WikiLeaks: Euphemism for Whistle-Blowing or Treason?

The WikiLeaks tempest must be addressed and be put in context. After reflecting just a bit, it becomes difficult to excuse the actions of Julian Assange, the Wiki Leaks founder, except on the basis of some elaborate psychological operation. Since I have no empirical evidence of such manipulation, as a social scientist, I must dismiss that notion if I want my research to be respected (if not respectable), and my opinion a testable hypothesis. So let us acknowledge the possibility of an elaborate plot as an untestable hypothesis for now, and concentrate on what we see developing thanks to the leaks based on the facts.

First, the latest evidence suggests that the source of the leaks is a 22 year-old US Army private first class, Bradley Manning. The motivation for the leaks appears to be high emotional stress unrelated to Manning's activities, and judging by the reports in the media, only partially related to the moral outrage of having the US Army commit what has been dubbed "collateral murder."  As a result of the leaks, Manning has been imprisoned for some six months at time of writing, according to the website of the organization set up in his defence.  Evidently, his confinement is connected with the transmission of some 250 to 260,000 classified documents, the first batch of which came during the summer of 2010 while the latest were made public by Wiki Leaks in the last few weeks.

At this point an interesting discussion about military ethics can be conducted, and of the appropriateness of US (and in fact, any nation's) military judiciary system to deal with those breach of ethics, such as deliberate non-combatant targeting. But an even more important discussion as to whether Manning used all the channels available to him before releasing the files to the media and Wiki Leaks. What his trial will no doubt have to delve into is whether he has exhausted all avenues of grievance before betraying the trust that had been put in him as an intelligence analyst. In the end, however, the trial will no doubt have to consider that not all of the information he leaked was of a criminal nature. That becomes leaking for the sake of leaking. This is not whistle blowing anymore, this is treason.
The impact of this treason is far-reaching, and the scope includes the obvious; physical danger to informants, and also the collapse of months if not years of diplomatic effort for the resolution of pressing problems. The consequences are far-reaching and illustrated in the passage below, taken from the Associated Press' Christopher Boleen. According to his article

"China would appear to have little ability to stop a collapse and less influence over the authorities in Pyongyang than is widely believed, South Korea's then-vice foreign minister, Chun Yung-woo, is quoted telling American Ambassador Kathleen Stephens in February.

China lacks the will to push Pyongyang to change its behaviour, according to Chun, but Beijing will not necessarily oppose the U.S. and South Korea in the case of a North Korean collapse.

China "would be comfortable with a reunified Korea controlled by Seoul and anchored to the US in a 'benign alliance' as long as Korea was not hostile towards China," Chun said. Economic opportunities in a reunified Korea could further induce Chinese acquiescence, he added.

The South Korean warns, however, that China would be unlikely to accept the presence of U.S. troops north of the demilitarized zone that currently forms the North-South border.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China would not comment specifically on the cables.

"China consistently supports dialogue between the North and South sides of the Korean peninsula to improve their relations," Hong said at a regularly scheduled news conference.

In the leaked cable of his conversation with American officials, Chun predicts the government in Pyongyang would last no more than three years following the death of ailing leader Kim Jong Il, who is seeking to transfer power to his youngest son Kim Jong Un, a political ingenue in his 20s.

Chun also dismisses the possibility of Chinese military intervention if North Korea descended into chaos."

And there you have it; the journalist's interpretation of a discussion between a South Korean official's impressions of what China knows (or doesn't know), would do (or not) to an American official. The result is the journalist telling the public that China does NOT know, and would NOT do, such and such a thing.

First, there was Wikipedia, designed for know-nothing wanna-bes with too much time on their hands to feed lazy academics, and now, Wiki Leaks, filled by despondent informants with an axe to grind, for the benefit of journalists too lazy to get their facts from the horses' mouths.

The question is whether the quality of secrecy (for the military) or discretion (for the diplomats) automatically corresponds to wrong-doing. Not everything MUST be known. This too is a matter of ethics. Take for example, our own academic standard of Chatham House rules. Without those, no honest debate can take place at the juncture of the academic and the official/political. Not all of us are academics, so let me take another set of examples; attorney-client privilege, or better, doctor-patient confidentiality.

These principles exist because of human nature. If we see someone coming out of the doctor's office, we presume s/he receives some care. Human nature being what it is, our perception changes from complete neglect to intense interest the minute we start imagining what kind of care. Because some ailments have a social content to them. Take AIDS or Herpes. Some ethics philosophers would have you divulge the names and addresses of people who have contagious or sexually-transmissible diseases for fear of pandemics. I will leave that debate for now, but not before saying that doctor-patient confidentiality protects the patient from prejudice. Indeed, our attitude towards AIDS patient was not always so benign or understanding.

The same can be said for someone calling his lawyer. Why would someone call a lawyer? Obviously, for legal reasons, of a criminal, business or personal kind. But here also, the interests of the clients are protected from human prejudice; no one is guilty before being sentenced in a court of law. If for a business reason, the individual's interest must be protected from predatory pretensions, if for personal reasons (say, a divorce), well, that is truly private, and everyone can agree on that.

The way government operates cannot always be in the open, whether it conducts military or diplomatic operations. Often times, it must be shrouded in secrecy, and it must be hidden from public view, and it must be shaped for public consumption. I would wager this is because there is a difference between the process and the results of a process. The first "leaker", I would wager, was Niccolo Machiavelli, and his leak was The Prince, simultaneously a treatise of political psychology, ethics, and leadership. Today, we call this combination "government". Five hundred years ago, Machiavelli caused as much furor and unease by calling things by their names. But he also gave an ulterior, grander, and to him more noble, motive; the unification of Italy and the resumption of her former (Roman) greatness. What he wanted was the liberty of his country, and its independence from outside pressure.

Nearly four-hundred years later, Otto von Bismarck was attributed the aphorism that "laws are like sausage" insofar as the process of making them is unappealing and inelegant, and that if someone likes laws as much as sausage, it is best not to delve too much into how they are made. Clearly, he too was concerned with the proper result.

With Wiki Leaks, it is different. It plays on the current public perception that because something is shielded from the public, whatever is happening is wrong. Yes, some of it is wrong, legally and ethically. Most of what is wrong is irrecoverably so, and the perpetrators should be condemned. And as most of our countries are democratic, we have to be satisfied that due process will take place. But not all of it is wrong. Because of that, the majority of the leaks is purely and simply a matter of treason.

Another aspect of human nature and public punditry is the current mistrust of officialdom and politicians. True, politicians have not shun by their ethics lately, and no country is immune to this phenomenon. But if politicians have become cynical, it is in great part due to the fact that the general public has entered the fray of political discourse (especially thanks to the internet and the end of the Cold War) in a way that is not totally informed by facts. Before someone answers that Wiki Leaks is the answer to those facts, I would say no, because Wiki Leaks has a policy of shielding their sources from the public and the authorities. It is the government that has to be transparent, and the happier governments are not the ones that are most transparent. Yet, since the end of the Cold War and the emergence of non-state actors such as human rights NGOs, governments have become more transparent. Proof of this is that most of them allow themselves to be measured by Transparency International, the watchdog agency par excellence.

Like any power, the public just wants more. Just like any actor of politics. The problem is that the public doesn't have a bureaucracy at its disposal. As a result, it does not have knowledge, but merely information, and here too, human nature takes precedence, and prejudice takes over reasoned debate. A government has a bureaucracy at its disposal to help it do the work that it has been mandated to do (or mandated itself to do, in the case of dictatorships). The mandate is about an end-state, not about a process. Certainly, the process and/or the ultimate objective is sometimes implemented in less-than-ethical fashion. But we should worry less about ethical degrees of means and ends, than the fact that some societies do not have the means to question the ethics of manners or goals.

Let me give an example. In Canada in 1992, the administration of Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa was negotiating with the Federal Government and other Canadian provinces about a new Constitution which would satisfy a number of Quebec's demands. After a successful meeting, the results of which Mr. Bourassa was confident could sell to the Quebec electorate, the media published the details of a cell-phone conversation by one of his aides. In this electronically tapped phone conversation Bourassa's aid lambasted the deal as detrimental to Quebec's interests. The lady in question who held this opinion had probably no idea that cell phones could be tapped so easily. But her disloyalty quickly transformed into treason when the story broke on the front page of Quebec's dailies. Quickly, the electorate made its mind up. In the ensuing national (coast-to-coast) referendum on a new Canadian constitution, Quebec voted against the deal, pushing the province towards a provincial referendum that nearly split the country in October 1995.

Let's take a highly plausible example. Wiki Leaks have put on their page a decrypted classified document where President Dmitri Medvedev is cartooned as "playing Robin to Putin's Batman." For those who are skeptical of my argument so far: How do you think this will help the Obama Administration pass the New START Treaty for ratification in Congress, and how is that characterization likely to lead Russia to accept NATO's missile defence initiative and further nuclear weapons cuts, CFE Treaty resumption etc.? As a Russia enthusiast and expert, I can say with assurance that image is very important in that part of the world, and reputation is vital. Anything to damage either is likely to engage in a loss of face that makes further trustworthy negotiations difficult at best. Fortunately, objective conditions oblige; the Russian authorities are playing down the incident.

Let's take now a fictional case, but a plausible one. Let's say that Armenia, Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh, finally decide to get together under the mediation of a larger power to settle the Karabakh dispute. The negotiators of all sides have to make painful, "courageous" concessions to one another. What matters to the public is that the end result is seen as advantageous to it, that the issue is settled permanently, and that stability ensues. To that end, the resources deployed involve certain guarantees and advantages. What if the details of those guarantees and advantages get leaked as negotiations are taking place? What if the public learns that the Karabakh leadership has accepted to leave and go into exile for money, and that most of the territory goes to Armenia or Azerbaijan? What if it is learned that in exchange for its acceptance, the Armenian leadership is promised a Nobel Prize? What if in exchange for its acceptance the Azerbaijani leadership is promised no attempts at regime change, or to ensure that the Armenians will play ball, it has to accept a significant Armenian participation in domestic oil and gas ventures?

What happens is that civil society - decidedly less civil these days - becomes interested in the debate, goes in the street and starts short-circuiting the negotiations. The negotiations are supposed to be handled by legitimate (to a certain extent) representatives, put in place for precisely the purpose of getting to a form of agreement that is acceptable to the public that ensures permanent regional stability. Negotiations are not designed to be handled directly by the public qua Wiki Leaks. I don't think I am going far on a limb by suggesting that in the fictitious case I have outlined above, the result would be a resumption of hostilities in the region, and two civil wars in Armenia and Azerbaijan. Thus in the example above, discretion and secrecy would avoid bloodshed even if the negotiations do not achieve permanent peace. Insofar as the leaks enable undue participation from the public in mid-process, they also accelerate the emission of grievances in advance of elections. The resulting reaction from a government in that region could be further curtailment of individual rights as the regime tries to protect itself.

There are some who say that the Wiki Leaks have prevented bloodshed already. That is no more possible to test than is the assertion that Julian Assange is acting on behalf of large powers. What is clear is that someone who leaks classified information is guilty of a crime of equal magnitude as the deliberate targeting and killing of civilians in war. Bradley Manning worked as part of a large military system responsible to the President and the Constitution, and within a political system that has the capacity to justly decide what is wrongdoing and what is not. He does not have the power, mandate, capacity or authority to decide what is right and what is wrong. Julian Assange is not the universal ombudsman of what is to be divulged. At the very least, the public should view with suspicion the fact that he appointed himself in that role, and should be weary of the fact that the manipulation of information may rest with just one man.




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written by Dr. William Mallinson, December 02, 2010 

The Wikileaks story does not need to be put into any particular context or mind-freezing politically correct 'conceptual framework. As a former diplomat, several things have struck me. First, what a shame that Wikileaks was not sufficiently developed in 2002 to expose the web of deceit and lies that led to the illegal attack on Iraq.The evil war might then have been prevented. Second, we should renember that state confidentiality is often a cover for illegality, and therefore needs to be exposed in the public interest (no snide slurs about my being left-wing, please: I am a true blue British conservative, albeit a critical one.Third,much of the subject matter in the leaked material merely shows the tendency of some Anglo-Saxon diplomacy to be supercilious in its sometimes cosily arrogant pseudo-ivory tower.I remember that when I was writing confidential amd secret letters on various political topics in the country to which I was accredited, I took care not to write slanderous things. It seems that the lowering of educational standards is reflected in the low quality of many of the current batch of diplomats'reporting.Fourth, and perhaps crucially, the massive spread of use of the internet in sensitive government work has not only taken away the space to actually think about what one writes, but weakened security almost beyond repair. The asinine obsession with deadlines (usually false) and the sheer massive amount of extra paperwork and information overload created by the abuse of computers by lazy government departments has created confusion.Fifth (and I write as a historian as a historian who deals almost exclusively with original documents,rather than silly and conflicting theories),virtually everything that has been exposed is remarkably similar in nature to what I have been recently reading in thirty-year old documents. In a large number of cases, even as a former diplomat, I am surprised about what the fuss was all about. I must express my admiration for the sheer guts of Assange in letting the world know the good, the bad and the ugly. Finally, there is an enormous level of hypocrisy in the whole orchestrated slur campaign against Assange, since governments,particularly the British and American ones,themselves regularly leak documents illegally to further their own sometimes dubious objectives.I suppose that I now run the danger of being murdered by the paranoid brigade of manichean neo-con slave-'thinkers',promoting their childish political realism theories, and lying themselves to hell. Well done, Julian, for exposing the hypocrisy!And I hope that the cowards don'y get you!



Strategic Analyst
written by Frederic Labarre, December 03, 2010 

The Good the Bad and the Ugly. Two out of three certainly deserve to be revealed. If - and only if - there are no other channels to air grievances.

When Cornwell, that other diplomat, decided he couldn't stand the double-dealing and hypocrisy, he chose to expose it as John LeCarré. Indeed, nothing new from the cables. Smiley could have told you.

But if only 30% of what is leaked deals with the Good, then the leak amounts to sabotage.

The Good, to eventually come out, requires confidentiality and secrecy.



written by Bill Mallinson, December 03, 2010 

Some points:a) Without the manic abuse of the internet,and the concomitant electronification of relations between(and within) states, which are essentially hypocritical, this alleged 'scandal' could never have occurred.b)Most intelligence relies on the media to a large extent(it's a lazy business!), and is also polluted by chickenfeeding, disinformation, and officially sanctioned illegal selective leaking.c)Most of the 'scandalous' information is obvious stuff.Its like that bit in Bunuel's 'The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie', when the curtain is suddenly raised, and no-one knows what to do.d)Thank goodness that the paranoid state surveillance with which we have to put up these days (so well depicted by George Orwell in '1984') is now rebounding on the state paranoids, and that we can put these unaccountable control freaks under surveillance.As Ellsberg said, they are the danger to security,by encouraging terrorism and feeding the springing up of primitive-minded 'security companies'.

In my day, we had none of these problems, since our secretaries did not use even electronic typewriters,let alone computers.So perhaps we'll have a return to tradition, and scrap all the technological trash.

By the way, I would be very surprised if any agents'lives have been put in danger, unless the level of US diplomacy is so low,that actual names of informants etc. have been recorded. Well done, Julian Assange, you are a real hombre, rather vthan a sycophantic politically correct twerp.