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Sep 05 2011

Redacted v unredacted

One WikiLeaks staffer says why he felt he had to leave.

The final straw for me came on Friday. By drawing attention to, and then publishing in full, the unredacted cache of documents, WikiLeaks has done the cause of internet freedom – and of whistleblowers – more harm than US government crackdowns ever could.

Before the first publication of carefully redacted cables, human rights activists, NGOs, and organisations working with victims of horrific crimes contacted WikiLeaks begging us to take steps not to publish any names. To be able to assure them details would be protected was an immeasurable relief.

These cables contain details of activists, opposition politicians, bloggers in autocratic regimes and their real identities, victims of crime and political coercion, and others driven by conscience to speak to the US government. They should never have had to fear being exposed by a self-proclaimed human rights organisation.

 

21 comments

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  1. 1
    Sheesh

    These cables contain details of activists, opposition politicians, bloggers in autocratic regimes and their real identities, victims of crime and political coercion, and others driven by conscience to speak to the US government. They should never have had to fear being exposed by a self-proclaimed human rights organisation.

    And their safety was to hang on the whims of the literally thousands of people that had both legitimate and illicit access to these files: e.g., the media, the US State Dept. and its counterparts across the world, the portion of the US Military and its allies with secret clearance, anyone with the ability to turn one of the above, and after the leak any person attached to the internet that both knew how to read David Leigh’s book, use a command line and operate a bittorrent client.

    That said, my sympathies go out to this staffer and to the anyone (or their families) that will be harmed as a result of disclosure (even though nondisclosure in this case didn’t assure their safety as I tried to make clear on the last thread.)

    Those people that contacted Wikileaks to protect them were already screwed by the shitty diplomats that deigned to discuss them and/or their whereabouts specifically in plain text. These people were not safe before Wikileaks and the media received the files, as they were living by the good graces and good judgement of regular people with government jobs and slightly elevated clearances.

    Quoting WP:

    According to the Pentagon, SIPRNet has approximately half a million users.[6] Access is also available to a “…small pool of trusted allies, including Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand…”[7]

    So conceivably upwards of half a million people had access to these documents before they were leaked.

    This is kind of why most people (including Sec. Def. Gates) thought it was laughable that the leak itself would leave “blood on their hands” because it would be miraculous for anyone to have gotten killed only after the leak and not before. Bodies should have been piling up for years.

    Oh, I guess they have been. I guess what he meant was that the net change wouldn’t be noticeable. Governments, mine and yours included, are getting people killed all the time. The question really is if you want to know about it, or just be lied to forever.

  2. 2
    Simon

    Well the cat was out of the bag with these cables already-so while indeed unfortunate, Wikileaks latest action was the most responsible thing they could have done under the circumstances. Gleen Greenwald summarizes why here: http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2011/09/02/wikileaks/index.html

  3. 3
    Ophelia Benson

    If it’s that easy, why did the staffer feel compelled to leave?

  4. 4
    Simon

    Who said it was “easy”?

  5. 5
    Jafafa Hots

    There are at least two sides to any conflict.

    If Wikileaks had access to cables from inside a group opposed to the US and revealed them, and this caused brave patroits (as seen by the other side) working secretly within the pentagon to funnel information out to the US’s enemies, the press would decry the harm to and betrayal of these brave people as the US rounded them up, right?

    No, of course not. Because the media is demanding that Wikileaks take sides. Demanding that some involved on one side be seen as needing protection is demanding that wikileaks take sides.

    I say this even though I personally DO worry about some of the people exposed.

    Wikileaks is not an American organization. Assange is not an American citizen. People should not demand he work to help the US.

    I think those applauding most other leaks have also seen it from that point even when the US has been embarrassed – they are pro-US in that they want the US to follow its own laws, etc. “Help” the US be what we want it to be.

    The US media – even the liberal media – start out with the premise that their role is to support the United States, even if that’s by helping us be better by exposing corruption.

    Is it immoral for there to be a media that has as its role to expose the truth, reality, not take sides, and let the chips fall where they may, knowing that those groups working against each other, lying to their own citizens and killing each others’ members are fully responsible for the results of their actions, and that a 3rd party merely exposing the actions of others is NOT responsible?

    I’m not arguing that Wikileaks IS that neutral 3rd party, but the attacks on them generally are not complaints that they’re not impartial – they’re complaints that they’re not “helping the GOOD guys.”

  6. 6
    zebbidie

    If it’s that easy, why did the staffer feel compelled to leave?

    Because Wikileaks appears to be full of back-biting, petulant, immature publicity hounds?

  7. 7
    Bruce Gorton

    Ophelia Benson says:
    September 5, 2011 at 3:08 pm
    If it’s that easy, why did the staffer feel compelled to leave?

    Because the “ass” in Julian Assange is by all accounts well earned? He is by all accounts very difficult to work with.

    And as a consequence of this the staffer might just be feeling some quite legitimate anger over his treatment at Wikileaks?

    Which takes the form of jumping on the bandwagon over the latest leak much the same way as the staffers at OpenLeaks (which so far doesn’t appear to have actually leaked anything) did back when the cables were being released in redacted form?

  8. 8
    4theist4narchist

    Wikileaks, OpenLeaks and all whistleblowers are the closest thing we have left to heroes. Absolutely pathetic to see people defending federal secrecy, something used to cover the corruption, ineptitude and immorality of state officials. They don’t keep that stuff for you–they keep it from you.

  9. 9
    4theist4narchist

    Bruce said: “Which takes the form of jumping on the bandwagon over the latest leak much the same way as the staffers at OpenLeaks (which so far doesn’t appear to have actually leaked anything)”
    That makes sense considering that OpenLeaks is a software tool for journalists and whistleblowers to get together and not an organization that receives and disseminates leaks. Do your research.

  10. 10
    Rrr

    Hey, Ophelia, there seems to be a missing close-italics-tag in zebbedie’s comment above:

    If it’s that easy, why did the staffer feel compelled to leave? [/i]

    Because Wikileaks appears to be …

    It mucks up the rest of the page.

  11. 11
    chigau (違う)

    A missed closing tag in a comment mucks up the rest of the page?

  12. 12
    Rrr

    Actually, not missing but malformed. Source code, upon closer examination, looks like this:

    ...compelled to leave?<i /></p>
    <p>Because Wikileaks appears to be...

  13. 13
    greg byshenk

    Just to reinforce something I posted in response to the Wikileaks entry of a few days ago:

    virtually every government’s intelligence agencies would have had access to these documents as a result of these events, but the rest of the world — including journalists, whistleblowers and activists identified in the documents — did not. At that point, WikiLeaks decided — quite reasonably — that the best and safest course was to release all the cables in full, so that not only the world’s intelligence agencies but everyone had them, so that steps could be taken to protect the sources and so that the information in them was equally available. (From Glenn Greenwald’s article referenced above.)

    Again, whatever one might think of Julian Assange, the problem is that the information was already out there and available to the “bad guys”. If someone actually is at risk from the release of the information, then ignorance is very much not bliss — at least it won’t be for very long.

  14. 14
    Benjamin S Nelson

    Not entirely, Greg. There is no single, homogeneous sect of “bad guys”. Yes, initially, you had a crowd of people who already had access to the files (courtesy of Leigh’s recklessness). But WL’s conscious choice of making the information easier to access has the definite effect of disseminating those names to an even wider audience. So now, in addition to hacker wonks and intelligence scum (your “bad guys”), the activist might also have a different class of political rat sniffing them out — you know, the nosy neighbor / vigilant citizen type. It’s not obvious that it was the wisest course of action, even when you take the situation into account.

  15. 15
    greg byshenk

    Benjamin, I just don’t think that this is true, at least if you are dealing with issues of risk or recklessness.

    The big issue being trumpeted here was the danger presented by governments to those who spoke out about government action. This is incorrect, for the reasons already noted.

    Possibly a “nosy neighbor” might be an issue, but it would apply only in the case of a very specific sort of neighbor: s/he who is sufficiently driven to search through masses of documents in the hope of finding something that might be relevant to someone, but also not sufficiently driven to actually track down documents that are available if one looks for them. I submit that this is likely to be an almost vanishingly small group of people.

    But even if such is not the case (perhaps it is only a tiny group of people), it seems plain that any potential “nosy neighbors” have to be balanced against the fact that supposed “secrets” weren’t secret any longer. Once information is no longer secret, it doesn’t help those who might be harmed by it to pretend that it still is.

  16. 16
    Sheesh

    Boohoo, my second post on this thread never made it out of moderation.

    The short version is: upwards of half a million people had access to these plaintext cables which talk about the specifics and whereabouts of at-risk people before the leak. Your secret isn’t very secret if anyone with access to SIPRnet can look you up, whenever. We call that security through obscurity, and it’s not actually security at all. If anyone named in these cables was “safe” before the leak it was only because of the good judgement (or indifference) of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers, diplomats, spies, and allied government employees going about their day-to-day business.

    It’s pretty laughable really to think that foreign intelligence agents don’t or didn’t have access to these particular lower security plaintext “cables.” It’s a miracle that a computer network with approximately 500,000 points of human failure is ‘secure’ at all. That’s kinda why then Sec Def Gates thought it was a joke to say the alleged leaker and publishers had “blood on their hands”.

  17. 17
    Peter Beattie

    For a change, here’s some actual reporting on this issue, which curiously comes to the exact opposite conlusion: WikiLeaks Has No Blood on Its Hands. Will that get its own post here too, say, for fairness’s sake? Just sayin’…

  18. 18
    Peter Beattie

    Can I still post here?

  19. 19
    Ophelia Benson

    Peter, sure, comments just get delayed a little sometimes. Don’t forget the whole place is quite new. Not on solid foods yet.

  20. 20
    Peter Beattie

    Sorry, patience is a virtue that I never seemed to learn. :)

  21. 21
    Ophelia Benson

    No problem – and a comment vanishing does feel ominous.

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