OnPoint by Keith Ng

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OnPoint: Pay Attention

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  • Keir Leslie,

    Has there ever in the course of history been an example of this tactic working? I am not asking for theories about why it might work, but actual real evidence of times leaking has lead to either an increase in openness or transparency, or else a degradation of government's ability to conspire* in a way we might consider positive.

    (Hindering communication may be the point, but it does nothing to decrease the conspiratorial nature of government, & in fact makes it worse.)

    Think: which group in the US gov't does this empower? The national security apparat --- the part of the gov't the most conspiratorial.

    * This is the difficulty; if Assange merely wants to make it hard for government to function, I have no support for him at all. He has to show that the effects of this will be positive, and I continue to reserve judgement.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1452 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso, in reply to Keir Leslie,

    Has there ever in the course of history been an example of this tactic working?

    Has it ever been tried? People cite Watergate as if it was the same thing - it wasn't. That was a proper criminal conspiracy, not the application of conspiratorial logic to the 'regular', non criminal workings of government.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    Has it ever been tried?

    The leaks of Valerie Plame did a lot to convince me that the US systematically lied in the lead up to the Iraq war. The leaks that outed her as a CIA operative, however, were highly counterproductive.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10653 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso, in reply to BenWilson,

    The leaks of Valerie Plame did a lot to convince me that the US systematically lied in the lead up to the Iraq war. The leaks that outed her as a CIA operative, however, were highly counterproductive.

    I'm not even sure what 'the leaks of Valerie Plame' means. Her husband was conducting an investigation during which he may have relied on her knowledge as an operative - has anybody suggested he wasn't cleared to do so? But if you think that her outing as an agent is in any way comparable to the WikiLeaks strategy of mass disclosure, then I think we're getting our wires seriously crossed.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    Mordechai Vanunu's kidnapping and extremely punitive incarceration could be seen as a real disincentive to whistleblowers against Israel. But it is good to know that they have nuclear weapons. Puts the pressure on Iran in context.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10653 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to BenWilson,

    Leaking Plame's identity was an example of what happens when a ruling group with bad intent are the only ones with access to the information. Some like that should never be released.

    There are meant to be layers of checks and balances, but one of the reasons for the US being a prime target now is the way the evil cabal in charge under Cheney/Bush systematically gutted their nation's constitutional and operational provisions, including deciding that the Geneva convention doesn't apply to them. Waving flowers and chanting kumbaya at dangerous psychopaths like that is sure not going to work. Let's see if WikiLeaks does.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19719 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    Leaking Plame’s identity was an example of what happens when a ruling group with bad intent are the only ones with access to the information.

    Something that Wikileaks makes far far more likely.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1452 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso, in reply to Keir Leslie,

    Something that Wikileaks makes far far more likely.

    Even accepting this sillogism, which seems highly suspect to me, what are you actually saying? That we were better off by not knowing those things that we didn't know, because now they'll be made even more secret? I'm really struggling to figure out your ultimate point.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Keir Leslie,

    The Plame smear couldn't have happened without all the other internal safeguards being dismantled and the US people and media meeking rolling over. Information security or disclosure is never going to deal with that dimension.

    But it's reasonable that some stuff will remain secret - and there is no evidence so far that material is being released via WikiLeaks which would have harmful impacts on operatives and networks like the Plame travesty did.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19719 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    but nobody has suggested he wasn't cleared to do so I don't think

    True enough, I don't think his deliberate contradiction of the establishment line was ever accused of being illegal. They used other pressure to attempt to disincentivize and discredit him.

    As for the outing, the only comparison to Wikileaks is that they're both leaks. But when it's done for cynical political purposes that I don't agree with, then it seems quite wrong to me. There's still a case for secrecy on some matters.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10653 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to BenWilson,

    when it's done for cynical political purposes

    Not just that, but contravening all the governance safeguards - the process was corrupted.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19719 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Sacha,

    Information security or disclosure is never going to deal with that dimension.

    For sure. It was basically public knowledge at this point that the Bush team had deliberately lied their way into Iraq, but still he rode high in the polls.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10653 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso, in reply to BenWilson,

    There's still a case for secrecy on some matters.

    Has WikiLeaks ever taken the position that there should be no secrets whatsoever? If they did, they'd just dump all that they have. The problem is exactly that they need time and resources (which often means the help of regular media) to parse the information first and make sure that releasing it won't endanger informants amongst other things. So this is really not a valid counter argument for what they do, it seems to me.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to BenWilson,

    It was basically public knowledge at this point that the Bush team had deliberately lied their way into Iraq, but still he rode high in the polls.

    The polls showed that most US citizens believed the lies, actually. Many of them they still think Saddam bombed them - when they aren't distracted by their economy collapsing around them, that is.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19719 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    So this is really not a valid counter argument for what they do, it seems to me.

    I'm not attempting to make a counter argument. You just asked the question whether anyone had tried with the leaks, in the context of the discussion about whether it has led to any real improvements in openness. There have been many leaks over the years... let's discuss the extent to which they helped. I mentioned Plame because it stuck in my mind as a really fucked up leak, just to contextualize how cynically the strategy can be used.

    In fact, I think this supposed 'master key' that Assange has as an insurance policy against victimization, is just such a threat. He can dump the whole lot at a moment's notice, or a trusted key holder can do it on his behalf if he is silenced in some way. Even if "that way" happens to be that he is found to have violated important laws by a competent court.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10653 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso, in reply to BenWilson,

    You just asked the question whether anyone had tried with the leaks, in the context of the discussion about whether it has led to any real improvements in openness. There have been many leaks over the years... let's discuss the extent to which they helped

    I'm suggesting that they are fundamentally different strategies. Even the leak of the Pentagon Papers wasn't like what WikiLeaks does, which is attacking the edifice of secrecy. So it seems to me that citing historical leaks may not be helpful unless they are part of a similar design.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    So it seems to me that citing historical leaks may not be helpful unless they are part of a similar design

    If that's the case, then there's no evidence whatsoever to the claim that these leaks foster more open communication. It's hit-and-hope.

    But I disagree - what has happened with historic leaks is all we have, so it's better than no information whatsoever, and some dogmatic philosophizing. And it's a mixed bag - has Israel become more open with their nuclear program? Or are people too scared to blow the whistle about it now, because it's pretty clear that they can get away with kidnapping anyone from anywhere who does?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10653 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso, in reply to BenWilson,

    If that's the case, then there's no evidence whatsoever to the claim that these leaks foster more open communication. It's hit-and-hope.

    Yes, as most things that are done for the first time are.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    Has it ever been tried?

    Pentagon Papers, maybe? Ellsberg's release of those beefed up the antiwar movement substantially. From that point on, the end was in sight (in hindsight anyway) for America's involvement in Vietnam, which came relatively quickly as pre-Internet timescales go.

    It didn't change the way the government functioned, perhaps, so on that you have a point.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2934 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    Yes, as most things that are done for the first time are.

    That's one POV, I guess. I tend to think you can make informed guesses prior to an experiment, particularly one with huge consequences. But, the experiment is begun, so I guess we'll just see.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10653 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    I don't think that even the Pentagon Papers leak is comparable. What Ellseberg did was more directly to what Manning has allegedly done in copying the war cables and passing them on to Wikipedia, and arises out of moral outrage for the nature of the informaiton withheld. Assange is attacking the notion that communication between elected public officials should be confidential in the first place, due to his beliefs regarding how integral that confidentiality has become in making the actions of said officials unaccountable to us and undermining the whole idea of the consent of the governed. I think it's interesting in this respect that you are all offering examples of leaks that come from the world of intelligence. How would the release of, say, the 9/11 pager messages compare to those? I think we're looking at something entirely different here.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I think it's interesting in this respect that you are all offering examples of leaks that come from the world of intelligence.

    That's where most classified information is. As opposed to merely private.

    Leaks about the workings of private organizations can be damning, too, even though the consent of the governed is less widely upheld there.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10653 posts Report Reply

  • Tim Hannah, in reply to BenWilson,

    WikiLeaks has made informed guesses – see the zungazunga piece Giovanni’s linked to a few times. Now we’ll see if they’re right. But it isn’t really kick and hope.

    Also, the assumption was not that it would foster open communication.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 228 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    What Ellseberg did was more directly to what Manning has allegedly done in copying the war cables and passing them on to Wikipedia, and arises out of moral outrage for the nature of the informaiton withheld

    Fair point.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2934 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    Except obviously I meant WikiLeaks and not Wikipedia, and the word "comparable" was missing there. :-)

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

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