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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Glimpse Inside the Fish Bowl

Father John Trigilio has recently expressed outrage. The release of US internal diplomatic messages by Wikileaks is treasonous!

Yes.
Well.

It can't be Assange who is treasonous since treason is an action taken against one's own legitimate government. The man who runs Wikileaks is Australian.
That rules him out.

We could lay the charge against whichever American released the documents to Wikileaks, of course, but therein lies the rub.

Can we assume everything our government does is legitimate?
In other words, are there occasions when government action should be brought to the attention of the world?

I am thinking of the numerous examples of US government sponsored testing of radioactive and biological agents on various sub-populations within US borders, the testing of these agents against American citizens. Would it have been treasonous to release that kind of information, even though that information release would destabilize a particular President or government party?

Or, try another question.
Was it treasonous to reveal who was behind the Watergate break-in?

You may argue that the President and his cohorts broke the laws, and therefore it was right to reveal their activities.
OK.
But now we are into a matter of judgement, for in order to make that assessment, we must, in some sense, be both trial judge and jury in order to determine what should be released and what should not. And isn't a citizen who acts as both trial judge and jury breaking the law, assuming guilt before a trial, etc.?

Notice, I'm not arguing against the idea that each of us must act as trial judge and jury in such a situation. I think that's a laudable thing for everyone to do.

Whenever a leak like this happens, it happens because someone feels the information being released should be more widely known in order to prevent some abuse. Whether that judgement is correct may be open to question, but that is generally the motive which drives the leak (it may also be the case that the person releasing the information is being paid to do so, which definitely would be treason, but let us assume the higher motives).

To Whom Was This News?

Now, as to the information leaked, to whom was this news?

Despite the protestations to the contrary, I would strongly wager that none of the principles named in the cables were entirely unaware of how others viewed them. The diplomatic community is not incredibly large, and they all know that everyone is spying on each other, most of them probably managing it with at least some success.

So, just as the diplomats routinely lie in their public utterances to the unwashed masses (read you and me), while privately informing their superiors of the real, publicly unstated problems, so these same diplomats are required to register public shock and concern about these public revelations, if only so as not to blow the cover on the people who had already revealed all of the cable contents to them moments after the relevant cables were sent.

In short, these public officials are shocked, shocked to find gambling going on at Rick's out what American diplomats really think.

They are just as shocked as American diplomats would be to hear the same from other countries.

The Wikileaks avalanche will "chill" international relations not one whit.

So, again, to whom is this news?
The only people who are really getting a new slant on the world is us, the unwashed masses.

We get the opportunity to see that our diplomats are not truly the raving loons and farcical idiots they publicly represent themselves to be. Much to our shock, we discover in some cases, they actually do have a grasp on reality, on some level they do recognize that Islam is a threat, certain world leaders are recognized as murderous maniacs, etc.

Even as we revel in the incompetence, the high school antics, of Barack's officials, it is comforting to know they aren't always the absolute bubble-heads they pretend to be.


The Threat

Does Wikileaks represent a threat?

To be sure, it does.

It threatens to make clear what is going on in the world - a highly dangerous thing to do, if you don't want that information out.

But in a democratic republic, shouldn't the people have some idea of what is going on?

To date, no one in State or anywhere else has said any of the released cables are fabrications. Everyone seems to agree they are the real thing.

So, all we are getting here is the truth - at least more truth than we previously had - and isn't it the truth that will set us free?

Now, some will argue that the release of this kind of information already has and certainly will, get people killed.

That's absolutely true.

For those of us who thought we were mostly at peace, the new realization that we have never been at peace, that we have always been combatants in a war, a war that generates real blood and real casualties, this realization may come as a shock.

Once you are finished being shocked, we can start the conversation again.

In normal battle situations, soldiers are put in harm's way and many of them get killed.
In information-gathering situations, soldiers are put in harm's way and many of them get killed.

In normal warfare, we do everything we can to limit casualties - armor, flak vests, etc.
In information warfare, we do everything to limit identification of the soldier. Anonymity is his armor, the release of information is the artillery fusillade that kills him.

In an avalanche of information, there may be some "collateral damage."
That's how normal warfare describes civilian casualties.
That's how information warfare describes the loss of soldiers who are agents.
Notice the difference between civilians and soldiers.

You may argue that the loss of the spy puts the civilians at risk.
That's true.
But the "collateral damage" of real warfare, by definition, means the civilians are already dead, and people seem to swallow that without blinking.

Why is the bloody reality easier to bear than the fear built into a barely outlined possibility?
Is it because we are no longer men?


The Bare Truth

Wikileaks has, so far, only released information from the United States, if only because the US is the least likely to execute someone for releasing state secrets, so US citizens who have access to such information are less concerned about leaking it to something like Wikileaks then would be their opposite numbers in more dictatorial governments.

But, as various spying missions bear fruit, we can be certain that embarrassing information about other governments and multinational corporations will also come to light through Wikileaks. When it is in certain nation's interests to reveal, when a certain corporation can benefit from the facts, then the information will come out.

Wikileaks will become just one more tool, one more player, in the diplomatic game, the first Internet state, as it were, dedicated to the embarrassment of other, more geographically bound states. The various spies and diplomats will adjust their tactics to take Wikileaks into account, even as Wikileaks attempts to circumvent those adjustments.

Wikileaks will be the international anonymizer, a useful weapon in any international arsenal. It will not be destroyed precisely because, although very dangerous to any particular government (who really wants the public to know what is going on? Where's the advantage in that?), it will prove to be too useful to every government.

And we will occasionally get a glimpse inside the fish bowl.

17 comments:

  1. i agree completely... interpol placing a warrant out for assange's arrest is ridiculous!

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  2. A few people want him dead, no big deal

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  3. I don't understand the big deal with wikileaks. Are there really people that didn't know the government lies? Really? It's not like we will ever do anything about it. Keep piling on the facts on how flawed the system is, so people will complain more and do even less about it. Yay.

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  4. I totally agree with you man. But the powers that be aren't interested in the truth becoming exposed. It's not good for business.

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  5. yeah I'm with classically trained...who is ignorant enough to believe everything the government says anyways?

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  6. The release of diplomatic cables has been quite cathartic: nice to see an acknowledgement of the many elephants in the living room.

    The government now needs to be seen to take charge of the situation. In part to counter the impression that the administration is utterly incompetent, more importantly, to re-assure other parties that they can deal with the US in confidence in the future.

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  7. Whats new. Government lies to get in office, lies to each other lies to other governments......same old story

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  8. i respect Assange. the man walks around with a permanent target on his back. he has managed to do what all the world's news agencies combined have failed to do.

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  9. "All the world's a stage" as the saying goes.

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  11. You know as much as the media is putting such as bad light on wikileaks, I think they do a lot of good. There isn't much damage done other than embarrassment to other countries and the US.

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