Wikileaks and the New McCarthyism: Maybe we Just Need a More Open Government

A big issue in the Wikileaks controversy has to do with restrictions on freedom of speech in a democratic society, and the use of pressure tactics and of corporate policy to curb speech that is not shown to be illegal. That tendency is very troubling, and recalls the strong arm tactics of the House of Representatives, the FBI, and major corporations during the McCarthy era.

See former National Security Council official Gary Sick’s important essay, “Am I a Criminal?”

Wikileaks continues to be under political pressure (I say political rather than legal because as far as I can tell, the organization has not been indicted or formally charged with wrongdoing), and I found it impossible to get through to their new Swiss site this morning. But there are now lots of mirror sites up all over Europe. The documents are also being made available via torrents that can be picked up through peer to peer (p2p) networks. Presumably the more important cables are in the “insurance” file available at the various wikileaks mirror sites and also via torrents, and which founder Julian Assange says has been downloaded 100,000 times. An encryption key will be disseminated if anything happens to the organization.

The mirror sites were made necessary when removed Wikileaks from its servers, and when Wikileaks’ domain name system provider, Everydns, stopped servicing their registered web address. The reason given was that the site was the object of concerted denial of service attacks by hackers, which was inconveniencing the other customers of the service. (Hackers can set up internet robots to bombard a site with so many hits per minute that it overloads the servers and makes the site inaccessible to others trying to reach it).

But if that is the reasoning, then the victim is being punished, since denial of service attacks are illegal in the US. And they are, to boot, a form of thuggery and bullying. It surely is just wrong for Everydns to have dumped a customer simply because that customer had been targeted.

The reasons for which gave for booting Wikileaks off their servers, likewise, do not hold water.

Amazon wrote:

‘ for example, our terms of service state that “you represent and warrant that you own or otherwise control all of the rights to the content… that use of the content you supply does not violate this policy and will not cause injury to any person or entity.” It’s clear that WikiLeaks doesn’t own or otherwise control all the rights to this classified content.’

But the US Government does not hold copyright in government-generated documents. They are paid for by the public and are in the public domain. The US government has the right to withhold the documents it generates from the public, according to US law and court decisions. But once a document has become public, no matter how, the government cannot sue for copyright infringement or demand its return on those grounds, at least in the United States. It could demand the documents’ return on grounds that they are classified, but it is not in fact clear that it is illegal to be in possession of classified US government documents, assuming the possessor was not the one who absconded with them in the first place.

Amazon’s wording implied that they thought that Wikileaks had no rights to the State Department cables. But Wikileaks was not claiming a right to them, only sharing public-domain, uncopyrighted texts with others, which they probably have a legal right to do.

Amazon’s language is especially worrisome, since they purvey books to the public. Some of those books reprint classified documents. Is Amazon going to boot those books off its site, as well?

In fact, in some instances, the Clinton administration declassified thousands and thousands of government documents. Then scholars reprinted these texts in their books. Then the bureaucrats under late Clinton, as well as throughout the Bush administration, fought back and actually reclassified thousands of those memos, some going back to WW II or the Korean War. This step meant that there were books on the shelves of libraries and in Amazon warehouses that now contained classified documents even though the documents hadn’t been classified when they were published. could decline to carry all kinds of books on modern American foreign policy and history on the grounds that the authors and publishers do not “own or otherwise control all the rights to this classified content” (or in thousands of cases, “this
reclassified content.)

The call by Amazon was a very bad one, and some observers are rightly wondering if it will hurt “cloud computing,” where you put your documents up at a server instead of on your firm’s or university’s desktops. It seems to me that Amazon’s terms of service would continually bring into question how secure your documents were, especially if they might dump you as a customer even though you had broken no known law.

The Obama administration, perhaps realizing that it has no legal case with regard to the general public, has apparently decided to use a politics of reputation and threats of government reprisals to convince people not to read, discuss or reprint the Wikileaks cables.

The State Department seems to be trying to scare young people in international relations fields off from reposting wikileaks cables at their Facebook pages, warning them it could harm their future job prospects with the government. That policy is just plain petty, and I certainly wouldn’t want to see someone become a young foreign service officer who did not have the initiative and curiosity to get into this trove of documents on US foreign policy.

The Obama administration is forbidding government employees to call up the wikileaks documents on government computers, including those at the Library of Congress and on military bases. That policy is just plain stupid, and unworthy of Obama’s renowned intellect. I don’t want my intelligence analysts not knowing about the fall-out from the wikileaks cables!

Corporations such as IBM have established web sites for employee suggestions and criticisms, risking that potentially embarrassing things might be said and made public. But such open communication also benefits innovative firms, making sure that the intelligence and experience of each employee is available to it. It may well be that the whole secretive model of government that was adopted under the impact of the two world wars and the Cold War is not only dysfunctional but doomed, and that State should move to a new system of open cables. After all, it is only very occasionally that there is anything in these communications that would come as a surprise to a knowledgeable observer, and in those few cases where secrecy was desirable, then the message could be sent over secure and encrypted channels on a need to know basis.

I should add that I disapprove of what Wikileaks is doing in releasing hundreds of thousands of pages of US government documents. I think leaking can be an ethically heroic act if one is leaking a covered-up crime. The leaking of documents from the tobacco industry showing they covered up their own knowledge that cigarettes cause lung cancer was such a noble deed. But relatively few covered-up crimes are coming to light in these Wikileaks documents unless one is an anarchist and considers government in general to be a crime. In many instances, the documents are little more than gossip, producing hurt feelings, without having obvious policy implications. Scattershot massive infodump is not the same thing as leaking for purposes of securing justice in some particular instance.

On the other hand, I don’t see the leaks as the end of the world. Most of the authors of the cables have been rotated to another embassy by now, and leaders come and go. There is no evidence of anyone being killed because of the leaks, though one German spy for the US has been summarily fired. I saw Robert M. Gates on Aljazeera reacting to the leaks in Realist fashion. He said that countries interact with the US for three reasons. Some are friendly and interact on that basis. Others are enemies and seek engagement for that very reason. Still others think they need the US. Gates said he didn’t see in what way the leaked cables would change any of those three sorts of relationship. And he is right.

I suppose that as a contemporary historian, I feel about Wikileaks the way I feel about Ben & Jerry’s ice cream as a perpetual dieter. I wish they wouldn’t make it, but when I have a bowl, I have to say I really enjoy it.

Posted in Uncategorized | 44 Responses | Print |

44 Responses

  1. Thanks for providing some thoughtful analysis on this disturbing situation. It is just speculation on my part but if you follow the money perhaps all of this pressure on Wikileaks is due to the anticipated release of Bank of America documents.

  2. Professor Cole

    On the other hand, I don’t see the leaks as the end of the world. Most of the authors of the cables have been rotated to another embassy by now, and leaders come and go. There is no evidence of anyone being killed because of the leaks, though one German spy for the US has been summarily fired.

    The corrosive effect of the Wikileaks will not be immediately apparent.

    However the breakdown of trust in the rulers by the ruled will take effect though a greater degree of cynicism. The German spy you refer to was in fact the Chef de Cabinet of the German Foreign Minister. Unlike Wili Brandt, who had nurtured one of Markus Wolf’s people in his office, Mr Westerwelle has not resigned. (yet)

    The UK Foreign Minsiter and Defence Minister have revealed themselves to be Fellow Travellers of the US, in their fawning competiton tonoutdo each other in pledging allegiance to the US and order more military hardware from them.

    Elias Murr, the Lebanese Defense Minister, has not resigned (or fled which would be more sensible) from the Lebanese government for colluding with the enemy, the Outlaw State of Israel, to advise them as to how to invade his country.

    Much as the Crowned Heads of Europe united against Revolutionary France, the Autocracies of the Middle East are uniting with the abusers of the Palestinians against the Iranians. Does the combination of victory in Iraq, Wikileaks and the equivalents of the Cannonade at Valmy where the sans culottes broke the vaunted Austrians, in Southern Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008 not give strength to the morality rhetoric propounded by Ayatollah Khoimeni?

    Just as French Revolutionary ideas motivated Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen in 1798, will not the success of the Iranian Revolution in repelling the Evil Empire for thirty years, cause the lid to come off the pressure cooker in the Arab States?

    Does the revelation that the Yemeni President has given a free hand to US forces to attack his people, destroy any remaining legitimacy that he might have had?

    Much as the Revolutions of 1848 died down quite quickly the immediate effect of the wikileaks will blow over soon.

    However just as infection with syphilis takes years to wreak its effect, the wikileaks will be one of number of factors to destabilise the Middle East and cause the US European allies to abandon them to their own mess.

    At risk of incurring your professorial wrath for a C- student’s trick, I quote from the Wikpedia entry on 1848, and leave it to your readers to find their way to the Commune in Paris, and VI Lenin’s train arriving at Finland Station in St Peterburg in 1917 and the many Heroes of the Soviet Union who died in final battle for Berlin in 1945.

    These revolutions arose from such a wide variety of causes that it is difficult to view them as resulting from a coherent movement or social phenomenon. Numerous changes had been taking place in European society throughout the first half of the 19th century. Both liberal reformers and radical politicians were reshaping national governments. Technological change was revolutionizing the life of the working classes. A popular press extended political awareness, and new values and ideas such as popular liberalism, nationalism and socialism began to spring up. A series of economic downturns and crop failures, particularly those in the year 1846, produced starvation among peasants and the working urban poor.

    Galician slaughter (polish “Rzeź galicyjska”) by Jan Lewicki (1795-1871), (was a massacre of Polish nobles by Polish peasants in Galicia between early 1846 and late 1848.)Large swathes of the nobility were discontented with royal absolutism or near-absolutism. In 1846 there had been an uprising of Polish nobility in Austrian Galicia, which was only countered when peasants, in turn, rose up against the nobles.[6] Additionally, an uprising by democratic forces against Prussia occurred in Greater Poland.

    Next the middle classes began to agitate. Working class objectives tended to fall in line with those of the middle class. Although Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels had written at the request of the Communist League in London (an organization consisting principally of German workers) The Communist Manifesto (published in German in London on February 21, 1848), once they began agitating in Germany following the March insurrection in Berlin, their demands were considerably reduced. They issued their “Demands of the Communist Party in Germany”[7] from Paris in March; the pamphlet only urged unification of Germany, universal suffrage, abolition of feudal duties, and similar middle class goals.

    The Italian and German movements did provide an important impetus. Italy was unified in 1861, while Germany in 1871 was unified under Bismarck after Germany’s 1870 war with France. Some disaffected German bourgeois liberals (the Forty-Eighters, many atheists and freethinkers) migrated to the United States after 1848, taking their money, intellectual talents, and skills out of Germany.

    The revolutions did inspire lasting reform in Denmark as well as the Netherlands. Denmark was governed by a system of absolute monarchy since the seventeenth century. King Christian VIII, a moderate reformer but still an absolutist, died in January 1848 during a period of rising opposition from farmers and liberals. The new king, Frederick VII, met the liberals demands and installed a new Cabinet that included prominent leaders of the National Liberal Party. He accepted a new constitution — see the Constitution of Denmark — agreeing to share power with a bicameral parliament called the Rigsdag.[15] The liberal constitution did not extend to Schleswig, leaving the Schleswig-Holstein Question unanswered.,

    King William II of the Netherlands, afraid of the revolutions spreading into the Netherlands, ordered Johan Rudolf Thorbecke to revise the constitution. Thorbecke’s revision resulted in the king losing most of his powers in favor of the parliament, effectively turning the Netherlands into a Constitutional Monarchy.

    1848 was a watershed year for Europe, and many of the changes of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have origins in this revolutionary period.

    It seems we are condemned to live in Interesting Times on a diet of Tom and Jerry’s (sic) ice cream.

    • Dear Professor Cole

      Anatole Lieven, the Professor of War Studies at Kings College London, agrees with my point about the relations between the rulers and the ruled.

      link to

      This news endorses the arguments of neo-conservatives in the US, who always argued that the Arab monarchies themselves privately favoured attacking Iran.

      Not much emerged that had not already been leaked On the other hand, it also emphasises the deep gulf between these monarchies and their own peoples, who – according to opinion polls – strongly oppose an attack on Iran, and the extremely two-faced approach of these states to their relationship with the US and Israel, and indeed to the world in general.

      Here, Wikileaks may be of real importance: partly by increasing Iranian hostility to the Gulf States – though the Iranians were already aware of the Gulf princes’ fear of them – but even more importantly by increasing Arab popular contempt for the Gulf monarchies.


      Finally, there is the wider question as to whether such leaks are a good or bad thing. After careful thought and with certain reservations, I’d have to say that on balance they are good.

      Far too much misinformation and outright lying has surrounded the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

      Overall, we in the West now live in an atmosphere of security hysteria and obsessive secrecy that would have filled our ancestors with horror.

      If the threat of more Wikileaks releases makes this less likely in future, so much the better.

      As to the effects on the tender sensibilities of Silvio Berlusconi, Vladimir Putin and Hamid Karzai of private US official opinions of them – well, how very tragic. The more these people know of how the outside world regards them the better for their countries. From this point of view, Wikileaks might almost be seen as rather a good way for a US administration to pass on candid messages that it could not possibly deliver officially.

  3. The simplest message from the massive amount of cables, IS the massive amount of cables, which reminds us of the massive amount of private citizen data that is collected routinely in this country everyday.

    If the newly empowered & massive surveillance machine can read OUR rather gossipy letters, we’ll show them what its like to read THEIRS. Except one would expect the governing elite to be more interested in their reason for all the surveillance on US – ‘lives are at stake’ – who’s lives?

    What about soldiers lives? That was the message of the Pentagon Papers Forest, the soldiers of my generation. What about this next generation of soldiers lives? Not too many cables commenting on that yet, just gossipy stuff. Makes a soldier wonder why he’s out there. Maybe that’s what impressed ‘the leaker.’ Maybe he thought we would wonder about that too.

  4. Yes – they did not turn out to have out-of-this-world, earth-shattering revelations. However, as far as the Middle East is concerned, the leaks fortified beliefs that are already shared by millions of that region’s inhabitants.

    At a point where the media in those countries are blatantly used for purposes of propaganda, slander and twisting facts, wikileaks provided us wiwth a strong antidote against those attempts.

    Look at Israeli Def Min Barrak’s offer to Palestinian president to take over Gaza after the 2009 war; the Syrian leader’s description of hamas, which his government often defends and claims to protect, as “an uninvited guest”, and the Arab leaders’ calls for a strike on Iran There are many other examples.

    At the same time, the leaks also drew the “independence” borderline for those media outlets that claim to be objective and independent. The two widely-viewed Qatari Al-Jazeera TV and Saudi-funded Al-Arabiya failed to report on the leaks in the first days, and later reported them only too selectively so as not to embarrass the sources of their income.

    The leaks, and their vast discussion and presentation on Web forums, blogs and Facebook, have shown the power of new and emerging media as a strong, true and accurate alternative to the tightly controlled state-owned middle eastern media.

    So I can conclude, that as far as the Mideast is concerned, the WikiLeaks was a long-awaited, unrestricted and welcome deluge of information to the middle east.
    Assange Prevails!

  5. Professor Cole:

    I agree that these leaks are not “the end of the world.” In 1982 the Iranians released some 54 volumes of embarrassing CIA and State cables that were stolen during the embassy takeover in 1979. Few remember them now. Regarding Wikileaks, Gates has it right.

    Regarding Amazon and “freedom of speech,” I would remind you that the First Amendment declares that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press….” Amazon is privately owned, and thus, may censor what it pleases and for any reason.

    Remember that the sword swings both ways: Amazon may also carry/publish what it pleases and for any reason (subject only to restrictions imposed by the laws of liable, defamation, invasion of privacy and the products of espionage which, as you rightly point out, do not now lay in this matter.)

    As you know, the net result is an Amazon “library” which is freer, more diverse, and which “shelves” more points of view than any public or private library in history.

  6. Thank you Prof., as usual, for a rational analysis, which is so rare on this topic. The Atlantic also has a good commentary
    link to

    But Prof. I do disagree on the relevance of WIkileak’s leaks. It is profound. Even though for specialists like you and most well-informed people there is very little new in the leaks, we should not underestimate the psychological effect it can have on the general public when someone, in such a big way, can tell that the emperor has no clothes on.

    I think WIkileaks is a reaction to a dramatically changing world order in which the gov. wants full spectrum dominance in every aspect of what happens. This change has been going on for quite sometime without any open public discussion, not to speak of a debate. In fact, the process has been gaining momentum in an “auto-catalytic” way, meaning that every partial dominance makes the next dominance even easier for the govt. If you think about it, what was unthinkable in the recent past is accepted unconditionally today (think civil liberties). If left unchecked, one day we’ll end up in a society that will have many aspects of societies described in science fictions like 1984, Matrix, Terminator and Star Wars!!

    The reference to science fiction may seem unusual but personally I believe, based on anecdotal evidence rather than conclusive proof, that (good) science fictions have a better than 50:50 chance of predicting our future – I also believe that evolution has created human beings not only to be hunters and gathers but also most of them to be sheep that obediently follow rather than be individualistic critically thinking beings.

    Therefore to me Wikileaks seems more like a much needed laxative than Ben & Jerry’s!

    • “But relatively few covered-up crimes are coming to light in these Wikileaks documents unless one is an anarchist and considers government in general to be a crime. ”

      I do not think it is necessary to consider govt. in general to be a crime …. WL is a response to how the govt is operating: we the citizens have no right to know anything about what the govt does (therefore millions of classified info) but the govt has every right to know everything we do…. What kind of a govt does it look like?

      Also one has to ask why this visceral reaction to WL? After all WK is just a conduit and not the actual entity who caused the leak. One has to wonder what they are afraid of. (1) losing the power to unilaterally deciding what the citizens can know (2) something really big in the info cache that has not yet been released.

      Either way I am worried …..

  7. Hi Juan,

    if you’re looking for a way to find wikileaks online after efforts to boot it off the net, use these IP addresses:

    Just cut and paste into your address bar (forget all the http and www stuff; just post those codes).

  8.’s Reputation

    This is another strike against, in my book (sorry).

    Remember, a few years back, when Amazon actually ERASED purchased copies of “1984” off from people’s Kindles, after a copyright dispute? Just reached out across the Internet and deleted books that people thought were their own, on their own local systems. Buyers hadn’t thought Amazon retained control over their devices and content thereon. Many have thought twice about buying e-Books, readers, and downloaded content as a result. (Okay, I have.)

    Dumping Wikileaks is another bad judgment call by Amazon. Not surprising, however. They’re a business; their goal is to make money, not waves.

  9. Dear Juan,

    I faithfully read your Informed Comment for the kinds of insight into the Middle East that I believe are essential for both academics and citizens in the US. Although we probably share similar perspectives on a wide variety of issues, I did find your commentary on the release by WikiLeaks of the State Department cables a little short-sighted, especially given what is being revealed outside of the US corporate media. However, in Latin America, in Spain, in Pakistan, in Yemen, and other places in the world, there is damning material about the malevolence of US empire. Below is my article, published on CounterPunch about the interference by the US in the Spanish legal system. PS. I wrote an earlier piece, also, about the Wikileaks release of US-Iraq military documents and their limited perspectives on the death and destruction in Iraq. I actually counterposed the material from Wikileaks with perspectives of the Iraqi blogger, Riverbend, to underscore the remaining distance from the war-time realities faced by Iraqis as a consequence of US occupation…Keep up the good work…Sincerely, Professor Francis Shor, History, Wayne State

    “It seems like we are citizens, or at least a small province, of an empire of the United States.” With this bitterly poignant and perceptive remark, Javier Couso, the brother of the Spanish cameraman killed by a US tank attack on April 8, 2003 in Baghdad, encapsulated his anger at the complicity of Spanish legal officials who aided the American government’s efforts to suppress the family’s lawsuit against three US soldiers.

    Some of these same Spanish prosecutors, including both the national court chief prosecutor, Javier Zaragoza, and attorney general, Candido Conde-Pumpido, were instrumental in impeding investigations into CIA rendition flights originating in Spain and attempts by the Spanish magistrate, Baltasar Garzon, to bring charges against Bush Administration officials linked to torture at Guantanamo. According to the recently released US State Department diplomatic cables, the continued lobbying by the US embassy and Washington politicians on all of these legal cases found willing agents within the highest ranks of the Spanish government.

    The pertinent cables have been front-page news in the Madrid daily, El Pais, one of the prominent papers to which WikiLeaks provided the formerly classified material. Unlike the New York Times, the Spanish newspaper has not felt the need to check with the government before publishing the damning documents. One of the more revealing cables comes from the former US ambassador, Eduardo Aguirre, a Cuban-American banker and Bush appointee. In this May 14, 2007 cable, Aguirre underscores the fact that the Deputy Justice Minister assured him that his government “strongly opposes a case brought against former Secretary Rumsfeld and will work to get it dismissed. The judge involved in that case has told us he has already started the process of dismissing the case.”

    In that same cable, Aguirre points to concerted efforts to get the Cuoso case dismissed. Having bragged to the Spanish media that he was Bush’s plumber, these WikiLeaks disclose what kind of wrenching interference Aguirre and other US officials waged against those seeking legal remedies for American imperial crimes. Unlike Nixon’s Plumbers who engaged in illegal break-ins and other criminal activities, Aguirre and his accomplices found the means for manipulating the Spanish legal system to protect Washington’s ways of war.

    Those ways of war included not only the murder of Jose Cuoso by the tank projectile, but also another cameraman on the hotel floor below. On that very same day of April 8, 2003, a US air strike deliberately targeted another Baghdad building where reporters from the Arab media were housed, killing in the process an Al Jazeera correspondent. Later that year, a Palestinian Reuters cameraman was killed by the US military near Abu Ghraib. And one should not forget the 2007 US helicopter lethal attack on several Iraqi civilians and Reuter employees that WikiLeaks, through the valiant whistle blowing of Pfc. Bradley Manning (incarcerated since this past summer in a military prison and facing new charges and outrageous threats), released several months ago.

    All of these actions by the US war-machine to target reporters and civilians demand full investigations. Yet, it appears to be the duty of Washington’s imperial pro-consuls to stifle any attempts by other sovereign nations to engage in legal campaigns for justice for the victims of US empire. That legal officers from these so-called sovereign nations can collude with the empire to suppress judicial proceedings is an indictment against imperial corruptions at the highest level.

    As noted by Scott Horton, an American international law and human rights attorney, in his interview with Amy Goodman on her “Democracy Now!” program of December 1, 2010: “We have US diplomats trying to dictate which prosecutors are assigned, trying to assure which judge is assigned, engaging in all sorts of conspiracies…with local officials, trying to remove the judge who’s initially assigned, actually trying to remove several different judges.”

    Beyond the manipulation of the judicial system in Spain, Washington mounted an unremitting bipartisan campaign to block the prosecution of six former Bush officials who created the legal framework for torture. According to an April 17, 2009 State Department cable originating from the US embassy in Spain, the previous day’s announcement by Attorney General Conde-Pumpido that he would refuse to sustain any criminal charge against the six was directly attributable to the US “outreach to (Spanish) officials…(about) the implications of this case.”

    It was those implications that the Obama Administration was concerned about that led to the vaunted bi-partisanship in importuning Spanish authorities to drop the case. Visits by Republican Senators Judd Gregg and Mel Martinez in the company of the US embassy’s charge d’affaires to the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs highlighted the impact that any prosecution of Bush torture legal advocates would have on bilateral relationships. Obviously, when Obama insisted that he was looking forward and not backward on these matters, he meant that he would do everything in his power as an imperial president to prevent any further besmirching of the reputation and legitimacy of the empire.

    Unfortunately, for all of the rulers and complicit agents of US empire, the release of these and other hundreds of thousands of State Department cables underlines the duplicity of American diplomacy. While the New York Times and other compliant corporate media may try to cheery-pick those cables that reinforce the perspectives of the empire, in the provinces around the world the US imperial order stands accused.

    Francis Shor is the author of Dying Empire: US Imperialism and Global Resistance. A website for the book can be found at

  10. I don’t know if you’ve seen Michael Geist’s column from today’s Toronto Star.–geist-location-matters-up-in-the-cloud

    Aspects of this incident have illustrated the importance of physical location for cloud computing. Canada and Germany have some of the best privacy laws on the planet. Canada benefited from the enlightenment of its previous, Liberal goverment. Germany’s laws are a reaction to a particularly rotten patch of bad government last century. Both juridictions stand to benefit from their legal protections for content held on cloud computers. I’m personally involved in a business that literally cannot have its servers hosted in the U.S. because of the legal implications.

  11. Good Lord!! After WWI Wilson continued America’s “Open Diplomacy” & now look where we are.

    Our govt. classifies everything to the point we haven’t a clue to what it’s doing any more. And, forget FOIA & transparency. So, we just got an early peak at cables that would have been de-classified later instead of now.

    Where is the outrage over our govt. being ’embarassed’? It treats us like common criminals (patdown & body scans are in prisons). Just read a new book that everyone needs to read. It’s a must cause it’s about Amerians (like us) who actually take a stand against tyranny/martial law. Don’t have a lot of holiday money this yr. so I’m getting it for others cause it gets the word out. I recommend it.

    It’s the governments responsibility to keep state secrets & the journalist to report the news. So, who is the real criminal here? Great article. Thanks.

  12. Well stated as usual, Mr. Cole, however, I take exception when you dismiss the leak by saying ‘relatively few covered up crimes are coming to light.’ I know you don’t mean it this way, but it diminishes what crimes have been found by Wikileaks –specifically, the charge that the US is actively interfering with the Spanish legal system to provide rear-guard cover for Bush administration War Crimes.

    This is exactly the kind of information US citizens need to know, because it puts the Lie to the statement that this is all being done for ‘us.’ Really? No.

    Also, I would look at proportionality, and the reality of information systems; look at the vast amount of domestic spy data that has been taken from us citizens, most of it as inconsequential as the Wikileaks cables, yet they took (and continue to take) as much as they can.

    Wikileaks is sauce for the gander.

  13. “The State Department seems to be trying to scare young people in international relations fields off from reposting wikileaks cables at their Facebook pages, warning them it could harm their future job prospects with the government.”

    Excuse the paranoia, but doesn’t this imply that the Government has the means to obtain or retain historical records on Facebook entries by individuals? EG Mr Smith puts some Cable links on his Facebook page, keeps them there for a few months, then deletes them. Five years later he applies for a State Dept job and is turned down because of the Cable links. For this to happen Big Brother must really be Infinite Brother (aka NSA). But that’s just paranoia talking, maybe there will simply be a place on the application form to list Wikileaks Cable links placed by the applicant on his/her Facebook.

  14. Good post Juan. My own theory is that Chinese intelligence is behind all of this… just to see how much we like some of our own medicine… a “(fill in the color) revolution” for the USA.

  15. Since denial of service attacks are illegal in the US. And they are, to boot, a form of thuggery and bullying. Isn’t it surprising that the United States Cyber Command, which is supposed to protect the US from cyberattacks, have shown no interest of any kind in stopping the cyberattacks against WikiLeaks? Where do these attacks come from? It doesn’t seem to be a question that the Obama government por anyone else is terribly interested in finding out.

    Of course, if the attacks were carried out by the United States Cyber Command and its allies on orders from the Obama government, then the silence is a little bit more understandable.

    • Here we are, 15-20 posts into this topic, when someone finally mentions the elephant in the room. It might have been taken as understood who is behind the attacks on WLs, but I’ve heard commentators on NPR and elsewhere studiously avoiding the subject of active US government measures against Wikileaks….Indeed, reporters are strenuously contriving to wonder Just Who MIGHT Be Behind the DOS attacks.

      What’s at stake here runs far deeper than the fate of wiki/Assange: Success in this suppression, and confidence gained in the tools used, will encourage more such actions. What that means for individuals is not good.

      Along these lines, Assange may actually be a world class woman-abuser, but nobody seems to wonder that for these allegations to emerge when they did was a bit timely. It’s a brag point at Langley about how they pressured Stockholm into denying one of their disgruntled employees political asylum back in the 1980’s. People and governments give to get, and when it comes to trashing or otherwise persecuting some individual troublemaker who otherwise has no special jack, it isn’t as though it would’ve been a tough call for Sweden to contrive a case against Assange (again, aside from whether it had any merit). To say the US couldn’t be behind that is like saying an intelligence agency would never resort to blackmail, or torture.

      • Those allegations may be a bit more than just timely —
        Assange’s “Sex By Surprise” Accuser Worked With US-Funded, CIA-Tied Anti-Castro Group
        link to

        heck out ‘coincidental’ facts such as the family who controls Swedish media×9697879

        Personally, I am increasingly awed by Assange’s massive courage and increasingly grateful for whatever facts, tidbits, gossip, reveleations and insights may come of his actions because I am sick, sick, sick to death of my government’s lies and secrets. The Truth is a balm for the Soul. Lies are toxic to all. And Secrets ensure that any hidden sickness — and pretty much everything secret is sick — is protected and can continue.

        Long live Assange!

  16. What Amazon did, of course, is not TECHNICALLY a breech of the freedom of speech amendment to the constitution, however it does highlight a worrying pattern; the trend of the government working hard to find ways to circumvent the constitution.

    People must keep in mind that Amazon isn’t really free to do whatever it wants, if it hadn’t booted Wikileaks the government could have made damn sure Amazon was punished through its complex machinery of regulations and fines.
    This is the privatization of censorship; if a company doesn’t play ball the government has a myriad of ways to punish.

    This does raise a great point about cloud computing – how safe can your documents be if one call from Joe Lieberman to the cloud’s host can have your booted off immediately?

  17. The danger to democracy from knowing too little far outweighs any putative disadvantages accruing from knowing too much. Translation: the public has a right to know EVERYTHING.

    In America, citizens can drive high-powered motor vehicles and own lethal weaponry of every imaginable type — both personal freedoms which result in tens of thousands of fatalities in America every year. America tolerates this annual, self-inflicted carnage because Americans supposedly value freedom to harm themselves more than they desire absolute safety from fellow-citizen maniacs. So Americans can certainly tolerate knowing everything that their corrupt and incompetent government does in their name, despite the occasional — if any — “harm” that might come from realizing what bureaucratic fools and charlatans we have robbing and bullying us on a daily basis.

    In any event, since our deranged and out-of-control “government” insists on reading our mail and collecting information on us in violation of our Fourth Amendment “guarantees” against “unreasonable search and seizure,” etc., then we citizens certainly have the right to collect information on — and read the mail of — our government. The government supposedly works for us, not we for it. Way past time to get that proper relationship straightened back out again.

    Given the choice between believing Deputy Dubya Bush and Backboneless O-Bomber on the one hand, and believing Julian Assange on the other, I’ll go with Assange. Truth generates Credibility and Lies beget Disbelief. If the American government cannot operate in the light of truth, then it has no credibility and needs to go away and stop oppressing us with its Manufactured Mendacity and Managed Mystification. The Warfare Welfare and Make-work Militarism need to cease as well.

    America, as an experiment in democratic self-government, now teeters precariously on the brink of abject failure — precisely because the public not only doesn’t know what it should, but evinces little desire to know anything of substance in any event. I applaud Wikileaks and will support that organization in any way that I can, but crony-corporate crypto-fascism has become so entrenched in American life — thanks to the whimpering implosion of the Democratic Party as any sort of advocate for poor and working-class Americans — that I don’t see where even a dozen Wikileaks could tip the scale back towards real democracy. It doesn’t seem all that clear to me that a majority of Americans even want democracy anyway. Too much trouble and time away from the TV.

  18. Amidst the irrational screaming and posturing from supposedly mature and responsible government leaders, what’s particularly not clear is just what the leaks have done to harm anybody or anything other than disclosing criminal behavior by the US plutocracy. What about some specifics instead of the ranting and raving? Also, I submit the importance of the leaks is more significant than a bored comparison with eating ice cream. I’m somewhat suprised at this easy-going dismissal of what is very serious on so many levels, and which the wikileaks disclosures have catalyzed into the light of the open day.

    One example is enough to indicate the last point–the maneuverings of US “diplomats”
    with the Spanish government to interfere with Spain’s judicial interest in the ElMasri mistaken ID case, in which the wrong man was apprehended, beaten repeatedly and drugged, then for a time considered too dangerous to be freed because he “knew too muuch”; the murder of a cameraman journalist in Baghdad with the attack on the Hotel Palestine; and interference with Judge Baltazar Garzon’s intention to investigate torture under Bush and Cheney at Guantanamo. US personnel engaged in a variety of peculiar tactics, including trying to influence who should be justices over what, leading to a recent uproar in Spain, nicely encapsulated by the brother of the slain cameraman who asked whether Spain was still a sovereign country or had become yet another vassal state of the current ruling elite in America.
    link to

    Since journalism in America has largely become coordinated with elite American interests, how might we have found out the sinister nature of recent activities in Spain and elsewhere if not by this wikileaks source? Why trivialize the significance of this development?

  19. “If we advert to the nature of republican government, we shall find that the censorial power is in the people over the government, and not in the government over the people.” — James Madison, Speech in Congress on ‘Self-Created Societies,’ November 27, 1794.

    It is evidently our job (and right) to exercise surveillance over the government and not the other way around.

  20. You and Gary Sick, whom you mentioned in this post, are both doing a fabulous job of putting the Wikileaks in perspective. Professor Sick got it right in his blog post a few days ago when he said Wikileaks would be a good thing for the U.S. if it promoted a more thoughtful discussion about Iran policy. All of us who are concerned about the ongoing mismanagement of this issue and the threat of a nuclear war (by our side, obviously, in the short term at least, since the other side is not known to have nukes) should focus on promoting such a dialogue.

    If one made a list of all the global actors who benefit from the current situation, the list would be very short. It would include bin Laden and Ahmadinejad and Netanyahu. It would certainly exclude the people of the U.S., Israel, and Iran, however. If money could solve the U.S.-Iran dispute, I would propose a new Manhattan Project, but unfortunately it is not that simple. We are actually going to have to open our minds to reality in order to reach this goal; it is not just rocket science.

    My thanks to you, Gary Sick, the Wikileaks folks, and others who are trying to get us there. It is too bad that Obama can’t face up to the need for openness in foreign policy, given the track record of how things have been handled behind closed doors.

  21. “I suppose that as a contemporary historian, I feel about Wikileaks the way I feel about Ben & Jerry’s ice cream as a perpetual dieter. I wish they wouldn’t make it, but when I have a bowl, I have to say I really enjoy it.”

    If the MSM did their job there would be no need for Wikileaks. Wikileaks is focused on suppressed information, injustice and corruption. If Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow etc would spend less time on what Sarah Palin said they might have more time for much more critical news. Until then Kudos to Julian Assange, Bradley Manning etc

  22. Hi,
    for some little while now I’ve wondered if you’ve gone a little Rocky Horror Show & taken ” a step to the right” ??? Anyway, with that in mind I shouldn’t be too surprised that you ‘disapprove’ of the Wikileaks (tsk tsk ), and I wouldn’t have bothered posting except that I think you are just sooooooooo wrong in your analysis and trite dismissal ….”I feel about Wikileaks the way I feel about Ben & Jerry’s ice cream as a perpetual dieter. I wish they wouldn’t make it, but when I have a bowl, I have to say I really enjoy it.”
    – its just about free speech isn’t it , you don’t think its illegal ( yet) ? So do you really think ..”I feel about free speech the way I feel about Ben & Jerry’s ice cream as a perpetual dieter. I wish they wouldn’t make it, but when I have a bowl, I have to say I really enjoy it.”????

    I think what Wikileaks has done is open a window on the lies and connivance’s behind the crimes – what we are seeing in response is governments deciding to slam that shut again in a way that will make the search for truth and accountability – an honest reckoning of the past and map for our future impossible – scary and even illegal.
    I would have supposed that as a contemporary historian you would particularly have felt a strong need to protect against closed government , against making knowing a crime.

    • Obviously you were talking to Kathleen, not me, but I just wanted to commend you for your defense of freedom of speech. The reason for the White House’s irritation with Wikileaks seems clear enough – more concern about peope seeing their dirty linen than about the fact that it is dirty. “Face” is of course of preeminent important to us Westerners, after all!

      As you clearly recognize, that is no way to run a democracy.

  23. Hi,

    I would like to disagree with you. This document dump stands as a fitting memorial to the late Chalmers Johnson. But I recognize it comes at a high cost. Diplomats will find it harder to do their work because these communication channels will be closed off and a new communications system will be designed and built.

    On the other hand I hope that someone with a higher security clearance will further the leaking. In my view there is no way that the real important stuff is in this dump. Most of us realize the first tier communication is done verbally without records, but the second tier still remains. It will be interesting to see what other more important stuff lies out there.

    While the press will propagandize this information relentlessly it is still important that Americans understand what is being done in their name with their tax dollars to forward the interests of the national oligarchy. It is true that there’s not much sensational in there, but an empire is run one day at a time, today through boring emails. Many emails. Beneath our facade of democracy, our lifestyle demands we live a series of lies that are exposed here for all to see in their brutal honesty.

    So far we haven’t seen many of the cables. What we have seen has caused embarassment int the Middle East and riots in Great Britain. Why are Middle Eastern governments embarassed? Could it be that these cables when taken together will reaffirm that places like Pakistan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia are client states doing the bidding of their American corporate, government masters. I suspect people like Hillary Clinton and Obama don’t want an honest debate about the fundamental causes of Middle Eastern terrorism. In addition they don’t want an honest discussion about the “War on Terra”‘s costs in terms of money, safe travel, civil rights, and our true image abroad. The American war/diplomatic/foreign policy bureaucracy certainly dosn’t want this open debate.

    Remember, somewhere there probably is a CIA analyst who has seen the effects of his work in the last ten years. He has accss to further information and it’s ugly. He doesn’t want to go to jail and he’s watching this WikiLeaks episode with great interest. He and the CIA have been sh*t on and scapegoated for years. He is waiting to see how this plays out.

    For Jullian Assange. From an Aussie to another job well done. After reasding your ex-lawyer’s account of your story I suspect the Swedish rape charges are fake. Go to forthe details. Yeah, the chicks was bragging they “bagged” you 24 hours after the “rape” on facebook. Look for the article –> link to . I know it’s the lawyers story but some of his facts should be able to be verified.

    Man I wish I had 1/10th his cajones But then again I want a more “regular” life. Let justice prevail.

  24. But relatively few covered-up crimes are coming to light in these Wikileaks documents unless one is an anarchist and considers government in general to be a crime.

    Ecuador is quite willing to offer Julian Assange asylum.

    Apparently, they saw something in SOUTHCOM’s cables they needed to know.

    Let’s get something straight…

    I AM an Anarchist.

    I DO NOT consider “government in general to be a crime.”

    I DO HOWEVER consider the American government to be criminal… for quite a few decades now, if not since inception, for some seriously valid reasons if we judge our government’s operations by it’s own laws.

    I ALSO THINK The Economist called it EXACTLY right.

    “I think we all understand that the work of even the most decent governments is made more difficult when they cannot be sure their communications will be read by those for whom they were not intended. That said, there is no reason to assume that the United States government is always up to good.

    To get at the value of WikiLeaks, I think it’s important to distinguish between the government—the temporary, elected authors of national policy—and the state—the permanent bureaucratic and military apparatus superficially but not fully controlled by the reigning government.” In Full

    What we are seeing here is the international public ‘outing’ of the American Shadow Government (no quotes intentional), and I for one, applaud that.

  25. Frankly, while not ALL governments are “criminal” per se, it would indeed appear that ALL governments are criminal enterprises in one form or fashion.

    Second, to criticize the volumne of leaks as “gratuitious” is off the mark. They do indeed show criminal behavior: unless lying to Congress or lying to the public on the public record is not a crime, unless bribing foreign governments,– the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act–, applies to only private entities and not the government.

    One thing that’s not only clear but significant is that destroying the myth of “American Exceptionalism” (which I consider the root and branch of racism and xeneophobia and US hypocrisy) is a huge step in reducing the threats to world peace.

    The more that US citizens and citizens of the world see that there is no bigger hypocrite on the planet than the United States the more it will do to undermine the phony, false moral righteous the rest of the world has to put up with.

  26. yes some of us are more equal than others, especially when it comes to knowing what our Government does in our name. with endless wars on the “others” and a Corporate Government owned by the Rich, i do understand why “they” don’t want us to know what goes on.

    keeping us in the dark and continually fed on BS really does work. Look at America today for all the proof. Only a few bother anyway, so what does the Government have to fear from us knowing anyway?

    and if i wanted to really be perverse, i would say it sure looks like Osama was just part of the plan. But what does truth matter now, anyway. Unless our Government approves, i mean.

  27. Furthermore… The other option is more, umn, Stalin-esque, with bureaucrats in mass numbers being taken out and shot.

    I jest… but let me expound…

    There a reason why Stalin said “For some, four walls are three to many”

    When the Czarist government fell, there was scant little time, and no history of demoratic decison making, and IF the early Russian leaders took too long changing their previously feudal (?) system, the Czarist apparatchik would sabotage every thing they did… eventually destroying the young government and turning back the hands of time.

    I’ve seen a recent analysis of why Center-Left governments are falling apart around the world…

    The Democratic Party Debacle and the Demise of the Left-Center Left
    link to

    Because they inherited booby-trapped… scratch that for the sake of argument… inherently flawed political and economic systems, and never bothered changing them.

    We have more time than the Bolshevieks, and a long history of somewhat democratic tradition… but the American Shadow Government STILL needs to go. NOW!

  28. In the present moment, the reactions to the leaks are more noteworthy than the leaks themselves. The abrogation of our ideals of freedom and fairness are so commonplace — with the PATRIOT act, Guantanamo, etc., that the conversation has shifted. When Lieberman makes a public statement against Amazon, and Amazon pulls terms of service, we aren’t seeing a just and deliberate process clearly, irrespective of the technicalities. Rather, it looks like application of power without legislation or adjudication. That doesn’t necessarily make it “illegal” — though it could well be illegal — but don’t forget that we in America are running around toppling regimes in Asia in the name of democracy.

  29. “I should add that I disapprove of what Wikileaks is doing in releasing hundreds of thousands of pages of US government documents. I think leaking can be an ethically heroic act if one is leaking a covered-up crime. ”

    Yeah, the cables do demonstrate covered up and ongoing crimes. Every day of occupation of Afghanistan is a crime. Government documents should not be private other than health information and identification information. I dont think names of people should be secret either. Government snitches (informers)don’t deserve privacy other than before or during a trial. Of course that is not what we are talking about in this case at all. Damn the secret government. They are physically molesting us, taking nude pictures and shooting us up with radiation just to be able to travel. Under what auspices do they deserve secrecy?

    Julian Assange is a hero for his acts. I don’t buy that this is a pressure release undercover operation by US intelligence services, not that I totally discount it either.

  30. For my part, the most noteworthy part of all of the Wikileaks controversies has been the genuinely single minded determination by the media and political classes to attack, discredit and (if possible) destroy Wikileaks instead of going after the perpetrators of the crimes and atrocities which have been exposed. Let alone those who conspired to conceal those crimes.

    Some may disregard the importance of Wikileaks because it doesn’t expose enough crimes, or put out enough information that an informed reader wouldn’t have put together for themselves; but for my part their greatest and most important function has been to demonstrate clearly how much continuity there is between administrations, and how little difference their is between political actors on either side of the mainshow division.

    It makes it clear that for any change to occur it will require that people force the changes. In their own words and with their own images the government has whispered that they can do whatever they want to and we can’t stop them because we limit our participation in politics to water cooler chatter and intermittent voting duties.

    If it were just us getting what we deserved I’d have shrugged my shoulders a long time ago, said “what’re you going to do?” and gone back to my X-Box; but the consequences of the governments’ lack of transparency and avoidance of responsibility impacts too many people over too much landmass to just give up and pretend not to notice.

    • In all my moralizing I forgot to point out that the real question that the U.S. government should be asking itself isn’t “how can we stop the leaks?”

      The more important question is “Why are so many of our employees driven to leak?”

      Answer that question, and you’ll also have a good idea why there are so many third worlders willing to die to take a few of us with them.

  31. I’m still trying to work out whether I’m comfortable with such a large “infodump”, but part of the WikiLeaks justification is that, if documents are released in any other way, then one only gets what some journalist considers to be important. For example, a lot of the stuff that appears to be simple gossip is quite informative (though maybe not terribly new).

    The harsh criticism of Turkey appears mostly in cables from 2004 and 2009, the two periods when Turkey sharply disagreed with some US policies. Or the description of German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, as “incompetent, vain and critical of America” and as someone whose “command of complex foreign and security policy issues still requires deepening” probably has something to do with the fact that he is known not to be terribly enthusiastic about the Afghanistan war. Or the nasty comments about Spanish magistrate Baltasar Garzón, just because the poor man is interested in investigating human rights abuses.

    The way in which newspapers report these comments make them look frivolous, but there are interesting patterns. I came up with a list of almost 70 interesting unreported or underreported revelations from the first 600 cables, so there probably is quite a lot of importance in there.

    At the moment I’m reading the Lebanese ones:
    *the UN seeming to tacitly back a plan whereby Israel would stop flights over Lebanon if the US could provide the same intelligence flights;
    *US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman thinking that UN investigators employed interrogation techniques on detained suspects which may have violated international legal norms;
    *the Lebanese government giving the US a list to pass to the UN containing names of investigators they wanted on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

    Fascinating, addictive.

  32. “Amazon wrote:
    ‘ for example, our terms of service state that “you represent and warrant that you own or otherwise control all of the rights to the content… that use of the content you supply does not violate this policy and will not cause injury to any person or entity.” It’s clear that WikiLeaks doesn’t own or otherwise control all the rights to this classified content.’ ”
    Whatever the situation with copyrights and security classifications, Wiki surely doesn’t own or otherwise control all the rights to this material.
    What concerns me most about these leaks is not copyright or classification, but the ability of foreign diplomats and government officials, and even American diplomats, to have confidential conversations with the US government. For instance, Prof. Cole, suppose the foreign minister of an allied country, or an American ambassador, wanted to communicate to the Secretary of State that said ally or ambassador objected to the invasion of Iraq or the level of American support for Israeli activities in the occupied territories; wanted to influence American policies and decisions but didn’t want to embarrass the US by stating the objections publicly. Anybody wanting to make such confidential communication will now think twice about it, so we may only hear “sanitized” opinions and advice rather than “the whole truth.” That is a big negative as far as I’m concerned.

  33. ditto Auntie Imperial, except I’m not an anarchist. Good Economist link.

  34. Daniel Ellsberg is openly calling on Amazon employees to leak documentation of the company’s communications with Holy Joe Lieberman. If there’s any karma in the universe, ol’ Droopy Dog will be howling even more loudly in impotent rage before this is over.

    The dotted number IP addresses of Wikileaks’ servers, which are still accessible despite the domain names being shut down by ICANN, are being blogged and Tweeted across the Internet in an act of defiance comparable to the DeCSS uprising several years ago.

    One of the cofounders of The Pirate Bay has an open-source domain name system in the works to compete with ICANN.

    And I’ve also seen proposals to distribute documents via numerous torrent sites at once, so they’d have to shut down the entire Internet to stop it.

    The more the dinosaurs thrash around, the faster they sink themselves into the quicksand.

    This is Armageddon in the networks vs. hierarchies war, and we’ll have their bleeding heads on our battlements.

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