What you'd expect, but no less outrageous and irrational for all that.
What you'd expect, but no less outrageous and irrational for all that.
Gazan students express their singular frustration.
So sayeth this former CIA analyst. We are lucky to have the Toronto Star as our local paper; it is one of the few comparatively mainstream news outlets still performing the traditional watchdog role of the media. Most recently, Star reporters have done a fantastic job of uncovering evidence of police brutality during the G20 occupation, as here and elsewhere.
Recall that thing with the cute bunny rabbits talking about the Ben Bernanke and the Goldman Sachs below? It raised the question of why the hell, in the quantitative easing, the treasury is buying cash from the Goldman Sachs, which bought it from the Ben Bernanke, and is taking a cut. Why doesn't the Ben Bernanke just give the cash to the treasury?????
That's a geeky question. If you're less geeky, you might wonder "how the hell is Wall Street raking in such huge profits given that the rest of the economy completely sucks?????"
The answer, child, is one. We can hear it straight from the horse's mouth -- an IMF document from 7 July 2010:
Implement credible solutions to deal with weak banks. These banks are exacerbating the current strains in funding markets, and a more comprehensive mechanism for resolving, restructuring, or recapitalizing institutions is needed. For this purpose, existing or new public mechanisms at the national level should be activated without delay. [...]
Forceful pursuit of the above policy measures will be necessary to underpin market confidence, reduce concerns regarding sovereign debt and banking system health, and [...].
[...] [The thing I struck out just now reads: "Equally important is for policymakers to avoid policy missteps. Uncoordinated and one-off measures to halt trading in certain markets only serve to move risks to other markets or jurisdictions and increase uncertainty about what types of measures are coming next." That is interesting in itself cos what it means is "better not nationalize us or outlaw our cool toys cos that would make for "political risk", and we'd throw a tantrum and plunge the world into depression". But that's a digression.]
[...][This thing here reads "Elsewhere in many advanced economies the emphasis should be on underpinning medium-term fiscal consolidation. As discussed in the July 2010 World Economic Outlook Update, credible strategies to lower fiscal deficits over the medium and long run are of utmost importance. These countries also need to simultaneously put forth structural policies raise potential economic growth so as to ease the pressures for consolidation and deal with age-related entitlement spending." In plain language that means "get rid of laws that rein in business and gut the welfare state".]
Similarly, backstops provided by central banks, including quantitative easing or explicit support for credit and bond markets, will continue to be necessary for the time being.
What the bolded part means, in plain language, is: banks took a huge haircut due to their reckless activities during the housing bubble. Now we can't take them over (because that would make for very unpleasant cocktail party conversation). Instead, let's just give them a shitload of money. We can't just shovel it to them out the front door, because then other people might be like "where's mine?" Instead we'll make a little black box where the government shovels a lot of money into the economy at large out the front. It's a funny little black box tho cos the Goldman Sachs is sitting inside it getting handed its shitload of money as part of the internal workings of the mechanism. Once the little black box is done, the Goldman Sachs can run out the back.
[what follows is the original post as somewhat cleaned up the following morning ...]
Todd Gitlin suggests in this that the Pentagon Papers is the proper model for publishing leaks: carefully edited to prevent collateral damage, targeted at a specific goal, weighted for costs and benefits by wise grey heads. Assange, by contrast, is a dangerous nihilist on a crazed and indiscriminate rampage of revelation without thought of the potential downside.
* These paragraphs struck me as problematic:
To value “system-wide cognitive decline” is to insist that the state is illegitimate. [...]
For indeed, where there is a state, there is diplomacy. Where there is diplomacy, some of it must take place out of the spotlight. The diplomats may well be better judges of which part that should be than the bureaucratic squads who stamp classifications on government documents. Surely, overall, the diplomats are better judges than the wild street mobs of the Internet. So the Wikileaks publication of diplomatic cables is an impediment to the sound, constructive work of states as much as to their wicked schemes. Wikileaks cannot automatically—again, on balance—be a gift to the reign of reason. [my emphasis]
On Ludlow's reading [see the immediately previous post], JA's aim is not to smash the state but to smash the self-dealing "conspiratorial" [technical term: read the Ludlow paper for elucidation] networks that parasitize the state (and which are also linked to conspiratorial networks within other institutions: corporations, the press, the academy).
The hand-wringing about diplomacy strikes me as particularly misdirected. (I bracket the fact that, as anyone who has read his Chomsky knows, diplomats are the good cops of the global business elites.) One could say that to the extent that State harbors conspiracies, making conspiracy difficult, while bad for the conspirators, is good for the rest of us; or one could say that Assange shows a path to a brighter future in which the more decent activity resulting from institutions purged of conspiracies would render most of the secrecy involved in diplomacy nugatory; or one could say that State's mission has been irremediably corrupted by the conspiracies JA has in his sites -- it is, after all, run by a member of the Clinton Global Initiative -- so that its bathetic special pleading is a distraction from the real issues here.
* Gitlin's final paragraph reads:
It was always clear what motivated Ellsberg. He turned against the war. He knew how destructive it was. He had worked on the Pentagon Papers. He rightly thought the people had the right to know how a wrong-headed, barbarous war had developed in the shadows, in defiance of public scrutiny. He did not think that the nation-state should be brought to a screaming halt, or that U.S.-out-of-everywhere was a self-evidently virtuous foreign policy program. He knew some truth—not some data—and brilliantly took responsibility for bringing it to light. He was a light unto journalism, which remains in his debt whether journalists know it or not. He made Americans not just better informed, not better titillated, but smarter.
This is quite superficial. Good on Ellsberg for being against a certain war. JA's mission, on Ludlow's reading, is to undermine a much more systemic and general foe of justice and democracy. Opposing individual wars piecemeal can start to look sysiphean (how many wars has the US been involved in in my lifetime? I count 13, conservatively). No one who has been paying attention since 1979 could regard the 1960s approach to David and Goliath conflict as at all promising. (And, as Clay Glad points out, the media environment now is very different; in particular, much more tightly linked to the elite conspiracies, in ways Ludlow's paper points out. Exercise for the reader: explain the context of "aspens turn in clusters; their roots connect them".) Evidently what is needed is something new, and targeted at the abstract causes of all of these very many wars collectively.
Gitlin's failure to see the necessity of such a more abstract approach -- or even to recognize that there might be one -- is what we might call "stupidity"; his tiresome flogging of one of the very few successes of his cohort -- "I know Daniel Ellsberg. Mr. Assange, you are no Daniel Ellsberg", Gitlin concludes with a ringing cliche -- is what we might call "vanity".
In the interest of getting this distributed as widely as possible, I reproduce Ludlow's extremely interesting essay here in its entirety.
Rethinking Conspiracy: The Political Philosophy of Julian Assange
by Peter Ludlow
Dept. of Philosophy
Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul this unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of statesmanship. -- President Theodore Roosevelt (epigraph from an Assange paper)
There has been plenty of venom spewed about the recently arrested Julian Assange, ranging from calls for his assassination to claims that he is an anarchist and even (according to Newt Gingrich) that he runs a terrorist organization. On the other side there have been those who view him positively as a prophet of the “information wants to be free” hacker ethic. While I used to agree with the latter group, but I now understand that this is a gross oversimplification of his views.
I’ve been reading some of Assange’s more philosophical writings, ranging from blog posts to position papers. While this work is scattered and at times technical (and certainly enthymematic) I think I have the gist of his position. My goal in this note is explain his philosophical position as best as I can. Since my goal is pedagogical, I won’t weigh in pro or con, but I will conclude with some questions for further discussion.
To keep things as tight as possible, I’ve organized my summary of his position into three parts. First, I’ll look at his view of what conspiracies are and how they are formed. Second, I’ll examine his views about why conspiracies are necessarily harmful. Third, I’ll turn to his reason for thinking that leaks are optimal weapons for the dismantling of conspiracies.
1.0 What are Conspiracies?
One of the core goals of Assange’s project is to dismantle what he calls “conspiracies.” I use scare quotes here because he doesn’t mean ‘conspiracy’ in the usual sense of people sitting around in a room plotting some crime or deception. As I understand Assange’s view it is entirely possible that there could be a conspiracy in which no person in the conspiracy was aware that they were part of the conspiracy. How is this possible?
I’ll get into details in a bit, but first I think the basic idea of a conspiracy with unwitting agents can be illustrated in a simple way. Suppose that you have some information that is valuable – say some inside information about the financial state of a corporation. If you immediately make that information public without acting on it, it is worth nothing to you. On the other hand, if you keep it to yourself you may not fully profit from the information. Ideally, you would like to seek out someone that you could trade the information with, and who you could be sure would keep the information close so that it remained valuable. Let’s say that I have similar information and that we trade it. You may trade with other friends and I may do likewise. In each case we have simply traded information for our own benefit, but we have also built a little network of information traders who, hopefully, are keeping the information relatively close and are giving us something equally valuable in kind. We may not know the scope of the network and we may not even realize we are part of a network, but we are, and this network constitutes a conspiracy as Assange understands it. No one sat down and agreed to form a network of inside information traders – the network has simply naturally emerged from our local individual bargains. We can say that the network is an emergent property of these bargains.
Emergent conspiracies like this needn’t be restricted to the business world. Suppose that I am a reporter. I would like to have some hot news to report. You agree to give me the inside information, but you do so with the understanding that you and your network friends will act on your information before you give it to me and it becomes worthless when published. I get my scoop, and you get to control the conditions under which the information is made public. I, as reporter, am now unknowingly part of the conspiracy. I am participating in the conspiracy by respecting the secrets that the network wishes to keep, and releasing the secrets (and sometimes misinformation) only when it is in the interest of the network to do so. I have become a part of the network, and hence part of the conspiracy.
The network need not start out as a conspiracy. Suppose we have an organization (say the US State Department) and some of our communications lead to embarrassment or political blowback. Naturally, we want to avoid such unpleasantries, so we begin to communicate in secret. Assange puts the point this way:
Plans which assist authoritarian rule, once discovered, induce resistance. Hence these plans are concealed by successful authoritarian powers. This is enough to define their behavior as conspiratorial. [“Conspiracy as Governance,” Dec. 3, 2006, p. 3 – available at http://web.archive.org/web/20071020051936/http://iq.org/conspiracies.pdf]
We can illustrate with a recent example. Suppose that the leader of an Arab country wants the United States to take strong action against Iran. If the Arab leader’s people knew he took such a position there would be strong political blowback and resistance (and possible political risk for him), hence he conducts his discussions with the United States in secret. He has become part of a conspiracy.
These three illustrations all show the central feature of what Assange takes to be a conspiracy – secrecy and exchange of information within a closed network. In the next section I will address why Assange thinks these closed networks are problematic, but for now it is important to stress that this is conspiracy in the sense of the original etymology of ‘conspire’ – as in “breathe with” or “breathe together”. The individuals are acting in concert, whether by plan or not, and the secrecy ensures that the benefits of the network accrue to those inside the network and not outside it.
Assange’s view seems to borrow from recent work on network theory, emergent systems, and work on self-synchronizing systems. Let’s start with network theory, and Assange’s own illustration of the way a network functions.
We will use connected graphs as a way to apply our spatial reasoning abilities to political relationships. First take some nails (“conspirators”) and hammer them into a board at random. Then take twine (“communication”) and loop it from nail to nail without breaking. Call the twine connecting two nails a link. Unbroken twine means it is possible to travel from any nail to any other nail via twine and intermediary nails…Information flows from conspirator to conspirator. Not every conspirator trusts or knows every other conspirator even though all are connected. Some are on the fringe of the conspiracy, others are central and communicate with many conspirators and others still may know only two conspirators but be a bridge between important sections or groupings of the conspiracy… [Conspiracy as Governance, p. 2]
Conspirators are often discerning, for some trust and depend each other, while others say little. Important information flows frequently through some links, trivial information through others. So we expand our simple connected graph model to include not only links, but their “importance.”
Return to our board-and-nails analogy. Imagine a thick heavy cord between some nails and fine light thread between others. Call the importance, thickness or heaviness of a link its weight. Between conspirators that never communicate the weight is zero. The “importance” of communication passing through a link is difficult to evaluate apriori, since its true value depends on the outcome of the conspiracy. We simply say that the “importance” of communication contributes to the weight of a link in the most obvious way; the weight of a link is proportional to the amount of important communication flowing across it. Questions about conspiracies in general won’t require us to know the weight of any link, since that changes from conspiracy to conspiracy. [“Conspiracy as Governance,” p. 3]
What Assange is describing here is what network theorists might call a “scale free network”. It is not a network with evenly distributed links, but it is designed somewhat like an airline flight route map, with a handful of heavily connected hubs (not one, but several). Such networks are highly resilient (the internet is also such a network, as is the human brain) because you cannot destroy the network by randomly destroying nodes; you would have to carefully target the hubs (more on shutting down the network in a bit).
One point that Assange does not speak about directly is the way that members of the network – especially the ones with heavily weighted connections will enjoy intensive information flow between each other. For example, two “conspirators” who routinely exchange much information with each other will not merely exchange information but may well develop tight social relationships as a result. So, for example, military contractors and congressmen don’t merely exchange information but they also socialize together – be it at expensive Washington restaurants or duck hunting in South Dakota. This suggests the possibility of attitudinal entrainment.
Entrainment is a term in psychology that refers to the way in which human agents synch up with each other. They might synch up in the way they speak or how they use terms, or for that matter they may synch up in their political attitudes. The point seems obvious enough; people who spend time together start to think in similar ways. What is interesting in this instance is that the closed network becomes a system in which as attitudes propagate and normalize within the network, network members come to have shared values. In an existing network, sharing the requisite values may be a prerequisite for entering the network. Because the network is closed the shared attitudes in the network need not and probably will not be in tune with those outside the network.
The other thing to understand about conspiracies like this is that the sum is greater than the parts. Because the network is complex and interconnected Assange thinks of it as an information processing system in its own right:
Conspiracies are cognitive devices. They are able to outthink the same group of individuals acting alone Conspiracies take information about the world in which they operate (the conspiratorial environment), pass through the conspirators and then act on the result. We can see conspiracies as a type of device that has inputs (information about the environment), a computational network (the conspirators and their links to each other) and outputs (actions intending to change or maintain the environment). [“Conspiracy as Govenance”, p. 3]
Is this bad?
2.0 Why conspiracies are necessarily harmful
What’s wrong with conspiracies? In a certain sense closed networks are ubiquitous. Problems arise when they become extremely powerful, because whatever the intentions of the individuals within the network, the network itself is optimized for its own success, and not for the benefit of those outside of the network. Again, this is not by design, it is just an emergent property of such systems that they function in this way. The military/industrial/congressional complex is of this form. People that do not act to benefit their neighbor nodes in the network will eventually be expunged from the system because their neighbor nodes will minimize contact. Those acting in concert with their neighbor node/conspirators will form stronger ties and will benefit from the information and financial goods that participation in the network delivers. This is true even at the edges of the network. Reporters that violate the trust of their neighbor nodes in the network will be cut off from the network – they will no longer get their hot scoops.
All of this sounds good if you are in the network. Obviously if you are not in the network you are not benefiting. Conspirators in the network may think they are working for the benefit of others (the individuals in the military/industrial/congressional complex may well think they are acting for the benefit of the American people, but this only so much self-deception); they are actually acting for the network.
Even if you are a member of the network it is not clear that you ultimately benefit except in the obvious ways that one has power and wealth – the cost of this Faustian bargain is that one must surrender one’s creativity. Assange also talk about such networks/conspiracies acting against “people’s will to truth, love and self-realization”, and here I can only speculate that he means members of the conspiracy are not acting for love of other individuals or for finding truth outside of the network but rather are acting for the survival of the conspiracy/network. If your actions do not ensure the health of the network the network will expunge you.
3.0 How do we dismantle conspiracies?
Earlier I mentioned the etymology of ‘conspire’. It’s also interesting to reflect on the etymology of ‘anarchy’ because it means “without leader.” The reason that is interesting is that traditional anarchists are interested in targeting leaders or heads, just as the United States government seems obsessed with targeting heads of terrorist networks and indeed Assange himself as the head of the Wikileaks network. But the genius insight of Assange here is his observation that these conspiracies don’t have heads. It is pointless to try and target a single leader, or even a handful of leaders. The conspiracy is a scale free network; it is too hard to take down.
Let’s go back to Assange’s illustration of the nails connected by the twine. Imagine that this board had 100 nails all connected by a single length of twine wrapped around the nails. How many nails would you have to pull out before the network of twine fell apart? 10? 20? 50? Assange thinks that this is not the way to target the network; Rather what we want to do is to intercept and cut the information flow in the network so that the twine unravels of its own accord.
There are two ways in which this might play out. One possibility is that once the information flowing is leaked it is no longer closely held and is no longer valuable – it is no longer a source of power for the network. The network no longer has an advantage. Now, the network may detect a leak, and will act to preserve its information. In this case the network undergoes a kind of fission. It severs the leaky link and in effect separates from the part of the network where the leak occurred.
How can we reduce the ability of a conspiracy to act?…We can split the conspiracy, reduce or eliminating important communication between a few high weight links or many low weight links. [“State and Terrorist Conspiracies,” Nov. 10, 2006, p. 4, available at iq.org/conspiracies.pdf]
Thus even if the network survives it may well be forced to split into parts. In this case the network becomes less powerful, even though it still exists and is still a conspiracy. It is simply a weaker conspiracy.
There is another advantage, however, in Assange’s view. Leaks place a cognitive tax on the network. If the conspirators cannot trust each other with their information they are less likely to exchange it – there is an added cognitive expense to the information processing that the network undertakes. This is how Assange puts the point:
The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive "secrecy tax") and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption.
Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.(The Nonlinear Effects of Leaks on Unjust Systems of Governance.” Dec. 21, 2006 blog post available at “http://web.archive.org/web/20071020051936/http://iq.org/#Thenonlineareffectsofleaksonunjustsystemsofgovernance)
In other words, leaks make it harder for the conspiracy to conduct its business and that is all to the good.
As I said earlier, my goal is primarily so I am merely describing his views without much editorializing. There are some interesting questions that are raised, however, and I close with those.
1) Is it necessarily the case that the conspiracy can’t act to the benefit of others? Arab leaders are conspiring with the United States to defeat Iran’s nuclear program, but isn’t this a good thing? Alternatively, it might be observed that rogue states like Iran are often the product of a population’s push back against some puppet that was part of a US involving conspiracy (e.g. the Shah of Iran). Perhaps conspiracies end up creating the very rogue states they refer to justify their existence?
2) The conspiracy relies on lots of innocent people to do its business (Iraqi civilian informants, for example). Leaking network secrets may put these people at risk. What safeguards should an operation like Wikileaks have to protect such people? Alternatively, could you argue that if there was no conspiracy such people would not be put at risk in the first place? Is it credible to think that in the long run breaking apart conspiracies protects innocent people from being caught up in dangerous spy games?
3) While acting against the conspiracy might place a cognitive tax on it, does it not also make the network stronger in the end? That is, won’t the conspiracy become more secretive and more draconian in its actions?
4) To what extent is Wikileaks itself a conspiracy? To this end, are there good conspiracies and bad conspiracies? Should we distinguish between conspiracies of the powerful and conspiracies of those who seek to level the playing field? At what point would a network like Wikileaks become too powerful?
5) Assange is now in jail, but does it really matter? If Wikileaks is itself a kind of conspiracy then only one nail has been pulled from the board. Will the network unravel? Will it undergo fission resulting in the proliferation of many LittleWikileaks? Or will it lead to copycats and possibly the emergence of Leaker culture? If the latter, then what consequences will there be for traditional conspiracies of the powerful?
Bernie Saunders speaks truth to money:
Mr. President, there is a war going on in this country ... I'm talking about a war being waged by some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in this country, against the working families of the U.S.A, against the disappearing and shrinking middle class of this county. The reality is that many of the nation's billionaires are on the warpath.. they want more, more, more; their greed has no end, and apparently there is very little concern for our country or for the people of this country if it gets in the way of the accumulation of more and more wealth, and more and more power.
In the year 2007, top 1% of all income earners in the U.S. earned made 23 1/2 % of all income, more than the entire bottom 50%.... The percentage of income going to the top 1% nearly tripled since the 1970's. In the mind-1970's the top earned about 8% of all income; in the 1980's that figure jumped to 14%; in the late 1990's that 1% earned about 19%; and today, as the middle class collapses, the top 1% earns 23 1/2% of all income, more than the bottom 50%.
Today, if you can believe it, the top 1/10 of 1% earns about 12 cents of every dollar earned in America. We talk about a lot of things on the floor of the Senate, but somehow we forget to talk about the reality of who is winning in this economy and who is losing... and it is very clear to anyone who spends more than 2 minutes studying the issue, that the people on top are doing extra well at the same time that the middle class is collapsing and poverty is increasing...
Many people out there are angry, they're wondering, what's happening to their own income, to their lives, the lives of their kids. Since, between 1980 and 2005, 80% of all new income created in this country went to the top 1%. And that's why people are wondering and asking: What's going on in my life? How come I'm working longer hours for lower wages? How come I'm worrying about whether my kids will have as good a standard of living as I had? From 1980 to 2005, 80% of all new income created in this country went to the top 1%.
Today, the Wall Street executives, the crooks on Wall Street whose actions resulted in the severe recession that we are in right now, the people whose actions--illegal actions, reckless actions---have resulted in millions of Americans losing their jobs, their homes, their savings; guess what? After we bailed them out, the CEOs today are now earning more money than they earned before the bailout.
While the middle class collapses and the rich become much richer, the U.S. now has, by far, the most unequal distribution of income and wealth of any developed country on earth. When we were in school, we used to read the textbooks which talked about the banana republics in Latin America, about countries in which a handful of people owned and controlled most of the wealth in those countries.
Well, guess what? That is exactly what is happening in the U.S. today.
In re Wikileaks: all power to Assange et al., I say. The idea that diplomacy must necessarily proceed under cover of obscurity and doubletalk is ludicrous. The sooner everyone starts telling it like it is to all involved parties, the better, especially when said obscurity has led to untold misery, death, and cultural destruction---and of course, profits for the wealthy few:
Meanwhile, in the real world (as opposed to the world of speculation, fantasy, and fear-mongering) there is no evidence -- zero -- that the WikiLeaks disclosures have harmed a single person. As McClatchy reported, they have exercised increasing levels of caution to protect innocent people. Even Robert Gates disdained hysterical warnings about the damage caused as "significantly overwrought." But look at what WikiLeaks has revealed to the world:
We viscerally saw the grotesque realities of our war in Iraq with the Apache attack video on innocent civilians and journalists in Baghdad -- and their small children -- as they desperately scurried for cover. We recently learned that the U.S. government adopted a formal policy of refusing to investigate the systematic human rights abuses of our new Iraqi client state, all of which took place under our deliberately blind eye. We learned of 15,000 additional civilian deaths caused by the war in Iraq that we didn't know of before. We learned -- as documented by The Washington Post's former Baghdad Bureau Chief -- how clear, deliberate and extensive were the lies of top Bush officials about that war as it was unfolding: "Thanks to WikiLeaks, though, I now know the extent to which top American leaders lied, knowingly, to the American public," she wrote.
In this latest WikiLeaks release -- probably the least informative of them all, at least so far -- we learned a great deal as well. Juan Cole today details the 10 most important revelations about the Middle East. Scott Horton examines the revelation that the State Department pressured and bullied Germany out of criminally investigating the CIA's kidnapping of one of their citizens who turned out to be completely innocent. The head of the Bank of England got caught interfering in British politics to induce harsher austerity measures in violation of his duty to remain apolitical and removed from the political process, a scandal resulting in calls for his resignation. British officials, while pretending to conduct a sweeping investigation into the Iraq War, were privately pledging to protect Bush officials from embarrassing disclosures. Hillary Clinton's State Department ordered U.N. diplomats to collect passwords, emails, and biometric data in order to spy on top U.N. officials and others, likely in violation of the Vienna Treaty of 1961 (see Articles 27 and 30; and, believe me, I know: it's just "law," nothing any Serious person believes should constrain our great leaders).
Do WikiLeaks critics believe it'd be best if all that were kept secret, if we remained ignorant of it, if the world's most powerful factions could continue to hide things like that? Apparently. When Joe Klein and his media comrades calling for Assange's head start uncovering even a fraction of secret government conduct this important, then they'll have credibility to complain about WikiLeaks' "excessive commitment to disclosure." But that will never happen.
One could respond that it's good that we know these specific things, but not other things WikiLeaks has released. That's all well and good; as I've said several times, there are reasonable concerns about some specific disclosures here. But in the real world, this ideal, perfectly calibrated subversion of the secrecy regime doesn't exist. WikiLeaks is it. We have occasional investigative probes of isolated government secrets coming from establishment media outlets (the illegal NSA program, the CIA black sites, the Pentagon propaganda program), along with transparency groups such as the ACLU, CCR, EPIC and EFF valiantly battling through protracted litigation to uncover secrets. But nothing comes close to the blows WikiLeaks has struck in undermining that regime.
The real-world alternative to the current iteration of WikiLeaks is not The Perfect Wikileaks that makes perfect judgments about what should and should not be disclosed, but rather, the ongoing, essentially unchallenged hegemony of the permanent National Security State, for which secrecy is the first article of faith and prime weapon. I want again to really encourage everyone to read this great analysis by The Economist's Democracy in America, which includes this:
I suspect that there is no scheme of government oversight that will not eventually come under the indirect control of the generals, spies, and foreign-service officers it is meant to oversee. Organisations such as WikiLeaks, which are philosophically opposed to state secrecy and which operate as much as is possible outside the global nation-state system, may be the best we can hope for in the way of promoting the climate of transparency and accountability necessary for authentically liberal democracy. Some folks ask, "Who elected Julian Assange?" The answer is nobody did, which is, ironically, why WikiLeaks is able to improve the quality of our democracy. Of course, those jealously protective of the privileges of unaccountable state power will tell us that people will die if we can read their email, but so what? Different people, maybe more people, will die if we can't.
The last decade, by itself, leaves no doubt about the truth of that last sentence. And Matt Yglesias is right that while diplomacy can be hindered without secrecy, one must also consider "how the ability to keep secrets can hinder diplomacy" (incidentally: one of the more Orwellian aspects of this week's discussion has been the constant use of the word "diplomacy" to impugn what WikiLeaks did, creating some Wizard of Oz fantasy whereby the Pentagon is the Bad Witch of the U.S. Government [thus justifying leaks about war] while the State Department is the Good Witch [thus rendering these leaks awful]: that's absurd, as they are merely arms of the same entity, both devoted to the same ends, ones which are often nefarious, and State Department officials are just as susceptible as Pentagon officials to abusive conduct when operating in the dark).
But Matt's other point merits even more attention. He's certainly right when he says that "for a third time in a row, a WikiLeaks document dump has conclusively demonstrated that an awful lot of US government confidentiality is basically about nothing," but I'd quibble with his next observation:
There’s no scandal here and there’s no legitimate state secret. It’s just routine for the work done by public servants and public expense in the name of the public to be kept semi-hidden from the public for decades.
It is a "scandal" when the Government conceals things it is doing without any legitimate basis for that secrecy. Each and every document that is revealed by WikiLeaks which has been improperly classified -- whether because it's innocuous or because it is designed to hide wrongdoing -- is itself an improper act, a serious abuse of government secrecy powers. Because we're supposed to have an open government -- a democracy -- everything the Government does is presumptively public, and can be legitimately concealed only with compelling justifications. That's not just some lofty, abstract theory; it's central to having anything resembling "consent of the governed."
But we have completely abandoned that principle; we've reversed it. Now, everything the Government does is presumptively secret; only the most ceremonial and empty gestures are made public. That abuse of secrecy powers is vast, deliberate, pervasive, dangerous and destructive. That's the abuse that WikiLeaks is devoted to destroying, and which its harshest critics -- whether intended or not -- are helping to preserve. There are people who eagerly want that secrecy regime to continue: namely, (a) Washington politicians, Permanent State functionaries, and media figures whose status, power and sense of self-importance are established by their access and devotion to that world of secrecy, and (b) those who actually believe that -- despite (or because of) all the above acts -- the U.S. Government somehow uses this extreme secrecy for the Good. Having surveyed the vast suffering and violence they have wreaked behind that wall, those are exactly the people whom WikiLeaks is devoted to undermining.
Oh, and now the shadow elite has sent its mignons to scare the bejeezus out of anyone who might like a government job in future. I advise all graduate students to immediately post links to Wikileaks in order to level the playing field. And---perhaps most importantly---as if we would want future government employees to be the sort of scared rats who wouldn't dare check out Wikileaks!
... Hundreds of them are screwing an entire nation." Students protest U.K. tripling of university fees---and more importantly, effective privatization of the universities---by targeting the source: corporate tax evasion. Don't buy Topshop until this matter is settled.
Indeed, screwing of the millions by the hundreds is happening all over the world, Ireland's disastrous competitive corporate tax rate being another recent case in point.