Wikileaks Infodump Volume 2: Various unspecified US misdeeds


#1781

Would you say that future embassy cables being leaked is more or less likely in the wake of Wikileaks? I guess I just don’t understand it as a practical concern. The risk was always there, you were just unaware of it. Now you’re aware of it, but it’s a certainty that the status of that risk has changed considerably as a result of this scandal over the last few years. It’s most often used for the military, but I think pretty much all of us find ourselves “fighting the last war” every now and then.

If you were having truly frank discussions with US diplomats, then I assume you mean saying unpleasant things that you believe to be in the service of your country’s interests and not casual indiscretions of the sort that an amateur (I mean that literally, as in Tsavingirai’s unfortunate case) might deal in. Those “frank” discussions will continue as they always have, in direct proportion to their country’s perceived interests. If a diplomat is unable to deal with the US in that manner, then he’s replaced or the policy he represents will suffer. In the case of future Tunisian diplomats, for instance, they might look more favorably on American diplomacy as a result of Wikileaks leveraging its private criticisms into the public sphere, because ability to keep secrets will be unlikely to be the key variable for them. In the case of established, long-term allies, I’d say there’s nothing like a common enemy that scares the hell out of them like Wikileaks to inspire cooperation. Ultimately, I’d be surprised if the effect extended beyond improving practical opsec in terms of paradigm shifts in behavior.

It’s important not to conflate embarrassment of individuals, governments, and policies in the short term with the broader interests of the nation in the long run. That is the fundamental fallacy at the heart of this debate; how many wrongs can be unveiled by a leak before it magically transcends that mythical status of endangering national security and becomes public interest?

In any case, what I’d like to see is clarity on the part of criticisms. First, show me what a person thought of the original redacted leaks, and compare and contrast those thoughts with how they frame the current involuntary involuntary (yes, times two) transparency fiasco with respect to Wikileaks. Then we have a pretty good idea of what percentage of their belief in transparency and plain dealing where possible is genuine.


#1782

LK, there’s a difference between cables being read by another government as a result of espionage, as opposed to cables being splashed in public because the entire cable database is locked up less tightly than a password-protected zip file (hyperbole mine). You could imagine that the risk was “always there”, but I don’t think many people thought this was a serious possibility until it actually happened.

I’d have to disagree here. You sometimes make disclosures sometimes because a friend asks and it does not hurt your country’s interests to provide that feedback in a spirit of exchange and also because it is supposed to be informal and discreet.

I wouldn’t know whether long-term allies would consider Wikileaks a common enemy, but I would go so far to say that it is at the very least unpleasant to hear US talk behind your back. “So this is what your country thinks of us eh?” is hard to get around. I would say that from my perspective, a surprising amount of successful diplomacy is based on personal relationships - these relationships are easily damaged.

I’d be surprised if it didn’t! I get informal information all the time with no benefit to my sources all the time - if my sources knew that my information could go public, and particularly the source ID, I would get no information from these sources. I say this with certainty, and I’m not alone as I have heard the same from investigative firms I’ve engaged to run due diligence.

I absolutely disagree with this. If you embarrass a key person working on an agreement, you’ll be surprised how petty people can get. Just look at the US and raising the debt limit - I certainly felt that the personal interests or party interests transcended the broader interests of the nation.

Too much work! ;)


#1783

Fair enough. It’s useful when analyzing diplomacy to think in terms of consequences both at the tactical and strategic level, and I think you’re losing perspective on the latter because of your investment in the former as well as wholly discounting the distinction between the interests of a particular government and those of a nation in terms of its people. But there’s really not a lot I can do with your appeals to authority because that makes this a very different kind of discussion that I’m not sure can be productive on a public forum, and not just because I’m a huge fan of irony.


#1784

It all comes down to does the good outweigh the bad? Yeah, I know, that’s a duh statement.

But I struggle with myself on this whole Wikileaks thing. I wish it was as simple as it is is for some on both sides of the issue. On the one hand, I watch the Wiki people posting and acting as if they are the beknighted saviors of the world, reacting in horror and declaring the Guardian the most evil people on the planet because they released the Wiki release that Wiki gave them in a way that Wiki didn’t want, and they remind me of the kids I knew (and probably I was one of them) in college in the 70s who mix idealism and naivete and self righteousness in equal parts.

Is it good that a lot of backroom stuff is brought to light? Sure, in many cases. I would greatly prefer it if they actually went through and selectively picked things out to release rather than simply releasing tons of documents for which they themselves do not know the contents - that crosses the line to irresponsible in my book. The fact that it appears no one has been killed, etc. is as much good luck as anything.

If you assume that most of what goes on in international diplomacy and between the people who work in that area is nefarious and evil, then I guess blanket release of documents in which you don’t know the contents makes sense. I don’t see Destarius’s comments as appeal to authority as much as just common sense: people talk to other people in that kind of role, much is indeed relational (most of us do the same thing in dealings in the business or work world) and knowing that if I tell someone in another embassy with whom I have developed a strong friendship and mutually beneficial working relationship something like “Hey, keep this between us, but we need to not have scotch served at that dinner next week because my boss tends to go overboard with scotch, I think he has a real problem” or “We accidentally caught your boss having an affair with that Russian secretary who travels with Mokolov” or “frankly, I don’t think my boss is smart enough to do the deal you want to discuss, you really should try to go over his head in this case to Mr. Jones” etc., will be made public could be a “minor” problem but I could see it interfering with the day to day mundane workings.

Too long and meandering but that is where my mind is on this issue right now. I suppose the TL;DR version is I’d be more of a Wikileaks fan if they read what they were releasing and selectively released it.


#1785

They tried that already, with the “Collateral Murder” video. At the time, they were criticized for editing the video themselves.


#1786

Well, in that case they knew exactly what they had and exactly what they released, as well as what they cut.

In this case of these documents, they have no idea what they are releasing. They said that themselves several times. They asked people to help go through them, after they released them to the public, and report what they found. That’s where I have the greatest heartburn on this one - they don’t know what is in the documents that they are dumping in the public. I’m not up in arms and demanding they all be arrested (though I do assume this is illegal) just sorting out my own opinions.


#1787

I’m suggesting that Wikileaks is damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. When they release documents selectively, they are accused of bias because they are not part of the established media and have clear political motivations. When they ask the media to decide what should be released, they increase the risk of a security breach, as happened in this case.

That’s where I have the greatest heartburn on this one - they don’t know what is in the documents that they are dumping in the public.

That wasn’t the original plan. They felt obligated to dump the documents only to mitigate the damage caused when The Guardian published the torrent password, as described above.

If their new goal was to warn all the people who may have been compromised, then I don’t see any better options.


#1788

I think it’s fair for you to say that I’m much more invested at the tactical level given my prior involvement and actually having had the opportunity to meet the people we normally read about.

That said, I agree it’s a little difficult for us to discuss in a productive manner this given that I’m giving my own personal experience here. The fundamental comment I’m making here is that people have their own self-interest, and the contemplation of having to defend their own frank comments/embarrassment will impact openness in communication, especially in relation to the US.

One quick example here is where Lee Kuan Yew was cited in a cable where he called Islam ‘venomous’. It’s either true, in which case Lee Kuan Yew had said something very frank (although perhaps ill-advised) and is now scrambling to defend, or it’s not true, in which case the US are lying in their cables about what leaders say, neither or which is palatable.


#1789

You may be correct, but it sure didn’t seem that way reading their tweets during all of this. Before the whole Guardian fiasco they were bragging to the heavens about how much they had dropped on the world, etc. When someone asked what was in them, they said “We don’t know, too much, you’ll just have to read them yourself to figure it out, and as you guys find cool stuff let us know so we can tweet it to everyone.”

Again I may have just misread the intent (they post about 20 comments a day.)


#1790

In other news, there’s still tremendously valuable information coming out of these leaks, not least the extent to which Sweden’s policy on information generally and trade specifically has been guided by direct pressure from the US. And, again, feigning jadedness or lack of surprise does not actually make up an argument for why this isn’t clearly in the public interest and a reflection of what governments can do when they are free of oversight in the name of national security as a blanket policy.


#1791

LK, are actually arguing for transparency in government? That can only lead to…us knowing what our government is up to. And no one wants that!

I can’t say I am surprised by the information that we are basically forcing Sweden to adopt bullshit laws. It’s kind of what we do. But, hopefully, with that knowledge in hand, the Swedes themselves will be able to better fight it. Go Pirate Party!


#1792

Most people here and in public generally would agree with that as an ideal. The specific thing that I advocate is that involuntary transparency of the sort that headlines this thread is not an objectively good thing but it is a fundamentally useful and effective counterweight to government and corporate power.


#1793

I disagree that it leads to actual transparency. It leads to more unrecorded calls and back-room meetings. And things pushed onto actually-secure systems which in other times would have been on the general system.


#1794

I don’t know that involuntary transparency leads to anything but exposure for the incidents involved. The US is not suddenly going to start being more transparent because Wikileaks exists…

I do agree that it makes a counterweight. Whether it is an effective counterweight or enough of a counter, I can’t claim to know. I would bet it is not, but I am not sure.

That said, maybe, MAYBE, if enough data from wikileaks gets out, and the public pays enough attention, they will realize the need for transparency. /me hopes and prays for a moon pony


#1795

Surely no one thinks these dumped documents are going to lead to more transparency? Logically it will just result in people being much more careful about what they say and to whom they say it, and how they make sure that what they say is protected.


#1796

How does that information being moved to systems where there is a genuine national security interest (and which were not compromised although the non-important data shouldn’t be there) or simply not recorded in traceable form at all GET to the public in the first place?

Oh, and we’ll see harsher punishments for whistleblowers.

Again, bear in mind that if frank discussion is inhibited between counties, you’re going to see more tension in international relationships and damage to economies, at best (and lives lost, at worst) because of that. There’s a distinct difference between knowing that your government is negotiating with another country and the basis of their position, and the exact words said…


#1797

No large bureaucracy survives long without documentation. Information that is “not recorded in traceable form at all” is wasted information.

And things pushed onto actually-secure systems which in other times would have been on the general system.

As long as someone has access to documents, someone will leak the documents.


#1798

Really? Where are the dumps from the secure state and US intelligence networks?

And I think you’re giving too little credence to politician’s ability to take things off the record, when they know some things are being watched.


#1799

I’m not following what you are trying to say here…

Oh, and we’ll see harsher punishments for whistleblowers.

I don’t want to get crazy with reality here, but the Obama administration has been one of the worst administrations in awhile for whistle blowers. They are taking anyone and everyone to task and trying to get them into prison. So much for campaign Obama’s promises of government transparency.

Again, bear in mind that if frank discussion is inhibited between counties, you’re going to see more tension in international relationships and damage to economies, at best (and lives lost, at worst) because of that. There’s a distinct difference between knowing that your government is negotiating with another country and the basis of their position, and the exact words said…

Yeah, because the US is definitely using their power for good now, so we should just close our eyes and let them keep doing their jobs…

What are you trying to say here? That the system as it stands is working and we should just butt out?


#1800

The more secure systems? Have held, and are still secret. The system which was breached was accessible by a LOT of people!

What are you trying to say here? That the system as it stands is working and we should just butt out?

That the concept that wikileaks will increase longer-term government transparency is a pipe-dream.