Wikileaks Infodump Volume 2: Various unspecified US misdeeds


For the record, Mugabe is having him investigated for high treason directly as a result of the Wikileaks. It was all over the web last winter. Tim, I’m not sure what to say about Zimbabwe being informed of the sanctions. Maybe you’re right that there should be absolutely no attempt at interventions in other countries. I think sanctions have worked well in the past (I’m looking at you South Africa).

Do you think there’s any role for the international community in a situation like Mugabe? How do you think the opposition should appeal for help? Publically all the time? I know you’re against armed interventions, but I wonder if you see any interventions justified at all.


LK, i appreciate the effort you put into the post. I’m a little too tired from work to respond at the moment. I’m just going to have to disagree, together with a number of political scientists, which is hugely undeserving to you, since you obviously have put a lot of thought into it. But without taking an authority position, let me just say that my view is that a government IS made up of it’s people. You think embarrassing a President isn’t goingto degrade relations because he should be above that? Awesome - I really want to live in your world, honest.


Hmm… I don’t understand why you think I support dropping sanctions against Mugabe. I’m just saying that there are other aspects to weigh up than the safety of a politician when considering if information should be released. Everyone is potentially at risk if you release damaging information about them. So should we never reveal damaging information about politicians?

There’s no support from me for beating politicians, but is there some justification for investigating him for treason? Again, imagine it was a US congressmen in 2004 making secret visits to countries to get them to apply sanctions against Bush and any activity or business connected with him. Do US treason laws apply in that situation?


To repeat, there are no crippling economic sanctions against Zimbabwe unless your name happens to be Robert Mugabe, who is in no danger of eating rats and whose ridiculous epochal mismanagement is why his people are (specifically, that Zimbabwe’s idiotic and hyperinflationary economic policies prevent his government from getting loans).

The Mugabe Government attribute Zimbabwe’s economic difficulties to sanctions imposed by the Western powers. It has been argued[by whom?] that the sanctions imposed by Britain, the US, and the EU have been designed to cripple the economy and the conditions of the Zimbabwean people in an attempt to overthrow President Mugabe’s government. These countries on their side argue that the sanctions are targeted against Mugabe and his inner circle and some of the companies they own. Critics[who?] point to the so-called “Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001” signed by Bush in 2001 as an effort to undermine Zimbabwe’s economy. Soon after the bill was signed, IMF cut off its resources to Zimbabwe. Financial institutions began withdrawing support for Zimbabwe. Terms of the sanctions made it such that all economic assistance would be structured in support of “democratisation, respect for human rights and the rule of law.” The EU terminated its support for all projects in Zimbabwe. Because of the sanctions and US and EU foreign policy, none of Zimbabwe’s debts have been cancelled as in other countries.[25] Other observers also point out how the asset freezes by the EU on people or companies associated with Zimbabwe’s Government have had significant economic and social costs to Zimbabwe.[26]

As of February 2004 Zimbabwe’s foreign debt repayments ceased, resulting in compulsory suspension from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This, and the United Nations World Food Programme stopping its food aid due to insufficient donations from the world community, has forced the government into borrowing from local sources.

(All the pro-Mugabe the-West-caused-Zimbabwe’s-collapse cites originate from Zimbabwean pro-ZANU-PF writers taking the official state media line or from extreme left-wing sources who hate everything the West does reflexively, although admittedly the two are often the same.)

I realize this is a derailing tangent from Wikileaks is the source of all evil/no the US government is, but I dislike seeing outright lies that originate in the state media of tyrannical states being treated seriously.


This hasn’t been posted here yet, has it? It’s Glenn Greenwald on what’s happened with this latest series of events with wikileaks. I thought it was good, but I’m very left-wing so YMMV.


The world needs a hero, but instead it got Assange, who you have consistently opposed as a bad actor, bad person, etc regardless of the format of the leak. So you have specific accusations with no merit (“To what extent is Assange responsible for Bradley Manning’s problems?”) alongside your general statements of support for transparency. Well, let’s have some real talk.

The US government under both Bush and to a possibly greater extent Obama have made it clear they have no interest in setting up a credible internal mechanic to facilitate whistleblowing, and if anything we are further along towards hyper-classification than we were a few years ago. Your “good actors”, such as they are, happen to be in the midst of a collapse of traditional journalism generally, and thus only take an intermittent interest in these affairs when the cost-benefit of collusion with the government is apparently unsatisfactory. That’s not to say there aren’t good journalists and good publications, but that they are not the ones calling the shots on a systemic level.

So the concept of involuntary transparency comes into the marketplace of ideas through Wikileaks, capitalizing on modern technology and communication in order to put primary sources on government and corporate actions in the hands of anyone who wants to see them. They publicize documentation of crimes alongside the relatively mundane workings of state, and they did come up with a model (of collaborating with news organizations) that would represent a sort of middle ground that most people who think transparency is important.

The response to this was overwhelming government efforts to smear, hack, criminalize, and otherwise harass anyone who cooperated, while publicly torturing the presumed source of the leaks. While WL held it together for a while, it seems clear that the organization hit a breaking point a few months back and the worst-case scenario for its supporters took place, namely the BLEAARRGHing of all of the files all over the internet using the encryption password that had already become public knowledge. The degree to which this leak was intentional on the part of Assange, his new best enemy Domscheit-Berg, and any of a number of other links in the chain is extremely murky at the moment, because the fundamental paradox/hypocrisy of the organization has been that it has always seem determined to be secretive even before it had real cause to be paranoid and long after it ceased to be beneficial to its self-defense. This, by the way, has always been a problem but a secondary consideration in the broader context of the transparency debate so long as basic security protocols (change your passwords, dumbass) were observed.

So we’re left with a number of enduring echoes from this whole experience. First, that transparency units like the one set up by Al-Jazeera in the wake of the original furor are a good idea, and that plenty of other good hybrid approaches to transparency are possible. Second, if you’re a whistleblower you need to be selective about the information you release to a third party, because frankly the amount of time it was held back in Manning’s case is nothing short of exceptional and unlikely to be the norm. Third, there is no popular momentum for transparency, and there is a great deal of establishment counterpressure that attaches enormous consequences to participation in involuntary transparency regardless of the outcome of a particular leak. That’s where your consistent opposition to Wikileaks comes into play, and the fundamental contradiction between supporting transparency as a principle but being opposed to Wikileaks for the wide variety of reasons you’ve had through the duration of this story.

As for actual consequences, no one knows as of yet because there’s been so much material released, but the Australian government is already claiming one of its intelligence agents was outed, so I guess it’s ‘embarrassing’ for him/her.

I guess so, but since the Australian government and specifically their attorney general have been leveraging Wikileaks into the creation of a stronger, more invasive security apparatus from the outset (including pursuing far broader authority internationally earlier in the year for its typically small-scale domestic security organ) it’s hard to take them seriously without hard evidence. It’s entirely possible that someone was harmed by this, but it’s also true that the current stance does not represent a shift in position from when they were regarding redacted leaks or anything else. Both things matter, but not with the same level of impact.

So Wikileaks is fucked up, and may not survive this in a meaningful sense. I still think Gates was fundamentally on the money with the embassy cables themselves, but that doesn’t change that this compromises about half of the WL mission in a serious and possibly irreparable way simply because it breaches their security credibility. But the demonstrated fact that governments (alongside public opinion) oppose transparency reforms internally and will not tolerate externally driven ones is what actually matters, and continues to dictate the terms of the game. Agreeing with that as some abstract principle is useless, and I would submit that your willingness to take any angle against Wikileaks over time represents exactly that. We’ll just sit back and wait for the correct paragon of justice and public relations to come along and take on the issue of transparency in a more palatable manner. I suggest you pack a lunch.


That’s useful, thanks.


That’s fine, but my stance isn’t a product of naivete. I just don’t see the interests of a particular President or government functionary as interchangeable with those of his country. In fact, it’s trivial to think of situations where a leak that is embarrassing to a president would be tremendously beneficial to a country, such as (hypothetically) internal memos revealing the weakness of the case against Iraq before we put so many Iraqis and Americans into the ground in a manner where it seems only war profiteers have ultimately benefited. “Degrading relations” in that sort of context is exactly what transparency is supposed to be about, and Wikileaks did a great job of creating a template for that in a very hostile climate prior to this current fiasco.

The trade-off of being a leader is that you have to be ruthless sometimes in ways that are incompatible with morality at a personal level. But there are limits, both in terms of what you ought to be doing in terms of (shall we say) the national sense of ethics and our strategic self-interest, and the US government and others are actively trying to circumvent preexisting limits (as people with power tend to do) by undermining any effort at transparency. As with any power struggle where no side is objectively right (all of them), it is incumbent upon interested citizens to not only pay attention to the story but to make sure that their opinions on it are not just resolving ambiguity with comfortable loyalty to their state, and that they are sensitive to the power dynamics between the sides and whose misdeeds actually have material consequences on a grand scale at any given time.


Just a summary for those who don’t click through:

  1. Wikileaks provided the password to a torrent containing the diplomatic cables to The Guardian, with the understanding that cables would be redacted before publication.

  2. A journalist from The Guardian (David Leigh) published the password in his new book. Apparently, he didn’t understand that torrents are not private.

  3. Wikileaks recognized the security breach. Faced with a choice between giving access to unredacted cables to everyone willing to track down the password and torrent or giving access to everyone, period, they chose the latter, and therefore they were morally compelled to publish the unredacted documents. Their reasoning was that intelligence agencies bent on targeting informants would know their identities in either case, but the targets might only realize they had been compromised in the latter case.

I think I can understand Wikileaks’ reasoning, based on a principled view of obfuscation vs encryption. I suppose you could argue that they should never have given the password to a third party, but a few years ago the conventional wisdom was that only third parties in the mainstream media had the experience necessary to make appropriate redactions. Bear in mind that Wikileaks had already asked the State Department to redact the documents, and the government more or less refused.


In many cases, because it helps aid frank conversations between governments.

When things are said in public, there is a limit to how frank you can be, and saying certain things has a far greater effect. Especially in today’s internet echo chamber, where a minor phrase can “go viral” and cause huge problems. Diplomacy is quickly shifting back to smoke-filled back rooms and the like, and much more will go entirely unrecorded.

And the Salon article is effectively satire, as far as I’m concerned - I got up to the point where it said that the US government should have helped Wikileaks with the redaction, and stopped reading. It’s ridiculous to expect (the government to HELP an act of civil disobedience. Because, let’s be clear, that is precisely what much of this activity is - civil disobedience.

edit: speling


Good summary, Magnet.


Agreed that it is silly or naive to ask the U.S. Government to redact the documents. How would that work? Wikileaks gives them to the U.S. and then the U.S. essentially participates in their release by working with them? I assume that was more a publicity stunt than an actual belief that the government would partner with them.

The Wikileaks people have been going crazy calling the Guardian all kinds of names in their Tweet feeds. But you release stuff like this, that’s the risk you take.


How about Wikileaks gives the US Government a list of documents, and the Government goes “YOU CAN’T RELEASE ANY OF THOSE, BUT ESPECIALLY NOT THIS LIST OF ONES THAT WOULD BE EVEN WORSE THAN THE REST OF THE ONES YOU CAN’T RELEASE” and then everyone nods sagely and face is not lost.


What guarantees would they have? Look at the way this has come out, if there had also been a US document specifying that, this would have been even worse.

And that’s assuming good intentions all round…


Actually the key was published by the Guardian. Mostly on account of not having a clue.


The US is mature enough to know how to make a deal even in the absence of ironclad guarantees, good faith, or plausible deniability. After all, the State Dept has been trying to make deals with Gaddafi until quite recently.

That said, I understand why they weren’t inclined to censor their own classified documents, because that could in itself reveal information. But I don’t blame Wikileaks for asking.


So governments shouldn’t work to protect people’s lives when it results from an act of civil disobedience? So if public workers decide to go on strike and picket state owned factories, the government should refuse to send police, and instead let the strikers fight it out with the scabs?


LK, from a perspective of someone who represented my State Party at the UN, but without representing the position of my State Party, and having left government service, I would think it would be more than a little frustrating that frank but informal discussions with US state representatives could be captured in cables which were subject to exposure.

I’m not sure I could possibly go back to a position where I would speak frankly but informally with any US diplomat anymore. From that perspective, I think that US diplomatic efforts have been very badly hurt.


I’m not sure I understand. Is it because of what was said in the cables themselves, or because you think more leaks like this are likely in the future as a result of what happened?


The fact that US security has been compromised so badly, and so widely, and so easily, makes it hard to communicate frankly. I had truly frank discussions with US counterparts at one point - I would seriously reconsider having those same discussions now, knowing that my words could be put down and then held up for the world to know.

It’s not just a US-centric problem - if my country’s negative views on another State were made known, we would have our own share of problems.