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The Wikileaks files, ctd

“The Wikileaks story is great fun. The embarrassment of others always is. But however much the Guardian, the New York Times and Julian Assange assure us that this represents a shattering blow to every assumption we hold about foreign relations, the fact remains that it’s a collection of little substance that will do nothing to reshape geo-politics. The Saudis would like someone to whack Iran? No kidding. Afghanistan is run by crooks? Really? Hillary Clinton would like to know a lot more about the diplomats she is negotiating against? You surprise me. The Russian government may have links to organised crime? Pass the smelling salts, Petunia. The Americans are secretly whacking al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen? What, you thought the Yemenis were doing it? Muammar Qaddafi has a full time, pneumatic Ukrainian ‘nurse’? Nice one. Diplomats are terrified of Pakistan’s nukes? Me too. And so on, ad infinite boredom.”

Ben Brogan, The Daily Telegraph.

I had some thoughts on the Wikileaks outfit a short time ago. As Brogan says, none of the revelations seem be dangerous in terms of revealing, say, agents in the field who might now be in fear of their lives, nor has it betrayed deception measures of the type designed to foil the enemy, as in leaking cipher codes. All I would say is that Mr Assange had better get himself some decent personal security. He’s pissed off the likes of the Saudis. Very unclever.

24 comments to The Wikileaks files, ctd

  • Paul Marks

    Agreed – on all points.

  • The Americans are secretly whacking al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen?

    For once I see some tax money being well spent… now THAT really is a shock!

  • Jonathan

    The problem is that the leaks do actually expose coding and cypher techniques and methods. That’s why the US military is really really mad at these guys.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Taylor, I did not know that, so thanks for pointing this out. If Wikileaks is leaking stuff that could get soldiers or such folk killed, then I think it is time that the indulgence towards Mr Assange came to an end.

    Wikileaks has also leaked commercial data about private sector organisations, such as clients of banks, in the past. No-one seriously claiming to be interested in liberty can really regard this outfit as an ally, except by accident.

    And in case people think there is anything heroic or liberal about leaking defence data or suchlike, remember that even if we had defence forces focused only on defence, rather than foreign wars, we’d need to keep certain things private. For example, during WW2, the British had radar, and mighty handy it was; what would have happened had a Wikileaks put the design specs out there for hostile nations to copy?

  • Laird

    The difference is that in WW2 we were actually fighting a real war, not some ill-defined and unending non-war with no clear objective. I’m not in favor of disclosing matters which will get our troops killed, either, but anything which discomfits the political class (especially the political class worldwide!) is a presumptive good in my book. Sort of gives them a taste of their own medicine.

  • When will the release documents that reveal how much bullying went on to get Greece and EU to accept their bailouts?

  • alecm

    @Taylor: Cryptographer here. Citation please.

  • PeterT

    While I agree that Wikileaks should choose its targets more carefully (and not for example release data where this could endanger lives) I applaud the existence of such an organisation. It is the closest the open society has to a spy organisation and I think that is pretty cool. Furthermore, it is pretty hard to contemplate a libertarian revolution without a strong ‘cyber’ (urgh) battalion. But I digress.

    Wikileaks cannot leak without receiving the classified information from somebody within the organisation. These people need to be motivated to release the information. It seems likely that the leaks from Iraq and Afghanistan were motivated by disillusionment with the US presence there. This is not hard to understand. In a time of defensive warfare leaks will be harder to come by, since the motivation to leak will be much weaker. Furthmore, Wikileaks is likely to be much less effective than the enemy’s own spy organisation, and so there existence would be less of an issue.

    Generally speaking the Wikileaks idea is a good one. If only we could have many more such websites monitoring our government.

  • Jacob

    What I don’t understand is what we need diplomats for in this age of abundant means of communication and international meetings. Now we know – to shuffle papers around of no importance at all and to feed wikileaks.

  • One track mind that I have, I just want to see a clear picture of Qaddafi’s pneumatic nurse. Screw the rest of it.

  • Sunfish

    Jonathan Pearce:

    Taylor, I did not know that, so thanks for pointing this out. If Wikileaks is leaking stuff that could get soldiers or such folk killed, then I think it is time that the indulgence towards Mr Assange came to an end.

    Whose indulgence?

    Assange is not, IIRC, a US citizen or national. Therefore, prosecution for treason is unlikely to fly. And I’m not aware of him spying inside the US, which means that the US can’t do much under the Espionage Act either, IIRC.

    OTOH, whoever leaked the stuff should (and probably will) fry.

    As for the specific content of the leaks:

    1) The Saudi national anthem. F*** their couches.

    2) What Ian said. I need more data to assess her qualifications.

  • James Waterton

    Wikileaks has focused exclusively on soft targets (ie. ones that have some moral qualms about biting back) thus far. If Assange shows some bollocks and releases something that could genuinely get him killed – let’s say Chinese or Russian govt leaks – I’ll be impressed, and credit will be given where it’s due. Until then, meh. Assange strikes me as a leftist rabble-rouser – I’ll bet he’s at least partly financed by The Soros Foundation.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Sunfish, the fact of Assange not being a US citizen is unlikely to save him; if a foreign national, for example, acts in ways that directly compromises US or UK security, for instance, then governments can apply to extradite said person.

    I cannot believe how soft the US has been over this. Decades ago, Assange would have been bumped off.

    As James Waterton says, meanwhile, Assange’s vaunted “courage” will be displayed if he leaks stuff from the governments of say, China or Russia. But he won’t, for reasons too obvious to repeat.

    Some of his targets’ embarrassments are enjoyable to watch – like Prince Andrew – but the truth is that this guy is acting out of mischief, nothing more.

  • Sunfish

    Okay, which law has he broken?

    Which law will he be alleged to have broken when Eric Holder calls up Canberra and asks, “There’s a citizen of yours who hasn’t broken any of your laws and has never been to the US that we know of, but just the same I’d like you to cuff him up and UPS him over here for a BS headline-grabbing show trial, if you’d be so kind”?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Sunfish, I am sure the State Department is working on that question right now. If he’s compromised agents in the field and put lives at risk, he’s particularly vulnerable.

    I am not suggesting that he is guilty of a specific offence, but as a practical issue, Assange has been very lucky. So far.

  • Dave Walker

    I recommend Sir Malcolm Rifkind’s article in today’s edition of the same newspaper. I’ve been wondering, ever since the scope of the new set of WikiLeaks data was disclosed, how and why such a diverse set of data would be gathered together; on the “need to know” principle, any single individual who had need to know all of this content, would have to be in a very, very senior position in the US Govt. I’m thinking “no more than 4 reporting steps from Obama” here.

    As is fairly common knowledge, folk with US TOP SECRET clearance have to not only undergo rigorous background checks similar to those that UK DV-cleared folk do, but also have regular lie-detector tests and have hair samples taken for TAD analysis. Granted, there’s over 700,000 people with such clearance, so while one or two bad eggs may slip through, I wouldn’t have thought sufficient bad eggs could have done so to be able to gather and leak such a disparate corpus of data, if the “need to know” principle was being appropriately enforced.

    The revelation in Sir Malcolm’s article, is that all this information was held in a single database at the Pentagon. I’d hope said database was running Oracle Label Security, at least – at which point, suspicion would fall on the admins of the systems which run said database.

    If this leak is the result of the actions of one individual, there must be many folk in and around Washington, DC running around as though their trousers were on fire. If the need to know principle was not being properly enforced, there’s most likely a vast amount of work to be done, to enforce it.

    Also, said individual is effectively a suicide bomber, from a data perspective; if (and more likely, when) they are apprehended, sufficient states uphold the death sentence for murder, and I’d expect the same sentence to be upheld, for treason…

  • PeterT

    I can’t understand the anger that Assange seems to create in many of you, given that this is supposed to be a libertarian (leaning?) website. It would be more understandable on an AEI blog.

    So what if he chooses soft targets? At least he dares to stand up to power. If we suppose for a minute that he has avoided leaking Russian documents out of self preservation (rather than because he hasn’t been able to get hold of any such documents, which is perfectly plausible – I guess its pretty random where he gets his info from) then this is understandable. He has still taken more risks than most (all?) of us have taken in the fight against government.

    I mentioned in an earlier response that maybe Assange should sift through the leaked data to remove data the release of which could endanger specific individuals. I did not at the time realise the size of the leaks. Clearly it is not possible for one man (plus how many co-workers) to sift through 40,000 pages (or whatever) to identify cases where names should blacked out. At least not properly. In the interest of getting the leak out it is understandable that they have thrown caution to the wind.

    Let the governments of the world squirm I say. Damn their interests.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    PeterT writes:

    “I can’t understand the anger that Assange seems to create in many of you, given that this is supposed to be a libertarian (leaning?) website. It would be more understandable on an AEI blog.”

    The irritation, if not anger, stems from the fact that Assange is indiscriminate; he has leaked stuff on private individuals’ commercial and banking affairs, for instance. He is not motivated by a love of liberty.

    Another reason for why libertarians should look askance at what he does is to point out that in a way, he is ruining the situation for genuine investigative journalism in exposing wrongdoing. Most of what the leaks are about are harmless, but some might not be.

    And being a libertarian does not mean pacifism. If we need to defend ourselves, even as a minarchy, that requires certain secrets to aid defence and confuse the enemy.

  • PeterT

    I have no idea what Assange’s motivations are; nor do I care. I agree that it is pretty poor style to reveal the bank details of private individuals, but maybe Wikileaks did not have the resources to remove these from the documents (which presumably contained something more interesting worthwhile leaking). On this, whether or not we ‘own’ our private information is an interesting question, although made somewhat moot by the availability of cheap and effective encryption software. Probably not one for here though.

    I don’t get the point about investigative journalism. So we should oppose Wikileaks because it spoils it for genuine journalists? It is sometimes hard to tell what information is interesting before it comes into contact with the public. A quantity approach may therefore be preferable to a quality approach.

    I accept that even a minarchy may need to fight defensive wars (although I find the concept of treason ridiculous and offensive). See my previous post for my views on this.

  • Laird

    I agree with PeterT. And also with Sunfish; as far as I can see Assange has broken no US laws (unless he actively hacked into the Pentagon’s computers himself). The ever-incompetent Eric Holder* may huff and puff, but in the end I don’t see how he could either get jurisdiction over Assange or obtain a conviction if he did. (The same is obviously not true for whoever leaked the documents to him. That person is clearly guilty of espionage at the least, treason at the worst. He will eventually be identified and I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes.)

    * I suppose it’s only right that an affirmative action President should have an affirmative action Attorney General.

  • Sunfish


    I didn’t say that the fine human beings in WDC wouldn’t love to have a crack at Assange. Just that they don’t have much to work with.

    There’s a saying: You can beat the rap but you can’t beat the ride. It’s a reference to the fact that a BS charge can always be dismissed,but if a cop really wants to screw with someone he can make a chickens*** arrest on Friday afternoon and let the DA nolle it on Monday.

    It doesn’t work nearly as well when you don’t have physical access to the person. For instance, I don’t see Assange having US travel plans in the near future and it’s a lot harder to kidnap him abroad and smuggle him back from Australia than from, say Mexico.

    None of which excludes the possibility of extra-legal measures.

  • I suspect Mr Assange now has “Dead” written on his back.

    If he were a Star Trek extra he would have just beamed down to an apparent paradise planet in company with Mr Spock wearing a red security shirt…

  • mehere

    Soft targets are not impressive. Dear always-on-the-run Julian has exclusively revealed the west has doubts about other countries, and on top of that we aren’t as up front as we might appear to be. Shocked, I tell you. Shocked!

    Now if the young man could come up with the dirt on China, Russia, Iran and maybe North Korea I would be impressed. I suspect though that at least one of those countries might take an actively dim view of him.

    But then he knows that, so not much danger of him going down that road.

  • Laird

    Perry has responded to mehere’s comment (rather effectively, I think) in the later thread about “dirty tricks”.