The assault on WikiLeaks threatens free speech and democracy itself


9:05 am - December 2nd 2010

by Sunny Hundal    


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Let’s be clear about one simple fact: WikiLeaks is a media organisation. It might not publish a mix of 5-10 blog posts a day like we do, or hundreds of articles daily like the Guardian, but it nevertheless publishes information for public consumption.

There’s no doubt the web has blurred traditional boundaries and this has been scared journalists for years. But if we argue that blogs should be seen as part of the media ecosystem and end up performing similar functions, despite vital differences, then WikiLeaks is also part of that mix.

This leads me to one simple conclusion: the attack on WikiLeaks now is not only an attack on free speech itself, but shows how craven and self-serving the traditional media has become.

The US administration is actively trying to ensure that WikiLeaks cannot find a web host for its material. This sets an extremely dangerous precedent given they haven’t even convicted Julian Assange or WikiLeaks of anything.

And what has been the traditional media’s response? Stand by idly and wonder when Assange will be arrested or, worse, just assassinated.

If Fox News, the NY Times or the Guardian were being targeted like this there would be outrage across the media spectrum. But there’s barely a murmur.

What would have been the reaction if MPs decided to shut down the Daily Telegraph after it acquired (quite possibly illegally) a disc containing MPs expenses and published them?

Would people still have argued that the Telegraph wasn’t democratically accountable, or that it wasn’t transparent enough, and therefore we should be careful before rushing to it’s defence? Rubbish.

Was it in the public interest? I happen to think that knowing that Israel notified Egypt and the Palestinian Authorities before Operation Cast Lead is significant. I happen to think knowing the Saudis still view Iran as a great threat as important. Not unsurprising but “public interest” is usually a matter of opinion.

Does it inconvenience diplomats? Sure, but our MPs weren’t too happy about their expenses being published either. Who here would defend their right to privacy? Weren’t the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs in the public interest?

The traditional media has been cravenly quick to swallow the line that WikiLeaks threatens national security interests and therefor n offensive on Julian Assange is somehow OK. Perhaps they are miffed that WikiLeaks published information they would rather have leaked themselves. It’s a new form of competition and they don’t seem to like it one bit.

WikiLeaks isn’t democratically accountable but neither is the Daily Mail. It isn’t transparent but neither do we know how The Sun gets it’s scoops. These are fatuous arguments to make against the website unless one is also going to argue that most of the media industry be shut down.

You’re either for the right of websites to publish information that national authorities might not like – or you are not. It really is that straightforward.

And with the very existence of WikiLeaks now under serious threat, it is time to unambiguously stand up for its right to publish and be damned.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Media

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Reader comments


Well said.

You’re either for the right of websites to publish information that national authorities might not like – or you are not. It really is that straightforward.

Broadly speaking, agreed.

Did you see this lovely bit of news today, sourced from WikiLeaks?

Britain and America colluded to allow the United States to keep banned cluster bombs on British soil in defiance of an international treaty, leaked diplomatic cables disclosed.

David Miliband, then Foreign Secretary, approved the use of a loophole to get around the convention that bans the weapons to permit the US to keep the weapons on British territory.

In 2008 Gordon Brown supported an international effort to ban cluster bombs and Britain subsequently signed a treaty. America refused, however, insisting they were “legitimate” weapons.

So we signed a treaty and ignored it. Brilliant. No need for “complicating/muddying the debate by having to indicate that [getting rid of cluster munitions] is open to exceptions.”

Funny thign is how many people would have downloaded and read 250000 documents themselves.

The papers have done all the leaking by supplying us with the juiciest extracts, whilst at the same time bemoaning the leaks.

Your touching naivety is surprising.

I suspect that if the Grauniad had gotten the equivelent for the FCO, then it would have soon cow-towed to the lef=gal pressure that would have been slapped on it in seconds

So far cablegate and Wikileaks have proved amazingly dull. The Saudis want to see the back of the Iranian regime, and are happy if the Americans are the ones to do it. Well knock me down with a feather. Putin has some very unpleasent friends and is not particularly wedded to democracy. Cor Blimely, strike a light!.

If I were the Americans, I would just let them do their worst, which so far is not much, Publish and be damned is still holds good.

However equally the US Govt has every right to try to keep its secrets, and limit the distribution of classified material when it is aware a great deal remains unppublished, and to deter the leaking of further classified material.

You’re either for the right of websites to publish information that national authorities might not like – or you are not. It really is that straightforward.

When people say things like this, you can usually bet a dollar to a dime that things are actually more complicated. How long, exactly, does it take you think of half a dozen things that fit the description above but which every sane being would agree should not be published? I mean, really.

Does anyone think the result of this wikileaks furore will be greater transparency, more accountability, better democracy? Seriously? If diplomats know that every cable, every paper and email trail stands a realistic possibility of being blogged about by Sunny Hundal a week later, what do you suppose will be the mentality? I predict a spike in private conversations in corridors and covert meetings over expensive dinners, myself.

5. Chaise Guevara

I read the headline and was all ready to come on here and tell you to chill the fuck out, but you make a good point. Governments really should not be trying to silence a media outlet.

However, said media outlets should be responsible for what they do decide to publish. How is the public interest served, for example, by stealing private conversations and publishing them because they include insulting personal opinions of major world leaders? How is that anything other than shit-stirring of the most childish and pathetic kind?

Hear hear, Sunny, and the Telegraph analogy is an excellent one.

Traditional powerbases and sources of information control are being rocked to their foundations. Little wonder they’re playing the man.

How long, exactly, does it take you think of half a dozen things that fit the description above but which every sane being would agree should not be published?

Sorry. Still thinking.

Can you help me out here?

8. Chaise Guevara

@ 7

“Sorry. Still thinking.

Can you help me out here?”

Locations of nuclear subs

Passwords to government computer systems

General defense plans for future possible attacks

Personal emails and addresses of politicians and civil servants

Government’s current knowledge of potential terrorists

David Cameron’s play.com account name and password

9. the a&e charge nurse

Isn’t there a slight irony in the main post – surely you should only be entitled to insist on freedom of speech if this is a principle that you personally believe in?

This is a position that Pagar (for example) has resolutely espoused for some time, although I suspect he is in a minority – some people seem to think freedom of speech equates with only hearing those things that you personally agree with?

I think WikiLeaks has been a fascinating development – it’s worth to our wider society can be judged by those who are opposed to it?

‘Can you help me out here?’

How about the names and personal details of Afghan or Iraqi locals who have acted as translators for British or American forces?

@3. Dontmindme said:

So far cablegate and Wikileaks have proved amazingly dull.

and @4. TedB said:

If diplomats know that every cable, every paper and email trail stands a realistic possibility of being blogged about by Sunny Hundal a week later, what do you suppose will be the mentality? I predict a spike in private conversations in corridors and covert meetings over expensive dinners, myself.

I found this post by Zunguzungu on Assange’s philosophy very interesting. He points out that the dullness is beside the point; and that the move to private off the record discussions might be beneficial. Why? Because keeping such communications off-paper actually impedes the functioning of the “invisible state”, making the production of future secrets much harder. There is much to critique in this philosophy, I am sure, but it is not an argument that can be swatted away.

Would Wikileaks agree to publishing the names, addresses and phone numbers of everyone who contributes to Liberal Conspiracy? I know those concerned wouldn’t mind, because they’re in favour of transparency. It was OK to publish a list of BNP members, wasn’t it?

Nothing irks me more in this whole Wikileaks scenario than people responding ‘YAWN! As though we didn’t know that anyway.’

Oooo aren’t you so much more on the ball than us rubes!

You know what? I’m an atheist, but if someone showed me definitive proof that God didn’t exist, I’d still be pretty amazed. I wouldn’t say ‘yeah whatevs! I’ve known that for ages!’

Why? Because coming to a logical conclusion about something is completely different to having demonstrable evidence for it. No longer will any of the subjects of the leaks be able to deny and argue their way out it – which they could do before, even though we were all aware of their disingenuousness.

As far as Assange goes, the right-wing crazies don’t worry me as much as those in support of Wikileaks who are just standing idly by, tut-tutting in response to the demands for Assange and Manning’s heads on a spike outside the Whitehouse.

It’s great to see this article – the papers that leaked the cables have a responsibility to protect their source. And if we believe Assange did the right thing, we too have a responsibility to denounce Huckabee et al’s wild-eyed, braying response for the barbarism it really is.

“Let’s be clear…”

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0709/25675.html

Sunny’s been listening to a lot of Obama speeches:)

15. Luis Enrique

You’re either for the right of websites to publish information that national authorities might not like – or you are not. It really is that straightforward.

ooh blimey, that’s a tough one. I’d have said there is some “information that national authorities might not like” that media outlets definitely do not have a right to publish. But you’re only giving me the option of unqualified support, or opposition?

“You know what? I’m an atheist, but if someone showed me definitive proof that God didn’t exist, I’d still be pretty amazed. I wouldn’t say ‘yeah whatevs! I’ve known that for ages!’”

You would be amazed because a definitive proff would have been created for a subject on which there is absolutely no evidential basis for previously (faith or lack thereof is not evidence). If Wikileaks has reported the Saudis as begging the US NOT to remove the Iranian regime than I would have been surprised, because history and the evidence such as it exists previously shows the opposite to have been the case. The cases are not alike

The point I draw from Wikileaks ‘revelations’, is not that it tells us what we did not know, but actually it confirms what we DID know to a large extent.

I agree that putting it in print makes a difference, but not much of a difference. Saudi and US policy aint gonna change one iota because of this. It just might get recorded differently that is all.

17. Luis Enrique

here is a very interesting view on wikileaks:

http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2010/12/a-simple-theory-of-wikileaks.html

although it’s just a story, he suggests one outcome might be that the Saudis are forced to side more with Iran. Possible consequences are greater than “some inconvenience for diplomats”.

Obviously I can see that much of what Wikileaks has published is in the public interest, but I am worried that parts are not. Who knows how to weigh these things up on net? I have a bias towards more disclosure (although of course the value is endogenous – once people know their confidential communications may be leaked, they will stop saying sensitive things and may even start dropping in false information to be disseminated).

I’m not absolutely convinced, for example, that the Afghanistan leaks did not put some extra Afghan lives in danger (I know our host is convinced they did not). But then exposing more of what the US and UK have been up to may save some other lives. Who knows how to perform the moral calculus on that.

“. I’d have said there is some “information that national authorities might not like” that media outlets definitely do not have a right to publish. ”

I’d agree with that in principle, and I think a privacy law (for individuals) is overdue . On the other hand history shows us that in general greater transparency and openness for governments and big organisations produces better outcomes than censorship and secrecy. For example whilst it is tempting to advocate legislation to deal with public health issues caused by the media such as MMR, the experience of other countries hardly suggests that public understanding of science improves when the media are censored. In fact the UK’s libel laws are a clear example of this.

I think the comparrison with the torygraph’s expenses story is also illustrative of what is going on here. Established media organisations owned by powerful people essentially get away with violating the law, whilst smaller upstarts get attacked and legislation is used to censor them. Nobody for example seriously expects the editors of the grauniad, NYT, Le Monde etc to end up in Jail for publishing this information – yet they’ve reached far more people than if the information had been spiked and kept on a server somewhere just accessed by Geeks.

Its this hypocrisy that makes Assange worth defending, if he gets prosecuted and jailed for this the message isn’t “don’t violate our secrecy laws” – it is really “don’t try and exist outside the corporate media”.

19. Chaise Guevara

I agree with Trofim (for once). Transparency looks great if it happens to other people.

Luis –

I’m not absolutely convinced, for example, that the Afghanistan leaks did not put some extra Afghan lives in danger (I know our host is convinced they did not).

They might, for all I know, have made some lives more dangerous but I suspect they didn’t have truly dire consequences or the U.S. would have screamed about it ’til kingdom come.

21. Luis Enrique

BenSix

true dat

You would be amazed because a definitive proff [sic] would have been created for a subject on which there is absolutely no evidential basis for previously (faith or lack thereof is not evidence).

Darwin might disagree with you there…

I agree that putting it in print makes a difference, but not much of a difference.

The entire legal profession might disagree with you there 🙂

Ellie May’s comment pretty much hits the nail on the head in every way. The “yawn!” brigade are immensely tedious, and I was genuinely shocked when I heard about Huckabee’s appalling comments.

*Nods*. Good post, Ellie.

“You would be amazed because a definitive proof would have been created for a subject on which there is absolutely no evidential basis for previously (faith or lack thereof is not evidence).

Darwin might disagree with you there…”

No he would not. Evolution does not either deny or promote the existence of a deity. At best it can be used as an argument as to why you don’t need a deity. But alas it can be used as an argument for the mechanism the deity chooses use.

“I agree that putting it in print makes a difference, but not much of a difference.

The entire legal profession might disagree with you there”

When you show me a court that could in jurisdiction, in law and in practice act against the King of the House of Saud for his reported comments in a leaked US cable I will concede your point

The reaction to WikiLeaks has been a fascinating expose of the paranoia that lurks within the US underbelly. Gone are the exceedingly tedious BS sanctimonious lectures about freedom, liberty and constitutionalism. All the pious words have been replaced with calls for revenge and a fatwa on the life of the shiner of light. The irony that they are aping the very worst attributes of the tyrants they claim to oppose is completely lost on presidential candidates Huckabee and Palin. A nation at ease with itself would indifferently shrug its collective shoulders. A nation that no longer knows what it stands for and is in decline would react in exactly the way the US right have responded.

So i guess andy coulson and his underlings were right to have invaded privacy and violated laws because they thought it was in the public interest.

So, I am sure we would not see any more posts or comments on Liberal Conspiracy which calls for Mr. Coulson’s removal or arrest.

And, I guess being accused of rape and not facing the charges is okay now – or does the law and our sensibilities change because this wanker Assange is a hero.

If the Telegraph’s editor was accused of rape, I am sure Liberal Conspiracy would be the first to ask him to step down or step aside until his name has been cleared. But we can’t ask that of the hero Assange can we now?

Shamit,

And, I guess being accused of rape and not facing the charges is okay now

It’s my understanding Assange hasn’t been formally charged.

I have to say to have a free press YOU have to cross the line sum-times.
Look at your news papers when at least 2 of them every day have front pages about the X factor or sum other so called reality show.

Then WikiLeaks

5th April 2010 10:44 EST WikiLeaks has released a classified US military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad — including two Reuters news staff

http://88.80.13.160/

say no more

gnome

30. Luis Enrique

The irony that they are aping the very worst attributes of the tyrants they claim to oppose is completely lost on presidential candidates Huckabee and Palin

yup.

but no government is going to be very relaxed about somebody leaking things which they have classified as secret. What’s the most well adjusted nation in the world? Denmark can’t be far off. How would the Danes react to somebody leaking official secrets? I imagine they’d still be talking prosecution … I don’t know about the media outlet in question, more likely just the leaker.

31. Chaise Guevara

@ 29

Absolutely, and evidence of crimes and corruption should be made public. That’s what true whistleblowing is.

The problem is that the Wikileaks stuff wasn’t vetted. So we’ve got a load of people’s private conversations made public for no reason, something that could potentially do a lot of damage, because of two people (one probably a disgruntled employee with no sense of proportion, the other a guy with no consideration for the consequences of his actions).

Murder of civilians? Our business. A diplomat calling Cameron names behind his back? Not our business.

32. Shatterface

‘I agree with Trofim (for once). Transparency looks great if it happens to other people.’

And I have to agree too: free and open discussion is only possible where there is also a right to privacy or even secrecy.

Just to point out the obvious, the majority of those who post on this site (see above) don’t use their real full names. Unless you are an egotistical self-publicist there is little reason for doing so.

Shamit – If Coulson had found members of the royal family discussing ways to bypass the Convention on Cluster Munitions I might have become an overnight utilitarian.

(By the way, can anyone remember the right-wingers that are complaining now getting het-up over the CRU scientists’ privacy?)

34. Luis Enrique

(actually, bad example. recalling some Peter Høeg novels, the Dane’s would probably have your guts for garters too)

35. Luis Enrique

I would be interested to know whether during the Watergate scandal, some people were calling for the editor of the Washington Post to be executed for treason.

(although, as I remember it, there was no “putting lives at risk” angle there)

(ben) I think most people post under name rather than a real name means how scared they are.
Be it job,family
Right or wrong it does say how people feel about thier own personel freedom.

@31

“A diplomat calling Cameron names behind his back? Not our business.”

Fair enough as far as it goes, but it’s not the name-calling and hair-pulling behind closed doors that the powers that be are concerned about. Palin isn’t calling for the assassination of Assange because of diplomats saying that so-and-so is an arse, she’s saying it because Wikileaks has uncovered masses of evidence linking the US and UK to war crimes and shown up the US as the bully we all knew it is. That is what’s “treasonous”, in their eyes.

Intriguingly the next batch of documents to come from Wikileaks are purported to be relating to banks in the US – Assange claims that there is enough material to bring down at least one major bank [though he is prone to hyberbole].

38. Flowerpower

I commend to all those still playing catch-up Jesse Norman’s book
The Big Society – an anatomy of the new politics.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Big-Society-Jesse-Norman/dp/0956395201

If you’re too busy to read the whole book, you could do worse than the Independent’s Amol Rajan’s intelligent review:

Its argument is clear and cogent: the state is too big and boisterous. It should be smaller and smarter. Growth in the power of our state has produced diminishing returns in the quality of public services, portrays citizens as passive recipients of centralised benefaction, and is unaffordable. It has taken place during the reign of homo economicus – a flawed representation of the human being’s economic preferences, which portrays him as rational and acting on the basis of perfect information, when actually he is neither.

At the same time, political theory has been obsessed with the freedom of the individual and the function of the state, but said too little about what is in between: institutions. We need a theory of institutions. The Big Society aims to harness their power, whether large (school) or small (family), to boost fraternity.

Norman calls on a central idea in the work of Michael Oakeshott, his conservative hero, to advance this theory. Oakeshott distinguished between two types of society: civil versus enterprise associations. The former is an association of citizens who are equal under the law but have no common purpose or plan; the latter is a project in which citizens are conscripted into a common, broad undertaking, usually aimed at world improvement. Oakeshott preferred the former.

Norman’s introduction of a third category is liable to be remembered as his great contribution to political thought. It is timely, astute and compassionate. For the Big Society, the “connected” society, we need a philic association, from the Greek philia, meaning “tie”, “affection”, “friendship” or “regard”. This can be a vehicle for the human affections embodied by institutions. Unleashing those affections is the aim of the Big Society.

://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/the-big-society-by-jesse-norman-2136907.html

FP – wrong thread I’m guessing.

“I guess being accused of rape and not facing the charges is okay now”

No, it is clearly not. But if you are too thick to distinguish between the rights of an organisation to publish leaked documents, and the rights of that organisation’s staff to commit criminal acts that have nothing to do with free speech then political philosophy is probably not for you.

40. Flowerpower

Planeshift

correct – wrong thread

should have been on civil society/big soc one.

Perhaps admin can kill it?

41. Chaise Guevara

@ 37 S Pill

I agree with that, but whatever their reason, they could have the leaker up on a treason charge (or something like it) for spreading military secrets. His/her case would be stronger if only those that were clearly in the public interest were released, morally as well as legally.

The idea of assassinating Assange is monstrous and unjustifiable, of course. Even if you accept that assassination can be a necessary evil, the idea of a state-sanctioned revenge hit is insane.

“His/her case would be stronger if only those that were clearly in the public interest were released, morally as well as legally.”

In the US, is there a public interest defence available for whistleblowers?

Shamit – If Coulson had found members of the royal family discussing ways to bypass the Convention on Cluster Munitions I might have become an overnight utilitarian.

Which is just another way of you asserting your subjective view that example A passes the ‘public interest’ test but example B doesn’t. I might even agree with your judgment on this, but you see the problem, don’t you? That is, the problem with taking everything you’ve got and dumping it on a publicly accessible server, genuine scandals and pure titilation all?

Someone mentioned Watergate. The correct analogy with wikileaks would be Woodward and Bernstein putting every tape and interview note on the ‘net (had it existed). Does anyone seriously believe that we got to learn EVERYTHING that Woodward and Bernstein disovered about Nixon and his inner-circle during their investigations, or do you suppose the it was the material and relevant info only that made it into the public domain? Are we any worse off for not knowing what Nixon thought of Ted Heath, for example?

Whatever you think of wikileaks, responsible journalism it is not.

“But if you are too thick to distinguish between the rights of an organisation to publish leaked documents, and the rights of that organisation’s staff to commit criminal acts that have nothing to do with free speech then political philosophy is probably not for you.”

Well well – the loony left accusing anyone holding responsible centre left positions as thick. No surprises there.

Now Intelligent – can you read? If you can – next question can you comprehend – if so then you would understand – arguing that this Wikileak dump is equivalent to investigative journalism by Telegraph is where the analogy came from

********************************************
Okay now 101 political realism:

If it came out that Gerry Adams and Martin Mcguinness were meeting with Tony Blair in 1997 and looking to compromise then they would have been castigated as traitors and idiots on the extremes of both sides of the argument would have won the day and the coalition power sharing arrangement in Stormont would not have seen the light of the day.

Similarly, when there is enough tension in the Korean peninsula and there is a completely mad regime in Pyongyang, releasing information which does not confirm but suggest that China is well on its way to back reunification of Korea – how do you think it helps?

How does it help to know that Jordanian King is close to getting an agreement behind the scenes with Bibi on land for peace for Palestinians. In 1993, the Israel – Palestinian accord which gave Palestinians self governing authority was negotiated behind the scenes for almost 2 years in Oslo – and if it leaked the progress that was made would not have been possible for dumb asses like Seamus Milne and his opposite numbers in the right wing.

And more importantly, these wikileaks are opinions of diplomats which are only part of the intelligence policy makers use to make policy. So, again help me out here – how does gossip and opinion help in making world the better place.

And, if Wiki leaks want to be treated like a responsible media organisation – they should act like one ie take editorial repsonsibility and ensure no harm comes because of their revelations. Obviously, in the previous case with the war logs they had failed to do it – in fact Amnesty International said so – and so did reporters without borders – but I guess they are not as loony as you want them to be right.

*************************************
And funny someone who doesn’t have the balls to publish comments in their own name wants diplomacy and complex issues discussed in front of the whole world – the real world does not work that way – now is it clearer for your so superior intellect

Shamit,

If somebody criticised the Telegraph for publishing expenses by pointing out one of its editors was a cocaine dealer it would have no bearing on whether the decision to publish expenses was the right one. So Assange under investigation for Rape is irrelevant to a discussion over wikkileaks should publish.

Clear enough?

“Why? Because coming to a logical conclusion about something is completely different to having demonstrable evidence for it.”

But the question is whether we actually, individually need the evidence. Chaise Guevara has pretty much summed up my response to this episode. I’m not into free speech as a concept that is supportable in everyday life or in relation to state matters.

I actually think there’s a much bigger question at play here and that’s whether any of you think we need diplomacy. What you’re doing here is supporting the press attacking the system of national relations that exists. I don’t personally find that negative or positive- I’m more concerned about the person who leaked the information than about the diplomats or international relations- but this work is concealed so that people can do their jobs without scandal and sensation and I’m seeing a lot of people who approve of the sensation that this has made prevalent.

NOAM CHOMSKY: “We should understand … that one of the major reasons for government secrecy is to protect the government from its own population.”

48. Chaise Guevara

@ 47 Bluerock

Chomsky has his merits, but he’s a paranoid conspiracy theorist. And while that statement you quoted is totally valid, it ignore the point that another reason for government secrecy is to all governments to, um, govern.

48. Chaise Guevara

> Chomsky has his merits, but he’s a paranoid conspiracy theorist.

I don’t recognise that description of him. There’s no paranoia, just documented reality, in the “conspiracies” he sometimes discusses – but if you have something specific, rather than vague accusations, please share.

> …another reason for government secrecy is to all governments to, um, govern.

I don’t think anyone is suggesting we should publish the nuclear launch codes, but… ah fuck it… Sunny has already explained what this is about.

I don’t think it is that simple. The Telegraph was revealing illegal, or at least immoral activities by MP’s. Much of the info revealed by WikiLeaks isn’t news of illegal activity, it is just sensitive. Diplomats might actually be acting on our behalf at times, and obstructing them could come to harm us. Also, surely WikiLeaks released this information via four major newspapers, so rather than a media source, WikiLeaks is more like an undercover, rogue journalist.

I’d say it is quite the opposite of as simple as either being for or against the release of material and I’m not sure why you would want to simplify it so. It depends what the information is. If it is things like Trafigura, or the Iraq helicopter killing of Reuters journalists, then it is within the public’s interest for it to be in the open. But if it is things which could potentially jeopardise security, how does that help the population?

Curiosity should not trump security by default.

Chomsky has his merits, but he’s a paranoid conspiracy theorist.

No he isn’t. In fact, he’s quite notorious in alternative news circles for dismissing supposed conspiracy theories.

52. DisgustedOfTunbridgeWells

However, said media outlets should be responsible for what they do decide to publish.

As if, if that ever happened the vast majority of national media in the uk/us (and elsewhere) would be finished.

53. Chaise Guevara

@ 49 Bluerock (CC BenSix)

“I don’t recognise that description of him. There’s no paranoia, just documented reality, in the “conspiracies” he sometimes discusses – but if you have something specific, rather than vague accusations, please share.”

Not to hand! I made that statement based on my reading of Hegemony or Survival. I found that, while the individual situations he analysed were interesting, well-researched and helped to advance his point, he seemed to bring all of them together to suggest some kind of planned conspiracy on the part of America and its allies (i.e. that every sanctionable action by the US in the last 60 years was part of some grand master plan). Just my opinion, it’s hard to source without being annoying and telling you to read the book (if you haven’t already). I felt his fear of government was disproportionate.

“I don’t think anyone is suggesting we should publish the nuclear launch codes, but… ah fuck it… Sunny has already explained what this is about.”

No one’s said that specifically, but pagar seems to think that making all secret government info public would be great. I agree with the central premise of the article, though.

54. Chaise Guevara

@ 52

“As if, if that ever happened the vast majority of national media in the uk/us (and elsewhere) would be finished.

Up to an extent, good (allowing for a definition of “finished” being “forced to act more responsibly”). Although I’m not saying they should be responsible for the net cost/benefit impact of each story, just that there should be stronger laws around lying and dishonest use of the truth (that one sounds more Stalinistic than I want it to).

55. Chaise Guevara

* 53

As a matter of fact, I was thinking last night about giving that book another read, so if you’re around when I’m done I might be able to give you a clearer explanation.

@53. Chaise Guevara

> Not to hand! I made that statement based on my reading of Hegemony or Survival.

Can’t comment. Not read it. In fact, I’ve not read a great deal of Chomsky’s output – but he’s always seemed level-headed to me – so I was playing Devil’s Advocate a little. 🙂

> …he seemed to bring all of them together to suggest some kind of planned conspiracy on the part of America and its allies…

And I’d say that is true. Not a centrally-coordinated, Dr Evil plan, but the inexorable march of capitalist and corporations fucking over everything and everybody that stands in the way of expansion and profit.

Whether it’s deforestation in the Amazon to grow cheap beef and leather for people in Chiswick, or snapping up millions of acres in Africa to grow cheap aubergines for dinner plates in Paris, the corporations are munching their way across the planet at the expense of the impoverished.

> …it’s hard to source without being annoying and telling you to read the book…

No worries. You’ve already been marked down as ‘worth listening to’.

> I felt his fear of government was disproportionate.

Might it be government controlled by corporations and billionaires (e.g. Murdoch) that he is really concerned about?

> …pagar seems to think that making all secret government info public would be great.

ARTHUR: Then who is your lord?
WOMAN: We don’t have a lord.
ARTHUR: What?
DENNIS: I told you. We’re an anarcho-syndicalist commune. We take it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week.
ARTHUR: Yes.
DENNIS: But all the decisions of that officer have to be ratified at a special biweekly meeting.
ARTHUR: Yes, I see.
DENNIS: By a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs,–
ARTHUR: Be quiet!
DENNIS: –but by a two-thirds majority in the case of more–
ARTHUR: Be quiet! I order you to be quiet!
WOMAN: Order, eh — who does he think he is?
ARTHUR: I am your king!

@ Shatterface

‘Can you help me out here?’

How about the names and personal details of Afghan or Iraqi locals who have acted as translators for British or American forces?

Just because we defend freedom of speech (the right for anyone to say or write anything they want to) does not mean that we are absolved of responsibility for the consequences of what we say.

Sunny’s original polemic was

You’re either for the right of websites to publish information that national authorities might not like – or you are not. It really is that straightforward.

That is not to say that those doing so are not required to justify their actions in publishing. In the case of Wikileaks, they seem perfectly prepared to do so.

A more difficult case is the Climategate files which were leaked anonymously. In such cases, the merits of the leak will tend to depend on which side of the argument you are on and I seem to remember another commenter threatening me with with the thought police for pasting a particularly juicy extract here.

In my view, the power of the internet to bring greater transparency is welcome and the genie will not go back into the bottle. So stop moaning when the truth doesn’t suit you and be prepared to stand by what you say, both in public and in “private”.

@ Bluerock

Be quiet! I order you to be quiet!

Yep.

Some people are happy with that kind of regime…….

and some actually yearn for it.

59. DisgustedOfTunbridgeWells

Up to an extent, good (allowing for a definition of “finished” being “forced to act more responsibly”). Although I’m not saying they should be responsible for the net cost/benefit impact of each story, just that there should be stronger laws around lying and dishonest use of the truth (that one sounds more Stalinistic than I want it to).

You can make the argument either way – if there were a set of rules that existed in both countries that would have forced the mail (and others, I’m sure) to pay out to victims of British anti semitism pre and during ww2, would the NY times have employed the likes of thomas ‘suck on this Iraq’ friedman or be pulling shit like this – http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/02/18/nyt

Seems unlikely.

Concurrently if the media in general were forced to deal with the externalities resulting from their oh so glorious ‘freedom’ right here and now then they’d be bankrupted.

“Much of the info revealed by WikiLeaks isn’t news of illegal activity, ”

Perhaps not this time, but it has documented numerous instances of illegal activity by the US in the past.

Salon:

After a decade’s worth of American invasions, bombings, occupations, checkpoint shootings, drone attacks, assassinations and civilian slaughter, the notion that the U.S. Government can and should murder whomever it wants is more frequent and unrestrained than ever.

Those who demand that the U.S. Government take people’s lives with no oversight or due process as though they’re advocating changes in tax policy or mid-level personnel moves — eradicate him!, they bellow from their seats in the Colosseum — are just morally deranged barbarians. There’s just no other accurate way to put it. These are usually the same people, of course, who brand themselves “pro-life” and Crusaders for the Sanctity of Human Life and/or who deride Islamic extremists for their disregard for human life. And the fact that this mindset is so widespread and mainstream is quite a reflection of how degraded America’s political culture is. When WikiLeaks critics devote a fraction of their rage to this form of mainstream American thinking — which, unlike anything WikiLeaks has done, has actually resulted in piles upon piles of corpses — then their anti-WikiLeaks protestations should be taken more seriously, but not until then.

Well worth reading the whole thing, I think.

@57. “A more difficult case is the Climategate files which were leaked anonymously. In such cases, the merits of the leak will tend to depend on which side of the argument you are on and I seem to remember another commenter threatening me with with the thought police for pasting a particularly juicy extract here.”

This is actually a really interesting comparison. In principle, Climategate was pretty similar to the current set of leaks. It also revealed inside information that powerful people would rather keep secret, and it also confirmed things that had been suspected for a long time, but could not be proved.

And yet the reaction to both from “left liberals” could not have been more different.

I find this fascinating. Wouldn’t it be best to always stick up for the truth, even if it’s inconvenient? Well, in principle, yes. And when it’s Wikileaks, that’s easy to do, because the truth isn’t inconvenient at all.

But what if you had to choose between supporting your political cause, or telling the truth? What would you do then? Wouldn’t you be willing to ignore a few inconvenient facts, if that helped *your* people get into power? Don’t the ends justify the means? Aren’t you willing to ignore a few small incidents of scientific fraud… for the greater good?

@57. pagar

> A more difficult case is the Climategate files which were leaked anonymously.

There is no evidence they were “leaked”. There is circumstantial evidence that CRU was hacked – because several other climate research were also targeted at the same time. Also, RealClimate.org was hacked by someone who attempted to upload the stolen emails.

> In such cases, the merits of the leak will tend to depend on which side of the argument you are on

In the case of the stolen CRU emails, which “side” you were on depends largely on whether you are scientifically literate or not. The deniers knew – without evidence – long before the emails were stolen that global warming was a hoax. The non-evidence revealed by the stolen emails just confirmed their hysterical conspiracy theory.

Do not compare the smearing of honest scientists with exposing immoral, illegal or unethical behaviour by governments, officials and corporations.

> …a particularly juicy extract here.

There was nothing “juicy” – except for those who are deluded by their own confirmation bias.

pagar In such cases, the merits of the leak will tend to depend on which side of the argument you are on

bluerock In the case of the stolen,/b> CRU emails, which “side” you were on depends largely on whether you are scientifically literate or not………the non-evidence revealed by the stolen emails…………the smearing of honest scientists………………those who are deluded

quod erat demonstrandum

Do not compare the smearing of honest scientists with exposing immoral, illegal or unethical behaviour by governments, officials and corporations.

Sorry kiddo, shades of grey aren’t allowed.

You’re either for the right of websites to publish information that national authorities might not like – or you are not. It really is that straightforward.

“But what if you had to choose between supporting your political cause, or telling the truth?”

I think the proper response is generally to go through the internal procedures, and then if nothing changed, become a whistle blower. But I think it depends on each case. So a soldier coming accross war crimes is clearly right to leak this information, but leaking the fact the ambassador thinks Russia is a mafia state doesn’t really count as it is a trivial thing. In some ways the recent leaks have actually improved my view of the US government, because they demonstrate some members of staff recognise what we know anyway.

Similarly if Obama said publically he enjoyed Coffee, but privately hated it and drunk tea instead – well that is hardly worth losing your job over.

The climate gate e-mails is a tougher one, on the one hand it is clearly the right thing to do to leak the fact that data is being misued (if it indeed was) or exaggerated – as science essentially depends on honesty. On the other hand, you know that the leaks will themselves be misused and exaggerated by ones opponents. I think in this case the correct thing to do would be to leak to the wider scientific community, but also actively work to prevent your leaks being misued and distorted by political opponents.

So I think the answer to your question is largely one of seriousness, I’d stay silent over small and trivial white lies to support my political cause, but would tell the truth over something more serious.

67. Chaise Guevara

@ 56

“And I’d say that is true. Not a centrally-coordinated, Dr Evil plan, but the inexorable march of capitalist and corporations fucking over everything and everybody that stands in the way of expansion and profit.”

I’d agree with that. Chomsky seemed to be going further (again, I need to reread it, might do a few chapter tonight) and suggesting that it WAS a Dr Evil type of plan. And you’re right; he wasn’t just talking about the government, but about the government combined and colluding with capitalist interests, essentially the American “powers that be”. Which makes sense: you can’t really talk about government power as if it exists in a vacuum any more (if you ever could).

“No worries. You’ve already been marked down as ‘worth listening to’.”

Likewise, and much obliged!

@64. pagar

> quod erat demonstrandum

Is that you, Lord Monckton?!

Shamit: And more importantly, these wikileaks are opinions of diplomats which are only part of the intelligence policy makers use to make policy. So, again help me out here – how does gossip and opinion help in making world the better place.

Ludicrous argument 1. Who is to decide what info “makes the world a better place”? The publication of the Danish Cartoons didn’t make the world a better place, but a world where they couldn’t be published because people like yourself think it’s not in the public interest would be a worse place.

Steve: But if it is things which could potentially jeopardise security, how does that help the population?

Ludicrous argument 2. There are lots of areas where defense departments prefer to keep their activities silent. Israel probably didn’t want it to be revealed that it used White Phosphorous during Operation Cast Lead – there were leaks during the Vietnam war that turned public opinion against the war.

What you really mean to say that governments should decide what we have the right to know or not.

70. Chaise Guevara

@ 69

Sunny, is there anything in your philosophy that would ban someone from putting your credit card details, personal phone number, medical history etc. etc. online if they could get their hands on them?

@ Bluerock

Is that you, Lord Monckton?!

Maybe………….

We’re off topic here but please explain why tree rings are considered to be a good proxy for annual temperatures before 1960 when they have proved to be a terrible proxy since we have been able to compare them with measured temperatures.

facile largire de alieno

Sunny,

What you really mean to say that governments should decide what we have the right to know or not.

You have set up a false dichotomy where a more nuanced position seems more reasonable. Chaise, Shamit and Shatterface have already raised reasonable objections.

Ludicrous argument 2. There are lots of areas where defense departments prefer to keep their activities silent. Israel probably didn’t want it to be revealed that it used White Phosphorous during Operation Cast Lead – there were leaks during the Vietnam war that turned public opinion against the war.

Of course there are some things that governments want to keep secret because they are evidence of government wrongdoing. But that is not to say governments should never keep secrets. All it means is that governments shouldn’t keep secret things we ought to know (well, what it really means is that they shouldn’t do things that are wrong).

What you really mean to say that governments should decide what we have the right to know or not.

Well, they should – we delegate power to governments to govern us. Sometimes that involves keeping stuff secret. Some things shouldn’t be kept secret, and we ought to know about those things. But that is not an argument for the government to tell us everything.

@71. pagar

> …please explain why tree rings are…

No. I’m not playing the ‘endless tunnel of questions’ game that you deniers like to play. If you were actually interested in the answer you would have gone to Google and typed in some obvious words, or to the science literature where it is discussed and read it yourself.

The science of ACC theory has been published. It is accepted and supported by every national science academy on the planet. ~98% of published climate scientists. The reason for this near-total consensus is because the science is totally compelling. There is no credible doubt.

Your nit-picking at the edges or smear campaigns from howling idiots does not in any way refute the science.

Ignoramus ad infinitum.

Chaise – who said I was for putting online personal information that would lead to people being harmed or defrauded? It’s ridiculous to say that is what WikiLeaks should be compared to.

ukliberty – agree with your final point, but the right of media orgs to have the freedom to publish what they think is in the public interest, and be free from intimidation is what I’m defending here. As has been repeatedly stated in the OP.

@ Sunny,

I’m totally with you that governments would like to keep secret their criminal activities, and that it isn’t in the public interest for them to be able to do so. But I don’t see it as either governments have no secrets and we get told everything without discretion Vs total secrecy and the freedom for governments to do as they please.

Clearly there are some things for which it NOT in our interest to be in our public domain. This is such an obvious point I won’t lower myself to giving examples.

Whether it is government or media sources, someone will be deciding – unless we have complete transparency which would be both impossibly expensive and time consuming.

So far, I think what WikiLeaks has revealed is justified overall. But I would absolutely hope that they have some moral perspicacity when it comes to deciding what should not be revealed.

I’m sorry Sunny, I know you would like to be the one calling the shots, but as imperfect as they are I’d rather but my trust in the government deciding what is a risk to security and not the media per se. It seems to me your perception is flawed by an inability to accept that for certain problems, there are no perfect solutions, and that there are unwanted consequences to both options.

@ Bluerock

No. I’m not playing the ‘endless tunnel of questions’ game that you deniers like to play.

It was only one question, not an endless tunnel, and it is an interesting question because none amongst the vast phalanx of paid for climate scientists have an answer to it.

Any normal person who noted that the width of tree rings bore no resemblance to measured temperatures over the last 50 years would conclude that there was no relationship between the two. However, having built their warming theory largely on the basis of tree ring evidence, the scientists then claimed that something happened around 1960 to change the relationship. But they cannot determine what it was and they tried to conceal the evidence of the divergence.

That fact effectively scuppered the Stockholm conference.

Ignoramus ad infinitum, indeed.

77. Chaise Guevara

@ 74 Sunny

“who said I was for putting online personal information that would lead to people being harmed or defrauded? It’s ridiculous to say that is what WikiLeaks should be compared to.”

The thing is, when you say things like “Who is to decide what info “makes the world a better place”?”, it sounds like you’re saying that people should be free to disseminate any data they wish because nobody has the moral authority to say “you can publish this, but not that”.

Along with the pertinent stuff, Wikileaks published many private conversations. This may lead to some people losing their jobs, not because they’ve done anything wrong, but because their employers need to save face and it’s easier to sack a diplomat than damage relations with a nation whose head honcho that diplomat insulted. The people responsible really don’t seem bothered about whether the info they published will do any harm to other people.

The point is that, if you agree that we shouldn’t be able to publish personal banking and contact details, you agree that a line has to be drawn somewhere. And that line will have to be drawn by governments, directly or indirectly, because they’re the people with the authority to do so.

@76. pagar

> It was only one question, not an endless tunnel,

I’ve been ‘debating’ you deniers enough years to know exactly how the game plays out. The science has been published. If any of you were capable of refuting it, you would. Instead, you crawl around forums on the internet with your evidence-free conspiracy theories, your delusions of adequacy and your Dunning-Kruger.

> …none amongst the vast phalanx of paid for climate scientists have an answer to it.

Anyone of average intelligence with access to Google can discover in a few seconds that your claim is drivel – along with the implication that this issue in dendroclimatology somehow refutes the mountain of evidence and science from other, unrelated sources that all demonstrate without any credible doubt that the planet is rapidly heating.

You’re no different to the creationists, moon landing hoaxers, 9/11 Truthers or flat earthers: just a clueless crank on the internet.

@ Bluerock

Anyone of average intelligence with access to Google can discover in a few seconds that your claim is drivel

So answer my question or has your internet connection gone down? If not, what conclusion do you intend me to come to?

You’re no different to the creationists, moon landing hoaxers, 9/11 Truthers or flat earthers: just a clueless crank on the internet.

Can’t play the ball so I’ll try to play the man. Not really acceptable here- put up or shut up.

(Can’t remember the Latin for that one).

@79. pagar

> So answer my question…

“If you were actually interested in the answer you would have gone to Google and typed in some obvious words, or to the science literature where it is discussed and read it yourself.”

However, I’m feeling generous this morning.

Do you think you’ll be able to do your own research in future, now that I’ve shown you how easy it is? You’ll find it a lot more productive and rewarding than demanding other people do it for you.

This is the best thing I’ve read in defence of WikiLeaks;

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-moore/wikileaks-and-the-myth-of_b_791740.html

@ Bluerock

Brilliant.

I’m really impressed with your link and begging you to tell me how to do that.

But did you read the article?

The divergence problem is unprecedented, unique to the last few decades, indicating its cause may be anthropogenic. The cause is likely to be a combination of local and global factors such as warming-induced drought and global dimming. Tree-ring proxy reconstructions are reliable before 1960, tracking closely with the instrumental record and other independent proxies.

The cause “may be” or is “likely to be” etc

They CAN’T EXPLAIN IT in scientific terms.

Comment 3 from jmath nails it.

I am confused. There seems to be a logic problem here. If the proxies are incorrect post 1960 or there is a divergence at one time and you don’t really KNOW the cause for that divergence then how can anybody conclude that there weren’t other divergences you didn’t understand in the past? Just because we don’t see divergence between north and south there could be something which affected tree ring data over any period of time in the past either depressing or increasing temperatures that actually ocurred. You really can’t have any confidence in this proxy until you understand the cause.

@82. pagar:

And so begins “the ‘endless tunnel of questions’ game that you deniers like to play.”

Your problem is that you are scientifically illiterate but your incompetence robs you of the ability to realise it. This is known as Dunning-Kruger effect.

Don’t worry – the planet’s climate scientists, all the national science academies and really just about every credible source on the planet accepts the science. And so do rational, scientifically literate people and those who don’t labour under delusions that they can outwit ~200 years of accumulated science after reading a couple of blog articles.

There’s just a few idiots, like yourself, who are in denial. Not to worry – the world is marching on without you.

pagar @ 76

It was only one question, not an endless tunnel, and it is an interesting question because none amongst the vast phalanx of paid for climate scientists have an answer to it.

Not only have you not answered my question, you haven’t even tried to.

So it goes.

@84. pagar:

Why are you incapable of doing your own research? Why do you sit there, squawking for others to feed you?

The reason is: you are not interested in the answers because you do not like them. You prefer your warm, comforting ignorance. Don’t worry – the world needs ditch diggers as well. 😉


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  62. Igor Christodoulou

    "…it is time to unambiguously stand up for its right to publish and be damned." | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/6mJUjHq #WikiLeaks

  63. freakingcat

    RT @IgorC166: "…it is time to unambiguously stand up for its right to publish and be damned." | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/6mJUjHq

  64. Clara Boxall

    RT @IgorC166: "…it is time to unambiguously stand up for its right to publish and be damned." | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/6mJUjHq

  65. Difficult Faze

    The assault on WikiLeaks threatens free speech and democracy itself http://bit.ly/eZQ2VA

  66. WikiLeaks can leave you lost in a moral maze | Buzz Leak!

    […] The assault on WikiLeaks threatens free speech and democracy itself (liberalconspiracy.org) […]

  67. Clint David Samuel

    The assault on WikiLeaks threatens free speech and democracy itself | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/G93QLCn via @libcon

  68. Wikileaks Links | Seldom Seen Kid

    […] Jeff Jarvis: Wikileaks: Power shifts from secrecy to transparency Liberal Conspiracy: The assault on WikiLeaks threatens free speech and democracy itself […]

  69. Do accusations of conspiracy against Julian Assange stand up? Part 1 | Liberal Conspiracy

    […] I don’t speak for the other writers but I am personally fully supportive of WikiLeaks and have donated money to the organisation itself. […]

  70. Do accusations of conspiracy against Julian Assange stand up? | Liberal Conspiracy

    […] I don’t speak for the other writers but I am personally fully supportive of WikiLeaks and have donated money to the organisation […]

  71. Muhammad Saeed Babar

    The assault on WikiLeaks threatens free speech and democracy itself | Liberal Conspiracy: http://bit.ly/hOK3qx via @addthis





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