Wikileaks Infodump Volume 2: Various unspecified US misdeeds


#1821

The difficulty is that the relative cost-benefit of additional degrees of voluntary transparency is being combated with frequently overwrought rhetoric of national security concerns by governments across the board, so there’s not a lot of room for middle options being put in place by those that would be affected by them.

I’m not arguing nor have I ever argued for an absolute involuntary transparency, whatever that would even look like, and characterizing my stance as some sort of libertarian pie-in-the-sky as others are doing is exactly the sort of faux realpolitik that brought us to this point.

My points are as follows:
-The specific content of the wikileaks thus far has been tangential to the focus it has brought to the discussion about the hyperclassification of government.

-Wikileaks and organizations like it rely on the impulses of whistleblowers, so their content will be unpredictable and frequently uncomfortable, and may (especially in an information management fiasco like the last unredacted leak) lead to some harm. This isn’t something you take lightly, but something that is most effectively be engaged by people who are generally in favor of transparency rather than used as yet another Vague Portent of Doom Through Leaks by people that have been opposed to it from the outset. The latter is inevitable, but not really useful beyond registering yet another variant of generalized opposition.

-The government reaction to transparency has included the following: waging a vast, multilayered dirty war against anyone working for it, penalizing or marginalizing whistleblowers across the board, publicly torturing Manning as a deterrent and as a way of trying to manufacture a conspiracy, intimidating aspiring public sector workers with the concept that any connection to the leaks will destroy their career prospects, leveraging public indifference into reinforcing security infrastructure without any admission that hyperclassification is problematic as on a moral, practical, and strategic level, and so on.

This should be the heart of the issue, not how much Wikileaks twitter feed pisses someone off because it lacks the necessary gravitas. Nothing connected to that feed actually matters in the way that government reactions do.

In addition to that, I think the reaction to specific leaks by private individuals (and that’s where I think we’ve come to in our discussion) often conflates embarrassment and hindrance of government functionaries and specific policies with the national interest as a whole. That can be the case, but as the Swedish leak demonstrates it’s just as likely the leaks will negatively affect something that should be cast into the light and talked about publicly, not just because it’s (arguably) the right thing to do in that case but because it is secrecy itself that allowed a series of actions they could never get away with publicly to take place. I think if you clarify these things along the way you can get to an effective and constructive critique of the current scenario that does not lose the general panorama for the particulars, and those critiques need to happen and come from people within the various affected fields.


#1822

Buddy, it’s not left/right/libertarian when you’re talking about individual issues. Libertarian is a label you use to describe someones overall philosphy, not their view on a particular issue.

I should probably stop trying, LK appears to have been correct.


#1823

Sometimes being British is not the key variable, even if it is true.


#1824

I’m NOT British-ethnic. Thin ground.

And of course beliefs are equated with various parts of the political spectrum.


#1825

Dear Mr. Falcon,

I am not sure what you are arguing at all beyond a generic “wikileaks is not good”. Do you want to expand on that or do you have some other argument…or are you just bored at work?

Warmest regards,
A Dude


#1826

Matt, I’m arguing against the fuzzy concept that Wikileaks actions have been, overall, good for transparency. True transparency has to be achieved through citizen pressure to change the rules of government, not by pushing much discussion entirely out of the scope of reach of systems which have been compromised once.

Also, again, have you read Brin’s Transparent Society? Are you willing to take the tradeoff of losing privacy-in-public?


#1827

I am not sure how you could argue they have not been. When you have opaque and you make it less opaque, you are indeed improving the transparency of whatever you are referring to. That is what Wikileaks has done.

True transparency has to be achieved through citizen pressure to change the rules of government, not by pushing much discussion entirely out of the scope of reach of systems which have been compromised once.

This is a whole other matter. I am for true transparency, most likely far more than most (see my previous posts). But I am not sure how that is Wikileaks responsiblity or what they even have to do subject of government transparency as a policy.

Also, again, have you read Brin’s Transparent Society? Are you willing to take the tradeoff of losing privacy-in-public?

No, I have not read this book. Yes, I am very willing to make some trade offs in the name of government transparency. The specifics of those need to be discussed and determined before we throw the baby out with the bath water.

Here’s my position in a nutshell. My government does things they aren’t supposed to. Constantly. They do this because they know A) their subjects, as it were, are ignorant and B) Because they can get away with it. That needs to stop. We need to know what our elected officials are up to. What decisions and promises they make in our name. In my name.

Details need to be worked out (such as delaying sensitive information and still protecting the privacy of the citizen as much as possible), but the concept is sound. If we aren’t watching the people making decisions in our name, who is?


#1828

But Wikileaks have clearly pushed the issue of transparency into the public conscious, and that will obviously drive public pressure for transparency, if the support exists. Certainly I’m more focussed on this issue because of wikileaks, and just by this thread we can see that the subject has become a hot topic, whereas before I hardly ever heard about transparency and our need for it at all.

It seems bizarre to say “citizen pressure” must change governments, and completely ignore the fact that public pressure never comes about without a catalyst. You can’t just be “fuzzy” and hope for it, you have to do something to get people rallying behing the cause.


#1829

Because I am not only interested in the US government, or in the short term? There’s a massive difference between a given infodump and the cause of transparency. Also, bluntly, Assange’s behaviour was to say the least unwise, and IS going to reflect on Wikileaks in the public’s mind.

This is a whole other matter.

And I think that’s where we differ. I don’t give a used fig for any particular infodump, really (yes, certainly there need to be consequences, but it’s not what I’m interested in). I’m interested in systematic accountability built into the system, which flashy infodumps are only going to make harder to achieve.

(Also, I some of the people who are wikileak’s loudest supporters don’t seem to make exceptions for true national security, which also doesn’t exactly rub the public the right way)

No, I have not read this book. Yes, I am very willing to make some trade offs in the name of government transparency. The specifics of those need to be discussed and determined before we throw the baby out with the bath water.

I’m unconvinced that Wikileaks counts as anything but a shiny toy in that scenario, basically.

Tim - IME, Public Pressure comes about because of well organised protest movements, like 38 Degrees. Unless there’s something like watergate, which…there hasn’t been, from Wikileaks.


#1830

Agreed on both points.

And I think that’s where we differ. I don’t give a used fig for any particular infodump, really (yes, certainly there need to be consequences, but it’s not what I’m interested in). I’m interested in systematic accountability built into the system, which flashy infodumps are only going to make harder to achieve.

So you would rather that Wikileaks never happened and then magically everyone started getting their government to believe in transparency?

Wikileaks in not part of a greater transparency solution. What it is, is some data, some data more than we had before. That’s it. It’s not enough, it’s not being handled as I wish it would, and it won’t change the way governments or people act about transparency.

All of that said, it’s what we have. I think your argument amounts to looking at what we got and saying, “Ok, now check the gift horses teeth!”

I don’t see any evidence of your argument that Wikileaks existing makes it harder to get government transparency. We had very little. We now have still, very little (percentage wise).


#1831

Brin has the fundamental problem of being a science fiction author in outlook, which means he has a tendency to take a compelling conceit far beyond what the evidence suggests. I find Bruce Schneier’s critiqueof his work a good brief response, in that without analyzing the power relationships first and the transparency question with that in mind, you lose the ability to have a realistic conversation about it.

My perspective would be that there is no trade off, because that implies ordinary citizens have leverage in that equation. We don’t, and it’s really only responsive to mass outrage (and even their you can have outright invasion of privacy be very durable in the face of public misgivings, as seen in the many Patriot Act iterations).

What is a tremendous fallacy, though, is that putting decisionmakers under greater scrutiny in government, especially in its negotiations with large corporations, is somehow going to carry over to a greater disadvantage for ordinary citizens. We couldn’t be at a greater disadvantage, and it’s unclear whether transparency even on a far grander scale than is currently foreseeable will do much to make governments accountable simply because of that power imbalance (again, Schneier’s police officer example). But it is a prerequisite for any sort of reform if you can see the symptoms of problems but not their source that we have a means of diagnosing them, and thus transparency of any sort represents that initial step.

What Wikileaks has demonstrated (not by choice, of course) is that team loyalty and general apathy will triumph handily over rational, evidence-based (ie here is an example of wrongdoing that is invisible to you under the current rules, etc) arguments in favor of transparency. You can pretend this means we’re losing a fight that no one was doing much in before they brought the issue to the forefront, or you can gather what works of the model they’ve offered and move forward fully cognizant of the approaches with the public that have not worked, as with the Al-Jazeera Transparency Unit.

Again, this is a generalized discussion about transparency, and it’s important to delineate that in your objections in order to avoid getting bogged down in the particulars of a given leak (since the argument you walked into, was ostensibly about the unredacted leaks).


#1832

You don’t see the reactions of various governments to Wikileaks, tightening up their security, persecuting whistle-blowers and generally moving the wrong way as a result of the PR (far more than the actual contents of the releases) as a problem?

Have you read Brin’s return on the topic? (And he hasn’t been in scifi, really, for a decade now)

I feel that the Arab Spring re-proves (the original proof was from Solidarity, the union…) the fundamental point that the people, when they are willing to take a concept and hold strongly enough, can break a government resisting them.

The alternative is, as I said, something like Watergate - and Wikileaks hasn’t produced something of that magnitude. If anything, the volume of the releases has drowned out any specific reaction which might have done that, imo.

I’m pushing for 38 Degrees to launch a campaign to press the phone hacking issue to the UK to the hilt, actually. If it breaks ALL the major papers…so be it. There’s a cosy relationship between media and the government which has hindered transparency for too long.


#1833

…assuming the military doesn’t just gun them down when they try. That part is rather important.


#1834

Well yes, but can you see anyone outside China gunning down people for demanding transparency? Ignoring them if they’re not critical mass, certainly, even mocking them…


#1835

Hey, there’s a dictator list!

Of that list I don’t see any that would refrain. Myanmar/Burma, the African ones, probably all of the Middle Eastern ones. Note that Assad just finished having the military gun down mass protesters.


#1836

I’d say Putin was more likely to do it than most of those (I mean, en-mass, he’s certainly ordered the assassination of some of his richer enemies calling for transparency).

Most of those countries, like Syria, have more pressing opposition movement calls than transparency. Like, well, democracy.


#1837

A well organised protest movement is great… if anyone cares. If you haven’t got anyone who cares, nobody is going to protest. This is why I said you need a catalyst. It’s hard to get the public worked up about transparency when you don’t realise what is being hidden from you.

Can you imagine there would have been any public pressure on the British government to reform expenses and make the process more transparent if there had been no whistleblower, and instead some well organised protest movements? I can just imagine the tens of people marching in the street demanding change because maybe some politicians are dishonest. That would have got the MPs worried!

I think the reason there hasn’t been mass protests about transparency triggered by wikileaks (at least in the West) isn’t because their method is particularly wrong (there maybe better methods but I think it does actually work). I think it is because people just aren’t that bothered. Even the expenses scandal in the UK might have passed without much notice in better economic times. It was the combination of public spending cuts, rising unemployment and economic hardship that created the outrage necessary to inflame public opinion.

I guess there’s just enough transparency in Western countries that people just can’t get mad about it. But I think if you keep up the pressure through leaks, the right moment might come where pressure builds enough to change attitudes above. That may be wishful thinking, but probably less fuzzy than hoping public pressure will just materialise out of nothing.


#1838

38 Degrees have, in fact, had a number of notable successes* even the in the face of a Government which has proven quite impervious to factually-supported criticism of their policies on other fronts.
(*Forestry sell-offs (total reversal), NHS Direct’s closure (it has been in name, but not function - NHS choices added the functionality instead), “Top-slicing” the BBC licence fee (“on indefinite hold”) and several other issues…)

And I disagree in principle, I think that repeated minor leaks simply make the governments draw back from sharing actually important information, while keeping a shell in place to keep most people happy. Either you need a citizen’s movement or you need something big enough to be a hammer…otherwise you’re largely talking to the subset which cares about these things in the first place!


#1839

So again, I ask. The solution is what? That Wikileaks doesn’t exist and we keep hoping for the best from our government and others? You are confusing two separate topics.

Topic #1 - The validity and usefulness of Wikileaks
Topic #2 - Transparency by governments

They are related only in that some of their subject matter is the same. The existence of Wikileaks does not either make governments more likely to be transparent or stop the people from pushing for government transparency.

It could make governments look for more ways to protect their privacy, but that would happen with or without Wikileaks. They jealously guard this shit already.

I feel that the Arab Spring re-proves (the original proof was from Solidarity, the union…) the fundamental point that the people, when they are willing to take a concept and hold strongly enough, can break a government resisting them.

This I can agree with. But don’t compare government transparency needs with stopping dictators that are actively threatening the life of those involved. The US government is not at that point, at least not currently. This a good comparison of First World and Third World problems. And in what is referred to as the First World, and especially in this country, the average citizen doesn’t care that much about government transparency, sadly enough.

I’m pushing for 38 Degrees to launch a campaign to press the phone hacking issue to the UK to the hilt, actually. If it breaks ALL the major papers…so be it. There’s a cosy relationship between media and the government which has hindered transparency for too long.

A whole other issue. Don’t even get me started on the corporate media. They aren’t media anymore, just entertainment. Sure, they cover things sometimes that could be construed as news worthy, but only when it coincides with their corporate interests without causing any problems for their corporate well being.


#1840

I see the fact that Americans are ok with that and in fact will often applaud it as a problem, but as a recurring one with democracy based around soundbites, not one particular to Wikileaks. I imagine that holds true for most other governments. In this case, we get the government we deserve, and the reaction to wikileaks is a symptom but not a cause. It’s a hugely important symptom that needs to be talked about in its own right, but I don’t blame WL particularly for it anymore than I usually blame the bottom end of the power dynamic in the usual nonviolent-activist-triggers-crackdown cycle. Again, the power dynamic tells you who to blame.

Have you read Brin’s return on the topic?

I have, but I find it murky and confused. He’s more direct in this article, but he also insinuates things that are flatly deceptive (that wikileaks was a prime mover in climategate) and freely conflates purposefully directed smears with WL style leaks. And he concededs that geopolitically, the impact of WL in the Arab Spring may outweigh any of the potential harm, which is the exact sort of calculus that many of us have been using as a corollary to supporting transparency. And he’s kind of for openness when it happens cooperatively, but has no plan for when it’s resisted by power structures. So I’m not sure what do with that except that I guess it has to be frustrated to see a different egotistical frontman become the face of what he predicted.

(And he hasn’t been in scifi, really, for a decade now)

Oh, I see. Well, if you inspire one Postman, that pretty much seals your image.

I feel that the Arab Spring re-proves (the original proof was from Solidarity, the union…) the fundamental point that the people, when they are willing to take a concept and hold strongly enough, can break a government resisting them.

Brin suggests WL had a substantial role in that, for all of its mistakes. Other independent observers agree. I don’t see why it makes sense to be against it because it fails to be the optimal approach to transparency, when the case for the harm it actually did is so nebulous.

The alternative is, as I said, something like Watergate - and Wikileaks hasn’t produced something of that magnitude. If anything, the volume of the releases has drowned out any specific reaction which might have done that, imo.

Well, they didn’t get a leak of cherry-picked winners, and ultimately their pledge is to publicize the whole thing if possible. Ultimately, they used the best judgment of a collective of experienced journalists to filter through them, and the results were pretty amazing. That fell apart, and I have trouble not seeing the absurd amounts of government pressure (unopposed by the public at large) as a key factor in that. Then the whole thing got dumped out, which is a separate phenomenon and not one that you can attribute to WL strategy since it was clearly the product of error/negligence/whatever between them and their partners and former staff. And it’s still producing substantive disclosures like the Swedish one I linked above, and while I don’t doubt redacting would have been better WL had to make a choice to only allow security agents and hackers to get at it or simply disclose what was now in selective public release.

I’m pushing for 38 Degrees to launch a campaign to press the phone hacking issue to the UK to the hilt, actually. If it breaks ALL the major papers…so be it. There’s a cosy relationship between media and the government which has hindered transparency for too long.

That’s super. I don’t see where it’s in conflict with WL. The philosophy of divide and conquer that Brin is so fond of citing as his insight in applying the Enlightenment is no less useful to those in office or the wealthy when applied downward.

That doesn’t mean that criticism of WL shouldn’t come from people that generally agree with its approach, it just shouldn’t be allowed to turn into the main axis of the debate unless you also have serious objections to government and corporate transparency per se.