Wikileaks/Manning: "Are America's foreign policy secrets about to go online?"

Following up on an earlier post about the uncloaking and arrest of Army Specialist Bradley Manning of Potomac, Maryland, who is believed to have leaked the "Collateral Murder" video to Wikileaks, Philip Shenon reports in the Daily Beast about anxiety over more sensitive material Manning may have downloaded and stored. At issue are some 260,000 diplomatic cables from government computer networks that, by some reports, he has admitted to have accessed and was planning to make public. Snip:
wlus.jpg "If he really had access to these cables, we've got a terrible situation on our hands," said an American diplomat. "We're still trying to figure out what he had access to. A lot of my colleagues overseas are sweating this out, given what those cables may contain."

He said Manning apparently had special access to cables prepared by diplomats and State Department officials throughout the Middle East regarding the workings of Arab governments and their leaders. The cables, which date back over several years, went out over interagency computer networks available to the Army and contained information related to American diplomatic and intelligence efforts in the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq, the diplomat said.

He added that the State Department and law-enforcement agencies are trying to determine whether, and how, to approach Wikileaks to urge the site not to publish the cables, given the damage they could do to diplomatic efforts involving the United States and its allies.

The State Department's Worst Nightmare (Daily Beast)

Wired News reporters Kim Zetter and Kevin Poulsen (who first broke the story that Manning had been outed by hacker Adrian Lamo and was now jailed in Kuwait) have posted an update story with more details on the State Department's concerns.


  1. It’s about time that somebody lanced the boil and let out all the pus.

    1. It almost doesn’t matter if Manning did download this information or not – If Mannings claims are even credible, then a lot of people who approved the equipment he was using should be in front of a court martial and for the high jump.

      Why did they give him a PC with a rewritable CD drive or a USB port? It shouldn’t be possible to take the information off the computers in any mass form.

      In terms of lancing boils, do you think the US government has any legitimate purpose, or is murdering foreigners the full-time business?

      Showing the Apache gunship video is important – a) the other side is dead, b) suppressing evidence surrounding the event – accident or cold blooded murder – is wrong.

      …but not all of those 260k messages can be about illegal actions, if they exist? some must relate to legitimate activity.

      Who knows. If they do exist and are published it would be bad judgement of Wikileaks.

  2. Wikileaks doesn’t exactly have a history of “sitting on” leaked info. If they have this data, then they’ve had it for quite a while and it doesn’t make sense that they haven’t published it yet. It seems unlikely that they do have any of this stuff, but it certainly does make for a convenient excuse to bring the hammer down on anybody involved in the project, doesn’t it? If wikileaks volunteers start disappearing, I’m sure this will be the reason given for it, whether it’s a legitimate concern or not.

      1. I know these “diplomatic cables” have something to do with the contents of that article. But somehow I don’t think this person is going to dredge up the cables and give them to WikiLeaks. Are these “cables” perhaps recordings of communications that took place over the physical cables?

        1. agger, I would have assumed that your hypothesis was based on nothing more than wild, uninformed speculation, but as you use the term ‘psy-op’ I can see that you have, in fact, visited a multiplex, possibly with Dolby Digital sound.

  3. It should be noted that Wikileaks denies having the cables. Somebody is not being truthful in the matter, and the hell if I can tell who. If Wikileaks does have them, it’s understandable. If the alleged leaker didn’t retrieve any such information and was just exaggerating, that’s somewhat understandable. If that Lamo guy is lying, that’s somewhat understandable too. If the Wired journalist is fabricating the claims, however, I can’t really understand that one, but I can still imagine it happening (assuming he broke the story).

    1. Is it possible that Manning stashed the data somewhere on the tubes and sent/was planning to send the address to wikileaks? Even if wikileaks knew where they were, they could still be honest and say they didn’t have them.

  4. For anyone who thinks this info should not be released (if indeed Wikileaks has it), presumably because they feel national security is a fair excuse, please read the history of the Pentagon Papers and COINTELPRO. Then explain why our government should be trusted to keep this secret.

  5. If Wikileaks actually has this stuff and puts it up there will be a boot on their door within the hour.

  6. Well now, don’t we have to wonder what it is they don’t want us to read. I can only think it will reveal illegal conduct by government officials. Guess that is sound reason to suppress it.

  7. There are plenty of reasons for diplomatic comms to be classified that don’t require government impropriety. Having this stuff revealed would be like playing poker with your hand face up on the table.

    1. Poker with my hand face-up on the table is pretty bad, but I imagine that a metaphor from a game of bad bets, intimidation, and bluffs means nothing to a organization devoted to exposing the truth to the people.

  8. So do we really think that Manning is an unthinking American that would knowingly endanger American lives? Something doesn’t quite add up here.

  9. I really don’t understand what all this fuzz concerning privacy is all about.

    I mean, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about, right?!

    And if you do have stuff to hide, well then maybe you shouldn’t have done that stuff to begin with.

    1. Exactly what the government spouts when they snoop on Joe Six Pack.

      But when Joe Six Pack get our hands on their “private” information it’s a matter of National Security.

      I call bullshit!

  10. How’s about this: How many people were killed or imprisoned as a result of Valerie Plame’s identity being revealed? I’ve heard estimates of around 200.
    How many lives do you think this information is worth? Because if it gets out people will die.

    1. How many lives do you think this information is worth? Because if it gets out people will die.

      People are already dying. Lots and lots of them. If this information humiliates the US and its lackeys into stopping a useless war, then it will save lives.

      1. If this information humiliates the US and its lackeys into stopping a useless war, then it will save lives.

        Big if.

        Perhaps there are also plans for a working cold fusion reactor, a dozen undiscovered Shakespeare plays, and a rosetta stone that lets us talk to chipmunks in there too.

          1. If you want to hold me accountable for what everyone else has posted, there’s a rich vein of knock-off leatherware spam in the October ’08 Boing Boing Gadgets archive for you to mine.

      2. I am intensely curious as to what sequences of events would result in something like that. I haven’t read any good fantasy in a while.

  11. I think these cables, if they exist at all, have no significance whatsoever but is part of a psy-op against Wikileaks.

    Take a phantom menace of “US foreign policy secrets”, lean on Wikileaks not to publish them, have friendly governments black them out if they decline. Or make them look discredited if they accede. And the “cables” themselves? Hot air, just a red herring.

  12. I can pretty cynical about government rights to secrecy, but in this case releasing everything would be extreme and irresponsible. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to have these sorts of secrets. Namely, nice or not , I am okay with my government spying on other nations so that they understand their motivations and intentions . I also can understand why you might not want blunt non diplomatic diplomatic cables being tossed around. The best thing to do if they actully have the goods is to selectively release. Exposing a secret domestic spy program (again) is cool. Releasing that the ambassador thinks the other guy at the peace conference is an asshole… probably does not need to be released.

  13. I don’t see what they are worried about. After all, if they haven’t done anything wrong, they have nothing to fear. Right?

    (Slightly OT: I finally had a chance to vote Pirate Party today. Felt real good)

    1. I hope/assume that you are being ironic/sarcastic, Pantograph.
      “Nothing to hide, nothing to fear” – yeah right – that’s always a good justification. So if you are saying it back to ‘the man’ ironically, because ‘the man’ is always saying it to you in other contexts, fair enough.

      But blunt “internal” communications between diplomats is not wrong in any sense at all, but it is valid to fear their publication. When was the last time you dissed a third party to someone else? Are you happy for your comments to be published so the third party knows what you said in private?

      This appears to not just be about leaking info re illegal or other dodgy govt behaviour, but also about simple revelation of privileged communications. If such revelation serves a valid purpose, maybe ok – but if all it does is embarrass govt officials and the govt itself, as Rindan at #25 said, it is then, indeed, something to fear and something to hide.

      1. This appears to not just be about leaking info re illegal or other dodgy govt behaviour, but also about simple revelation of privileged communications.

        Indeed it is, and it should be as far as I’m concerned.

        May I remind you that all these diplomats, government officials and politicians are supposed to be representatives of the people?
        That means, in plain and simple terms, that wahtever they do or say, it is being done or said on your behalf.

        Yet you are not supposed to know what they do or say.

        Because hey, that would endanger people or that would cause harm to relations or that would endanger security in some form or matter.

        See, that’s pig’s logic as far as I’m concerned.

        If people would be endangered if information would come out, than the cause of this danger is not the outing of infomation, but rather them having been put in a position of danger in the first place.
        And that same principle applies to these other ‘risks’.

        If transparancy and accountability implies the outbreak of an international diplomatic shitstorm, then obviously, you have been doing it wrong.

        All the more reason for it to be made public.

        1. Marcel: I’m not entirely sure what color the sky is on your planet. Let’s look at two examples:

          1. Diplomats from the State department are negotiating with Foreign Nation X over an arms treaty. Do you want them to know all of our internal process regarding that negotiation while it is going on? Negotiation only works when you have private knowledge.

          2. While the above negotiation is going on, a member of Foreign Nation X comes to us and tells us that Nation X is preparing an arms shipment to rogue nation Y. If Nation X knows about the leak, they will likely execute the individual. Do you want that information to be made public? How many more people are likely to come to the US with information like that if they know it will simply be handed back to their parent nation?

          You are very correct that the cause of the danger is due to them being put in this position – but at least in case (2), that is something we would like to benefit from, and in fact encourage. If you think receiving such information is immoral, that ‘gentlemen do not read each other’s mail’, there may not be much I can do to convince you, but the fact of the matter is this is how the system works.

        2. As Georbe Burns once said, too bad that all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving taxicabs and cutting hair.

        3. Marcel
          As well as the later rebuttals to your simplicity in this thread, you need to read WizarDru at #30. Several times. Until you get it.

          “Yet you are not supposed to know what they do or say.

          Because hey, that would endanger people or that would cause harm to relations or that would endanger security in some form or matter.”

          Exactly! You have it correct, until you generate a massive FAIL by saying

          “See, that’s pig’s logic as far as I’m concerned”

          So, I know, let’s publish what the US negotiating team is writing to each other during, oh, I don’t know … let’s say the nuclear arms reduction talks with Russia (or any other such international negotiation) – in fact, they are doing it in our name so let’s make them do all their internal discussions on an open blog. I guess the other side would like that but I doubt you’d get any negotiating or agreements done.

          Do you get it yet?

          1. I guess I don’t get it, because what you propose right there seems like something I would like to see as standard policy.

            But then maybe I should adopt this conviction that it’s about winning or losing, as opposed to cooperating.

            That the game is still world domination somehow.

            And that the other one is trying to conquer you as much as you are trying to conquer them.

            Looking at the world from an advisarial point of view, like you’re playing a game of Risk.

            But this is about real people, and not some platic pawns on some map.
            And decisions are made for those people that they are not supposed to know about or be aware of.

            So, an open blog between diplomats from either side discussing the possibilities of nuclear arms reduction. With all cards on the table.

            You know what that’s called?


            Do YOU get it?

          2. Yes I do get it (your point) and as someone else said to you earlier: “I’m not entirely sure what color the sky is on your planet.”

            Yeah, trust and transparency would be great in the international diplomacy business. Honestly. Imagine there’s no countries …. and no religion too.

            But we are a tribal/parochial species, so let’s not try to live in fantasy land; please acknowledge the real world. And even if you don’t like that proposition (realpolitik), don’t for a moment imagine that one-sided publication of US material (even if done by the US govt, let alone Wikileaks) would result in an outbreak of transparency/trust by N.Korea, Russia, Iran or countless others.

            PS you did realise, didn’t you, that my ‘open blog’ comment was about one side – the US – publishing its private conversations (which would be the same end result as Wikileaks publishing this stuff). Your twisting of this to a “both sides openly blogging” proposition may of itself be an interesting idea but is NOT what is being talked about here with respect to Wikileaks possibly publishing privileged material from one side only.

          3. Aaah, trust.
            Here’s a song about that, with awesome guitar:

            Although personally I rather prefer to read about the secrets of “the stars”, than of the State.
            I mean , have you ever tried to read the gobble-de-gook language the Government tends to use?

            Here’s a recent example, conerning Ringo Starr’s snare drum, courtesy of good ol’ Cryptome:


            Boring stuff!

            IMHO, in general, and absent very special circumstances, people who have agreed to keep secrets ought to keep their promise to do so.
            But people must also follow their consciences.

            So what’s new?

      2. You make a good point; However, I was always told (and for the most part do) not say anything, that you wouldn’t want the other person to hear (or know) This somewhat cheeky “momism” should hold true to governments too.

  14. That boy is going to prison.

    What he has done will be prosecuted as espionage.

    The only thing he has going for him is that he likely won’t end up in a general population, but rather he’ll be incarcerated in some supermax and allowed out of his cell for an hour a day.

    1. Well, it may very well be espionage, depending on how he acquired the info he claims to have.

      On the other hand, wikileaks’ publishing it (should they do so) may be perfectly legal 1st amendment stuff, just like printing the pentagon papers was. It depends on how hard they fight against governments’ attempts at prior restraint, and then it’s up to the courts.

      1. Wikileaks doesn’t need First Amendment approval to publish anything. All of its assets are based out of various foreign jurisdictions. Furthermore, boot-in-the-door thuggery might shut Wikileaks down, but there are bound to be multiple copies all over the place with other people with instructions to release in case Assange or other critical Wikileaks people or physical assets (servers) are taken. And short of shutting. Down. EVERYTHING on the Internet, there’s nothing to prevent everyone from seeing the information.

        If this information was actually extracted and given to Wikileaks, the US government is reduced to politely convincing them that it’s not in Wikileaks’ best interest to publish, hold onto, or perhaps even read the messages.

  15. There seems to be an assumption that the only thing these cables might reveal is illegal activity…I would suspect there is some of that, but I don’t think THAT is what the State department would be worried about.

    I’m assuming they’re worried that it would reveal the actuality of inner state-craft workings of the past several years…and such details would be more angering to our allies and enemies than to American citizens.

    Consider: what if a cable reveals that we were playing Saudi Arabia against some other nation, using diplomatic pressure and possibly subtle manipulation. Nothing illegal or even necessarily unethical, but stuff that would anger other nation states when they realized that we negotiated knowing detail X or didn’t really capitulate on point Y, but instead just made a show of it to make them think we capitulated? What if they show that we talked in deprecating terms about leader X or nation Y and reveal exactly what our feelings were about situation Z?

    International RealPolitik isn’t the story of stuff you publish out in the open for everyone to see. Just like reading your mother’s e-mails/sibling’s diary/child’s facebook page/etc. might tell you things you didn’t want or need to know. Unless there is some real, actual benefit to releasing these cables (to reveal some great injustice, for example), I don’t see a real compelling reason to release this data other than to simply cuckold the state department or reveal the inner workings of said department which, quite honestly, is hardly something we haven’t had revealed to us over the past 50 years.

    1. Take an even more worse case scenario.

      Perhaps one of the “ROGUE” states we are “against” is actually working with us to stabilize an unstable part of the world. Working with the US openly would be seen as becoming the enemy and destabilize that government and make them loose all creditability with the people that are trying to be changed.

      THe US kills people all the time and can likely blow any of that stuff over. Working in secret with an enemy state for a common goal is the kind of stuff that is destroyed by leaks.

      Do you seriously think that at no diplomatic level right now there are not classified cables going between the US and north korea to diffuse a possible war? Do you also not think that similar cables are going to south korea stating our support for them if a war starts? Crossing those correspondences would be awful even years later.

  16. We know not what our actions will ultimately lead to. I am all for transparency, but what if forcing transparency brings about a war?

  17. .. may have .. by some experts ..

    it’s just disinformation put out into the media to discredit any public sympathy for the accused. like. saddam ate babies. right.

  18. In terms of lancing boils, do you think the US government has any legitimate purpose, or is murdering foreigners the full-time business?

    Why should it be phrased as an “either/or?” The US government does both good and bad, the Army vs. the Peace Corps (hell, the Army vs. the Army– depending on whether they are fighting a war or rescuing earthquake survivors.)

    May I remind you that all these diplomats, government officials and politicians are supposed to be representatives of the people?
    That means, in plain and simple terms, that wahtever they do or say, it is being done or said on your behalf.

    Yet you are not supposed to know what they do or say.

    It’s not so much what American citizens get to know, it’s what the foreign powers get to know. Sure– we (US citizens) could be told all the details of what our diplomats are doing, but putting it on wikileaks means those foreign powers will know too.

  19. My concern is what if this information, if leaked, endangers our military members serving overseas?

    Otherwise I’m all for the free flow of information.

  20. Consider the damage of revealing military plans. And internal communications of said plans, ideas thrown out and argued and so forth. Or for that matter, the controversy about those emails concerning Global Warming a few months ago which lead to renewed claims that the science wasn’t settled. Governments need to be judged by their actions not their intents, suggested strategies or what have you. There may be something like a diplomatic equivalent of plans for Britain to invade France (which probably exist, since wars happen whether you expect them or not)- something that may imply an intent whether or not it exists.

    If they have them they should not release them en masse. Surely some sifting can be done.

  21. “There may be something like a diplomatic equivalent of plans for Britain to invade France (which probably exist, since wars happen whether you expect them or not)”

    Doubtful. The whole point of the EU is to make sure it’s economically nonviable to even consider wars with other member countries.

    Not all nations run on the premise that military action is the ultimate form of diplomacy.

  22. I have mixed feelings about Wikileaks. I supported the “Collateral Murder” video being released even if I didn’t appreciate the title.

    I want to believe they are a force for good but sometimes I wonder. Time will tell I guess.

  23. what if forcing transparency brings about a war?

    I don’t want to shock you, but we’re already at war.

  24. I recall reading that US gov had thinktank sourced plans ready to go for greater internet restrictions, and all they needed was a “911 style” online disaster before they could move forward. (think i’m referencing comments by Lawrence Lessig, Standford professor)

    Anyway. This seems like it could play out exactly as an i-9/11 disaster. soo. I’m very skeptical of the sources and motivations for announcing.

  25. Maybe they’re more worried about their lies to the American public being exposed.
    “Trust me – I’m a politician” doesn’t have much street cred these days.

  26. Let’s see… This guy stole all these secrets, and he was only caught because he told a hacker-turned-informant? If that’s true, our “intelligence” services are a joke, and secrets are leaking all over the place.

  27. Didn’t Assange state in a New York Post article that the cable leaks came from data accrued from chinese hackers on a TOR node? Wouldn’t that mean any “state secrets” are in the hands of whatever Chinese Intelligence bureau it was skimmed from?

Comments are closed.