Clay Shirky's Nuanced Position on WikiLeaks

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80 Responses to “Clay Shirky's Nuanced Position on WikiLeaks”

  1. Red Leatherman says:

    it’s like a life-or-death game of “paper or plastic bags” at the supermarket.

    Yep, In the coming year I’m gonna be working that catchphrase into as many conversations as I can. no shit.

    I agree that I’m torn on the sanctity of the need to know for the security of the country and the need to expose the assholes in our government.

  2. max says:

    it would be one thing if it could be demonstrated that wikileaks actually hindered our ability to keep americans safe. all they did was confirm a lot of things we already thought were going on in the so called “war on terror” which was most correctly phrased by sasha baron cohen as the “war of terror.” we’re trying to maintain an empire through whatever fucked up means necessary and i think the american people need to understand the cost of maintaining such an empire. we need to admit that the tactics used are inherently racist and destructive and the fact that we’re willing to kill 66,000 people in Iraq to make a show of force in the region is pretty indicative of that. personally, i think that Assange is a person whose significance won’t be fully understood for a little while, but he’s part of a general movement of moving the private domain into the public domain that has characterized the 21st century.

    • Glenn Fleishman says:

      it would be one thing if it could be demonstrated that wikileaks actually hindered our ability to keep americans safe

      It is a huge assumption if you accept that the demonstration must be positive instead of negative. We don’t know the degree of harm to America, Americans, its legitimate interests, and people cooperating with this country. Much of that may never become public.

      You assert there’s a requirement to show harm; I would assert (with equal validity) there’s a requirement to assume harm based on the detailed information about informants, operations, and so forth.

      • MRKiscaden says:

        It is the general practice is US law that the aggrieved party must show harm, rather than the assumption that harm has taken place. Put simply, it is much easier for the aggrieved party to provide proof harm than it is to expect the defendant to prove a negative (no harm). If a party can show harm, the opposing party then has the opportunity to refute that claim.

        While I don’t trust Assange’s motives, I would much rather have some of the dirty laundry aired than none of it. So far the US govt has behaved like a child throwing a tantrum, operating outside the law to punish someone that they cannot through the normal legal channels.

        The real harm done done to the US govt. by the leaks is not in the content itself, but how the US govt has behaved in response to those leaks.

      • Anonymous says:

        Then you would be wrong — harm should not be assumed because harm is that actual thing we are arguing about. You can’t argue that the leaks are causing harm and then also assume harm. That’s intellectually dishonest. Those who claim that these leaks are materially harmful to named or identified individuals have the burden of proving that harm.

      • Anonymous says:

        Glenn Fleishman:
        “Assange and his coterie are making editorial choices about what information they reveal, in what order, and what manner. I am right to have reservations about his agenda and motivations. He is not making a database dump.

        There may be 100,000 memos that show the US in a marvelous light, fostering incredible international cooperation in subtle ways that we never see. I’m not supposing there are, but we have no idea about that. Assange motivation is destructive in nature, regardless of whether productive results occur.”

        In his recent Q&A with The Guardian, Assange stated why Wikileaks made a conscious decision to stagger the leaks instead of dumping all 250,000+ of them at once. It was done to give media outlets a chance to attribute the amount of airtime each story properly deserves. Besides, the entire dump is contained in the famous “insurance” file.

        As for the issue of showing the US in a negative light, this is purely a matter of personal interpretation. Supporters of Realpolitik (including myself to a certain extent) see the US State Department and the CIA as generally competent. Foreign policy hawks will find many reasons to rejoice, although some strategies (e.g. Afghanistan) are depressingly flawed. For those who interpret the leaks as a polemic against the US, there are plenty of damning revelations about other countries as well. The China/Google issue, Myanmar, Saudi/Kuwaiti/Qatari financing of terrorist groups, etc.

  3. Delaney says:

    I don’t think everything I do is perfect, I don’t think everything you do is perfect.

    The legitimate complaints against the manner Wikileaks has operated are trivial at best. (See Glenn Greenwald)

    If Hilary Clinton is spying on Ban Ki-Moon (and she has been) I’m not going to quibble with the way somebody reveals that information.

    You worry about WikiLeaks motives? Here are his motives: He sees that there is a conspiracy in the United States Government that is acting unjustly. He believes exposing their secrets will force them to operate more carefully and thus less effectively. He’s trying to drive unjust elements in the USGovt underground. With calls for information on SPIRnet to be less widely available he is already succeeding.

    With the tens of thousands of innocent people the USGovt cavalierly kills on an ongoing basis, any nonviolent way of impeding their operation (including tax protest) is just, welcome and necessary.

    • Aloisius says:

      If Hilary Clinton is spying on Ban Ki-Moon (and she has been) I’m not going to quibble with the way somebody reveals that information.

      If we were not spying on Ban Ki-Moon, I would have been outraged at our intelligence agencies. For goodness sakes, we spy on *everyone* and we’ve been doing it for a long long time.

      If there had been some new information in these leaks that exposed something truly un-American, then fine, release that information and only that information.

      The vast majority of these leaks serve no purpose other than to embarrass world leaders who had frank conversations with the Americans. They undermine the effectiveness of our diplomatic relations without giving us anything more than gossip. It is entertaining gossip, but it is gossip nonetheless.

      Further, the idea that you were going to see evidence of mass corruption within leaks generated by American diplomats was silly to begin with. These are all from the American point of view.

      A lot of people are taking them as truth which I also find somewhat funny. By releasing the cables slowly as Wikileaks has been doing, they are delaying cables that contradict earlier ones. For instance, the NYT ran an article about North Korea sending Iran missiles based on *one* cable… then finally Wikileaks got around to releasing other cables and it looks like maybe there isn’t enough evidence to believe that it actually happened.

      • Delaney says:

        “If we were not spying on Ban Ki-Moon, I would have been outraged at our intelligence agencies.”

        Hilary Clinton is our chief diplomat, not an intelligence agent and acting as one goes directly against the rules of the UN.

        These leaks show that our government leaks. This will make our government more careful about disseminating information that the public would see as unjust. This makes unjust elements less effective at being unjust. The more secret the leaks the better, but even relatively harmless leaks could theoretically contribute to those unjust elements going further underground.

  4. Paulwh80 says:

    The true point is not whether we agree with mr. Assange or with the American government about the level of transparancy. The point is about who controls what we post on the internet: governments (be they Chinese, American or Iranian) or we, the people.

    If the American government succeeds in shutting down wikileaks then freedom on the internet is effectively dead.

    Freedom of speech doesn’t stop when you don’t agree with what people say.

  5. awjtawjt says:

    There are multiple reads here. Did Julian Assange release the documents, or did WikiLeaks?

    WikiLeaks has attempted to position itself as a news organization. The US and popular press are trying to re-position WikiLeaks not as a news organization, but as a front for personal actions undertaken by a guy who should get no protections as a news organization, cuz he’s a guy. Who will win this legal maneuver?

    It’s a very interesting debate: at what point are an individual’s actions individual or as press?

    Whether you agree or not with the goodness or badness of the release of classified documents, we oughta recognize this debate beneath the debate. Do we want a free press or not? And how do we define “press”? How do we define an individual’s responsibility within the press? At what point is an irresponsible person hiding under that useful definition of a press organization? Or at what point is an innocent individual scapegoated for the actions of an unscrupulous news organization?

  6. Cowicide says:

    War crimes & mass deaths/suffering? Who cares? I’m conflicted!

    OOOoooouch……..

  7. vaporlock says:

    It is Wikileaks stated policy to publish leaked information. They have not edited, exaggerated, hidden, nor tried to profit from the “cablegate” release. I fail to see how the US Governments “incompetent, illegal, and malicious acts” and it’s attempt to stop the publishing of these documents reflects on the publisher. Wikileaks has the same character of most internet sites and their “motives, presentation,” and quality of “redaction” should be judged by history and the truth of the information. Not by the wave of pundits who had never even heard of Wikileaks till recently.

    • IsolatedGestalt says:

      @vaporlock:

      It is Wikileaks stated policy to publish leaked information. They have not edited, exaggerated, hidden, nor tried to profit from the “cablegate” release.

      @Glenn Fleishman:

      Assange and his coterie are making editorial choices about what information they reveal, in what order, and what manner.

      [citation needed]

      • jjsaul says:

        “Assange and his coterie are making editorial choices about what information they reveal, in what order, and what manner.”
        [citation needed]

        Beyond the redactions and involvement of traditional news organizations in the document releases, logic would imply that his “poison pill” threat claims exactly this. If he wasn’t holding something back, there would be no threat.

        That also suggests that he is holding back precisely the information most incriminating to the Cheney/Strangelove cabal… and that certainly complicates my initial instinct to view this as akin to Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers.

        This is also all low level stuff. Manning had no access to real secrets.

        Hell, I’d be thrilled just to get access to the unredacted Iran-Contra investigation reports.

        • IsolatedGestalt says:

          @jjsaul,

          It never occurred to me to take the ‘insurance’ file seriously, in large part due to that very complication. My guess is that the poison pill isn’t more poisonous, but just _more_ — maybe the stuff that would have been released over time is to be simply dumped all at once.

          You’re right though, the methods involved would seem to indicate at least some editorial filtering, which does make it more difficult to determine exactly how I feel about this whole business.

  8. Rob says:

    If your stated purpose is to promote open governments and keep people out of jail for leaks, and your actions provoke governments to lock their info down and end up getting you arrested.. you suck at your stated purpose.

    • mdh says:

      or, maybe you’ve just threatened the banks, where the real power lays.

      (strange, I swear I commented on this piece 10 minutes ago)

    • Delaney says:

      Assange has very clearly stated in numerous memos that his stated purpose is to drive unjust elements in our government into greater secrecy, severing some of their connections, rendering their ability to operate less effective. He is very very good at his purpose.

    • cirandeiro says:

      No, in fact, you haven’t read WikiLeak’s manifesto.

      ” and your actions provoke governments to lock their info down and end up getting you arrested.. you suck at your stated purpose.”

      No, in fact, as with Daniel Ellsberg, he takes that in stride, his purpose fulfilled, with his head held high.

  9. awjtawjt says:

    Hey, if what Assange and Wikileaks did is so horrible, then where are the criminal charges? Not the rape thing. Charges related directly to the leaks. Oh, and one other detail. Where will a non-American charged with violations of an American law be tried? Who’s smokin’ what?

  10. Anonymous says:

    The government should put DRM on its secrets, and then none of this would have happened.

  11. JoeKickass says:

    I love this:

    “When a government can’t get what it wants by working within the law, the right answer is not to work outside the law. The right answer is to accept that it can’t get what it wants.”

    It’s so simple and smart and yet so hard for politicians the world over to understand.

  12. knorby says:

    Well, the ultimate issue is still that the USG is making too much stuff classified. With limited exceptions, the only things that should be made classified are procedural details, but the public should still get a picture of what is going on. So diplomatic cables ideally should be private and sometimes classified, but we should still have some idea of what the state department is doing, which we aren’t now. So if Wikileaks has these documents and they are from a group with a systematic problem of secrecy, what is the best thing wikileaks can do? Ultimately, with a massive trove of documents, if you do more than the most basic level of filtering, you are either covering up the big secrets for the USG or you are dooming yourself to an endless task. It means that you might disclose more than is savory, as is the case here, but it is the most honest and most unbiased choice to make.

    • turn_self_off says:

      Some of the notes on the cables seems to suggest they have a 10 year secrecy period. Question is, is the reveal then automatic, or is it just the “present to a review board that yay or nay the release”?

  13. enkiv2 says:

    Whenever I hear reporting on Wikileaks, it feels like I’ve been transported to an alternate universe. Am I the only person who actually went to the website and looked at the complete list of leaked documents, back before the overpublicized video leak? Things may have changed (I can’t actually check, since there’s been a DDoS on it for a while now), but last I saw, wikileaks was a mediawiki platform site with an anonymous submission system and a couple dedicated editors who fact-checked submissions after they were publicly posted. People (especially journalists) act as though this is some shadowy organization that normal people are incapable of visiting for themselves, throwing packets of black-vaulted documents out into the aether with timing designed to kill troops or something. Furthermore, people act like Assange has complete control over the site (as though it’s not a wiki at all, and as though there’s no one involved except for Assange, going around and threatening government pencil-pushers with consensual unprotected sex until they leak classified documents), and as though nabbing him will do anything at all to the site.

    Now, I chalked most of this up to underpaid old-media journalists who don’t know google from gimp, but there are a lot of people who have in the past seemed like they legitimately do research now spouting the same kind of nonsense. Perhaps things really have changed.

    • Matt J says:

      Wikileaks no longer has that format. Although it is still based on MediaWiki it no longer accepts user submissions or edits. I can’t actually find any of the leaks on the site that were published prior to ‘Collateral Murder’.

      • Anonymous says:

        I had the same problem a week ago, I found their main site after some googling. http://mirror.wikileaks.info

        It is down now, but you should be able to find a working mirror of their wikileaks.info site somewhere. That’s the one containing an index of every leak they have published.

  14. Anonymous says:

    When Bush was president, many on the left (myself included), railed against the elevation of the military option (war) as the choice of FIRST resort. Diplomacy, we said, was the first choice. To that end, I am willing to put up with all the nefarious aspects of diplomacy as a lesser evil when compared to war.

    Certainly people should have no illusions about those unsavory, clandestine realities — diplomacy isn’t a sewing circle, folks — but, it is far, far preferable to war.

    To whatever extent Assange’s actions have hampered diplomacy, they are reprehensible; to whatever extent they have improved it, laudable.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Sorry, Wikileaks, Clay Sharky doesn’t think you’re a good idea because journalism is all about dependent actors, subject to pre-approval, given the foreseeable transparency and accountability of our benevolent world leaders.

    And the substance of the cablegate leaks? As Alex Cockburn amusingly phrased it this weekend, “[t]he bulk of them merely illustrate the well-known fact that in every capital city round the world there is a building known as the U.S. Embassy inhabited by people whose prime function is to vanquish informed assessment of local conditions with swaddling cloths of ignorance and prejudice instilled in them by what passes for higher education in the United States, whose governing elites are now more ignorant of what is really happening in the outside world that at any time in the nation’s history.”

    David Samuels did well in recently denouncing in the Atlantic his fellow reporters’ animosity toward Wikileaks and Assange:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/12/the-shameful-attacks-on-julian-assange/67440/

    Mirrors etc:
    http://news.infoshop.org/article.php?story=20101205161448286

  16. Beelzebuddy says:

    Advocating the most extreme positions? Really? That always seemed counter-productive to me.
    Me too, but the TSA still gets to fondle our nuts solely because of the ripples from a statistically unrepeatable terror attack nearly ten full years ago.

    Reason is counter-productive when you’re trying to have a rational argument with a raving fucking lunatic. Just by engaging him directly, you’ve lent enough credence to the thinking that he might be right for an average bystander to assume the truth must lie somewhere between you two. That’s been the Democrats’ problem for the last two years: they compromise, and compromise, and compromise, thinking that this time the Republicans really are going to meet them halfway.

    No, no, fighting insanity with insanity is the only sane thing to do. There is nothing sane about the government’s secrecy policies. Trying to be reasonable and saying “well, gosh, I agree that there’s a good reason for secrets in certain cases,” only encourages folks like #42 to change their tune to “well then trust your government this time too, citizen! GO BACK TO BED AMERICA!”

  17. imag says:

    “I don’t think that independent actors who are subject to no checks or balances is a good idea in the long haul.”

    Agreed. The problem is that we have the foxes guarding the henhouse now. It is also incredibly difficult – some might say impossible – to keep a branch of the government independent enough to review that very government.

    Freedom of the Press is the best we have. And Wikileaks is serving that function. They may not always report on what you want, but the function is legitimate and needed.

    And it’s not like the New York Times or any of your local papers are subject to any greater checks and balances than Wikileaks. If anything, their corporate ownership makes them much more suspect.

  18. betterDesign says:

    “The practical history of politics, however, suggests that the periodic appearance of such unconstrained actors in the short haul is essential to increased democratization, not just of politics but of thought. ”

    “The Unites States is–or should be–subject to the rule of law, which makes the extra-judicial pursuit of Wikileaks especially nauseating. (Calls for Julian’s assassination are even more nauseating.) ”

    These two quotes from the Shirky blog are very relative. And not really covered above. But I believe that they are important perspectives to consider in this discussion.

  19. Delaney says:

    I would be very happy if WikiLeaks was able to leak what Dick Cheney had for breakfast this morning. Even trivialities make unjust actors more paranoid about how they conduct their business and thus less effective.

    • IsolatedGestalt says:

      @Delaney:

      Even trivialities make unjust actors more paranoid about how they conduct their business and thus less effective.

      Unfortunately, it has the same effect on just actors, too.

      While I agree that more transparency is generally better, absolute transparency can stifle just actions, too — that’s kind of the point of the linked article.

      • Delaney says:

        “Unfortunately, it has the same effect on just actors, too.”

        The same effect? Many diplomats are secretly very happy this month that their cables are in the public eye as they’ve been angry for some time that their concerns have not been listened to or acted upon.

        If I find out that Cheney had waffles this morning and he doesn’t know how I found that out…he’s going to change his methods…’cause what else do I know? Whereas if he finds out what I had for breakfast I’ll be mad that my privacy has been violated but I won’t change my methods because I don’t have anything to hide…I’d only be concerned about the principle of the thing.

        • IsolatedGestalt says:

          @Delaney:

          If I find out that Cheney had waffles this morning and he doesn’t know how I found that out…he’s going to change his methods…’cause what else do I know?

          I may not know Cheney any more than you do, but this seems pretty naive. I think it much more likely that he’ll pull the drapes or fire a staffer than second-guess himself and his motives. To you, the problem is his behavior, and so you see that as the obvious bit to be fixed; to him, the problem is the leak, and so he’ll see _that_ as the problem to be fixed, instead.

          The original point, however, was that pure transparency can stifle the whistleblower as well as the cad.

  20. Beelzebuddy says:

    I don’t, however, believe in pure transparency, and even more importantly, I don’t think that independent actors who are subject to no checks or balances is a good idea in the long haul.

    Hey, you know what?
    Assange doesn’t believe in pure transparency either.

    That’s why the leaks are being screened before going public. That’s why it’s not a database dump. That’s why wikileaks asked five established news organizations for feedback about what it should publish vs redact, and that’s why the leaks are coming at a trickle packaged as a torrent.

    As a man, Assange is an egotistical tool, a first class jackass. As an organization, wikileaks has shown a good bit more journalistic integrity than any of their detractors give them credit for. They’re succeeding in pulling away the veil of secrecy without risking a single life in the process. I don’t know if that’s because of Assange’s role, or despite it, but whichever it is, I’m wholly on their side in this fight.

    As for check and balances, well, what checks and balances are currently in place to prevent the Cult of Secrecy from spreading all over government?

    Has there been ANY suit in recent years where the government didn’t pull the “national secrets” defense? I am reminded of that one warrantless wiretapping court case, before it was made retroactively legal, where the plaintiff lost because the illegal wiretap of him saying innocuous stuff was classified due to its pivotal role in maintaining the warrantless wiretapping program in that court case. No (unclassified) evidence, no case.

    Seems to me that leaks like this, conducted responsibly, like this, are an excellent check/balance of their own. The fact that wikileaks is being persecuted to the current degree, despite all the leaks so far being mostly gossipy diplomats, lends credence to the idea that they really rustled the jimmies of folks in office who have no way of striking back conventionally.

  21. benher says:

    “neither do I trust Julian Assange’s motives”

    …so if his motives are somehow ‘impure’ by some arbitrary standard, the end result of America eating crow is somehow less true?

    What exactly do you think his ‘motives’ are and what makes them unworthy of trust?

  22. bjacques says:

    I suggest you all read this gentleman if you want a good analysis of what Assange and Wikileaks are up to, as far as anyone or even they themselves can tell. There’s a lot more to it than forcing “pure transparency,” as Mr. Shirky puts it. As the latest (Wikileaks Now – 3 Dec) post notes, even Assange’s concept of hobbling government’s or business’s parasitic culture of secrecy by making secrecy more expensive is 4 years old. Though Wikileaks seem to have retained some of that philosophy. They’ve also wanted to be a dead drop for whistleblowers and/or an alternative media.

    Wikileaks methods have also changed over the years. At one time they tried to sell or auction off some of their material. That last is probably the basis for the charge by “co-founder” John Young of Cryptome.org that Wikileaks was “pimping” secrets. It didn’t work; for one thing, nobody wants to pay for secrets unless they involve the Cardashians and include pictures. For another, you kind of have to know what you’re doing. The Venezuela auction story comes off like the guys in “Office Space” trying to figure out how to launder money.

    But all of this is a long way of saying that Assange and Wikileaks are about more than the “pure transparency” that Shirky says is bad for the long haul. But why should Wikileaks and similar actors not stick around? The cult of secrecy has been around a long time in one form or another, and won’t soon go away by itself.

    (By the way, one of the 16th Amsterdam publishers Shirky mentions is Elzevir, and they’re still around as Elsevier. They’re quite conservative now, and the cited passage doesn’t really mention them rocking any boats back then either. Now Christophe Plantin in Antwerp, on the other hand, did print Tyndale’s Bible *and* Catholic missals to be smuggled into Protestant England, but that’s another story…)

    As for Shirky’s assignment of blame to the other side, I think he’s wasting his digital ink. Of the US government actions to which Shirky objects, some have already happened and there doesn’t seem to be anything stopping the rest of them (Joe Fury, agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.?).

    I’m just not feeling very conflicted right now.

  23. Anonymous says:

    The question that I think is not being debated so well in the public eye is what Wikileaks represents philosophically. Internet culture sadly lacks discretion and thoughtfulness. The role of the editor—who questions the things that come before him or her for the good of the reader, and work to reach an objective truth as best as possible—is essentially dead.

    I’m only 37 (and an editor) and I am always amazed at how many young writers scoff when their writing is questioned in the editing process. It’s a disturbing trend.

    The trend put for by the web is to “put it out there” and let the truth settle. But result is could not be further from the truth. Just because some diplomat voiced frustrations with a middle eastern country doesn’t mean that this is the attitude of the entire government.

    Ask yourself: when you complain about a co-worker privately to someone else (we all do it), does that automatically mean you can’t work with them? Imagine if that were made public to the entire company. What would people think of you, or how well you can work with that person? The truth is just as easily skewed and distorted in public as it is in private—sometimes worse.

    This is what is happening here: a multitude of statements are being aired out as complete truths and nothing can stop it now. Once the cat is out of the bag, it’s incredibly hard to contain.

    Does that mean no leaks should no be published? No. Unchecked government secrecy is a bad thing. But you don’t fix a cut on your finger by removing an arm.

    Wikilinks does not take the time, well enough anyway, to weed out what is important to expose (ie. internationally illegal activity). Instead, they just spew and let the chips fall where they may.

    Sounds a lot like, “Kill em all and let god sort them out” to me.

    This is not journalism or altruism. It is a willful destructive act. Assange is just as willing to see people die or get hurt in the name of what he believes is right, just as much as any secretive government. In many ways he operates in the same manner as they do.

    I love the web and what it can do for the world. But why do its supporters so willingly assume crowd sourcing leads to truth. As the Israeli boat raid taught us last summer, so-called citizen journalism can lie just as effectively as any other medium—on both sides.

    We must always remember that technology is not inherently good or bad. It is capable of both. It’s how we apply it to our culture context that defines it’s nature.

  24. omnivore says:

    “You assert there’s a requirement to show harm; I would assert (with equal validity) there’s a requirement to assume harm based on the detailed information about informants, operations, and so forth. ”

    Not only does a free society have to demand proof of harm, but they also have to accept a degree of harm, real or potential, as a result of the free movement of information. Publishing airline schedules enabled the 9/11 terrorists to know which airplanes should be used in a co-ordinated attack. In fact, all information in a free society can, conceivably, contribute to harm.

    And why are Mr Assange’s motives more questionable than the publishers and editors of the newspapers that are working with Wikileaks? What is so different about them and, say, Ben Bradlee at the Washington Post during the Watergate era, or Chomsky and Ellsberg with the Pentagon Papers?

    Just societies require an assumption of the right of people to know – a deeply abused ideal these days. Acceptance that some harm may come as a result of openness is part of being a free citizen; only in cases where the expected harm exceeds an accepted standard of good, when actual freedom is constrained, should the veil of secrecy be accepted. None of the leaks so far meet this test. By setting the standard so low, and pretending to fret and get the vapours about Mr Assange, you simply make clear how low the value of freedom has fallen.

  25. Somekindofmachine says:

    My issue with this is that Mr. Shirky seems to conflate systems with individuals on some level. I believe that people have a right to privacy, however I don’t really think institutions (states, corporations, etc…) should, as constructs, necessarily have the same standards applied. I do however agree with his overall assessment that this phenomenon is likely a temporary “correcting” force because secrecy and privacy have increased fantastically for the state and companies but not for individuals (Patriot Act, etc…) All the while the major media outlets seem to be less and less concerned with acting as watchdogs.

    • Goblin says:

      I believe that people have a right to privacy, however I don’t really think institutions (states, corporations, etc…) should, as constructs, necessarily have the same standards applied.

      You might be right to assert that such standards aren’t exactly the same, but you are wrong to assume that by the virtue of your citizenship you should then have access to “all” the deliberations of either private ventures or the operations of government.

      I know the idea of a “fully transparent” Government is seductive. But, pragmatically even the most “open” Governments have their dark corners. Laws are written to force light on some of these (i.e. State Employs have lawful standards of ethics).

      But there is no right to claim that all institutions must have complete transparency. After all institutions are made up of individuals and as you rightfully contented those individuals do have a certain right to privacy. Not all discussions at work are about the prerogatives of the institution in question.

      Quite frankly, such careless notions of “complete transparency” would at a certain point violate an individuals right to privacy, and we would have ourselves a very perverted incarnation of 1984.

      • Beelzebuddy says:

        I will make you a deal, then: I will give a damn about their right to privacy when they give a damn about mine. Until then, my ideal government will be as clear as glass. No back room handshakes over cigars, no closed door sessions, no “enhanced interrogations” in windowless rooms.

        • awjtawjt says:

          Unfortunately, a government that functions can never be clear as Utopic glass. Consider this: a local government is considering purchasing private property for public use. This fact is advertised and several possible sellers step up to sell. But they all have business interests in not revealing that they want to discuss selling their property. Discuss. Let alone selling.

          One owns an apartment building full of tenants and doesn’t want to scare them in case the deal falls through. Another one owns a grocery store and doesn’t want her clientele to fall off out of fear the store will be closed. Another one has family members opposed to the sale, but they don’t own the property and the seller is adamant about keeping privacy and secrecy about any discussions with the city.

          In this case, a real estate transaction, complete transparency of the government would work against the best interests of the people. These discussions should be private.

          The final decision on what property to purchase, once the deliberations by the governing body are completed… THAT is public, transparent and in the hands of the people. But the courting process, delicate as it is, well… I don’t want transparency there. That is the point at which I have trusted my elected officials to act in my best interests. They don’t always, but I don’t want to take away that possibility that they will.

          • Beelzebuddy says:

            As a tenant, I’d personally really like to know if my landlord was considering bulldozing my house, yes. Or if my brother was thinking about demolishing our family home. And would anyone actually avoid shopping in a grocery store out of fear that it would close, unless it would be the health department closing it?

            I’ll formally answer your anecdote with another anecdote. Wal-Mart, unable to purchase enough land in a small New England town to build their next supercenter, strikes an under the table deal with the town government to forcibly seize, via eminent domain, the land from citizens who refused to sell to them. As a hypothetical Wal-Mart resisting citizen of that town, is that the sort of thing you’d like to hear about only after it’s a done deal? Because neither Wal-Mart nor the town officers would be particularly keen on you finding out early enough to raise a stink.

          • awjtawjt says:

            I hear you, but part of what you’re missing is that individuals have a right to private, confidential discussions, even if it’s with their government. In your counter-examples, the tenants and brother don’t have the same rights as the property owner. In those situations, they only have *some* rights. That’s long established precedent.

            I’ll also answer your anecdotal response with another… a rape case involving a minor. That minor has the right to the utmost privacy in all her dealings with police and the justice department. Under your model, government should be utterly transparent. In that case, it would be a disservice to her and the community at large for her discussions to be made public. Ever.

            Another example is detective work. If a detective’s work in solving a crime by necessity had to be revealed in the name of government transparency, then even the dumbest criminals would easily get away.

            And think of attorney-client privilege between a public defender and her defendant.

            Or how ballots are collected and counted.

            I can just keep thinking of examples where complete government transparency works counter to the good of all. Nor am I advocating that our current government exercises confidentiality and secretiveness efficiently…

          • Beelzebuddy says:

            Hey, I can counter with just as many anecdotes, all day. How about people who are mistaken for terrorists, extradited, then when the mistake is uncovered, all information forcibly secreted away? Or how we’re not allowed to see the actual output of the pornoscanners, just a blurry low res “this is all there is, trust us, we’re not lying this time” graphic? Or how often the dashboard cams of cops break, gosh darnit, just when those alleged human rights violations occurred?

            This is why anecdotes make terrible evidence.

            In truth, I don’t think a *purely* transparent government is entirely feasible either. But if Fox News has taught me anything, it’s that you have to push for the most extreme, batshit insane version in the direction things ought to go in order to effect compromise somewhere in the realm of sanity. Because right now you and I have no privacy rights at all in the eyes of the government, while the guy who leaks their offhand gossip is hunted down like a dog.

          • deckard68 says:

            I wonder how many of these anti-truth comments are written by low-level spooks.

            Wikileaks should adopt as their motto “The Truth Will Set You Free”, so as to make these spookettes think for a minute.

          • awjtawjt says:

            Good – you see my point, and I see yours. Rather than continue to argue the same thing, what do YOU think is the way to cause our government to apply secrecy accurately, appropriately, and in the right amount, rather than heavy-handedly, haphazardly and across-the-board? Advocating the most extreme positions? Really? That always seemed counter-productive to me. There must be more directed, efficient ways of approaching these issues and causing useful change.

  26. The Faustian Man says:

    Implying that national security isn’t compromised from it’s “unknown actors” you reference and the system isn’t broken.

    I am sure all parties involved know the dangers of going into do this line of work. It’s part of the paycheck.

    Get off your high horse.

  27. straponego says:

    This is a similar position to one I’ve developed, which also applies to questions of torture. Bear with me a moment while I solve the torture problem first.

    There is no system of laws or morals that is optimal for every situation; all we can do is try to come up with the “most” optimal for the most cases, given our priorities.

    Two fundamental rules: If you make something legal, it will be abused, the use cases will expand beyond the original intent, and even the new legal boundaries will be exceeded by some. And anybody who wants blanket immunity for all their actions is up to no good.

    Torture enthusiasts usually invoke “ticking nuclear bomb” scenario to justify their methods. Well, fine, I say: if you believe torture is necessary to prevent such a horrible event, knock yourself out. But it should never be legal. If you really believe you’re preventing a nuclear attack, you should be willing to sacrifice your freedom and your life to do so. Really, the tough-talking chickenhawk neocons, by insisting on blanket immunity, are saying that they wouldn’t save New York City from annihilation if it meant they might go to prison. Truly their cowardice knows no bounds. Millions of police and soldiers already risk their lives for much less, after all.

    The same logic applies to publishing leaked data. Assange and Wikileaks actually don’t seem to have committed any crimes, but those who leaked the data, such as Bradley Manning, certainly have. I happen to think he did the right thing, but he violated his oath and should be subject to prosecution. I am guessing he knew he’d eventually be caught when he made that choice.

  28. Anonymous says:

    From my perspective there’s a nuance on the whole leaks thing that’s being missed entirely. I used to work for a defense contractor, simply because I’m an engineer, and in my location, it’s work that I could get. I happen to know a piece of information, that is formally classified “secret” that if let loose into the wild, could be used to track the movements of the newest class of submarines being built and fielded by the US right now. I have since changed jobs, and my Secret Clearance has expired. I forget the details, but I am bound by national security to retain this information securely, and if I “leak” it, I forget the details, but pretty sure there’s hell to pay.

    Now, the contents of the documents on Wikileaks may not have the same impact if “leaked”, but they have been classified by the US Government with the same “secret” rating. “Secret” by the way is the entry point of secrecy levels in the classification scheme. It’s the boy-scouts of secrecy. Most of the journalist writings talking about “classified” and “secret”, are easy to pick apart as having no real insight to the real hierarchy of the classification scheme of information in the USG. I don’t know it very well, but I know that “secret” is just getting one’s foot in the door. I digress…

    So, the USG desires, hopefully for obvious reasons, why information such I alluded to above from my previous job remain “secret”. They define rules and guidelines for keeping such information safeguarded. Now, other documents or information also labeled “secret” has the opportunity to become leaked. Who judges what is safe to release into the wild and what is not? Do you want to be the one that releases a piece of secret information that allows the US Navy’s newest submarines to be tracked? I’m no hawk, but stealth has it’s advantages on both sides of the hawk/dove coin IMO.

    So the “secret” documents were released on servers outside of US territory. It seems reasonable, based on the rules of how the USG dictates that secret information is to be handled, that it asks that mirror sites inside the US stop providing the information. It’s an unprecedented event. Heretofore, it was expected that “secret” information would be leaked by a person via phone or hardcopy in a back-room or whatnot. Now huge stores have been moved offshore, and piped back into the country electronically. Regardless of the content of the “secret” information, it’s all “secret”. What if it contained no fluff like the sex conduct of the head of timbuktu, but the front-line position of all your friends and relatives? That would mean that there exists none of the tiered secrecy levels “Top-Secret”, Compartmentalized, etc – that the journalists seem to ignore. What if it was all “Secret” and contained nothing but information that could take down your family and friends?

    But wait, the government’s not supposed to have secrets, right? Which way do you want it?

    It seems the arguments are all based on the contents of the released documents rather than a fundamental understanding and treatment of what the purpose of the classification system of government documents is supposed to achieve. And guess what, you have fallible humans working in the USG, military, and the rest of the world. Does that mean that you throw out an entire system meant to protect the better interests of the nation? There is a metric-crap-ton of stuff labeled “Secret” and above that is more sensitive than you or I could possible imagine than what’s been released so far. I start the bid with submarine tracking. Who wants to up the ante?

    w

  29. Shauni says:

    “I don’t think that independent actors who are subject to no checks or balances is a good idea in the long haul.”

    That’s a load of muddle-headed malarky. ‘Checks and Balances’ refers to the government, the theoretical watchmen who must be watched.

    Wikileaks may be an “independent actor” outside our political system, but that’s because it makes no political decisions and can’t do anything but exercise freedom of speech again and again and again.

    If “independent actors” aren’t free to criticize the government, then something has seriously gone wrong in our society.

  30. Anonymous says:

    My frustration with these and other leaks is that so many people seem to assume that, hey, classified stuff has been leaked…must be evidence of a crime! They then treat the leaker or publisher as heroes without considering whether there was any actual wrongdoing. At the very least, why not limit the leaks to documents that actually show a crime or a wrongful act was committed?

    I can think of cases where we’d want leaking where there was no crime or wrongful act. What if there’s just incompetence or blundering? If a public policy is failing governments should not be allowed to hide that fact indefinitely by burying or classifying evidence of their failures. What if a hospital was regularly injuring patients by poor practice and then using court settlements to cover up the fact?

  31. imag says:

    There are two diametrically opposed complaints going on in this thread:

    Complaint #1: WikiLeaks uses too much judgment when deciding what to release. Logic: we don’t want a small entity deciding what we do or do not see. How do we know they don’t have a bunch of happy facts about the US that they are holding on to?

    Complaint #2: Wikileaks doesn’t use enough judgment when deciding what to release. They just throw everything out there. They should be making sure that the information they put out is only information which evidences harm or wrongdoing.

    In some cases, we have the same person making both cases. So what is the best answer?

    It looks to me like Wikileaks is doing a darned good job of following the middle ground. They are putting out the most newsworthy stuff first (major leaks). They are using respected international news media to help them sort and redact the content. They are putting out as much as they can, as fast as they can, within the limits of their resources.

    I mean, really – how would you do it differently/better? I’d really like to know. They admit they can’t be a full-blown news organization. I would say that it’s good that they are not. It means their focus is just on getting info to organizations that can interpret it.

  32. Flying_Monkey says:

    @Glenn Fleishman

    I can suggest why you have these strange feelings: you can’t fit this phenomenon into a simple box of politics as you know it.

    Part of this is revealed in what you say about data You can’t be so cute about the separation between state data and the role of the state. The existence of the modern nation-state is actually in many ways dependent on the creation of data about people, and certainly for Prussia, the proto-modern nation-state, the creation of the data predated the existence of the state – see the discussion in Ian Hacking’s ‘The Taming of Chance’ or in Valentin Groebner’s ‘Who Am I?’

    This conflict over data is not so much about the ‘USA’ versus anyone else, or Americans, or types of state, it’s about ‘people’ and their relationship to ‘states’ (any and all nation-states) more broadly. That’s why China and the USA and the USSR and Italy and Sweden, which are all very different states, with different attitudes to information, are all coming down on those who want openness, transparency and accountability, whether it’s through Wikileaks or Google or even just sharing music they like.

  33. deckard68 says:

    Where is this ego and narcissism that some people speak of? Maybe I’ve become immune to noticing it on account of watching too many Steve Jobs presentations? He has opinions, and he states them. So do we.

  34. cirandeiro says:

    @ Glenn Fleischmann

    – Whomever is playing the role of the stringer (the whistleblower, the leaker) supplied WikiLeaks with content

    – WikiLeaks is playing the role of AP, UPI, AFP, DPA … ( they made the whole content available to the four publishers below, the four+1 decide what to “leak”, not WikiLeaks)

    –The Guardian, Le Monde, Spiegel, El País, (The New York Times, by proxy) publish what they think is interesting for their readers), WikiLeaks in turn puts the content on-line based on what they publish

    You are shooting the runner, not the message, the leaker or the publisher. You are attacking the net and as John Gilmore (EFF) says “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”

    I am Spartacus

  35. Patrick Dodds says:

    The leaking of the organisations and companies that the US deems vital to its national security seems to me to be the first time in this round of releases that WikiLeaks have made a mistake. Why do I need to know of the existence of a cobalt mine somewhere in Africa that is vital to US interests? Sure, I have a legitimate interest in the craven, supine attitude of my government (British) to the American gov in relation to torture flights, cluster bombs and the disinclination to give precedence to human rights over torture (after all, if you don’t believe in HRs, what the hell are you fighting the terrorists for?). But a marine company somewhere in Scotland that has a vital role in US submarine engineering? That isn’t in the public interest, even if the public is interested.
    On balance, however, WikiLeaks appear to be fighting for an honourable and just cause. Throughout the world, the societies that appear the most “livable” are those that are most open. Unless, of course, you happen to be religious.

  36. ericmartinex1 says:

    “In what Assange described as a last-ditch deterrent, WikiLeaks has warned that it has distributed a heavily encrypted version of some of its most important documents and that the information could be instantly made public if the staff were arrested.”

    So it’s just not about the freedom of information and transparency, it’s just a game of tit-for-tat. He is using this information as a bargaining chip.

    There goes the absolute transparency thesis of Wikileaks. I would call his bluff anyways, he will release it as the leaks continue to lose steam. People are increasingly becoming more skeptical of him and his organization as more of his douchebaggery become transparent.

    But then again this is from the MSM, this could be another overly hyped bit of info that Julian and other wikifanboys likes to complain about yet cite or get interviewed by when it meets their criteria:

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101206/ap_on_hi_te/wikileaks

    • Cowicide says:

      So it’s just not about the freedom of information and transparency, it’s just a game of tit-for-tat. He is using this information as a bargaining chip.

      Man… dammit… if he just had a few trillion dollars to pay off all the corrupt elitists he’s exposed… don’t you hate it when you don’t have a few trillion dollars?

  37. Kutuzof says:

    > neither do I trust Julian Assange’s motives, presentation, or redaction.

    Do you trust him more or less than any other news organization? Keep in mind it’s not like wikileaks or Julian Assange are hacking government databases and stealing this information. It was leaked to them by an informant. They were placed in the position of either publishing it or keeping it secret. Are you conflicted about how they made that choice? Would you have chosen differently?

    • Glenn Fleishman says:

      Assange and his coterie are making editorial choices about what information they reveal, in what order, and what manner. I am right to have reservations about his agenda and motivations. He is not making a database dump.

      There may be 100,000 memos that show the US in a marvelous light, fostering incredible international cooperation in subtle ways that we never see. I’m not supposing there are, but we have no idea about that. Assange motivation is destructive in nature, regardless of whether productive results occur.

      • Cowicide says:

        Assange motivation is destructive in nature, regardless of whether productive results occur.

        I don’t think you’ve recovered from your cognitive dissonance yet… at all.

      • Kutuzof says:

        You didn’t answer any of my questions.

      • Onigorom says:

        “Assange and his coterie are making editorial choices about what information they reveal, in what order, and what manner.”

        Correct. It’s called journalism.

        “There may be 100,000 memos that show the US in a marvelous light, fostering incredible international cooperation in subtle ways that we never see. I’m not supposing there are, [...].”

        Ah, you are not? – which leads us to:

        ‘Assange motivation is destructive in nature, regardless of whether productive results occur.”

        Correct. This is called ‘critique’. As Kracauer pointed out, one does not need excuses for being critical. And you are excused for being critical with Assange.

        • Goblin says:

          It’s called journalism.

          No, it’s called politics. Journalism implies a developed editorial perspective, (a la NYT et. al). Has Assange ever written even one op-ed piece? Not he is selectively releasing information in manner damaging to his political adversary the United States.

          • Cowicide says:

            Not he is selectively releasing information in manner damaging to his political adversary the United States.

            No he’s NOT.

            Within link above:

            Brazil
            Canada
            Haiti
            Honduras
            Venezuela
            Australia
            People’s Republic of China
            Koreas
            Thailand
            Afghanistan
            Iran
            Israel
            Jordan
            Kuwait
            Libya
            Qatar
            Saudi Arabia
            Syria
            Turkey
            United Arab Emirates
            Yemen
            India
            Pakistan
            Sri Lanka
            Albania
            Armenia
            Austria
            Bosnia
            Herzegovina
            Croatia
            Denmark
            Georgia
            Germany
            Ireland
            Italy
            Romania
            Russia
            Chechnya
            Dagestan
            Serbia
            Kosovo
            Slovenia
            Spain
            United Kingdom

            Sigh… I really wish all these wikileaks detractors would at least get their facts together.

            It’s against corporatists, not the people of the united states; keep defending corporatists and you keep smacking yourself in the face.

          • Goblin says:

            I am willing to admit that a large part of the memo’s might not seem that spectacular or useful, at least not to you or anyone else who is unfamiliar with the workings of his government. However there are some rather sensitive stuff in that pile. And I am rather taken aback that you claim this “does no” harm the United States, and that it only harms its corporations and/or government.

            I am not against reform, I think it is needed, but indiscriminate release of information is generally referred to as “mud slinging” or “dirty politics”, there’s no two ways about that. Sure YOU won’t see the problems that this creates,but others will have to deal with the consequences.

            @Beelzebuddy – Don’t be so selfish. A government employs individuals just like yourself, who believe in the same or similar things that you do. Why should you have more rights as an individual outside the government, then an individual who works for the government. As individuals you should be equal right?

            The vast majority of government employees already have more ethical restrictions placed on them then you could fathom. Don’t take your issue with policies generated at the top out on all the other people just making their way.

          • Beelzebuddy says:

            As individuals you should be equal right?

            Right. And right now, because the government doesn’t trust me not to be a terrorist, the NSA is archiving every byte of my web traffic and the TSA is groping me for explosive dickbombs every time I fly. Well, fair’s fair, as individuals we should be equal. So turn yer head and cough, Lieberman, let’s see them cherries.

            I am rather taken aback that you claim this “does no” harm the United States

            It’s not his claim. It’s the Pentagon’s. They straight-up said no lives were on the line here. Unless by “harm” you mean “mild embarrassment at seeing our dirty laundry aired in public,” in which case you DO know that it’s Hillary Clinton you’re linking to, right?

            indiscriminate release of information

            Which this isn’t. They are, in fact, scriminating.

            generally referred to as “mud slinging” or “dirty politics”

            Good heavens, man! He’s slinging mud? That kind of tactic hasn’t been politically acceptable since, oh, about a month ago! I say death to the treasonous somewhat rude dog!

          • Goblin says:

            What does wiki-leaks and Assange represent to you? What sort of grass-root change do you see happening through wiki-leaks? Is that what is happening now, or is it something different being delivered?

            Diplomats have always gathered intelligence for their respective countries. Somehow I doubt Assange and all his bluster will be able to affect that, after all the U.S. may be his current target but every government plays the game. Do you honestly think Assange will change any of this long standing and widely practised tradition?

            This is where the whole wiki-leaks assault and the idea’s espoused break down. I want reform, but Assange and wiki-leaks has an entirely different idea in mind. Assange has no interest in “restoring jounarlism” as some here have it.

            The conditions that have led to Wiki-leak’s rise isn’t so much a breakdown within the government, but one just outside it, the media.

            The mainstream media by failing to report or act as a watchdog in any true sense of the word belied the depth of U.S. dalliances abroad; this has created a favourable environment for such independent actors like Assange.

            Do I think the system as it stands now is acceptable, no. Do I think Assange and wiki-leaks wishes to change that system, of course not. I have no idea what their agenda is, and I find it bitterly ironic, Assange wants to hold governments to account, but he doesn’t want that same radical notion of transparency applied to him or actions.

          • Cowicide says:

            Diplomats have always gathered intelligence for their respective countries.

            It’s funny how rule of law doesn’t seem to mean shit to you wikileaks detractors unless it work in YOUR favor. That diplomatic spying is in violation of international covenants the United States signed up to.

            Please.. please… explain that one away… love to hear it…[sarcasm]

          • Cowicide says:

            However there are some rather sensitive stuff in that pile. And I am rather taken aback that you claim this “does no” harm the United States, and that it only harms its corporations and/or government.

            You really think terrorists would have trouble locating a hydroelectric dam? Sigh…

  38. Xenu says:

    Whether what WikiLeaks has done is right or wrong, they’ve exposed hidden corruptions all over the place that are only possible due to a conspiracy of secrecy within the federal government.

    The problem is that without WikiLeaks, there would only be one side to the issue to begin with; without WikiLeaks we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all.

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