Thursday, December 23, 2010

WikiLeaks Thoughts

I have mixed feelings about WikiLeaks' recent release of classified information. (Bruce Sterling wrote about it rather well, it's worth checking out.)

However, I have even more mixed feelings about the response to WikiLeaks. Much like terrorism, I think our reactions to the events are both more telling and potentially more destructive than the events themselves.

Here are a few things to consider:

US security for this kind of material is clearly terrible.

WikiLeaks is a relatively small, powerless, and benign organization. If they were able to acquire this kind of material with relative ease, what can a large, powerful, and malevolent organization achieve? What have they already achieved?

If all this material was so sensitive, why wasn't it better protected? Individual messages weren't encrypted. It was all easy enough for one person to access without setting off any alarms, and literally walk out the door with it. Again, this person (Manning) wasn't someone with spectacularly high-level security clearances.

There have been many discussions lately about potential collateral damage:
    • The WikiLeaks release may put diplomats and other agents of the USA in harm's way
    • I have heard pundits say the "revenge" DDOS attacks aimed at PayPal, MasterCard, and Visa may hurt "the poor" (who "depend on credit cards during this holiday season") and "craftspeople" (who rely on the big financial companies to process gift transactions)
    ...and yet there has been very little discussion of the people who have already been actually harmed by actions taken which WikiLeaks and others have uncovered.

    I'm referring to the tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis killed, maimed, and injured; of the people rendered by the USA to other countries for torture and interrogation; of the US soldiers killed in 2 wars, with many injuries and deaths propagandized or covered up.

    This is not to say these wars are good or bad - that's a topic for another post - but the US media continues to ignore the deaths.

    Is it reasonable to attempt to control the WikiLeaks information now that it is available on the Internet? Like any MP3 or movie, the WikiLeaks data is widely available to the general public and will be forever.

    People who work for the government or even may want to work for the government are being discouraged or forbidden from reading the (now publicly available and widespread) material, as if it will taint or corrupt them somehow.

    The admonition seems ridiculous, and the implied threat (if we can prove you read this stuff, you may be in trouble) seems like something from the Soviet Union's darkest days.
    • Clearly legitimate news sites like the New York Times are being threatened for covering the material
    • Companies which provide any services potentially related to this material are being threatened (and are rapidly caving under pressure)
    • These companies are also acting in disconcerting ways - see Bank of America's refusal to process donations to WikiLeaks. Should your bank be allowed to dictate what you can and can't do with your money?
      If all that can happen before any trial or charges, what does it mean for freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and due process? These hammers aren't being dropped selectively, they're being applied broadly and quickly with little diligence.

      The criminal charges against Julian Assange for sexual misconduct or rape, while serious, are a sideshow meant to distract everyone from the serious security breach and the even more serious information contained in the cables; and from the corporate and government reaction to same.

      Whether he is guilty or not is not relevant or germane to a discussion of the content of the cables; and it's not relevant to a discussion of whether having this information out there is a good or bad thing.

      And note that while mud is being slung loudly at Assange, very little is being said about Bradley Manning, who is being held in SuperMax-style solitary confinement. This is considered incredibly harsh treatment, bordering on torture. The U.N. is investigating his conditions. Manning hasn't been convicted of anything, he hasn't had a trial. He's not particularly dangerous. The government is willing to "detain" him in solitary for 23 hours a day. What will they do to you when you protest?

      Finally, I would note WikiLeaks and other related groups are being labeled things like "anti-establishment" and "anarchists".

      The whiff of 50s-era Red Scare-ism aside, last time I checked, "anarchists" were people who "seek to overturn government, with no purpose of establishing any other system of order in the place of that destroyed."

      That sounds a lot like the current USA Republican party and/or Tea Party (same thing), who want to "shut [the US] government down". They've threatened and implied violence if they don't get their way. They haven't come back with any plans. 

      Troubling times.

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