If you'd called the Cable leaks "an irritant" a week ago, before we knew what it contained, you'd have been merely rash. But if you wrote an editorial in the Herald calling it "an irritant" and basically an IT security issue this Saturday, then you have seriously not been paying attention.
It's hard to see it as anything but a catastrophe for US diplomacy. Secrets have been disclosed, allies humiliated, enemies antagonised, relationships compromised, diplomats are getting recalled... for better or worse, it's undeniably a clusterfuck.
What they say about world leaders is both horrifying - the world is governed by fools, thieves and maniacs - and comforting - we seem to do okay despite being governed by fools, thieves and maniacs. But these are sideshows in what is, essentially, a newsletter written for the people who run the world.
We saw that Afghanistan is fucked. Whereas we use to the think of it as run-of-the-mill corrupt, with a fairly bleak outlook once the Americans left, it turned out that the reality is far worse. The Vice-President was caught walking out of the country with $52m in unexplained cash. The corruption is systemic, massively massive, and utterly unsustainable. Afghanistan, as an enterprise, is hopelessly fucked.
Less solid, but still credible is the *incredible* accusation that Russia is a Mafia state, with Putin pocketing billions, criminals working for the state and the law enforcement agencies working towards criminal ends. And not even war crimes, or human rights kind of crimes, but just plain old crime. If this is true, the a former superpower *is* a criminal organisation now.
Far from being hypothetical, cyberwarfare is already a hot war, with mounting evidence that China is particularly active.
More than just new information, this is a new world view. It's a new set of "Hey, this is what your world looks like". Perhaps it doesn't actually change the way we interact with the world. But the very fact that the world runs on so much that we don't know about should make us get up and pay attention.
With the greatest of ironies, I'm writing this post from mainland China, on the wrong side of the Firewall that Dare Not Type Its Name in Plain Text. Having completely failed to do my homework, I didn't realise that China started blocking Tor - the silver bullet I was counting on - about a month ago. Mucking around with bridges and other tools, but it's much harder to learn about and get the tools you need when you're on THIS side of the wall (and I haven't gotten it working in Ubuntu yet).
I feel like a Second Amendment gun-nut, watching the Federalmonetaristislamocommunazis smash through my door and realising that I have the wrong kind of ammo.
To be honest, I've always had a great deal of sympathy for the spirit (if not the practice) of those gun-nuts - that as citizens and as individuals, we have a responsibilty to be the ultimate check on government. It doesn't mean we have to exercise it, but the point of a check is to simply have the capacity to check. Nor does that ultimate check necessarily have to be violence.
One of the most practical things we can do is to learn about free tools like Tor, Freenet and Freegate (I can't link to any of this. Please, can some kind soul chuck some links in the comments?). I admit I was pretty complacent about this stuff when the Iranians were protesting. I didn't get too worked up when they started putting in internet filters. But the combination of the attacks against Wikileaks, the Australians' use of the filter against Wikileaks (back in 2009), and being in China and experiencing the Firewall in its full glory has made me realise that a) this is getting less hypothetical by the day, and that b) by the time you *need* to learn how to defend your freedom, you no longer have the freedom to do so.