Xeni on Rachel Maddow Show: Wikileaks and "Afghan War Diaries"

Last night's episode of The Rachel Maddow Show (solidly guest-hosted by Chris Hayes of The Nation) focused largely on the Afghanistan war documents leaked on Sunday by Wikileaks.

I joined for a segment about the tech side of that story. As I said during that segment, if you zoom out beyond this specific leak, if you zoom out beyond Julian Assange (Wikileaks' highly public and highly polarizing figurehead), and if you zoom out even beyond Wikileaks—that's where this gets really interesting.

The incident marks the same kind of historic turning point in power distribution as when the music industry flipped out over Napster in the '90s, and the movie industry flipped out over BitTorrent in the early '00s. This moment feels like the same kind of apple-cart-upset, but for information control by military and political powers which, before this moment, we perceived as "in control." (It's no accident that the copyright maximalists and secrecy maximalists are often in agreement regarding internet restrictions and issues like net neutrality— and I'd expect to see new laws and controls soon proposed in that regard).

Did you see the Washington Post "Top Secret America" series (blogged on BB here)? Spend some time with it. This moment is the natural counterpoint to the massive, unprecedented buildup of secrecy and surveillance documented in that investigative report.

Do Wikileaks and other "distributed anti-secrecy networks" that will surely follow have the power to topple governments, or set into motion massive political change?

Wikileaks is a big story. But the story is bigger than Wikileaks alone, and it has just begun. What happens next, whether there's a backlash and a doubling-down of attempts to exert control, is one of the next big questions. Dan Gillmor digs into that here, a must-read essay. Jay Rosen's thoughts in this piece were referenced in the Maddow Show broadcast. Another meta-analysis piece worth reading today by C.W. Anderson at Nieman Lab. And another from David Carr, of the New York Times (one of the three news organizations that received early access to the "Afghan War Diaries" data-dump.)

Watch the video:
"Wikileaks: BoingBoing.net's Xeni Jardin joins The Rachel Maddow show." (MSNBC)


  1. “Does Wikileaks, and do other networks that may follow, have the power to topple governments, or set into motion massive political change?”

    I sure hope so.

  2. Matt Yglesias made the point that there is a lot of stuff that is made secret that there is little reason to make secret. It could be argued that with the buildup of the intelligence infrastructure the WaPo covered, the default status of any information is “classified” in the government’s eyes. This in turn makes democracy meaningless, as there is no way for anyone to make informed decisions about what action to take.

  3. I find it interesting to read about how secretive wikileaks is. I’m sure they have established polices and procedures for protecting their sources, intentions, server information, etc. I wonder what the reaction would be if some insider exposed all that information.

    1. I find it interesting to read about how secretive wikileaks is. I’m sure they have established polices and procedures for protecting their sources, intentions, server information, etc. I wonder what the reaction would be if some insider exposed all that information.

      Anon, maybe you should give this a better read:

      And then ask yourself… what good would wikileaks be if they were completely transparent with their sources? Repercussions of which could mean anything from retaliation, incarceration and even torture/death for said whistleblowers?

      You gotta better idea, let’s hear it, Anon.

  4. Keep in mind that “The Nation” endorsed Obama as he was calling for an expansion of the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan.


    They didn’t get a single thing they asked for. The closest thing would be “Withdrawal from Iraq on a fixed timetable” which they got from the Bush negotiated SOFA. But of course, it’s actually not “fixed timetable” (it’s flexible), and it’s more of a re-deployment than a withdrawal.

    Their other demands?

    § A response to the current economic crisis that reduces the gap between the rich and the rest of us through a more progressive financial and welfare system; public investment to create jobs and repair the country’s collapsing infrastructure; fair trade policies; restoration of the freedom to organize unions; and meaningful government enforcement of labor laws and regulation of industry. FAIL

    § Universal healthcare. FAIL

    § An environmental policy that transforms the economy by shifting billions of dollars from the consumption of fossil fuels to alternative energy sources, creating millions of green jobs. FAIL

    § An end to the regime of torture, abuse of civil liberties and unchecked executive power that has flourished in the Bush era. FAIL

    § A commitment to the rights of women, including the right to choose abortion and improved access to abortion and reproductive health services. FAIL

    § A commitment to improving conditions in urban communities and ending racial inequality, including disparities in education through reform of the No Child Left Behind Act and other measures. FAIL

    § An immigration system that treats humanely those attempting to enter the country and provides a path to citizenship for those already here. FAIL

    § Reform of the drug laws that incarcerate hundreds of thousands who need help, not jail. FAIL

    § Reform of the political process that reduces the influence of money and corporate lobbyists and amplifies the voices of ordinary people. FAIL

    They were, pardon the expression, “useful idiots”.

  5. “Do Wikileaks, and other “distributed anti-secrecy networks” that will surely follow, have the power to topple governments, or set into motion massive political change?”

  6. I actually gave them $100 just yesterday after Julian’s ‘I Enjoy Crushing Bastards’‎ interview. I can absolutely get behind anyone with that type of attitude towards what they do.

  7. Xeni Xeni Xeni!!!!! You go grrrrl. I love that she is wearing a black patent leather jacket with seemingly nothing underneath. She went and got all Trinity on them!

    I just sent this link to my spouse who is out of touch with my generation. I tried to explain the pure awesomeness of Wikileaks to him and he just kept blinking.

    I can givz them $? I will go now and tithe to the future of my children!

    They really are amazing, even if they do keep ruining my day, day in and day out…

  8. “historic turning point in power distribution”– that is basically what I was thinking, but I was thinking the phrase “leveling the playing field.” Government of the people, by the people, etc. needs this kind of thing to keep it honest.

  9. One thing we can expect to happen is that governments and military organizations will lock down their systems a lot tighter. It’ll become basically impossible to copy anything from a secured system to an unsecured one except by reading and typing, and they’ll try real hard to keep users from bringing anything electronic into secured areas. (Which can be defeated, e.g. with a Faraday cage, but it’ll raise the bar, anyway.)

    We may also see more “canary traps” and such.

    1. Which will help f— all. The weakness is inherent in the system: humans. The leak this time was a human leak, not a breach from outside. And increased security will probably lead to even more discomfort and unease from within the system. Funny how conscience seem to thrive in the strangest places.

  10. This story is certainly bigger than Wikileaks. It’s called “The Vietnam War, Part 2”. An unwinnable “war” that last for years until the last chopper leaves the Bagdad embassy roof…

  11. Nice chat Xeni, but didn’t you kind of dodge the last question? :)
    You speculated about the back lash, but still it’s always a fair question. Who watches the Watchmen?

    asked “as a friend”, any ideas?

  12. This is where you measure the difference (or lack thereof) between a Republican administration and a Democratic one.
    With Cheney in charge, you’d know what to expect: a full clampdown on leakers and “traitorous” press, widespread abuse of power, etc etc. This should not happen with a Democratic ticket; if it does (and iI hope not), then the cultural problem is so deep that you wont’ be able to fix it with elections.

    1. Deep cultural problem it is, then. According to Glenn Greenwald, at least, this regime is just as harsh on whistleblowers and public oversight in general. Whoever won the argument inside the administration about suppressing the torture photos just keeps winning all the subsequent arguments.
      And that someone, of course, could be the big O himself.

  13. It has to be said, and damn it, I will say it.

    I think playboy needs to do a Xeni interview :p


    More leather less talk.

    Is that wrong?

  14. I don’t know if you can really call this disclosure ‘whistle blowing’. From what I’ve seen covered so far, there hasn’t been any big revelation of bad behavior or even anything that wasn’t already known. Those photos from Abu Grahib — that was huge. I still see visual allusions to them in protest art, years later. But this? So far you’d have to count me ‘underwealmed’. Neither do I see this disclosure as a turning point in power distribution. I could be completely wrong, though. In some ways I do hope it. I do hope things become less secret by default and that these website offer another layer of checks on government behavior, but I doubt anything important will change.

    On the other hand, as little as I trust authority, I’m not sure I trust non-expert hordes any more. I don’t think I want the public to know all the details about how the US fights wars (admittedly a straw man, as no one said ‘all’). Like most of us here, I have cultivated some areas of professional expertise: I have seen just how frightening the ideas of nonexperts can be, even when armed with the same raw data.

    1. Citizens have a responsibility to learn how wars are conducted in their name – a responsibility they can’t discharge without the help of wikileaks. Those who put out their eyes have no right to reproach them fot their blindness, or to use popular ignorance as a justification for preserving popular ignorance.

  15. How long until giving money to Wikileaks gets you tagged for providing material support to terrorists? Imagine getting snatched by a law enforcement officer(s) when you walk out of your building tomorrow.

  16. I think everyone has missed the main issue here: from the perspective of the government, the problem is not Wikileaks, it’s that just anyone can get on the internet and say anything they want, with no controls. If they fix that, they’ve fixed the problem (no open internet = no problems from things like Wikileaks), and you can bet they will be all over that issue, ASAP.

  17. What’s weird to me, in all this, is that I’ve been blowing whistles for decades and nobody cares.

    They shrug and say “yeah, so Reagan gave the Saudis nukes, so what” or “yeah, duPont purposely covered up testicular cancer cases at the Waynesboro site, so what” or “yeah, GE is leaking plutonium at Savannah river, so what”. Nobody actually cares!

  18. As it is clear the staff of TRMS regularly reads Boing Boing, I would like to voice my support of Chris Hayes as occasional stand-in for Rachel. He seems to have many of the same qualities I like about Rachel; He’s quick, intelligent, quirky, entertaining, and geeky.

    Plus, he’s hot. Ostensibly heterosexual, but hot nonetheless. A boy can dream.

  19. “Citizens have a responsibility to learn how wars are conducted in their name – a responsibility they can’t discharge without the help of wikileaks.”

    You know, I do agree with the first part of that. It is a matter of degree though. Should the public have all the details? Certainly not. I did caveat that position was a straw man, because I haven’t seen anyone advocate that the government or the military have no secrets, just that they shouldn’t have some particular secrets. Of course, who gets to decide what is an appropriate secret?

    I apologize for provocative and patronizing tone earlier, but I guess I don’t share much confidence in wikipedia-style public policy. Maybe that suspicion comes from my personal experiences with religion and my observations of politics and science policy: I’ve seen plenty of cases where even in situations with abundant information and the most toothless authority figures, the hive mind choses a path that is not even self-interested, let alone rational, moral, or just.

    I’d agree some disclosure is critical. But after a point I don’t think it would gain us anything in morality or rationality.

    1. The hive mind can move on, but it won’t happen unless secrets are wrenched from the control of the Concealer-in-Chief and his minions. I get the strawman thing, but you do come across a little like a middle ages cleric decrying the idea of a vernacular bible.
      The US security sector has had a very long time to prove the value of their policy of information control, to prove that they do more with that power than simply use it to amass more power. Don’t you think they have failed? Don’t you think they are out of control? Don’t you think that they are just covering their crimes and ineptness? Do you really think that they will release enough current, vital material to the public, if left to their own devices?

      Also, how many schools, police stations and hospitals are Americans willing to sacrifice in order to keep losing these multi-trillion dollar wars? Thanks to wikleaks, hopefully the answer will soon be “none at all”.

  20. “What happens next is the big question”

    Well how about:
    step 1: parts of the internet get ‘attacked by terrorists’
    step 2: public, media and companies demand that politicians take immediate action
    step 3: great firewall is implemented to ‘protect our freedoms’

    shouldn’t be too difficult :o)

    BTW Xeni: great interview! Really highlights the important points of this event!

  21. I think people are missing the most important point of this. Afghans who were risking there own and their families lives to help us are named in these documents. The Taliban is not happy about this and will probably retaliate.

  22. Today was the anniversary of the US occupation of Haiti.

    I’d be willing to bet that they couldn’t get away with what they did, overtly for 19 years, covertly for decades more, with constant Inet coverage.

Comments are closed.