January 4, 2011

Wikileaks: What's Shown When the Barn Door's Closed

In case you hadn't heard . . . .

  • Per The Christian Science Monitor, "[t]he US State Department has directed its staff around the world not to surf the WikiLeaks website . . . ."
  • Per WaPo, the Office of Management and Budget has ordered federal employees and contractors not to look at classified info published by Wikileaks, and the Defense Department issued a similar order.
  • The Guardian reports, "[t]he Library of Congress tonight joined the education department, the commerce department and other government agencies in confirming that the ban is in place. . . . Although thousands of leaked cables are freely available on the Guardian, New York Times and other newspaper websites . . . the Obama administration insists they are still classified and, as such, have to be protected. . . . [Employees were warned,] '[a]ccessing the WikiLeaks documents will lead to sanitisation of your PC to remove any potentially classified information from your system, and the [sic] result in possible data loss.'"
  • Per The Wall Street Journal, "The Air Force said it had blocked [from their personnel's computers] more than 25 websites [including The NYT 's and others] that contained the [leaked cables] . . . . The Office of the Secretary of Defense has issued guidance against visiting WikiLeaks or downloading documents posted there . . . ."
  • Per The Christian Science Monitor, "[t]he US State Department has directed its staff around the world not to surf the WikiLeaks website . . . ."

These efforts on the part of our Fearless Leaders (call them "FLs") to close the barn door after the horse was gone struck a lot of observers as ludicrous. We can't stop the rest of the world from reading the stuff, but dang it, we've got to blindfold somebody, so we'll just blindfold our own! At first glance, "[i]t's like kids covering their eyes and thinking that this keeps other people from seeing them" (quoting Curt Cloninger in an entirely different context).

But additional inferences are worth teasing out.

1. If our FLs' main concern were to carry out their mission of furthering the US's welfare, surely they would want their (our) own employees and contractors to be fully aware of whatever the rest of the world knows, rather than being handicapped by ignorance. If you're a company, and your competitors and customers got hold of info about all the glitches in your product, would you send your sales force out without any preparation for the questions and challenges they'd likely face? If you're playing football, do you want to be in a situation where the other side knows your team's strategy, but your own players have no clue? Of course not.

I'm not among those who believe our FLs are simply stupid. So, what else might motivate our FLs to order their own people to keep themselves in the dark?

(a) To the extent the secrets are embarrassing to other countries – ok, those countries might stop sharing their secrets with us; but will keeping US employees and contractors ignorant of what everyone else knows likely fix that problem? Like, yeah, the world knows that secret I told you last week, but I'll trust you with a new one if you make your servants promise not to read the old one? I don't think so.

(b) To the extent the secrets are embarrassing to our own FLs – aye, there's a motive that makes sense. Because the FLs' employees and contractors might stop obeying them, if they realize the extent to which the purpose of the secrecy is merely to hide crimes and corruption. Our FLs certainly don't want more Bradley Mannings.

(c) The rationale for the ban actually stated by our FLs is that the documents are classified, and the fact that they've been leaked doesn't automatically declassify them – i.e., it's the principle of the thing. Note that upholding the principle, even at the risk of handicapping our own people, does accomplish one thing: it sends the message that unquestioning obedience to the secrecy rules is required, even when it's senseless or even harmful. (Too bad our FLs aren't so concerned to make this point when it comes to the rules applicable to banks et al.) (UPDATE: I didn't bother disputing another, even flimsier pretext given for the policy, that info downloaded from WL might contain malware. And now the Pentagon's issued a memo confirming that Dept. of Defense "employees who downloaded classified documents from Wikileaks . . . may delete them without further 'sanitizing' their systems or taking any other remedial measures" {via Secrecy News}.)

In sum, the explanation for the ban that makes the most sense is that it is motivated by our FLs' desire to maintain their own control over those beneath them and thus their power over all of usand that that goal is more important to our FLs than the goal of furthering our welfare through diplomacy, etc. (which would be better served by making sure our employees and contractors were fully informed about all relevant info).

2. Assange's strategy of provoking FLs with too many of the wrong kind of secrets to tighten security, thus degrading their own organizational I.Q. and possibly hastening their own demise, may be working. (For more about Assange's overall strategy, which few others seem yet to have discerned, see my earlier post here, among others.)

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