Monday, December 06, 2010

Wikileaks is Bullsh*t

 Note: This post as e-mailed contains no Wikileaks excerpts.  In order to spare readers who work at universities, companies, and other organizations the potential heartache of having undeclassified Wikileaks material in their e-mail archives, I will remove direct quotes from Wikileaks cables from e-mails I send out from now on.  Material on the China Matters website will be full text.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Wikileaks, more specifically the national security handwringing and pantswetting that has accompanied “Cablegate”, is bullsh*t.

As I followed the Wikileaks archive as it was chivvied across the Internet, I gained the distinct impression that its daily post of cables was not fresh produce in its original packaging.

All that stuff had already been pawed over, repackaged and spun by Wikileaks international media partners—the Guardian, Le Monde, El Pais, Der Spiegel, and through the Guardian, the New York Times.

As the AP reported a few days ago:

The diplomatic records exposed on the WikiLeaks website this week reveal not only secret government communications, but also an extraordinary collaboration between some of the world's most respected media outlets and the WikiLeaks organization.

Unlike earlier disclosures by WikiLeaks of tens of thousands of secret government military records, the group is releasing only a trickle of documents at a time from a trove of a quarter-million, and only after considering advice from five news organizations with which it chose to share all of the material.

"They are releasing the documents we selected," Le Monde's managing editor, Sylvie Kauffmann, said in an interview at the newspaper's Paris headquarters.

WikiLeaks turned over all of the classified U.S. State Department cables it obtained to Le Monde, El Pais in Spain, The Guardian in Britain and Der Spiegel in Germany. The Guardian shared the material with The New York Times, and the five news organizations have been working together to plan the timing of their reports.

They also have been advising WikiLeaks on which documents to release publicly and what redactions to make to those documents, Kauffmann and others involved in the arrangement said.

"The cables we have release correspond to stories released by our main stream media partners and ourselves. They have been redacted by the journalists working on the stories, as these people must know the material well in order to write about it," WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in a question-and-answer session on The Guardian's website Friday. "The redactions are then reviewed by at least one other journalist or editor, and we review samples supplied by the other organisations to make sure the process is working."

Each publication suggested a way to remove names and details considered too sensitive, and "I suppose WikiLeaks chooses the one it likes," El Pais Editor in Chief Javier Moreno said in a telephone interview from his Madrid office.

As stories are published, WikiLeaks uses its website to release the related cables..

‘Nuff said.

To take the story a step further, the United States government declined to cooperate with Wikileaks directly to vet and redact the material.

That’s understandable.  The US government doesn’t want to give theft of its confidential communications the USG stamp of approval.

So Uncle Sam outsourced the censorship job to “some of the world’s most respected media outlets”.

It makes you wonder if the Guardian really brought in the New York Times so that juicy bits could be brought to public notice without worrying about the UK’s stricter libel laws.

Or maybe the US government passed the word that the NYT would be a more convenient, eager, and reliable censor than the Guardian.

Anyway, it appears Assange is playing along.

Even as politicians call for his head, he’s still slowly dribbling out the cables to meet the journalistic needs of his media partners.

The other shoe that apparently has yet to drop in punditland is the burning question:

If Assange is a high-tech terrorist, what does that make the NYT, Guardian, et al.?  Why isn’t the US government going to court to shut down their reporting and publication activities?

The answer, I think, is this:

Any case against the papers is hopelessly tainted by the fact that the US government consulted on the redactions before publication.  In other words, the US took a pass on shutting down Wikileaks and decided to manage and contain it instead.

In court, you could argue that’s a de facto declassification.

Also, if the US government goes up against the papers—not just the NYT in US jurisdiction, but the other papers in Europe—the papers might decide to choose martyrdom and wrap themselves in the First Amendment or whatever they have over there.

In that case, the US would be facing the release in an antagonistic environment, with the papers much less cooperative about protecting Uncle Sam from embarrassment or worse.

Even as the US State Department and the world press collude to massage the Wikileaks problem, a scapegoat is needed to terrorize other prospective leakers.

That scapegoat is, of course, Mr. Assange.

I wonder how serious the campaign is.  He has proved remarkably elusive to arrest, rendition, or whatever other rough justice national security patriots demand, even though security services in England apparently know of his whereabouts.

Assange, in the spirit of Dr. Strangelove, has left a Doomsday device: an encrypted archive of all of the quarter million cables with the promise of distributing encryption keys to the world if anything happened to him.

Maybe the plan is just to cover him with self-righteous spittle while a vigorously argued and vetted subset of the cables make their way into public view in parallel with US and foreign damage control.

Then, after the papers have made enough hay, the story disappears.

More from the AP article:

Although WikiLeaks has said it will ultimately post its trove online, The Times said it intends to publish only about 100 or so of the records. And the other news organizations that have the material said they likely will release only a fraction.

"We are releasing only what is interesting," Le Monde's Kauffmann said. "I couldn't tell you the proportion, but the vast majority of these documents are of no journalistic interest."

She said there was "no written contract" among the organizations and WikiLeaks on the use of the material.

"The conditions were that we could ourselves — that's to say our journalists and those at the other newspapers — do our own selection, our own triage," and select which documents to withhold from public view, Kauffmann said.

The media outlets agreed to work together, with about 120 journalists in total working on the project, at times debating which names of people cited in the documents could be published.

"With this, I really think we have taken all the possible precautions," Kauffmann said. "At times, it comes up that we'll discuss it between us, with the other papers, on some points. One of us struck too much out and another said 'Come on, it's about a high official, we can leave his/her name in. There won't be any reprisals.'"

Le Monde and El Pais came into the media partnership late, about a month ago. The Times, Guardian and Spiegel had already done quite a bit of work on the documents and shared it, El Pais' Moreno said.

I wonder if and when the full Wikileaks trove will appear on-line.

I suppose it will have to do with the outcome of the bizarre rape case (I guess you could call it Condom-gate) that Assange is fighting in Sweden, the continued US efforts to villanize him, the invulnerability of his encrypted archive and whether the US, as Alexander Cockburn speculates, decides to end the Wikileaks kabuki by pitching Assange out of a window.

As an interesting sidebar, somebody in the Middle East is apparently capitalizing on the Wikileaks furor to insert some other illicitly acquired diplomatic cables into the public eye.

The leak doesn’t fit in with Assange’s media strategy.  I suppose some freeloader decided, Assange is getting enough heat already, a little more won’t matter.

The leaks were obtained by a pro-Hezbollah newspaper in Lebanon, Al Akhbar.

Apparently, they show America’s favorite Cedar Revolutionaries in a less-than-flattering light.  So it doesn’t appear to likely that the leak is the work of the Middle East’s pre-eminent black ops outfit, Israel.

Here’s a link to Al Akhbar’s Wikileaks page, which forces the reader to demonstrate his or her knowledge of Middle Eastern national flags in order to pick out the relevant subset of cables.

Here’s also a link to the blog of a sympathizer of the Cedar Revolution who is aggrieved by the leak.  The comments provide the usual contentious back-and-forth chewing, and also shed some light on the cables and their impact.

In passing, it is interesting to note that US diplomatic cables are popping up all over the place.  One can speculate that a lot of foreign intelligence services are able to get their hands on material of this sort.

Now, thanks to Wikileaks, the environment and political cover exists to release them into the wild.


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brian said...

''In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.' George Orwell (1903 - 1950)' you object to the leaking of so called classified material? The sort of material that can tell the people what their govts are getting up to when not being observed...this is what SHOULD be released...

here is a journalist Robert parry on wikileaks...he to has leaked classified material: