Wikileaks: traditional liberalism with balls?

Discuss

85 Responses to “Wikileaks: traditional liberalism with balls?”

  1. humanresource says:

    Above, I already posted one link to important information revealed in the cables (info that was either secret from the public or else simply the subject of gossip among obscure foreign affairs specialists – which amounts to the same thing). Here’s another, a story recently covered in BB, one concerning the new copyright law in Spain:

    “the leaked #cablegate cables affirmed what many had suspected: the law had been pushed by the US government on behalf of the Hollywood studios. Local activists told me that they believed the legislation would pass despite broad national condemnation; however, El Pais accelerated its schedule in oder to release the relevant cables before the House voted — and it seems that this did the trick.”
    http://boingboing.net/2010/12/22/spains-house-rejects.html

    This is what liberal activism looks like: it was necessary and it worked and “meh” is an increasingly untenable response. Democracy was the winner, and the light sent the roaches running for cover. And there are over 245,000 unreleased cables where that came from.

    It is fair to ask how Assange gets to decide what is secret and what is not, but so far I think he’s earned more trust than the secret-keepers. Look at how they used secrecy to mislead people in the lead up to the Iraq war. Look at how the NYT buried the Abu Gharaib scandal as long as it could. More leaking, not less, is necessary, if liberal democracy is going to survive the next few decades. It really is as serious as that, and wikileaks, or something very similar, is a necssary but insufficient condition of its preservation.
    (Sorry to repeat myself a bit, but I think some people missed my points)

  2. Anonymous says:

    Not liberalism. Libertarianism.

  3. ophite says:

    This is what liberal activism looks like: it was necessary and it worked and “meh” is an increasingly untenable response. Democracy was the winner, and the light sent the roaches running for cover. And there are over 245,000 unreleased cables where that came from.

    Here’s a link to the Trade Act “Special 301″ report discussing the out-of-cycle review of Spain’s copyright policy, about fourteen months before Wikileaks or El Pais published anything on the topic.

    http://www.iipa.com/rbc/2009/2009SPEC301SPAIN.pdf

  4. Jonathan Badger says:

    On the contrary, Wilkinson’s skewering of the inanely waffling Sterling is brilliant. Pick a side, Bruce. Don’t try to play the world-weary sophisticate who pities everybody on all sides.

    • lorq says:

      “Pick a side, Bruce. Don’t try to play the world-weary sophisticate who pities everybody on all sides.”

      Sterling states quite explicitly that he *doesn’t* pity Julian Assange and goes into great detail explaining why. Don’t try to play the incisive political commentator when you haven’t read the essay.

      • Jesse M. says:

        Sterling states quite explicitly that he *doesn’t* pity Julian Assange and goes into great detail explaining why. Don’t try to play the incisive political commentator when you haven’t read the essay.

        I just read the whole essay, and while he does say he doesn’t feel the same sort of “human pity” for Assange that he does for Manning, I still think Jonathan Badger’s summary of Sterling’s position as a “world-weary sophisticate who pities everybody on all sides” is basically accurate. Sterling is expressing sorrow over the misguided foolishness of both sides, confident that Assange’s hopes about the benefits of leaking are just the sort of naive utopianism that he’s seen from guys of Assange’s “type” a thousand times before. He talks about both sides like they’re robots guided by fixed inflexible ideas that will inevitably make the world worse as they react to one another in sadly predictable ways, and he’s putting himself in the role of someone who’s wise enough to avoid this kind of knee-jerk thinking and to see the real dynamic at work here. He may well turn out to be right, but I think he’s a bit overconfident in his own predictions about the sad inevitability that wikileaks is just making everything worse…

        • mdh says:

          I think he’s a bit overconfident in his own predictions about the sad inevitability that wikileaks is just making everything worse.

          I have much greater faith in the second law of thermodynamics than I do people. But I hope.

      • Jonathan Badger says:

        But he certainly pities Manning who he condescendingly describes as a “mild little nobody” similar to Monica Lewinsky (as if what he did was of no more consequence than her affair) and he says that he “feels sorry” for diplomats whose cables were leaked.

        Honestly, what is at all worthwhile about the essay? We don’t even learn whether Bruce supports Wikileaks or not, because he doesn’t want to “condone or condemn” the leaks (why the hell not?)

  5. AbleBakerCharlie says:

    I don’t think Sterling’s observations, and the notion that WikiLeaks and Co. are the vengeful return of the power-checking talents of the fourth estate are necessarily oppositional- provided one always keeps in mind that the history of liberalism is one of people figuring out they need to do things that are stupendously uncomfortable and even temporarily disruptive- like, say, the change of government in an election, or the submission of a paper for peer review.

    I think everyone can recognize situations from their own experience in the workplace or the like that there are levels of supervision that inspire ineffectual brown-nosing at the overbearing end, and that inspire abuse at the other. The relationship between the American people and the American government clearly leans hard to the latter (as they do in many other countries- the dumps WikiLeaks has done from other countries, with interesting effects, go persistently undiscussed) and the knowledge that there exists, out in the void, a transnational entity, not beholden to country or advertiser, that can call them on their misdeeds, is a powerful one, and the fact that information technology can potentially provide such a service in an era when newspapers are in the business of printing press releases points to a distinct overlap between the “hacker ethos” and Enlightenment notions of government.

    Now, I can understand Sterling’s brooding sentiment- that the last thing we need is an arms race between indignant bureaucrats who simply lock up their secrets tighter and brazenly yield powers of questionable legality and principle on one side, and crypto-paparazzi on the other, going through garbage cans in pursuit of unfortunate turns of phrase and handshake agreements.

    In the average day I find myself having to defend privacy and discretion as socially valuable principles than I am forced to defend transparency, and that’s a fact that worries me- but people are not governments. Leakers are few and far between, and the art of keeping secrets is old- the secret-keepers will probably still win, which to the extent they work decently is a plus and to the extent they go nuts and cover their asses in cycles, is a loss. Ultimately, though, if the hacker fantasia of leak websites can at least furnish some pressure on the powerful to behave well, they are a success. The lead-in to the Iraq war demonstrates as conclusively as anything that the press has largely abdicated any mission of serving as the people’s intelligence agency, and if the answer is that the press needs members who behave a little bit more like the NSA…It’s a path that I don’t like, per se, but I infinitely prefer it to the alternatives.

  6. blueelm says:

    Yes. Because the real problem with liberalism is women.

  7. BosGuy says:

    Very interesting point. Not sure I agree w/ Badger that this is waffling.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Remember back when Amazon, PayPal, Visa, and Mastercard stopped payments to Wikileaks, and the net rose up and forced them to rethink their policies?

  9. Goblin says:

    The “crushing bastards” side of Wikileaks distracts us from the fact that it reveals things that should not be hidden from us if you take liberal democratic principles seriously.

    This seems ignorant of just how far reaching American diplomacy really is. Sure if everything was domestic there would be no question. But the fact the U.S. routinely acts as arbiter or strong-arm between and among other nations we should take their interests into our own, and then there you go. What wins out, domestic calls for transparency, or diplomatic ties amongst less then democratic governments? Which is more important?

  10. exiledsurfer says:

    Biella Coleman’s (a liberal WOMAN) response to @bruceS’ literary view of hackerdom at the atlantic online: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/12/hacker-culture-a-response-to-bruce-sterling-on-wikileaks/68506/

    accompanied by a liberal MAN’s artwork.

    Not all the glitters is Bruce.

    • redsquares says:

      Thanks for that link, that’s a fantastic article. The final paragraph makes an excellent point too that I haven’t heard discussed outside of ‘street corner conjectures’.

    • Anonymous says:

      Diplomacy does not seem to work. We are at war, other countries dislike us, nd many of our own people disagree with the present policies. And why do so many Americans resort to ¨name calling¨when someone disagrees with them? There seems to be a big zero in the art of communication within and out of the US. Oh, insults are not a responsible way to get people to listen to you. Take care.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Sterling’s essay was anything than brilliant. First, sociopath doesn’t mean what he seems to think it does. Second, the essay was droll and egotistical. Want to talk about narcissistic behavior? That essay was quite ‘sociopathic’.

    Also, one doesn’t have to say that freedom of information isn’t a liberal idea just because libertarians like it. Libertarians are actually also liberals. In fact, libertarians and left-liberals often overlap in their attitudes about everything except economic policy. You should know that.

    • madu1 says:

      “Libertarians are actually also liberals. In fact, libertarians and left-liberals often overlap in their attitudes about everything except economic policy. You should know that.”

      False. Unless by “economic policy”, you mean fully half of what government does. Libertarians believe in self-government. Self government includes personal responsibility. Which is incompatible with just about everything Congress has done in the last 2 years, for example, the health-care legislation. Or do you consider individual mandates and oversight of companies business models to be merely “economic policy”?

      • mdh says:

        None of what you just said stands in opposition to personal responsibility. Could you further illuminate your reasoning?

      • Avram / Moderator says:

        Madu1, most of the left-liberals I know were opposed to Obama’s health-care plan, especially to the insurance mandate; the few who supported it did so grudgingly, in the belief that it was the best they were going to get. The plan’s enthusiastic backers were generally from among the rightward, pro-corporate branch of the party, the so-called “New Democrats”.

    • mausium says:

      “Libertarians are actually also liberals.”

      The ones that run thinktanks and run for office aren’t.

  12. jjsaul says:

    I believe that Stiglitz got his economics Nobel for his work showing that the asymmetry of information access between parties of interest to a particular negotiation prevents a true free market.

  13. Cowicide says:

    Wikileaks: traditional liberalism with balls?

    So maybe a slow-moving resurrection of the liberal class is potentially being rebirthed?

    Death of the Liberal Class

  14. sdmikev says:

    The liberalism quote is kinda funny.
    The way that the modern world works (for the better) is that so-called “liberals” are really just people with hearts AND brains who can think correctly. “Liberals” are the people who were beaten when defending the rights of our fellow (non white male) citizens over the years on a variety of fronts from civil rights to voting rights to making the work place safer.
    Generally speaking, the world at large comes around to the proper way of thinking about these things; safe water, clean air, food safety, etc.. but you will always have the plutocrats trying to pull in the opposite direction. “Liberals” are bad for their pocketbook.
    WikiLeaks exists because in the last 30 years, the ruling class has been handed more and more power (as their piles of money grew taller) and the media that was once the true fourth estate are nothing but neutered jack offs afraid to piss off their masters. So some weird dude with funny blonde hair has to do some real work to correct the 3 decade swing.

  15. dw_funk says:

    There are important stories here. What Wikileaks “means” for the future and how the response to it illustrates the breakdown of the freedom of the press are serious issues. But has there been a good analysis of how Wikileaks has totally failed in its mission?

    Seriously, I can’t think of any good information from the cables. And from the war leaks, the only thing that really comes to mind is that helicopter firing on civilians. One could argue that the information is completely accessible or that they really are mostly banal, but the media has pretty much dropped the ball on any investigative reporting or serious journalism from the leaks. Instead, the story is about Wikileaks, full stop, and maybe a bit about Julian Assange’s other leaky problems (“no means no,” Julian, and it appears Sweden will probably hold you to it).

    That sounds like failure to me. They haven’t succeeded in disseminating the leaks to the point where the information therein have become a real part of the dialogue, but have only managed to make themselves a story.

  16. Forkboy says:

    Interesting he should mention keeping organizations small & honest. The bank for which I work has been promoting awareness of the internal whistle blower procedures quite a lot recently. Almost as if they were scared of something.

  17. turn_self_off says:

    I see a major problem with the discussion going on here, and that is that the left of USA is to the right of the right in europe. As such, trying to define a objective “liberalism” is nearly pointless as different sides of the atlantic have different takes on what that word contains.

  18. jphilby says:

    Sterling’s ‘superb’ essay? It’s a masterpiece of jaded waffling. Eaux de Kissinger at every turn.

    Stupid “nothing new here” response to cablegate? Well Mr. Beschizza, it’s clear why you so admire Sterling. You may hope that inartfully buried ad hominems make you look too prickly to laugh at, but it doesn’t work. Instead it makes you sound like a 15-year-old Youtube insider.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Bruce continues to show a sober and nuanced view of the saga, and yet accurately represents the “hacker” POV in the matter.

    Biela Coleman missed several obvious references to OpenLeaks, Manning’s view of hacking, and enough of Bruce’s article to make me think she either is bad at reading or bad at writing. Bruce made most of the same point that she did, and more eloquently to boot.

    And Wilkinson wants to co-opt hacking to fit into a Liberalism mold, even as Assange makes the exact opposite point – he wants to crush bastards, not have them listen to his policy preferences or open up the government vaults.

    Bruce Sterling -2, his ignorant detractors-0

  20. xeno1187 says:

    gotta say: while i think the Sterl is a brilliant man, i fer sure agree that in this essay he’s taking a this-reminds-me-of-a-novel-idea-i-had, long-ish view of the whole affair, in which things have become so broken environmentally and politically that we can become wired globe-citizens and build a neo-FuturePresent that has accountability, integrity and fantastic sex woven into the very fabric of the viridian-punk body politic.

    and i am all for this.

    but…

    we *really ain’t there yet. i wholeheartedly agree that it is straight-up O-ffensive to equate diplomats’ embarrassment with having your country blown right the fuck up under false and then constantly shifting goalposts. the bruce’s essay really really sounds like it’s coming from a polity of hyper-privilege in which it’s citizens imagine that they are just a bunch of d00dz like everyone else in the world, like, me and the slum kids fighting over scrap metal so that they can get more glue to huff are pretty much just global citizens in the fight against unreasonable douches. hmmmm not quite. g.w. = the assaunginator? not quite.

    and because the sterster has kindly opened up the door for blue-sky telepsychology, i say on him: surprising how rarely people examine how far up in the chain of sucking the powers-that-be’s dick.

    and to the mutant scion love-of-my-life cory, i challenge: if the brucinator’s essay had been written by anyone less dear to your heart, it would have elicited a much more even and appropriately skepticalz response. what do we think?

    whatever; globally, sterling is mad cool, boingboing is the single best website ever ever ever, and i heart cory.

    end of line.

    ps: was excited to read caryatids, could not get past the childishness of the main clones characters. seemed like they weren’t living in their own

  21. ophite says:

    Take, for example, the “nothing new here” response to cablegate.

    Okay. I’ll take it. What, exactly, was available through Cablegate that wasn’t available to a subscriber to Foreign Policy magazine? As far as I can tell, the cables released so far are all NOFORN. There was some interesting stuff about Italy/Russian relations and the UK sandbagging of the Icelandic banking system, but as far as I can tell, that didn’t make news in the United States largely because Italo-Russian diplomatic contacts and the Anglo-Icelandic banking relationship aren’t generally considered conventionally newsworthy in the United States.

  22. Rob Gehrke says:

    Nice, totally agree. The tendency to paint WL and Assange as “radicals” is simply a defense mechanism on the part of those whose interests it may harm by disclosing secrets. When powerful interests are pursuing radical policies themselves – which frankly should not be differentiated from the Cosa Nostra or the Ndrangheta in terms of their operating procedures – then those pushing back against them can seem radical by contrast. It is however the powerful interests who, in their own way by setting up the terrain and the environment, have forced such a response. Wikileaks seems to me to be more than anything a force for common decency and ethics.

    Goblin :
    “Seriously, you need look at the elephant in the room, Assange isn’t an American, and thus he has no true legitimacy with the American people. Without that legitimacy he cannot fulfill his objectives in the good faith of those he claims are his beneficiaries.”
    - It didn’t take long, even here, to find a stupid comment.
    Ciao !

  23. Rob Beschizza says:

    If you can’t say “nothing new” without hedging the bet with all the things which are “new, but uninteresting to mainstream US readers,” it hardly seems worth it, hmm?

    • George William Herbert says:

      If you can’t say “nothing new” without hedging the bet with all the things which are “new, but uninteresting to mainstream US readers,” it hardly seems worth it, hmm?

      How about, “New to uninterested mainstream US readers, but not educated or aware ones (or ones who could use Google and knew to look for it)”?

      I mean, seriously. People are now developing a healthy interest in geopolitics and intelligence and diplomacy, which is good. But if you’re doing it because this stuff was a surprise to you, it’s bad. It’s like a whole internet community intentionally disconnected from the actual business-getting-done intellectual policy community for the better part of a decade and is now shocked, shocked to find out that we do in fact have a foreign policy establishment like every other country on earth does…

      A lot of professional communities look down on Slashdot because a whole bunch of ignorant people show up to throw out ignorant comments on any thread which comes up. Many of those people know nothing more about a particular technical area than common knowledge; many of them are even ignorant of standard common knowledge in a field.

      The BoingBoing community (and others) are showing signs of this exact effect here.

      Assange has a bad case of this, along with a truly wierd ideological infatuation. I would hope that BoingBoing staff would spend a bit of effort to avoid falling victim to the effect.

      Yes, it’s a lot of effin homework involved, much of a serious political science degree in geopolitics. But if you actually care about how it works, get to studying, and stop acting surprised.

      Ignorant, I can understand (nobody can credibly pretend to know everything about all specialist fields); willfully ignorant is not defensible.

      • dw_funk says:

        I knew I recognized your name. I like reading ANI at Wikipedia before bed, sometimes; nothing’s more relaxing than reading weird Kafka-meets-Machiavelli wikipolitics. That’s not a put-down, I really do find it stupidly fascinating. As for the discussion at hand, I will try to defend “willfully ignorant,” as you said.

        First off, I think the assumption of willfulness is sort of unfortunate. In Boing Boing’s case, the editorial slant of the blog has largely covered international politics as it intersected with its areas of interest. This is why I would let it off the hook from my complaints above; Wikileaks, the organization, is much more within its purview than the leaks themselves.

        As for the readership, and the general population, well, international politics is a poorly covered subject with very few active scholars or experts seen in any mainstream setting. There’s no journalism happening there in any accessible way. I think “willful” ignorance in this case is almost impossible. We, as in the large body of readers of various media platforms, expect to be informed of relevant events. The media expects to sell advertisements. While it’s entirely possible to make international politics and diplomacy interesting to viewers, it’s much harder than getting press releases from Wikileaks, Scotland Yard, the Swedish police force, etc., and calling in some talking heads to grouse about it from the same American political positions with which they use to argue about everything.

        This “do your homework” business is just tiring. If America had teacher-activists in journalism, we might get some work out of it. Instead, we have Jon Stewart and Julian Assange, lobbing spitballs from the back of the classroom.

        • ophite says:

          This “do your homework” business is just tiring. If America had teacher-activists in journalism, we might get some work out of it.

          We do.

          There are hundreds of Americans doing God’s work writing white-papers in the basements of think tanks, or writing articles for The Economist or Foreign Policy. They’re available to anyone who wants them. They’re available for free. It requires some time investment but zero money investment. Anyone can spend an hour and set up a RSS reader.

          There’s no way to make the American public eat their broccoli. Assange’s grandstanding has given attention to neglected issues, but as new information? It’s been virtually worthless. It’s sometimes added a new data point to the narrative. But it’s frustrating to see the dilletantes rushing in, claiming that Assange’s grandstanding and novel methods have somehow replaced journalism.

          But he’s the geopolitical equivalent of a script kiddie: he doesn’t understand the tools he’s using. He’s been seduced by the allure of secret knowledge, and mistaken data for knowledge. I don’t mean to suggest that vested interests are the “real adults” and that he needs to stay out of it, but he seems to consider his ignorance about states’ motivations to be a moral prerequisite and not a problem.

          It’s sad. I wish Wikileaks had people involved that knew what the hell they were doing. Anyone. But they’re a bunch of technicians who think technical knowledge adequately substitutes for knowledge about statecraft or journalism.

  24. Anonymous says:

    “seeing everything about Wikileaks through the lens of hacker culture is a mistake.”

    Or as I would say, a lot of hacker culture is about liberalism as well, so in that was it is about hacking, just not in the way that Bruce Sterling conveyed.

    See http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/09/the-anthropology-of-hackers/63308/

    Gabriella

  25. The Archaeologist says:

    I am delighted and surprised by the lack of nosehair comments above.

    • Jake0748 says:

      I was going to post a (hopefully) humorous nose-hair comment. But I got sidetracked by the fascinating discussion.

      Still… pretty gross.

  26. humanresource says:

    The Meh Brigade might do well to ponder this list of headlines brought about by wikileaked cables:
    http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/12/24/wikileaks/index.html
    Remember: This is just a subset of stories generated over the course of one year, and around 98-99% of cables haven’t been revealed yet. “Meh, I already knew that” is an asinine response – you may have suspected some of this stuff, but you did not have documents to back up your speculation, did you?

    As for sociopathy: however we define it, a lack of empathy is central to the concept. So who is a true sociopath: a man who helps publicise grave abuses, or the man who suppresses them? Assange, or the vast bulk of editors (and far too many diplomats)?

    I agree with the criticisms of Sterling’s essay: amid all the intriguing background info and stellar turns of phrase, there is little to justify the “melancholia” he feels about wikileaks, besides the prospect of diplomats getting less respect. However, 1)diplomats are some of the most flexible people anywhere, and nations will continue to interact as long as they need to, so the cocktail parties won’t end any time soon, and 2)there are bigger issues that need revealing, even if they do make those parties a lot more awkward for a while.

  27. ophite says:

    If you can’t say “nothing new” without hedging the bet with all the things which are “new, but uninteresting to mainstream US readers,” it hardly seems worth it, hmm?

    It’s new to the US. It’s not new to international readers. The UK media — especially the Guardian — has been reporting on Britain’s unconventional use of anti-terrorism laws to get British assets out of Icelandic banks. The Italian media — in particular, La Reppublica — has been reporting on the Putin-Berlusconi bromance since 2007. The cables contained no information that an interested American couldn’t get. Can you point to something else?

    Also, re: Spanish torture investigation.

    There was no “Spanish torture investigation.” There was a private-party lawsuit in Spain under a universal jurisdiction human rights law. It had no subpoena power into the United States, no special access to US documents, and no such law has resulted in the incarceration of anyone not under the immediate jurisdiction of the court. Whether allowed to proceed or not, the lawsuit would have resulted in bad press, not legal consequences.

    Obama told CNN in 2009 that he was not in favor of the lawsuit, and that the State Department was in talks to “work out the issue.” The cables describe the sausage-making process of how “working out the issue” was done (relatively conventional diplomatic pressure), but the stated agency was carrying out the government’s stated policy.

    What’s scandalous is that the government’s stated policy is to defend the Bush administration’s prior bad acts. They have not, in any sense, covered up the fact that that’s their policy.

  28. humanresource says:

    One more thing: why doesn’t it bother Sterling to see that Hilary Clinton spies on the UN diplomats, even to the point of collecting their biometric data? His melancholia is pretty selective, it seems – probably because he’d have to acknowledge that Assange achieved something useful by getting this out there.

    • ophite says:

      One more thing: why doesn’t it bother Sterling to see that Hilary Clinton spies on the UN diplomats, even to the point of collecting their biometric data?

      Because that is a well-understood fact about diplomacy. “Cultural attache,” and its modern equivalents, are shopworn jokes. Everyone knows that the quiet guy with the vague title works for the CIA.

      Everyone understands that spies work out of the embassy, and that even friendly nations are reading each other’s mail. Hell, in the past 20 years, the French and Israel have repeatedly been caught spying on us, and it barely even makes the news, much less damages diplomatic relations. Countries only bother to deal with it when it’s a breach of trust — when it’s our diplomats and spies reading our mail to our friends.

      I was thinking about that a minute ago and about to write a partial retraction. Maybe that’s news. But it’s something I’ve always assumed was true about the world.

      • humanresource says:

        I was taking issue with Sterling’s selective melancholia; he attacks wikileaks for what its done to the diplomats, while not acknowledging that the new secretary of state is doing something pretty bad as well – which wikileaks, thankfully, publicised.

        Besides, intelligence collection need not involve collecting DNA samples; usually, gossip is what’s collected. Perhaps Clinton’s bastardry is something worse than normal, maybe not. Perhaps the profession is quite blase about all this. But what matters is that they all are our employees, and this kind of information must enter the public realm, so that we can assess the performance of our employees.

        • ophite says:

          Besides, intelligence collection need not involve collecting DNA samples; usually, gossip is what’s collected. Perhaps Clinton’s bastardry is something worse than normal, maybe not. Perhaps the profession is quite blase about all this.

          They are absolutely blase about this. Notice who hasn’t even commented on the Wikileaks report on UN spying? Ban Ki-Moon. (1) It’s because, even though technically prohibited, spying is practically ubiquitous.

          But what matters is that they all are our employees, and this kind of information must enter the public realm, so that we can assess the performance of our employees.

          Okay. So. Other country’s information being disseminated through spying is bad. But US information being disseminated through a vast security breach is … good? Do you think there’s ever any legitimate use for governmental secrecy?

          (1) http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/dec/02/wikileaks-cables-hillary-clinton-ban

          • humanresource says:

            Thanks for the link; some choice quotes are in there, like

            “That the US spies on other diplomats and staff at the UN did not come as a surprise to senior UN staff – but the scale of the operation did.”

            “I doubt Ban Ki-moon will make much of an issue of this with the US as he needs American support for his re-election to a second term in 2012.”

            “The fact that Hillary Clinton also signed off on these instructions, without modifying them, is startling to me. I would have thought a civil libertarian and liberal Democrat like Clinton (and Obama, too) would have stepped back after seeing these Bush rules and dropped them,”

            I am cherrypicking a bit here, but I think these quotes indicate that this wasn’t necessarily diplomacy-as-usual, the profession is not necessarily blase about it, and Obama’s policy falls a long way short of what his internationalist posturing would suggest.

            I am not opposed to secrets per se; its the abuse of secrecy, by public officials, to serve interests that aren’t public interests that bugs me. The cult of secrecy has grown rapidly in recent years, while at the same time its adherents have stripped the veil of privacy from the rest of us. Its a shitty state of affairs that will get worse rapidly (as if a decade of torture, wars-of-choice, and monumental war profiteering isn’t bad enough), if we let the cultists have their way.

  29. adamnvillani says:

    Have you ever known one of those people with no internal monologue? Who basically says everything that pops into their head out loud? Who doesn’t know when to keep their mouth shut even when what they’re saying might be true, but didn’t need saying?

    That’s what Julian Assange seems to think is the only way for the U.S. diplomatic corps to act ethically, and it’s utter B.S. Has he uncovered some things that should have been uncovered? Sure. But that’s what happens with an info dump. The rest of that information — and indeed, Assange’s stated purpose in releasing all this stuff — is just everyday communication, the private stuff that goes on behind the scenes and feeds into the public statements.

    The notion that revealing all of that information is a public service is just self-aggrandizing B.S. Diplomats deal daily with a variety of actors who may have a variety of differing motivations. Publicizing everything said privately about diplomacy defeats the purpose of diplomacy, turning all of our cards face up when everyone else still has their cards hidden.

  30. seanbedlam says:

    This is interesting and good but the bit about ‘inane hostility’ directed at Bruce Sterling nearly poked my eye out. Isn’t this the guy who didn’t have the energy to get off the fence and straight up denounce Assange and Wikileaks, even though he seems to believe they exist to topple the US Government? (They don’t).

    If we want to talk about inane, let’s talk about Sterling’s weak piece that waffles on about all the nice white people he knows. Awww. But hey, I guess we’re used to thinkers having no idea what goes on outside their international airport bubble. Julian Assange is widely supported worldwide and Sterling has shown himself to be interested in freedom that doesn’t rock anything other than toy or virtual boats.

    • mdh says:

      You know, Bruce Sterlings opinion on his friends, world politics, boats, and other things he hasn’t had an influential and generational role in romanticising bores me too.

      • seanbedlam says:

        I wouldn’t say Bruce Sterling bores me but he goes on and on like a bonghead looking for the elusive Point.

        • mdh says:

          I, for one, never use ‘inane’ to mean “a presentation i am actually interested in and agree with”. If I seemed confused, perhaps it was your choice of words.

  31. gmoke says:

    “Ideally, you’d want to stay small enough to preserve a sense of community, so that people’s ties to one another and the leadership act as a powerful check against leaking.”

    Suspect that would be around the Dunbar’s number, between 100 and 230, commonly seen as 150. An example might be SRC, a worker-owned company that practices and teaches open book management, where everybody in the firm knows the relevant financial numbers. They thrive by remaining small and spinning off new businesses, generally at the level of 250 workers:
    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/business/jan-june10/makingsense_04-28.html

    I learned from Clay Shirky that the limit is not so much the actual number of people but keeping track of the various relationships between all those people. So the limit is less about 100 to 230 people but 100 to 230 combinatorial: 4005 to 26,335 connections, respectively, or the 11,175 connections among 150 people. Thinking on the scale of connection rather than node (people) is a significant shift in perspective. I wonder if this integrates with the idea of svelteness in Constructal Theory.

  32. Tony says:

    I think this whole Wikileaks business is nothing more but a storm in a teacup. There are of course a few people(there always are) who like to blow it out of proportion and who are driven by personal motivations to do so. However, most people on this tiny planet either don’t know about Wikileaks or simply don’t care. Why the fuzz? All that Wikileaks does, is give us a view on behind closed doors politics as opposed to the public relations politics we see in the newspapers and on tv. I personally have not yet read these leaks and I have a very good reason not to: I don’t need Wikileaks to know that these things happen and happen EVERY day.

    what size organization is optimal for preventing leaks? answer: 1 person. If more than one person knows about something, it is no longer a secret.

    How can you prevent leaks? You can’t. The idea that leaks can be prevented is based on the illusion that information is something that can be controlled.

  33. gmoke says:

    My sense of what Bruce Sterling was getting at in his essay was that the process he has been watching (and participating in) since at least the 1980s has gotten out of control and that no one is free of collateral damage and no one is capable, now, of pulling it back into coherence.

    I found him to be less egotistical in his “name dropping” and more about trying to remind the readers that he has been chronicling this culture for decades and understands the mindsets involved. I’ve spent enough time with Chairman Bruce to know that he loves the sound of his own voice but he generally has something to say and can listen when you get a word in edgewise. The fact is that the community is still kinda small. Even a nobody like me can have spent time with Bruce Sterling, Jaron Lanier, and Clay Shirky. Hell, I’ve even had a couple of personal interactions with Stewart Brand. It’s a small world and, if you’re interested in these issues, you can meet these people in meatspace and get some sense of them personally if you are so inclined.

  34. Ito Kagehisa says:

    I thought “ball-less” was part of the definition of modern liberalism, not traditional liberalism.

    That’s why I’ve always considered Dennis Kucinich a traditional liberal.

  35. Goblin says:

    I just can’t get past the fact that these articles purposefully gloss over the fact Julien Assange is not an American. Has our country reached the point where “liberalising force” is now only wrought from the hands of non-citizens? Isn’t this just a bit too “liberal” even for most American left-liberals? Think about it, this is the insidious truth behind Wilkerson’s broadside.

    As I’ve mentioned before Assange has a power base that he cannot actualise beyond the Internet (Wilkerson references it as “hacker culture”) and he’s right (don’t forget the last time the “hacker culture” agitated, politicked, and burned like the autumn leaves; it was the TSA bit: and it was much more smoke then heat). This seems just as true now as it did then. No matter how sympathetic the American people are to the idea of an “Assanged transparency” they refuse to warm up to a non-citizen fomenting for the outright deposition of the government. I mean just think about it. Just think about how radical that sounds.

    Don’t get me wrong, this was bound to happen with the vast increase of communications over the internet; however, citizens of the U.S reject the idea of a non-citizen undermining the operating functions of their government. American’s as a body politic will only accept democratic changes from within its own society. Assange may indeed be a Promethean; just don’t forget that an eagle is going to gorge on his liver while he is bound to the 24 hour news-cycle.

    Seriously, you need look at the elephant in the room, Assange isn’t an American, and thus he has no true legitimacy with the American people. Without that legitimacy he cannot fulfill his objectives in the good faith of those he claims are his beneficiaries.

    • Abelard Lindsay says:

      I just can’t get past the fact that these articles purposefully gloss over the fact Rupert Murdoch is not an American. Has our country reached the point where “conservatising force” is now only wrought from the hands of non-citizens? Isn’t this just a bit too “conservative” even for most American right-conservatives?

      Fixed it for you.

      • Goblin says:

        You haven’t paid any attention have you?

        I’m no fan of Murdoch, but you’re purposely not reading what I wrote. It would be nice if you actually engaged with my argument rather then arrogantly thumbing your own political nose.

        I am sorry but you are going to have to come to terms with the fact that America has many diplomatic missions, and the fact that “liberal” or “left-leaning” statecraft more often then not involves a great deal of diplomacy. So you are saying we should undercut those diplomatic missions with petty revelations just because “information needs to be free”.

        Please realise this when I call your priorities into question, as a Nation you can’t have both a liberal-democratic geo-political posture (saving face for all parties) with a domestic or internationally syndicated feed of petty tabloid secrets (losing face).

        Think about it, Your tabloid insistence on undercutting the long running tradition of saving face during diplomacy is bound to ratchet up stress level between nations and this could lead to strife and state to state violence. I thought the Liberal-democratic idea of “diplomacy” strongly insisted that dignity be maintained among all the parties? Lets face it, truthfully, you can not both be the diplomat and simultaneously be the syndicated international tabloid. Your’s and BB’s conception of “liberalism” is very much at odds with itself.

      • mdh says:

        HAHAHAHAHAH. HAAAAAAAAAA. Thank you.

      • GregB says:

        “In 1985 Murdoch became a United States citizen to satisfy legislation that only United States citizens could own American television stations. This also resulted in Murdoch losing his Australian citizenship.” ->Wikipedia.

        BUT HERE’S WHAT’S REALLY STRANGE! In an article in The Australian, a national newpaper owner by Murdoch, titled, “WIKILEAKS deserves protection, not threats and attacks.” (see http://www.theaustralian.com.au/in-depth/wikileaks/dont-shoot-messenger-for-revealing-uncomfortable-truths/story-fn775xjq-1225967241332) the opening paragraphs say:

        “IN 1958 a young Rupert Murdoch, then owner and editor of Adelaide’s The News, wrote: “In the race between secrecy and truth, it seems inevitable that truth will always win.”

        His observation perhaps reflected his father Keith Murdoch’s expose that Australian troops were being needlessly sacrificed by incompetent British commanders on the shores of Gallipoli. The British tried to shut him up but Keith Murdoch would not be silenced and his efforts led to the termination of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.

        Nearly a century later, WikiLeaks is also fearlessly publishing facts that need to be made public.”

        In short, Murdoch Press says “Protect Wikileaks, It’s What Father Would Have Done”! (my summary)

        Methinks the hypocracy is astonishing.

        • turn_self_off says:

          I speculate that at least some in the news media see wikileaks as something other then what they themselves are. In much the same way that some of them do not want to talk about bloggers as journalists, as if it would dirty the title. Thing is that the two words press and journalist comes with a whole lot of political baggage. I guess one potential worry is that if anyone with a wordpress account can call themselves journalist, the whole legal system will come to a crashing halt. It was easy to claim freedom of the press when the press was expensive to obtain and maintain, and the distributed reach was short. Now anyone with a mobile phone can put pictures and text, perhaps even video, onto a server and have instant global reach.

    • seanbedlam says:

      “Assange isn’t an American, and thus he has no true legitimacy with the American people.”

      You want to be the Global Superpower? Turns out the Globe has a few things to say about that. Sorry.

      • Goblin says:

        You want to be the Global Superpower? Turns out the Globe has a few things to say about that. Sorry.

        When did I imply that America was anything but another country doing the exact same thing that other countries do. My argument has nothing to do with your view of the United States and everything to do with the customary way countries interact, which is through an ambassador with the process of diplomacy.

  36. Teller says:

    “This will result in smaller, more humane organizations.”

    No. Wrong. Same-size, more defensive organizations. Please stop with the dreamy aspirations of WikiLeaks. This is not Gladiator and Julian Assange is not Russell Crowe.

  37. George William Herbert says:

    As an aside -

    Even in the expert journals, you find arguments over and opponents of excessive classification and secrecy. This is not a point which is restricted to government outsiders or those outside the policy elite and looking in, as it were. The disadvantages of excess and inconsistent secrecy to smooth and reliable and fair and open operation of large government and bureaucratic entities are known.

    It’s somewhat of an IBM problem, though, in the “Nobody ever got fired for marking something TS” sense…

  38. Anonymous says:

    Wikileaks is an Indication of the ‘Jumping Jesus Phenomenon’, the bigger the dump, the bigger the jump!

  39. Laroquod says:

    I have never found any of Bruce Sterling’s essay-style writings particularly rational or insightful (though, because of that, I probably haven’t read as many of them as I ‘should’), and I’ve always wondered if I am the only one who perceives Bruce as someone whose reasoning is too infected by the desire to cop a certain attitude, to really be useful for any other purpose than throwing another decal on his public image.

    So, I wasn’t too surprised at all to witness his essay on Wikileaks and Assange wandering straight into the territory of trying to manufacture a counternarrative that portrays the culture in such a way that he can look down on it.

    Seriously, who really cares whether these people are the sorts of people Sterling would have hung out in the basement with — people aren’t made by cookie cutters so ‘these are my people’ is really no better an argument than one based on nationality or race: it’s an incredibly dull bit of perceptive logic, and no basis whatsoever on which to form an opinion about any individual on this planet.

    I’m sorry, maybe one day I’ll regret saying stuff like this, but Bruce’s essay is just totally soft-minded and prejudicial — let’s all stop giving Sterling a pass for this kind of stuff that we would nail any other writer for. Sterling engages in this sort of thinking for too often to be persuasive as a futurist.

    My guess as to the way Sterling comes to his conclusions is to decide what attitude would play the best and loosely fit people’s impressions of a topic, and the to launch into one of his arias in which everything and everyone is execrable in someway except his own point of view.

    Paul.

  40. Stephen says:

    “This is something conservatives and the left-libertarian netariat alike can hate equally: government growing in dumb, relentless symbiosis with the bureacracy of its own secret bullshit.”

    Precisely. WikiLeaks is Conservative/Libertarian. It is not liberal or progressive.

    Assage hates America almost as much as Rumsfeld or Cheney.

  41. Anonymous says:

    Liberalism is a core value in the US Democracy. A funny thing: so is transparency. Yeah, some things need to be kept “classified,” but when governments are misrepresenting their people, so much so, that insiders feel the need to leak these secrets, they need to these “secrets” shoved in their face. The people need to be screaming, “WTF??” That is, they need to be asking “Why all the secrets? What has the DEA been up to in the world drug trade? Why do my tax dollars have to go towards the CIA investigation of these leaked secrets by your insiders with the creation of the ‘WikiLeaks Task Force’?” I’m glad that people in other nations around the world are coming up with their own websites for “leaks.”

    Anyway, this story is what you make of it. I’ve shared several links to new blogs on this topic, including this one. Check out my bledit to learn more on WikiLeaks. This is an important world event! http://bleditor.com/bledit.php?bleditID=15532

  42. humanresource says:

    Its true that some fantasists think a single technology or group can change everything (for good or bad), but most supporters of wikileaks see it in far more nuanced terms, I think. As does Assange himself, if you read his essay etc – a point that Will Wilkinson makes when he asserts that Assange is rearticulating very old liberal values and acting on them. The fury directed against Assange by the Leaders of The Free World, for doing so, says a lot more about America than it does about Assange.

    As I see it:
    liberal democracy is a necessary but insufficient condition of any modern society worth living in,
    an informed public is a necessary but insufficient condition of liberal democracy,
    a very high degree of transparency in public affairs is a necessary but insufficient condition of having an informed public,
    widespread whistleblowing is a necessary but insufficient condition of said transparency,
    and wikileaks, given the bias and cowardice of the major media, is a a necessary but insufficient condition of widespread whistleblowing.

    • ophite says:

      Widespread whistleblowing is a necessary but insufficient condition of said transparency, and wikileaks, given the bias and cowardice of the major media, is a a necessary but insufficient condition of widespread whistleblowing.

      What Assange — and particularly Manning — are doing is not “whistleblowing.” Whistleblowing involves finding a wrong that’s being covered up and then reporting that wrong to the public. Indiscriminate release of secret documents isn’t “whistleblowing.” There’s some signal (outside the diplo cables, Frago 242 was definitely meaningful, and the Collateral Murder video was a meaningful datapoint in a known pattern) but there’s a vast amount of noise, released without forethought or knowledge of the consequences, or, indeed, even of the underlying reasons for the policy.

      And much of that noise has been released without any understanding of the effect it might have. There isn’t any goal, despite Assange’s self-righteous protestations to the contrary. It isn’t better policy. It isn’t a different place for America in the world. In the real world, the leak is both means and ends; the stated “end” of greater transparency and smaller organizations is unrelated by any rational mechanism to the means of diplo cable releases.

      • seanbedlam says:

        “Indiscriminate release of secret documents isn’t “whistleblowing.””

        You’re right, which is why Wikileaks aren’t doing that.

        • ophite says:

          You’re right, which is why Wikileaks aren’t doing that.

          Really? So, um, the meeting minutes from a relatively mundane disarmament pre-conference meeting involving no nuclear powers were released because… um…

          http://www.wikileaks.ch/cable/2009/05/09USUNNEWYORK497.html

          How is this even vaguely whistleblowing? It’s the sort of thing where (a) it’s understandable why it was classified in the first place, and (b) doesn’t even colorably disclose any misconduct by any government actor. It’s a relatively routine meeting involving discussion of nuclear secrets.

          Assange doesn’t have any responsibility not to release it, of course; he’s not an American citizen. But it’s not a public service to do so, and all it does is throw a totally gratuitous, though probably not terribly damaging, wrench into a set of disarmament talks.

          • humanresource says:

            “all it does is throw a totally gratuitous, though probably not terribly damaging, wrench into a set of disarmament talks”
            So… its not terribly damaging, but it throws a wrench into the talks? What does that mean? Meh or OMFG? It can’t be both…

          • ophite says:

            It gratuitously shits on US attempts to get Israel into line in terms of proliferation — which probably doesn’t have a fatal effect — without any sort of justification for doing so. Concealing our diplomatic strategy on nuclear policy seems like a reasonable thing for a nation-state to do. There’s no real justification for breaching classification here other than to breach classification.

            That’s precisely what I mean: the means and the ends are identical.

          • seanbedlam says:

            “all it does is throw a totally gratuitous, though probably not terribly damaging wrench into a set of disarmament talks”

            You need to work out whether this Wikileaks stuff is terrible or not-really-terrible. If it’s not really terrible you’re arguing about something that doesn’t matter. Why?

          • ophite says:

            You need to work out whether this Wikileaks stuff is terrible or not-really-terrible. If it’s not really terrible you’re arguing about something that doesn’t matter. Why?

            I… really don’t. Do I appear to be arguing that it’s terrible? Why do I need to take an utterly Manichaean view on whether Wikileaks is terrible? As a matter of fact, I think it’s not; there have been some somewhat bad consequences (pissing off disarmament negotiating partners) and somewhat good consequences (publishing Frago 242) to its existence, but it’s both perfectly reasonable that Assange would be publishing this sort of stuff and perfectly reasonable that US intelligence would be harassing him.

            My problem is that it doesn’t give a shit whether it’s terrible. It has no ethical perspective on classification and nobody with any relevant experience at determining whether good policies are being damaged by bad transparency.

            It’s mostly done grandstanding on the back of Bradley Manning’s enormous data dump. It’s poorly edited its information releases to avoid the murder of informants(1), revealed vast amounts of … stuff … which reveals the day-to-day dealings of people who have day-to-day dealings with classified information, and better-publicized some things which ought to have been paid better attention to to begin with.

            They don’t appear to be taking any special precautions that people don’t get killed. Which is a risk, when you’re dealing with issues with costs and benefits denominated in human lives. But they seem to think that classification is about ass-covering. Which, of course, it is, but there are also actual reasons.

            (1) No one appears to have gotten killed. Which is apparently because the Taliban hasn’t gotten things together in the way they thought they would; they originally thought it would be easy.

          • humanresource says:

            “It has no ethical perspective on classification ”
            As opposed to those who classify every damn thing? Who do you think benefits most from the secrecy, the torturers, crooks and warmakers, or the peacemakers? I suspect its the former group. I would err on the side of transparency, and release as much material as possible, and if it undermines the US negotiators, encourage the US to organise massive leaks among other countries. It surely can be done. Lets reduce the information asymmetry between governments, and between governments and their people, because the asymmetries play such a huge role in enabling abuse.

            Organisation and diplomacy, as I keep saying, will continue. These facets of human activity survived and prospered after the first great waves of liberalism surged across the globe in the enlightenment. They survived after Wilkes won the right to publish the transcripts of parliament, and after the US established the freedom of the press. As I said, the diplomats are flexible, and after temporary awkwardness, they will adapt – and perhaps realise how this transparency helps them transcend some of the endless games of Prisoner’s Dilemma that their profession is caught up in.

            It is not as if this is 1941, and keeping the Enigma Code secret at all costs is a matter of survival. Abu Gharaib is the more fitting image of secrecy in our time.

            Incidentally, its not wikileaks that stops the US changing Israel’s behaviour. Its the AIPAC-controlled section of Congress (basically, all of it).

  43. Anonymous says:

    The door to the Vault of Great Secrets was opened by a bright little soldier who was sick of watching officials lie online. He decided: “Screw everybody” and sent them off to Wikileaks.
    Leaks said: “What luck!…real secrets to splash around!” The secrets were not dangerous only painfully embarrassing like: ( “… a dead woman or a live boy in your room”)
    It was important that this door was opened not because the secrets themselves were important, but because of the unique power of petty embarrassment in government.(viz. the Clinton peccadilloes)
    It was important because it became clear that jounos would no longer use use their own sources and opinions. (Or were too afraid to.)
    It was important because as it all goes bad, we will understand how it all happened.Maybe there’s time to fix it.

  44. acb says:

    Interesting photo.

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