I think the outpouring of words from every imaginable source on the WikiLeaks story is perfectly appropriate. These are important, complex issues and we’re not close to consensus, or even a shared perception of what the issues are. The complexity and nuance hasn’t in the slightest stopped me getting angrier and angrier with every day this story unfolds.

Short Form · Here’s a sound bite I can sign up for, from Simon Phipps: “Wikileaks is like Pirate Bay; something that I don't like but have to defend because of the collateral damage caused by attacking it.”

Unlike Simon, there are quite a few things I like about WikiLeaks; but even where it’s open to criticism, its sins pale beside those of the rabble of wastrels, guttersnipes, nincompoops, and cowards lined up against it.

Let’s Be Specific · Here, in The Guardian, is a leaked cable describing an intervention with US officials in Afghanistan by Canadian ambassador William Crosbie, who seems competent and level-headed. He is depicted as urging the Americans to lower the boom on that schmuck Karzai over obvious election-fixing, pointing out that this is politically important to Canada: “We must be prepared for confrontation with Karzai on this issue, he said, or risk losing credibility among our own population if we go along with a rigged election.” Well, yep, we all did go along with the rigged election, didn’t we, and how’s that credibility looking?

So here are two sides of it: Crosbie has offered to resign, on the grounds that this cable and others expected to leak will damage his ability to work with the Afghan government. And, since it seems like we have an intelligent dude there who’s saying the right things to the right people, that would be harmful. Bad, bad WikiLeaks.

On the other hand, as a Canadian I really want to know Why the fucking hell are we sending our young people to get killed there? Our senior official on the ground is telling everyone that the team whose side we’re on are corrupt and stole the last election and are “making his blood boil”? The fact that our government has kept this intelligence secret while extending the Canadian mission is making mine boil. Thank you, WikiLeaks.

There you have it. Not simple.

To Be Fair · There are smart people pointing out the problems with what WikiLeaks has done. Here’s a report from a human-rights activist. And Simon Phipps, once again: “It seems to me that taking stolen correspondence and publishing it for everyone to read is a fundamentally sociopathic act”.

My Big Problem · Here’s the real problem I have. Cast your mind back to early this year, when WikiLeaks seized the world’s attention by releasing video of a Baghdad airstrike in July 2007, depicting what looked like a moderately-severe war crime.

And the real problem is that officials from all the same governments who are screaming now were screaming in advance of that release, about how awful it was that the data was stolen, and the harm that would be done by releasing it; they had stonewalled Freedom Of Information requests for that video from the press.

Try to put yourselves in Assange’s shoes; the following fact would probably weigh heavily on your mind: You’re being told that releasing this stuff would be harmful by a bunch of people who condoned a war crime and then tried to cover it up.

I don’t know what kind of a person Mr. Assange is, and I’m not saying this is simple. But, sitting where he is, I might well have pulled the trigger and released the cables.

Practical Lesson · One of my favorite takes on this whole thing was Missing the point of WikiLeaks in one of The Economist blogs. It’s qualitatively easier to leak these days, and having leaked, to get the juicy goods in front of the world, without getting legal or editorial or marketing clearance. The management community ignores this at their peril.

Yes, you can lock down your network with sharp-fanged firewalls, and disable the USB socket and DVD writer in all the computers. I know you can do this because I’ve worked with organizations that have; highly security-conscious financial institutions. What happens is, they take a grievous hit in productivity, and everyone brings their personal Mac in and puts it on the desktop and uses it for getting actual work done, mailing the results to the castrated company computer for deployment.

So your choice is clear: You can take a horrible productivity hit or you can deal with the enhanced risk of getting secrets leaked. My personal opinion is that your best bet is to have really good reasons for doing what you’re doing and saying what you’re saying and make sure the people who know the secrets know the reasons, too. Also, it would help if you don’t treat your staff like shit. Or condone slaughtering civilians and then try to cover it up.

I wasn’t born yesterday; nobody will ever do away with leaking (my employer sure hasn’t managed it.) But there are things you can do to minimize the incentive for people to embark on this kind of wholesale sociopathy.

The World Overreacts · Do ya think? I’m fighting a rising tide of nausea as various flavors of functionary try to whack the WikiLeaks mole, applying the thoughtcrime principle, calling for Assange’s assassination, hounding Amazon and Tableau and EveryDNS and PayPal into hasty action (and I sure wish my profession had shown a little spine). Thought leaders including Sarah Palin, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Silvio Berlusconi, and Vladimir Putin tsk-tsk in unison; those closer to the mainstream who are joining the chorus should be very fucking nervous about the company they’re keeping.

Oh, and by the way, I gather the raw material has passed over into torrent-land if you know where to look (I don’t) and is thus far, far beyond suppression.

Consequences · One of my favorite write-ups is from euobserver.com: Heads start rolling in WikiLeaks affair. Let’s see: A German bureaucrat fired for leaking internal discussions to the US. A Swedish diplomat feeling really bad for similar reasons. Berlusconi in hot political water. The Georgian ambassador to Rome implicated in the Berlusconi mud. The leader of the Moldovan Communist party exposed in what seems like a perfectly routine attempt at parliamentary bribery.

Isn’t that awful. Losing sleep? Me neither.

Links · Here are some other links to WikiLeaks news and analysis that I found worth reading:

And, of course, WikiLeaks itself, currently at wikileaks.ch.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: rob (Dec 06 2010, at 02:39)

Politicians can be voted in/out every so often in most countries now.

What has been overlooked so far is the power and wealth behind the politicians - the people and businesses that get them into power.

Mr Assange has indicated that an American bank could be the next target and that is what is frightening the business community - who will be next?

In the UK we have a little local problem called Coulson who is director of communications for No 10. No one is really sure whether he works for the PM or in reality for Rupert Murdoch and rumours of "secret dossiers" that were around during Coulson's time as editor of the News of the World, a News International "newspaper" help fuel speculation that all is not as it appears to be.

I think Wikileaks can do a job by exposing who the powers are behind each throne - can anyone who lives in a democracy believe otherwise?

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From: Branedy (Dec 06 2010, at 06:22)

Your commentary on WiKiLeaks is another example of why I read your stuff. Thanks. Good on you!

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From: Michael (Dec 06 2010, at 07:34)

If Crosbie resign as Canadian ambassador for Afghanistan, he can still use his knowledge and skills in others countries, so while this is indeed a lose, this would just be a small one.

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From: len (Dec 06 2010, at 08:31)

"WikiLeaks has published a secret U.S. diplomatic cable listing sites abroad that the U.S. considers vital to its national security, prompting criticism that the website is inviting terrorist attacks on American interests." - CNN

I'd say WikiLeaks just crossed a line although when the Washington newspaper published the maps for locations of US companies doing work for national security that was a line too and no one seemed to object to that.

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From: Nina (Dec 06 2010, at 10:28)

It is very important that there are many mirrors that wikileaks is still read by the people. I am so proud that so many people think that it is important to save the freedom of the press.

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From: csw (Dec 06 2010, at 10:37)

Perhaps the most interesting thing I've read on the WikiLeaks affair is Charlie Stross' analysis (http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/12/the-nobel-peace-prize-for-2011.html) of Assange's motivations:

"Assange has a model of how the abduction of governance by common interest groups — such as corporations and right wing political factions — works in the current age. His goal is to impair the ability of these groups to exert control over democratic institutions without the consent of the governed. By forcing these authoritarian institutions to apply ever-heavier burdens of secrecy to their internal communications, wikileaks aims to reduce their ability to coordinate and, thus, to exert control."

Now there's something I can get on board with.

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From: Eric Johnson (Dec 06 2010, at 11:48)

Here's a point I haven't seen raised anywhere. Someone (and the government thinks they know who) was able to access all these documents that were considered privileged. Surely s/he was not the only unexpected person who accessed this material.

So it is safe to assume that intelligences operatives of all of the major countries of the world had access to the information already. The only people in the dark were the "we the people."

Either those intelligence services shouldn't have the information, and someone(s) should be fired for letting it leak, or the government is not really that interested in protecting it in the first place. In either case WikiLeaks serves as a distraction from the underlying problem(s).

I'm also extremely upset about the attacks on WikiLeaks. Seems like nothing but a "blame the messenger" approach, because we don't want to hear the subtext. Fortunately, astute commentary (such as yours!) has started highlighting the subtext.

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From: Daniel (Dec 06 2010, at 12:05)

I agree with Branedy - this was one of the best pieces I've read on WikiLeaks, and one example of why I come back here even after your move to the dark side. ;-)

It's not only right nor wrong, it's both and it's complex. WikiLeaks are obviously doing some bad things while trying to pursue what they believe is a greater good, just like the usual business of the governments that now condemn them. There are so many interesting and intriguing sides of this "incident" and I wish I had the language skills to expand on this some more. After quite a few edits of my comment I give up.

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From: Robert Young (Dec 06 2010, at 12:09)

Secrets, especially under Right Wingnut governments, are more often for the protection of the Idiots Calling for Secrets than for any reason of National Security. These leaks make that quite crystal clear.

Duplicity to no good end is Plain Evil.

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From: abc (Dec 06 2010, at 12:13)

Thank you for your insightful commentary. Please note that Le Monde has a wonderful interactive tool for examining selected cables: <http://www.lemonde.fr/documents-wikileaks/visuel/2010/12/06/wikileaks-lire-les-memos-diplomatiques_1449709_1446239.html#ens_id=1446739>. Sift through the English-language texts by selecting a geographical area, a 150-day date range, or the name of a person cited.

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From: Dave Walker (Dec 06 2010, at 13:09)

There are two significant things I can't figure out, about WikiLeaks.

1). What is their motivation, for doing what they do?

2). How the [expletive deleted] do they manage to get their hands on all this stuff, and in fact, is it genuine?

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From: John Gill (Dec 06 2010, at 13:55)

Great to find an excellent balanced piece on the cable leaks.

This Guardian piece makes some excellent points: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/nov/30/wikileaks-secrets-pentagon-papers

Many of the revelations are things that most diplomats would be more than happy to say 'off the record' to friendly journalists.

The most stunning revelation to me is that all this material was available to some 3 million US citizens. Would the diplomats have been so candid if they had known that?

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From: Matěj Cepl (Dec 06 2010, at 15:39)

I am quite confused about whole thing, but I am quite abhorred by complete lack of interest in the fate of people who will be seriously affected by this leak. I have heard couple of times from couple of places something in the line of "And you can see that nothing actually happened, so it was OK."

Except I am quite sure that some young man in PRC was yesterday run over by unknown truck, and somebody else somewhere else (or maybe in China as well) ended up in jail. And of course, Western journalist will never know about it, so they will be happy how harmless all this was and their beloved right to say whatever they choose to say without concern for the consequences will be preserved.

I was living and growing up in the Socialist Czechoslovakia. Thanks God there were no WikiLeaks then (however I would love to have Internet then).

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From: Marcus Olsson (Dec 07 2010, at 05:24)

Really good writeup, appreciate it.

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From: len (Dec 07 2010, at 07:21)

Amen, Matej. For all the web rah rah, no one is speaking up for the immediate victims who's situations we don't know.

As fascinating as the reading is, after awhile it feels like a tabloid going on an outing spree. Information anarchists against diplomats are like magazines that out gays for their own profit and social agenda or the FBI using Martin Luther King's pillow talk to try to silence him.

Has anyone heard a word from Bradley Manning lately?

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From: Sergey (Dec 07 2010, at 07:35)

On Western soldiers in Afg-n: quite obvious, it's called "military presence". Afghanistan is essentially a desert with most of its people living in caves. Yet for at least a hundred years it'd been fought over by the greater empires. Britain, USSR, now the US. If you're able to come to a street, kick everybody's ass there and stay, feeling quite comfortable, you know you're the one in charge.

On Wikileaks: obviously, the world isn't as simple as most people generalize. It's an extremely complex mechanism, with a billion of compromises done all over, compromises that have nothing to do with any kind of ideals, or political or social statements, or dogmas. Every fundamental rule people think of as unbendable is bent 1000 times a day. Unfortunately, this is the only way the world can work. You can't operate (not just effectively, at all) if you're following a predefined doctrine, be it a set of democratic values or a communist agenda or even a list of religious beliefs.

Yet this isn't something general public is ready for. Politicians, military, economists -- they have to disguise most of their ways, lest they'd be obligated to explain themselves a thousand times a day. But if you're operating that way most of the time, you might actually forget that you're bending the rules and going beyond values you chose to respect. So there must be something to remind you about that.

And this is where Wikileaks comes in. Think of it as a balancing force. It exposes the system, thus letting the public to remind governments that there are some rules they have to respect, and perhaps each time a rule is bent, one who bent it should think whether he could avoid it or indeed he could not.

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From: Stan W. Miczek (Dec 07 2010, at 08:52)

I don't want to get technical over the wikileaks.....but i do want to say that we need more people to stand up and let the world know the real truths circulating around politicians and what they are doing........we deserve the truth

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From: LaughingJohn (Dec 08 2010, at 05:41)

It is of course a tragedy if people are hurt as a result of information being leaked, but maybe in the long term it could save lives?

I wonder if the possibility of their actions being publicised might prevent these organizations from continuing to hurt people?

The example given was of some young man being run over by an unknown truck in the PRC, but what if the details of that incident were made available and the perpetrators were exposed to the international community?

Maybe that would help stop it happening and save the lives of many in the future?

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From: H (Dec 08 2010, at 13:24)

Just a general comment:

I've always trusted authority and thought that I was being told the truth. Now I'm not so sure anymore. Is that a good thing? Maybe it is.

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From: Lewis Poretz (Dec 09 2010, at 07:34)

Could Cyber Anarchists living in the clouds have Earthly Ramifications? - nice read ->> http://bit.ly/dNEF33 #wikileaks #cyber #security

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From: len (Dec 11 2010, at 03:40)

I read the comments I've received from the WikiLeaks crew and read the comments made by the Westboro crew and realize they are exactly the same form of viral hate. All of our worst fears of what the web could enable are coming to pass. And I wonder, is the web worth having? One tin soldier...

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From: Lalit (Dec 12 2010, at 08:57)

There are ways to control the rapid growth of Wikileaks by introducing innovative business models. http://goo.gl/6jxXU

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From: Derek K. Miller (Dec 16 2010, at 10:33)

I think it's worth looking at WikiLeaks' (or at least Julian Assange's) stated motivations for releasing all this sensitive material: to be "only the catalyst for the desired counter-overreaction" by its target states.

http://zunguzungu.wordpress.com/2010/11/29/julian-assange-and-the-computer-conspiracy-“to-destroy-this-invisible-government”/

To me, it looks like that's working.

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From: ROBERTO DIAZ (Dec 18 2010, at 14:53)

TELL ME WHO YOU ARE WITH AND I WILL TELL YOU WHO YOU ARE

IF MR ASSAGNE BENEFITS THE ENEMIES OF UNITED STATES HE IS AN ENEMY OF USA

THAT EXCUSE THAT IS HELPING TRANSPARENCY IS PURE LYE

IF HE THREATENS THE SECURITY OF USA HE MUST BE PERSECUTED BY USA AND PUNISHED EVEN WITH DEATH PENALTY IF NECESSARY

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From: Name Required (Dec 21 2010, at 13:58)

Lalit's comment above is simply spamming his own blogpost.

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