you would be preaching to the choir. In fact though, that is not what he did. He released thousands of classified documents, only a small percentage of which displayed wrongdoing by the U.S., and a large percentage of which jeopardized very important international relations. He is no Deepthroat. Most people can recognize that.

12/08/2010 7:43 PM  
Blogger James said...

Berkman Fellow Ethan Zuckerman (Harvard's Law and Technology Center) on the evolution of wikileaks:

Wikileaks has moved through three phases since its founding in 2006. In its first phase, during which it released several substantial troves of documents related to Kenya, Wikileaks operated very much with a standard wiki model: the public readership could actively post and edit materials and had a say in the types of materials that were accepted and how such materials were vetted. The documents released in that first phase were more or less a straight dump to the Web: very little organized redacting occurred on the part of Wikileaks. Wikileaks’ second phase was exemplified with the release of the “Collateral Murder” video in April of 2010. The video was a highly curated, produced and packaged political statement. It was meant to illustrate a political point of view, not merely to inform. The third phase is the one we currently see with the release of the diplomatic cables: Wikileaks working in close conjunction with a select group of news organizations to analyze, redact and release the cables in a curated manner, rather than dumping them on the Internet or using them to illustrate a singular political point of view.

Hopefully that clears up some of the misconceptions about the nature of these leaks compared to the Pentagon Papers or Watergate. The FAQ the Berkman center has put together on wikileaks should hopefully clear up some these misconceptions: http://futureoftheinternet.org/wikileaks-cable-faq

Beetle, you're right in a sense- which is why we should be deeply suspicious when any government labels individuals terrorists in furtherance of its own interests.

12/08/2010 7:58 PM  
Blogger Beetle Aurora Drake said...

I haven't heard our government label these folks terrorists. I'm labeling them terrorist of my own accord, because their nature is fundamentally incompatible with a free society. Your complaints about the U.S. government, if valid, can be acted upon. While I'm familiar with the complaints about the inability to bring change through the democratic process, at the end of the day, somebody keeps voting for these guys.

On the other hand, vigilante groups who will use violence to independently threaten us leave us no civilized recourse, which is why I label them terrorists. From the perspective of a foreigner, I imagine the U.S. government looks much the same way, but I'm an American. I also mistrust the U.S. government, but if you intend to convince me to turn my back on my country and side with its enemies, you're going to have to do a lot better than "the U.S. does shady things when trying to project its power abroad."

12/08/2010 8:39 PM  
Blogger James said...

I am confused. Who is doing violence? News organizations for reporting leaks? Anonymous for using DDoS attacks on Mastercard?

12/08/2010 9:25 PM  
Blogger James said...

By the way, Defense Secretary Gates as stated, unequivocally, that the leaks don't pose a danger to US citizens, here or abroad, and that the diplomatic fallout will be "fairly modest." http://www.fas.org/sgp/news/2010/11/dod113010.html

12/08/2010 9:32 PM  
Blogger Beetle Aurora Drake said...

James, there's something fundamentally bizarre about you pointing to a statement of a government official as proof of a fact right now.

Yes, the DDoS attacks are violence. So is posting the account numbers and expiration dates of card users, which I guess they've added to their set of claims. I know liberal activists have a tendency to dismiss property violence, though, so your mileage may vary.

12/08/2010 10:07 PM  
Blogger James said...

So, we believe the government when it says it must stop the leaks, but don't believe Gates in response to continued talking points about "potential harm?"

None of the credit card numbers have turned up as valid, DDoS attacks don't magically hack Mastercard servers.

The nature of a DDoS attack is interesting because no physical objects are being damaged (servers, etc.). The domains themselves don't even seem to be hacked in this case, instead it's more like a picket line in front of a store, except there are so many picketers that no one can get into the store. I guess if that's violence, then these attacks are "violent."

And even then, you're missing a connection between someone committing "property violence" and being a de facto terrorist. This is a protest against companies shutting off legitimate transfers of funds to a legitimate organization.

12/08/2010 10:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

James,

So do you think that no government information should ever be classified?

12/08/2010 10:54 PM  
Blogger James said...

I think what you meant to ask was, "Are there any documents that have been classified by our government that shouldn't be leaked?"

I certainly think leaking the names and addresses of clandestine CIA operatives in Iran would be wrong in all but the most extreme situations (like, in the event we could show that one intended to set off a nuclear device in a city, for instance). However, I think it is foolish and naive to believe that the US government (or any government for that matter) should always have the final say in what should remain confidential and what should not. As we've learned from these leaks (and the Pentagon Papers), the US is currently engaged in numerous illegal and unethical activities around the world. Would you trust a criminal defendant to authorize a search warrant of her property?

Since there's no way for the average citizen to hold our government accountable for illegal and unethical actions it seeks to hide from the public. This is why certain federal statutes give "whistleblowers" protection from prosecution. The most effective way to hold people accountable in situations like these is to leak the material.

I would like to reiterate exactly how the leaking is being done, again from the Berkman Center (Harvard Law) site I linked to above: "According to the Associated Press and statements released by Wikileaks and Julian Assange, Wikileaks is currently relying on the expertise of the five news organizations to redact the cables as they are released, and is following their redactions as it releases the documents on its website. (This cannot be verified without examining the original documents, which we have not done — nor are we linking to them here.) According to the BBC, Julian Assange approached the US State Department for guidance on redacting the documents prior to their release. One can imagine the dilemma for the Department there: assist and risk legitimating the enterprise; don’t assist and risk poor redaction. In a public letter, Harold Koh, legal adviser to the Department of State, declined to assist the organization and demanded the return of the documents."

12/08/2010 11:48 PM  
Blogger James said...

One of the more recently released cables is covered here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/dec/08/wikileaks-cables-shell-nigeria-spying

"Cables from Nigeria show how Ann Pickard, then Shell's vice-president for sub-Saharan Africa, sought to share intelligence with the US government on militant activity and business competition in the contested Niger Delta – and how, with some prescience, she seemed reluctant to open up because of a suspicion the US government was "leaky".

But that did not prevent Pickard disclosing the company's reach into the Nigerian government when she met US ambassador Robin Renee Sanders, as recorded in a confidential memo from the US embassy in Abuja on 20 October 2009.

At the meeting, Pickard related how the company had obtained a letter showing that the Nigerian government had invited bids for oil concessions from China. She said the minister of state for petroleum resources, Odein Ajumogobia, had denied the letter had been sent but Shell knew similar correspondence had taken place with China and Russia.

The ambassador reported: "She said the GON [government of Nigeria] had forgotten that Shell had seconded people to all the relevant ministries and that Shell consequently had access to everything that was being done in those ministries.""

This is an example of a multinational corporation buying its way into a foreign government in order to control the wealth of the country (despite having one of the largest oil reserves in the world, a gross majority of Nigerians live in abject poverty).

12/08/2010 11:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's get real. This isn't an attempt to hold the American government accountable. If it were, only certain documents would be leaked. This massive dump is something more sinister.

I'm more frightened that we have someone like James at our school than the person that inquired about assassinations.

12/09/2010 12:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So the Nigerian government is corrupt and doesn't have its people's best interest at heart. What's your point? Are you saying that we should try to go in and replace the Nigerian government?

Also, how is this news? Why do we have to tolerate Julian Assange to learn what we already know: countries like Nigeria are poor and corrupt; big companies often buy their way into economies with shitty governments.

I guess this information might be somehow useful to an FCPA prosecution?

Also, James needs to stop using this "I know more details about the cable leaks than you so I must be right and you must be wrong" tactic.

12/09/2010 12:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is another fallacy in the logic supporting the leaks. People often clamor about how we should protect whistleblowers, because they unearth information about illegality that is otherwise very difficult to obtain. This is true. But people do not, and with good reason I think, praise people for making people's secrets public when it serves no purpose.

Herein lies the fallacy. Assange's decision wasn't, "Should I post all of these or none of them?" This is a false dilemma. Instead of releasing all of the cables, Assange could have combed through them and only released those that evinced illegality. This is what a whistleblower does. A whistleblower does not, when turning over evidence of FCPA of SEC violations, release innocuous emails between low-level employees complaining about their significant others. This is the diplomatic equivalent of what was released here.

The line can be drawn and should be respected by those who defend themselves as "whistleblowers."

12/09/2010 1:11 AM  
Blogger James said...

I've gotten over my impulse to rehash arguments with angry anons a while ago, but I will continue to post coverage: http://blogs.ft.com/rachmanblog/2010/12/wikileaks-not-so-dull-after-all/

12/09/2010 1:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them." - Patrick Henry.

12/09/2010 2:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous wants to let you in on our secret: http://i51.tinypic.com/2cyfcow.jpg

12/09/2010 3:09 AM  
Blogger James said...

I'm back with more from the EFF: http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/archive

12/09/2010 3:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a little surprising to read assured opinions that the release of large numbers of documents, as compared to a selective few, is per se harmful or "sinister." Is the citizenry fearful of vast amounts of information? Not equipped to read for itself? Do we not just tolerate but affirmatively desire only to read the information approved by official imprimatur?

I think the digital age has allowed us to forget our history.

12/09/2010 8:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said, 8:17. I just read a bunch of this right now, and whoa.

Fine, you guys don't have to agree with James, but seriously? You all sounds like officials in the Bush White House: "Any information that the public learns about anything will result in death!!! oh, and terrorists!!"

Political views are one thing (freedom of information has to take a backseat to other concerns, for example), but calling someone who received leaked information *from someone else*, spent a lot of time figuring out the most responsible and safest way to redact it, and then posting it so that the public can have some sense of what's going on during long, expensive wars that our government is conducting that no one reports on anymore is a terrorist and should maybe be assassinated?

this thread makes me a little ashamed to share a generation with you guys.

12/09/2010 8:37 AM  
Blogger McTwo said...

Not ashamed enough to post under a name, 8:37.

The point is this: The pentagon papers were classified, but uncovered direct lies told to America repeatedly.

These documents are classified but just reveal things we otherwise wouldn't have known, but much of which is unsurprising. It does not "catch the Government in a crime" but rather just harms the Government's international diplomatic efforts.

This is akin to if someone decided to "leak" every negative thing you had ever said about your significant other in the name of truth, justice and freedom of information. Not all secrets are sinister. The fact that something WAS a secret, does not make it trickery of the American populace. And making statements which defend the government's ability not to constantly disclose all of its statements does not make us "officials in the Bush White House."

12/09/2010 10:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with the folks genuinely shocked with some of the reactionary comments on this thread. I usually back up the N & B people against the "rabid liberals" but this time you all have really outdone yourselves...

Extrajudicial assassination?? Forced disappearances?? I actually laughed at first...then I realized that was a serious comment from a classmate of mine. How many of you are headed to Capitol Hill? Wow.

12/09/2010 11:09 AM  
Blogger Toney said...

Everyone agrees that the vast majority of the leaked documents do not expose US criminal activity, correct? James, I'm not anonymous, and you still refuse to address this. Leaking information that makes diplomacy harder but that doesn't expose criminal activity *is* a bad thing in your eyes, correct?

Further, no one has actually listed what crimes committed by the US Government have been exposed. James attempted to give some examples:
1. Spying on the UN Secretary General and members of the security counsel on UN soil in direct contravention of several treaties. Agreed that this is illegal, but it is also something everyone does. This doesn't make it right, but as everyone spies, if we fail to, it would put us at a severe disadvantage globally.
2. The fact that we continued to illegally supply Honduras with aid after it the democratically elected government fell to “an illegal and unconstitutional coup.” this actually isn't illegal, and if it was, is supplying aid something we're ashamed of?
3. That we’ve begun supplying Israel with bunker busting weapons so it can make strikes against Iran should Iran develop nuclear weapons capabilities. again, not illegal.
4. That we let the Vice President of Afghanistan keep $52M in cash that he couldn’t account for. not illegal
5. That we continually push Palestinians into giving up concessions in a “peace process” that the Israeli government says privately beforehand will not be allowed to work. surprise! not illegal.
6. That a Libyan shipment of enriched uranium to Russia, brokered by the United States, was nearly the cause of an environmental disaster in Tripoli, in 2009. haha. "nearly the cause". good stuff.
7. That we’re trading Guantanamo refugees for political influence. not illegal.
8. Some of them are from years ago and show the US's racist attitude towards other countries, like Iran, for instance. not illegal.
9. a US corporation engaged in the hiring of boys for sexual relations with Afghan leaders. illegal, but not the US Government.
10. The multi-national company buying influence into the Nigerian government. wait... what?

Obviously there is some illegal activity being exposed, a very small fraction of it being done by the US Government, but the bottom line is this: if you want to expose the illegality of a government actor, you only need to leak those documents that are relevant to that illegality. This isn't what happened here, indicating a deeper motive than whistleblowing.

Keep posting links to the opinion's of others all you want James, but your arguments for the most part don't apply to the facts of these circumstances, making them hollow and idealogical.

12/09/2010 11:18 AM  
Blogger Toney said...

That tirade made me sound more conservative about this issue than I feel. Also, my spelling was terrible.

I should probably put my view out there: exposing government wrongdoing is good, as long as its done with precision and care, which I don't think is the case here. 250k+ document dumps reveal an awful lot more than is necessary, and does injure US interests. I don't feel the same way about corporate activity. Leak that shit! In addition, I realize the hypocrisy, but I'm all about leaking other government's secret info. That's probably the nationalist in me.

12/09/2010 11:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm "frightened" that people are "frightened" about going to school with people who have *gasp* different opinions than they themselves hold.

James, I want to say, I applaud your public non-anonymous comments. I have grave doubts about Assange's motivations, and am troubled by the "diplomatic" reveals, but in general support the mission of transparency in government. I am not, however, courageous enough to make these comments other than anonymously.

12/09/2010 12:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

McTwo, you're bashing a cogent, anonymous argument when you slunk away from this thread instead of responding to non-anonymous criticism and then your older brother comes in and starts calling James names? Really? You're going to call out 8:37 and not your own brother (whose comments were way worse)?

12/09/2010 12:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PART TWO

- See also: all the cables about Iran's neighbors pushing us to declare war on Iran. Hawks have been sounding a steady drumbeat to rush into war with Iran for literally years at this point, without ever being able to make a convincing rational case for it (us: "they're trying to make nukes!" inspectors: "no they aren't, and they're nowhere close" us: "Ahmadinejad says ka-razy things!" everyone: "he has no actual power in their government" etc.). At a time when we already have combat troops stationed in two countries, we've been at war in Afghanistan for longer than any other war in our nation's history, we're launching drone and missile attacks into Pakistan, Yemen, and god knows where else, and our military expenditures are bleeding us dry - don't you think we have a right to know what factors are leading our government to push for yet another war? After going to war in Iraq on false pretenses, and what a disaster that turned out to be, is there no desire for transparency in our warmongering? If there's seriously no reason that we're talking about invading a country whose people stood in support of America on 9/11/2001, less than one decade ago, other than that their neighbors say that we should, I don't think that's a good enough reason, and I'm glad that I know about it.
- None of that even touches on the information contained in the leaks about how our government leaned on Spain, Germany, and Belgium (so far, who knows how many other countries) to shut down their prosecutions against the architects of our torture program. I won't say too much about this because I've seen how the virtual red state of N&B commenters feel about torture prosecutions. But as one blogger said recently (I think it may have been digby): It's one thing not to look in your own rear view mirror, but it's another thing entirely to swerve into another lane and crash someone else's car to keep them from looking into theirs.
- Toney, you say you're all in favor of leaking information damaging to private corporations, yet in the previous post you implied that the cables about DynCorp and Shell shouldn't have been leaked because they didn't reveal illegality. I agree with your later post. I don't see why anyone would feel the need to defend corporations against leaks that are damaging to them.

I'd really love to sign this post, but I think it says enough about the sorry state of affairs right now that I don't feel comfortable doing so. Not because I care if you guys know what I say, but it's kind of disturbing that people are talking about "disappearing" employees of WL, Lieberman says the NYT should be criminally investigated for writing about the cables, and apparently reading them is enough to render you ineligible for any federal employment - all when so far no one has been found guilty of any crime, and Manning is the only one who arguably even committed one. And shouldn't that be a bad sign in and of itself?

p.s. A lot of people have been making overblown Orwell analogies, but the whole federal-employees-can't-read-the-things-that-everyone-else-can, but trust us they're horrible, angle is almost directly out of Catch-22 (substitute soldiers for federal employees). Which says a lot!

12/09/2010 1:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only people who'd be ridiculed are some of these anonymous posters coming up to James and saying this shit non-anonymously.

12/09/2010 1:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Half of my long comment keeps getting deleted. Most recently, 1:04pm here.

1:23: I'm studying at a coffee shop, dick. Do you have any points to make, or are you just attacking people you disagree with? And doing a really miserable job of it?

12/09/2010 1:33 PM  
Blogger Armen said...

Half of my long comment keeps getting deleted. Most recently, 1:04pm here.

1:04, I suspect the comments are too long. I think blogger has a limit on the length of comments. I suggest splitting it up even further. But please don't "picket" blogger with DDoS in response.

12/09/2010 1:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm "frightened" that people are "frightened" about going to school with people who have *gasp* different opinions than they themselves hold.

Nice straw man you have there, 12:05. I'm speaking only for myself here, but I'm frightened not by the fact that someone simply holds an opinion different from my own, as your caricature suggests, but rather by the extremity of one particular opinion. Would you not agree that some opinions are so extreme as to be frightening? For me, extrajudicial execution, or, more to the point, extrajudicial execution suggested so casually, fits the bill. I'm not sure how you got from that to the idea that I'm somehow generally intolerant of all those who hold different views on any imaginable issue.

12/09/2010 1:48 PM  
Blogger McWho said...

I find it laughable to say that anon @ 8:37 is less extreme than I am. 8:37 is "ashamed to share a generation" with people he disagrees with. I am not "ashamed to share a generation" with James. I simply disagree with the way he approaches this discussion. I often disagree with James, and I think he, in this topic and others, takes a blanket approach to issues rather than admitting the complexity of the real world. While this disagreement can lead to aggravation at times, it does not make me ashamed to share a temporal existence with him.

Anyway, McTwo called out anonymous bashing. I am not anonymous. But good job whipping out the ad hominem to. We tried really really hard to not have similar sounding monikers, but you sniffed the connection out. Gold star.

12/09/2010 2:50 PM  
Blogger McWho said...

you can mentally delete that "to." Or you can make fun of my grammer, whichever is your preference.

12/09/2010 2:51 PM  
Blogger McTwo said...

12:21: I didn't slink away, I am studying for finals. My brother is welcome to post his opinions here if he so chooses. If you noticed, I responded to the critiques after the comment about the anon.

Walls of text are not the ony way to communicate. No adequate response has been given to whether James and Co. think anything should ever be classified (and not disclosed). Mr. Fong raises a good point about nothing being classified forever, but I think releasing while interactions remain ongoing is risky.

12/09/2010 2:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Killing a foreigner for leaking our secret diplomatic cables doesn't sound frightening to me at all. What the hell is the life of a non-citizen spy against potentially thousands of American lives? We used to kill Soviet spies all the time for doing just this. What difference does it make if the spy/leaker isn't operating under a foreign flag? Soviet spies or anarchist spies (Assange) deserve the same treatment. (I'll reserve judgment on whether or not Assange is "just the messenger" and thus not really a spy).

In my mind, "extrajudicial execution" or whatever you want to call it is undoubtedly, at times, justified. Is every little rambling about the mistresses of foreign leaders important enough to kill someone over? Maybe not, but I'd seriously consider killing them just to make a point of it. Do not steal our secrets or we'll come after you.

In this case, leaks about our strategies towards North Korea, Russia, and especially Iran are definitely worth the life of a spy or leaker. These could potentially lead to severe consequences, including war, for the nation. There should be a serious deterrent against such significant leaks.

In my view, the entire point of having a government is to have it protect you. The United States exists for Americans, and should help others only to the extent that our interests allow (constrained, of course, by jus cogens). But even if you disagree with that, perhaps you think the U.S. government is a worldwide charity, you must acknowledge that if we do not protect our interests other countries will not hesitate to exploit our weaknesses. I'd frankly be frightened to live in a country that didn't take it's obligation to protect its citizens seriously.

12/09/2010 3:03 PM  
Blogger Andrew Fong said...

Toney and other people complaining about how these documents aren't being released in a more selective manner,

1) There is some selection going on. See James's cite to how Wikileaks, in conjunction with established journalists, are redacting documents. I'm working off the assumption that while "embarassing" bits of cables are released, the ones that might get someone killed have not been.

2) Toney, you can't equate "wrongdoing" with "illegal". Surely there's a public interest in knowing that government is doing sketchy things even if it's strictly legal. We tried to cover up a U.S. company engaged in human trafficking. Maybe that's not illegal on our part, but it's damn sketchy.

The appropriate question is whether the public interest in knowing our government is doing sketchy things is worth the hit to our diplomatic relations. If you assume no one is getting killed because of this, I think there's a good case for saying "yes".

3) There's some value in releasing information even if it doesn't constitute a prima facie case of government wrongdoing. Wikileaks may not be able to connect the dots themselves, but perhaps someone else with more information can.

12/09/2010 3:08 PM  
Blogger Andrew Fong said...

3:03,

"What the hell is the life of a non-citizen spy against potentially thousands of American lives?"

It's the "potentially" that gets to me.

This is also counter-productive. Assange is replaceable. Assassination would just turn him into a martyr, and someone running one of thousands of other sites mirroring WL would take his place.

I'm actually worried that Assange ends up dying in an accident somewhere. That'd be bad because we'd get blamed for it anyway.

12/09/2010 3:17 PM  
Blogger Toney said...

Of course "wrongdoing" and "illegal" are different concepts, with associated differing standards for the necessity of transparency. And I agree there is some value to releasing even diplomatic information absent of wrongdoing. But like McWho said, this issue is more complicated than the all-encompassing "releasing these documents is a good thing" philosophy adherents would have you believe. The inability of diplomats from other countries to speak candidly with our peeps, for one, or other countries indicating to us that they would support a particular US military action, etc. All of these sorts of communications are important for our leaders to know that may not occur if there is a fear of leaks. There is certainly a line here around information that by all means should come to light to prevent wrongs taken in the name of the US, but at the same time, there is a cost associated with providing even well-intentioned news agencies full access to unredacted documents like these.

Andrew, I believe you appreciate these considerations. James and others, I'm not so sure.

12/09/2010 3:27 PM  
Blogger Andrew Fong said...

One more comment:

I think you can draw a parallel between this and illegal file sharing. Let's assume that both leaking these documents and pirating MP3 files are bad things. The question is: What's the appropriate response?

The response by the record labels have been to push for stronger copyright laws and penalize file-sharers millions of dollars for sharing 20 songs. I don't think that's been so successful -- the record labels continue to shrink each year.

On the other hand, music as a whole is actually growing -- partially because file-sharing, YouTube, and the growth of the Internet in general has enabled a lot of indie acts to gain traction.

The lesson for the music industry here is that it's easier to adapt to disruptive changes rather than prevent them from happening. Adaption is hard, but stopping disruption may be harder.

Now apply that to Wikileaks. How do you adapt to a world where you can't rely on things staying classified for as long as they used to? Maybe we start a system where more documents are automatically declassified in a shorter time-period, on the theory that this will decrease the pressure to leak more sensitive information (argument is the same one Apple makes to the record labels re. iTunes). I don't know if that would work, but it's something I hope that people in DC think about.

12/09/2010 3:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trying one last time with even shorter breakdown. (Armen, I'm not DDoSing blogger intentionally, but by god this will be like the fourth time I've submitted these same words, so apologies if the response starts getting sluggish)

PART 1A

Similarly disappointed by how many commenters in here are running scared, calling for assassinations and referring to DDoS attacks on private corporations "terrorism" and "violence." Also disappointed by how few people are actually informed about what's going on, despite feeling the need to broadcast strong feelings about it on the Internet. (Also, LOL at whoever it was who told James to stop making an appeal to greater knowledge about the situation - yeah, how dare he feel that his informed opinions should hold more weight than unfounded bullshit!)

Just wanted to re-emphasize a few points here:
- WL hasn't "dumped 250,000 cables," they haven't acted in reckless disregard to people's information within them, and they/Assange aren't the ones curating the releases. WL shared the document troves with several news organizations, including the Guardian and the NYT. Those organizations are collaboratively working on redacting the cables and choosing which ones to release next. So far, less than 1,000 of the 250,000 cables have been published, or <0.4%.

12/09/2010 4:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PART 1B

- As mentioned above, it is the NEWS ORGANIZATIONS who are choosing which documents to redact and make available. So gripe all you will about "gossip" - and you have a point, because a lot of the earlier releases were pointless drops about Qaddafi's busty blonde nursetitute, and the bromance between Putin and Medvedev, etc. - but it wasn't WL or Assange who chose to publish those documents. It was for-profit news organizations, a class of business that at this point nobody should be surprised loves trivial gossip about famous personalities. It sells papers and gets page views. Anyway, most of the recent releases have been more directly related to actual wrongdoing and less to what silly things our diplomats have said about foreign leaders.
- A lot of what's contained in the documents isn't straight up ILLEGAL, but they are things that an informed electorate could reasonably want to know about their government's actions and decisions. For instance, the Afghan boy prostitutes. Yes, it was a military contractor that threw the get-stoned-fuck-tweens-dressed-like-girls party, not our government. But that contractor, DynCorp, has a record of literally running prostitution rings (see Bosnia), and they have $2 billion contracts in Afghanistan. I think it's understandable for Americans, as the taxpayers who are paying this contractor, to want to know that it's going on, and have the ability to demand that we stop doing business with contractors who use our money to fund child prostitution. Demanding that that cable remain classified is saying "you, as a taxpayer, have no right to know whether or not your money is being spent to support child prostitution," and I simply don't agree with that.

12/09/2010 4:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And now, let's let Scott Adams add some perspective to this conversation.

12/09/2010 4:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And one last thing:

I can't speak for James, but Assange has never said that no information should be classified, that governments should be able to keep nothing secret. If you read his statement of purpose, he believes that governments keep too MUCH secret, and that it has allowed collusion between various elements that act counter to the best interests of the citizenry. As such, his goal is not to take down the government, not to commit acts of terrorism, but to raise the cost of keeping secrets. If governments/corporations/etc. have to be paranoid about keeping secrets, taking ever more elaborate security measures, taking time and effort to hunt down leakers/whistleblowers, then it begins to take its toll on the overall organization.

The ultimate goal, I believe, is for governments to only keep secret those things that the populace truly stand to benefit from remaining secret. For instance, plans for building nuclear weapons truly should be kept secret, and even if the cost of keeping secrets becomes high, we'll probably find it reasonable to keep that a secret. However, it may become harder to justify the expense of hiding the fact that our government covered up a military contractor running a kiddie prostitution ring, or (maybe I'm being optimistic here) the fact that we colluded with China to derail progress in climate multilateral change talks, despite acting like we were in favor of such goals.

Andrew took issue with 3:03's use of the word "possibly," but I take issue with his/her use of the word "spy." Whether or not Assange a "journalist" is a subject worth debate, but it's laughable to call him a spy. First of all, he isn't doing anything secretly - he's the spokesperson of the organization, and they've made no attempt to hide what their purpose is. Moreover, he and WL don't seek out information on their own; they merely accept information from others. They're an outlet, not agents actively uncovering the information through deception/trickery/lawbreaking. Finally, they disclose the data that others submit to the public, rather than acting for the benefit of some party adverse to the sources of the information themselves. And, at least for American citizens, our judicial system doesn't place guilt or liability on the party that discloses information conveyed to them, regardless of how that information was originally obtained - see Ellsberg/Pentagon Papers, Bartnicki v. Vopper, etc.

12/09/2010 4:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And one last thing:

I can't speak for James, but Assange has never said that no information should be classified, that governments should be able to keep nothing secret. If you read his statement of purpose, he believes that governments keep too MUCH secret, and that it has allowed collusion between various elements that act counter to the best interests of the citizenry. As such, his goal is not to take down the government, not to commit acts of terrorism, but to raise the cost of keeping secrets. If governments/corporations/etc. have to be paranoid about keeping secrets, taking ever more elaborate security measures, taking time and effort to hunt down leakers/whistleblowers, then it begins to take its toll on the overall organization.

The ultimate goal, I believe, is for governments to only keep secret those things that the populace truly stand to benefit from remaining secret. For instance, plans for building nuclear weapons truly should be kept secret, and even if the cost of keeping secrets becomes high, we'll probably find it reasonable to keep that a secret. However, it may become harder to justify the expense of hiding the fact that our government covered up a military contractor running a kiddie prostitution ring, or (maybe I'm being optimistic here) the fact that we colluded with China to derail progress in climate multilateral change talks, despite acting like we were in favor of such goals.

12/09/2010 4:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrew took issue with 3:03's use of the word "possibly," but I take issue with his/her use of the word "spy." Whether or not Assange a "journalist" is a subject worth debate, but it's laughable to call him a spy. First of all, he isn't doing anything secretly - he's the spokesperson of the organization, and they've made no attempt to hide what their purpose is. Moreover, he and WL don't seek out information on their own; they merely accept information from others. They're an outlet, not agents actively uncovering the information through deception/trickery/lawbreaking. Finally, they disclose the data that others submit to the public, rather than acting for the benefit of some party adverse to the sources of the information themselves. And, at least for American citizens, our judicial system doesn't place guilt or liability on the party that discloses information conveyed to them, regardless of how that information was originally obtained - see Ellsberg/Pentagon Papers, Bartnicki v. Vopper, etc.

12/09/2010 4:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

McWho & Two,

8:37 here. I'm a chick (not "he" as your post suggested). Yes, I'm posting anonymously. Cowardly? maybe.

The last sentence of my post ("ashamed to share a generation") was perhaps a bit dramatic. But the point of my post was that I -- apparently incorrectly -- assumed that, no matter our political persuasions, we're all smarter than to use scare tactics like this: "Try growing a pair and telling the family of one of those diplomats that they could get fired-or far worse-killed for giving an honest impression in a supposedly confidential comminque."

It reminds of me of everything I heard from the government during the Bush years, and that saddens/disappoints/infuriates me, coming from someone as young and well-educated and, I believe, well-intentioned as McWho, and others on this site. Ashamed is perhaps a bit strong.

That's all.

12/09/2010 11:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Toney -

I'm with you on a lot of the points you've made, but I think your whole "leaking a whole bunch of corporate docs would be awesome" view ignores a lot of risks, which is strange because you're attuned to the risks of leaking the diplomatic cables. I'm not saying that the two are equivalent, but the widespread leaking of corporate documents would raise serious privacy concerns and could harm many people who have nothing to do with whatever you have against corporations, right? Companies carry all sorts of sensitive information about their employees, from SSNs to medical information (on insurance forms) to background checks, and a wholesale release of this information could be seriously embarassing or could lead to all sorts of identity theft. Or consider the case where employees were critical of superiors in emails; once those emails are leaked, the superiors would then have access to the emails, the same as anyone else, and could retaliate. Major, legitimate corporate transactions could be compromised. Confidential communications that were protected under the attorney-client privilege would suddenly be available for the whole world to see.

And so on.

I'm just trying to fight for a little consistency here.

12/10/2010 11:51 AM  
Blogger Toney said...

Hey, I admitted my inconsistency. I'm not saying there aren't risks, I'm just saying that I get a whole lot more excited at the idea of corporate scumbags getting outed than I do at the idea of embarrassing but not necessarily beneficial US intelligence & diplomatic leaks.

I also love college basketball and hate the NBA. The two viewpoints overlap, but aren't diametrically opposed.

12/10/2010 1:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What you've really missed, Toney, is that tons of corporate scumbags are currently being outed in the released cables. What's also becoming apparent is that YOUR government tolerates such malfeasance (and sometimes supports it, like in the case of lobbying Russia to reduce credit card lending restrictions so Visa and Mastercard could go into Russia on their terms).

12/10/2010 1:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is Assange's true message regarding the leaks to governments all around the world: "If you engage in immoral, unjust behavior, you will be found out." - From SVT's documentary on Wikileaks.

This is the point.

12/10/2010 2:22 PM  
Blogger McWho said...

8:37,

Sorry about the gender issue. It is a failing of mine to use "he" as a gender neutral term.

Response well-taken. I would argue that what I was saying was not a scare tactic though. It is a legitimate part of keeping communication confidential to encourage honesty. We want our diplomats to report accurately the situation on site. If they are worried about words leaking to the press, they will sound more like polititians and less like effective information gatherers. And their safety would legitimately be at risk. It is akin to releasing the name of an informant.

12/10/2010 2:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please show an instance of a diplomat being in any more danger as a result of a cable leak than before.

These hypotheticals are simply being used by the government and those who agree with its authoritarian actions as a scare tactic. Not one incident has been referred to where these cables have resulted in individuals being placed in any more danger than they already were as US government actors. DoD Secretary Gates has said as much.

12/10/2010 2:44 PM  
Blogger James said...

Hi, wanted to post this link to the documentary mentioned above: http://svtplay.se/v/2264028/wikirebels_the_documentary

Watch it when you get a chance. Gives good insight into the motivations behind wikileaks and their reasons for believing why it's a moral imperative to disclose evidence of the most powerful government in the world acting unethically, illegally and unjustly (as well as allied corporations and governments).

12/10/2010 3:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lets talk about Toney not liking the NBA. Whats your problem man?

12/13/2010 11:06 AM  

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