Sunday, December 12, 2010

No Such Thing as an Innocent Leak

One of the problems with the hoo-hah surrounding the release of the State Dept. documents is that there has been little attempt from any quarter to distinguish the different effects resulting from the same acts. As long as everything is connected to everything else and thus is declared good/bad as a piece, we won't understand the real impact of this event.

Let's make one thing really clear - the documents have been released. They are not just on wikileaks. Every government with an internet connection has downloaded the complete set (Just in time for the holidays!), there are mirrors, copies, bit torrents, etc., available for anyone with a modicum of computer savvy, and there are now malware emails out there enticing the unwary into clicking on the link to get the documents and actually getting some lovely bit of malicious software instead. That's how you know you've arrived - you're famous enough to be used as spam-bait. No power can reverse this distribution of information. For good or ill, they are now part of the public discourse. What remains is to analyze what has been set in motion.

My interest remains with who actually did the leaking and why. Amidst the salivating over diplomatic missteps and the outrage over government malfeasance, this large question mark remains. In politics, there is no such thing as an innocent leak. Leaking is a contact sport in D.C., after all, and the most (in)famous leaks rarely have pristine origins. Even the Pentagon Papers and Watergate revelations have roots in intra-organizational turf wars. My current response is still to think "Valerie Plame" if only because of the balance of the memos are too focused on Iran as a threat and do not feel like a complete sample of the cables that would have been released in a given span of time.

There is also this curious bit of information from David Carr on the New York Times, in an article published today where he looks at the changes to wikileaks itself over time:
In July, WikiLeaks began what amounted to a partnership with mainstream media organizations, including The New York Times, by giving them an early look at the so-called Afghan War Diary, a strategy that resulted in extensive reporting on the implications of the secret documents.

Then in October, the heretofore classified mother lode of 250,000 United States diplomatic cables that describe tensions across the globe was shared by WikiLeaks with Le Monde, El Pais, The Guardian and Der Spiegel. (The Guardian shared documents with The New York Times.) The result was huge: many articles have come out since, many of them deep dives into the implications of the trove of documents.

Notice that with each successive release, WikiLeaks has become more strategic and has been rewarded with deeper, more extensive coverage of its revelations. It’s a long walk from WikiLeaks’s origins as a user-edited site held in common to something more akin to a traditional model of publishing, but seems to be in keeping with its manifesto to deliver documents with “maximum possible impact.” ...

Although Mr. Assange is now arguing that the site is engaged in what he called a new kind of “scientific journalism,” his earlier writings suggest he believes the mission of WikiLeaks is to throw sand in the works of what he considers corrupt, secretive and inherently evil states. He initiated a conspiracy in order to take down what he saw as an even greater conspiracy.

“WikiLeaks is not a news organization, it is a cell of activists that is releasing information designed to embarrass people in power,” said George Packer, a writer on international affairs at The New Yorker. “They simply believe that the State Department is an illegitimate organization that needs to be exposed, which is not really journalism.”

By shading his radicalism and collaborating with mainstream outlets, Mr. Assange created a comfort zone for his partners in journalism. They could do their jobs and he could do his.
Whence all of this media savvy? Setting aside Packer's final clause, he is pretty much right that Assange & Co. regard not just the State Department but government as such to be illegitimate, so why the discretion now? There is also the curious fact that their previous information partner, the NYT, was deliberately cut out of the loop this time around. I've had a few quiet side-conversations that Assange himself is a secret Neocon providing a front, which is the real reason the wikileaks organization is fracturing. This strikes me as reaching too hard for a conspiracy to neatly explain the rather messy operation of human affairs. Assange is an authoritarian himself at heart, which anyone reading his writings can discern, as well as more than a bit of a nut and thrives on persecution fantasies - which may unfortunately become prosecution realities, and I'm not talking about the Swedish charges. But that still leaves a rather large question about who or what is driving the new and improved media coziness. That information may come out in the fallout between internal groups at wikileaks.

But back to the real area of interest - who collected, selected and delivered the goods? The materials are broader than what Bradley Manning is alleged to have provided, so who else? I suspect the State Department has limited interest in Assange himself. There's really nothing that can be discussed or worked out, unless he was actively collaborating with an American (individual or organization) to selectively leak some information, in which case we're into major conspiracy land, or was directing an American on what pieces of information to provide, in which case we're talking espionage. If Assange was simply sent the goods, it's not clear what jurisdiction the US could claim. The value that Assange himself carries (and perhaps not him but someone else in the operation has the knowledge) is the name(s) of who supplied the information in the first place.

So much for how the cables came to be released at all. Let's look ahead at the unwinding of events. While the left has been captivated by the human drama of the great man, deprived of flunkies to fuck and threatened by the diabolical Swedish court system, obsessed about how it could be me next!, there's something rather important coming up in January, namely a change of government in the US. While I know that I lose all my Left Blogistan credibility by saying this, there really is a difference between the behavior of the major political parties when in majority power. The Republicans have no interest in compromising on anything and regard all other sources of political power (however ineptly wielded) as not just the opposition, but as an enemy to be terminated.

They've already made clear that the next two years are not going to be used to advance specific pieces of legislation - indeed, why should they since Obama has kindly moved their agenda for them - but to take down the enemy, and I don't think anyone on the Left really understands just how ruthless they will be. Their control of committee chair positions means that the agenda from January 2011 through December 2012 will be investigate everything that could possibly be turned to their advantage.

It's key that these documents were released under a Democratic administration. The focus will not be on who released the files, but that there were releases at all, just as the focus on Plame was not that someone outed her, but that she was connected to Joe Wilson. The actual crime, which is the act of taking documents and handing them over, will be elided - unless there is someone at the State Department who has shown a bit too much knowledge of and interest in some specific piece of data and who happens to be of liberal political inclinations, and then we're talking a show trial along the lines of the House Un-American Activities Committee. That is why the State Department is saying to its current and would-be staff - do not have contact with that now-tainted information, do not discuss it, do not show special knowledge.

The fact that the cables are now in the open allows the Neocon noise machine to safely reference them to beat the drum for war with Iran, secure in the knowledge that contrary information of comparable validity cannot be provided because of diplomatic concerns. How can contrary information be leaked and to whom without it blowing up in the face of whomever tries to engineer that release? The release of the documents into the wild means there is a "source" for "Oh, look what we just now found!" kinds of revelations. The partial release on the wikileaks site itself always ensures that more can be found when there is a need for a strategic leak. The cables that identify security interests - which are of concern to more than the US - turn into fodder to gin up more domestic fear about terrorism, and to request more money for that purpose.

There is no down-side for the right with the release of these documents.

Now, let's look at some specific details. Robert Gates is going to resign as SecDef and soon, rumor has it by August. Given the new Congress with their agenda and a stack of cables, who do you think is going to replace him? I'm going to hazard a guess it will be a Republican with a much more aggressive view of how the US should act  in the Middle East. The Pentagon is a big building with many hallways populated by people eager for power, after all. Remember that the Iraq War was dreamed up in the Office of Special Plans, which leaked like a sieve to get its war on. Not all leaks are in the public interest, which is why you need to know who released what and under what circumstances. Again, I gladly relinquish my Left Blogistan credentials to be able to assert that the current US foreign and military policies are not identical to what Cheney was advancing, that there are substantial differences between them most importantly that the administration can see the stupidity of initiating a war with Iran.

The release of the cables undermines the power of the State Department in relation to the Department of Defense, even as it is highly likely that the leaks were done by actors in the DoD.  A loss of power in the diplomatic corps undermines the reassertion of negotiation over invasion, and pushes the State Dept. back into a junior position, especially if the new head of DoD is a hardliner with no interest in sharing authority, which I think is likely. Why anyone on the left should want to see a weakening of the one branch of the state dedicated to trying to find peaceful resolutions to conflict eludes me (again, I don't accept reductionist and thoughtless assertions that "it's the same" - facts do not support that claim), yet that is what will happen given the focus of the leaks and the changing of the governmental guard.

Now, I happen to agree with Riverdaughter that the Republicans' crowning glory of the next Congress will be the impeachment of President Obama, and the release of these cables will become part of that effort. Again, it's not the content that matters, but the release - you were entrusted with the defense of the nation and you failed. Never mind the jaw-dropping hypocrisy, just understand that the argument will be made. What you on the Left see as some great victory for freedom of speech and making governments accountable is seen by most Americans as endangering the nation and weakening government's ability to defend us. You look at Assange and see persecution as the issue; they look at the bombs in Stockholm and see terrorism as the true threat.

I think that you will see the Congress going  directly after Sec. Clinton because CDS is always in vogue inside the Beltway. The Right (correctly) calculates that this needs to be done for two reasons - first is that they need to remove as many competent administration officials as possible to undermine what little stability and resilience the administration has left, while the second is to do their best to undermine HRC personally just before a primary season begins. They know who can rally Democrats. If they can badger Obama into asking for HRC's resignation, they score a major win. Given Obama's frantic desire to be seen as reasonable and given that Versailles is already howling for her blood, I believe it is a question of when, not if, she will be asked to resign. And for those of you on the Left who cheer the removal of who you think of as an enemy, I've got five words for you:

Secretary of State Joe Lieberman

Yeaaahhhh, kinda puts it all in perspective, don't it? As I alluded to in an earlier post, Lieberman's office getting in touch with Amazon probably didn't make any difference to the company's decision, but the public optics sure were nice. And then there he is with his face hanging out saying Assange should be charged with treason (which is not a legal possibility) and even threatening the dastardly New York Times. And we all know how loyal Holy Joe has been to the hands that feed him, namely not at all. The only small sop we have is that the governor of Connecticut is Democratic and might appoint a Democrat to fill Joe's seat.

The leaks in and of themselves are mostly embarrassing, though embarrassment has serious cultural and political consequences in countries other than the US. The release of the cables, timed just after the mid-terms, was effective in weakening the current administration in ways that advantage domestic hardliners and become grist for the political mill come January.

Leaks are never innocent. They are always political. Time to consider what the true political fallout will be.



A little night musing said...

Thanks for this series of posts. It's a relief, really, to see someone acknowledge that leakers *always* have agendas. (Sometimes I agree with their agendas, or their agendas are useful to mine, but the fact remains...)

BTW I think in this sentence you omitted NOT as follows:
"My current response is still to think "Valerie Plame" if only because of the balance of the memos are too focused on Iran as a threat and do NOT feel like a complete sample of the cables that would have been released in a given span of time."

Anonymous said...

I'm just not sure what I'm supposed to be surprised at.

The last couple wars got started because of lies and bullshit.

Diplomats occasionally drink too much.

Other diplomats make fun of them for it.

Some countries' diplomats call others' names.

Seriously. I'm not learning anything I didn't already know or heavily suspect.

The war in Iraq is an illegitimate clusterfuck! *gasp!* We all KNEW that. Lots of us were yelling about way before it was cool. I feel like I did when Kenneth Starr spent $43 million worth of MY tax money to inform the world that Bill Clinton likes blowjobs. Yeah, most guys with a pulse do.

Anglachel said...

A little night musing,

Thanks for the typo patrol. Fixed now plus a few other errors.

Yes, it's amazing how utterly stupid the alleged "intellectual" left gets when it sees a rabbit go down a rabbit hole. Unlike Alice, they never seem to know when they're in Wonderland. Until it all blows up on them.


Yup. The cables made clear that all is not sweetness & light between states. Why would anyone think differently? The point is the leak itself, not the content of the cables.


Anonymous said...

I think the Obama Administration is doing quite nicely conniving in its own political destruction, which won't require the services of notional political conspirators. When we come to read the administration's political epitaph, the cause of its demise will be the dumbassery in plain sight that you've already discussed so well rather than a plot of some sort. I think you hit it on the nose when you observed that reaching too hard for a conspiracy to neatly explain the rather messy operation of human affairs may not be a good idea.

Briar said...

You seem to ignoring the fact that our knowledge that the war was based on lies, for example, was always countered in two ways. First a declaration that it wasn't so, and where is your evidence. Secondly a flood of new lies claiming that everything is just fine and dandy anyway. The wikileaks documents give us the evidence we need in the first place and remind us that propaganda is the war every government wages against its citizens to protect itself from their knowing what it is up to. It is constant and ongoing and getting more and more sophisticated day by day. That doesn't stop the policies being dumb, of course. Meanwhile, I am struck by the way that this constant diet of lies has made us scent conspiracy and plotting everywhere. Our trust is so hollowed out that even when someone comes and dumps a load of raw data in our laps, for once unfiltered and processed by the gatekeepers of the truth in the mainstream media, we scent plot and conspiracy there too. Next step, we will suspect our eyes of conspiring with our brains to feed us false information in order to manipulate our behaviour (and, er, yes that is oone way of describing what they actually do). How the government must be sitting back and laughing. They have plenty to hide but nothing to fear because we don't actually trust the truth when we see it. The public relation industry's greatest triumph. We simultaneously passively accept and view sceptically everything. No wonder we don't have the guts to actually change things.

Nathan Wright said...

The only thing missing from your commentary was the conclusion that this next election is going to be "historic".

Anglachel said...


I agree that Obama is sufficient to do himself in, but the objective of the opposition is not just to defeat him, but to maximize their own power. They'd do this regardless of the administration in power, though their task will be easier because of how Obama has squandered the power of the office.


Heh. I counter that *all* elections are "historical" since, well, they all become part of history.


Koshem Bos said...

The Wikileaks information avalanche is way to complex for the primitives of the Republicans to devise. They may be evil and destructive, but they are a collection of idiots.