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He Leaks Me, He Leaks Me Not, He Leaks Me…

December 7, 2010

The unrolling of the US diplomatic cables by Wikileaks over the past week is a fascinating event that may be unparalleled in human history, so far.  I’ve had difficulty deciding if this is a good or a bad thing over the past week as the news has come out.  See my other article here over at Computationally Thinking about some of the technological reasons why it doesn’t matter anyways, because we can’t stop it.

Initially the cables seemed mundane, Diplomatic gossip. Yet they indicated a surprising level of insight by the US diplomatic core into world issues.  It is encouraging because there are many things “everybody knows” about hotspots around the world and relations between nations that politicians never admit. So it’s nice to know they are actually aware of them, they just choose to hide that knowledge.

That swayed me back to being skeptical about the good of WikiLeaks since what they doing is essentially changing the rules in the middle of a poker game. Whether or not you like it, human negotiations usually involve lying and bluffing and you can’t argue that blowing all the bluffs of one side is really fair or productive, at least in the short run.

But then I thought, world politics shouldn’t be treated like a game, it’s far more important than that. So if a bit more transparency helps, in the long run, to lead to a more fair world then bit of embarrassment should be a small price to pay.  The comments about Iran and North Korea seemed potentially damaging to negotiations but not something that would start a war.

But the recent releases have pushed me back to criticism again.  Two sets of cables have come out that list international sites the US thinks are vital to their security and another that describes detailed planning for defending Europe from a Russian attack.  Now, it’s not surprising that these documents exist regardless of what people are trying to imply.  Listing the reasons an ally is strategically important to you is not espionage, but it’s also not something that everyone in the world might be able to figure out easily.  So it’s only useful for the US making its planning decisions about diplomacy, allies trying to strong-arm the US into giving them something in exchange for access to said strategic resource or to people trying to hurt the US by attacking these lightly defended assets.  Why do I need to know about this list? I don’t.

The NATO planning is similar, militaries around the world probably plan for all kinds of scenarios, some crazy and some pretty likely, so that they are prepared for all contingencies.  That’s what the military is there for.  So releasing a document that outlines one of these plans is not really useful for the public, undermines the plan itself if the situation arises and undermines delicate diplomatic relations between, in this case, Russia and NATO.  Russia knows that NATO has plans to defend against an attack by them.  But publishing only benefits Russia in using this as some form of pressure on Europe and the US, and as other WikiLeaks cables have shown us, the US believes that Russia is essentially now little more than a mafia state.  So why are you releasing information that only benefits a Mafia state?

That’s enough rambling, for now.  Pointless rambling too, since it doesn’t matter anymore if the leaks are good or bad, it doesn’t even matter if WikiLeaks is shut down or not.  The cat is out of the bag now, Information cannot be stopped, and Information can change the world. We need to get used to it.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. paul permalink
    December 8, 2010 4:43 am

    Interesting piece. What the polls show, first and foremost, is widespread abuse of state secrets to protect government officials from embarrassment. As long as governments misuse secrecy in this way, they have no moral high ground from which to call out those facilitating the leaks.

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