Saturday, December 4, 2010

WikiLeaks: Information Just Wants To Be Free

12/5/2010: Update at the end of the post

12/5/2010: Update 2 at the end of the post


A number of you have asked my opinion regarding the whole Wikileaks thing.

OK, here it is:  Very Interesting.

Thanks for coming and drive safely.




You’re still here, huh?

I can’t say that surprises me, somehow I didn’t think you’d buy that answer.

But it’s true, I think the situation is very interesting.

However, the reason I find it interesting is not for any of the reasons I’ve seen discussed in the press.

As a number of you know, I spent most of my life in the government secrets business. I’ve had a high level security clearance for longer than I haven’t and though I don’t work in that field anymore, for which I am eternally grateful, I do know a bit about secrets.

And I find this situation very interesting.

For those of you who’ve been living under a barrel these last few days, I am, of course, talking about the huge dump of secret US diplomatic information posted into the public domain by the Whistleblower site, WikiLeaks (I’d post a link, but it wouldn’t be valid for more than a couple of minutes). Most of the information released is in the form of thousands upon thousands of electronic copies of diplomatic cables. 

As a retired military intelligence officer, and as I’ve stated elsewhere, I don’t have much use for people who can’t live up to their oath.  I talk about a lot of things here on Stonekettle Station, but I never discuss the information I swore to protect and I never will.  It does not matter whether or not I agree with the reason why it was classified, it does not matter whether or not I think that the information should be in the public domain, and it doesn’t matter if I think the information is over-classified or outdated and no longer worth anything other than a couple of good sea stories.  I swore to protect that information until told otherwise by legitimate authority.  Either your word is good or it isn’t, there is no middle ground – it really is just that simple.  If you feel that you can’t keep your organization’s secrets, especially when keeping those secrets is a condition to being given access to that information in the first place, then you shouldn’t have taken the oath. Period. There really are certain forms of information that need to be protected.  There really is information that the public does not need to know, and in fact has no business knowing. There really are reasons to keep certain things classified.

Yes, yes, I see you there in the back. 

The libertarians are standing on their chairs screaming BULLSHIT! at the top of their lungs.  I know, I’ve met these people in person. I’ve had them scream at me. They believe that government should never, ever, keep secrets of any kind. It is their firm idealistic opinion that the public has a right to know everything.  To which I answer, OK, you pony up your Social Security number, Bank Account number and PIN, and the contents of your internet browser history file and we’ll start with that. That’s usually when the screaming starts. Just as there are legitimate reasons for an individual to keep secrets, there are legitimate reasons for governments to keeps secrets, both from their citizens and from each other.  If you don’t think so, you’re not living in the real world.

Ours is not a true democracy, our nation is a republic. We elect and hire those we hope will be the best stewards of our national interest, we bind them with laws and oaths and we entrust them with the authority to determine what we as citizens should know and what we shouldn’t.  Certainly there are those who are more worthy of this responsibility than others.  But, despite the clichéd image of the shiftless government worker or the boneheaded military jarhead, the vast majority are dedicated public servants who hold their oath as a sacred trust.  Just as certainly, some, a minority, do not.  And just as certainly the ancient adage of power corrupting and absolutely power corrupting absolutely is true – there are those entrusted with our government’s secrets who are corrupted by the power, who become patronizing assholes who revel in their secret knowledge or who become so enmeshed in that classified world that they cannot break free.

Government secrets have a tendency of becoming self perpetuating and self generating, spawning more and more secrets without purpose. I do know, probably better than anybody else reading this post, that governments have a bad habit of keeping secret things that really should be in the public domain. It is the nature of governments and their various organs to keep secrets.  On and off over the years I worked at the National Security Agency, I was certain that they would have classified the lunch menu in the commissary if they could have gotten away with it, firmly convinced that the availability of tuna salad was of vital National Security interest. There is absolutely no doubt that governments classify things that don’t need to be classified for any conceivable reason. There is absolutely no doubt that governments over-classify things if left unchecked. Creating secrets becomes habit until those who are in the secrets business end up keeping secrets from each other – which is why the CIA and FBI and NSA don’t play well with others, let alone each other. 

If I was free to talk, I could give you endless examples of information that was so over-classified, often to utterly ridiculous levels, that it couldn’t even be used – making its collection, processing,  and security an apparently pointless waste of government assets and money. 

But here’s the thing, it was not my call to declassify that information.  Period. 

Those determinations are made far, far up the chain of command.  If I thought that information should be declassified, or downgraded in classification, there was a process for bringing it to the attention of the proper authority.  And it works, there were numerous times in my career where I or others like me brought information to the chain of command via the proper procedure and saw it downgraded or declassified. But, there often are reasons to keep information secure that we, as individuals down in the trenches, are unaware of.  A seemly innocuous piece of information, combined with others, can destroy billions of dollars in capability (military, industrial, financial, and so on), compromise missions, ruin negotiations, ruin pending legal cases, impact treaties, give a contractor an unfair advantage, influence the stock market or elections or trade or any number of other things.  Release of information can literally kill people, ours, theirs, innocent bystanders – this is not hyperbole, but indisputable fact. Read up on the Robert Hansen case if you don’t believe me.  I shouldn’t have to spell out what would happen if the name of a confidential Mafia informant was inadvertently released for example.  If he wasn’t killed outright, it would cost the tax payers millions to protect him. It could destroy the State’s case against a mob kingpin.  It could, and has, compromised the public safety.

There are systems in place to prevent runaway over-classification. There are periodic reviews. Classification Authorities (those with the actual power to classify information, and there are very few) must answer to the President and are subject to oversight by Congress. The system is not perfect, it can’t be, but it tends to be self-correcting, if a bit slow and conservative.   The media and public are part of that process, periodic requests for information from both often drive and accelerate that review process and provide a form of persistent error correction that is both vital to the public interest and as a check on governmental power.  Restricting the press will not make you more secure, it will make you less. The Founding Fathers were well aware of this, which is precisely why freedom of the press was specifically spelled out in the First Amendment – no other private business enterprise was, just the press. It’s that important.

There are times – few and far between – where the system does not work. There are times where there is no alternative, no right course of action, where due to the nature of the situation it might be necessary, perhaps even honorable, to break you oath, to get the word out and let the public know what their government is up to and let the chips fall where they may.  Watergate comes to mind, where a President used the power of the Executive to manipulate the electorate, there was no higher authority to appeal to except the American people.  But that is a damned rare situation.  In almost every single case, the unauthorized release of classified information is because some faithless greedy self-aggrandizing  coward betrayed their oath – the case that first brought Wikileaks into the public awareness, Army Specialist Bradley Manning, is a perfect example.

Now, with all that said, I find the current WikiLeaks situation interesting on a number of levels:

- Despite the fact that this release of information is an astonishingly enormous and unprecedented security breach that directly and negatively affects dozens of nations, there is little mention from either our leaders or anybody else’s about the source of the information.  Julian Assange didn’t break into the State Department like some character in a Tom Cruise movie, so how did he get his hands on a quarter of a million classified US diplomatic cables? It could only have been an inside job.  Oddly, the White House has not stood before the American people and sworn to bring the traitor to justice, not really.  The president hasn’t definitively promised the US people that he’ll unleash the FBI and the NSA and the CIA and find the bastard.   I find it odd that President Obama has not aggressively addressed this issue. I find it odd that the press hasn’t called him on it.  I find it even more odd that his political enemies haven’t called him on it, not really – I find that very odd indeed.

- Yesterday, Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, made vague and disjointed statements about finding the source of the leak, but spoke mostly about the damage from the information release being limited – a very odd position for a woman known for her powerful and definitive statements, but even more peculiar when you consider that the leak must have originated from within her own organization. The bulk of the information is classified State Department diplomatic cables. More than that, they are diplomatic cables dealing with many, many countries.  A low level flunky would have only had access to his or her area of specialty, i.e. a particular diplomatic area of responsibility, access is limited to “need to know.”  Whoever released this information had full access.  And not only full access, but access in such a manner that it allowed him or her the privacy to copy those files from a secure network onto a portable storage device and get that storage device through security with a reasonable degree of confidence that they wouldn’t be caught. It means a secure private office. It means that they were confident that their computer transactions weren’t being monitored – and obviously were not or they would have been caught by now.   It means that they had working USB ports on a classified computer in a controlled space.  It means they aren’t the type of people who get searched upon exiting the building.  It means that whoever did this is somebody high up in the State Department.  I find it very odd that Clinton hasn’t sworn a blood oath to hunt down the source of the leak – based on the likely level of the leak, it’s probably somebody she knows personally.  And then, just to make the situation more peculiar, Clinton announced that she will retire from public service and will not seek another office following her stint as Secretary of State – though it’s possible, maybe even likely, that this is only a coincidence, I find that the timing of that announcement very odd indeed.

- Congress has not availed themselves of the opportunity to grandstand. Oh, they’ve made some vague statements and waved their arms around a lot, they’ve spoken about the damage (or not) this release of information has caused, they’ve bloviated at length about WikiLeaks itself – but none have out and out sworn to seek out and destroy the source the leak.  Neither Senators Lieberman or McCain have taken the opportunity to beat their chests in a manly fashion and make noises about a Congressional Investigation – which given the current political climate is extremely peculiar, because Lieberman and McCain convene an investigation if somebody leaves the toilet seat up in the Congressional shitter.  Sure, the usual cast of characters have condemned the White House for the situation, but they’re not using it to make the kind of political hay you’d expect given their recent track record. Why is that?

I’m no conspiracy nut.  But if I was, I’d have to wonder if this wasn’t done on purpose.


Well, that would depend on who released the information.

If it was done by the White House, it effectively eliminated Hillary Clinton as a rival for the Democratic nomination in 2012.  Conservative hatred of Barrack Obama is so strong that a number of prominent Republicans have said they’d vote for Hillary Clinton in 2012 if the Democrats nominated her.  A number of Democrats have expressed similar sentiments. That’s one hell of a bargaining chip and very real political threat. Politics at that level are brutal and cutthroat and utterly ruthless.  The Bush administration sacrificed a national hero for no less – and as a result Colin Powell will never, ever hold public office again let alone be President. President Clinton did the same thing, so did Reagan, and so did a lot of administrations all the way back to George Washington.  It is the nature of politics, it is how the game is played.   Hell, it might have been done with Hillary Clinton’s willing participation – and that too is how the game is played.  Time will tell, the proof will be whether or not she is cashiered the same way Powell was, or whether she is rewarded by the Democratic party and the White House somewhere down the road.

On the other hand, what if somebody in Congress set this ball in motion?  Prominent and powerful Republican members of Congress have sworn to bring the President down by any means necessary. They see it as their patriotic duty.  They see it as saving the country from socialism, or communism, or fascism, or liberalism, or all of the above.  If informants and spies and diplomats are sacrificed along the way, so be it.  Republican leadership has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice the pawns in order to place their opponents in check and there’s no reason to suppose they’d show restraint here. The same folks, Rove et al, are still pulling the same strings they did when they threw Valerie Plame under the bus.  Would they do it to take both Obama and Clinton out of the 2012 equation? Would they risk prison?  See, the President is the ultimate declassification authority, he could authorize the release of these documents by executive order, retroactively if necessary, but for a member of Congress or the GOP Leadership to do so would be treason. In time of war. We used to hang people for that. Would they take that risk?  And if they were behind it, why then haven’t they been making more of it?

Would the White House orchestrate something like this? Would the Administration’s enemies?  Even to speculate out loud makes me sound like those goofs who think George W. Bush blew up the World Trade Center with a nuclear bomb or those loons who think FDR let the Japanese attack the fleet at Pearl Harbor.  But here’s the thing, the release of this information has not harmed the United States – In point of fact, just the opposite is true and that is very, very peculiar indeed.


What does this information actually show?


First: This release of information shows what we all suspected, Iran is a threat and everybody knows it, including the rest of the Muslim Middle East. Following the disastrous intelligence failure that led to the Iraqi invasion, it was impossible to get international public consensus regarding Iran, especially among Arab States.  Islamic governments simply could not be seen, in front of Muslims, to agree with the United States and worse yet, Israel. In public. Privately, of course, they are as concerned about the those crazy bastards as we are.  Privately they stand with Israel. Hell, Egypt just offered, and Israel accepted, firefighting assistance to battle the blaze threatening Haifa. This is unprecedented.  Imagine how damned frustrating that must be for the diplomats, for the White House, for Congress, for our allies – hell, for the Arab leaders who really, really want us to knock the Ayatollahs on their pointy asses but can’t say so out loud because we screwed up Iraq so damned badly.

It’s out in the open now.

Iran damned well knows, now, that even their neighbors and fellow Muslims are arrayed against them.

The Muslim world knows that it is in their best interest to stand with Israel, at least on the question of Iran, and secretly they’ve been saying so all along.

That is an extremely powerful diplomatic lever, if placed upon the correct fulcrum. 

It makes me wonder if perhaps it was Clinton who pulled the strings on this information dump after all.  She is an exceptionally shrewd and intelligent individual who has labored largely in the background these last two years.  If true, it’s a masterful implementation of information warfare and potentially a diplomatic coup of the first magnitude. The way we’ll know, depends on what the White House and State Department do with the opportunity in the next two years. But, it would also fit the agenda of the warhawks on the Right, especially those pushing for war with Iran.  Again time will tell.  Watch and see, if after the new Congress is seated, there are calls for military intervention in Iran you’ll know where this leak came from. However, no matter the source or intention, both sides could use this opportunity to definitely pull Iran’s fangs for a long, long time – but they’ll have to work together. Frankly, I’m not holding my breath.


Second: This release shows that our intelligence is correct.  So far, the released documents directly support what our diplomats have been telling us.  The leaked cables go a long, long way towards restoring credibility in the US State Department and its assessment of the world situation – something sorely lacking since the intelligence and diplomatic failures that led to 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq.  Americans have been gradually losing faith in their government’s intelligence assessment since the Bay of Pigs. Now, it is unlikely that this release will do much to restore the American public’s faith in their government – hating the government while professing to love the country has become quite fashionable of late, especially on the right –  but it will go a long way towards restoring both our allies’ confidence in our assessment of the world political situation and that of our adversaries, such as Russia and China and maybe even Iran itself.  Not publically, mind you, but privately, within the circles of power where it counts most.

But then again, if the information coming to light doesn’t exactly restore Joe America’s faith in his Uncle Sam, it does speak directly to his bias. It’s odd, isn’t it? That the leaked diplomatic cables show the world exactly as most Americans perceive it to be? The French leaders are weak and cowardly and queer. The English are stiff and old fashioned. The Russians are comic book characters. The Chinese are cunning and inscrutable. The Iranians are evil and unpredictable and dangerous.  The North Koreans are insane.  Not surprising, this is what our leaders have been telling us for years, but damned peculiar that the cables, so far, show that and only that, i.e. the cables show that our government has been telling us the truth and other governments have been lying to their people (especially when it comes to Iran).  This, of course, could be deliberate depending on the nature of the leak, or it could be an artifact of perception on the part of the diplomats writing the cables, it could an artifact of selective release of information by WikiLeaks, or it could be an honest and accurate assessment of the situation in question. History will tell us eventually.


Third: This release shows just how damned hard it is to suppress information once it reaches the public domain.  One man, a handful hackers, and a website have become ghosts in the machine.  The information moves from server to server, distributed across the network, independent of borders and politics and power.  The most powerful nations in the world cannot shut it down, not for long anyway.  Kill WikiLeaks and it pops up somewhere else, under a different name, on a different server.  Nuke it from orbit, and from the smoking wreckage a hundred Phoenixes will rise. The information is out there now, it will be free.

Shutting down WikiLeaks is an exercise in futility.  Anybody who knows even the minimum about the Internet understands that.  WikiLeaks was only a convenient portal, a million more exist or will exist at any given moment. Killing Napster didn’t eradicate music downloads, hell, it very likely stimulated the development of distributed file sharing.  Napster itself has gone the way of Altavista, but the change in information flow and distribution it started is alive and well and growing at an exponential rate.  Information cannot be suppressed, it can be hounded, it can be hunted, it can be forbidden and made illegal, but it will be free.

With that said, if I wanted to see how my countermeasures worked in the real world, if I wanted to see how my adversaries’ countermeasures worked, this is one hell of a target of opportunity.  And just so you understand what I’m saying here, this applies to hackers, WikiLeaks, and those who sell information as well as some nefarious plot spawned in the basement of NSA. I would very much like to know who the hackers behind the DDoS attacks on the WikiLeaks servers work for.  I would very much like to know who in our government pressured Amazon into dumping WikiLeaks from their servers and by what authority that was done.  If I were truly a conspiracy nut, I would have to wonder if those who really created and operate WikiLeaks didn’t do this deliberately in order to draw those countermeasures out into the open, sacrificing a throwaway site and the patsy Julian Assange – before they set up their real operation.  Who is “they?” Beats me, if I was a real conspiracy nut, I’d say it was the Jews or the Masons or Illuminati or the Bilderbergs or space aliens terminators from the future. 

Or maybe it was organized by Tom Clancy, this would make a hell of a plot line for a spy novel.


I’ve postulated a number of things here in this post, none of which are more than wild speculation without a shred of proof.

It’s fun to think about it, fun to think like a conspiracy nut, but likely this release of information was simply the result of a cowardly, disgruntled, self-aggrandizing lone-gunman.  Frankly, I seriously doubt my government is organized enough to pull off some grand conspiracy.

But, as I said, the situation is interesting.



12/5/2010 Update:

Question: Didn’t the leak originate with US Army Spc Bradley Manning?

Answer: Unlikely.  Manning was a low level army technician (detailed here).  He released video from Army Apache attack helicopters, the type of thing he would have access to as a low level analyst in theater.


Question: Yeah but he had a security clearance and access to SIPRNET

Answer: There’s a big difference between security clearance and access.  Clearance determines a basic level of trust. Access to information is granted on a “need to know basis.”  For example, just because you have a Top Secret Special Compartmented Intelligence clearance which is required for your job analyzing, say, Chinese nuclear submarine capability, you don’t automatically get access to classified CIA Predator drone video of Taliban on the Pakistan border.  Both pieces of information are classified to the same level, but your job doesn’t require you to have access to the Taliban stuff.  Same here, SIPRNET is for the most part identical to the Internet, but the two are not connected.  SIPRNET contains Secret level information. Like the internet, much of the data there is accessible to all, but much of it is also controlled behind password/CAC card (an electronic security ID used by military and government workers) access – just like the internet.  There is a SIPRNET State Department front end that anybody on the net can access, but behind that is a CAC controlled firewall/gateway that grants access to State Department SIPRNET Intranet.  You don’t have the right access, you don’t get access.


Question: Yeah, but Manning tried to give 260,000 classified documents to Wikileaks. This leak is about 260,000 documents. Coincidence?

Answer: Yes.  Manning attempted to pass 260K docs to WikiLeaks editor Adrian Lamo.  Lamo supposedly refused and turned Manning into the FBI. Supposedly the documents were never transferred.


Question: Yeah, but the document count is the same.

Answer: Yeah, that’s roughly how many averaged sized PDF files fit on an 8GB thumb drive.  


I’m not saying it’s impossible, but based on the information available (which is assuredly of questionable veracity) , this leak and Manning are likely unrelated.

12/5/20 Update 2:

I have been corrected. Apparently the leaked information was widely available on SIPRNET and not protected behind a firewall. Which means Pfc Manning would have had access to it.

The popular press is attributing Manning as the source of the documents.   Certainly possible, though that directly refutes Adrian Lamo’s story and makes him a repeat offender, hacking and stolen information wise.  The question is, why are we hunting Julian Assange instead of Adrian Lamo? (that’s a rhetorical question, don’t bother to answer).

Manning may be nothing more than a convenient scapegoat. Or not.

But, as I said in the comments, here’s the real question: If indeed, Manning is the source of the documents, what then was his point? 

He supposedly released gun camera video purporting to show the US engaged in war crimes.  This is basically his entirely defense, I saw evidence of war crimes, I could not report them to my superiors because they were part of the criminal activity, I didn’t know what else to do, I couldn’t live with it, so I gave it to the public domain.   The recently released cables absolutely do not support Manning’s defense. Just the opposite.  The released cables directly refute Manning’s supposed justification.  So again, what was his point? 

Now, Manning doesn’t appear to be particularly bright, so this may simply be a case of abject stupidity, hoist on his own petard so to speak.  But on the face of it, you’d expect more gun camera video, or the type of information he was tasked with reviewing – not boring old diplomatic cables. 

Of course, we haven’t seen all the information yet.  Could be the stuff I’m talking about is there. 


Bottom line: Release of this particular information makes little sense from the standpoint of a disgruntled individual.  It makes a lot of sense if it’s coming from the government itself.   On the other hand, there is no hard and fast rule (or even a soft and squishy one) that says it does have to make sense from Manning’s standpoint.  He could just be an idiot. 


  1. And here I thought I was the only one.

    It is remarkable to me that in all those thousands of documents, there is nothing really surprising. Nothing embarrassing to the US government. Nothing earth-shattering. It is all the stuff everybody already thought. It makes US diplomats look like they do their jobs very, very well, with complete integrity. It's even written well.

    I call foul. The US government wants that information out there.

  2. Quite thought-provoking.

    I find fascinating the recent government mandate that I as a federal employee am not allowed to access wikileaks at all, even at home on a personally-owned computer, because I'm sworn to protect classified information. Wikileaks is publicly available, but not declassified, so no reading.

    They haven't yet decided I can't read the New York Times or blogs or other sources, though.

    Apparently Bradley Manning brought in blank cds labeled as and in the cases of music cds, put on headphones, and bopped along to imaginary music while copying confidential files.

  3. Phiala, I suspect that interdiction is less about you reading the information than an effort to eliminate contact between WikiLeaks and potential sources of information within the government. Hence the prohibition against Leaks itself, but not against other sites that obtained the information in a more legitimate (for the media) form.

  4. Jim, I was under the impression that the cables were all initially distributed via SIPRnet, which three million government employees have access to, and that none of the cables were "Top Secret" (consistent with SIPRnet's level of access) and that few of them were even "Secret" with the majority being at lower levels of confidentiality. I haven't looked at the leaked documents myself--who has the time?--but is there anything there that's actually that secret in the first place?

    I also find the whole affair a bit "meh," but for completely different reasons: so far, I haven't heard about anything coming out of this that was terribly surprising. It sounds like these cables are State doing its business as usual, as it's supposed to, and while there may be particulars about Iran's weapons programs or Afghanistan's corruption, these aren't so much "new" as they're merely confirming what everybody already believed or thought they knew.

    The most interesting "revelation," so far as I'm concerned, is that the Saudis (as one might expect) have been trying to goad us into a war with Iran, and the only thing that makes this "interesting" is that I'm sure if they'd succeeded, they would have immediately condemned our Middle Eastern aggression: now they can't have it both ways if we do take action, which is lovely, I think. And since Iran ought to be their headache in much the same way North Korea ought to be that of the Chinese, maybe this is going to force the Saudis (and others in the area) to take a side instead of trying to play everybody off against each other from the middle.


  5. (cont.)

    The other thing I find a little interesting is that the leaked cables suggest to me that the Obama Administration has been pursuing a much more vigorous and effective foreign policy than I'd been giving them credit for. And here, I must admit, I'm starting to wonder if I'm just an idiot, because I hear a lot of pundits claiming this is an embarrassment to Clinton or will keep her from going on or force her to resign (all of this is echoed in some respects, Jim, in your hypothesis about Obama's people leaking the cables to forestall a 2012 primary challenge from Clinton that simply isn't likely to happen unless there's some major disaster in the next two years anyway, no matter how some pundits have tried to stir shit by saying it should--it won't unless Afghanistan becomes Vietnam or the economy enters an actual Second Great Depression, neither of which appears likely). I hear people saying this, like I say, and wonder why it is that my opinion of Clinton has been raised by the news so far.

    The basis for this seems to be the idea that the cables are "embarrassing." To the extent that they don't show, for instance, things like the fact that the Clinton State Department and Obama effectively leveraged Russia out of an missile deal with Iran (we knew Russia backed out, I don't think we knew how it was arranged), but rather that they contain people saying mean things about foreign leaders--well, does anyone think the foreign leaders didn't know, already?

    The foreign leaders in question have their own intel-gathering diplomats and their own espionage services, and it's hard to believe they didn't already know the contents of much of the leaked cables before they even hit SIPRnet, or, I hate to say this but let's face it, that none of the three million people with access had loose lips or, even, might actually be spies. I genuinely don't believe, in other words, that the Wikileaks infodump has been a leak to foreign governments, but a leak to the international public; it is possible, of course, that compromising a leader with his citizens might create diplomatic problems for us, but we might be clear that the problem isn't that X was called a poopy-head or even that X found out he was called a poopy-head, but that X's countrymen hadn't realized other people called X a poopy-head. I'm probably wrong, and of course it remains to be seen, but I'm skeptical that national publics won't get over an insult.

  6. Eric. Sure. And for the record, I think the Clinton Replace Obama as the Demo Nominee is about as far fetched as it comes - I was just playing at conspiracy nut here. HOWEVER, it does - along with her announcement - put an end to that bullshit and basically pantsed the pundits. Again, if this stuff was leaked by the Administration, I would suspect that Clinton was the architect. She's good at that sort of thing (I'm glad she's on our side ;)

  7. Eric, just because someone is on SIPRNET (SECRET Internet Protocol Relay Network - it's basically a separate internet operated at the secret level as part of MILNET (the other part being NIPRNET, N standing for Non-classified. NIPRET is connect to the larger internet via gateways. And in fact, the internet evolved directly from NIPRET/MILNET)), doesn't mean that everybody who has access to the network has access to the information. Many sites are restricted by password or CAC card access, just as sites on the Internet are.

  8. I think the appearance of a general level of competence matches what I'd expect. I've heard that a lot of what is in those cables is either obvious or trivial. To put an example together with invented numbers: If only 20% of what is reported here requires a brain to notice, and 20% of the people reporting this stuff are stupid, only 4% of the cables are going to contain stupid reporting, and half of those are going to be right through dumb luck anyway.

    I like to think the State Department is more than 80% composed of competent individuals, but I have no statistics either way for that.

    -Sandy B.

  9. Jim,

    As reported in the press, all these cables were held in the State Dept message repository known as Net Centric Diplomacy. As a former user of NCD, which by its design made sharing and review of the cable database easy, I find this entirely consistent with what's been written and published to date.

    If there is any conspiracy, its one in which our government has long known what was potentially exposed and worked assiduously to sut positive and diplomatic spin on certain problem countries (Iran) once it became clear the cables were going to hit the public domain.

    As much as I would like to believe real conniving and sneaky covert conspiratorial capability exists within our government, experience has proven to me that such skill is essentially non-existent. The only sneaky conspiratorial conniving skills ever deployed in government are the ones used against personal bureaucratic enemies and budgetary foes. And even then, its transparently ham-handed!

  10. As for what the documents tell us, I think as more and more become available, it will reveal that we are continually victimized by circular and self-referential thinking about the issues, the intelligence and the potential solutions. While I agree wholeheartedly that there are some secrets worth keeping, much of what is being dumped probably did not rise to the level of classification and remains behind curtains for matters of convenience and bureaucratic laziness. Heck, by their own markings, many of these cables would be automatically declassified over the coming years. I wonder how a citizen could read all those cables that have already gone past their declassify date? Perhaps if our government was truly committed to transparency, we'd be able to see this information in as easy a format as wikileaks provided (courtesy of the NCD backbone I might add). That alone might slake the thirst for "juicy secret" info that our media whores so willingly prostitute themselves to get.

    I think the truly revolutionary part of this whole affair is the insistence by the government and our elected leaders that citizens must give up their rights to private electronic communications, but yet we cannot have any knowledge of what they themselves are saying! I'm certain part of the "look here at this juicy secret leaked info" campaign (especially in the warmongering NYT) is all about diverting attention away from this thought. Attacking the hypocrisy of "privacy for me and not for thee..." just may be the real revolution this episode might yet spawn. That is, if we don't build our own "great firewall" to "protect our citizens beautiful minds."


  11. Bear in mind, Jim, that the current GOP can only be described as "insane" -- the wheels started coming off in 2006 when they lost their 'permanent majority' in the senate and the house, and when Obama trounced McCain something just snapped.

    Birthers, Tea Party, Palin, Death Panels... There literally isn't /anything/ they wouldn't do if they thought it'd help unseat Obama, no matter what the cost to themselves or the country.

    Obama could propose legislation to make it illegal to eat babies and they'd start screaming on Fox News and in the senate that infant consumption is a proud tradition and every true American's birthright.

    Would they have leaked something like this if they thought it'd give them a chance of 'winning' ? In a heartbeat.

  12. I've recently read an interesting Times article about the leaks. It seemed to say that fanatic information sharing since 9-11 was to blame, and that it was Bradley Manning that is the culprit. I confess a complete lack of knowledge of how that sort of thing works though, and will leave it to experts to instruct me otherwise.

    To me, it seems the links go a long way to show that this administration is not only more perceptive than the last, but it is also telling the public, "This is what we're doing in the world," and is ACTUALLY doing what it's told the public. Quite frankly, while I didn't feel that President Obama was the best choice for the Democrats, one of his smartest moves was appointing his Sec. of State. If she truly does retire from politics (and she has always seemed to me to be a woman who does as she says), I think we are losing a valuable asset to our country. While I could see an argument for her leaking the info to try to gain some sort of ground, I'm more apt to believe if there is a conspiracy, it was an attempt to discredit her by making her look bad. If so, I hope it was not by the president, or I will lose all respect for him.

  13. Unless there was a much greater security failure here than has been alluded to, A US Army E-4 like manning would not have had access to diplomatic cables. As I said above,just because you have access to SIPRNET does NOT mean you have access to all the information on it. Just like the internet, portions are protected by firewalls, gateways, and password/CAC card access.

    Manning offered to sell Adrian Lamo (a wikileaks editor) 260,000 classified documents. Supposedly Lamo refused and turned Manning in to the FBI - I strongly doubt Lamo's altruism, he is a convicted hacker and I suspect he thought he was being baited by the FBI, but I digress. Supposedly, that sale was never made and the documents never transferred - but it's easy see how they might have confused manning with this leak.

    It does appear that both leaks were (potentially) around 250K documents. Coincidence? No, that's just roughly how many averaged sized PDF files fit on an 8GB thumbdrive.

  14. I watched the Sunday morning news programs this morning,and my takeaway was, Oh, Manning did it. Seems to me they spent quite a bit of time explaining how, if not why, including access. Indicated he is about to be indicted. Scapegoat? More conspiracy theory?

  15. Unless there was a much greater security failure here than has been alluded to, A US Army E-4 like manning would not have had access to diplomatic cables.

    Jim, this is my point about Net Centric Diplomacy. It was all there. And it was all available to anyone on SIPRNET. It was not behind any sharepoint or COI walls. And it was there for the very reason Joanna read - to improve information sharing across the government.

    Perhaps breaking down information silos that were a direct contributor to the government's failure on 11 Sept 2001 (i.e., "need to know") and moving towards broader information sharing (the "responsibility to provide") was a mistake. I can tell you, the tension (and misunderstanding) resulting from this new emphasis was a constant source of angst to the old-timers and frustration to a large new (young) generation of public servants who came aboard after 2001. I have little doubt that the information pendulum will now slam back to stovepipes and away from crowdsourcing. And that's too bad. Is there a risk when you share more broadly? Yep. Can more get done by greater numbers of people when the walls and fences are lowered? Definately. In my experience, the value added far outweighs the security risk - despite the existence of Wikileaks.

    One way to balance the risk is by making sure the rules are followed. In this case, if they were, the database could never have left its own network. But it did, and now the fallout has to be managed. And, as can be observed already, its being managed in a way to make some lemonade (anti-Iran diplomacy, pro-internet censorship) in some bitter ways. Now that, I find the most interesting. And conspiratorial. And entirely in character for some of the characters (Joe Lieberman) involved in the squeezing.


  16. Well, just go and completely fuck up my entire conspiracy theory premise there RP. ;)

    Sarcasm aside, I take your word for the availability of the information. I have to assume you've had access more recently than me. However, my experience was exactly the opposite - even in the war zone nobody would share anything, especially the fucking State Department.

    As I said, supposedly, Manning never transferred the docs to Wikileaks - but, of course, that was reported by the press. Could be wrong, and apparently is. But, if true, if Manning is the source of the information and not some convenient scapegoat - what then was his point? There are plenty of things on the net that would be damaging (such as the gun camera video definitively attributed to him). Why the diplomatic cables? If Manning wanted to show that the US was engaged in war crimes, which was supposedly his justification and source of disgruntlement (and why he's been painted as a hero in some circles) what was the point of releasing documents that show frankly just the opposite? Why not more gun camera video?

    If Manning is the source of this leak, his choice of material makes no sense.

  17. Minor correction Manning was not an SFC as you refer to him, I've seen him listed as both a PFC and an E-4, which I assume means Specialist.

    In 1970 as an E-5 I had complete access to anything that came into US HQ Europe in electronic encrypted form and the clearances to match. That level of clearance wasn't supposed to go to a first term enlistee or an E-5, but they were short one E-6 and I was senior E-5 so I got the job.

    The real use was that I could deliver Pizza to the War Room.

  18. Jim, see, I thought you'd already heard the part about the post-9/11 information sharing when I was mentioning the 3 million-with-access bit. :)

    As for rationality: Julius Assange isn't sounding particularly rational about the leaks these days, either. He is, I believe, one of the people who has been saying these leaks obligate Clinton to resign and has been making comments that suggest his motivations are much more about trying to discredit the U.S. than simply making information free, promoting intelligent democracy, etc. Which is his prerogative as a globetrotting Australian citizen, I suppose (though he may be earning whatever retaliation we seek out as a consequence), but as I said in my earlier comments, the leaked cables don't really seem to do the kind of damage Assange thinks they did.

    If Manning is the source of the leaks, and I suspect he is, then I suspect his motivation for leaking the cables shouldn't be over-thought: he watched a video that disturbed him, he got into a dialogue with Lamo, and he decided to pad what he wanted to leak--the video--with as much as he could easily download. He didn't know what was in the State cables, he hoped or assumed there was something interesting there and the fact that they were State cables made his access look broader than it actually would have been if the State cables hadn't themselves been dumped on SIPRnet as part of the 9/11 sharing policies (also, if Lamo hadn't ratted out Manning, it's possible Manning thought grabbing cables from outside his bailiwick would help conceal his identity). In no case did the leaker, whoever it was, say "Here's 260,000 juicy PDFs!"--it's just too damn many documents for one person to go through. If the leaker was Manning, think of him as being the digital equivalent of a guy who does a smash-and-grab who comes home to discover that in addition to something "useful," like booze, he's stolen a bunch of cocktail napkins or women's clothes or something.

    Or that's my take on it, anyway.

  19. Sorry about the conspiracy theories... I'm not saying they're all wrong.

    As for Manning, all I can say is it is possible for him to have done it (breaking the rules, of course). Then again, it could have been practically anybody with access to SIPRNET.

    my experience was exactly the opposite - even in the war zone nobody would share anything, especially the fucking State Department. This IS exactly why some more forward thinking folks at State built and implemented NCD. Indeed, when he was DepSecState, John Negroponte (former DCI) thought NCD was the bee's knees and wanted to use its model even more! The biggest opponents of its use were the old guard and this is why they opposed it. Security and too many people having the opportunity to know too much about what they are doing.

    (FWIW, I was and remain a great believer in NCD and Web2.0 tools on SIPRNET. This incident will destroy all that good work.)

    Why did the leaker do it? Who knows. Part of me believes it is due to the grand hypocrisy on display. When you crowd source, you've got to have the group more or less on the same page. And when there is enough dissent, then you open yourself up to dissenters taking your info outside the group. This is why leaders need to pay attention to the cranks, crackpots, dissidents and dreamers in the system. Not only are these the source of most creativity and energy, they can, in the info age make you look really stupid and downright untrustworthy. As in this case.

    Of course, it could have been a disgruntled E4 with a need for girls, booze and fame.



  20. What's amused me in the situation is how much the cables sound like neighborhood gossip. For example, Colonel Gaddafi is enthralled with his blonde mistress who seems to have an amazing bosom. The British government really has no use for Prince Charles or his brother Andrew. They're hoping Queen Elizabeth II lives a very long time.

    It's amazing the little tidbits that have been coming up. It's like reading the journals of a group of old biddies in a small town, except this gossip is on a global scale.

    It's more embarrassing than anything else. Everyone in the diplomatic community now knows what the other is thinking behind those polite smiles.

  21. See, I don't know anything about how information sharing in the government works, not having been in a position to know that. They don't give security clearances to a professional child herder. All I know it what I've read, and The Times blames it on the new info sharing frenzy from post 9-11, where any info could help the guys in the field. I'm more inclined to believe people who've been there, done that than I am a reporter, even one who seems to have his head squarely on his shoulders.

  22. Excellent post. A few comments. As a former NSA, CIA, USIA (cable relay transmission department) employee I am surprised it has taken this long for something like this to have occurred. In the "old days" it would have been a bit tougher to remove the level of information that has been compromised from the building then, then it is now and even if you did, it would most likely have been hard copy and would have filled several brief cases. Thats not to say that classified information didn't get loose either inadvertently or intentionally even then. It simply means to me, that the volume of the leaks would most likely never have happened prior to the ease at which data can be stored and transported today.

    I know that while I was on the inside, floppy disks, cd's or any type of magnetic media was absolutely forbidden to be removed from the premises without special authorization and even then it was still controlled by a strict set of rules for transporting the data.

    I also know that the internet is still restricted on the inside and that there are special terminals in declassified areas which one can use to check email or go to work-related websites like contractors or for equipment ordering and yes, an occassional visit to non-work related sites as well. However, there is a giant red sticker on the monitor reminding you that the system you are working on is monitored and you get bet your bottom-dollar that it is.

    Megan posted here and said the content of information contained nothing earth-shattering. Perhaps thats true from the perspective of someone who is completely detached from content of the messages. I most certainly haven't read every message and most, probably are routine chatter or fleeting thoughts much like you would get from twitter but some may or may not have significant information vital to our country's national interest to keep secret or at least compartmented. You don't know for sure what all the messages specifically mean just below the surface, thats the nature of game but here they are now, hanging out for all the world to see so it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.

    This type of leak can also serve as a lesson to the authors of the information and act as a reminder that you really need to think about what you want to say, and how you're going to say it. If some fool diplomat wants to put his deepest thoughts about Sarkozy's personality down, he better think twice about how to word it in the future even if his thoughts will be stamped top secret.

  23. Excellent post. A few comments. As a former NSA, CIA, USIA (cable relay transmission department) employee I am

    surprised it has taken this long for something like this to have occurred. In the "old days" it would have been a

    bit tougher to remove the level of information that has been compromised from the building back then, and even if

    you did, it would most likely have been hard copy and would have filled several brief cases. That's not to say that

    classified information didn't get loose either inadvertently or intentionally even then. It simply means to me,

    that the volume of the leaks would most likely never have happened prior to the ease at which data can be stored and

    transported today.

    I know that while I was on the inside, floppy disks, cd's or any type of magnetic media was absolutely forbidden to

    be removed from the premises without special authorization and even then it was still controlled by a strict set of

    rules for transporting the data.

    I also know that the internet is still restricted on the inside and that there are special terminals in declassified

    areas which one can use to check email or go to work-related websites like contractors or for equipment ordering and

    yes, an occasional visit to non-work related sites as well. However, there is a giant red sticker on the monitor

    reminding you that the system you are working on is monitored and you can bet your bottom-dollar that it is.


  24. Megan posted here and said the content of information contained nothing earth-shattering. Perhaps that's true from the perspective of someone who is completely detached from content of the messages. I most certainly haven't read every cable but I bet most are probably routine chatter or fleeting thoughts much like you would find on twitter but some may or may not have significant information vital to our country's national interest which would be best to keep secret or at least compartmentalized. No one knows for sure what all the messages specifically mean just below the surface, that's the nature of game but now they are here, hanging out for all the world to see so it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.

    This type of leak can also serve as a lesson to the authors of the information and act as a reminder that you really need to think about what you want to say, and how you're going to say it. If some fool diplomat wants to put his deepest thoughts about Sarkozy's personality down on paper, he'd better think twice about how to word it in the future even if his thoughts will be stamped top secret.

  25. better think twice about how to word it in the future even if his thoughts will be stamped top secret.

    Yes, they should. Even as they type in the very declassification instructions that are part of every classified message!

    If you read carefully, you'll see that nearly all of these "secrets" were bound for routine declassification, normally in 5, 10 or 20 years. This is, of course, so long as the Cheney Administration does not regenerate on the scene and simply refuse to declassify documents - in contravention of the law I might add.


  26. Jim,

    Even though I remain unconvinced of a grand conspiracy - mainly because I have a hard time believing there's enough competence within government to actually pull one off - the possibility that Wikileaks is being used as a vehicle to direct changing policy (ie war) cannot be dismissed.

    You're not the only one wondering:
    WikiLeaks, WikiDrama and WikiGossip


  27. I'm fascinated by the entire episode. It raises multiple issues for serious thought. I think the Aussie is an interesting character, and that the cyberwar fought by wikileak supporters against governments and corporate interests is really something.

    From what I've read, the leaks haven't really embarrassed the U.S., just other countries.

    Obama would have no reason to do something like this to hurt Hilary. Most Americans don't even understand what she does so, as her boss, his administration would be blamed, not her personally. He put her in the position she's in and when she looks good, he looks good.

    There have been no reports of anyone endangered because of this leak. Besides, anything that turns up in leaks, like intentional or accidental killings of civilians by our troops, or the Air Force spreading Christian pamphlets and Bibles around Muslim villages and cities, the locals in those countries already know it anyway. The people suffering the consequences, and those intent on knowing for their own political reasons, are already fully aware. Our finding out doesn't change feelings toward our troops and citizens. We are the ones who do not know what is going on in our names overseas.

    I am worried about the hysteria whipped up over these sort of leaks, and now there is talk of turning to the despicable Espionage Act to prosecute. That makes me wonder if there isn't another direction to look for who might have wanted this done as a tool for manipulating the public more in order to suppress open public communication and debate.

    If there is nothing to that conspiracy theory, then we are merely witnessing, again, the sociopaths among us using this episode as an excuse to control us. Every culture has them, and they show their colors when safeguards against them are weakened. They also rise to the top when social restraints normally keeping them in check fall by the wayside.

  28. I Watch In Horror

    Two pregnant women, a teenage girl, a police officer and his brother were shot on February 12[2010] when US and Afghan special forces stormed their home... NATO had initially claimed that the women had been dead for several hours…, but later admitted responsibility for all the deaths. "US special forces soldiers dug bullets out of their victims’ bodies in the bloody aftermath of a botched night raid, then washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened,”
    The above is one of more than 100 entries at Wikipedia’s, “Civilian casualties of the War in Afghanistan.”

    nothing embarrassing?

  29. @anonymous:

    Horrific, it is.

    Wikileaks; not Wikipedia.

    Government officials said we've not really suffered. At the same time, other officials (and overpaid pundits) are whipping up mob rage in order to suppress further leaks, but without any actual dire results to show as evidence the international attack on the whistleblowers is necessary.

    Again, when our forces do anything appalling, we are the last to know. The victims and all the people of the region know it right away and word spreads. For that reason, our finding out doesn't create more danger for our troops, or even our diplomatic efforts, than what already existed well before we discover the truth. We need to know what is done in our name in order to accurately assess our safety, our soldier-children's safety, the wisdom our leaders are or are not showing, and to understand why peoples of other nations are out to get us, and therefore, maybe we can do something constructive about it.

  30. Anonymous,

    That particular piece of information was published after I wrote this article.

    As to the incident you refer to: first, that was reported by the TimesOnline and not by Wikileaks. Second, the information comes from Afghan investigators based on claims from the victims' relatives and has not be verified, though Gen McCrystal does admit US forces were involved in the raid.

    Also, something to understand here: The information in those leaked cables is not necessarily true or complete. The information was often field reports and not verified. A lot of the battlefield stuff of it was based on witness reports - some of which was later proved wrong or biased or a manufactured lie. Not all of it. But it damned hard to know what what's what without the rest of the classified information - this is part of what makes the release of the information to the general public so dangerous.

    Understand, I'm not saying the incident you refer to didn't happen, I'm not saying that it did, I wasn't there and will wait for the official investigation to conclude before rendering judgement.

    Certainly there are things in those cables that will embarrass the US, just as certainly there are things in those cables that should be kept secret for very good reason - as I said in the post - but so far nothing that has come to light as been particularly damaging to US interests. Even this incident. Look, shit happens in war. Now DON'T get me wrong here, the killing of innocents is a terrible thing. But the real question comes down to this: Did those forces intend to kill innocents? Did they do the best they could in the situation to prevent unnecessary death? If yes, then those deaths were the unavoidable consequence of war, collateral damage. If not, then perhaps those troops are guilty of crimes - as those who were engaged in trophy hunting and murder in Iraq.

    HOWEVER, just because they (allegedly) covered up their involvement in this incident DOES NOT make it a crime. As I said, it could and most likely was the unavoidable consequence of war. They may have been ordered to remove traces of their actions in order to prevent further death and violence.

    Again, things happen in war. THAT is the true horror of war. Perhaps if people understood that, truly understood that, they'd be less likely to have one every couple of years.

  31. (Randomly, and late, but hey that's what happens when you have a "greatest hits" collection...)

    This was not something I completely understood until two pieces of fiction explained it to me: Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, and the first episode of the second season of the BBC's Sherlock. (The Scandal in Bohemia one.) Both explain the great disparity between what the intelligence community knows and what the man on the ground knows; both highlight how a seemingly innocuous bit of information can be incredibly significant in the right (wrong?) hands, and therefore it is absolutely vital that classified information STAY classified, even if you have no idea why it is so.

    There is still a part of me that feels that a person, ultimately, has to answer to his/her own conscience. A time may come when oaths must be broken and secrets must be revealed. But, as you point out, such times are VERY few and far between, and should only come after trying every available alternative, after finding out as much as possible to make sure that it really is for the best, and after a very great deal of soul-searching. And even then, think twice. How certain, howvery very certain, are you that you know better than the entire intelligence community that does this for a living and has been trained for it, and has access to so much more information than you'll ever have? Certain enough to go to jail for it? Certain enough to gamble innocent lives if you're wrong?

  32. Quote: "Either your word is good or it isn’t, there is no middle ground – it really is just that simple. "

    I admire your cutting to the core of the issue.
    However, may I ask a pertinent question here please?

    I married when divorce was not legal here in Ireland.
    It was later introduced by legislation.

    In my marriage I gave my word - I have no intention of ever retracting it. It was voluntarily given. I am not a religious person — a lapsed-Catholic, atheist alternating with agnostic sums me up, I am not a conservative — European social democrat would be a fair summation of my politics. I am not an "old fuddy-duddy" — I turned 62 recently. Next year will be our 30th wedding anniversary.

    So, to my question — Do you agree with divorce?
    Or are there circumstances when there IS a middle-ground?

  33. I know little about this situation, which is why the subject caught my eye on your 'Greatest Hits' list. I've saved it to Pocket to reread later, at my leisure, because I want to work through your reasoning more closely. You've raised several intriguing points, and I want to see how well they've held up over the past 6 years. Thanks.


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