ModernityBlog

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln

Wikileaks And Its Importance.

with 8 comments

There is quite a disagreement over the significance of the Wikileaks’ new material and I confess I am not a Guardian reader so did not manage to absorb their take on matters, yet.

Political Betting is rather dismissive of the whole matter, suggesting that it has displaced other more important items from the political agenda, and whilst that might be true, it seems to me to be taking a rather parochial and limited view of the many connected issues.

I do not think we fully appreciate how the Internet has changed our grasp of world events, power relationships and the control of the news agenda.

As I have argued before, national governments have made a concerted effort to restrict and control the Internet and they do so not because they are concerned particularly with pornography or downloading of films.

No, one of their prime concerns is controlling the flow of information and what people know about issues. That approach applies to dictatorial states across the world, such as China, Burma and parts of the Middle East, but not exclusively so, it also happens in Western countries, just in a far more subtle form.

Governments are, by their nature, in power, very literally. They want to control things, influencing how people perceive the world, how they perceive government policies and more critically, politicians.

The Wikileaks’ material makes it all the more harder for politicians to lie, fudge issues and mislead their constituents and the wider public, which is why it matters.

Nowadays we view world events in a completely different light than we did, say 30 years ago. We can obtain information and opinions from around the world, with a few exceptions. Aided by automatic translation tools we can read foreign media and gain insights into different countries, customs and attitudes.

So in all of that, we are less dependent on governments and media groups to feed us their predetermined agendas or shape how we see the world.

That is why the Wikileaks’ release has great significance.

On top of that we must not forget history, these documents provide a real insight into the shady world of governmental dealings. They confirm what many of us had suspected, and in doing so they are important, providing solid confirmation of how governments and politicians really work, beyond the public gaze. If we truly wish to hold politicians, political leaders and our rulers to account then we should welcome the released material.

Wikileaks’ work is a way of helping us to keep tabs on politicians and understand the underlying motivations behind the public face of governmental actions, behind the bland press releases, behind the fake smiles, which is why we should welcome it.

Update 1: A Very Public Sociologist has covered the US and British government’s reaction to Wikileaks.

Update 2: Shutting the stable door is covered by The Register:

“In addition to introducing policies designed to plug leaks, the Obama Administration has characterized the Wikileaks release as an attack on the United States and has promised to take aggressive steps to hold responsible those who stole the information. Some politicians, including Peter King, the incoming chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, have called on Attorney General Eric Holder to categorize Wikileaks as a terrorist organization to to prosecute founder Julian Assange for espionage.”

Update 3: Wikileaks was subject to a denial of service attack, but as reported:

“Whoever launched the attack, or whatever method they used, the assault had no effect on stemming the flow of information from the leaked cables. Even when the Wikileaks site was down, media outlets around the world – including The Guardian and the New York Times – made the whistleblower’s leaked documents available to all and sundry.”

Update 4: This is a list of Wikileaks mirror sites, just in case the main one is off line:

“wikileaks.org – Official Wikileaks Page [46.51.171.90, 184.72.37.90]
cablegate.wikileaks.org – Secret US Embassy Cables [91.194.60.90, 91.194.60.112, 204.236.131.131]
chat.wikileaks.org – Secure SSL Chat Page [88.80.13.160]
sunshinepress.org – Secure Document Submission Page [88.80.2.32]
wikileaks.com – Points to Official Site [88.80.13.160]
wikileaks.net – Points to Official Site [88.80.13.160]
wikileaks.biz – Points to Official Site [88.80.13.160]
wikileaks.de – Points to Official Site [88.80.13.160]
wikileaks.eu – Points to Official Site [88.80.13.160]
wikileaks.fi – Points to Official Site [88.80.13.160]
wikileaks.mobi – Points to Official Site [88.80.13.160]
wikileaks.nl – Points to Official Site [88.80.13.160]
wikileaks.pl – Points to Official Site [88.80.13.160]
wikileaks.us – Points to Official Site [88.80.13.160]
ljsf.org – Points to Official Site [88.80.13.160]
Real mirrors on different IP Addresses

wikileaks.info – Mirror hosted in Switzerland [62.2.16.94]
wikileaks.se – Mirror hosted in Sweden [88.80.6.179]
nyud.net – Mirror hosted in the United States [129.170.214.192]
Important Wikileaks Links

twitter.com/wikileaks – Official Wikileaks Twitter Page
facebook.com/wikileaks – Official Wikileaks Facebook Page”

Update 5: This is the Google cache of the Cablegate site.

Update 6: Computer World has more on the DoS attacks:

“WikiLeaks, the focus of attention since it released a quarter-million U.S. diplomatic cables two days ago, is again under a denial-of-service (DoS) attack, Internet researchers said today.

The site remained online with some short interruptions, however, as did a secondary site, cablegate.wikileaks.org, where nearly 300 U.S. State Department internal messages have been published thus far.

[The attackers] have upped their game,” said Craig Labovitz, chief scientist at Arbor Networks, a supplier of anti-DoS technology.

“This looks like a different attack from yesterday. It’s a more complex attack, with multiple components, and it’s a more significant attack,” added Labovitz.

WikiLeaks echoed Labovitz’s take on today’s attack. According to the organization’s Twitter account, Tuesday’s attack quickly reached 10Gbit/sec (gigabits-per-second), or two-and-a-half to five times larger than Monday’s.

Labovitz estimated yesterday’s DoS, which was launched by a single hacker, at between 2Gbit/sec and 4Gbit/sec.

WikiLeaks has been under assault since shortly after it began publishing diplomatic cables from a trove of more than 250,000 messages. The group provided several newspapers with the complete cache, but is releasing the cables to the public in small dribbles on cablegate.wikileaks.org. In the U.S., the New York Times has been writing about the contents of the cables.

Both WikiLeaks’ main site, wikileaks.org, and the Cablegate site were being attacked today, said Labovitz. “

Update 7: Heather Brooke at the Guardian makes some good arguments:

“Individually, we have all already experienced the massive changes resulting from digitisation. Events or information that we once considered ephemeral and private are now aggregated, permanent, public. If these cables seem large, think about the 500 million users of Facebook or the millions of records kept by Google. Governments hold our personal data in huge databases. It used to cost money to disclose and distribute information. In the digital age it costs money not to.

But when data breaches happen to the public, politicians don’t care much. Our privacy is expendable. It is no surprise that the reaction to these leaks is different. What has changed the dynamic of power in a revolutionary way isn’t just the scale of the databases being kept, but that individuals can upload a copy and present it to the world. In paper form, these cables amount to some 13,969 pages, which would stack about 25m high – not something that one could have easily slipped past security in the paper age.

To some this marks a crisis, to others an opportunity. Technology is breaking down traditional social barriers of status, class, power, wealth and geography – replacing them with an ethos of collaboration and transparency.

Leaks are not the problem; they are the symptom. They reveal a disconnect between what people want and need to know and what they actually do know. The greater the secrecy, the more likely a leak. The way to move beyond leaks is to ensure a robust regime for the public to access important information.

Thanks to the internet, we have come to expect a greater level of knowledge and participation in most areas of our lives. Politics, however, has remained resolutely unreconstructed. Politicians, see themselves as parents to a public they view as children – a public that cannot be trusted with the truth, nor with the real power that knowledge brings.”

Update 8: The hows and why the world’s media chose to publish the WikiLeaks embassy cables are discussed at Journalism.co.uk:

Potentially harmful, condemnable, a breach of security, reprehensible – all terms used by the US ambassador to the UK Louis Susman to describe the latest leak by whistleblowing website WikiLeaks of more than 250,000 secret or confidential cables sent by US embassies across the globe.

“Releasing documents of this kind place at risk the lives of innocent individuals – from journalists to human rights activists and bloggers to soldiers and diplomats. It is reprehensible for any individual or organization to attempt to gain notoriety at the expense of people who had every expectation of privacy in sharing information,” he writes on the US Embassy in London’s website.

Yet, as with WikiLeaks’ recent Iraq war logs and Afghanistan leak, several media outlets have officially partnered with WikiLeaks to help publish the cables as they are drip fed to the wider world.

Update 9: The PBS Newshour blog has an interesting entry, Digging into Wikileaks’ ‘CableGate’ which shows how it can be broken down into topics.

Update 10: The Editors Weblog looks at Wikileaks’ ‘cablegate:’ how the newspapers approached it:

“Wikileaks itself is publishing the cables in batches over the next few months. “The subject matter of these cables is of such importance, and the geographical spread so broad, that to do otherwise would not do this material justice,” said the organisation’s dedicated site for this leak. It is the largest classified information release so far. The site allows users to browse the cables by date or by origin.

The newspapers were given access to the material “several weeks ago,” according to the New York Times, and the five agreed to begin publication online on Sunday. All the publications involved gave the US government early warning of their intention to publish, according to the Guardian.”

Update 11: HuffPost has WikiLeaks Cablegate LIVE Updates running.

Update 12: Cablegate: A blessing in disguise for US at the Periscope Post:

“One aim of the Wikileaks project seems to be to humiliate the US government at any given opportunity but could the latest Wikileaks information dump prove to be a blessing in disguise for President Obama’s embattled administration?

At a press conference, Hillary Clinton strongly condemned the “illegal disclosure of classified information” and said the it “undermines our efforts to work with other countries to solve shared problems” and pursue “robust foreign policy.” But is the opposite the case? Might the leaks smooth the way for the US?

Update 13: Most opposition to Wikileaks comes from essentially governmental or conservative thinkers, people who want the status quo to continue, so I was all the more surprised to read criticism of Wikileaks from the Socialist Unity blog.

I reproduce it in full, to do it justice, wikileaks – not big, not clever:

While there is some base amusement to be found in the discomfiture of the American government, I am extremely uneasy about the current Wikileaks exposure of secret diplomatic communications.

Diplomacy is an important lubrication for the relationships between states; and some of the recent revelations, particularly those relating to Iran and Korea are simply destabilising of already tense situations.

What on earth is gained by Julian Assange in seeking to undermine the relationship between Beijing and Pyongyang, when the government of the People’s Republic of China is one of the few interlocutors who can exercise any restraining influence on the erratic and paranoid rogue state of North Korea? To do so when the Korean peninsula is teetering on the cusp of war; and the nuclear armed North Korea is in the midde of an unstable succession crisis is the height of irresponsibility.

It seems that a prurient sense of entitlement has overridden any discretionary judgement about whether there is a public interest in revealing potentially sensitive, confidential documents.

Update 14: Sky News is running with the story, UK ‘Promised To Protect US In Iraq Inquiry’ :

“The British government promised to hide any information from the Iraq Inquiry that would be damaging to the US, a leaked document has revealed.

The cable, released on the Wikileaks website, says the then foreign secretary David Miliband was present at a meeting with US officials, during which the head of security policy at the Ministry of Defence said the UK would protect American interests.

The MoD and Downing Street have told Sky News they will not comment on leaked documents.

Dated September 22 2009, the cable refers to meetings in London between Ellen O’Kane, the US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, Mr Miliband, Jon Day, then MoD Director General for Security Policy and Foreign and Cabinet Office officials. “

This is the cable, 09LONDON2198, U/S TAUSCHER’S MEETINGS WITH FS MILIBAND AND OTHER.

Update 15: Over at Mystical Politics there is a different view of things:

Who elected Julian Assange?
“Ahmedinejad is Hitler” – Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi
Even paranoids have enemies….
Wikileaks – cynical and naive

Written by modernityblog

30/11/2010 at 19:22

8 Responses

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  1. It was interesting to read your views. I’m instinctively in favour of a largely unrestricted internet yet think that position could be consistent with reservations about wikileaks. Although in an abstract way I suppose I might resist the idea that someone has a right to decide what information I/we can access – I’m not sure whether the leaks do much good, and they certainly seem to have the potential to do harm. It would seem more constructive to abstract anything which is genuinely new/shocking and make it the subject of rather more conventional investigative journalism.

    Sarah AB

    02/12/2010 at 21:16

  2. “I’m not sure whether the leaks do much good, and they certainly seem to have the potential to do harm.”

    Sarah,

    How so? Do we restrict history books which detail the connivances of governments in the past? Of course not.

    Do we assume that the population are completely ignorant and can’t digest the information? I would hope not

    Do we believe, on the evidence presented, that our rulers have some insights into humanity that we lack? I very much doubt it.

    I’ve been catching up with the Guardian’s contents and it makes for interesting reading, if occasionally depressing.

    Finally, we should ask ourselves the question, would we in the 1970s have banned the Pentagon papers too?

    Surely, it is right that governments are subject to scrutiny, and that applies particularly to western governments?

    And if so then mustn’t we want solid facts to aid that scrutiny?

    Or do we let governments off the hook?

    modernityblog

    04/12/2010 at 02:01

  3. […] have been reading the Guardian again (after a lapse of some 20 plus years), trying to follow the Wikileaks stories and very interesting they are, whilst doing this worthy enterprise I was compelled to read the rest […]

  4. Thanks – one argument which seems reasonable is the assertion that it is useful for diplomats and others to raise concerns and air ideas while feeling secure that their views won’t be made known.

    Here’s a hypothetical situation. A senior person has a concern about the mental health of say the POTUS. They want to raise this because clearly the implications of such a situation would be grave. If they can air this in confidence to other senior people it may be that those senior people can clear up the incident which led to the suspicions and prove that they have no foundation whatsoever. But if such a story were leaked it could get blown up out of proportion and cause great harm for no good cause. (Clearly similar stories *are* aired and I’m not suggesting they should be censored if they get into the public domain.)

    Much of what was leaked didn’t consist of totally new ideas/info but was striking only because the views were being linked to particular people in key roles.

    Another view which I found convincing is the argument that sensitive diplomatic exchanges which might help prevent conflict need to be kept secret – not indefinitely, but in order to achieve a good outcome when dealing with tricky states/regions. The problem is less with the public knowing – maybe more in some cases with the leaders of other countries knowing, officially, what is said of them.

    Another problem with the leaks seems to be that there is so much info, some potentially endangering lives, some just tattle, that it may be that some really important stories are actually being overlooked. That ties with my point that it might be better to air really important disclosures in a more conventional way, via investigative journalism.

    But I’ll follow up some of your other links and think further because obviously it’s not a black/white issue.

    Sarah AB

    04/12/2010 at 08:02

  5. “Thanks – one argument which seems reasonable is the assertion that it is useful for diplomats and others to raise concerns and air ideas while feeling secure that their views won’t be made known.”

    I wouldn’t deny that you could put the case in certain specific instances, but it seems to mean to be a mixture of special pleading and the “we know best” attitude, which has dogged politics for years.

    We only need to think back to the fictional Yes Prime Minister and how Sir Humphrey Appleby could always think of a reason not to disclose ANY critical information.

    I think there is an overriding issue here, should the “ruled” know what the rulers are doing and how they muck things up? My view is, Yes we should.

    Secrecy is the enemy of informed discussion.

    Spooks, governments, political leaders, elected representatives and civil servants can always think of reasons not to disclose information, that shows their own idiocies.

    I think there is far, far too much secrecy, in particular, the NHS, the EU, local authorities, etc which causes more problems than it solves. [NB: remember secrecy in UCU? On certain decisions?Not good, not healthy. ]

    Remember how they reacted to the disclosure of MPs expenses? In very much a similar way, yet I think it’s allowed a better and informed debate on the topic, duck pond aside…

    “the argument that sensitive diplomatic exchanges which might help prevent conflict need to be kept secret – not indefinitely, but in order to achieve a good outcome when dealing with tricky states/regions.”

    That might be true if it were the case, but as we see in Congo or with the Tamils it isn’t really working…

    Take that to an extreme, shouldn’t we say anything about China’s involvement in Sudan, just in case? (who incidentally try to gut a UN report implicating recently).

    No, I think it leads to an informed debate and that’s something we should welcome.

    As for endangering peoples lives, much of the material has been redacted, and IF anything, the person writing these communications should have thought of that in the first place.

    Should we returned to the “never let any information into the public domain” just in case attitude?

    I think not.

    It is healthy and essential that rulers know they are being scrutinised, it is healthy for political debate to discuss these issues and it is obviously a godsend to future historians and academics.

    So, Sarah, I think on balance that the arguments for the leaks far outweigh the counter.

    Not forgetting types of societies where information is a closely guarded secret and not put out to the public, are invariably unhealthy places (China, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Burma, etc etc )

    Not good examples to copy.

    modernityblog

    04/12/2010 at 13:54

  6. Hi – thanks for the further comments. I certainly agree with, or at least sympathise with, much of what you say although to some degree I might emphasise things differently and to a (probably greater!) degree I feel unsure *what* I think about some aspects of the issue as each point you make could be further contextualised so complexly. But just to take one small, very concrete example – the UCU( about which I am sure we are in pretty close agreement!) – I had some reservations about the way emails were leaked from the members’ list. I thought there was a good case for leaking the content of emails to demonstrate what very dubious views were being canvassed and accepted on that list, but not for leaking personal and contact details of those who wrote the emails (however little I like them, I suspect they lacked the self knowledge to understand the full implications of what they wrote) thinking they were doing so in a safe environment. I remember requesting those bits of the leaks were taken down on one particular blog – I think they did so in the end.

    Sarah AB

    06/12/2010 at 14:14

  7. I think we need to differentiate also between the ruled and the rulers.

    Does it benefit societies that comparatively innocuous information (views about other political leaders) is considered secret? I don’t think so.

    What is the benefit of this secrecy? Keeping people in the dark and allowing them to be manipulated, if necessary.

    I think an overriding argument is, if this secrecy was so important then what tangible benefits were there to it? What provable benefits.

    modernityblog

    06/12/2010 at 16:03

  8. […] was back in August 2010 before the release of the quarter million documents, which have embarrassed governments across the globe and made Mr. Assange some rather thin-skinned […]


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