In the Wikileaks scandal, Americans citizens are the suckers

The Obama administration is blustering and bloviating about the on-going leak of hundreds of thousands of classified documents, apparently leaked initially by a soldier using a thumb drive.

The White House and Pentagon describe the Wikileaks disclosures as a major blow to national security, and to the country’s diplomatic efforts around the world.

I’m skeptical.

In the waning days of the Soviet Union, we learned that the Russians had very easily penetrated the most heavily guarded vaults of America’s classified world, using moles and other techniques to plumb our secrets.

Put bluntly, the communists knew far more about how our country’s shadow government operated than we citizens did.

I’m guessing the same is true today.

If it was this easy for one soldier to smuggle out so much information about the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan — not so mention our most closely-guarded diplomatic agenda — my guess is that other foreign powers have done a handy job of accomplishing the same.

The Chinese, the Saudis, the Israelis, the Russians — I’m guessing there was very little in these documents that came as a surprise to their leaders.

But for we Americans — who in theory own and operate this government — the Wikileaks disclosures offer a rare window into how the vast secret Federal bureaucracy operates.

In the years since 9/11, the US has developed a new architecture of secret agencies, prisons, and black ops operations.

We have done some very shady things, occasionally targeting private citizens in other parts of the world who turned out to be completely innocent.

Our secret services and diplomats have often been remarkably incompetent in their efforts to promote and protect American interests.

It’s probably unrealistic to hope that small-government, tea-party libertarians would take notice and turn some of their zeal to this troubling reality.

These disclosures show that our behavior has at times infuriated and disgusted the democratically elected governments of our allies, from Germany to Italy.

Ultimately, all the shock — shock! — being expressed by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton should be taken with a grain of salt.

The truth is that very few other leaders in the world had illusions about America’s objectives or methods.

Americans looking through these documents should be prepared to give up some of their illusions as well.

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15 Comments on “In the Wikileaks scandal, Americans citizens are the suckers”

  1. Pete Klein says:

    If we didn’t keep and classify every piece of paper, we wouldn’t have this problem.

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  2. john says:

    I would like to register my disagreement. I am amused that in the aftermath of this incident, that we suddenly join Mr. Assange in declaring ourselves experts on diplomacy and foreign service. I think that this is insulting to the thousands of people working in foreign service for the state department who have spent entire careers learning the subtle and nuanced dance of how to build relations with other governments to further mutual interests. Suddenly, Mr. Assange decides that he knows best and enlists people to hack and steal documents from ‘secure’ networks. Perhaps to some, this seems to be much ado about naught, but consider the awkward position an ally like Saudi Arabia finds itself in. It must now make peace with it’s own citizens for quietly aligning itself with our’s and Israel’s point of view concerning Iran. Now, add several other Arab governments to this awkwardness. Consider our own State Department who must now now deal with monumental distractions trying to repair relationships with dozens of countries and their leaders, rather than doing their diplomatic mission work. There are essentially two tools of foreign policy: diplomacy and military force. The weakening of the former only increases the likelihood of the latter. I think Mr. Assange is a conceited and arrogant man with a messianic complex and he and his co-conspirators should be prosecuted to hold his actions up to the light of law. If courts decide that he has acted in allowable ways, so be it. If, however, he has acted in illegal ways, he and his minions should be held accountable. I don’t believe he should get a pass on the basis of romantic and quixotic beliefs about ‘David’s and Goliaths’. The guy is a menace who is trifling with literally billions of lives, spread across scores of nations. Who appointed him guardian of truth? He did.

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  3. I’m with John and I’d add that there is more than a little hypocrisy on the part of Wikileaks which makes every attempt to keep its staff, location and operations secret. And what about the person(s) who had access to the documents based on their sworn oath that they would access only what he/she/they needed to know and would keep secret what they did know? Why should they get a pass? When I was in the Army I had top secret clearance. I took that seriously. I was not in a position to determine whether those above me were right or wrong to classify the information. I might suspect that it was unnecessary but I did not know their reasons therefor I was not in a position to override their decision.

    Before the invasion of Normandy in WWII the secret was shared with every solder, sailor and airman who was to be involved with the admonition that they had to maintain the secret for the plan to work. They did, every last one of them. Its a shame that is no longer true.

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  4. Bret4207 says:

    Whether all this “secret” material was unknown to other world powers or not is unimportant. What is important is that our security is obviously compromised. This is incredible when you think about it. At the State level every time a data check is run on a name or license plate a record of who did it, when and why is kept. If someone is so foolish as to run “Robin 1″ (Magnum PI) or some other TV license plate alarms go off, people are notified and the NYSPIN operator doing it will be in a position to be fired, fined and charged criminally IIRC. If you run your ex girlfriends new boyfriends data or worse, a criminal history and it’s discovered you WILL be fired. So with that in mind why am I not hearing about the arrest and charges the people involved in this leak are facing?

    Something is seriously wrong here beyond the political posturing.

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  5. Brian says:

    I’m not sure I agree with the journalistic judgment of this particular info dump (in contrast to the past two major ones). I think there is a need for diplomats to be able to speak frankly amongst themselves. I do think this will make the job of diplomats’ harder. I have a great deal of respect for the difficult job done by diplomats and how critical they are as a buffer to America’s natural tendency toward militarism as the ‘solution’ to every disagreement.

    I don’t believe all or most of what Wikileaks revealed serves the public interest; much of it reminds me of high school gossip. This is in contrast to the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs which revealed much more sinister things like alleged crimes.

    I think a better way would have been to release only the information that serves some sort of broader public interest, such as the Saudi king urging US military aggression against Iran or China supporting Korean reunification (both rather important facts to know). I don’t think that assessments of Sarkozy as authoritarian, Merkel as uncreative or Berlusconi as vain really add anything to the public interest.

    However, one thing this really highlights is the knee-jerk government position in favor of secrecy, rather than a nuanced approached based on actual safety. Is anyone’s life really at risk or does Wiki really have “blood on its hands” because we now know Gadaffi likes his hot, blonde nurse? Is it really a state secret that diplomats try to gain information about other countries’ diplomats? Calling Wikileaks a terrorist organization, as was done by Rep. King, does nothing but render meaningless the word terrorist. I think an argument can be made for classification based on safety issues in rare cases, but the system is so abused with trivial stuff that any claim of secrecy is inherently suspect. Transparency should be the default position in a democracy and the burden of proof should be on claims of secrecy. In most of these case, the secrecy is not at all related to anyone’s safety but to embarrassment. And dying of embarrassment is a metaphoric situation, not a literal one.

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  6. Brian, You still aren’t ‘getting it’. The stuff about the Saudi King urging the US to intervene in Iran and China’s problems with the behavior of North Korea is exactly the stuff that is creating problems. Making confidential information public makes it hard to work with these leaders in the future.

    In an ideal world there would be no secrets but people aren’t perfect and we don’t live in an ideal world. If your friend confides something to you how would they feel if you published it? If you confide something to someone and they publish it how would you feel? Diplomacy is based on trust. We now have a HUGE job to rebuild trust. Whether the matter involved is serious or mere embarrassment is not the point. Trust is the point.

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  7. Bill G says:

    The piece suggests that the publishing of this information is a trivial matter. I guess if you believe that diplomacy can and should be conducted in a chat room, this is just a tempest in a teapot.

    I disagree. Trust and a reasonable expectation of confidentiality are critical components of the diplomatic process. These types of revelations, not just to the principals but to the worldwide public, can only have a deadening effect on the candid exchange of views between ours and other governments.

    I also believe that the piece lets Wikileaks and Mr. Assange off the hook. These folks aren’t altruists or cyber Robin Hoods. They are 21st century anarchists who should be prosecuted within the limits of the law.

    While the federal government bears the responsibility for allowing this to occur, that should not absolve the perpetrators or cause us to ignore or trivialize the damage done.

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  8. Pete Klein says:

    If you are going to play espionage, then you need to keep the really secret stuff in your head and not on paper or a computer.
    I wonder about the idiots, ours and whoever’s, who get paid to read all this stuff. I am certain most of it is junk. Hundreds of thousands of secrets? Really!
    If Assange should be prosecuted, should we now go back and execute Daniel Ellsberg and the New York Times, plus. just for fun, the Washington Post and reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
    Geniuses, if it really needs to be kept secret, destroy the junk.

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  9. mervel says:

    It seems that some of this stuff if not most of it was pretty benign. The problem is that the 5% that is not could end someone’s life, someone working with us inside of Iran, someone working to end totalitarianism in places like Iran or North Korea could get killed because of this traitor who called himself a soldier. The private who did this should be prosecuted as a traitor in time of war that put Americans at risk of death. The problem is it is not going to change US foreign policy or politics in the US which I think wikileaks believes will happen. I mean how much worse it can get after Abu grab and the Afghanistan killing for sport bunch.

    Now its not wikileaks fault that people betrayed their country and sent them this information this assunge person seems pretty sleazy, but he is not a US citizen he owes us nothing he is no different from any other tabloid journalist who gets a leak.

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  10. Bill G says:

    The discussion seems to have gotten a bit confused – at least to me. No offense to anyone meant, but I think the following points are worth noting in light of previous comments.

    The intelligence gathering process – what we’re actually talking about – is not a nice, neat process. It results from a lot of inputs, some relevant, some less so, and some not at all. From that body of information conclusions are drawn that presumably increase the understanding of policy and decision makers. I suspect that the information rarely, if ever, rises to the level espionage, i.e., spying to uncover military secrets (a separate domain). In fact, the process can involve information clandestinely volunteered by contacts (whose motivations have to be surmised). While it may be possible to catalogue this type of information in one’s head or hand-written on a piece of paper (after all, this has been going on long before there were computers), the volume of information and its largely benign character make that alternative unrealistic.

    Insofar as the Pentagon Papers are concerned, Ellsworth was unsuccessfully prosecuted and the N.Y. Times was enjoined from publishing excerpts for a period until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its favor. I’m not sure what Woodward and Bernstein would be prosecuted for. I may be wrong, but I don’t think they ever published classified information.

    I do think that the Wikileaks gang is not particularly interested in the truth. I believe they come at this with a mentality that is the same as the jerks who develop computer viruses and derive some pleasure from the pain and discomfort of others. If they are in violation of U.S. law and can be prosecuted, I say, hammer them.

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  11. Jeff says:

    Because every person has self-interests we have factions- people who ally together for their own collective interests. Build that up the scale and we have political parties, unions etc and upwards to states, countries, treaty collectives and thus allies- for specific purposes.

    Because we don’t spend every waking moment with everyone else, we don’t know how the other person(faction, party or whatever) thinks and their motivations. Even if we know them, because people are involved, there is a lot of nuance. Thus trying to work with or against other people calls for personal communication in ways that motivate favorably. And because a negotiator may have need to learn while maintaining a public perception that differs from yet unchanged policy we have a need for discrete private conversation. That cooperation when compromised makes relationships difficult. Governments require relationships of trust and common interest. Destroy trust, and relationships deteriorate and potentially to the point of anarchy.

    If Assange stimulates anarchy eventually new alliances will develop anyway for the purposes of common defense and interests. Somebody or some group will seek to be on top. Because the disclosures may affect me negatively I want it stopped. I want orderly change.

    Like a famous Agatha Christie novel where everyone had a hand in the murder, all governments seek to get information about their neighbors. The types of information supplied by the wiki leak is not extraordinary but it was not for distribution to the audience now viewing it and thus those who broke the laws are to bear the burden of the consequences as we all must bear the burdens of the revelations.

    Not saying government people are wiser than anyone else but there is a reason young children are not expected to make decisions of adults. Those articles are bits of information to be used in context of people with authority to act. Out here it is ” chicken little” world. We don’t have enough information or authority to make decisions, just opinions.

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  12. Mervel says:

    I think its easy to blame assange because he is so unlikable. However he is not the one leaking this stuff, he is not conducting espionage, people are giving him this stuff to publish.

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  13. tootightmike says:

    I find it interesting that Assange is labeled a criminal, but not Condoleezza Rice or Hillary Clinton. Some have long said that there’s no difference between the Republican and Democrat parties, and some of what we’ve heard this week makes me sad. I fear that Mr. Obama may have chosen poorly.

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  14. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    There are two problems here (at least); one is that we have such poor security over our “secret” information, and we should thank Wikileaks for making this so glaringly obvious; the second is that we have too many secrets.

    We are supposed to be the most free and open government in the world, at least that is the myth we tell but so much of our government operates in secret that We The People don’t really know what the hell is going on.

    Much of the “secrecy” is directed at keeping Americans in the dark about what their government is doing. If we had fewer secrets we could guard the really important stuff better. Nobody cares about Khaddafi’s Ukrainian nurse except the kind of dopes who tried to kill Castro with an exploding cigar.

    And the bit about the Saudi’s? Yes, we should be careful to protect our dictator allies.

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  15. mervel says:

    I am looking forward to leaks from coporations and banks that he is promising next, now those I think would be very interersting!

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