12-03-10 - WikiLeaks

I greatly admire what WikiLeaks is doing. Yes some of the things are not perfected, maybe they endangered some undercover operatives (a favored activity of our own government, BTW).

It's foolish and reductive to dismiss a major act of good just because it's not perfect. It's ridiculous to hold them to a standard of moral perfection.

I believe that our government is corrupt and immoral, and furthermore that the system is broken such that attempts to change it by legal means are hopeless. Any brave, moral, righteous individual should work to improve things by any means necessary.

The Obama administration had its chance to back out many of the evils of the last administration, and they have chosen not to. Let's do a quick review of what's wrong :

Independent reporters are not allowed to cover our wars.

Our government creates propaganda/policy reports and injects them into the press as if they were independent, using hired "experts" and fake reporters.

Our government blacks out documents that they are required by law to make public, even though they have no real national security risk.

Our executive branch refuses to comply with congressional subpeonas, in violation of the law.

We hold non-combatants prisoner and refuse to give them civilian trials.

We continue to extradite and torture prisoners.

The NSA continues to snoop on our communications.

The FBI continues to investigate peaceful antiwar activist groups.

Our government doesn't allow investigation into the several cases where we know that we tortured innocent civilians, or into the fabrication of the cause for war in the original Iraq invasion.

.. etc, etc. Our government has demonstrated over and over a lack of respect for transparency, the need to disclose their function to the scrutiny of the public, and international law.

You can no longer trust our government to tell us whether information really is a national security risk. They've cried that wolf too many times. You simply cannot trust them on that any more, they use it to hide their own illegal activity or simply politically embarassing activity, therefore any information is fair game.

Large companies (like Amazon, PayPal, Swiss Bank, Visa, etc) are cooperating with the government's attempts to shut down WL. WL is not charged with any crime, so these companies are under no obligation to cooperate with the government campaign for silence.

The mainstream media (like the NYT) is cooperating with the attempt to smear Mr. Assange as a weirdo, sexual criminal, subversive, whatever. He may be those things, but his personal character is not the issue. We should be talking about the content of the leaks and how our government continues to fail to stand up to the truth and account for its actions.

I strongly believe that the world needs a new internet. A free, open, shadow internet, that is entirely peer-to-peer and encrypted, so it cannot be blocked in Iran or China, so that governments cannot control what's posted on it.

I think that people using their computer skills to try to change the world for the better (whether you agree with them or not) is admirable, and to do so at serious risk to themselves is heroic.

I assume that WikiLeaks will be shut down at some point, but I hope that an even larger free-information movement rises in its wake.


John said...

I agree whole heartedly, and when are they going to tell us about the UFO crash at Roswell, that's what I want to know!

Thatcher Ulrich said...

I don't really agree. I see your point and there is certainly some good that has come out of essentially publishing diplomats emails to each other. On the other hand, I don't see the content of the leaks so far having much tangible effect or relevance to the evils you list.

Mostly it's just fucking irresponsible and ideological. You might as well just pick 10,000 people at random and publish all their emails, you'd get about the same amount of good, and the same amount of WTF chilling effect on people being candid with each other in email.

cbloom said...

"leaks so far having much tangible effect or relevance to the evils you list."

I meant those as examples of why "anything goes" is justified.

Of course this is just the beginning of underground news and hopefully it will get better.

What if during the run-up to the Iraq war, leaks were coming out in near real time ?

Also it's clear that in the future, small internet-capable video cameras will provide non-government reporting of places like afghanistan battlefields, north korea, etc. and the governments of the world will be trying to stop them (with cooperation from the major corporations of the world). Those people will need an uncensored place to upload.

castano said...

Thatcher, I think you are missing the point. The goal of the leaks is not to simply bring light to those evils in the hopes that the government will react and change the way it acts.

The goal is to reduce the efficiency of the conspiratory government by minimizing and slowing down its communications until it looses its ability to conspire.

Assange has written a few papers that that explain his goals and motivations, but have received little or no attention by the media. Here's a good overview.

I, for one, hope that this is just the beginning of a more generalized movement that it brings positive change in the way governments conduct their affairs.

cbloom said...

That zunguzungu blog is really good.

Thatcher Ulrich said...

cbloom: "What if during the run-up to the Iraq war, leaks were coming out in near real time?"

During the run-up to the Iraq war, Seymour Hersh was doing exactly that in articles in the New Yorker. (Well he wasn't real-time on all the intelligence shenanigans, but much more timely than the current WikiLeaks.) You could say that because his sources were anonymous "highly placed government officials", those who weren't inclined to listen didn't listen, and that people would have listened to WikiLeaks. I call bullshit on that -- Hersh has a long record of proven reliability. People not inclined to listen aren't necessarily swayed by facts. Just look at any public debate involving science (evolution, climate, etc) where primary information is freely available.

Also, the importance of the random low level secrets so far from WikiLeaks pales in comparison to what Hersh has uncovered. And Hersh and his sources are still going, unlike Assange who apparently has shot his proverbial wad.

cbloom: "I meant those as examples of why "anything goes" is justified.

Of course this is just the beginning of underground news and hopefully it will get better."

Yeah, in theory I can see something like WikiLeaks being a force for good. But I don't believe in "anything goes". Whistle-blowing comes with some strings attached, i.e. you should have some selectivity and discretion about leaking stuff that actually relates to evils being secretly committed, and tries to avoid compromising your sources. My objection is to WikiLeaks as it actually exists, which as far as I can tell has mostly been a publicity stunt, and a giant advertisement for plugging WikiLeaks.

castano: "The goal is to reduce the efficiency of the conspiratory government by minimizing and slowing down its communications until it looses its ability to conspire."

I don't agree with that goal at all, unless "conspire" is defined much more narrowly than "leak everything related to anything, because SOMEBODY SOMEWHERE is doing evil". I don't want my government's communications to be slowed down, when it is working lawfully and morally. If I have a tumor in some essential organ, I want the tumor excised, not the whole organ.

I haven't read the Assange article but thanks for the link; I'll read it and report back. Maybe it will change my mind.

Thatcher Ulrich said...

OK, I skimmed the zunguzungu post and the articles by Assange. I think it's pseudo-intellectual crap in the Eric Raymond mold. The emphasis seems to be on *how* to hamstring a bureaucracy. Which is fine, as a discussion of tactics. The underlying assumption, which isn't addressed in those papers, seems to be that every bureaucracy is a conspiracy, and ought to be hamstrung.

Maybe that is explained somewhere else, but if the conclusion is that the entire US diplomatic corp constitutes a conspiracy worthy of hamstringing, then I still disagree.

Aaron said...

Resistance/agitation of this kind doesn't need to be super rational or balanced or careful. That's the trap that left-leaning folks keep falling into.

Even Wikileaks has been super super overly-careful in their recent releases. They work really closely with NYTimes and other stogy old corrupt media to be very careful in their releases and not release anything too dangerous.

If the goal is agitation, you don't really need to be trying to push people where you want to go or to any specific place. You just wanna shake things up so that maybe some folks start thinking a bit more.

Here's a fun little speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-U_gHUiL4P8&feature=player_embedded

Aaron said...

Also as far as tangibles, there also has not been any tangible collateral damage against innocents from the Wikileaks. There's a lot of theorizing that 'oh people will be too careful what they say' or 'oh sources will be stoned to death in afghanistan', but it just hasn't happened to any significant degree.

The positive Wikileaks impact has been massive. People who never talked about this stuff are talking about it now. It's in the public eye. That's a massive accomplishment, with a very small or no harm done (certainly not much measurable, so far, and you can be sure the us gov is working as hard as they can to find examples of it causing harm)

Thatcher Ulrich said...

@aaron If you admit the possibility of good effects, I think you also have to admit the possibility of bad effects.

Re bad impacts from Wikileaks: some good diplomats will probably lose their jobs; there's a German staffer who has already been sacked (ironically enough, for leaking). Canada's ambassador to Afghanistan has offered to resign due to the leaks compromising his ability to do his job (ironically enough, pushing back against a corrupt election).

Some coverage: http://euobserver.com/843/31416

Certainly there will be other bad effects. I think diplomats not communicating with each other with appropriate frankness is a potentially massive bad effect, but not easy to measure.

Re possible good effects: I'm confident some will materialize. Maybe corrupt Berlusconi loses his job, etc. The public debate on secrecy etc is potentially productive but really second-order.

Different people will balance the pros/cons differently. But the negatives would have been so easy for Assange to mitigate, if he weren't a sociopath. WTF is the point of releasing a bunch of US-German diplomatic gossip?

Aaron said...

Yeah I probably didn't state clearly enough... there will (and have been) bad effects, just nothing that rises to the level of making the leaks not worth the good effects / pushing the debate in the right direction / getting people interested in this stuff again. On the 'diplomats won't talk' thing... those were just diplomatic cables. Any expectation of secrecy on those was always kinda silly (like writing email, thinking it's not gonna just be read by pretty much anyone with the means and skill to intercept it).

Ian Welsh is pretty great on wikileaks (if he doesn't depress the heck out of you). Esp this and this

Aaron said...

A couple more good ones.

Tom the dancing bug on Assange A bit of false equivalence but fun nonetheless.


A Bayesian Take on (teh sex charges against) Assange

old rants