02 December, 2010

The Rules: Consistency

....or Obligatory Wikileaks ’Blog

If you’re concerned about the implications of spreading all kinds of confidential and classified information all over the internet with little thought to the damage it might do to innocent people, then I can totally agree with that.
However, if you also took the “climate-gate” emails as your “Aha!” moment against climate change, then I’m going to call hypocrisy.

The debunked and discredited fake scandal over those leaked emails provides what certain American commentators now call a “teachable moment,” regarding Wikileaks. It’s the difference between data and intelligence. There was a situation where people got hold of some perfectly innocent information and made it into something it wasn’t because a) it was stolen, and b) because they had no idea of how to read the information. The “scandal” there hinged completely on people’s misunderstanding of what “fixing the data,” meant in that particular context.

Wikileaks does basically the same thing, except that they don’t suggest any particular interpretation of the data, they just throw it all out there for any inexpert eyes to make of what they will. I’ve yet to be convinced that this is good for democracy. I’m all for the right to know, but I’m also cognisant of the need to know. I know that sounds like rationalising government secrecy, but sometimes it is necessary. For instance, much as I oppose the war in Iraq, the fact that it goes on regardless of my opposition means that innocent lives are endangered the publication of certain information. For my money, the protection of people’s lives trumps the imperative to reveal that the US government lies – a fact that has been pretty well established anyway. Now I don’t know whether these leaks endanger lives or not – I’m not an intelligence expert. But frankly, I don’t trust a rabble of online crusaders to make that call for me.

Is “cable-gate” any more or less of a meaningless beat-up than “climate-gate”? How would I know? How can anyone know? We have the data, but so what? How do we interpret it?

Regardless of the idiotic blathering of certain right-wing television personalities, it is clear that Wikileaks figurehead Julian Assange is playing with his life now. More important people have met with accidents over less, and those who arrange them don’t give a shit about any kind of new media new paradigm.

And this leads us to the other hypocrisy. Julian Assange’s location is being kept a secret. Under the circumstances, this is prudent. But what about the right to know? Shouldn’t all the information be made public and let the people decide how important it is? Whether he is hiding from assassination or hiding from arrest is probably irrelevant now. Given the timing and the subject of the original arrest warrant, it was tempting to think, “Oh, how convenient! He sticks it to The Man and now they’ve trumped up some charges against him.” Naturally, he should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, but that doesn’t mean he’s not guilty. We would need to have all the evidence in order to know that.

If only there were some kind of website that provided information like that.


  1. Care to take a stab at the definition of "is?"

  2. Your Republican friends like to point out that Obama is getting a "free pass" with all these leaks. I guess the presumption is that Bush would have been crucified. I think he probably would've got the free pass too, but why does Obama get it?

    [The word verification for this is "decoy"]

  3. Anon,
    Why would I want to do that?

    Thanks. I've often wondered what they are.

    I think the question over who gets a free pass depends on how many real revelations there are in the documents as against how many fakes ones there are, a la climate-gate. That would take someone who is both independent and knows what they're looking at - and many of them probably have more important things to do.

    I would make two suggestions based on simple history. Obama's presidency has lasted two years so far, Bush's lasted eight. So if we assume that each is as bad as the other, and assuming an even distribution of documents, there will still be four times as much embarrassment for Bush as there is for Obama.

    The other factor is that although certain Republicans would like to pretend the years 2001 through to 2008 didn't happen, it was Bush who started two wars, not Obama. That's not to rationalise how Obama has managed them since, but people need to accept that terms of office are not like football seasons where you wipe the slate clean and start again each year.

  4. I don't think the point is which administration has the most dirt but which one let the secrets get leaked.

    I haven't heard it said yet [but I wouldn't be surprised] but somebody could make the case that the Bush team would waterboard anybody who leaked secrets. Once Obama forbade torture look what happened.