Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My take on Wikileaks

Wikileaks was inevitable the second the Internet reached some critical mass of installed usage.  The reason is obvious.  The Internet--by design--is perfect for swapping information in its original form and compared to music and video files, swapping print documents is a snap.

I read somewhere that all 250,000 State department cables can be zipped into a 1.5 gig file.  I cannot confirm this figure but it seems about right.  My cable modem can download such a file in less than ten minutes.  Once the Internet proved how good it was at passing around large files, it was only a matter of time before the whistleblowers discovered it.

Not surprisingly, I like to see a site like Wikileaks succeed because its existence validates a bunch of beliefs I have about how the world works.

The defining strategies of the Predator Classes are force and fraud.  Producers have had limited success against force but it is amazing how well they do against fraud.  Producers have invented amazing strategies for exposing lies from printing and universal literacy to the scientific method and systematic basic research.  The Internet is just the latest way for Producers to combat fraud and Wikileaks is a perfect use for the technology.

Of course, this is not all about intellectual validation. Wikileaks is about discrediting the bad guys and it cannot be long before we start to see the evidence of the economic crimes of the past 30 years and the disgusting levels of corruption and complicity of the political classes in allowing them to happen.  There can be no real economic recovery until these crooks are rooted out and removed from proximity to serious economic decisions.  So Wikileaks has the possibility of doing immeasurable good.

But there is also the pure pleasure of watching the smug arrogant bastards that work for the State Department exposed as the clowns they are.  I found out how aggressively ignorant our diplomats were in the early 1980s (by accident) but have had trouble convincing my fellow citizens it is really as bad as I discovered.  Now we get to see evidence of official foolishness on an almost daily basis.  No wonder the Village is in an uproar!

So here was my account of the evening I discovered how pathetically uninformed the professional diplomatic corps in USA actually is.
It was the kind of Washington party to which everyone hopes they will be invited. The host and most of the guests were the upper level bureaucrats who actually get Washington's work done. There was a development specialist for the World Bank, a man who had labored in the vinyards of the Office of Management and Budget--surviving budget directors such as Bert Lance and David Stockman, a woman who administered federal aid to cities, and a patent attorney, among others. The host worked for the State Department doing something unspecified and had worked for the C.I.A. doing, he assured me, nothing but interpret satellite photos.
The conversation was fast and brash and very 'inside' Washington. The food was excellent, the wine well chosen, and the crystal sparkled. This was not a catered affair--the host and hostess did all the work--but it was 1982, the Reagans had brought flamboyance to Washington entertaining, and this was a tasteful execution of the new mandate.
I was clearly an outsider at this gathering. Not only was I not 'Washington,' I was barely American. I was from Minnesota, the state with a political asterisk. Minnesota's distinction is that it never voted for Reagan and I was at a table full of people whose job it was to see that the Reagan revolution became action.
George (not his real name) the host was seated next to me at dinner. Like any outsider, I did not want to appear stupid so I dredged around in my mind in search of a worthy question suited to a high-level State Department type. A recent international event that was both obscure and significant flashed into my mind--the Moscow funeral of Mikhail Suslov. ABC news showed footage of this enormous parade with ribbon-bedecked aging generals of the Red Army carrying wreaths to be laid at the gravesite in the Kremlin Wall. It was reported that the parade was the biggest since the victory parade ending World War II.
But as is typical of television news in USA, we were told there was a parade but we were not told who this Suslov was and why his death caused such an outpouring of national fervor.
Fortunately, 10 years earlier, a young Finnish intellectual, who confessed to be a great admirer of Suslov's, had explained the role Suslov played in the Soviet Government. As I remember the discussion, his points were:
  1. The Communists of the Soviet Union have been embattled since the day they came to power. Top party positions have always gone to men of ruthless ambition. Such men are not intellectuals.
  2. The Bolsheviks may have eliminated the influence of the Orthodox church, but they could not eliminate the need for someone to translate the `official' religion into the practice of everyday life. The archbishop was replaced by the offical party intellectual. And from the 1930's, Suslov was that man--the 'Archbishop' who officially interpreted Marx.
  3. Suslov may have been his most treacherous when he penned the Breshnev Doctrine following the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968. Even so, many of Suslov's writings appealed to my Finnish friend. "After all," he said, "many things in Soviet society work very well--most especially education. Suslov may have been forced to apologise for some bad decisions made by the Red Army, but Suslov's legacy will come after he dies. Because of Suslov's direction to education, Soviet society may evolve into true Socialism."
But Suslov apologised for Stalin, so it was tempting to believe my Finnish friend was overstating the case. In fact, in the end, Suslov really acted like a crochety old man with the Red Army at his disposal. Suslov may have planted the seeds of reform, but there would be no reform until he was out of the way.
All of this was buzzing through my head as I directed my best out-of-town question to my host. "George, do you think that the death of Suslov will finally lead to the transformation of Soviet society?"
George looked thunderstruck. Furiously, he began fishing through his mental file searching for the name Suslov. Finding none, he reverted to the Cold War party line. "No, Soviet society is beyond reform?"
"But," I persisted, "Isn't Suslov's death a momentous event in history? The Russians certainly think so. Did you see footage from his funeral on television?"
"No, but I hardly think that the death of one Russian can mean much. What was his job anyway?"
"Party intellectual."
George gave a hoot, "Party intellectual? Isn't that an oxymoron? Propagandist is probably more like it. What possible difference can it make who the party intellectual is at any given moment? After all, all Russians think alike!" more
So a high level State Department functionary told me that 300,000,000 people who lived in a country that stretched over 11 time zones all thought alike yet seemed totally ignorant of probably the prime mechanism Soviet society used to generate as much internal agreement as they did.  And not surprisingly, Gorbachev, Suslov's fair-haired boy, really did transform Soviet society which probably came as quite a shock to my host.

After that evening, nothing about USA diplomacy was going to surprise me much.

But I must admit I AM surprised at how petty our "diplomacy" is.  Notice in the following that an Ambassador to New Zealand tried to interfere with how the Labor Party conducted a fundraiser.  Of course, the Ambassador was told to "fuck off!" in no uncertain terms.  The Kiwis have had an ongoing diplomatic row about whether the US Navy could dock in her waters without declaring whether they had nuclear material aboard.  Trust me, if the Kiwis will stand up to the USA's military industrial complex, they are not going to back down over a party fundraiser.
WikiLeaks cables: US intervened in Michael Moore NZ screening
Embassy angered by 'potential fiasco' of cabinet minister hosting a showing of Fahrenheit 9/11
Richard Adams in Washington, Wednesday 22 December 2010 12.48 GMT
Whatever else WikiLeaks may have revealed, one fact has been repeatedly confirmed: the US government under George Bush really loathed the documentary filmmaker Michael Moore.
After a leaked cable from US diplomats in Havana falsely claimed Cuba had banned Moore's documentary Sicko – when in fact it was shown on state television – another cable reveals US officials flying into a panic after hearing a rumour that a New Zealand cabinet minister was hosting a screening of Moore's film Fahrenheit 9/11.
Labelling the event a "potential fiasco", the classified cable from the US embassy in Wellington in 2003 reads like a failed plotline for an episode of In the Loop, breathlessly reporting a series of calls to the New Zealand prime minister's office and to the minister involved, Marian Hobbs.
Michael Moore, appearing on the Rachel Maddow Show on Tuesday night, said the New Zealand cable uncovered by WikiLeaks showed the unsettling reach of US influence. "If they were micromanaging me that much, if they were that concerned about the truth in Fahrenheit 9/11 that they have to go after a screening in a place I don't even really know where it is – I know it's way too long to sit in coach for me – I want to know. Because I think it speaks to a larger issue: if they have the time for that, what else are these guys up to?"
Sadly for the world's only superpower, the New Zealand government wasn't concerned in the slightest, based on the puzzled responses recorded by the US deputy chief of mission, David Burnett, to his protests. more
 Of course, there ARE serious issues at stake.
Newspapers appeal for Wikileaks protection
Published: 16 Dec 10 08:40 CET
A group of major German newspapers and a human rights advocacy group Thursday published an appeal against the criminalisation of whistleblower website Wikileaks, saying the site deserved as much protection as traditional media.
Dailies Der Tagesspiegel, Frankfurter Rundschau, and Die Tageszeitung, along with weekly Der Freitag, online magazine Perlentaucher and the Berlin-based European Centre for Constitutional and human Rights (ECCHR) all simultaneously released the plea.
“The internet is a new form of spreading information,” it said. “It must enjoy the same protection as traditional media.”
The political and economic pressure put on Wikileaks following its publication of thousands of confidential US diplomatic cables has been “inappropriate” the statement said.
While there may be good reasons to criticise the release, but taking action against the “journalistic medium” was a form of intolerable censorship, it added. 
“The state is not an end in itself and must endure a confrontation with its own secrets,” it said. 
Pressure by the US government for large international companies such as MasterCard, PayPal and Amazon to end their cooperation with Wikileaks reveals a “shocking understanding of democracy in which freedom of information is only valid when it doesn’t harm anyone.”
“Journalism has not only the right, but the duty to check the state and illuminate the mechanisms of government business,” the statement said, calling on businesses and governments to end their attempts to silence the site. more
And here come the BIG shoe to drop.
Julian Assange tells Forbes 50% of Leaked Documents Relate to Private Sector
Mon Dec 27th 2010, 04:21 PM
This may be the real reason why there is such an effort to silence Wikileaks. 
Last month, Julian Assange was interviewed by Andy Greenberg from Forbes Magazine. During this interview, Assange revealed that some of the information they have received will expose Corporate corruption in the Banking Industry.
Wikileaks had turned off its submissions page temporarily because they could not keep up with the information they were receiving Assange told Greenberg: 
An Interview With WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange
Andy Greenberg: And this gap between your publishing resources and your submissions is why the site’s submission function has been down since October?
Julian Assange: We have too much.
AG: Before you turned off submissions, how many leaks were you getting a day?
JA: As I said, it was increasing exponentially. When we get lots of press, we can get a spike of hundreds or thousands. The quality is sometimes not as high. If the front page of the Pirate Bay links to us, as they have done on occasion, we can get a lot of submissions, but the quality is not as high.
AG: How much of this trove of documents that you’re sitting on is related to the private sector?
JA: About fifty percent.
AG: You’ve been focused on the U.S. military mostly in the last year. Does that mean you have private sector-focused leaks in the works?
JA: Yes. If you think about it, we have a publishing pipeline that’s increasing linearly, and an exponential number of leaks, so we’re in a position where we have to prioritize our resources so that the biggest impact stuff gets released first.
AG: So do you have very high impact corporate stuff to release then?
JA: Yes, but maybe not as high impact…I mean, it could take down a bank or two.
AG: That sounds like high impact.
JA: But not as big an impact as the history of a whole war. But it depends on how you measure these things. more
And for yet another take on Wikileaks as an inevitable Internet phenomenon--from New Zealand:

The Blast Shack
22 December 2010
We asked Bruce Sterling (who spoke at Webstock ’09) for his take on Wikileaks.
The Wikileaks Cablegate scandal is the most exciting and interesting hacker scandal ever. I rather commonly write about such things, and I’m surrounded by online acquaintances who take a burning interest in every little jot and tittle of this ongoing saga. So it’s going to take me a while to explain why this highly newsworthy event fills me with such a chilly, deadening sense of Edgar Allen Poe melancholia.
But it sure does.
Part of this dull, icy feeling, I think, must be the agonizing slowness with which this has happened. At last — at long last — the homemade nitroglycerin in the old cypherpunks blast shack has gone off. Those “cypherpunks,” of all people.
Way back in 1992, a brainy American hacker called Timothy C. May made up a sci-fi tinged idea that he called “The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto.” This exciting screed — I read it at the time, and boy was it ever cool — was all about anonymity, and encryption, and the Internet, and all about how wacky data-obsessed subversives could get up to all kinds of globalized mischief without any fear of repercussion from the blinkered authorities. If you were of a certain technoculture bent in the early 1990s, you had to love a thing like that.
As Tim blithely remarked to his fellow encryption enthusiasts, “The State will of course try to slow or halt the spread of this technology, citing national security concerns, use of the technology by drug dealers and tax evaders, and fears of societal disintegration. Many of these concerns will be valid; crypto anarchy will allow national secrets to be traded freely,” and then Tim started getting really interesting. Later, May described an institution called “BlackNet” which might conceivably carry out these aims. more

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