State Power and the Response to Wikileaks

by Henry on December 8, 2010

The US response to Wikileaks has been an interesting illustration of both the limits and extent of state power in an age of transnational information flows. The problem for the US has been quite straightforward. The Internet makes it more difficult for states (even powerful ones such as the US) to control information flows across their own borders and others. It is much easier than it used to be for actors to hop jurisdictions by e.g. moving a particular Internet based service from one country to another, while still making it possible for people across many countries to access the service. This makes it much harder for the US and other actors to use the traditional tools of statecraft – their jurisdiction does not extend far enough to stop the actors who they would like to stop.

However, there is a set of tools that states can use to greater effect. The Internet and other networks provide some private actors with a great deal of effective transnational power. Banks that operate across multiple jurisdictions can shape financial flows between these jurisdictions. Information companies may be able to reshape flows of information in ways that advantage or disadvantage particular actors. These private actors are often large, relatively immobile, and partially dependent on state approval for their actions. They thus provide a crucial resource for states. Even if states cannot directly regulate small agile actors outside their jurisdiction, they can indirectly regulate them by pressganging big private actors with cross-jurisdictional reach. A few years ago, the US found itself unable to regulate Internet gambling firms which were based in Antigua and selling their services to US customers. But the US was able to tell its banks that they would suffer legal and political consequences if they allowed transactions between US customers and Antiguan gambling firms, helping to drive the latter out of existence.

This is the topic of my least cited article evah (PDF), where I argue that:

states are not limited to direct regulation; they can use indirect means, pressing Internet service providers (ISPs) or other actors to implement state policy. For example, states might require ISPs to block their users from having access to a particular site, or to take down sites with certain kinds of content. More generally … a small group of privileged private actors can become “points of control”—states can use them to exert control over a much broader group of other private actors. This is because the former private actors control chokepoints in the information infrastructure or in other key networks of resources. They can block or control flows of data or of other valuable resources among a wide variety of other private actors. Thus, it is not always necessary for a state to exercise direct control over all the relevant private actors in a given issue area in order to be a successful regulator.

And this is exactly what the US is doing in response to Wikileaks. I have no doubt that it was US political pressure which caused Amazon to stop hosting Wikileaks, EveryDNS to break Wikileaks.org’s domain name, eBay/Paypal to stop facilitating financial transactions, Swiss Post to freeze a Wikileaks bank account (in perhaps the first instance in recorded history of a Swiss bank taking residency requirements seriously), and Mastercard and Visa to cease relations with it. This is unlikely to affect the availability of the information that Wikileaks has already leaked. But it may plausibly affect the medium and long run viability of Wikileaks as an organization. This will be a very interesting battle to watch.

Crossposted (with very slightly different text) from The Monkey Cage.

{ 177 comments }

1

Daragh McDowell 12.08.10 at 7:18 pm

Interesting piece, but seems to have already been surpassed by events somewhat – namely Mastercard and other corporations who are playing ball with the US are now apparently under co-ordinated online attack in something called ‘Operation Payback.’

IMHO, unless the US government and its agencies can offer some form of credible defence against this kind of retaliatory effort, its rapidly going to lose its ability to pressgang large private corporations who will weigh the possibility of long-term consequences of refusal to co-operate with the state vs. the certainty of immediate consequences if they agree, and risk pissing off DC rather than 4Chan and Anonymous.

At the risk of reigniting arguments on the prior thread, I still think that ‘Private corporations acceding to pressure applied by governments which are at least theoretically held accountable by democratic mechanisms’ is a far preferable state of affairs than ‘Private corporations acceding to pressure applied by loose-knit bands of internet activists held accountable by nothing.’

2

AntiAlias 12.08.10 at 7:31 pm

Anon scarier than the US Gov?
Good one.

3

Daragh McDowell 12.08.10 at 7:36 pm

Anon scarier than the US Gov?

In terms of its ability to credibly threaten near-term actions that will negatively affect the profits and share price of major US corporations? Yes.

4

Henry 12.08.10 at 7:42 pm

As someone who studies this stuff _a lot_, I can confidently predict that any firm weighing up the consequences of displeasing the US government, versus displeasing a bunch of fourteen year olds with notoriously short attention spans, is happily going to go with pissing off the dudes at /b. Even _if_ 4chan instamagically became a real organization that could coordinate long term action, it is not able to mount investigations, issue subpoenas requiring you to testify, introduce unpleasant laws, and all of that other good stuff. Taking down a website for a couple of days isn’t a serious threat in comparison. Trust me. I have talked to these people and have a good idea of how the world works for them.

5

Barry 12.08.10 at 7:48 pm

Daragh McDowell, weren’t you ‘outta here’ a while back?

6

Straightwood 12.08.10 at 7:54 pm

Daragh seems to have trouble grasping the concept of the rule of law. Since Magna Carta, there have been significant legal checks on the powerful to prevent things like summary execution and arbitrary imprisonment. Whatever your opinion of Wikileaks, it is clear that the repressive measures applied against them have been illegal. The US government had no legal right to compel Amazon, PayPal, Mastercard, and Visa to shut off services to PayPal.

What the USA is telling the world is that anyone who annoys the government will be crushed by whatever means necessary. This situation is far more repugnant than any imagined misdeeds of Wikileaks. The US government launched a criminal war of aggression in the face of unprecedented massive worldwide protests. The US government broke decades-old laws and treaties against torture with impunity. Now it claims the right to declare anyone on earth an “unlawful combatant” and imprison or kill them without due process of any kind. Calling this rogue state “theoretically democratic” is a bad joke.

Daragh can save a lot of typing by plainly stating that he equates might with right. He may be surprised by the consequences of applying this primitive standard to the current conflict.

7

AntiAlias 12.08.10 at 7:54 pm

He’s back to warn us against anarchists with torches!

8

Jurgen Stizmuller 12.08.10 at 7:57 pm

Anger’s probably not a good descriptor of what motivates a clan than would just as soon swarm Habbo Hotel and punk a Time Magazine poll as zap MasterCard. I’d go with lulz.

9

Daragh McDowell 12.08.10 at 8:01 pm

@Henry – fair enough, and/but given the US Senate’s previous profiles in spinelessness when tackling actual problematic behaviour by the credit card industry or other major financial organisations, I’d find that conclusion genuinely somewhat surprising. I’d also be interested to see how that calculus changes if said 4Chan goblins manage to mount sustained attacks that lead to Mastercard encountering significant difficulties, up to and including an inability to process 20-30% of transactions for say, a week. That’s a lot of money on their part, and given the degree to which DDOS and other attacks can be automated a relatively small amount of effort on Anonymous’s. Additionally since such actions would doubtlessly generate a LOT of press, I doubt the ADD factor is going to be a major one. But to be clear, I defer to your expertise and judgement.

@Barry – if reading opinions that are *shock* different from your own may I suggest you simply not read my comments?

10

SamChevre 12.08.10 at 8:02 pm

Whatever your opinion of Wikileaks, it is clear that the repressive measures applied against them have been illegal. The US government had no legal right to compel Amazon, PayPal, Mastercard, and Visa to shut off services to PayPal.

But the US government didn’t compel them; it just encouraged* them.

This isn’t a new problem: it’s a long-standing piece of libertarian critiques of government action, and it happens a lot. Just off the top of my head:

The encouragement to health insurers not to state that the additional coverages in the health reform bill affected premiums.

The encouragement of businesses to cut off legal defense funds, and access to exonerating materials, from former employees accused of facilitating tax evasion.

The encouragement of careful speech on sexual and racial issues by pretty much everyone, via “it’s not illegal, but it would be very unwise for anyone to employ you”.

There are some cases of actual compulsion (transaction reporting requirements), but the governments ability to encourage things they can’t legally compel is quite a long-standing problem.

11

Daragh McDowell 12.08.10 at 8:07 pm

Daragh can save a lot of typing by plainly stating that he equates might with right. He may be surprised by the consequences of applying this primitive standard to the current conflict.

Oh FFS. You have no idea what my opinions on Iraq, Afghanistan, torture or US foreign policy in general are (Oppose, Oppose, Oppose and find largely has a malign effect on human well-being, FWIW.)

As to the rule of law and accountability – this is precisely what I’m concerned about. As bad as I find the actions of certain governments, I recognise that there are at least mechanisms for influencing those actions, and that the leaders of the state wikileaks has been most interested in targetting are accountable to an electorate at regular intervals. How does one influence the behaviour of wikileaks, reform its internal mechanisms etc.?

I’m interested in accountability and transparency on behalf of the people who claim they are serving those two idols, not worshipping the latest left-wing cause de jour.

12

Henry 12.08.10 at 8:08 pm

Daragh – if they want to try and disrupt actual transactions, as opposed to bring down websites, then very good luck to them. Transaction processing is resilient in ways that is going to be very, _very_ tough for script-kiddies. I’ll be startled if they can do anything much. They don’t have the expertise.

Straightwood – there are some tricky questions here about what governments can or cannot do – but trying to use backdoor means to ‘persuade’ private actors to do stuff for you is a pretty standard part of the armamentarium of the US and other governments for better or for worse. It usually just doesn’t receive as much publicity.

13

Substance McGravitas 12.08.10 at 8:08 pm

if said 4Chan goblins manage to mount sustained attacks that lead to Mastercard encountering significant difficulties, up to and including an inability to process 20-30% of transactions for say, a week. That’s a lot of money on their part

Also they have sharks with lasers on their heads.

14

Daragh McDowell 12.08.10 at 8:12 pm

@Henry – Apologies: from the news reports I’d been reading at the Grauniad I’d thought they’d actually managed to do just that. Cheerfully withdrawn.

15

Straightwood 12.08.10 at 8:16 pm

How does one influence the behaviour of wikileaks, reform its internal mechanisms etc.?

How does one influence the behavior of FOX News or reform its internal mechanisms? It’s not a big concern of mine, because the Rupert Murdoch does not have nuclear weapons, airborne divisions, and torture facilities. In a world in which nation states effectively control the commercial press by multiple means, what is so threatening to you about an independent source of FACTS that cannot be censored?

16

Barry 12.08.10 at 8:27 pm

” In a world in which nation states effectively control the commercial press by multiple means, what is so threatening to you about an independent source of FACTS that cannot be censored?”

I believe that Daragh is connected to the Irish government in some way? It’d certainly explain a lot if he was a paid poster. And he’d be quite eager to slander a sourve of information which wasn’t under Commonwealth truth suppression libel law.

17

Bruce Baugh 12.08.10 at 8:28 pm

For a little while now, I’ve been expecting some 4channers to die at the hands of the police. I do think it’s just a matter of time – the cops will be sent to arrest them on this charge or that and they’ll do something construed as resisting arrest, and then they’ll be tasered to death, or shot, or suffer death from the denial of medication while in custody, or whatever. This is not something that 4channers can readily do to many Feds in return.

18

Daragh McDowell 12.08.10 at 8:33 pm

@Straightwood

Actually the power of Fox News to shape media narratives IS a huge problem, particularly its legitimisation in the popular discourse of the use of torture and the employment of airborne divisions against largely defenceless middle-eastern nations. Its why I favour rigorous press regulation by the state, and ideally national broadcasters along the lines of the BBC.

19

Henry 12.08.10 at 8:35 pm

Barry – that is not helping things. Daragh is connected to the Irish government in precisely the same way and to the same extent as I am – he has an uncle who was once a member of it. While I don’t agree with much of what he has been arguing over the last day, I submit that accusations that someone is a paid troll should be reserved for situations when there is, like, actual evidence that someone is a paid troll. And I’ll be thanking you while you’re at it not to be trying to police my comment sections for me.

20

Emma in Sydney 12.08.10 at 8:44 pm

Henry, evidence of someone being a paid troll is hard to come by, as it tends to be concealed. Perhaps an organisation that releases secret information might provide it? At the risk of policing the comments section, might I suggest to Daragh that zie goes over to Lawyers Guns and Money where zie will find zirself in violent agreement with the egregious Charli Carpenter, and then we can all be happy? Or perhaps agreement and discussion isn’t what zie is looking for?

21

Straightwood 12.08.10 at 9:01 pm

I favour rigorous press regulation by the state

Please tell us what your idea of rigorous press regulation by the state is, and why the state should be entrusted with this function. Please detail the highly important mechanisms by which the state ensures that it receives sufficient criticism and is fully exposed to embarrassments resulting in the dismissal and prosecution of powerful officials.

22

Daragh McDowell 12.08.10 at 9:10 pm

@Emma in Sydney – given that you’re declaring Charli Carpenter, a person who is cautiously supportive of Wikileaks and its model as ‘egregious,’ I don’t think ‘discussion’ as its regularly understood is what you’re looking for either.

@Straightwood – well I think the BBC, coupled with competing private entities is a pretty good model for a start, and given the career of Peter Mandelson its been pretty good at ensuring the dismissal, if not prosecution of the powerful when they abuse office. And I think the state should be entrusted with this function in a democratic society because the state is the only organ a) capable of doing so, b) accountable and responsive to the wishes of the populace through regular elections.

As to those suggesting that I’m a paid troll of the Irish government, might I humbly suggest that you read a newspaper? Turns out the Irish government is in a bit of a financial pickle at the moment, and probably doesn’t have money to lavish on paying people to post unpopular political opinions on moderately influential blogs for purposes unknown.

23

Jared 12.08.10 at 9:16 pm

WikiLeaks was itself the target of a DDoS attack a few days before they started releasing the cables. Which we can interpret as evidence that this tactic is probably not as effective as the financial pressures backed by the US government, and also evidence that not all the hackers are information anarchists.

24

Straightwood 12.08.10 at 9:23 pm

I think the BBC, coupled with competing private entities is a pretty good model for a start

How soon we forget. The BBC was publicly intimidated and humiliated in the Kelly (murder) affair, and it is vulnerable to funding cuts at the whim of the government. You will have to do better than that.

25

Daragh McDowell 12.08.10 at 9:34 pm

How soon we forget. The BBC was publicly intimidated and humiliated in the Kelly (murder) affair, and it is vulnerable to funding cuts at the whim of the government. You will have to do better than that.

Disregarding the fact that the Hutton reports account of Kelly’s death (which I thought was suspicious) seems to have been vindicated, you’ll note that said report was accompanied by a torrent of outrage among significant sections of the print meda, leading to widespread public doubt about the inquiry’s trustworthiness. Indeed said same public suspicion seems to have been the proximate cause of the decision to release the toxicology report etc

26

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.08.10 at 9:43 pm

You know what, I’ll second Daragh’s 9 “given the US Senate’s previous profiles in spinelessness when tackling actual problematic behaviour by the credit card industry or other major financial organisations, I’d find that conclusion genuinely somewhat surprising“.

I don’t think Amazon and others had to be intimidated. They know what’s good for them, and they don’t want their confidential memos to be published either. The gov’t may be coordinating, but I’m pretty sure no pressuring is necessary.

27

Straightwood 12.08.10 at 9:53 pm

Daragh@25

The BBC could not stop Blair’s poodle march to war. Wikileaks, had it existed at the time, could have stopped it by revealing Goldsmith’s declaration that it would be illegal. The BBC cannot effectively challenge the government that funds it, and existing private newspapers cannot effectively challenge a government that manipulates them by selectively granting and denying access to “newsmakers.”

Totalitarian states control their press by fiat. Pseudo-democratic states control their press by a combination of intimidation and access-control manipulation. Wikileaks is vulnerable to neither of these forms of coercion. The America “free” press was bullied and cajoled into supporting a criminal war of aggression in Iraq. To this day, the New York Times refuses to use the word “torture” to describe the criminal abuse of captives at Guantanamo, Bagram, and black site prisons – for fear of angering Washington politicians.

Wikileaks is a ray of hope in the gloomy prospect of an increasingly dysfunctional global journalistic establishment, and only the most obtuse and short-sighted observer would view them as a negative force.

28

Donald Johnson 12.08.10 at 10:00 pm

“As bad as I find the actions of certain governments, I recognise that there are at least mechanisms for influencing those actions, and that the leaders of the state wikileaks has been most interested in targetting are accountable to an electorate at regular intervals.”

Yeah, that’s worked out great. Start a war, commit crimes against humanity and maybe you’ll lose an election, though chances are it’s because the economy went down the tubes. Nothing better than accountability to the American electorate to keep the US from committing war crimes or supporting those who do.

29

Barry 12.08.10 at 10:09 pm

Sorry for any offence, Harry.

30

Barry 12.08.10 at 10:10 pm

(crap) Sorry, Henry

31

zhava 12.08.10 at 10:14 pm

Jared: “… not all the hackers are information anarchists.”

You got that right.

32

Henri Vieuxtemps 12.08.10 at 10:17 pm

American “free” press was bullied and cajoled into supporting a criminal war of aggression in Iraq.

…and I don’t think this is true either. The press is owned by large companies. The idea that the US gov’t is the boss to its vassal companies is not too convincing.

33

Tim Wilkinson 12.08.10 at 10:35 pm

Just to register that this will clearly be too irritating and unproductive to bother with. Police what you like.

34

zhava 12.08.10 at 10:38 pm

Daragh: “I’m interested in accountability and transparency on behalf of the people who claim they are serving those two idols, not worshipping the latest left-wing cause de jour.”

Hmm… left-wing causes de jour aren’t exercises in spin by men in suits who claim they are accountable and transparent while routinely doing the exact opposite. But we all succumb to a little naivety now and then.

35

Straightwood 12.08.10 at 11:01 pm

The idea that the US gov’t is the boss to its vassal companies is not too convincing.

The Bush administration repeatedly threatened the New York Times to prevent publication of embarrassing information. This week senator Lieberman suggested that the NYT had possibly broken the law, an obvious act of intimidation. The newspapers are owned by media conglomerates, whose profitability depends on regulatory and legislative actions of the government. In the run-up to the Iraq war media commentators who opposed the war were removed from prominent positions, and cheerleaders for the war were promoted and encouraged. The record is painfully clear: the American press failed to inform the public properly so as to prevent the greatest American military fiasco since Vietnam.

The US government can’t bully or coerce Wikileaks, and that is why they are doing everything they can to crush it. Fortunately, they can’t.

36

Daragh McDowell 12.08.10 at 11:09 pm

Hmm… left-wing causes de jour aren’t exercises in spin by men in suits who claim they are accountable and transparent while routinely doing the exact opposite. But we all succumb to a little naivety now and then.

Not sure where I claimed that they were, nor were (despite repeated assumptions that because I harbour grave doubts about the Wikileaks model, the priorities of Julian Assange etc that I am therefore a war-mongering neo-con) I gave western politicians the thumbs up and a clean bill of health. My main point of contention is, was and continues to be that they are still more accountable (and often transparent) in theory and in practice than Wikileaks, despite the latter’s assumption of the ‘right’ to make decisions as to whether private/confidential/whatever information should be released into the public domain.

@Henry – my Twitter feed and the Guardian are now reporting that the Anonymous people have managed to post credit card numbers and exp dates online, and the DDOS attacks are now disrupting payment mechanisms. Honest question – if this continues/intensifies when does the calculus for Visa and Mastercard shift in favour of appeasing the hacktivists as opposed to the US Gov?

@Tim Wilkinson – I’m crushed.

37

Substance McGravitas 12.08.10 at 11:10 pm

38

Henry 12.08.10 at 11:29 pm

Daragh – the point is that they haven’t gotten at the actual transaction processing networks and almost certainly can’t. They can disrupt the front-end processing for websites – but probably not for very long. Put it to you this way – this is not the first threat of this sort that these companies have faced, nor the last. Gentlemen with Russian and Ukrainian accents and dubious business pedigrees and access to botnets have been in the ‘give us lots of money or we will DDOS you’ racket for quite a long while.

If these attacks are successfully sustained for a significant period of time, I’ll be very surprised. If they prompt any actual backing down on the part of the companies, I will be downright astonished (and promise a CT humble-pie crow-eating post on the topic). Disaffected teenagers with downloaded scripts – even thousands of them (and I doubt there are more than a couple of thousand engaged in this at most) do not have the resources to sustain this, and are likely to find some quite unpleasant surprises waiting for them if they _do_ try to sustain it. The Glenn Reynolds ‘Army of Davids’ fallacy is still the Glenn Reynolds ‘Army of Davids’ fallacy. There are lots of interesting ways in which the existence of websites like Wikileaks, channels for distributed action etc complicate the lives of states – but they are going to be crushed if they try to go one-on-one _against_ powerful states. There is a lot of excitement and ill-informed speculation out there. Sarah Palin’s technology people have found out that the attacks are coming from the ‘wikileaks.org browser!’ But in the end, this is going to be a Twitter revolution type story. Not quite as much of a nonsense, if only because there is evidence that _some_ people were motivated by 4chan to do stuff. But not evidence of effective action, the world having changed or whatever either.

39

Straightwood 12.08.10 at 11:30 pm

Daragh @36

My main point of contention is, was and continues to be that they are still more accountable (and often transparent) in theory and in practice than Wikileaks, despite the latter’s assumption of the ‘right’ to make decisions as to whether private/confidential/whatever information should be released into the public domain.

You repeatedly assert a false equivalence between a sovereign government and a whistle-blowing information site. Wikileaks provides accurate information to the world so as to allow people to understand the reality of their existence. Governments, for a host of reasons, mostly bad, often suppress accurate information. For example, the US government was killing people in a secret war in Yemen and lying about it. Wikileaks revealed this information and now the American public can hold their government accountable. This is a good thing.

Let me emphasize this point in case you missed it: Governments routinely lie, and Wikileaks does not. You seem to believe that some magical “accountability” offsets the often bloody consequences of government lies. I would rather deal with unaccountable whistleblowers who prevent criminal wars than contemplate the theoretical accountability of war criminals like Bush and Blair after the bodies are counted.

Just what kind of “transparency” do you expect from Wikileaks and how would it possibly change the value of the information Wikileaks provides? What, exactly, would satisfy you regarding the operation of Wikileaks?

40

Nine 12.08.10 at 11:33 pm

“But it may plausibly affect the medium and long run viability of Wikileaks as an organization. This will be a very interesting battle to watch.”

Don’t have time to read Henry’s paper just now but one suspects that the way China humbled Google ought to provide clues as to where this sort of fight is headed.

41

Hidari 12.08.10 at 11:40 pm

‘But in the end, this is going to be a Twitter revolution type story. ‘

Ironically enough, Twitter has just suspended the Operation Payback account. I gather (could be wrong about this) that the DOS attacks were being co-ordinated via Twitter, timewise at least (the idea that there is a ‘movement’ ‘called’ ‘Anonymous’ is just typical arts graduate middle age middle class journalist bullshit: instructions as to how to join the DOS attack were clearly given on 4chan and I could have joined in had I so wished, and I am technologically illiterate. There is no ‘movement’).

So unless ‘Anonymous’ goes after Twitter (which really would be a big deal, but which would alienate much of their core support) I guess it’s all over. At least this phase of the, ahem, Infowar.

42

Daragh McDowell 12.08.10 at 11:46 pm

@Henry – to be clear after having nature of attacks/technical issues surrounding them clarified I tend to think you’re right. But I’m not sure that its wise to assume the action is coming in the main from a few thousand disaffected teenagers with downloaded scripts. The experience of dozens of large private entities that have invested massive amounts of money in ‘hackproofing’ their technology only to see their efforts be brushed aside within days also makes me generally sceptical about claims that such and such a technology cannot be overcome/breached.

@straightwood – Let me emphasize this point in case you missed it: Governments routinely lie, and Wikileaks does not.

You have *no way* of verifying the second part of that sentence for the very reasons I’ve cited as why I find Wikileaks troubling. And if you read back at the various excuses Assange gave when he found out that the Afghan war diaries had left key information unredacted, I think the kindest description that could be ascribed to his verbal gymnastics would be ‘dissembling’

43

Emma_in_Sydney 12.09.10 at 12:13 am

Daragh,
Straightwood’s point can be rendered as ‘How many divisions does Wikileaks have?’ This is the difference between the US government and Julian Assange. The tansk and drones, and hundreds of thousands of soldiers, and millions of people with security clearances and trillions of dollars and shit. One of these things is not like the other. One of these things is more dangerous to actual living human beings on the planet, and to the possibility of peaceful lives and democratic organisations.

44

MarkUp 12.09.10 at 12:16 am

The experience of dozens of large private entities that have invested massive amounts of money in ‘hackproofing’ their technology only to see their efforts be brushed aside within days also makes me generally sceptical about claims that such and such a technology cannot be overcome/breached. […] would be ‘dissembling’

To quote our Saint Ron, “there you go again.”

45

Daragh McDowell 12.09.10 at 12:33 am

@Emma_in_Sydney

Indeed they aren’t. One of those things has its divisions/tanks/etc. because when asked on a regular basis by way of elections what level they would like their taxes set at, and what they should be spent on, they choose to set them at a level and distributed in such a manner that a large military organisation is created and maintained as agents of state coercion. Part of the reason that large agents of state coercion are valued by citizens of democratic socities, is that a peaceful life and a democratic organisation are actually very vulnerable to disruption by determined minorities prepared to engage in unsanctioned violence. Enforcement of every aspect of democratic life from contracts to the outcome of elections at some point relies on a guy with a gun saying ‘I am empowered by the state and the elected representatives of the people to fine you, imprison you, and in extremis even kill you if you don’t follow the law.’ You might not like it. You might find it distasteful, but it is the only way the state as a political organisation has ever functioned and likely ever will. And the truth of the matter is that as far as oppressing, coercing and generally killing people the USA while possessed of a pretty bad track record I freely admit, is still infinitely preferable to the vast majority of its nation-state peers. Its just not so terribly fashionable to rage against how dreadful the situation in Xinjiang, or Kashmir or Rangoon is as opposed to attacking the good old USA.

Now if your beef with is with the state in toto that’s fine. But I defy you to come up with the sort of anarcho-syndacalist-whatever capable of even conceiving of the advances in telecommunications technology and infrastructure that makes Wikileaks possible, much less building it. Indeed I defy you to show me the anarchist society that can master indoor plumbing.

@Markup – He’s certainly not my Saint anything, but good to see you’re using the phrase as it was originally intended – a way to dismiss valid criticisms without saying anything meaningful or even addressing said criticisms at all.

46

Cian 12.09.10 at 12:47 am

I think Markup’s trying to gently tell you is that you should probably refrain from commenting on matters technical. Its clearly not your thing.

47

Straightwood 12.09.10 at 1:19 am

But I defy you to come up with the sort of anarcho-syndacalist-whatever capable of even conceiving of the advances in telecommunications technology and infrastructure that makes Wikileaks possible, much less building it. Indeed I defy you to show me the anarchist society that can master indoor plumbing.

Now we are getting somewhere. Daragh finds Wikileaks to be the thin end of the wedge of ANARCHY. He prefers the known evils of the nation state to any attempt at reform. This accounts for his curious lack of interest in detailing how Wikileaks ought to be run. He doesn’t want any challenge to the blood-stained nation states that he considers the final attainment of man’s political evolution.

48

SamChevre 12.09.10 at 1:33 am

Wikileaks provides accurate information to the world so as to allow people to understand the reality of their existence.

I think this is the crux of the disagreement.

I would say that Wikileaks provides factual information to the world, but it may or may not be accurate information; someone who has half the facts may be misinformed, well informed, or disinformed, depending on which half.

Whether WikiLeaks is providing complete-enough-to-be-accurate information, or all the information it has, or all the information that slants a particular direction, is not determinable. With the US government, I have some idea of what they are likely spinning/concealing; I don’t with WikiLeaks.

49

MarkUp 12.09.10 at 1:48 am

@44 but good to see you’re using the phrase as it was originally intended

Nah, afik, it was originally used by Tisquantum and spoke to Hunt upon his glorious return to his home village – there was a comma after “there” then too, but details are oft beat away with the bigger stick.

50

Straightwood 12.09.10 at 1:49 am

With the US government, I have some idea of what they are likely spinning/concealing; I don’t with WikiLeaks

A whistle-blower’s only protection is the truth. If a single instance of fabrication or deceit is discovered, it shatters the reputation and credibility of the whistle-blower. A government, by contrast, can lie at will, confident that a passive and cynical population will accept and repeat the lies. To this day, half of Americans believe that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks, an impression that was deliberately created by the war criminals of the Bush administration.

Nothing in the thousands of items disclosed by Wikileaks has yet been shown to be inauthentic or fabricated, while each day brings fresh revelations in the leaks of US government lies. To declare Wikileaks and the US government to be equally untrustworthy is ridiculous.

51

Emma_in_Sydney 12.09.10 at 2:12 am

To declare Wikileaks and the US government to be equally untrustworthy is ridiculous.
To declare Wikileaks and the US government to be equally ANYTHING is ridiculous, and yet false equivalences are being declared all over. Point them out and you get called an anarchist by Very Serious People. It’s all rather instructive.

52

geo 12.09.10 at 2:29 am

Daragh: My main point of contention is, was and continues to be that they are still more accountable (and often transparent) in theory and in practice than Wikileaks, despite the latter’s assumption of the ‘right’ to make decisions as to whether private/confidential/whatever information should be released into the public domain

I’m not sure I understand your usage of “accountable.” A government is, in theory and law, changeable by election at fairly long intervals and challengeable in court. In practice, both forms of recourse are weak and uncertain, since they take a great deal of time and, if seriously resisted by government, enormous resources. The extent to which those responsible for the crimes of US foreign policy in the second half of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st have passed without punishment or even censure suggests that democratic accountability is grievously lacking. But yes, the government is, in theory, accountable.

But it only confuses things to compare the government’s accountability to that of private citizens, as though comparing like to like. Unlike the government, Wikileaks is not a public body, is not publicly supported, does not act officially in its fellow citizens’ name. It must obey the law or be liable to prosecution; and it must exercise prudence and competence or be liable to criticism. Beyond that, it is not “accountable” to the citizenry in anything like the sense that a democratic government is.

53

john b 12.09.10 at 2:30 am

Point of order:

given the US Senate’s previous profiles in spinelessness when tackling actual problematic behaviour by the credit card industry or other major financial organisations, I’d find that conclusion genuinely somewhat surprising.

This analysis fails because it assumes the US government lacks the *power* to tackle card issuers, processors and other financial organisations. It doesn’t. It lacks the *will* to tackle them, except in situations which are important to the US government.

Yes, this implies that abusive lending is not viewed as an important problem by the US government, whereas making the US government look silly is viewed as an important problem by the US government. I think the appropriate expression here is “well slap me silly and call me Susan…”

54

christian_h 12.09.10 at 2:42 am

There is no democratic accountability of so-called democratic governments for the vast majority of their actions, for many reasons. There is certainly no democratic accountability for those actions they undertake in secret – I’d have thought this is somewhat of a triviality. This includes for obvious reason the absence of any democratic accountability for the extent to which governments keep their actions secret. the only way any accountability for actions the government wishes to keep secret, as well as for the extent of the secrecy itself, can be achieved is precisely through whistle-blowing – ie, making what the government wants to keep secret, public.

Yet the self-appointed champions of democratic accountability here are opposed to exactly this only possible mechanism for enabling populations to hold their governments democratically accountable for the actions they wish to keep secret. (Obviously information is far from sufficient to introduce any real democratic accountability – in my own view there is practically none outside of a few very extreme cases, eg Nick Clegg selling out to the Tories and such stuff.)

55

John Quiggin 12.09.10 at 3:01 am

I think there are clear distinctions between the Antiguan gambling case and Wikileaks. In the gambling case, US law prohibited certain financial transactions, and US state authorities threatened to prosecute financial enterprises that facilitated those transactions through their US operations (that is, they took money from customers within the US, then transferred it to the Antiguan counterparty – the first half of this being a domestic operation). I can’t see any difference, in principle, between this case and one where the US prosecuted a US trucking company that carried illegal imports from a US port to the ultimate consumer.

In the Wikileaks case, there has been no charge laid against Wikileaks for anything, let alone a claim that donations to Wikileaks are illegal. Nor has their been any suggestion that firms providing services to Wikileaks could be prosecuted. Rather, there have been unspecified threats leading firms to decide that dealing with this organization is a bad idea.

56

Henry 12.09.10 at 3:12 am

John – this isn’t quite right for some interesting reasons. In the earlier part of the story, US law _did not_ unambiguously prohibit financial transactions that banned Internet gambling. First Eliot Spitzer in NY state, and then the Department of Justice engaged in some highly creative reinterpretation of US law in order to threaten sanctions against credit card companies and reach settlements. My understanding is that the US authorities’ case was an extremely weak one – and much of what drove the credit card companies to settle was worries about reputational issues, and most of the rest of it had to do with their own legal perplexities (e.g. a gambler who refused to pay her credit card bill on the basis that the credit card company had aided and abetted illegal activities, and hence the debt was unenforceable). Then of course, we did see legislation thanks to the Abramoff weirdness, and a whole different story began …

57

LFC 12.09.10 at 4:19 am

Straightwood @35: the American press failed to inform the public properly [before the ’03 Iraq invasion] so as to prevent the greatest American military fiasco since Vietnam

This failure of much of the press was its own failure; it cannot be blamed primarily on government intimidation, as Straightwood (wrongly) suggests. There were a few press organizations that did not succumb to the herd mentality on Iraq, including the Washington DC bureau of a Gannett-owned newspaper whose name is escaping me at the moment — and Gannett is hardly non-‘mainstream’ and should in theory have been just as susceptible to gov’t pressure as any other major news organization. The difference was that its journalists did their jobs properly whereas Judith Miller (for example) didn’t. This cannot be explained by government intimidation.

Incidentally, I heard part of an interview on Fresh Air today with David Sanger of NYT, and his view was that the wikileaks cables, at least the ones he’d read, actually put the State Dept in a fairly good light. Yes I know, he is not an impartial observer. But even taking into account the political differences between Sanger and Straightwood, they sound as if they’ve been reading two completely different sets of data.

The US has made a lot of bad foreign policy mistakes and committed outrages in recent years, esp under GW Bush, and I for one am very uncomfortable with its global military presence in the form of bases all over the world. The increased use of drone strikes and certain kinds of covert ops by the Obama admin is disturbing. But the picture Straightwood paints of US foreign policy is overdrawn. The US does not for example claim the right to declare “anyone in the world” an enemy combatant and kill or imprison them without due process. That is a wide overstatement. The asserted “right” applies only to those who have engaged, or plausibly are thought to be engaged, in certain kinds of violent activity.

Anyone who believes for instance that Ayman al-Zawahiri, a man who thinks nothing of blowing up embassies and other buildings and killing and maiming scores of innocent people (including those who were blinded by flying glass in the ’98 African embassy bombings) should not be on a “capture or kill list” is out of his or her mind. The fact that Zawahiri was tortured in an Egyptian prison many years ago does not excuse what he is now.

58

politicalfootball 12.09.10 at 4:21 am

Can we stop saying that Assange is unaccountable at least until he is out of jail?

59

Jim Johnson 12.09.10 at 4:30 am

My understanding that the authoritarian Joe Lieberman, in his capacity as chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, directly intervened to pressure Amazon on the Wikileaks connection. Can you say usurpation of poser?

http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/12/01/lieberman/index.html
AND
http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/12/02/censorship/index.html

And this morning PayPal execs admitted that the State Department pressured them to drop WL as well.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/dec/08/operation-payback-mastercard-website-wikileaks

So, Henry’s general claims are born out in the particulars here.

60

elm 12.09.10 at 4:45 am

christian_h: I think your account fails to consider the enormous power wielded by “national broadcasters along the lines of the BBC” and a rigorously-regulated press. I know I get all my news from Korean Central Television, Radio Free Europe, China National Radio, and Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. I think it’s obvious that state-owned broadcasters are the only possible legitimate source of news.

61

John Quiggin 12.09.10 at 6:20 am

Henry, I take your point about Internet gambling. I had assumed that a ban was in place, but this was incorrect. Nevertheless, there’s still a big distinction between threatening prosecution in a legal grey area (evident in the possibility you mention that debts might not be enforceable) and the use of naked political pressure to suppress political donations.

@LFC “The US does not for example claim the right to declare “anyone in the world” an enemy combatant and kill or imprison them without due process. The asserted “right” applies only to those who have engaged, or plausibly are thought to be engaged, in certain kinds of violent activity.” But since the US Administration claims that its judgements in this matter are unreviewable by any court, and that those mistakenly targeted have no right of redress, this asserted right does in fact apply to “anyone in the world” .

Ayman al-Zawahiri is under indictment for a variety of terrorist crimes – hence there is no breach of due process in putting him on a “capture or kill” list. But the US now claims the right to assassinate anyone, including US citizens, without laying any charge against them.

62

dsquared 12.09.10 at 7:35 am

In terms of its ability to credibly threaten near-term actions that will negatively affect the profits and share price of major US corporations? Yes.

MasterCard Inc 250.64
+3.86 (1.56%)
After Hours: 250.05 -0.59 (-0.24%)
Dec 8, 7:37PM EST

Priceless.

63

maidhc 12.09.10 at 8:53 am

LFC: I don’t see Joe Lieberman frothing at the mouth about David Sanger going on Terry Gross, and threatening to shut down PBS and the NYT. Why is that?

The secrets so far revealed seem pretty tame relative to the amount of hysteria generated, as one would expect from low-level secrets available to thousands of people with seemingly little or no physical access control.

But suppose that the leaks actually came from high up in the State Dept., to make themselves look good. Then there could be the potential of serious bombshells. The NYT can be relied upon not to reveal anything of serious consequence, but Assange is an unknown quantity; therefore he needs to be kept incommunicado.

To cite a similar hypothetical situation, LBJ asked the CIA to present an analysis of how Vietnam got screwed up. The CIA produced a report showing that they were right about everything and it was the stupid politicians who messed up by not listening to the CIA. But what good is that when it’s so secret that only a handful of people can read it? So the Pentagon Papers appear in the NYT (a paper widely claimed to have close CIA ties).

One flaw in this theory is that I don’t see any particular motivation for the State Dept. to perform such a maneuver at this time. They were seriously weakened during the Bush administration, so you would think that early in the Obama administration would be the time to try to regain lost ground.

Also, considering the number of scandals that have already come to light without generating much reaction, it’s hard to imagine what such a potential bombshell would be. Even the real secret files on the Kennedy assassination would be greeted with yawns these days.

There are some potential important secrets that could be imagined, like the US having a mole on Putin’s staff, but revealing a secret like that wouldn’t have any benefit for the State Dept.

64

maidhc 12.09.10 at 8:57 am

I meant NPR, not PBS.

65

Zamfir 12.09.10 at 9:12 am

Some people in the Anon DDos likened their attempt to a sit-in. There is something to say for that, in more than one way.

If sit-ins took place in the same illegality as DDoS attacks, they would be just as vulnerable to hired goons with bigger muscles as amateurs DDoS attacks apparently are to counterattacks from the pros.

But I can imagine that the general public will at some point see such amateurs DDoS attacks the way people sometimes see striking truckers who block roads: annoying, but sometimes justified. If perceived as justified, use of force to remove them is then seen as unacceptable, and prosecuting them for blocking a road would cause outrage.

Under such circumstances it might work as pressure measure. If people are confident that they are doing the right thing and won’t be prosecuted, the number of participants might grow to real “movement” levels.

66

Pete 12.09.10 at 10:25 am

“Wikileaks, had it existed at the time, could have stopped [the war] by revealing Goldsmith’s declaration that it would be illegal.”

I’m skeptical about that. It wouldn’t have affected the US’s decision to go to war, and once that happened the UK government would have gone along with it.

67

dan 12.09.10 at 11:01 am

Priceless.

Hahahaha, goddamn.

68

CaptainMongles 12.09.10 at 11:12 am

None of this bullshit matters.

69

Tim Wilkinson 12.09.10 at 12:14 pm

Sam Chevre @48:

Whether WikiLeaks is providing complete-enough-to-be-accurate information, or all the information it has, or all the information that slants a particular direction, is not determinable. With the US government, I have some idea of what they are likely spinning/concealing; I don’t with WikiLeaks.

I think this is right, and is relevant in the specific circumstances of the latest batch of leaks, which is alnomalous. This batch (a few specifics apart), is very much like a dataset that gives an overall impression, which can be tweaked effectively by biased selection. (Obviously the cables themselves are subject to this, as I’ve pointed out before – as well as being based on what the diplomats are allowed to know, there is plenty of self-censporship, selection bias, fixing evidence around the policy, etc).

This differs from the standard model of whistleblowing, which is based not on a kind of quasi-statistical overview, but on single assertions which can stand alone and speak for themselves. (Obviously these could be defeated or undermined by some conceivable further evidence, but basically they are smoking guns – deductive rather than inductive evidence, you might say.) Even the Afghan dump (or the Pentagon Papers) were of the deductive kind – the revelations were simply numerous rather than cumulative.

That is not the case here, and that is a big change, which in conjunction with the concomitant unclarity of exactly what is being leaked, and (what so far appears to be) the rather convenient nature of the content for the US, provides some (perhaps rather slim, I can’t decide) grounds for suspicion about their origin.

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Straightwood 12.09.10 at 1:42 pm

A simple thought experiment can help cut through the fog of polemic surrounding Wikileaks:

Assume Assange had Wikileaks up and running during the “marketing” of the Iraq war. Assume also that Wikileaks had disclosed documents revealing the dissenting views of the world’s intelligence agencies undermining the WMD case for war. Assume also that these disclosures prevented Bush from accomplishing the destruction of Iraq. Would Wikileaks then have served the public interest?

The ability of the US Government to conceal inconvenient information and manipulate domestic and foreign opinion was essential to its ability to launch a criminal invasion of Iraq. The criminal torture of captives by the US was similarly enabled by the curtain of “national security” secrecy protecting the torturers. In both cases, an organization like Wikileaks could have stopped or ameliorated the terrible consequences of the secrecy-enabled crimes.

The USA (and other governments) want to crush Wikileaks and intimidate all other such organizations, because the power of government leaders depends on their ability to conceal and manipulate information. Those who attack organizations like Wikileaks are allying themselves with authoritarian governments with a proven record of corruption, torture, and murder.

71

daelm 12.09.10 at 1:51 pm

“Straightwood – there are some tricky questions here about what governments can or cannot do – but trying to use backdoor means to ‘persuade’ private actors to do stuff for you is a pretty standard part of the armamentarium of the US and other governments for better or for worse. It usually just doesn’t receive as much publicity.”

hence the enormous value of the wikileaks enterprise.

d

72

LFC 12.09.10 at 2:11 pm

John Quiggin @61 — you have a point, and the case for example of the cleric in Yemen who is a US citizen and now subject to a US assassination order gives one pause. This could be a longer discussion, but I’m probably not the best person to conduct it.

maidhc @63 — in fact Lieberman apparently has made threatening noises about investigating the NYT to see whether it might have committed criminal acts. (He seems to have gone off the deep end on this, even by his standards.)

73

SamChevre 12.09.10 at 2:12 pm

Assume also that these disclosures prevented Bush from accomplishing the destruction of Iraq.

This is a rather large assumption, as the disagreement of other countries with our intelligence was hardly a secret in the run-up to the escalation of the Iraq war. (I am entirely unwilling to grant that blockading and occassionally bombing a country doesn’t count as war.)

74

daelm 12.09.10 at 2:31 pm

has bearing on the claims of conspiracy:
http://rixstep.com/1/20101202,00.shtml

has bearing on the validity of the claims overall:
http://rixstep.com/1/20101202,01.shtml

d

75

mds 12.09.10 at 2:41 pm

Can we stop saying that Assange is unaccountable at least until he is out of jail?

Yeah, why did he surrender himself to the police, rather than invoke diplomatic immunity? It’s a poser.

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Straightwood 12.09.10 at 2:41 pm

This is a rather large assumption

I think you are having more trouble with the conclusion that Wikileaks might have stopped the Iraq war than with the assumption that secrecy was critical to enabling it. Recall the extraordinary government efforts to suppress the dissents of Kelly in the UK and Wilson/Plame in the US. The revelations of Kelly and Wilson threatened to halt the war wagon, and thus they were suppressed by all means necessary. Similarly, Wikileaks is now under attack by all available means because it threatens the ability of the USA, and other governments, to plunder, torture, and kill with impunity.

There is a double argumentative game being played here. At the same time that it is maintained that, among intelligent and well-informed people, “everybody knew” that Bush was a liar launching a criminal war, the polling data show that a consensus had effectively been crafted favoring war, and that sufficient numbers of the public had been effectively deceived. You can’t argue both positions.

Wikileaks is a HUGE threat to authoritarian governments, and that is why enormous efforts are under way to shut it down.

77

Daragh McDowell 12.09.10 at 3:32 pm

Here’s a different thought experiment that might be more useful. Suppose an organisation of similar composition and goals as Wikileaks existed, but either through accident or design was primarily in the business of accomplishing political objectives that you yourself find objectionable.

For example, in Straightwood’s case, suppose prior to the Iraq war Wikileaks had been given a load of Iraqi cables/documents/whatever that painted the Saddam Hussein regime in an even more negative light and strengthened the case for war. Suppose even that these documents were released without ANY political agenda in mind but rather in the service of total transparency. Would you still be taking to the electronic barricades to defend them?

78

SamChevre 12.09.10 at 3:39 pm

At the same time that it is maintained that, among intelligent and well-informed people, “everybody knew” that Bush was a liar launching a criminal war selective with his facts in escalating an ongoing war, the polling data show that a consensus had effectively been crafted favoring war, and that sufficient numbers of the public had been effectively deceived. You can’t argue both positions.

OK, now I’m thoroughly confused.

The information that other country’s intelligence services and some US analysts disagreed with the intelligence Bush was relying on/promoting was widely available.

The information that some people thought the war (both ongoing and as escalated) was criminal/foolish/ill-planned was widely available.

In spite of the availability of that information in every newspaper in the country, there was a consensus favoring war, and many people were extremely ill-informed.

I’m completely not seeing where secrecy comes in here, or where that’s an inconsistent argument.

79

dsquared 12.09.10 at 3:39 pm

In your hypothetical, who exactly are we defending them against?

80

Daragh McDowell 12.09.10 at 3:46 pm

In your hypothetical, who exactly are we defending them against?

Either annoying fellow blog commenters like me who continue to have have doubts about Wikileaks for accountability/legitimacy reasons, or a major state instituting the same kind of financial/legal pressure to disrupt its operations as the USA is now apparently doing. Take your pick.

81

Straightwood 12.09.10 at 3:52 pm

Here’s a different thought experiment

Daragh seems to have some basic thinking problems. Tendentious leaks have been a political tool since ancient times. But a whistle-blowing organization’s credibility would be destroyed instantly as soon as selective or misleading leaking was detected. (Hint: you don’t have to use deception to make war criminals look bad)

A major axis of infowar strategy against Wikileaks is to plant the seed of doubt that the leaks are tainted, slanted, or otherwise untrustworthy. Cui bono? Obviously those who wish to discredit the very idea of an honest whistle-blower. Similarly, honest individual whistle-blowers in employment disputes are immediately attacked as “disgruntled” people with “a chip on their shoulder.” These are standard tactics used by the corrupt against the honest.

Daragh puts up an insuperable hurdle of proving that Wikileaks is totally, absolutely and impeccably faultless, and, absent this proof, defending manifestly corrupt and criminal governments against the sinister anarchic threat of “unaccountable” whistle-blowers. How utterly absurd.

82

dsquared 12.09.10 at 3:52 pm

Well if someone was being suppressed by a major state, then yes I definitely would be “manning the barricades”. However, of course, if there had existed these secrit documents which massively strengthened the case for the Iraq War, then I might have been more in favour of that War. I think this hypothetical needs a lot more work, and suspect that it might be unsalvageable.

83

dsquared 12.09.10 at 3:54 pm

(to expand: Daragh, the trouble with your attempted gotcha-through-hypothetical is that you need to construct a case where a load of secret documents were released which were massively unfavourable to my political views, and yet where I retained the same political views, even though they had, ex hypothesi, been undermined by your hypothetical documents. Can you see why this dog isn’t going to hunt?)

84

politicalfootball 12.09.10 at 4:00 pm

Suppose even that these documents were released without ANY political agenda in mind but rather in the service of total transparency. Would you still be taking to the electronic barricades to defend them?

Well, total transparency isn’t what Assange and Wikileaks advocate, nor does it characterize how they behave. This is something you’ve invented – much like Assange’s lack of accountability.

But yes, it’s transparency that I favor, not a particular political outcome. After all, I favor political outcomes based on the information that I have. Different information would change my beliefs – that’s exactly why I find it valuable.

85

MarkUp 12.09.10 at 4:02 pm

Imagine, Daragh McDowell, a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. A middle-ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, that lay between the pit of [wo]man’s fears and the pinnacle of his/her knowledge. Suppose if you will, that Mary Douglas and Rod Serling had a intellectual child together. [how] Could we assign blame to that risk?

One could Hope™ that WL would present the perfect model, but can you really expect it given the problem and the opponent[s] and the decision points which need to be made?

86

Salient 12.09.10 at 4:03 pm

painted the Saddam Hussein regime in an even more negative light

k, I’m with you so far…

and strengthened the case for war.

Buhhh? *head asplodes*

“This regime is even more corrupt and horrible than we knew affirmatively yesterday” does not strengthen the case for war. There was no case for war. It wasn’t just “their factual claims are bullshit.” It was “even if their wildly implausible factual claims are true, this is not a moral or legal reason for war.”

Before we dive too deep into the hypothetical — you do agree that the Iraq War was intentionally illegally prosecuted by the Bush administration solely for the sake of establishing an entrenched military presence in a region with valuable natural resources, yes? And that it was transparently obvious this was the only actual non-bullshit reason for invasion, yes? We’re in agreement it was blood for army-bases-close-to-oil?

Otherwise we’re just arguing about something else, dude, and using “hypotheticals” to distract away from one point of disagreement toward another is… well, it’s trolling. Don’t bring Iraq War hypotheticals into the mix unless you’re willing to agree with us about the Iraq War, otherwise you’re trying to argue with us about the Iraq War instead of about Wikileaks. Tread carefully here, k?

87

Straightwood 12.09.10 at 4:03 pm

I’m completely not seeing where secrecy comes in here

Perhaps you don’t recall how the US congress was not allowed to see the unredacted findings of US intelligence regarding WMD evidence. Perhaps you don’t recall that Saddam’s desperate last-minute attempts to negotiate to avoid war were kept secret. Perhaps you don’t recall that the unreliability of sources providing key WMD evidence was kept secret. Perhaps you don’t recall that Bush’s discussions with Blair about creating a provocation for a casus belli were kept secret. Perhaps you don’t recall the destruction of the waterboarding torture tapes by the CIA.

Bush and Cheney used every prerogative of state secrecy to advance their splendid little war, yet you imply that the war would have happened if all of their criminal schemes were made public knowledge. If so, they certainly didn’t act like it. An organization like Wikileaks could have prevented the Iraq war and enabled the prosecution of the Bush regime’s torturers, and that is why war criminals, and their enablers, want to destroy Wikileaks.

88

Ray 12.09.10 at 4:05 pm

For example, in Straightwood’s case, suppose prior to the Iraq war Wikileaks had been given a load of Iraqi cables/documents/whatever that painted the Saddam Hussein regime in an even more negative light and strengthened the case for war.

Gosh yes, now that you mention it, I’m sure there were loads of Iraqi documents out there detailing their continued WMD programme, and lots of atrocity stories that we never would have heard without some brave wikileaks-like organization.

89

Alex 12.09.10 at 4:15 pm

For the record, EveryDNS is providing service to Wikileaks again, for some values of Wikileaks – some of the now-numerous mirrors, including the Swiss one, are using them for secondary DNS hosting. This would tend to imply that the EveryDNS president was telling the truth when he said that they had turned off the original nameserver due to a massive and prolonged distributed denial-of-service attack, which was causing disruption to other customers.

It was rather surprising that they only had one nameserver, and that on a shared host, in the beginning.

90

Alex 12.09.10 at 4:24 pm

This C-NET story refers (Declan McCullogh).

91

Straightwood 12.09.10 at 4:26 pm

The central challenge of early computer engineers was how to make a highly reliable machine out of large numbers of unreliable parts. Fortunately, robust algorithmic methods were discovered for detecting and correcting errors, and this enabled us to enjoy the first fruits of the digital revolution.

What appears to be conceptually indigestible to cultural conservatives is that there could be a societal analogue to structural attainment of integrity in institutions. The emergence of organizations like Wikileaks is an early manifestation of digital society attempting to automatically correct error and falsehood. Unfortunately, unlike the case of the computer designers, powerful economic incentives oppose the extirpation of corruption and the abuse of power. Nevertheless, the extropic evolution of digital society continues relentlessly, with promising prospects of ever increasing transparency, and the consequent diminution of corruption.

Those seeking the destruction of Wikileaks are fighting a doomed rear-guard action. The very fabric of digital society is based on accurate information transmission and reliable functioning of nodes. Corruption and deceit are not extensible and conservable, because they subtract value. Honesty and transparency will prevail. The only question is how long and how painful the transition will be.

92

Daragh McDowell 12.09.10 at 4:28 pm

Daragh puts up an insuperable hurdle of proving that Wikileaks is totally, absolutely and impeccably faultless, and, absent this proof, defending manifestly corrupt and criminal governments against the sinister anarchic threat of “unaccountable” whistle-blowers. How utterly absurd.

Err, no I’m not. I’m arguing that the *current* way Wikileaks is administered raises huge questions of accountability and legitimacy that I think call into question the whole operation. I’d be open to reconsidering this assessment if their model changed. At the moment I think the potential cons considerably outweigh the pros. I also object to the constant caricaturing of my position and the attribution of beliefs to me that I do not in fact hold because I happen to not be a fan of wikileaks.

@dsquared

Sorry to be more clear. My hypothetical anti Wikileaks (Lets call it MikiLeaks) reveals information that strengthens the case for the Iraq War prior to it being waged but the case for war still ends up being ex post facto discredited as actually happened. EG – Mikileaks gets a hold of and distributes some of the German documentation/interviews/whatever surrounding the ‘Curveball’ informant that, without proper context, reinforce public perceptions that there is credible evidence Iraq possesses WMD. I doubt Mikileaks would be as popular a cause celebre as Wikileaks is today.

93

Ray 12.09.10 at 4:32 pm

Daragh McDowell – the problem with your hypothetical is that it assumes that there was such evidence, that would otherwise have been unreleased. Given the kind of crap that was released…. you need to find another hypothetical.

94

Substance McGravitas 12.09.10 at 4:33 pm

At the moment I think the potential cons considerably outweigh the pros.

Parody.

95

politicalfootball 12.09.10 at 4:34 pm

My hypothetical anti Wikileaks (Lets call it MikiLeaks) reveals information that strengthens the case for the Iraq War prior to it being waged but the case for war still ends up being ex post facto discredited as actually happened.

We don’t have to be hypothetical about this – it actually happened. I nonetheless am opposed to the government blocking publication of the New York Times.

96

Alex 12.09.10 at 4:41 pm

97

ajay 12.09.10 at 4:42 pm

My hypothetical anti Wikileaks (Lets call it MikiLeaks) reveals information that strengthens the case for the Iraq War prior to it being waged but the case for war still ends up being ex post facto discredited as actually happened. Mikileaks gets a hold of and distributes some of the German documentation/interviews/whatever surrounding the ‘Curveball’ informant that, without proper context, reinforce public perceptions that there is credible evidence Iraq possesses WMD.

Any such document would almost certainly have been discredited on release, and so its more likely effect would have been to weaken the case for war. All the CURVEBALL product that strengthened the case for war was released anyway (in some form) by the White House – all those computer simulations of bioweapons factories etc. It’s not as though there was lots of product that strengthened the case further but was kept secret. Any leaked documents around CURVEBALL would have more probably included comments like the CIA and BND assessments that he was a drunk and a congenital liar.
This is the key point: the Bush administration used everything it had, in the most favourable presentation possible, to back up its argument for war. They had Colin Powell reading out SIGINT transcripts in the UN, remember? It’s really difficult to think of something they didn’t release that would have materially strengthened their argument further if leaked.
The pro-war leaks weren’t Wikileaks-type document dumps. They were background briefings given to credulous mainstream journalists by sources inside the US government, and relayed without sufficient scepticism by those journalists to the public.

98

Straightwood 12.09.10 at 4:50 pm

the current way Wikileaks is administered raises huge questions of accountability and legitimacy that I think call into question the whole operation.

I submit that no possible alternate mode of operation of Wikileaks would satisfy your criticisms, and that is precisely why you have refused to state what is lacking in their organization. Your goal appears to be to discredit Wikileaks, by constantly suggesting that they are covertly dishonest, and you have not the least interest is supporting the emergence of an improved model. You are fearful of anything that smacks of “anarchy,” and thus are arguing from instinct rather than facts.

99

dsquared 12.09.10 at 4:53 pm

I doubt Mikileaks would be as popular a cause celebre as Wikileaks is today.

‘course it would. particularly since the state trying to suppress it would have to be a lot more unattractive than the USA.

100

Tim Worstall 12.09.10 at 4:59 pm

As to the Mastercard/Visa/Paypal not handling payments to Wikileaks.

All three of them require a licence from the US Govt to operate as payment or credit card services in the US. While threatening to withdraw said licence for pissing off the Feds may or may not be legal, it’s certainly going to have an effect, no?

As with Lloyds Bank and one of the UK based Palestinian charities: Lloyds was told the charity was on a banned list and thus could they close the account or would they prefer to have the Feds withdrawing Lloyds’ ability to operate in the US (I think it went as far as trying to insist that no one overseen by the US authorities would consider them as a counterparty? Or was it refuse to operate as a correspondent?).

It’s not necessarily true that all forms of financial regulation will be used in exactly the manner we might like.

101

Salient 12.09.10 at 5:00 pm

Alex, that’s not the cables, that’s stuff written about the cables

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AM 12.09.10 at 5:02 pm

> Information companies may be able to reshape flows of information in ways that
> advantage or disadvantage particular actors.

This is an interesting point, and I think the ability of organizations in advantaging and disadvantaging specific actors has not been even discussed all that much in the traditional organizational literature. In “The Functions of the Executive”, Chester Barnard talked about the zone of indifference where workers would comply with management requests if they were pushed to do so as long as the requests fell within a zone of indifference. What Information Technology offers is a way by which this zone can be stretched. Call it the zone of lying and intimidation if you will.

Basically, if managers choose to lie to their subordinates, they can get away with it by keeping close track of who they are lying to, and carefully monitoring their communication with said subordinates electronically. Because there is no colocation of the act of communication and the communicator, the manager cannot easily be put “on the spot” for what he or she says. Think of the play “All My Sons”. The play today would have a different ending. Even after Chris Keller found out about the cylinders, they would most likely argue, but as soon as Joe Keller had the chance to pull up his iPad or iPhone or other communcation device, he would issue a legal notice to Chris asking for him to cease contacting him and his organization. In this fashion, in the short-term, managers can lie and get their agendas passed. In the long-term, they can remove subordinates and associates they don’t like by using legal means.

I don’t think neoclassical economics has ever totally accounted for where the equilibrium for labor supply would actually be. In fact, what I describe would be simply considered “value appropriation”, and there are perfectly good ways of modeling this. One may think of this as shifting the cost of the supply of labor closer to the opportunity cost for the supplier, viz., the supplier of labor is forced to provide the labor for less than they ordinarily would. Given this disconnect between neoclassical economics and reality, I would be interested in learning about the response to this from neoclassicists/UChicago folks.

I believe that no institution (even the Highly Bull Shitting ones) is immune from this sort of lying and intimidatory behavior.

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Chris Williams 12.09.10 at 5:06 pm

Daragh, what, pray would LovelyWikileaks look like? Could you sketch out its M&As for us, please? Assume basic familiarity with the UK’s Companies Act, if that helps.

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Daragh McDowell 12.09.10 at 5:09 pm

I submit that no possible alternate mode of operation of Wikileaks would satisfy your criticisms, and that is precisely why you have refused to state what is lacking in their organization.
Submit all you want, but I’ve actually stated on several occasions that my beef is with an anonymous and self-selected ‘board’ or however the top of the WL hierarchy defines itself deciding what nation-states and other organisations ‘should’ and ‘should not’ be allowed to keep secret/privileged. I wouldn’t let Wikileaks, or any anonymous self-selected group, sit in judgement over whether or not the contents of my e-mail account are in the public interest, so I’m sure as hell not going to agree with them making the same decisions over diplomatic communications. And I can raise that objection without having to submit an alternative model that would be more acceptable.
Your goal appears to be to discredit Wikileaks, by constantly suggesting that they are covertly dishonest, and you have not the least interest is supporting the emergence of an improved model. You are fearful of anything that smacks of “anarchy,” and thus are arguing from instinct rather than facts.
Sorry, where have I suggested that they are ‘covertly dishonest?’ I’ve said there are problems of transparency and accountability. As to the rest of your rant, as amusing as it is to read someone attempting to divine my motivations and thought processes from a handful of blog posts, assuming oneself to have telepathic powers does not constitute an argument m’lad.

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Daragh McDowell 12.09.10 at 5:11 pm

@Chris Williams – See above. Not my job to provide a blue print for a ‘better Wikileaks’ and if I did have one I would probably, say, submit it to them rather than argue here. My argument is that the current model is sufficiently lacking in a number of key ways, which is why I don’t support it. Again, I don’t see how this places the onus on me to provide a superior alternative

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Salient 12.09.10 at 5:15 pm

Daragh, your hypothetical still doesn’t make sense to me. More generally speaking, I feel like I’ve read thousands of words you’ve written here, and I still don’t understand, for example, how you would answer these questions:

[1a] Setting aside how/by whom, do you want to see Wikileaks shut down?
[1b] Do you believe the actions Wikileaks has taken to leak stuff, prior to this latest cable batch, were immoral?
[1c] Do you believe the slow-drip publication of this cable batch is immoral?
[2a] Do you believe the U.S. has the authority to prosecute Wikileaks? (Feel free to substitute another country in for U.S.)
[2b] If they don’t, should they change their law to enable prosecution?
[2c] If they do, from a moral perspective, should they?
[3a] Do you believe or suspect that the leaked cables are forged, falsified, or have in any way been put forth by the United States as disinformation?
[3b] If so, what’s your inclination, forged, falsified, selectively divulged, etc?
[3c] If so, do you believe the U.S. military guy who was jailed for leaking the documents (whose name escapes me) was intentionally involved, or was he a dupe, or neither?
[4a] Do you believe or suspect that the information we are receiving via Wikileaks is false or misleading, e.g. perhaps because the cable writers were ill-informed or lying?
[4b] If so, what’s your inclination, ill-informed or lying?

I emphatically do *not* mean for these questions to be aggressive or hostile. My supersecret ulterior motive: if I’m going to read paragraphs and paragraphs of your perspective, then for cripes’ sake, I’d like less invective and analogy, and more plain-spoken content — or if you prefer, less form, more function — so I’m trying to engage you to further that end.

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Salient 12.09.10 at 5:18 pm

My argument is that the current model is sufficiently lacking in a number of key ways, which is why I don’t support it.

That’s fine, and we understand that, and we’re a bit mystified that you’re spending so much time trying to tell us this a thousand different ways. We disagree with you and find your position unreasonable and we think you’re being unreasonable and you’ll basically just have to deal with that. Hypotheticals and the like, or basically any rhetorical strategy, aren’t going to convince us that you’re being reasonable. We’re just. not. going. to. see. it. So it’s okay to throw your hands in the air and give up and walk away (disgusted, if you like). Honest. It’s ok. Leave us to our stupidity. :P

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Straightwood 12.09.10 at 5:20 pm

someone attempting to divine my motivations and thought processes

That is not my goal. I am pursuing discourse, which is productive discussion. You are pursuing destructive criticism. You want Wikileaks to disappear because you don’t accept the legitimacy of the disclosure of state secrets, so you are using FUD tactics (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) to discredit them. You could have saved us all a considerable amount of typing if you had simply said at the outset that you believe state secrets should be inviolable, and no organization should be permitted to publish them.

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nick 12.09.10 at 5:30 pm

“WikiLeaks documents expose US foreign policy conspiracies. All cables with tags from 1- 5000 [DOES NOT CONTAIN TEXT OF CABLES] [Kindle Edition]”

Talk about nerve.

The comments are less than delighted….

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Daragh McDowell 12.09.10 at 5:34 pm

Salient – sure think

[1a] Setting aside how/by whom, do you want to see Wikileaks shut down?
On balance, and in its current form, yes.
[1b] Do you believe the actions Wikileaks has taken to leak stuff, prior to this latest cable batch, were immoral?
Some yes. I think the revalation of the name of Afghan informants, regardless of what has or not happened to them since them, was unequivocally wrong and an example of the potential dangers of Wikileaks as currently constituted.
[1c] Do you believe the slow-drip publication of this cable batch is immoral?
I don’t believe its moral or immoral. I think its primarily designed to sell newspapers and hype Wikileaks rather than an exercise in due diligence or radical transparency.
[2a] Do you believe the U.S. has the authority to prosecute Wikileaks? (Feel free to substitute another country in for U.S.)
I honestly am not qualified to answer that question.
[2b] If they don’t, should they change their law to enable prosecution?
Depends on how the law is changed – prosecution for what? If its soliciting/hosting privileged diplomatic communications, I think I’d be in favour, again depending on scope.
[2c] If they do, from a moral perspective, should they?
See above.
[3a] Do you believe or suspect that the leaked cables are forged, falsified, or have in any way been put forth by the United States as disinformation?
No. But I have no way of telling either way.
[3b] If so, what’s your inclination, forged, falsified, selectively divulged, etc?
See above. But the selectively divulged point is important, especially considering that these cables have, for the large part, been presented to the public as part of news stories which have often failed to present them in proper context. EG, Newsnight did a piece citing ‘revaltions’ from the cable that a Ukrainian businessman called Dmytro Firtash who is heavily involved in the state’s gas industry is also a satrap of a Russian mobster called Semyon Mogilevich. Now a) there’s actually no evidence for this – its simply the opinion of a US diplomat, so its difficult to justify as a ‘story’ b) these allegations (which are probably true BTW) have been common knowledge for over a decade for anyone studying Ukraine. Or there’s been a ruckus in Australia because a high-ranking Labour party member has been ‘outed’ as the US government’s ‘source’ inside the Labour party, even though reading the cables and placing them in context tells the reader only that – a high-ranking member of the Labour party has spoken to a US diplomat about the party and its goals. All very humdrum stuff – but its presentation as a ‘secret leaked cable’ and an ‘explosive revalation’ many are ascribing greater significance to them than would otherwise be warranted (including Wikileaks BTW)
[3c] If so, do you believe the U.S. military guy who was jailed for leaking the documents (whose name escapes me) was intentionally involved, or was he a dupe, or neither?
I doubt it. His name is PFC Bradley Manning BTW.
[4a] Do you believe or suspect that the information we are receiving via Wikileaks is false or misleading, e.g. perhaps because the cable writers were ill-informed or lying?
I would be shocked if some of the cable writers weren’t ill-informed or mistaken (I can’t ascribe deliberate ‘lying’ to agents whose motivations I don’t have access to) or simply trying to make themselves look more valuable/important to superiors by puffing up their accounts. Again, a caveat that’s been largely lacking from either Wikileaks itself, or its partner organisations’ coverage of the leaks (for obvious reasons of self-interest.)
[4b] If so, what’s your inclination, ill-informed or lying?
See above.

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Daragh McDowell 12.09.10 at 5:39 pm

@Salient

I thought that the purpose of discussion to try and persuade, even if one ultimately fails and to put an argument on record, but there you go. Thought I would point out that the increasingly hysterical rants by Straightwood that because I a) don’t support Wikileaks I am therefore automatically b) in favour of all sorts of nasty things are just a little bit too funny to desist from responding to if only to encourage more. Apparently I am now a FUD or somesuch, and because I don’t think Julian Assange and a small number of anonymous self-selected ‘activists’ have the right to decide what should and should not be allowed to be secret I believe that state secrets are inviolable under all circumstances. I learn something new about myself everyday.

112

Substance McGravitas 12.09.10 at 5:53 pm

I thought that the purpose of discussion to try and persuade, even if one ultimately fails and to put an argument on record, but there you go.

Scholarly research ahead.

113

Straightwood 12.09.10 at 5:54 pm

@Daragh

You pretend to address direct questions, but provide evasive replies. You say that Wikileaks should not be allowed to disclose state secrets, yet you don’t consider state secrets inviolable. You find fault with the organization of Wikileaks yet refuse to propose a better alternative. The entire content of your many messages on this topic can be reduced to “I don’t like Wikileaks, and you can’t make me.” This is not honest discourse, and I will no longer attempt it with you.

114

Cian O'Connor 12.09.10 at 5:56 pm

I really don’t understand how Daragh’s hypothetical accountability would work, or who they would be accountable to. Would there be a vote? Would they be appointed by a UN commission? Seriously, how is this supposed to work? Details please.

I also have a suspicion that this latest line of attack comes down to mistake no. 265.4 by Daragh.

The point about wikileaks is that they make it possible for people to leak stuff anonymously. You put something on the site, nobody can prove it was you. That’s it, that’s the innovative thing.

Everything else is publishing. There’s nothing new there, but its instructive that this is the thing that Daragh is fixated on. Instructive because its example 265.4 of how Daragh really doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Now perhaps there is a serious debate to be had about the practicalities of publishing and editing leaked information. Perhaps, except in a couple of years it probably won’t matter very much as there will be multiple places to leak to. You don’t like the editorial model of wikileaks, fine choose somebody else to give your leak to. USMandatedLeaks redacted some info you want out there, fine give it to scumBagLeaks, they’ll publish anything. The leakers hold the power here – wikileaks is just a platform.

115

Daragh McDowell 12.09.10 at 6:07 pm

You pretend to address direct questions, but provide evasive replies.
Sorry I didn’t realise that ‘on balance, yes’ to the question ‘should Wikileaks be shut down’ constituted ‘evasion.’

You say that Wikileaks should not be allowed to disclose state secrets, yet you don’t consider state secrets inviolable.
Hmmm – so because I believe a small number of anonymous, unaccountable and self-selected actors should not be entrusted with deciding what the state should and should not be allowed to keep secret, that means I consider all state secrets inviolable? Gotcha.
You find fault with the organization of Wikileaks yet refuse to propose a better alternative.
There are plenty of things I don’t like. I didn’t realising that criticism of them requires me to find an alternative to them. I don’t like pets being run over by cars – do I have to provide an alternative means of flattening cats before I’m allowed to voice this criticism?
The entire content of your many messages on this topic can be reduced to “I don’t like Wikileaks, and you can’t make me.” This is not honest discourse, and I will no longer attempt it with you.
Well in fairness I’ve provided reasons for why I don’t actually like Wikileaks which you have interpreted as ‘evidence’ that I’m sort of pro-fascist goon which isn’t terribly convincing. But if agreeing to your positions a priori is how you define ‘honest discourse’ then enjoy.

Now perhaps there is a serious debate to be had about the practicalities of publishing and editing leaked information…The leakers hold the power here – wikileaks is just a platform.

Thats the debate I’ve been interested in having – publishing and editing. And since Wikileaks is the one doing the publishing and the editing, I don’t see how it follows that the leakers hold the power. Precisely because they’re anonymous for fear of retribution, its not like they can reliably call shenanigans on Wikileaks if they don’t like the way their information is presented/not presented.

116

LFC 12.09.10 at 6:44 pm

Re Straightwood’s repeated references to “state secrets”:

As I understand it, what WL is releasing (drip-drip or however) in this latest dump consists of diplomatic cables, i.e., primarily communications from various embassies to State Dept. A lot of this is apparently rather mundane reporting, which is no doubt what political officers and others in various embassies spend a lot of their time doing. Of course these communications are stamped ‘classified’ or ‘secret’ or ‘top secret’ or whatever, but most of them, from what I gather, are not “state secrets,” i.e., information concerning vital matters of national security whose disclosure would threaten core national interests.

Exs.: Someone who gave detailed technical or other information about the early phases of the Manhattan Project to the Axis would have been disclosing ‘state secrets’. Someone who obtained and sold the US battle plans to Iraq before the first Gulf War would have been trafficking in ‘state secrets’. Maybe highly delicate conversations about negotiating strategy in some upcoming major negotiation (about whatever) constitute state secrets. But for the most part, that’s not what’s going on here. ‘State secrets,’ at least as I think of the phrase, does not refer to anything and everything that a gov’t stamps ‘classified’. This is not to say that what WL is doing is necessarily justified, merely to say that use of the phrase “state secrets” exalts into some kind of heroic act of anti-hegemonic resistance what is in fact just a massive dump of a lot of mundane diplomatic cables.

117

geo 12.09.10 at 6:48 pm

It’s remarkable: I consider Daragh intelligent, civil, and well-meaning, but somehow I’ve failed to gather even a nanowatt of enlightenment from any of the scores of his/her comments on these Wikileaks threads. I gather many other commenters feel the same way. This may well be our fault rather than his/hers, but it does seem like an exasperating waste of his/her/our time. And yet none of us can seem to stop.

How can we put an end to this lamentable co-dependency?

118

Rob in CT 12.09.10 at 7:15 pm

Joe Lieberman, what a bastard.

I’ve tried to fire that asshole twice (2006 primary & general election). If the Iranian equivalent was bitching about embarrasing Iranian “cables” that had been released, Joe & pals would be ranting about horrible Persian Islamofascists. Grr.

119

yeliabmit 12.09.10 at 7:15 pm

LFC: “This is not to say that what WL is doing is necessarily justified, merely to say that use of the phrase ‘state secrets’ exalts into some kind of heroic act of anti-hegemonic resistance what is in fact just a massive dump of a lot of mundane diplomatic cables.

Perhaps most of the cables are mundane in content, but they were not — any of them — meant for our eyes, no matter what was stamped on them. There is an essential difference between those who can know and those who can’t, and that essence is the role the reader plays in the power structure. In the matter of maintaining respect for power, even small expressions of disrespect must be dealt with harshly.

120

bianca steele 12.09.10 at 7:22 pm

yeliabmit @ 119: Do you have a footnote to substantiate that, or do those who know recognize “yeliabmit” as the name of one deserving respect?

121

Salient 12.09.10 at 7:23 pm

I thought that the purpose of discussion to try and persuade

Not really, except at the margins, and “try and persuade” almost always translates on the Internet to something horrible and horrible and horrible.

Apparently, this happens on CT to the point where some of the CT folks (according to Belle on an earlier post) are discussing the possibility of more active/restrictive moderation.

Regardless, I think you’ve done as much as one can conceivably do to persuade, and pursuing it further might actually be harmful to your persuasive powers here in the future ~ consider, you have about zero chance of persuading folks at this point, but you have a nonzero chance of people deciding not to listen to you in the future where you might have otherwise held more sway. So on balance, it really is time to just let it go. I feel like your answers to my questions were thorough and made sense to me, in the sense of “I disagree with you and perhaps always will, but at least I clearly comprehend where you stand.” Probably the best you can hope for. Time to move on, no?

122

Salient 12.09.10 at 7:25 pm

bianca, I think yeliabmit is being completely facetious/sarcastic…

123

Straightwood 12.09.10 at 7:27 pm

These long threads may be dialogues of the deaf, but they generate a useful historic record. I once participated in a book-length torture thread on a right-wing blog that ended up being an almost encyclopedic treatment of the Bush torture controversy. No opinions changed. Recent research indicates that contradictory evidence actually strengthens mistaken convictions. It seems that evolution has wired most of us to cling to beliefs, irrespective of evidence. Socrates would weep if he were a blogger today.

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bianca steele 12.09.10 at 7:29 pm

Salient, I think it’s usual for satire to target a recognizable victim. I don’t recognize what yeliabmit said, but maybe you did, which I guess would imply I’m just too woefully uninformed even to show my face in a discussion until I do some background reading.

125

geo 12.09.10 at 7:30 pm

yeliabmit: If they were mundane, they should not have been classified “secret.” In a democracy, the conduct of government — including diplomacy — is supposed to be reviewable and challengeable by the public, with rare exceptions for matters involving imminent danger (eg, military codes). That is what “democracy” means.

126

geo 12.09.10 at 7:31 pm

Ouch, I think Salient is right about yeliabmit being facetious. Please ignore previous pontification.

127

Tim Wilkinson 12.09.10 at 7:42 pm

geo

128

MarkUp 12.09.10 at 7:45 pm

D McD All very humdrum stuff – but its presentation as a ‘secret leaked cable’ and an ‘explosive revalation’ many are ascribing greater significance to them than would otherwise be warranted (including Wikileaks BTW)

It was 0 degrees F this AM so I decided to do the indoor workout. For the final last 1/2 hour our poor 17 year old, not yet flattened, black cat was persistently followed by her tail. No matter how many times she caught and wrestled with it it just kept on following.

Seems many folks are ascribing more value to the whole affair, from AFA’s Bryan Fischer to the comedic news folks like Barnes and Colbert, but there’s money in value. Having been on a sinking boat in open ocean it would have been nice to have had a SSCV like the Saipem 7000 at hand; even the on board electric pumps would have been pleasant. But alas all we had was hand operated. Fortunately that was adequate for the 6 hours until the tow arrived with an extension cord of sorts. Sometimes one has to make do with what is available, since after all if the perfect solution in this case were there would have been no need for alternates.

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yeliabmit 12.09.10 at 7:47 pm

My apologies for dialing up the rhetoric too high — I was indeed being facetious. I should have added a wink-smiley or something on to the end of my comment, or perhaps added a sentence qualifying my own position. I’m an immigration lawyer , and I deal with (Canadian) bureaucrats and their fortress mentality on a daily basis, and perhaps my own internalized cynicism causes me to think everyone will get my jokes. It doesn’t surprise me in the least to see this mostly-universal state response to Wikileaks (and I fully support Wikileaks, by the way).

130

politicalfootball 12.09.10 at 8:07 pm

I don’t think Julian Assange and a small number of anonymous self-selected ‘activists’ have the right to decide what should and should not be allowed to be secret

Well, nobody is proposing giving Assange that power. He’s just deciding what he’s going to tell people, the way any journalist does, and the way any journalist has a right to do in a sensibly run country – or even, for that matter, in the United States.

131

Kaveh 12.09.10 at 8:13 pm

@116 One of the big recent criticisms of the US government (since the Bush administration, but Obama is doing this just as much) is that they overclassify–marking stuff as “classified” or “top secret” that should not be so marked. I’d bet it’s not uncommon for a certain amount of material to be overclassified, but the Bush & Obama admins have been marking a lot more material as “classified” than was typical under previous administrations. The material isn’t “state secrets” in the usual sense, the problem is that the government is pretending it is. (I realize that the diplomatic cables released by WL are not something the public would normally have access to, but the overall level of transparency and lack of aggressiveness of the ever-more-threatened print press in ferreting out leaks justify, or could justify, distributing the leaked diplomatic cables en-masse).

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novakant 12.09.10 at 8:35 pm

I’m arguing that the current way Wikileaks is administered raises huge questions of accountability and legitimacy that I think call into question the whole operation. I’d be open to reconsidering this assessment if their model changed. At the moment I think the potential cons considerably outweigh the pros.

And I would replace “Wikileaks” with “US” in the paragraph above and you pretty much have my take on this matter – trouble is the latter got guns and actually kill people.

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Daragh McDowell 12.09.10 at 8:55 pm

@geo Its him, and I fully accept responsibility for any lack of comprehension my answers have generated (failed to generate?) In any case, I’d say procrastination has a large amount to do with my sticking to this, and I’d wager the same for others who have decided to reply to me. I’d also posit that the divergence of blog commentary/written answers in general from normal conversation (i.e. being essentially ‘turn based,’ and not providing space for an interlocutor to request clarifications etc. in real time, plus the rapidly diminished possibility of receiving a knee to the groin) accounts for a lot of the trajectory of the conversation.

@Salient – Yep I’m perfectly happy to move on at this point, and I’m perfectly happy to an ‘agree to disagree’ resolution. What I’m not particularly happy with is being referred to as a liar/dick/quasi-fascist for staking out positions with which a lot of CTers disagree, some vehemently so. Perhaps I should show a bit more restraint when a red rag is directed towards me. But it would equally be nice if other commenters would pipe up with a bit of ‘I disagree with you, but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler’ style commentary every now and then. Unfortunately (and I fully accept that this is my problem as well) the result of being barracked by all sides is a siege mentality, and a desire to dig one’s heels in and state one’s case more forcefully, if only for the lurkers. Additionally, when you’re the only one on a thread making an argument you feel is valid, its kind of hard to abandon the debate.

Oh well – back to work!

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Cian O'Connor 12.09.10 at 9:02 pm

Thats the debate I’ve been interested in having – publishing and editing.

Because its 1995 and you’ve just discovered the internet? That’s a debate you want to have – website publishing? What are you missing? The key thing here is being given the information, not publishing it.

And since Wikileaks is the one doing the publishing and the editing, I don’t see how it follows that the leakers hold the power.

Wikileaks have these documents because the leaker gave it to them. They didn’t solicit it, it was handed to them. If wikileaks are offered no documents, then they’re nothing. Without leakers, they’re nothing.

Currently there’s only wikileaks (well there’s cryptome, but its not quite the same). But that won’t last. Already there is a competitor planned, and I suspect other people will follow. Eventually the techiniques will become commoditised. Some no doubt will focus on China, or corporate stuff. Some will have a reputation for PR (which may also have the side affect of them having to behave “responsibly” so that “Serious People” take them “Seriously”). Some will fail, some won’t be trusted. Wikileaks may die just like Napster did. Doesn’t matter, other things will take its place.

Wikileaks redacted some of your stuff. Fine, leak it to somebody else. At the end of the day the only currency a whistleblower site has is its reputation, and they’ll all be competing for source material, on the basis of two things. Preserving anonymity, and how they handled leaked data.

And here’s the terrible, or glorious, thing (depending upon one’s stance) it doesn’t matter what you think about it. The only alternative is to effectively shut down the internet, or at least police it so thoroughly it becomes like the old AOL.

Much of what will be released will be of questionable use, or dull. Some may be dangerous. It may even lead to government falling (good, or bad), or wars happening. Doesn’t matter, it will still happen. Just as the cheap printing press led to a flood of scurrilous, incendary, libellous propoganda, to revolts and revolution. But once it was there, and people had seen the possibilities, it was too late.

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Substance McGravitas 12.09.10 at 9:09 pm

Additionally, when you’re the only one on a thread making an argument you feel is valid

Which one is the valid one? Can you sum it up briefly?

136

Sebastian Dangerfield 12.09.10 at 9:17 pm

Daragh: You keep using variations on this formulation: “I don’t think Julian Assange and a small number of anonymous self-selected ‘activists’ have the right to decide what should and should not be allowed to be secret.” But this characterization is tendentious and misleading. And it does not improve with repetition. Assange, et al., have not arrogated to themselves any such right–at least not any more than establishment print and electronic media and, for that matter, any other among wide array of other quasi-media actors (from bloggers on up the media food chain) have done. That “right” exists to the extent that anyone entrusts secrets to Wikileaks or Dana Priest or Matt Drudge. Well, that plus the quaint notion that people should not be jailed for engaging in pure speech.

Thus it’s hard to come up with a condemnation of the Wikileaks’ “right” to publish information they have received that does not simultaneously condemn the liberty of all these others actors to do what they do. To be sure, what many of these actors do with that liberty is often contemptible and done with bad motive. (See, e.g., Miller, Judith; Drudge, Matt.) But it is a rather tall order for one who apparently likes the idea of a semblance of democratic governance to condemn the underlying liberty that makes it possible for these actors to do what they do — i.e., engage in speech acts — without fear of being punished by the state for doing so.

Thus, we’ve watched you hop from rationale to rationale, as if the field of discourse were one vast burning plain and the aim of discussion were to to alight upon that field lightly enough to avoid complete incineration. What began with something along the lines of “OMG Wikileaks should be condemned for the crime of paying insufficient attention to the depredations wrought by the regime in Turkmenistan” to the current hobby horse “OMG, I didn’t get to vote for or against Julian Assange.” We’ve yet to see a principled position that can withstand scrutiny. The accountability rationale that appears to be your current resting point doesn’t really cut it, as evidenced by your slip-up upthread at 18, wherein you gave the game away by accidentally endorsing government censorship plus a state-run media–or, in your prettified telling “rigorous press regulation by the state” plus something like the Beeb.

I think there’s quite something to the observation upthread that you’re having something of an emotional or instinctive reaction to Wikileaks or Assange or both and are casting abut for rationales. Being a person of intelligence (if not great judgment), this produces a lengthy set of exchanges that are by turns heuristically useful and entertaining, which doubtless accounts for the fact that a bunch of basically bright people with other things to do continue to go on notwithstanding.

I think we all can benefit from actually probing the source of your discomfiture with Wikileaks, which is something shared by a fair number of otherwise liberal-seeming people, enough that I find responsive charges of being nothing more than a crypto-authoritarian quite unhelpful. Perhaps we should consider what it is about Wikileaks that seems to bring out the authoritarian in people who otherwise don’t seem to be actual authoritarians.

Viewed purely functionally, and from a great height, Wikileaks are not meaningfully distinguishable from the media outlets–old and new–that we’ve become accustomed to. They encourage leaking of secret or otherwise hidden materials (in their case, by establishing an anonymization portal), they collect and store any information leaked to them, and they publish some of this material. Other than establishing a technological mechanism for ensuring what reporters try to do with possibly frail promises (i.e., confidentiality), there’s very little difference. But functionally, very little difference. the key differences, it seems, really lie in tactics. (1) Although they do publish commentary, Wikileaks specializes in publishing the raw data; its commentary function is quite secondary and often ignored. (2) With some exceptions (e.g., the Apache helicopter video), Wikileaks tend to trade in large-scale releases of raw data, with comparatively (i.e., compared to other media outlets) little concern about sorting wheat from chaff. (3) Wikileaks make no bones about having a political philosophy, amorphous though it may be, whereas most media organizations pretend to have no axes to grind.

There may be other important operational differences, but these really seem to be the ones that get up peoples’ noses. I have not included any nonsense about accountability, because, well, it’s nonsense. I did not vote for Bill Keller or Fred Hiatt or Judy Miller or Matt Drudge, but that’s not the reason that I condemn what these folks do. “Unaccountable” people with names like Murdoch and Sulzberger and Ailes get to decide what a lot of people have access to. The fact that they’re not elected — and, contrary to Daragh’s naive faith that the courts can save him from embarrassing, but true, revelations — and can’t be sued into being better than they are doesn’t bother me so much.

So what is it about those three things I’ve identified that is so crazy-making for the McDowells and the Carpenters of the world?

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Daragh McDowell 12.09.10 at 9:54 pm

@Sebastian Dangerfield

I’d like to respond to this at greater length after digesting it and considering it a bit more. A couple of initial points –

I don’t think that I’ve been hopping around the rhetorical battlefields. I’ve stopped harping on Wikileaks and Assange being more concerned with embarassing the US than undermining actual authoritarian regimes, because given that former members of the Wikileaks collective or what have you are making it themselves no-one else has seen fit to dispute it. I put that in the ‘settled’ column and moved on.

On accountability – I still maintain there’s a difference. I know who the editors of the NYTimes are and they have a relatively open decision making process and rationale for what they publish. Wikileaks – not so much. Again I think the issue of the Afghan War Logs and the leaking of the names of informants is salient, whether or not said informants have actually been harmed. I’m pretty certain that if such a fuck-up had occurred at the BBC, NYTimes etc. heads would have rolled, or the credibility and viability of the whole enterprise would have been threatened. Wikileaks? Not so much. At least insofar as we know. Again its not as simple as ‘I didn’t get to vote for Julian Assange’ as much as me not trusting an organisation that operates under a veil of secrecy as pervasive as Wikileaks. Who made the decision on what was, or was not suitable for publication from the Iraq/Afghanistan logs, and what would or would not end up harming people? Again – if I asked that question of the NYT I’d get an answer, Wikileaks I’d get the finger.

And guess what? I am in favour of the state having the ability to censor and regulate the press, albeit under certain conditions and in a very narrow sense. In the grand scheme of things I’m more concerned about the power of corporate media and the Roger Ailes’ of this world than I am the Julian Assange’s. But I also recognise there’s at least in theory more scope for democratically accountable structures to modify the behaviour of Fox. Wikileaks seems (to my understanding anyway) to reject the very idea that it should have to be accountable in the same way.

Anyway – I don’t think this is ‘crazy-making’ stuff. Again, if I get time and if anyone is still even marginally interested at this point, I’d be happy to make a fuller response. Perhaps best if you e-mailed me so as not to waste everyone else’s eyes? (first.last@gmail.com)

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Barry 12.09.10 at 10:14 pm

That Wikileaks isn’t Very Serious People, and will leak things which are actually damaging to the Powers That Be. Use that hypothesis for the critics motivation, and everything that they’re doing makes sense. It even makes some of the media wh*re’s criticism true – they are held accountable to the elites, and have to serve them – why shouldn’t everybody?

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Walt 12.09.10 at 10:18 pm

I think the first paragraph of the previous comment demonstrates that Daragh has no interest in arguing fairly, and is just trolling at great length. Given the extraordinary amount of time people have wasted on trying to make him see reason over the past few days, banning him would be doing everyone a great favor.

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Barry 12.09.10 at 10:34 pm

Walt, only I am allowed to say that (after which I get b*tched out by the CT staff, and mocked by the commenters)…

Oh, wait – go ahead, I’ll enjoy watching somebody else take sh*t for saying what’s been obvious to any sane person since a quarter way through the first Daragh-infested post.

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Cian O'Connor 12.09.10 at 10:54 pm

Another day, another totally insignificant and uninteresting cable:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/dec/09/wikileaks-cables-pfizer-nigeria

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cyn 12.09.10 at 11:20 pm

“Wikileaks, had it existed at the time, could have stopped [the war] by revealing Goldsmith’s declaration that it would be illegal.”

But they could only have revealed it if the declaration *had been leaked to them*. I’m not familiar with the particulars of this case, but did someone try to leak this declaration, but no one would publish it? I’ve got to say I find that very hard to believe.

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Straightwood 12.09.10 at 11:40 pm

But they could only have revealed it if the declaration had been leaked to them.

Chicken and egg. The secure methods and powerful presence of Wikileaks, had it existed pre-Iraq War, would certainly have encouraged more leaking. Fortunately, Wikileaks cannot be uninvented. Such organizations will only grow stronger, more sophisticated, and more resistant to suppression. Criminals will have to work much harder to do their dirty work as the eyes of the world see more and more of their mischief.

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Donald Johnson 12.09.10 at 11:44 pm

“I’m pretty certain that if such a fuck-up had occurred at the BBC, NYTimes etc. heads would have rolled, or the credibility and viability of the whole enterprise would have been threatened. “

Yeah, Judith Miller was fired and the NYT went back to being omniscient in everyone’s eyes. I for one always assume they are right about everything and have no ax to grind, because that whole “let’s act as a stenographer for the government as they make the case for war” act is something that was a complete aberration.

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Daragh McDowell 12.10.10 at 12:28 am

Just because its always fun to do a bit of tweaking before bed – Walt claims that my first paragraph above shows that I’m not interested in arguing ‘fairly’. To be clear, I stopped harping on the ‘Wikileaks is ignoring data from dictatorships’ line because people stopped calling me a liar for doing so when I linked to an Independent article with paragraphs like:

“At least a dozen key supporters of the website are known to have left in recent months. They say Wikileaks has ignored reams of new exposés because so much attention has been paid to the Iraq and Afghan conflicts.”

“Part of the problem for Wikileaks has been the huge amount of data it has had to mine in processing the Afghan and Iraq war logs, which comprised tens of thousands of field reports written in dense military jargon. But some of those who have grown uncomfortable with the direction of the website say more attention should still have been paid to leaks from outside of the US military – specifically the dramatic increase in submissions from whistleblowers within closed countries, dictatorships and corporations.”

Accompanied with non-denial denials from Assange. This was after I posted an RFERL op-ed on the same topic that was dismissed as insufficient. After that a few people grumbled that I hadn’t linked to this article early enough, but generally people stopped calling me a liar, including Dsquared who was the fiercest objector to the charges I had laid. I took this as a sign that I had pretty much established that point as valid and there was little further usefulness in belabouring it further. I also didn’t demand that people who called me a liar be banned or otherwise punished, which is apparently the only reasonable course of action if Walt gets annoyed.

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Emma in Sydney 12.10.10 at 12:35 am

Walt, you are absolutely correct, and I hope that the CT mods are listening. I stopped feeding the troll, after initially being sucked in, and I wish everyone else would try also.

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Daragh McDowell 12.10.10 at 12:39 am

@Emma – Sorry you started out by accusing me of being a paid troll on the evidence that… I have substantive disagreements with you on the merits of wikileaks and have expressed them on an a blog comments thread. If the definition of ‘trolling’ is maintaining my position, arguing it, and not conceding that you are 100% right in everything, then yes I am trolling. But that word, I do not think it means what you think it means…

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politicalfootball 12.10.10 at 1:48 am

Daragh, by the standard you set, Wikileaks is also ignoring data from the United States. People stopped calling you a liar because it became tiresome, not because of evidence that you provided.

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Salient 12.10.10 at 1:54 am

I don’t recognize what yeliabmit said, but maybe you did

No no, no background reading necessary, yeliabmit was mocking the Very Serious People. (That’s a sarcastic capitalized term that Duncan Black introduced for traditional media people who do things like write solemn editorials for the newspaper, and pontificate in a serious and measured way on behalf of order and hegemony, pretending to represent all sides of a discussion when in fact they’re only representing a narrow range of elite perspective. It has been very common for those kinds of folks to say things like, oh, some things like this are meant to be kept secret, a government needs secrecy to function, condemning Wikileaks as irresponsible or whatever, so yeliabmit’s sarcasm seems directed against those folks.)

Daragh’s perspective is somewhat comparable to the VSP perspective, which makes me think that yeliabmit might have been targeting Daragh. Or maybe it was a drive-by directed at George Will type folks. I dunno.

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MarkUp 12.10.10 at 2:04 am

It is amazing that folks would leave Julian on his own in the run up to taking on the biggest show to date against The SuperestPower of the Milky Way* and oh so easy to claim that it was over mere political disagreement on not exposing other leaked data which of course may be far more [or less] damaging/helpful than referring to some other countries minion by a naughty word. If only Assange were more Hydra-esque…

* leaked documents next year will call that in to question as well as Obama’s birth planet.

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Salient 12.10.10 at 2:06 am

banning him would be doing everyone a great favor. / I hope that the CT mods are listening. / etc

Just pointing out that Henry already spoke to that upthread, and perhaps the more interesting point was raised by geo

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Substance McGravitas 12.10.10 at 3:36 am

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John Quiggin 12.10.10 at 4:11 am

“a load of Iraqi cables/documents/whatever that painted the Saddam Hussein regime in an even more negative light and strengthened the case for war.”

Of course, that’s exactly what Colin Powell provided to the UN as the casus belli for the war, including intercepted telephone calls that were claimed to refer to WMDs, and so on.

Having been around at the time, I can say with confidence that neither I, nor anyone else I read, worried in the slightest about whether Powell had breached the confidentiality on which the Iraqi government depended. Our only concern was “Is this true?”. The answer, as you may recall, was No.

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CharleyCarp 12.10.10 at 4:22 am

The asserted “right” applies only to those who have engaged, or plausibly are thought to be engaged, in certain kinds of violent activity.

It’s way off topic, I know, but this sort of thing can never be allowed to stand. Unless you consider the assistant cook currently in GTMO to have engaged in violent activity when slicing onions, mashing chickpeas, etc.

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Salient 12.10.10 at 5:33 am

If the definition of ‘trolling’ is maintaining my position, arguing it, and not conceding that you are 100% right in everything, then yes I am trolling.

Fair enough, Daragh. However. If “Just because its always fun to do a bit of tweaking before bed” isn’t the statement of someone acting in intentional and self-aware bad faith, for the purpose of bringing some form of harm to others, then I don’t know what is. I have many words for such a person, frankly, and few are as mild as ‘troll.’

With that statement, you have abandoned all pretense to good faith, and you have exhausted your credibility, latae sententiae. You are by your own acknowledgment here to “tweak” us.

It pains me to see you make that choice, if I may be so sanctimonious. I do not regret having extended as much goodwill toward you as I could muster, as that’s the kind of person I am trying to remember to be. But I don’t propose to summon up any more. You’ve managed to convince yourself to walk away twice now, sensibly both times, only to return all the more intent on dominating our conversation here.

I have no advice for you this time. It’s too late to withdraw and thereby redeem yourself. You’ve chosen your course. Go to Hell, then, if that’s where you wish. Goodbye.

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zamfir 12.10.10 at 7:31 am

Sebastian Dangerfield above makes a good point about wikileaks rubbing people the wrong way in surprisingly strong fashion. But isn’t the opposite also true with respect to opinions like dragagh’s? They rub us the wrong way more than they should because they somehow remind us of Very Serious People in newspapers?

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heckblazer 12.10.10 at 8:35 am

I happen to agree with Daragh to a great extant in worrying Wikileaks’ opacity hinders its accountability. Wikileaks’ concern about its reputation strikes me as insufficient for preventing misconduct. As for redress, here’s a practical question: if Wikileaks were to defame or otherwise harm me, where would I send the summons for a lawsuit?

I find leaking of the diplomatic cables particularly problematic. By tradition and treaty diplomats are allowed to communicate in secret with their governments. The 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations Art. 27 Sec. 2 specifically says “The official correspondence of the mission shall be inviolable. Official correspondence means all correspondence relating to the mission and its functions.” This is so because it’s generally recognized as necessary for diplomacy to work. Even though the released cables so far don’t seem to have much content damaging to the US, the threat of future leaks undermines The parallel I’d draw would be with attorney-client privilege or the sanctity of the confessional. If someone did a massive leak of internal legal memos or confession transcripts it would undermine the trust the lawyers or priests so targeted need to do their job, and this would be true even if nothing illegal were revealed.

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Cian O'Connor 12.10.10 at 9:57 am

Daragh that Indie article doesn’t show that. What it shows is that since coming into receipt of the Afghanistan/Iraq/Cables stuff, Assange has lost interest in any more leaked info.

Different thing. He got given a huge leak and lost interest in anything else. I don’t happen to agree with this change of emphasis, though I don’t know enough about Wikileak’s resources to know what their limitations were practically, but it was an emphasis triggered by a very particular leak. It doesn’t demonstrate an obsessive anti-American line, but an obsession with this particular leak. Which after all is the biggest leak ever. Its not that hard to see what strategy might change, even if one doesn’t agree with the change.

The idea that Assange is obsessively anti-American to the exclusion of all else is ridiculous. All that claim does is demonstrate that you either don’t know what you’re talking about, or you’re arguing in extremely bad faith. I think the reason nobody is bothering to make this argument anymore is really what’s the point, as you’re not interested.

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Alex 12.10.10 at 11:40 am

In case anyone cares, the original Amazon page before it was altered to deny that there were any cables in it (and eventually deleted) is in the google cache.

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Barry 12.10.10 at 2:10 pm

heckblazer 12.10.10 at 8:35 am

“I happen to agree with Daragh to a great extant in worrying Wikileaks’ opacity hinders its accountability. Wikileaks’ concern about its reputation strikes me as insufficient for preventing misconduct. As for redress, here’s a practical question: if Wikileaks were to defame or otherwise harm me, where would I send the summons for a lawsuit?”

heckblazer, if the US government picked you up, tortured you “where would I send the summons for a lawsuit?””

If you were on a no-fly list, making it impossible to travel by air into, in, and out of the USA, “where would I send the summons for a lawsuit?”

If you were under surveillance, with the results useable at will by the US government (and individuals within, and those elites with access), “where would I send the summons for a lawsuit?”

et cetera.

“I find leaking of the diplomatic cables particularly problematic. By tradition and treaty diplomats are allowed to communicate in secret with their governments. The 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations Art. 27 Sec. 2 specifically says “The official correspondence of the mission shall be inviolable. Official correspondence means all correspondence relating to the mission and its functions.” “

Please note that the cables leaked included proof that the US government considers that convention to be nothing more than toilet paper.

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bianca steele 12.10.10 at 2:33 pm

@157: massive leak . . .

Don’t be silly, you’d just blame the Americans, just like 25 years ago the US would have blamed the Commies.

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LFC 12.10.10 at 2:39 pm

CCarp @154:
I have already conceded upthread that the line you object to was not as carefully considered by me as it should have been. (At the time I was reacting to certain statements by Straightwood which seemed to imply that everyone should be worried about the US govt targeting them for torture or assassination, which I thought were overstatements. However, my response was not well phrased.) As for your example, I don’t know anything about whether someone who was an “assistant cook” is now in GTMO. Possibly. In which case he should be released.

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Straightwood 12.10.10 at 3:03 pm

everyone should be worried about the US govt targeting them for torture or assassination

Indeed yes. The Obama administration has plainly told the US courts that they are not to interfere in decisions the executive branch makes regarding extra-judicial killing. The US President reserves to himself the right to designate US citizens as targets to be murdered, without any due process of law. The post-9/11 authoritarian hysteria in the US is still so powerful that this gross abuse of presidential power has gone largely unchallenged. Even Roman emperors had no legal right to arbitrary killing of Roman citizens. But Obama’s supporters grant him the right to kill at will to keep them “safe.”

Let’s say I donate to Wikileaks today and tomorrow the US government designates Wikileaks a “terrorist organization.” Existing US laws make any support of such an organization a crime. Do I then become an “unlawful combatant,” with no legal rights? Am I then to be tortured and killed at the discretion of the President? If not, what can stop him?

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ajay 12.10.10 at 3:09 pm

LFC: try here.http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/guantanamo-bay-jury-sentences-alqaida-cook-2050448.html

“A Guantanamo jury has recommended a 14-year sentence for an al-Qa’ida cook, though he could be released much sooner under a plea bargain that will limit the time he spends in prison.

Ibrahim Ahmed Mahmoud al-Qosi of Sudan pleaded guilty last month to supporting terrorism, making him only the fourth Guantanamo detainee to be convicted since the prison, which has held nearly 800 men, was opened in 2002. “

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Henry 12.10.10 at 3:18 pm

I am, for obvious reasons, not particularly happy with how this thread has developed. Daragh deserves a fair chunk of the blame for ‘tweaking,’ but there were two sides to the derailing. Some of the responses he got went well beyond legitimate forms of vehement disagreement – accusations that someone is a paid _agent provocateur_ are both extremely stupid (anyone who genuinely thinks that this forum is politically important enough for rightwingers to pay for its derailment has delusions of grandeur) and liable to drag discourse down in ways that I am not prepared to tolerate over the longer term. This bill of indictments is not aimed at people like Salient – who seem to me to have genuinely tried to figure out whether there was any common ground. It _is_ aimed at Barry. Barry – since your purported repentance has lasted for less than half a day, let me be extremely clear, so as to avoid future misunderstandings. This is not the first warning you have received for trying to drive people who you find politically uncongenial out of my comment threads. Nor, I believe, is it the second. There will be no further warnings.

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politicalfootball 12.10.10 at 4:00 pm

I happen to agree with Daragh to a great extant in worrying Wikileaks’ opacity hinders its accountability. Wikileaks’ concern about its reputation strikes me as insufficient for preventing misconduct. As for redress, here’s a practical question: if Wikileaks were to defame or otherwise harm me, where would I send the summons for a lawsuit?

As I said in 58, you need to suspend this argument at least until they let Assange out of jail.

If I may offer a bit more advice: Next time you gripe about the dangers of anonymity for folks engaging in free speech, you probably shouldn’t do it under a pseudonym.

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ehj2 12.10.10 at 4:00 pm

heckblazer,

has an excellent point …

“The parallel I’d draw would be with attorney-client privilege or the sanctity of the confessional. If someone did a massive leak of internal legal memos or confession transcripts it would undermine the trust the lawyers or priests so targeted need to do their job, and this would be true even if nothing illegal were revealed.”

These privileges and sanctities do not cover proposed illegal activity. If you inform a priest or therapist you intend to kill someone, there is an obligation to stop you.

Anyone who has worked in any large organization learns that the function of the Human Resources department is to protect the organization, not you, and that any problems of illegality you bring to Human Resources do not result in “correcting” the organization but in protecting the organization by implementing processes to discredit and control you. Whistleblowing within an agency is impossible — and yet must be enabled.

I’ve always thought a reasonable first step would be to expand the role of the fairly non-partisan and “honest” Congressional Budget Office to include functions beyond the Budget, with authority to “reign in” the unwieldy structures of government we’ve built. Neither intelligence nor the military have substantive oversight and constantly report untruths to Congress so that our elected officials are as in the dark as we citizens are in the imperative of managing our “democracy.”

It should be legal that any member of government could whistleblow to this organization without fear of reprisal and it should be the mandate of this organization to inform the body of Congress of its discoveries and findings, not merely select insiders of various committees.

At a very minimum, a democratic government should be open to itself,.

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Sebastian Dangerfield 12.10.10 at 4:04 pm

@Daragh:

Thanks for the response and the offer to continue the discussion without breaking everyone’s eyes. But, hell, I think that horse has long left the barn, so what the hell.
I’ll try to dispense with posturing, caricaturing arguments, and excessive snark (difficult as it is; it’s just so fun!) and offer a few things to chew on.
1. As to the argument concerning WL’s focus on the U.S., I wouldn’t consider that question “settled” so much as its having been written off as a fairly weak criticism that goes to nothing more than differences about editorial judgment. As I don’t take you to believe that the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan (and other predatory behavior by the U.S. on the World stage) are not meet topics for exposé, your critique there shrunk from the unsupportable “obsessively anti-American” charge to the very much lesser included offense of caring more about the Iraq and Afghan misadventures than about materials concerning other regimes that some folks with ties to WL claim are in the vault. Fair enough, as far as that goes. It just doesn’t go very far. Reasonable people can disagree about that judgment even if we assume that there’s some solid-gold muck on the late Türkmenbaşy’s predilection for goats and little boys in WL’s possession. Differences about reasonable editorial judgments just don’t justify the argument that WL should be shut down by the state. But let’s get past this, as it’s mostly just distraction.

2. You say: “I am in favour of the state having the ability to censor and regulate the press, albeit under certain conditions and in a very narrow sense.” Now I think we’re getting somewhere in terms of staking out the underlying disagreements. It’s probably safe to say that this conviction is not widely shared here. I’d be very interested to know how you square this belief in some form of cabined censorship authority with your apparent belief in the desirability of democratic self-governance. Call me old-fashioned and unimaginative, but I rather buy the notion that robust protections for the content of speech are foundational to democratic self-governance and at minimum a necessary counterweight to the authoritarian tendencies we see in most (if not all) ‘liberal democracies.’ This is to be contrasted with other types of regulation that don’t focus on content — such as rules against consolidation of media vehicles in monopolistic or oligopolistic fashions, which would go a long way toward curbing the power of the Murdochs and Ailes crew. Simply put, giving the state the power to regulate content is dangerous. And I don’t see how such power can be meaningfully constrained.

3. Zamfir is on the money that, just as there’s something about WL that seems to drive to distraction certain folks who otherwise consider themselves more or less liberal, so, too, others of us are driven a bit batshit by the critiques voiced by those certain folks. I think that latter phenomenon is explained by the fact that many of those ‘liberal’ critiques have, at a minimum, an “Off with their heads!” subtext to them. I have my disagreements with a number of WLs’ judgments, but but none of them make me even remotely inclined to sympathize with the governments that are going after WL by hook and by crook.

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Sebastian Dangerfield 12.10.10 at 4:32 pm

Sorry, there was meant to be a “4.”

4. The criticism of WL for failing to take measures to avoid harm to Afghan informants in the Afghan logs dump is entirely valid. And the issue it raises is far more than a difference regarding reasonable editorial judgments — as I don’t think it’s reasonable to consider the news (0r other*) value of an unredacted dump of intra-DoD field reports as outweighing the risks posed by that act. I also don’t place too much stock in the lack of empirical evidence that anyone was harmed as a result of the dump. Such evidence, it seems to me, would be astonishingly difficult to come by in a place such as Afghanistan. To be sure, DoD has some incentive to find and hype any evidence that may exist for domestic consumption, but given that DoD admissions that its co-operators are getting got would, within the Afghanistan theatre, have a pretty baleful effect on the recruitment of informants, so I consider that a wash. Bottom line: the failure to anticipate that problem and find away to deal with it was a serious fuck-up by Assange and his shadowy board.

But I still don’t buy the argument that such a screwup means that there is no accountability for WL and that the lack of effective accountability makes WL so inherently dangerous that it should be put out of business. First of all, the fact that this critique got a great deal of traction — and appears to have influenced how WL handled the leak of diplomatic cables — demonstrates that there is accountability. As insouciant as it may act toward governments, WL is obviously aware that it cannot survive if it becomes a pariah in the eyes of the broader public. The reputational injury WL incurred due to the argument that the dump endangered Afghan informants was real, and I’d posit that it produced results — witness WL’shonoring of media decisions regarding redactions t the State Dep’t cables.

I have my problems with WL and its apparent bias toward quantity over quality in its document releases. It’s obvious that such a bias can lead to unintended consequences, as it’s equally obvious that WL lacks the resources to conduct a thorough scrubbing of leaks the size of what Manning gave it. But, again, none of this comes close to a justification for shutting the operation down or inflicting criminal sanctions on its principals.

*The other value I have in mind is Assange’s apparent belief that it is possible to to meaningfully impair the capacity of evil regimes to do evil by creating an environment in which secrecy is hard to maintain, regardless of whether the secrets that are revealed are particularly juicy. I find this theory interesting, if unconvincing. But it’s nice to know that there is, at least, a thought-out theory underlying the not-particularly-discriminating nature of WL’s releases.

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Jerry Vinokurov 12.10.10 at 4:43 pm

The whole point of why Wikileaks exists is that traditional media outlets have essentially abdicated their duty (if they ever felt they had it in the first place) as institutions which keep a check on the powerful elements in society by reporting the truth. I don’t understand how any consideration of Wikileaks can proceed without this basic acknowledgment.

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Daragh McDowell 12.10.10 at 5:09 pm

I’d like to offer an unconditional apology for the role that I’ve played in driving this thread off topic, especially the ‘tweaking’ post which was ill-considered and stupid. There were a number of comments directed towards me on this and other threads that I believed were thoroughly ridiculous/out of line ranging from accusations of being an agent provacateur to ones that I was using this thread to hone my rhetorical skills in preparation for a career as a fascist demagogue. The proper response would have been to ignore these, rather than hit back – sometimes one forgets that internet comments are omnidirectional, and that ‘tweaking’ that is intended for a very specific target ends up effectively ‘tweaking’ everyone. In any case I let my annoyance get the better of me and rushed at a few flags I shouldn’t have, pissing off quite a few people.

It was at no point my intent to either drive the thread downwards or dominate the conversation – just to defend a point of view that I feel is valid. Nevertheless I recognise I succeeded in the former and therefore failed in the latter.

For obvious reasons I am therefore going to refrain from further debate on the Wikileaks issue here, since I think there’s been way too much rancour generated by me even if unintentionally for anything productive to come of it. If anyone is genuinely still unclear about my Wiki-beliefs/thoughts or wants to hear more, please ask Henry for my e-mail and I’m sure he’ll be happy to pass it along. Sebastian that goes especially for you as I found your list of points quite interesting.

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Straightwood 12.10.10 at 5:41 pm

traditional media outlets have essentially abdicated their duty

Quite so. The pathetic current editor of the New York Times, Bill Keller, would never have published the Pentagon Papers. To this day, Keller refuses to allow US government torture of captives to be called by its proper name for fear of angering Washington politicians.

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Salient 12.10.10 at 5:46 pm

I’d like to offer an unconditional apology for the role that I’ve played in driving this thread off topic, especially the ‘tweaking’ post…

Daragh, I for one greatly appreciate the entirety of this apology, and retract what I said last night, with an apology of my own for having unfairly assumed that apologizing wasn’t an action you would take. Thanks as well for responding to my list of questions, as I feel it clarified (for me at least) the particulars of your discontent, and clarified that we disagree because we have different priorities/principles/axioms/etc underlying our assessments.

Looking forward to seeing you around here in the future.

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Daragh McDowell 12.10.10 at 6:09 pm

@Salient – thanks for your words as well as giving me what was, all in all, a deserved kick in the arse. Looking forward to crossing rhetorical swords with you again at some point as well!

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Sebastian Dangerfield 12.10.10 at 6:19 pm

Q: WHAT DO YOU WANT?
M: Well, I was told outside that…
Q: Don’t give me that, you snotty-faced heap of parrot droppings!
M: What?
Q: Shut your festering gob, you tit! Your type really makes me puke, you vacuous, coffee-nosed, malodrous, pervert!!!
M: Look, I CAME HERE FOR AN ARGUMENT, I’m not going to just stand…!!
Q: OH, oh I’m sorry, but this is abuse.
M: Oh, I see, well, that explains it.
Q: Ah yes, you want room 12A, Just along the corridor.
M: Oh, Thank you very much. Sorry.
Q: Not at all.
M: Thank You.

176

AntiAlias 12.10.10 at 10:41 pm

What, everybody’s friends now?
Gee, must be this Christmas thing.

177

Zamfir 12.10.10 at 11:09 pm

No, CT has the best commenters and Matt Yglesias doesn’t. Real fact, there was a post about it.

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