Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wikileaks Again

Yet again, the media (and for the benefit of a friend in Afghanistan likes to parse this sort of thing, I mean both broadcast and print) is touting as news the cables being dumped by the gossip channel Wikileaks.

Yes. I find the cables entertaining. I also think that the field staff for the US Department of State come off extremely well, exhibiting incite and knowledge in their recommendations and comments. Too bad no one in Washington listens to them. As for the releases in general, they are not, contrary to some hyper-ventilating politicians, particularly secret. The cables themselves were officially available to about 3 million people. None of the cables is labeled as top secret. Furthermore, all the cables are vetted and redacted not only by Wikileaks – but by its partners in the press. Rinse, repeat. All the cables are vetted and redacted by both Wikileaks and its partners in the press.

After a little digging, I find it hard to justify any legal recourse against Julian Assange and his people under any US law, which is why they are going after his bank accounts and convinced Amazon to drop dissemination. As for the purpose of Wikileaks, unfortunately it may actually produce exactly the opposite result that it contends to promote – transparency.

You can be sure that from the day of the first publication, fewer people in governments will have access to or be able to provide candid information about their local political and economic environment. This will actually hamper diplomacy and might lead to some unforeseen consequence. The Chinese government may be a little less ready to work with South Korea now that its cover has been blown with the non-revelation that it is not happy with North Korea. It’s sort of like telling someone who spent $10 million on a Picasso that it is a fake. It is not in their interest to prove you correct.

Nevertheless, it is nice to have confirmed that western nations are worried about Pakistan losing control of her nukes. But that is all it is – confirmation. Today’s release also confirmed that NATO and the US developed a plan to protect the Baltic states from Russia following the latter’s invasion of Georgia. Wow.Given the complaints by Russia regarding the treatment of ethnic Russians in those countries, and particularly in Estonia, around the time Russian tanks rolled across the Georgian border this could hardly have been surprising. I’m sure the Russian military was so shocked it needed to take a collective rest in a sanitorium in Crimea.

From a historian’s perspective, these documents are a gold-mine. They provide the type of background that helps to explain the context within which actions are taken. Expect a flood of books that re-write history as we know it based on the information contained in the cables.

In the meantime, the cables are like potato chips – addictive but without any substance.

Late addition:  Assange has said that he developed a poison-pill if he is arrested (likely) or killed (melodramatic self-importance) which will dump a massive amount of the really good stuff. Wait for it.

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