Wikileaks: Q&A with Jacob Appelbaum on "The Afghan War Diaries"

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46 Responses to “Wikileaks: Q&A with Jacob Appelbaum on "The Afghan War Diaries"”

  1. dhalgren says:

    Maybe next time Wikileaks could pick someone that doesn’t look like the proverbial Cat Who Ate The Canary. He looks like he’s patted himself along with his friends on the back one too many times.

    So they ‘leaked’ these documents. Do any one of them offer anything so shocking that it will get our asses out of there?

    Will the massive leak just because of the weight of documents get our asses out of there?

    When these guys & gals burp do bird feathers pop out of their mouths?

    These guys are the side show freaks in a tent off to the side of the Big Top. A huge distraction of our attention. The only thing that this is going to accomplish for the American people is this:

    “Oooo shiny! What’s this over here?”

    When George W. Bush in Black Face actually changes our current Foreign Policy – our World Occupation Policy – give me a call and wake me up. Until then enjoy the farce!

    • tagarth says:

      “Do any one of them offer anything so shocking that it will get our asses out of there?”

      This information certainly wont help public opinion of the war.

      Let’s not forget what this is actually about. This information shows that we have been lied to about how things are going in Afghanistan. Billions of tax dollars have been spent on this effort, and the facts have been misrepresented since the beginning.

      Maybe it doesn’t make the government budge in terms of getting out of there. But wouldn’t you want to know if you’ve been had?

  2. Nadreck says:

    A fabulous public service! Congressional Medals of Honor for all involved!
    The only nit I have to pick is the characterisation in the interview of the support of the Afghan resistance in the 80s as being merely to set up a Cold War proxy. Afghanistan was undoubtedly brought to the attention of the Americans simply because the Russians set up a puppet government there. However, what that attention saw was the biggest post-WWII genocide underway. The Afghan Pashtuns were slated for extermination because they weren’t progressive enough to suit the Russians. At least part of the motivation was to stop this as, unlike most countries, the Americans do care somewhat about things like this.
    The tragedy was that, after the Russian occupying forces left, the idiots at the State Department ignored requests for help in things like removing the millions of mines that were laid by the Russians or restoring the irrigation systems that the Russians destroyed in order to create famine. So the country rotted into anarchy and the Pashtuns became the Taliban. See the novel Dune for what being under constant threat of extermination in a totally unforgiving environment does to your combat capacities.

    • mn_camera says:

      Afghanistan was undoubtedly brought to the attention of the Americans simply because the Russians set up a puppet government there. However, what that attention saw was the biggest post-WWII genocide underway.

      So, what do you call Cambodia under Pol Pot then?

    • zio_donnie says:

      I don’t think that Afghanistan devolved into the Taliban regime in such a linear way. And i don’t think that the Soviets where hellbent in exterminating a race per se, it was just a run of the mill invasion gone bad Vietnam style.

      I doubt that America could have prevented the civil war that followed the Soviet retreat but then again America was not interested at all in Afghan internal affairs after they stopped using the mujaheddin of all factions as a proxy against the Soviets. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and maybe Iran did take sides tho’, intervened in different ways and largely shaped the post soviet landscape.

  3. Anonymous says:

    So what isn’t represented here and, never addressed in the interview, is that these reports contain “raw” data. That means they include rumors, unverified reports and other second-hand data that may or may not be reliable. The story here isn’t just about the release of this data, it’s about the questionable value of the data as well. Only a fraction of what was released can be said to be accurate the rest may be highly inflammatory and not at all true. So the question is this: on the front lines of information freedom who is sorting rumor from fact. Is the casual reader supposed to decide? The average voter? And what responsibility does wikileaks have for releasing erroneous inflammatory data that was never intended for public viewing.

  4. blahtastic says:

    For potential harm from the document dump see:

    Leaked War Files Expose Identities of Afghan Informants

    Yeah, the link is FOX, but it’s a recap of a Times of London story which is behind a paywall. According to them, the names of Afghan informants are included in the documents. Those individuals are now at risk of reprisal. More generally, people will be less willing to come forward if they believe their identities cannot be kept secret. Less solid intelligence means more mistakes. Mistakes lead to deaths, mostly civilian. Assuming the Times article is accurate, the release of the documents can cause real harm.

    The real shame of this is that the documents released tell us little that is new about the war strategically. It’s a bloody mess, probably unwinnable, whatever winning means. Anyone who has picked up a newspaper in the last two years could tell you that. This gives us more specific examples of the way in which the war has gone badly over the past six years, but we already knew the broad strokes. Furthermore, if people can’t be bothered to read a well-written newspaper article to get informed, why would they ever bother wading into the impenetrable thicket of military lingo WikiLeaks published?

    The reasons the Pentagon Papers were so compelling were, one: they were a professionally written history, easily digestible by anyone; two: they directly contradicted the public claims of the government and showed the reasons for the war were built on a scaffold of lies and wishful thinking. The documents released here are neither easily understood nor revelatory.

  5. Stress says:

    I believe WikiLeaks is an invaluable service and I agree with their core principal of freedom of information and transparency. I do have my concerns however. As much as we have heard about the need for freedom of information and transparency from the group, I feel the public knows very little about how the WikiLeak process works.

    I believe there are major hurdles to be crossed before any claims of “data journalism” can be made. For instance, Who is vetting the material? When sent to the (selected) press, how does the synopsis read? How can we know the material is being accurately represented from the whole?

    As I said, I really do believe in the core principals of this group. I think transparency is the cornerstone of any great democracy and I have no problems whatsoever with the leaking of “sensitive” information. WikiLeaks has paved the way and they should be given credit, but I hope they are not the ideal. Ideally, all material should be made available at the same time to all press and the press should be the ones determining what the information means (not given an overview). There also should be no need for a press conference to give your view on what the information means. By putting out commentary the organization is just becoming part of the problem they are trying to help solve. If you truly believe in transparency and freedom of information , be more open in your process and let the information stand on its own. There are some things that should have no agenda attached and information is one of them.

  6. Notary Sojac says:

    I’m sure that all the folks who were apopleptic about Valerie Plame’s cover being blown will be equally as upset and equally as demanding of punishment at the highest levels when it comes to this leak.

    Oh wait….Bush is out of office now??? Sorry, missed the memo.

  7. senorglory says:

    “This is inarguable.”

    -1 for 1MacGeek.

  8. Davin says:

    Seems a bit more op-ed by the interviewee than an actual interview. But still interesting.

    • Anonymous says:

      But isn’t that kind of what an interview is? Someone asking questions and someone else answering with their views, opinions, or the facts they may know? :) though he does get a bit long-winded in that last answer.

      Interesting interview, interesting times. (But isn’t that supposed to be a curse? ;) )

  9. feralman says:

    Thanks, Xeni, for this interview. This leak could be as groundbreaking as The Pentagon Papers.

  10. D2S says:

    and if anyone remembers history, it is to Western benefit to have a huge poppy crop that ends up flooding the East (and Russia)

    If wikileaks can trace any of THAT drug money it would be telling… might have to call in Lester Freamon to set up a wire…

    • Ugly Canuck says:

      You know, flooding the lower classes of her own Country with that junk might be in some high-and-mighty so-and-so’s “interests” too, eh?
      Such is, at least, conceivable…

  11. Anonymous says:

    “These documents provide concrete evidence of events that have occurred during the last six years of the Afghan war.”

    one of the concrete documents he’s referring to is making big headlines in canadian news. it’s a document saying that americans killed 4 canadians in a friedly fire incident. and that was completely wrong. a bomb did drop off target but failed to explode. the four soldiers who died that day all perished under the hands of insurgents.

    if anyone cares to read what really happened that day, you can go here: http://www.legionmagazine.com/en/index.php/2007/09/operation-medusa-the-battle-for-panjwai/

    as much as it is a written account, i was in B company, 3 km to the north, when this incident went down, and every single person i talked to reported, in their own way, exactly as you read it.

    so, as far as “concrete” goes… not very.

  12. straponego says:

    Seems like this is a good opportunity for some people to make a bit of money. I imagine that quite a few people would like to anonymously donate to Wikileaks. Show up at a cyber cafe, take cash, watch as the middle man paypals the donation in, minus a small fee. There’s nothing actually illegal going on, but the donors get peace of mind.

  13. Ugly Canuck says:

    Here’s some reading about this from somebody who knows about journalism and its history:

    http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/2010/07/26/wikileaks_afghan.html

    That’s another fine link which I am indebted to Cryptome for. Thanx!
    Cryptome itself has its usual pithy… well, not quite “views”…something, anyway, about this matter.

    http://www.cryptome.org/

    Personally, I find “leaked” materials relating to ongoing wars to be rather like, well, a hall of mirrors… no…that’s not an apt analogy.
    I suppose all that I can really say is that this stuff needs a more thoroughly critical approach than some other documents do, when it comes to assessing their worth.
    I guess I’ll just leave it at that.

  14. BannedMacGeek says:

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/time/20100806/wl_time/08599200886300

    “In his first tactical directive since assuming command of international forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus doubled down on the orders imposed by his predecessor that put a premium on protecting civilians first to win their support.”

    Ban my account all you want, but I was right. Try to look the other way, but our troops *are* going to pay the price for what WikiLeaks did. And BoingBoing has thrown its support behind WikiLeaks. I, for one, will never forget this.

    Julian and the rest of the WikiLeaks crew are murderers, not heroes. Actions do have consequences, and in this case the actions will get people killed. I hope in the future BoingBoing will not be so cavalier with the lives of American soldiers.

  15. beaker says:

    In the long run (>5 years), more data good. That fact trumps all other arguments. Security threats? Meh–just a smokescreen.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Jacob Applebaum get’s a soy mocha at my work quite frequently, really nice guy, always tips!

    “People have the ability to democratically change this”

    “Perhaps they will demand more transparency and more accountability.”

    “The world has wide-open eyes. Together, we can make better, more honest decisions.”

    yes. please.

  17. ideotek says:

    Aside from the implications the content means to the world, I’m curious if this wikileaks system of presenting massive amounts of data in digestible form changes the rules for all major media players. It’s not something bloggers can do very easily, and might be a new model that could give newspapers a new lease on their antiquated lives.

  18. 1MacGeek says:

    Not a damn word about the people who will pay the price for this : the troops on the ground. It sure would have been nice for someone from WikiLeaks to be asked about them. It’s so very easy to have bravado when you will never have to pay the price for it.

    • Pantograph says:

      You have a point there. I bet that the local population never even noticed all those bullets flying around killing civilians left and right until they read about it on Wikileaks.

    • hassenpfeffer says:

      1MacGeek: Source and examples, please, for how this will hurt the troops on the ground? Can you contradict this?

      Also, perhaps the release of this info will reduce the number of incidents such as this.

      • 1MacGeek says:

        How will they pay?

        1. Increased radicalism caused by propaganda victories.

        2. Increased hesitation to return fire, even at the cost of life.

        Here is the simple logic of the situation : a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. If you are Taliban in Afghanistan, the simple fact is they haven’t invented numbers low enough to describe the probability of you getting your hands on G.W. Bush or B.H. Obama. So who are you going to take out your anger on?

        Contradict that.

        Can I contradict MSNBC? Yes. As former US Military (Navy) I can state with 100% confidence that reviews of the rules of engagement for Afghanistan are going on right now. You can bet the changes will not enhance the safety of our troops. You can bet the rule changes will make our troops less able to return fire. You can bet more American service people will die as a result of it. All in the name of political correctness. It’s much easier to hold your beliefs when you aren’t being shot at, or the target of a suicide bomber. When you aren’t taking fire it is easy to sit back and forget the troops, or the effect your words have on them.

        I wonder what happened to Liberal Democrats. It used to be criticism of Bush was the highest form of dissent, but with Obama – not so much. Where are all the war protests that were legion under Bush? The weight of evidence shows that modern Liberalism is rife with hypocrisy, heavily laden with emotion and oh-so-weak on intellectual pursuits. You know – like thinking : if I say this, could this possibly harm the troops in the field? Sadly, the question will never be asked by Liberals simply because they do not have bullets whizzing around their heads.

        Not so long ago, absolute moral authority was granted to the person in the situation. If you didn’t experience it first hand, the Left tried to suppress dissent because of alleged lack of standing. Yet we now question that same moral authority so eagerly granted then. Truly, the Left actively undercuts that self-same moral authority because it does not suit their purposes anymore. And that’s a pity, but again illustrates the lack of thought, hypocrisy and raw emotion that passes for modern Liberalism.

        • Felton says:

          If you are Taliban in Afghanistan, the simple fact is they haven’t invented numbers low enough to describe the probability of you getting your hands on G.W. Bush or B.H. Obama. So who are you going to take out your anger on?

          So your argument is that the people we are already at war with will be angrier at us, therefore somehow more able to bestow harm, now that the entire world knows what they already knew?

          • 1MacGeek says:

            What was so difficult to understand?

            Any propaganda victory emboldens and strengthens the enemy. This is inarguable. It will also cause easier and more rapid recruitment of soldiers to fight in the cause. This is also inarguable. For crying out loud, look up the flooding of our own recruiting offices after Top Gun hit the theatres. And we weren’t even at war with anyone then.

            Couple that with revised rules of engagement which *will* cause soldiers to err on the side of caution and you have a prescription for increased casualties of American service people. Period. End of Story. Full stop.

          • tagarth says:

            So we should encourage our governments to keep lying and covering up facts so more young people can line up to be sent to a War that’s spiraling out of our control more and more every day?

            I see what your saying, that publishing this information may encourage enemy troops and demoralize friendly. But that doesn’t make it OK for government/media agents to project a contrary or positive picture of a war that has cost so many lives (Innocent or not).

            This is a propaganda war. And if few or many die because of this leak, it does not effect the weight of truth over lies. Or is truth (like health care) not a basic right in america?

        • Notary Sojac says:

          1MacGeek, when a country goes to war, it needs to focus on complete victory over the enemy, or it should not go to war in the first place.

          To suggest that the “Taliban” or “AlQaida in Afghanistan” are our enemy, while pretending that Pakistan is our ally, is a recipe for another decade of no-win skirmishes and a few dozen caskets flying home every month, to no purpose. So I am reluctantly forced to admit that opening up classified information about Pakistan’s involvement is probably a Good Thing.

          We should either go after the enemy’s enablers full bore, or go home. Unfortunately Obama is perpetuating the previous administration’s policy of stepping on a rattlesnake, but not killing it.

        • neWWave says:

          You still haven’t provided a concrete example from the text of the leak that supports your dubious belief that this information will lead to a soldier’s “hesitation to return fire,” or “increased radicalism” and “more American service people will die as a result.” The leaks are soldiers’ observations from the field, how is letting the American public know what soldiers see and feel about this war going to hamper their survival instincts? It’s disrespectful to the soldiers to classify this information and paint a rosy picture to keep American civilian support of this war in check.

          The second point about propaganda seems naive. The only thing that radicalizes Afghans further is our continued presence in their country. The leaks themselves suggest one of the most effective times to recruit mujaheddin is at a civilian funeral – the collateral damage as they say. People are radicalized one way or the other by personal experience usually accompanied by violence and poverty, not by an article they read on the web (does an Afghan poppy farmer really get information that way? I’m pretty sure they are aware of what’s going on without a western reporter telling them). Unfortunately the only propaganda war going on is focused on Americans, and poor folks like you who blindly sign up for service and somehow still believe Tennyson’s couplet: “Their’s not to reason why, Their’s but to do and die.”

        • Daedalus says:

          How will they pay?

          1. Increased radicalism caused by propaganda victories.

          2. Increased hesitation to return fire, even at the cost of life.

          That’s been the situation for 9 years, man. Extra info on how the fight is hard and Pakistan is acting like a git isn’t going to cause any more radicalism in Afghanistan than shooting families and bombing wedding parties already has, and soldiers who are in a place to return fire don’t have the luxury of thinking or hesitating, that’s for their commanding officers to do.

          Here is the simple logic of the situation : a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. If you are Taliban in Afghanistan, the simple fact is they haven’t invented numbers low enough to describe the probability of you getting your hands on G.W. Bush or B.H. Obama. So who are you going to take out your anger on?

          Same people they’ve been taking it out on for about two decades: whoever they can intimidate. Mostly, innocent bystanders, since those don’t shoot back.

          You can bet the changes will not enhance the safety of our troops. You can bet the rule changes will make our troops less able to return fire. You can bet more American service people will die as a result of it. All in the name of political correctness.

          …and there you’ve clearly jumped the shark. I don’t know why you’d think that any commanding officer would put more lives at risk for some political expedience, or why this would even change the rules, since it seems like the White House believes they’ve already changed, and it’s not like this massive leak shows any unusual or outrageous civilian deaths.

          I wonder what happened to Liberal Democrats.

          If all you see when you look at this is a political talking-point, you need to get your perspectve-specs updated.

          • 1MacGeek says:

            …nd thr y’v clrly jmpd th shrk. dn’t knw why y’d thnk tht ny cmmndng ffcr wld pt mr lvs t rsk fr sm pltcl xpdnc, r why ths wld vn chng th rls, …

            Clrly, y mst b jkng. Lt m knw whn y wnt t hv srs dscssn.

          • Daedalus says:

            This is inarguable…This is also inarguable…which *will* cause…Period. End of Story. Full stop…Let me know when you want to have a serious discussion.

            A serious discussion is impossible when one of the speakers adopts a defensive posture of unassailable dogmatic ineffability. You don’t want to have a discussion, you want to be right. Have fun with your impenetrable shield make-believe veracity, I’ll be here with the grown-ups in Reality, where there are precious few inevitabilities to cling to.

          • Anonymous says:

            Frankly if you gave as much of a shit about the casualties amongst the Afghanis (who despite your poisonous rhetoric are not actually your enemies) then maybe I’d give a shit about American casualties. But since you lot are once again murdering civilians in a country not your own, I applaud Wikileaks for at least showing the rest of the world how casually you commit war crimes.

    • Anonymous says:

      I am not a “troop on the ground”, but I sure as HELL am paying the price for these ridiculous wars. You know what else hurts the “troops on the ground”? Putting them in Afghanistan.

    • Daedalus says:

      Not a damn word about the people who will pay the price for this : the troops on the ground.

      I don’t think this changes their situation at all. They were well aware of this. It’s their intel that was leaked.

      What this will do is give the people with the power to vote for Commanders in Chief a clearer view of the situation, so that they can vote for authorities that reflect their views.

      Care about the troops? Don’t waste your vote on any president, senator, representative, judge, or city comptroller who wants to send them to die in meaningless wars. Make this an issue.

      I’m generally pro the Afghan war, but I think an informed populace is a populace more likely to make considered decisions. The troops are safer because of this, because we are less likely to waste their lives frivolously. When a soldier is sent to die in a desert somewhere because a president put them there, it’s important to realize that we gave the president that power. We can take it away.

    • neWWave says:

      Please share with us how the information reported is going to effect the troops negatively, other than creating low morale. I read some of the highlights from the New York Times and it paints a grim picture of corrupt Afghan police, army, and government officials fighting one another as often as the insurgents; warlords being paid to secure roads only to attempt extortion from the cargo they are supposed to protect; vehicles and weaponry meant for our “allies” ending up in the hands of the Taliban; more civilian casualties than reported using Drones… I haven’t heard anything that I could imagine undermining a future operation. A full picture of what is really going on (as if they don’t already know) will make soldiers on the ground more cautious and hopefully lead to Washington finally bringing those men and women home soon.

  19. agates says:

    The 15,000 documents are part of the set of Afghanistan documents. They are being redacted for harm-minimizing purposes as requested by our source, and will be made available as is applicable with respect to the relevant security concerns.

    Man, this guy should be a lawyer.

    Call me late for dinner…but I’m really not so sure I want these “information liberators” deciding what is “harmful” or not.

    Harmful to…?

    Security for who exactly?

    And just who are your protecting by withholding?

    US security? Your source? Yourselves? Me?

    I thought that your party line was “information is free”? So now your also the arbitrators of information?

    Applebaum’s “responsible” stance seems rather convenient…and self satisfied.

    I trust these guys about as far as I can spit.

    • Notary Sojac says:

      …Applebaum’s “responsible” stance seems rather convenient…and self satisfied….

      ok, put yourself in Applebaum’s shoes.

      Option 1 – accept the documents with the redactions asked by the source, and publish them for the world to see.

      Option 2 – tell your source “sorry. It’s Wikileaks way, or the highway” and watch those documents go back into deep storage.

      I can make a case either way. I certainly wouldn’t get my pants in a knot about whichever way Applebaum chose to go.

    • pixleshifter says:

      “Harmful to…?
      Security for who exactly?
      And just who are your protecting by withholding?”

      Protecting the troops who may be involved in current operations that may be compromised.
      You’re so paranoid that even when the truth comes out you don’t trust it.

      • agates says:

        Protecting the troops who may be involved in current operations that may be compromised.

        So you say.

        But I have not seen anything to suggest that this is Wiki’s motivation. If Im wrong please provide an example?

        What I’m wondering (out loud) is if Wikileaks are more self serving than they’d have us believe?

        Sorry, and sure, call me paranoid (just another form of awareness bub), but Im not especially willing to take information gathered by this group at face value. This has lots to do with the transparency they espouse for the rest of us, but not, perhaps, for themselves?

      • agates says:

        ok, put yourself in Applebaum’s shoes.

        Option 1 – accept the documents with the redactions asked by the source, and publish them for the world to see.

        Option 2 – tell your source “sorry. It’s Wikileaks way, or the highway” and watch those documents go back into deep storage.

        Sorry. But I’m not sure that your either/or scenario holds much weight. Primarily because I have to doubt the credibility of an “organization” that by definition is secretive and pretty un-transparent.

        I don’t know the veracity of the Source information.

        I do know that Wikileaks have proven to be very comfortable distributing secret and illegally obtained information. So I think it’s reasonable to ask what else they are comfortable doing?

        Skepticism is not a moveable feast yes?

  20. Anonymous says:

    I am an American! Not sure I am proud to be one anymore. If even half of what was leaked is true then my Government should be held accountable and prosecuted in a court held by the people of this planet. It should be a fair trial and all parties allowed to express reason behind actions. The People of the US should also hold the US accountable and seek a complete re-structure of our Government.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Yeah. Go Jacob!

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