Monday, December 6, 2010

WikiWrap-Up On WikiLeaks

Over the past couple of months, WikiLeaks has been dripping out classified US government documents by the hundreds of thousands. Now that we have a good idea of what they reveal, let’s address the issues.

Point 1: What the heck was the government thinking?

Lost in this whole affair is the first question we should all be asking: how did a nobody Army Specialist, Bradley Manning, download several hundred thousand sensitive documents about two separate wars and 250,000 diplomatic cables (11,000 of which were marked secret or “nofo” meaning they could not be shared with foreign government) to a personal computer so he could hand them over to WikiLeaks? Who designs a system for storing classified documents that allows such wide-ranging access? Moreover, they apparently only caught Manning because he went online and bragged about being the source. How can that be?

This is the real issue that needs to be solved and the total focus on WikiLeaks' founder is a distraction from the real scandal.

Point 2: What revelations?

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this affair has been the utter lack of revelations. The media claims to have found some, but not a single piece of information produced wasn’t already widely known. Consider these:

● Many governments are run by sexual predators, incompetents or criminals.

● Putin and Berlusconi like to party, as does Gaddafi, who also likes to pout.

● Medvedev is a puppet of Putin, and Russia’s bureaucracy really runs the country.

● Yemen let US troops kill al Qaeda terrorists within their border and tried to pass this sophisticated attack off as having been done by its own primitive security forces with a few US advisors involved.

● Obama used promises and threats to win support for his Copenhagen non-deal deal.

● Mexico’s drug war is not well-focused and is not going well.

● Various Arab states hate and fear Iran, and a couple pleaded with the US to bomb Iran to keep it from getting an atomic bomb.

● Venezuela is not well-liked in the region.

● Iran heavily supported the insurgency in Iraq.

● China is slowly turning against North Korea.

● China authorized cyber attacks against American companies, including Google, and the US Embassy.

● The British royals are inbred idiots who say stupid things.

● Karzai is an erratic jerk who believes in conspiracies and plots but knows little about governing, and his brother is a drug lord.
Anything shocking there? Anything you didn’t already know? I thought not. In fact, the only real revelation of which I am aware is that North Korea managed to send a number of sophisticated missiles to Iran, missiles that are capable of carrying a nuclear payload.

So why is the lack of revelations so interesting? Because it shows us that our government actually is very good at being open and honest with us. And since that is a necessary cornerstone of democracy, this bodes well for our system.

Point 3: Is this disclosure good for democracy?

WikiLeaks founder Julia Assange claims that he leaked this information because secrecy is anathema to good government. To a degree, I agree with that. I am a firm believer in requiring “full disclosure” by government because our government acts in our names and we can only judge our government if we know what it is doing. But the key word there is “doing.”

“Doing” does not include advice given to leaders by their advisors. When you make such advice public, the advisors stop providing complete and honest advice and instead become concerned with how they will appear to the public when their advice is disclosed. That cripples the government because it can no longer get a full picture of its options or the likely consequences of its actions.

“Doing” also does not include information that was provided to the government in a confidential manner. Whether this is corporations sharing trade secrets with the government or individuals turning in neighbors who may be terrorists, allowing the disclosure of such information will prevent people from coming forward with similar information in the future. That prevents the government from getting the information it needs to do its job.

WikiLeaks failed to protect either of these types of information. By turning over private assessments of foreign leaders, WikiLeaks makes it harder for future diplomats to share their private opinions about foreign leaders, which makes it that much harder to spot the potential Hitlers or Ahmadinejads -- which means the US is more likely to work with budding dictators in the future. Likewise, soldiers will now censor their reports, which means the likelihood of casualties (civilian and military) goes up.

WikiLeaks also turned over information that has endangered individual informants. Said a former British military intelligence officer: “Assange has seriously endangered the lives of Afghan civilians. . . the logs contain detailed personal information regarding Afghan civilians who have approached NATO soldiers with information.” This release will prevent future informants from coming forward, and will thereby help terrorists and dictators suppress their people.

Even some of the leading opponents of government censorship have strongly denounced WikiLeaks. Steven Aftergood, editor of Secrecy News, says: “WikiLeaks routinely tramples on the privacy of non-governmental, non-corporate groups for no valid public policy reason. . . this is not whistleblowing and it is not journalism. It is a kind of information vandalism.” Aftergood notes, for example, that WikiLeaks has also published the “secret rituals” of a women’s sorority, “the private rites of Masons, Mormons and other groups that cultivate confidential relations among their members.”

So how can it be good for democracy to have a group of information peeping Toms releasing information that (1) prevents government advisors, diplomats and soldiers from being honest with their bosses, (2) prevents non-government people from sharing information with the government, (3) gets people killed for getting involved with the government, and (4) will make the government much more obsessed with hiding information in the future? If WikiLeaks’ purpose was to open government and make it more responsive, then this is called a “backfire.”

Point 4: What if this had been Bush?

Finally, it is amazing to see the difference between how these leaks are being treated now that they are affecting Obama, rather than Bush. Under Bush, the left was demanding that Bush release the very type of information just released -- they even sued him to get some of it. And they poo-poo’d the Bush Administration’s claims that the release of this type of information would be dangerous.

So they should be happy that this information is finally coming out, right? Wrong. They are treating Assange like a war criminal. They want him hunted down, they don’t even object when people talk about putting him on the terrorist “kill on sight” list. They are happy to believe the rather ridiculous rape charges as true and include that in every mention of his name. They raise no complaints about various governments (possibly including our own) using cyber attacks to keep WikiLeaks offline, nor do they complain when the government leans on and threatens ISPs that host him. It’s amazing how right and wrong changes for the left depending on who is getting hurt.

And let me add another interesting piece to this puzzle. Remember how Obama promised to run the most open government in history and how the left relentlessly pounded Bush for his supposed secrecy? Well get this: last year, the Obama administration marked 54.7 million documents as secret, that’s 10 times the number marked “secret” in 1996 and more than double the maximum amount marked “secret” in any year under Bush. Yet the left says nothing.

I guess “open government” only matter when it’s a Republican president?


Notawonk said...

i'm reading along, nodding my head in agreement and then i get to:Point 4: What if this had been Bush?

HOLY MOLY! Can you imagine the reaction and calling for his literal head? and i am still sticking to my conspiracy theory that the reason barry is nonplussed is because he's in on it. yeah, i know, call me a kook...

Anonymous said...

Fact: Secrets are hard to keep. Cork out of the bottle. post-it-all 1-to:world. Yous school or corporate emails? Problem ? Just as much the printed book once was. Main question: what’s next: E-Power to the people. Maybe it is good thing, because together we can control what no government can (ie. the global society we need to survive) Technology is a thread, it always was.. it always was unstoppable. So live with this and let's discuss

Tennessee Jed said...

I agree that a government needs to be able to receive advice anonymously. Government leaders need to be able to have private conversations and negotiate with other countries privately. Certainly in a time of war, a government needs some protection of it's confidential strategies etc. But, like most people, government should be as open as possible.

As much as I appreciate freedom of the press, releasing stolen material that is properly classified and failing to identify the source should be a crime and prosecuted.

There is no question the main stream press will always be two-faced and hypocritical about things like this depending who is in power at the time. At least most of the public is getting better at spotting the hypocisy.

AndrewPrice said...

Patti, I'm glad to hear you agree, and you are absolutely right. The hatred that would be spewed forth about Bush would be incredible. EVERY news show, talk show and interview done by anyone on the left would be about the "horrors" and "war crimes" of the Bush Administration. There would be talk of impeachment. They would talk about giving Assange the Nobel Prize. And there would be international condemnation of every aspect of this.

Instead, we get a unified chorus telling us that Assange is a monster with no mention at all of Obama.

It's funny how that happens, isn't it?

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, There is information that needs to stay confidential and there is information that should remain confidential. If you fail to protect certain information, you get people killed and you keep people from working with this government.

I assume you are a liberal. So let me ask, how happy does it make you that (1) green technology companies won't share their trade secrets with the government if that information can be released, (2) if we end up dealing with dictators because we can't get an honest assessment from diplomats, or (3) if soldiers start covering up everything they do that might look bad.

Also, the government reaction to this won't be "gee, let's just accept it." The government reaction will be to be more heavy-handed. If you can't figure out which of 5 people is a terrorist, then you take them all into custody. If you can't get information on which house contains the bad guys, then you destroy them all.

And if you want open government, it's obvious that this will lead to less information being recorded, i.e. a government that turns to secrecy and acting without documentation to protect itself.

None of that is a good thing. So think twice.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Make no mistake, this is a crime. The soldier is facing up to 70 years in prison for espionage, and Assange can and will be arrested as a conspirator if they can get their hands on him.

Interestingly, some are trying to justify this as "whistleblowing." But it's not. Whistleblowing involves the disclosure of illegal or improper conduct, but it must be disclosed to the proper authorities, not handed over to a journalist or quasi-journalist. None of this qualifies for that under either prong.

And you're right about the hypocrisy, our media seems to specialize in it. But I do agree that the public is catching on.

Ed said...

So true, I've heard all of this stuff before it was released, and the media would be insane if this was Bush. Any idea what's going to happen to the soldier who leaked this information?

Ed said...

Also, did you notice that all this information kind of confirms the conservative view of the world?

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I think the media and the Democrats and all the human rights groups would be protesting in the street screaming obscenities and whipping out the Bush=Hitler posters. As it is, they will remain silent.

On your other point, that's very perceptive. It's interesting, isn't it, how everyone we thought was a danger is in fact a danger and how despite the left's claims/hopes that Obama would abandon "Realpolitic" for utopian diplomacy, Obama's diplomacy is just as dirty as everyone else's. It really does confirm that the conservative view of the world is what dominates out there.

Unknown said...

Andrew: The reasoning behind keeping diplomatic conversations secret is much the same as the priest/penitent, doctor/patient and attorney/client privilege. Planning solutions to problems, spiritual, physical or legal is best worked out among the principals without outside interference and only becomes public domain when action is actually taken. For too long, things that should not have been secret were "classified" for no good reason, but that doesn't mean that we should go to the other extreme and allow every private conversation and/or negotiation to be spread all over the front pages of the New York Times.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, Very true, too much has been classified, but the answer to that is to change the system to narrow what gets classified. The answer is not to dump a half million documents into the public domain with little worry about the consequences.

Ed said...

That's exactly what I'm thinking. Everything they released shows that our way of thinking is what makes the world go round and this goofy can't-we-all-just-get-along way of thinking is nowhere to be found. Also, look at the stuff that this dispels. We're told about "Arab unity," but that's not true. We're told that China is a peaceful country and we have nothing to fear, but this shows they're engaged in cyberwar against us.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, Very true. It also shows that on a fundamental level, the deals that are being made are made on self-interest/national interest, not some altruistic concern for the environment or world peace or any garbage like that. So when the left tells you that if only we would stop resisting, the whole world would suddenly become this peaceful, happy, environmentally friendly world, you can point to this as evidence to the contrary. If anything, it shows that we're still the most fair dealer in the world. AND it emphasizes how vital the US is in every region of the world, even as we're told the US has lost its importance.

In other words, nothing you've heard from the MSM about our standing in the world or our supposedly rotten behavior is true.

BevfromNYC said...

For me there is a much bigger picture. How did some lowly private sitting a room get access to all of these confidential and "top secret" documents in the first place? Allegedly he was pretending to be surfing the web and downloaded all of these docs?

But, you are absolutely right that there are conversations that need to be kept private and confidential for the sake of having an honest dialogue.

BTW, it has been reported that the Swiss have shut down all of Assange's accounts. And Assange has threatened to release the really bad stuff, if anyone tries to arrest him.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, That's my point number one -- the real issue here is not Assange, but how the heck did an Army Specialist get his hands on all of this information, how did they create a system that let him download it, and how were they not able to catch him until he decided to go bragging about it? That needs to be addressed immediately, and the focus on Assange is covering that up.

"honest dialog" -- excellent choice of words! Very accurate.

In terms of the Swiss, it seems that no one wants to help him.... good. I suspect Assange will find himself arrested soon enough and will be convicted of conspiracy and sent away for 5-10 years.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I just realized I didn't answer your question.... my apologies.

The Army specialist is facing espionage charges and is likely to end up with a 50-70 year sentence in military prison, which is a good deal harsher than civilian prison.

Joel Farnham said...


I am kind of old fashioned. I think the soldier should be executed and Assange should be assassinated. That is what should happen to traitors and enemies.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, That is what they used to do with traitors and spies, and I'm not going to disagree. It's fairly clear that they have endangered the lives of thousands of civilian informants and who knows how many intelligence officers or soldiers, so it's hard to say that a death sentence would be unjustified. To me though, that's just one small part of this, which is why I didn't really write about the punishment.

To me, the more interesting issues are those mentioned above, that (1) it's stunning the government created a situation where someone could do this, (2) this release has been almost like a clean bill of health for our supposedly secretive government in that it proved that all the whining about our government doing secret things we know nothing about is just not true, and (3) imagine the outrage if Bush was still in the White House when this happened. I think those are the more interesting issues. And I think that by focusing on Assange entirely (as the MSM is doing), they are covering up the real questions here.

Ed said...

No problems, I knew you would get around to it! Lol! I'm with Joel though, forget this prison garbage, let's proceed to execution.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, If there was a good death penalty case for spying, this would be it. There is no telling how many people will die because of the disclosure of this information.

CrispyRice said...

Well, speak for yourself! Personally, I was shocked - SHOCKED!! I tell you, at this - "Many governments are run by sexual predators, incompetents or criminals."

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, How can you be shocked by that? Did you not live through the Clinton years? 8-P

DUQ said...

It doesn't surprise me the MSM would treat this differently than they did under Bush. I remember them blasting Bush even when the first disclosure was made. They have no shame.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, As long as the MSM consists of leftists from top to bottom, it will continue to play the game of situational right and wrong, because hypocrisy is a standard trait among leftists.

Ed said...

Ed, I just saw that they arrested Assange. I heard about "rape" charges, but I didn't know it had to do with a condom breaking. When did that become "rape"? Of course, now that he's arrested, I'll bet they send him to the US to be charged with releasing this information!

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I saw that. I saw also that Time is planning to make him their Man of the Year, though I don't think that means much anymore. Still it's pathetic.

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