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WikiLeaks, Security, and the Strange Case of Julian Assange – Green Dragon
Aug 202012

Art by Thierry Ehrmann via Creative Commons

A lot has been made of the uncharacteristic actions of the Swedish, British and US governments in relation to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Right now, UK military and police are laying siege to the Ecuadoran embassy in London, where Assange has been granted diplomatic asylum. Both the UK and US have declared that they don’t recognize the principle of diplomatic asylum…even though they’ve offered it to others in the past.

Clearly, they want this guy. A lot. And they’re willing to dispense with a considerable amount of well-established international nicety to get him.

I have no idea if the charges against Assange are true. If they are, he should be punished for them. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the siege in London and ongoing effort to bang up Julian Assange don’t have anything at all to do with them.

True or false, is is obvious that they are a pretext. Three governments do not go to the lengths of violating international diplomatic protocols and surrounding an embassy with an armed encampment to incarcerate a rape suspect if that suspect is an ordinary person. So something odd and unique is going on here, evidently rooted in who Assange is, the threat WikiLeaks presents to state secrets, and the nature of information Assange may have in his possession.

Opinions on this controversy—at least, as expressed on that paragon of diverse opinion, the Intertubes—seem to fall mostly to extreme ideological poles: either Assange (and Bradley Manning, who allegedly leaked a substantial body of classified military and State Department material to Assange) should be summarily executed as a traitor and a national security threat, respectively, or they are Whistle Blowing Heroes of a Free Information Age Being Oppressed By The Man, and should be set free with the thanks of a grateful world and a showering of marijuana buds.Yesterday, Assange spoke publicly for the first time in more than two months, calling for the US to call off what he described as a “witch hunt” against WikiLeaks, and characterizing Manning, if he did as he is alleged to have done, as a “hero” and an “example to us all”.

This is a complex situation, and both sides of the debate have some valid points. It’s one of those moments when ideals collide with practicalities, and there are never simple answers at such times. So here goes: my take on the whole WikiLeaks/Assange/Manning mishegas.

The undisputed facts are these: Bradley Manning or someone else provided Assange with 250,000 United States diplomatic cables (of which more than 53% are unclassified, 40% “Confidential” and 6% “Secret”), plus 500,000 army reports that came to be known as the Iraq and Afghan War logs and other classified materials. Much of this has now been released—some of it redacted to try to keep the really incendiary parts out, but let’s face it, it’s hard to know what is dangerous information when you’re not a member of the institution that created it.

I will not discuss Manning’s guilt or innocence here, or his treatment while in custody. That is irrelevant to what I am writing about here. Prisoners should be treated humanely, period. But that has nothing to do with the fundamental question of whether or not what Manning is accused of is wrong.

Some of the revelations emerging from WikiLeaks’ data dump of the leaked material have seriously embarrassed and hampered American diplomatic relations. Thousands of the military documents contained specifics about Afghans who had cooperated with US troops, giving names, locations, and ideological affiliations. It is certain that this has led at the least to intimidation of these Afghans and their families, and probably to violent reprisals. The Taliban has publicly said as much.

Release of at least some of this material also falls under a legitimate definition of whistle blowing. The so-called “Collateral Murder” helicopter video, for example, documents what is either a war crime or a tragic mistake. There isn’t any legitimate basis for classifying something like that; it was done, obviously, because it’s just easier to pretend the event didn’t happen. That’s not a valid rationale for classifying something. The American people have a right to know when those working on their behalf do something wrong.

So on the side of the Free Informationists, I grant this: abuse of secrecy happens. It is inevitable that entities which have the power to put information under wraps will use that power to avoid embarrassment, even if doing so is only for their own convenience, rather than in the genuine interests of security. That’s just the nature of power, and it is something that will always seesaw as public accountability and governmental fiat come into conflict over time.

But in the case of the Manning/whoever data dump to WikiLeaks, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of secret communications between military leaders and embassies and their command chains in Washington.

Is there stuff in there that doesn’t need to be secret? Sure. But the more pertinent question is whether there is material in the leaked documents that is deservedly classified and should remain secret, and the answer to this, clearly, is also yes.

Living here in Fortress America, and having experienced only two significant attacks in living memory—both of which lasted but a single day, and involved thousands, not tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths—it is easy for many Americans to make the mistake of thinking this whole national security thing is just a paranoid scam to feed defense contractors and put the rest of the world under the American boot to as great a degree as possible. As with most conspiracy theories, there are kernels of truth to this belief.

Broadly speaking, however, it is wrong.

It is a dangerous world out there, and there are those who mean us harm. I don’t dispute that some of them have legitimate grievances, but I think it’s fair to say that while we might prefer that they pursue nonviolent resolution of those grievances, they don’t always agree. Who can blame them? The perceived threat of violence is sometimes the only leverage the powerless can muster, and the world is awash with military-grade weapons.

Security of the citizenry is the first and most fundamental charge of a national government. Check your Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: if you’re dead, you can’t very well worry about your self-actualization. And while I’m the first to grant that we devote grossly excessive amounts of our national treasure to defense, that does not mean that there is no need for defense at all.

The need for security is real. Not the pretend security theater of taking your shoes off at the airport—that’s a joke, a psy-ops charade to make people feel safer—but real security. Intelligence gathering. Understanding the nuances of the changing conditions in volatile areas where we have citizens and interests, and tracking to as great a degree as possible those who either explicitly mean us harm, like Al Queda and the Taliban, or who intend to undermine and usurp American positioning and replace it with their own, like China and Russia. Those aren’t empty exercises, and the threats they seek to defuse aren’t myths. They exist. It is a necessary function of our government to make sure those activities take place.

Sadly, homo sapiens doesn’t give peace a chance. S/he competes vigorously for land, resources, energy, and positioning. It’s always been true, and it always will be. It is how we are made.

In order to reduce the resultant bloodshed as ever-climbing populations struggle over ever-dwindling resources, over the centuries humans have developed protocols and rituals of international diplomacy and cooperation. It’s a system that works—not all of the time, but more often than not. So long as they are connected in this way, nations may express their displeasure with one another through all manner of symbolic gestures that don’t get anyone killed before considering military action. By expressing mutual respect and opting for talking about our differences as a first option, we avoid a great deal of potential armed conflict.

This shouldn’t be an alien concept for liberals who are upset about the arrests of Manning and Assange; indeed, many of them are the very same people who reacted with outrage when George W. Bush threw out the tradition of diplomacy first and asserted pre-emptive war as a first option.

The system of protocols and relationships that constitute international relations depend on the ability of the diplomatic corps to maintain a polite and respectful face towards nations to which they are deployed, while simultaneously doing the necessary work of reporting truthfully on conditions in these nations to decision makers in their own countries. Think of it as the “mother in law” strategy: the best way to meet the interests of all concerned is to keep smiling and be civil.

If they knew that their communications were subject to public exposure, diplomats would have to keep up those pretenses when reporting back to decision makers at home. But decision makers need the unvarnished truth, not pleasantries. If all information were subject to airing at any time, diplomats would have to play make-believe constantly to keep from embarrassing their host countries and undermining our interests. Meanwhile, our strategic decisions would be made on the basis of Disneyfied versions of what was going on in these countries, instead of the truth.

Oh, and thousands of our soldiers would die, too, because we’d be broadcasting our military plans to anyone who wanted to hear them.

It would be nuts.

Enter WikiLeaks, the radical theory of which is that “information ‘wants’ to be free”, and there should be no secrecy, period. So any information you can get your hands on from a government or corporation is fair game to pop up on the Internet for all the world to see.

It is an explosively dangerous idea. And I do not mean that in a good way.

Think about it for a minute. Think about what the world would look like if that vision were true. Do you want your boss to know your sexual proclivities? You want your neighbors to have access to every detail of your private life? Would you wear a t-shirt that read, “my credit card number is…”?

Of course not. There is information that does harm when it becomes public. And this is even more true for a nation-state, with its constellation of thousands of relationships and agreements, than it is for an individual.

I should mention, BTW, that I find it rather bizarre that many of the organizations and activists most upset about governments’ hostility to WikiLeaks are also those adamant about rights of privacy. At root, they are exactly the same principle: an entity, be it a person or a nation state, will have information it necessarily needs to keep to itself. And it needs to have the right and power to do that.

Sunshine and shadow must necessarily be balanced. You need the former to have an accountable democracy. But you need the latter to survive in the world, and it behooves us not to forget it.

WikiLeaks by its very nature violates that balance. By going overboard on the whole “no secrecy” thing and making no distinction between revelations of criminality and revelations of private or diplomatically or militarily sensitive information, WikiLeaks and Julian Assange are squarely in the wrong.

Whistle blowing relates to crime. It doesn’t mean you can just air anything you can get your hands on. It cannot possibly be considered acceptable to do what Bradley Manning has been accused of doing. It’s wrong, and it’s dangerous.

So I’m afraid I don’t buy either Assange’s self-aggrandizing characterization of himself as an innocent victim or his facile framing of the wanton theft and distribution of state secrets as heroic. Whoever stole those cables and war logs is a criminal…and so is Assange, for releasing them.

By doing so, Assange may have looked really punk-rock to those who are enthused about poking Power in the eye, but make no mistake: he endangered lives, and may well have ended some of them. It’s nearly certain that in those cables is information which can be sifted and distilled to identify American information sources and agents who are undercover in other countries. No nation state can be expected to indulge the willful publication of this sort of information: it constitutes a survival threat for its citizens and its infrastructure of international information-gathering: the infrastructure that helps us to avoid going to war.

This brings us back to the Siege of London. It is quite clear that the UK and US view Julian Assange as a dangerous man. They can’t be going to all this trouble about WikiLeaks per se, or just to make an example of Assange, because other such sites have already sprung up on the Internet. That genie is out of the bottle for good. Yet they’re still on the verge of literally invading the territory of another country in order to get him, willing to flout those diplomatic niceties—granted, in relation to Ecuador, which doesn’t have much power to push back—in order to do so.

The only way these actions make any sense is if Assange still has in his possession unreleased information which these governments believe will be profoundly harmful if revealed.

And here is where things get sticky, because at this point, principles—like, say, due process, equal treatment under the law, &c—run up against practicalities, like we have to get control of this guy and make sure that information doesn’t get out, by any means necessary.

What they say about principles is that they are the things you choose to uphold even when they are inconvenient…otherwise, they’re not principles. I agree with that.

On the other hand, in most cases that apply to you and me, we carve out convenient loopholes in our principles from the outset. We’re not supposed to kill one another, for example, but oh, in self defense that’s not the same thing at all. See? Special dispensation.

And we expect our government to operate in this incomprehensibly complex, shifting and fractal world as if there are bright-line differentiations between right and wrong, all the time? When not too infrequently, it is forced to choose between actions which are all pretty lousy?

A bit naive, perhaps.

Our government did not choose this situation. It was placed in this predicament through the commission of a crime which would have resulted in its perpetrator being summarily executed at pretty much any time in history prior to this one, and the irresponsible ideology of a zealot. Now it has to choose from a crummy menu: take the damage from revelation of the information Assange is keeping as his hole card, or flout some rules, step on some toes, and try to grab the mad bomber before he can press the detonator.

Unsurprisingly, it has chosen the latter. It is not going to allow its personnel, resources and strategic positioning to be seriously wounded without trying to stave off that result.

Personally, gotta say I don’t have a big problem with that.

Imagine, for instance, that among the hundreds of thousands of documents stolen and given to WikiLeaks is a list of undercover agents operating on behalf of the United States in China. Hundreds, say, of names and contact protocols.

Releasing that list wouldn’t just kill a bunch of people (though it would certainly do that). It would devastate our capacity to gather intelligence in the nation which unquestionably poses our greatest economic, military and international relations challenge for the foreseeable future.

If that is the kind of thing that is at stake, ignoring a few international social niceties to keep that from happening and take down the guy who has proudly admitted that he deliberately gouged our national security in the name of his wacky philosophy doesn’t seem like that terrible a thing to do, if you ask me.

In the era of the mobile phone video camera, WiFi and Twitter, you can’t just black-bag someone famous and make them disappear. That’s good: I’m glad that is true. I’m glad we have access to a great deal more information, and that we can use technology to make witnesses of us all, to seek to crowdsource that the powerful shall be accountable. And I’m a complete believer in the nobility and sanctity of the whistle blower in revealing criminality, corruption or dealings that undermine the public interest for private gain.

But that isn’t what’s going on here.

When someone behaves like a toddler waving a gun around, with thousands or even tens of thousands of lives potentially at stake, you do what is necessary to get that situation under control.

I’m not saying this is easy, pat, or comfortable. The issue is complicated, and there are no simple answers.

But in my view, putting the black hat on the UK and US governments is inappropriate. They wouldn’t be in this situation if they weren’t confronted with a fanatic bearing a powerful weapon to which he should never have had access. Ideal, meet real.

At publication, the Dragon was DEADLY SERIOUS

  8 Responses to “WikiLeaks, Security, and the Strange Case of Julian Assange”

  1. Hmm. Well, I salute your effort, and being more nuanced than most is a virtue. But I’m unconvinced by your conclusion.

    WikiLeaks has a long history (so I’m told; I haven’t read the whole archive) of redacting their releases so as to minimize damage to legitimate security interests. You flatly contradict this distinction; I’d like to see some evidence.

    If only the diplomatic corps was as discerning. The rate at which documents have been classified has increased exponentially in the last decade. A democracy can’t be run in secret, but that’s the trend we are facing. The security machine is out to defend itself, regardless of broader social impacts pro or con.

    So this is not a “toddler waving a gun around;” this is a teenager who knows where Dad actually goes when he tells Mom he’s “working late.”

    You impute a rationale to US/UK behavior for which there is no evidence. It makes no sense at all that Assange would be in a position where his freedom is a prerequisite for the data to be released. Surely, if there is such data. it’s already stored somewhere where his allies can access it. You can’t assume that the government has reasons that there is no evidence for, just to justify their behavior. If that kind of logic works, you’d have to support the whole PATRIOT apparatus. Shoes at the airport, indeed. However, we have lots of historical evidence that the security apparatus will protect itself at all costs, public interest be damned.

    The underlying problem is that WAY too much information is kept out of the public view, MOSTLY for the wrong reasons. Democracy cannot function this way, and the problem is worsening. If it comes down to risking a little security to rescue big chunks of liberty, I’d vote for liberty. So Assange and Manning are heros to me.

    Don’t let the National Security bugaboo overrule common decency. The whole War on Terror thing has already cost our society far more than the 9/11 attack did directly. The damage is ongoing, and open-ended. How will we ever fix this? A direct challenge to the secrecy apparatus is not the whole answer, but must be part of it.

  2. You seem to have missed parts of the piece. For example, I point out that if you aren’t the originator of sensitive material, you aren’t really in a position to know what would be harmful to release. Yes, WikiLeaks has tried, but it has screwed up, endangering thousands of Afghanis who have been helpful to US efforts there, and their families. This has already happened. Follow the links.

    You attempt to broadly categorize all of the material under one generalization about “a teenager who &c”. This is fallacious on its face, because–as I point out–the stolen data is diverse. The core point is that there IS data in the stolen material that would be harmful if released. It doesn’t matter if some of it is merely embarrassing. If ANY of it is harmful to release, my argument is valid. Bear in mind that more than half of the State Department cables were NOT classified as sensitive or secret. No one is arguing that those should be secret. We’re only talking about the parts of the data that were classified.

    You appear not to know the background of Assange’s behavior in relation to the data he is still holding. Some months ago, Assange released a PGP-encrypted 1.4 gigabyte file to torrent servers around the world, and threatened to release the key if the US or any other government tried to imprison him or shut down WikiLeaks. It was a clear hostage threat, and showed that my thesis both about the sensitivity of the data he retains and his willingness to release material that is harmful is correct.

    But my most fundamental rebuttal to your argument is that rhetoric about “the National Security state” and “secrecy apparatus” does not in any way undermine the fundamental need of any nation, and any military, to retain secrets. Which means that on its face, what Assange and WikiLeaks have done is–and should be–a crime. It is not reasonable to believe that anyone who can steal state and military secrets should then be allowed to publish them with impunity because of some unsupportable leap to the idea that this “finders keepers” approach to secret information will somehow increase governmental accountability.

    It won’t, and why would it? Governments will still need secrecy to function. Making behavior like that of WikiLeaks allowable will simply lead to them doubling down on security measures to keep information from leaking. You’ll get more secrecy, not less.

    I grant in the piece that security overreach and classification abuse are problems, Of course they are. But arguing that the solution is wanton theft and revelation of whatever secrets someone can dig out makes absolutely no sense, for the reasons I articulate. You are not in a position to make sweeping claims about your willingness to “give up a little security” to allow the likes of Assange to operate, because you have no idea what is in the data in question or the impacts if it is released. It is far more likely that the impact of releasing that data will be to intelligence sources and personnel than to you personally. If you’re saying that you don’t care if others are killed because Assange stole their names fair and square, I don’t find your willingness to gamble with their lives a very worthy argument.

  3. First and biggest: Perhaps Assange is not perfectly positioned to judge the security risks in the material entrusted to him for release. But the people who classify it in the first place are the WORST judges to get the last word. Have we learned nothing from the Pentagon Papers? The secrecy business is running rampant. We have no ideal solution for this problem, but when someone finds a weak spot in the monster’s armor, that’s something to celebrate, not attack.

    While the Security State is working itself into a killing rage over the breach, nothing has been done to bring the documented criminals in uniform to justice. Killing civilians is okay. Talking about it is punishable in the extreme. Is that what you are paying taxes for?

    You say revealing embarassing information will not improve government accountability. Well, then, what will? Keeping it secret??? Punishing whistle-blowers under false pretenses (or while they are awaiting trial)? Sorry, I disagree.

    The problem is a cultural divide between those who read Orwell’s 1984 as a *warning*, and those who read it as an instruction manual. We are being asked to take a stand.

    Your hostage metaphor seems a bit confused. The “dangerous” (to whom, I wonder? I recall a threat to embarass a major US bank) story is ready to be leaked, and will be if… what? If Assange is allowed to go free, you first suggested. Or, if he isn’t, according to your follow-up response. No wonder the security establishment is upset. They must have control, or else!

    If Assange is a dangerous criminal with a hostage, as you portray him, then let him be brought to justice under a real indictment, not this phony “let’s talk about your sexual affair” cover story. (I admit I really don’t get why Sweden is allowing its justice system to be dragged into this quarrel. Admitting that I don’t know everything is a recently-acquired skill for me, so I have to show it off a little). Yes, there will always be laws against revealing legitimate state secrets. So, invoke them against Assange, as they have been against Manning, and let an appropriate venue judge. No pre-trial punishment (prison conditions tantamount to torture). No phony sex charges. No embassy invasions.

    But due process is not good enough for the security freaks. They have to demonstrate who is in control. Room 101 is waiting for those deemed enemies of state security.

  4. First and foremost: your “first and foremost” assertion is nonsense. Only those who understand the implications of releasing a given piece of information can judge whether or not it should be released. Who else is going to do it: you, knowing nothing about what it means? This is obvious, and I’m surprised you attempt the claim.

    Your argument regarding the Pentagon Papers is a red herring, because it is not an apples-to-apples comparison. Do you actually know what they were? They were a study: a history of American involvement in Vietnam. They were not operational documents and they were only suppressed because they showed that the government knew it couldn’t win but was pursuing the war anyway. This is, of course, valid material for whistle blowing, as I clearly state in the piece, using the “Collateral Murder” video as an example. Operational military and diplomatic reports including intelligence sources are not in any way equivalent. Surely you see the distinction?

    You have distorted my argument in order to attack it. I never said “revealing embarassing information will not improve government accountability.” In fact, I said the diametric opposite. I carefully delineated the difference between embarrassing information and dangerous information which threatens lives, intelligence sources, or necessarily secret operational details. By choosing to ignore the difference, you attempt to defend a position under which, using your argument, it would have been fine for a 1945 Julian Assange to publish the Normandy invasion plans or a list of French Resistance partisans in a German newspaper. The idea is absurd. If you want to contend with my argument, contend with my argument.

    Much cloudiness gets raised by those who have a visceral anti-governmental impulse around this issue, and it tends to devolve into sweeping rhetoric about “the security state” and “Orwell” and “creeping fascism” yadda yadda, none of which is pertinent to my argument. I’ve said I support whistle blowing, but oppose theft and disclosure of information that genuinely needs to remain secret. I have acknowledged that classification abuse is a problem, but this in no way constitutes an argument that we shouldn’t have any. Ignoring the distinctions I draw, you instead choose to make the sweeping generalization of characterizing any use of governmental secrecy as Orwellian and inappropriate: a claim which anyone thinking for five minutes can come up with a dozen examples to refute.

    “Danger to who?”, you ask. Well, generally speaking to national security–which, as I establish, is a real thing, though your Sixties-Generation-Fortress-America mentality may not make you aware of it. More obviously, in most cases, knowing who would be put in danger would put those people in danger.

    That’s why secrecy is necessary. Do you think international relations is–or can be–all embassy balls and calm conversations over tea? Your emotional reaction to the concepts of national security and the necessity of intelligence gathering clouds your judgment.

    I’ve already addressed Manning’s treatment. It is irrelevant to this discussion. This is a discussion about whether or not the actions of the leaker–whoever it was–and Assange are acceptable.

    American charges are being prepared against Assange on these issues, and I agree that the sexual charge thing is Byzantine. My theory is that the US has not issued charges against Assange yet because his actions probably technically qualify for the death penalty, and that could complicate extradition from the UK and many other countries.

    I just don’t buy your simplistic Good Guys and Bad Guys argument, Hummingbear. The world isn’t like that. Do secrecy powers sometimes get abused? Sure. But they exist for valid reasons. Arguing that what the leaker and Assange did is acceptable or beneficial isn’t logical and does not fit the facts.

  5. Slow down, there, partner. You’re trying to leverage a nuanced point within a complex argument into an all-right/all-wrong answer. Can’t be done, and it’s embarassing to see it attempted.

    I don’t buy “simplistic good guys/bad guys” scenarios, either. But for all the careful distinctions you make in your exposition (and fall back on in defense of your argument), your conclusion is completely one-sided. We are to entrust the Security apparatus as the good guys, and endorse their power to label bad guys. Your conclusion does not call for any reform, any accountability. ANY group given the power to operate in secret will abuse that power, sooner or later. Maybe we can’t do anything about it, but I will not endorse it. And yes, I will cheer for those who resist this trend, no matter how doomed they are.

    You originally said, “Is there stuff in there that doesn’t need to be secret? Sure. But the more pertinent question is whether there is material in the leaked documents that is deservedly classified and should remain secret, and the answer to this, clearly, is also yes.”

    I agree that both answers are yes, but the “more pertinent” evaluation is what we have in dispute. Both are pertinent, and both need to be dealt with appropriately. Manning saw clear evidence of criminal behavior. Bringing this evidence out from under the cloak of secrecy was in the public interest (IMO). Many other revelations have been, as well. Were some damaging? Maybe. Public interest is a slippery concept; there is room for disagreement. Please don’t argue in absolutes, or seek a winner-take-all conclusion.

    Now, if the government showed any concern about bringing these crimes to account, as well as protecting legitimate secrets, I would respect that. By coming down hard on the leak and ignoring the original crime, they are legitimizing the abuse of secrecy, and forcing us to choose sides. I choose to support the disempowered against the abusers of power, especially when the alternative is to grant the latter even more power, with even less accountablilty.

    • Actually, no, Manning (presuming he did as alleged) did not see “evidence of criminal behavior” in the State Department communiques and military reports. He had no idea what was in them–he just grabbed them because he could. The only (possibly) criminal behavior he found was in the copter video. I have stated repeatedly that leaking the copter video was completely justifiable whistle blowing–it’s off the table, Hummingbear, and in no way supports the rest of what he (allegedly) did, nor does it in any way justify Assange’s posting one bit of the stolen material other than the video. The copter video is not evidence in support of your position, unless your theory is that it should be assumed that secret documents always contain evidence of wrongdoing…which is pretty damned flimsy.

      Yes: you have to trust people who have clearances you don’t have. Sorry, but them’s the breaks. They are assigned to do work on behalf of the public which requires them to hide things, and are in a position to know what needs to be kept hidden. You aren’t. The general public isn’t. They are accountable only insofar as their elected and appointed directors are held accountable, and that, I’m afraid, is as far as it can go. Accepting as some kind of prophylactic accountability measure the random opportunistic publication of what would inevitably sometimes turn out to be devastating secret information would render intelligence gathering and successful military activity impossible. It’s a silly idea on its face.

      I note that you have conveniently avoided dealing with the fact that your support for Assange’s actions would have provided an identical rationale for someone stealing and publishing the D-Day plans, and the fact that his leaks have ALREADY caused problems (intimidation at the minimum, but probably also deaths) in Afghanistan. Your position does not “support the disempowered”: it sent the Taliban to pound their door and/or shoot them, and their families.

      This is not a game, Hummingbear. This is deadly, deadly serious business. Until you can explain how your theory that we should accept and encourage random theft and publication of state diplomatic, intelligence and military secrets would not inevitably lead to exactly that kind of result, your argument is unpersuasive.

      And let me state categorically: I believe what the leaker and Assange did (and Assange continues to declare his intent to do) is far worse than what is shown on the copter video. It has the potential not only to cost an exponentially larger number of lives, but to endanger the security of the country as a whole going forward. Your priorities in this regard are backwards.

      What appears to color all of your posts here is a deep distaste for the fact that we even have a military, intelligence apparatus, or diplomatic corps, and perhaps even a skepticism that they are necessary. Sorry, but that’s the world. All nations have them, and with good reason: they need them. Such agencies require the ability to keep some information secret in order to succeed in their missions. As I’ve said before, I think WikiLeaks is terrific so long as it limits itself to evidence of crimes, corruption, or secret government action contrary to the public interest. The minute it moves into just throwing operational military and diplomatic documents on the Internet because it can, it loses all moral and ethical credibility.

      Finally, in re: the copter video: you keep calling that a “crime”. It is debatable whether or not it was a crime.. In your prejudice against the US government and the military, you appear to be unwilling to consider the possibility that it was a horrible mistake. Those happen…and when they happen in war, innocent people die. I don’t like it any more than you do, but just because it went on videotape doesn’t mean human error constitutes a crime. I have not drawn a conclusion either way, but I will say that those cameras the Reuters people were carrying look a hell of a lot like weapons to me.

  6. Well, Dragon, you’re right about one thing. I didn’t read your post carefully enough. That’s because I thought you would welcome a discussion based on real principles and varying social values. That would be the “high road” to engaging in debate (my term). But since you insist, I have to go back and parse more carefully. Dismantling rhetoric is what I consider the “low road,” but if I must:

    This is a complex situation, and both sides of the debate have some valid points.

    —So why do you shoot down every point I make, and attribute my position to anti-government bias?

    …some of it redacted to try to keep the really incendiary parts out, …

    —This is essential. Assange has no record of revealing or threatening to reveal sensitive military information, or other legitimate secrets. Yet later you insist on calling the revelations “random.” That’s unjustified, by your own admission.

    … is just a paranoid scam to feed defense contractors and put the rest of the world under the American boot to as great a degree as possible. As with most conspiracy theories, there are kernels of truth to this belief.

    —You don’t need a conspiracy theory to see the role that defense contractors, and, increasingly, security contractors, play in setting policy for “our” government. Yes, we need security… but why do we need more security than the next 25 most defensive countries combined? So we can invade Iraq and disarm their nukes, right?

    making no distinction between revelations of criminality and revelations of private or diplomatically or militarily sensitive information,

    —You previously conceded the opposite. If you can defend this assertion, go ahead, but it lacks credibility at this point.

    It’s nearly certain that in those cables is information which can be sifted and distilled to identify American information sources and agents who are undercover in other countries.

    —”Nearly certain” that information can be “distilled” by a movement in which literacy in English is at best scarce; that’s a lot of supposition. I don’t share your near-certainty. I’ll tell you what is certain: Dick Cheney engineered the relase of Valerie Plame’s identity as a CIA agent, to punish her husband for blowing the whistle on the phony “intelligence” about Iraq that Cheney wanted to promote.
    To put this in perspective: when people like Cheney had undisputable control of information, hundreds of thousands of innocent people died. Would I give up a few agents to prevent that? I think it’s a defensible moral choice.

    Imagine, for instance, that among the hundreds of thousands of documents stolen and given to WikiLeaks is a list of undercover agents operating on behalf of the United States in China. Hundreds, say, of names and contact protocols…..If that is the kind of thing that is at stake, ignoring a few international social niceties to keep that from happening and take down the guy who has proudly admitted that he deliberately gouged our national security in the name of his wacky philosophy doesn’t seem like that terrible a thing to do, if you ask me.

    —My imagination works just fine, but you can’t use an imaginary possibility and use it as a basis for a summary judgment — especially since your hypothetical defies WikiLeaks’ established pattern of NOT revealing this kind of information. This is the reasoning of a cop (or neighborhood watch volunteer) who shoots to kill because a stranger “might” have a gun or something. It’s a straw man of the most egregious sort, and unworthy of you. If your conclusion rests on this kind of reasoning, it’s worse than flimsy.

  7. 1) “This is essential. Assange has no record of revealing or threatening to reveal sensitive military information, or other legitimate secrets.” FALSE, as noted above. In fact he has gone out of his way to do so, setting an encrypted digital data bomb to try to protect himself. Are you reading this comment thread?

    2)”You don’t need a conspiracy theory to see the role that defense contractors, and, increasingly, security contractors, play in setting policy for “our” government. Yes, we need security… but why do we need more security than the next 25 most defensive countries combined? So we can invade Iraq and disarm their nukes, right? ” NON SEQUITUR. This is nothing more than an apology for your embrace of conspiracy theory. The size of the US defense budget is entirely off-topic to this discussion. Here is a very simple version: having a military, diplomatic corps, and intelligence apparatus is necessary (its scale is immaterial to that fact) for the security of the country. If you dispute this, we have nothing more to talk about. It is obviously impossible to have these without their having the ability to hold some information secret. Supporting the behavior shown by the leaker and Assange renders this effectively impossible. Assange, having already revealed some information that caused outrage among some of our partner nations–leading one of them to expel our diplomats– revealed other information that revealed the names, locations and affiliations of Afghan citizens cooperating with US efforts, and threatened to dump everything if not left alone, has shown disregard for this principle.

    3) “You previously conceded the opposite. If you can defend this assertion, go ahead, but it lacks credibility at this point.” FALSE. See above. Not only did I not concede this, I have established that Assange cannot possibly have known what was okay to reveal.

    4) “”Nearly certain” that information can be “distilled” by a movement in which literacy in English is at best scarce; that’s a lot of supposition.” ILLOGICAL. The communications in question were classified as sensitive and secret, and we can already see from the damage done by the ones that have been released that such damage can, indeed, be done. The only way this assertion makes any sense is if you presume that communications are classified secret essentially at random. We’re talking about 450,000+ diplomatic and military reports. It is INEVITABLE that material in some of them is stuff that is very important to keep under wraps. The fact that you dispute this undermines the credibility of your argument, going back to conspiracy theory, and the rhetoric about Cheney &c (which has nothing to do with US diplomats’ and military commanders’ reports, and never did) reinforces the point.

    5) ” WikiLeaks’ established pattern of NOT revealing this kind of information…” FALSE, as established earlier in multiple parts of both the original post and this comment thread.

    What you seem to miss in all this, Alan, is that I have not made one tiny statement that I support the bulk of US foreign policy, or that I like the war in Afghanistan, or any such statements. This conversation isn’t about any of that, and you keep trying to drag it in with florid rhetoric about Orwell and Cheney. Your hostility to the branches and functions of government we are talking about is seriously torquing your ability to think straight about this.

    If your belief is that leaking of sensitive information should be encouraged because it will cripple American ability to conduct diplomacy, intelligence, and military activities, I challenge you to just come out and say so. Because that is certainly what it sounds like. You don’t want these functions to work for the United States, because you don’t trust the Cheneys &c &c (Plame and the “hundreds of thousands”, BTW, are again complete non sequiturs.)

    Personally, I think that a strategy as primitive as encouraging the “monkeywrenching” of the international relations–indeed, the peaceful, diplomatic ones!–of your own country, in a nuclear armed world, is a dangerous, foolhardy approach.

    The fact is that the people you can’t stand are not the functionaries who gather this information and analyze it and interpret it and make recommendations based on it. Those people–the diplomatic corps, the intelligence community and, indeed, the bulk of the military brass–are patriotic people doing a job, and doing it to the best of their ability. When those institutions do wrong, it is because the political appointees that direct them have commanded them to do so. When you put Eliot Abrams in charge of Central American affairs, guess what? You get Iran/Contra. That isn’t the fault of the guys in the State Department who worked under him.

    You appear to operate under the wholesale supposition that all levels of these institutions are doing wrong, and must be exposed. As I have exhaustively demonstrated, this is an unsupported assertion and behaving as if it were true would have serious–sooner or later, catastrophic–results.

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