Tag: wikileaks


In response to the release of Guantanamo Bay detainee files,  Nadim Kobeissi tweeted

Mohammed Nasim: detained in Guantanamo because “his name sounded like the name of a Taliban leader.” Such standards.

I scratched around, and here’s what he was talking about:

In Feb 2003, Mohammed Nasim was taken into custody in Afghanistan by the United States military. Two years later, he was deemed to have been arrested in error, and two months later, he was released. From Andy Worthington’s book:

Mohammed Nasim, like Mullah Jalil, was one of the 38 prisoners cleared for release after the CSRTs. Captured in February 2003, he described himself as “a poor man, very disabled: I am a poor farmer with very small kids,” and denied the allegations against him, which centered on claims that he had commanded 25 Taliban fighters for a military commander in Kabul. “Since I knew my left and right hands,” he said, “I never went out of my village.”

Nasim had no idea why he was caught, as he had no obvious enemies, but wondered if it was because his name had been confused with someone else’s. He also explained that, although the Pentagon had listed his date of birth as 1962, he was at least 55 years old, and he was one of numerous prisoners whose requests for outside witnesses to corroborate his story (his uncle and his brother) was turned down because the State Department had not received a reply to his request from the Afghan government within the very short time frame (just two weeks) that was allowed for responses.

His Wikileaked file indicates that this is exactly why he was picked up: his name was thought to be similar to someone else they thought might be someone they might want to arrest. Similar, that is, if “Mohammed” and “Mullah” are similar.

Detainee was apprehended after a name similar to his was heard on a radio intercept thought to be originating from a group of individuals acting as sentries, reporting US troop movements to the Taliban. It has been assessed that detainee is not the same individual mentioned in the intercept. He is not associated with the Taliban and/or Al-Qaida.
–Detainee was captured because he had the same name as one heard on an intercepted radio communication regarding troop movement.
–Detainee shares the same last name of a former Taliban leader.
–According to further reporting and analysis, the name that was intercepted was “Mullah Nasim.” It was assumed by the capturing troops that “Mullah Nassim” and detainee were one and the same. While the name mentioned in the radio transmission is similar to the detainee’s, it is not the same. (Analyst note: After careful review of detainee’s files and national-level databases, there has been no documentation discovered indicating that this individual is now or ever has been addressed by anyone as “Mullah” or “Mullah Nasim.”)

The story was more or less known — his sworn statement was already available — but as far as I can tell, the actual details of his mis-arrest were not officially admitted or confirmed until now. By the way, there were three Mohammed Nasim’s in Guantanamo and I found twenty on twitter, just with that spelling.

A bit more from the BBC:

At least 150 people were revealed to be innocent Afghans or Pakistanis – including drivers, farmers and chefs – rounded up during intelligence gathering operations in the aftermath of 9/11.

The detainees were then held for years owing to mistaken identity or because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, the memos say. In many cases, US commanders concluded there was “no reason recorded for transfer”.

  • Sami al-Hajj, a Sudanese cameraman for al-Jazeera, was held for six years, partly so he could be questioned about the Arabic news network
  • Abdul Badr Mannan, an author, was considered high risk, but his files states US officials may have been “misled” by the Pakistani security services
  • Mukhibullo Abdukarimovich Umarov, a Tajik man, was arrested in Karachi in 2002 and spent almost two years at Guantanamo before being released – his assessment says the reasons for detaining him were “undetermined”
  • Haji Faiz Mohammed was arrested in Afghanistan aged 70 and is described as having senile dementia – his file states there is “no reason on record” for being transferred
  • Naqib Ullah, aged about 14 when he was arrested, spent a year in Guantanamo but his file states he had been kidnapped by the Taliban and presented no threat to the US.

From Amy Davidson, for the New Yorker:

Here are some of the reasons we’ve held people at Guantánamo, according to files obtained by WikiLeaks and, then, by severalnewsorganizations:

  • A sharecropper because he was familiar with mountain passes;
  • an Afghan “because of his general knowledge of activities in the areas of Khost and Kabul based as a result of his frequent travels through the region as a taxi driver”;
  • an Uzbek because he could talk about his country’s intelligence service;
  • a Bahraini about his country’s royal family (both of those nations are American allies);
  • an eighty-nine year old man, who was suffering from dementia, to explain documents that he said were his son’s;
  • an imam, to speculate on what worshippers at his mosque were up to;
  • a cameraman for Al Jazeera, to detail its operations;
  • a British man, who had been a captive of the Taliban, because “he was expected to have knowledge of Taliban treatment of prisoners and interrogation tactics”;
  • Taliban conscripts, so they could explain Taliban conscription techniques;
  • a fourteen-year-old named Naqib Ullah, described in his file as a “kidnap victim,” who might know about the Taliban men who kidnapped him. (Ullah spent a year in the prison.)

Our reasons, in short, do not always really involve a belief that a prisoner is dangerous to us or has committed some crime; sometimes (and this is more debased) we mostly think we might find him useful…Here are other signs, according to the files, that a prisoner is dangerous: attitude toward the Star Spangled Banner; having been caught wearing a Casio F91W watch (a common model); perceived support for fellow inmates who committed suicide (there have been five).And more: according to the Guardian, the “GTMO matrix of threat indicators for enemy combatants,” which runs to seventeen pages, also lists having a connection to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or I.S.I.; given how much money we’ve given Pakistan to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda, that detail alone is enough to make one’s head spin, if the Casio didn’t do it already…Is a Casio watch better than no reason at all? “It is undetermined as to why the detainee was transferred to GTMO,” the base commander wrote in a report on one of “three hapless Tajiks,” as the Guardian described them, who had been shipped there after being rounded up with others—not on what supporters of Guantánamo like to call the battlefield, but in the library at the University of Karachi, in Pakistan. They were held for two years.

And Al Jazeera:

Ignorance and the Moral Fabric of the American State

Last November, Hillary Clinton responded to WikiLeaks’ release of state department diplomatic cables by complaining that “disclosures like these tear at the fabric of the proper function of responsible government.”

I think it’s an illuminating choice of metaphor. After all, what does it tell us about the “proper” function of a “responsible” government that its “fabric” must be untorn, unsullied, undisclosed? Are we being asked to understand world events through the spectacle of a woman caught with her pants down, her drawers rummaged through, her “state” impugned? That the virtue which it has been her responsibility to manage properly has been torn? If I have made my meaning clear, then so has she: patriotic propriety is a thing to be protected and hidden from sight, a thing which, like virginity or modesty, only exists to the extent that it is hidden.

I’m not saying the reference is direct, of course. It isn’t, but that’s not how this kind of rhetoric works. Instead, it only implies the interpretive context that is required to complete it. If you’d reason out what kind of “fabric” protects propriety, responsibility, and whose “tear[ing]” is of great concern to us all, you might realize that virginity or modesty are the same sort of ideological fabric: both represent a wholeness that is derived from being hidden away, an obscurity that is destroyed if it is pierced. But that’s only if you make the metaphor explicit, and such metaphors work best by implication. You don’t need to think about all that to intuit how Clinton is making us feel what it is that makes “government” proper: she is arguing — implicitly but unmistakably — that it must be hidden to function properly, that its wholeness is to be found in its obscurity, its truth to be implied, but never explicitly stated.

Contrast Clinton’s “fabric” with the one that Alexander Hamilton closed Federalist 22 by invoking:

The fabric of American empire ought to rest on the solid basis of THE CONSENT OF THE PEOPLE. The streams of national power ought to flow immediately from that pure, original fountain of all legitimate authority.

If you want to gender the meaning of Hamilton’s pure, flowing streams of power, you’re welcome to  do so. But I’m more interested in how, even though they’re using the same word to describe proper and legitimate governmental power, the difference in the underlying metaphors illuminates the different political philosophies which that vocabulary is expressing. Notice, for example, that Hamilton is arguing that the people’s consent is the thing on which the nation’s fabric will rest. When’s the last time you heard someone using “fabric” as a thing that had a foundation?

The 18th century, that’s when. He’s using a metaphor of construction because “fabric,” to him, meant only some kind of contrivance “fabricated” from different substances. And while the term was slowly coming to include fabricated textiles, it was still, by far, most commonly used to mean buildings or other substantially constructed objects.[1] As the 19th century would wear on, the industrializing textile industry appropriated the word to describe, more particularly, the manner in which threads and yarns were being contrived into a variety of industrial textile products (forming one of the foundations, incidentally, of British economic power, and the seed of the first American Republic’s dissolution). But until then, Hamilton’s metaphor for governance indicated the kind of sturdy, architectural edifice that he believed would be necessary to hold the Republican state up, to keep it steady as the gravity of time’s corruption dragged it down.

It is in this regard that the philosophical world of the founders — the world into which their metaphors nestle — is most obviously different from that of Clinton’s, or her cohort, Republican and Democrat alike. For the political class who sought to build an enduring national fabric, the problem was the inevitability of corruption: the particular Whig science of politics most in favor among the first American technocrats began and ended with the assumption that all nations would have their origin in innocent vigor and virtue, and the fate of the Roman republic — its descent into tyranny — was the virtually inevitable sequel. They each had their own particular plans and stratagems for avoiding or prolonging this fate, of course; Jefferson was a big believer in the idea that the “open” land to the West would drain off and cleans the nation of its corruptions, while Hamilton was more of a “strong man keeping order” kind of guy. But they all believed that the problem was, essentially, the problem of Time: all things will eventually rot and turn to shit. They lived sort of close to the soil that way.

The utopianism of the American experiment, then, was an effort to build something that would last, if not forever, then as long as it could stave off corruption. Those were the key terms. And while the Federalist papers (and the entire constitutional convention) is a fascinating record of all sorts of crackpots throwing out crackpot ideas about how to make that happen, one of the things they all more or less took for granted was the idea that in building a nation, you were doing something like building a building: it had to be both sturdy enough to last and well-formed enough to be worth surviving. That’s why, for example, at a time when Washington, DC was still little more than an ambitious grid of roads crisscrossing a swamp without buildings, Jefferson was holding an architectural competition to determine who could best translate classical architecture into a representation of the American spirit.

an early draft

In particular, a building could stand as a representation of the American fabric because it stood so tall: that dome was to rise high above the Potomac — higher than everything else, by law — so you could always see it, always be aware of the imperial power that brought peace to the land. And in the importance of open sight lines, the two main political tendencies more or less concurred: while the Jeffersonian wing tended to think the pre-eminent danger was in the tyranny of a central executive — to be combated by the people watching over the state — the Hamiltonian wing tended to fear the “tyranny of the majority” and looked for ways for the state to supervise and regulate public society. But they all, in principle, agreed on the building — and on phrases like “consent of the governed” — because it promised a solution to all of their problems, even as they differently defined them. It was a kind of architectural contract signed between governed and governed, soaring high above the muck of Washington swampland, for all to see.

The Panopticon

The transparent clarity of the democratic process, the broad and wide avenues of public space, the free expression of dissent, and the organic elision between an “open” frontier and American democracy; these are all old, old narratives. It’s out of this kind of thinking that you get projects like the panopticon, the state that rules through the fact that you know you’re under surveillance. But such a sense of the state — for good or for ill — is still utterly foreign to the kind of mindset we see in a Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, with their “proper function of responsible government” being something you need to just trust us on this one, okay? While the founders were elitists — and their ease with words like “empire” gives you a sense of the kind of power they were well aware of wanting to wield — they wanted you to know that power was watching over you. They had no doubt that building a gigantic Parthenon-esque domed skyscraper was an attempt to awe and control the backcountry hicks they were trying to govern, for whom they had so much contempt and of whom they had so much fear. But the endpoint was always consent, always the idea that you governed well when the people knew what you were doing and were willing to agree. Hegemony meant you didn’t have to use force because the people found it easier to just follow the rules. And in those days, you called it what it was; an empire was an empire. And you told everyone that it was a good thing.

The weird thing about this surveillance state, then, is that you’re not supposed to know (or allow yourself to know) that you’re being watched. For example, let’s look at a fuller version of that Clinton quote:

The work of our diplomats doesn’t just benefit Americans, but also billions of others around the globe. In addition to endangering particular individuals, disclosures like these tear at the fabric of the proper function of responsible government.

People of good faith understand the need for sensitive diplomatic communications, both to protect the national interest and the global common interest. Every country, including the United States, must be able to have candid conversations about the people and nations with whom they deal. And every country, including the United States, must be able to have honest, private dialogue with other countries about issues of common concern. I know that diplomats around the world share this view – but this is not unique to diplomacy. In almost every profession – whether it’s law or journalism, finance or medicine or academia or running a small business – people rely on confidential communications to do their jobs. We count on the space of trust that confidentiality provides. When someone breaches that trust, we are all worse off for it. And so despite some of the rhetoric we’ve heard these past few days, confidential communications do not run counter to the public interest. They are fundamental to our ability to serve the public interest.

The important lines of communication are those between one state and another state, the professionals that keep you and “the global common interest” safe. You can trust them because they are professionals, you see, by which we mean, they are the people you rely upon because they see better than you. Precisely because they know better than you, you should have the “good faith” to keep your eyes shut and try to know as little as possible. See?

Marvel with me, please, at the marvelous construction of a phrase like “[p]eople of good faith understand.” The first thing to note is that what she wants is “faith” in the most thoroughly dogmatic sense: Have faith, she is saying; believe me, not your lying eyes. The second is that she has nested that concept into a phrase — “people of good faith” — which has a very different set of connotations: a “person of bad faith” would be a person who acts in untrustworthy ways, a person who cannot be trusted to do as they say. It’s essentially a commercial standard, the basis on which a person can be trusted to do business; as the Uniform Commercial Code defines it, “good faith” is “honesty in fact and the observance of reasonable commercial standards of fair dealing.” So, on the one hand, she is urging us to have faith that she is of good faith; on the other, she is making our status as “people of good faith” dependent on our faith that this is what she is. Whether she is of good faith — and how we would know — is an unarguable proposition, therefore, because she has not argued it; it is unthinkable because it has remained unthought. Instead, the rhetoric boils down to: you know who doesn’t trust the government? Untrustworthy people.

And that’s just the subject of the sentence. While everything flows from this conflation, she goes on to make an epistemology out of this model subject, a form of knowledge that is particular to this very peculiar trusted-because-trusting citizen. What this person understands, she argues, is that “sensitive diplomatic communications” both protect “the national interest” but also “the global common interest.” And not only are all of our interests the same, but the kind of sensing which makes those communications “sensitive” is actually, perversely, our insensibility to their existence. If we know what they‘re doing, they’ll cease to be able to do it. We, the people, will be sensitive when we are sensibly senseless; we will prove our good faith by assuming theirs.  Indeed, by adopting the language of contract and commerce, she gives us a citizen’s contract that we buy into not by knowingly consenting, but precisely by not knowing. You show your bona fides by signing a blank check.

This is, to put it simply, a very different form of power than even the one the founders were envisioning, a different way of seeing like a state. What the founders tended to fear the most — after they had won a sort of disorganized independence from Britain — was the uncaptured backcountry people, the Indians and the settlers that were becoming all Indianish and uncontrollable and disconnected from the market. The Appalachian mountains represented a wildness that haunted their dreams, because while they could survey and map it, the people there didn’t always see the benefit of being part of an national system, didn‘t want to be taxed, didn‘t feel like taking part. And this was the threat pointed straight at the heart of their grandiose vision, both the insurrections that made constituting a more secure union necessary and the anti-constitutional wildness that threatened it afterwards (especially once immigration really got going). How do you get those people to buy in? Eventually, they did it through the market, albeit not in the way they intended. And as roads and canals brought all the deep country hicks into the orbit of Eastern capital, a lot of that early empire talk kind of died down; getting people in the hinterlands to feel like being Americans required making them feel like they were free. But at the start of it, the principles that motivated the theory of American state-craft were enlightenment enough to really just put power front and center and top, to build a giant statue of liberty and make people look at it when they sailed by. If the problem was that citizens didn’t want to be subject to power, the answer was consent: getting people to buy in, to know how they were being ruled, and to agree.

It’s this that I think makes what Balkin and Levinson have called our National Surveillance State different than the kind of panoptical surveillance that our founders hoped to construct, a difference that the vocabulary of our statesmen reflects. Even in the fifties, the point of having show trials for suspected communist sympathizers was to make damn sure you knew you were being watched, and to get you to take part. But today, our trials take place in secret locations, and if they can manage it, you’ll never even know you were bing watched.

A huge part of why is that we no longer have the option of opting out. It’s not just that the frontier is closed and there are no more native peoples to genocide and steal their land. It’s that consent is not a gift they very much want us to give, anymore; Obama, Clinton, and the rest of them just don’t have to worry very much about whether we agree. Who the hell else are we going to vote for? Where are we going to go? We don’t have whiskey rebellions any longer, and soon we won’t even have unions. And so, instead of trying to persuade us on the rightness of being ruled — instead of seeking to acquire our knowing consent to be subject to governmental power — this state apparatus finds it easier, simpler, more expeditious, to simply make a virtue out of ignorance, to argue — explicitly — that the best subject is the one who knows well enough not to know anything at all.

[1] The OED’s first entry for “fabric”: 1. An edifice, a building.1483    Caxton tr. J. de Voragine Golden Legende 275/1   He had neuer studye in newe fabrykes ne buyldynges.a1552    J. Leland Itinerary (1711) II. 32   Gibbes the last Prior?spent a great summe of Mony on that Fabrike.a1684    J. Evelyn Diary anno 1666 (1955) III. 460   The august fabricque of Christ church.1708    J. Chamberlayne Present State Great Brit. (1743) ii. i. ii. 326   Fabricks?said to have been built by the Picts.1749    T. Nugent Grand Tour IV. 73   A vaulted fabric without either wood or iron-work, three stories high.1813    Scott Bridal of Triermain iii. xvi. 152   Never mortal builder’s hand This enduring fabric plann’d.1865    Dickens Our Mutual Friend II. iii. vi. 49   The ruinous fabric was very rich in the interior.

WikiLeaks Spinoffs?

The uprisings in Egypt, Libya, and Bahrain (and elsewhere) have not been “spinoffs” of the Tunisian intifada, at least not in any simple way. You can’t dismiss the extent to which Ben Ali’s flight both emboldened protesters and organized dissent, and then sparked the flame that exploded in Tahrir square. But the tinder and fuel was already stacked high, and differently in each place, for its own different reasons. The Egyptian revolution is about labor organizing and about the particular set of circumstances that have allowed a multi-generational majorityof Egyptians to organize in the way they did, circumstances that have to be understood in their Egyptian context. But the underlying conditions which made an uprising in Tunisia both plausible and successful are to be found across the region, which is precisely why Ben Ali’s flight could serve as the kind of regional catalyst it did.

I’m not going to talk about that — read Jadaliyya if you want to read about that — but it’s a nice way to talk about the post-WikiLeaks effect, which we can see most clearly in the many WikiLeaks spinoffs that are now coming to exist. But while WikiLeaks has certainly emboldened and energized these groups (they all have “leaks” in the second part of their name), I suspect it is the free speech deficit of the world that we live in that makes them as inevitable as they are. WikiLeaks came into existence for particular reasons to its time and place, but it’s the ways the broader political media environment is changing (has changed) that helps explain why organizations like  GreenleaksEnviroleaks, RuleaksBrusselsLeaksTradeleaksBalkansleaks, Indoleaks, and Unileaks are suddenly popping up like mushrooms after a rainfall.

From The WIkiLeaks Giftshop (no really)

The size of that list is as telling as is the specific form each group is taking. “BrusselsLeaks,” for example, is targeting EU governance (based in Brussels) because the EU is an organization that needs to be targeted. They might have been inspired by WikiLeaks, in this sense, but that’s not why they exist. And you can say something similar about every member of that list: there’s a broad, enabling effect that WikiLeaks has had — courage, you might say, is contagious? — but what it has enabled different groups of people to do is likely to be different in each case. They’ll all bear watching.

Daniel Domscheit-Berg’s OpenLeaks, however, is the best organized and biggest spinoff, and they’ve gotten the most press because they really are a spinoff: many of the principles architects actually are former WikiLeaks people. From their FAQ page:

OpenLeaks is a technical framework and Knowledge Base aimed at enabling whistleblowers to disseminate data to third parties, such as NGOs, labor unions, the general public, and the media. We do not aim to publish documents directly, but rather to enable third parties to safely receive and work on documents themselves.

Our main focus is on getting submissions safely into the right hands, ultimately leaving the job of publication to the recipient. There are many institutions that need to receive and publish leaks which are regarded as trusted by the public. Our idea is to enable them with the technology and knowledge to receive digital data…We want to make leaking safer – not only for whistleblowers and those who publish their material but also for us, as intermediary and provider of a whistleblowing platform. Therefore OpenLeaks neither receives or publishes any leaks. We believe, that the existence of a growing community with all sorts of backgrounds (human rights, investigative journalism, etc), will hopefully defend the OpenLeaks system against any censoring attacks anywhere in the world, thus making the system sustainable…OpenLeaks is not involved in the direct editing and release of documents. Our intention is to function, as much as possible, as a mere conduit (akin to the telephone exchange and the post) between the whistleblower and an organization of their choice. This means that OpenLeaks does not accept submissions or publish leaked material directly.

So far, Openleaks hasn’t actually done anything, nor have most of the organizations I listed above. Whereas the “Al Jazeera Transparency Unit” was the means by which what have been called “The Palestine Papers” were leaked and published, and those documents have not so much derailed the Middle East peace process as revealed it to have never really been railed in the first place. But the effect was like an earthquake. Without going too deeply into it — which you can here, or here — it seems like no exaggeration to say that the “Palestine Papers” represent the first post-WikiLeaks document dump of real significance and real political impact, and it was a big deal. It won’t be the last, and maybe it gives us a sense for the direction things are going: leaking as an institutionalized adjunct to “real” journalism.

Or maybe it doesn’t. Anonymous is not an institution or journalism, and yet they managed to get their hands on (and actionably disseminate) documents showing HBGary Federal (a security firm) was trying to sell plans to the Bank of America and to the Chamber of Commerce a strategy of smearing supporters of WikiLeaks. Glenn Greenwald was a primary target, so here’s his account of what happened:

…what basically happened is there is an internet security firm called HB Gary that does a lot of work for the government and for large corporations. They do internet investigations and internet security. And about three months ago or so, there was a group of hackers around the world that called itself Anonymous. And what Anonymous did was they announced that any companies that targeted WikiLeaks for retribution would be targeted by these hackers, by Anonymous for retaliation. And so there were a variety of big companies like PayPal and MasterCard and Visa and Amazon that, in response to the U.S. government’s pressure, terminated their services to WikiLeaks. They said, “We won’t process credit card payments for WikiLeaks. We won’t allow — we won’t post their website. We won’t process payments to them.”

And so Anonymous, this group of hackers, targeted those companies and unleashed cyber attacks on them that slowed down their websites, on a couple of cases, removed them from being online. So the head of this internet security firm, HB Gary, decided that he was going to investigate Anonymous, try and find out who they were, who was responsible for these cyber attacks, and he began publicly boasting that he had successfully infiltrated this group, that he had uncovered the identities of several of the key hackers. And unsurprisingly, after he ran around publicly boasting about his success in infiltrating this group of hackers, the group of hackers, Anonymous, targeted him and his company and they hacked into the e-mail system of HB Gary and downloaded roughly 50,000 e-mails from the company that they then published online about a week ago. Among the e-mails that were published, they just randomly published 50,000 of this company’s e-mails. Among the e-mails that were published were a variety of proposals that HB Gary and other leading internet security firms had been pitching to the Bank of America and to the Chamber of Commerce.

In the case of Bank of America, they were proposing that various supporters of WikiLeaks, including myself, be targeted with smear campaigns, that our reputations be harmed and discredited and that we be threatened in some way that our careers would be over if we continue to advocate for WikiLeaks. And in the case of the Chamber of Commerce, they advocated that adversaries of the Chamber of Commerce like progressive groups and unions and activists who speak against the Chamber of Commerce also be similarly targeted and that their families should be monitored and that they discussed where the synagogues were, where the families went, really odious pernicious stuff probably in some cases illegal. And what made it such an important story is that the firms that were involved are serious legitimate players. I mean these are not fly-by-night operations. These are big companies that do a lot of high level work for the government and for big corporations.

They were pitching it to two of the biggest and most important commercial entities in the country, Bank of America and the Chamber of Commerce. And the key, the coordinating party, the one soliciting these proposals and encouraging them was the law firm of Hunton & Williams which represents the Chamber of Commerce and Bank of America and is one of the most well-connected lobbyist and legal firms in Washington. And it turns out that the U.S. Government, the Justice Department had actually recommended that firm to Bank of America. They told Bank of America, “You should hire this firm in your war against WikiLeaks.” So there are a lot of big players and important serious players involved in what are really disturbing and likely criminal proposals on behalf of really significant and well-funded corporations. That’s why it caused so much news.

My first reaction to reading about this story was simple: Gosh, I said to myself. A bunch of documents got leaked to the general public, and then self-organized groups of that public combed through the data and found the stuff that was damning. That looks a lot like what Julian Assange had said WikiLeaks was trying to achieve but which it had given up trying to do when people didn’t step up and respond as they’d hoped. But Assange’s cynicism may have been premature. And it would be deeply ironic if the post-WikiLeaks effect of WikiLeaks was to allow quasi-anarchist organizations like Anonymous to accomplish what the original WikLeaks (in its far more utopian iteration) had despaired of accomplishing, even as they laid the foundations.

Think and Drink!

I’ll be delighted to be in Portland this Thursday for the Oregon Humanities’ “Think and Drink” series, feeling quite honored to share a microphone with Peter Laufer and particularly to share a beer with any and all who can come by. So if you’re in the area, you should come!

I’m putting my thoughts together for the event — I just re-read my essay which has become a surprisingly unfamiliar document to me since November — and I’m curious what people think about Wikileaks now. I’m assuming a not insignificant number of the people reading these words first found my blog because of that essay (and if it looks like I’m trying to crowd source my prep for this event, you’re right). But what needs to be said/discussed about Wikileaks now (now that it’s starting to recede into the background?). Is Pandora’s box open? Or is it about to get closed? Stuff like this is both really interesting and hopeful and also sort of, well, I mean, we’ll see, right? Has the media atmosphere really changed? (or will it?)

Wikileaks in Zimbabwe, and in the Media

At The Atlantic last week, fellow UC PhD candidate Christopher R. Albon wrote that:

…in Zimbabwe, Assange’s pursuit of this noble goal has provided a tyrant with the ammunition to wound, and perhaps kill, any chance for multiparty democracy. Earlier this month, Assange claimed that “not a single person, as far as anyone is aware, has been harmed” by Wikileaks’ practices. This is no longer true, if it ever was.

Even more hyperbolically, James Richardson at the Guardian accused Wikileaks of “collateral damage”:

…where Mugabe’s strong-arming, torture and assassination attempts have failed to eliminate the leading figure of Zimbabwe’s democratic opposition, WikiLeaks may yet succeed. Twenty years of sacrifice and suffering by Tsvangirai all for naught, as WikiLeaks risks “collateral murder” in the name of transparency. Before more political carnage is wrought and more blood spilled – in Africa and elsewhere, with special concern for those US-sympathising Afghans fingered in its last war document dump – WikiLeaks ought to leave international relations to those who understand it – at least to those who understand the value of a life.

(James Kirchik apparently also wrote an article about it for the Wall Street Journal, but since it’s behind a paywall, forget about it. To bring you up to speed if you haven’t been following the story: the leaked cable in question indicates that Morgan Tsvangirai — former opposition leader of the MDC, Movement for Democratic Change, and current Prime Minister in a 2009 power-sharing agreement — encouraged the US and the EU to maintain political sanctions on Zimbabwe‘s government (led by longtime president/dictator and leader of ZANU-PF, Robert Mugabe). As Albon acknowledges, the sanctions are quite unpopular in Zimbabwe, so the revelation that Tsvangirai has been saying one thing in public and doing quite another in secret meetings has apparently been quite damaging. And in response, Mugabe’s attorney general is now talking about charging Tsvangirai for treason;[1] in his words, “The WikiLeaks appear to show a treasonous collusion between local Zimbabweans and the aggressive international world, particularly the United States.”)

The problem here isn’t that Albon and Richardson are wrong, though I certainly do disagree with them. The problem is that they don’t seem to be anywhere nearly as interested in being right about Zimbabwe as they are in moralizing about Wikileaks. These articles polemically oversimplify a situation that is actually quite complicated and ambiguous, and they do it by adopting the same kind of Manichaean framework as the Anonymous hackers that have been targeting Zimbabwe for its “anti-Wikileaks stance.” Things are either good or they are bad. You are either pro-democracy or you are pro-Mugabe. Black or white.

This is, on so many levels, a terrible attitude to take with respect to Zimbabwe. And while Albon or Richardson may or may not be knowledgable about their subjects, the way their articles address Zimbabwe only to the extent that it can show us something about Wikileaks causes them to overlook important facts on the ground that would either substantially complicate the case they’re making or absolutely destroy it. Albon wrote in a tweet (which I’ve lost track of) that he’s simply calling for a more nuanced sense of Wikileaks, both the good and the bad. I agree. But when it comes to Zimbabwe itself, he and Richardson suddenly adopt maddeningly rigid and simplistic categories: good for democracy or bad for democracy. What is good for Mugabe is bad for Zimbabwe; what is bad for Tsvangerai is bad for democracy. We need to do better  than this.

After all, the first thing to say about “democracy” in Africa is that it’s a theory that always needs to prove itself in practice: a great many African nations have become formally democratic in the last decade and a half, and yet the wave of democratization that swept across the continent after the cold war ended (which is to say, when the US stopped propping up dictators because they were fighting communism) has hardly signaled a new dawn in terms of the things that actually matter in most people’s lives. All things being equal, of course, elections are a good thing. But when are all things ever equal? I’m not taking some kind of simplistic stand against elections here; I’m just saying that what we call “democracy” — and simplistically align with elections — often turns out to be just another way of enabling elite rule, and that the important thing is always whether or not this is the case, a question one needs to argue, not beg. (One of the things these kinds of democracy arguments always overlook, for example, is the extent to which having an election so often means no more than the right to decide which group of elites has the privilege of doing whatever the IMF and World Bank tells them to do. Yay, Democracy!)

In this particular case, the argument that (A) because the cable hurts Tsvangirai and helps Mugabe, (B) Wikileaks is therefore bad for democracy, and therefore (C) bad for Zimbabweans, is a set of propositions linked together by a lot of un-argued claims. For example, you’d never guess from reading Albon or Richardson that it’s not at all clear that Tsvangirai would win a free and fair election, were one to be held, and particularly unlikely to mount a real challenge in the kind that actually will be held. The Economist, last month, summarized what everybody has been saying for a while now:

“We’ve done a lousy job in government,” says a senior MDC man [Movement for Democratic Change, Tsvangirai’s party]. “While Zanu-PF [Mugabe’s party] have used the last 21 months to refocus and reinvent themselves, we’ve lost our identity. Zanu-PF are as brutal and corrupt as before, but much richer. They’ve got an almost total grip on the Marange diamonds [in the east of the country] and still control the media and security forces. They’re much better organised than we are. The polls may still show us in the lead, but almost half the electorate refuse to say how they will vote. There’s likely to be massive apathy among MDC supporters. If we went to the polls now, I think we could lose. We’ve got to start fighting.”

This is an important point because both articles hinge on the idea that the cable will help Mugabe avoid facing his rival in an election which, by implication, he would lose. And this is the only sense in which the Wikileaks cable could “harm democracy”: if it helps Mugabe evade facing democratic results. But that kind of argument isn’t so much wrong as it proceeds from a misframing of the problem: Tsvangirai has spent the last two years getting his clock cleaned (by one of the wiliest political operators around), and the cable only adds to an already hefty stack of his problems, making him more likely to lose an election he was already very likely to lose. And it is not insignificant that the cable only demonstrates to Zimbabwean voters that what Mugabe has been saying about him for a long time — that he’s in league with Western powers trying to meddle in Zimbabwe’s affairs — is basically true: by giving the Zimbabwean people true information about the dirty things their Prime Minister has been doing, it makes Mugabe stronger. This is not to exonerate Mugabe, of course, nor to say that Tsvangirai is anything but what he seems to be, a human being with human limitations currently embarked on a courageous but somewhat hopeless crusade. This is certainly how it seems to me. But there is nothing particularly “democratic” about lying to one’s constituency, nor does using the sanctions for personal political gain give him much of a leg to stand on when he wants to criticize Mugabe’s crookedness. [2]

More importantly, though, where exactly does the assumption come from that “Zimbabwe’s de facto dictator” needs a legal pretext to charge the opposition leader with treason if he wants to do that? He manifestly doesn’t need any such thing. Mugabe charges Tsvangirai with treason about once every election cycle. The entire history of the MDC is basically one long story of ZANU-PF using violence and extralegal means to keep power; Tsvangirai has been beaten up, tortured, detained, and members of his family and bodyguards have died under very suspicious circumstances, not to mention the broad based political violence ZANU-PF has leveled towards MDC’s constituency. What it says in some cable has nothing to do with what Mugabe can or cannot do, and nothing to do with why he does it; he doesn’t need the legal fig-leaf, and he’s always known — as everyone knows — that Tsvangirai is heavily supported by Western powers that would like to see him gone. Inventing new treason statutes so you can charge a political rival is incredibly dirty politics, of course, but Mugabe has been doing that for years, and would have done it again, whenever he decided to do so, no matter what Wikileaks cables said or didn’t say.

It’s also worth noting that the purpose of charging Tsvangirai is almost certainly not to actually have him executed, as Richardson is particularly happy to imply. Mugabe isn’t stupid, and that would be a stupid thing to do. Westerners like to think that international pressure forced Mugabe to accept a power sharing agreement, but what they then like to overlook is that he’s used that agreement, since then, to acquire a kind of legitimacy for himself and his government (something the cable in question makes very clear) and has given up virtually no power in the process. Why would he do anything to change that status quo? Actually executing Tsvangerai would ruin his current strategy, and Mugabe has something to lose in that respect; his supporters on the continent (and there are many, South Africa being the primary) would likely be less willing to support him. What on earth would he have to gain? The most pertinent fact of the matter right now is that Tsvangerai has been all but neutralized and the MDC is without real momentum, enthusiasm, or organization. From a different Economist article:

…on a range of issues Mr Mugabe ensures that his prime minister is often kept out of the loop, in blatant defiance of the GPA [the Global Political Agreement, the power-sharing agreement from 2008]. He has refused, among many other things, to remove the central-bank governor, Gideon Gono, or the attorney-general, Johannes Tomana, both leading authors of the country’s economic and human-rights disasters. Above all, he has kept his hands tightly on the levers of hard power: the courts, still largely in the hands of Zanu-PF judges, and in particular the army, the police and the feared Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO). By various means, including dirty tricks, deaths and suspensions, the MDC’s wafer-thin majority in the lower house has been whittled away, though it technically still has control if the unreliable Mr Mutambara’s small slice of the party votes with the main bit. Owing partly to the MDC’s own lack of guile, the country’s three most repressive laws, the Public Order and Security Act (known as POSA), the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, are still in force.

(Also, see this much more detailed analysis of the GPA’s failures, from Sokwanele, and “Zimbabwe’s Multilayered Crisis,” by Alois Mlambo and Brian Raftopoulos).

In other words, executing Tsvangerai would ruin a game for Mugabe that he’s already comfortably winning. But playing the thing out in the courts (and state-controlled newspapers) will damage Tsvangerai politically, which is why “harming democracy” is a useless phrase in this context. In other words, while Mugabe is an undemocratic despot when he decides to be, he’s playing a basically normal political game here because he can, because he and his party hold all the cards; to continue the metaphor, they’ve spent the last two years picking one card after another out of Tsvangirai’s hand, while Tsvangirai has been able to do nothing to stop him. Politics in Zimbabwe have changed in important ways since the last election, while Western commentators have apparently not been paying attention: if Tsvangirai and the MDC caught Mugabe flat-footed then, and Mugabe had to resort to mass thuggery and violence to win the election (and then to cut a deal with Tsvangerai as a way of placating the West), it’s manifestly the case that he’s spent the last two years making sure that sort of thing won’t happen again. It almost certainly won’t; his power is sufficiently secure that he doesn’t much need to use much violence, just remind people that he‘s capable of it. at this point, campaigns like “Headless Chicken,” seem much more like a PR effort, to remind people of the consequences of voting the wrong way than an actual organized campaign.

Again, absolutely none of this is to say that Mugabe is a good guy or Tsvangirai isn’t. But those terms are just not useful here, or, rather, are only useful for meaningless moralizing about Wikileaks. When Richardson writes that “where Mugabe’s strong-arming, torture and assassination attempts have failed to eliminate the leading figure of Zimbabwe’s democratic opposition, WikiLeaks may yet succeed,” he shows himself to be strikingly out of touch. Has he even read the cable in question? Since Mugabe has already more or less neutralized Tsvangerai (by allowing him into the government but giving him no actual power over anything important), the issue of the sanctions only arises because, according to Tsvangerai,

“ZANU-PF seems to have introduced a new tactic in its agenda – reciprocity. What this means, he said, is that Mugabe is asking, “What’s in this for us?” If MDC gets governorships, Mugabe asks, why can’t the sanctions against ZANU-PF be lifted? Tsvangirai said that it seems that Mugabe plans to use the governors as a trade-off against sanctions.”

In other words, Mugabe’s political position is so strong that he’s now telling Tsvangirai that everything which was agreed to in 2008 is back on the bargaining table; the GPA dictated a certain number of governorships for the MDC, and Mugabe’s explicit attitude is, simply, well, what will you give me for them? And so, when Tsvangirai refused to give Mugabe what he wanted, Mugabe simply, unilaterally, and with no consequences, appointed all the governors from his own party, leaving Tsvangirai with nothing to do but make angry noises at a press conference and file a lawsuit. Good luck with that, sir; since the AU and SADC (and “the West”) have signaled their indifference on this matter, I‘m not holding my breath for anything to come of it. It is, in other words, the exact opposite of what Richardson described.

Let’s return, then, to Richardson’s strange opening statement that “with the recent release of sensitive diplomatic cables, WikiLeaks may have committed its own collateral murder, upending the precarious balance of power in a fragile African state and signing the death warrant of its pro-western premier.” The “may have” is important, because — after all — he wants to convict Wikileaks of murdering a thing which only hypothetically might have maybe existed in some implausible future. This is not a small point; it is hard to kill a thing which has not been born yet. Albon does something similar by talking about how Wikileaks has given Mugabe “the ammunition to wound, and perhaps kill, any chance for multiparty democracy,” and I would say the same thing in response: whenever you overhear people doing a post-mortem on a hypothetical that is now less likely to materialize, you’d best keep walking, since nonsense is afoot. This is worse than counting chickens before they hatch: this is accusing someone of having frightened your chickens so they couldn’t conceive, and then trying to throw that person in jail for having broken your eggs. Or something.

But let’s overlook even that. Let’s focus in on the words that precede Richardson’s “may have,” the words “with the recent release of sensitive diplomatic cables, WikiLeaks…” After all, as WL Central pointed out, it is profoundly weird to hear a Guardian reporter lambasting Wikileaks for releasing a cable that The Guardian itself was the first to release. WL Central:

Wikileaks has been releasing its cables only in collaboration with its media partners, using its media partnerships to outsource its harm minimization procedures. This ensures that cables are only released after they have been greenlighted and redacted by professional and accredited journalists working for one of the media partners…A glance at the datestamp for 09HARARE1004 reveals it was published on the 8th of December, 2010. The only publication making reference to 09HARARE1004 as early as this, is a publication of the full cable in The Guardian. The Guardian’s title for the cable is “US embassy cables: Tsvangirai tells US Mugabe is increasingly ‘old, tired and poorly briefed’”. It identifies gossip about Mugabe at the salient content of the cable, and entirely fails to identify the importance of the material on international sanctions against Zimbabwe, which is the material which allegedly incriminates Tsvangirai.

In other words, the thing which the Guardian is accusing Wikileaks of doing, it turns out, is actually a thing which the Guardian, itself, actually did first. On December 8th, Xan Rice wrote an article entitled “WikiLeaks cables reveal differing views of ‘crazy’, ‘charming’ Robert Mugabe, and published the cable in support of this narrative, totally overlooking in the process the much more important detail about the sanctions. I can only presume that’s because the Guardian and Xan Rice are much more interested in Wikileaks than in the content of the cables, and much more informed about what it is that they’re supposed to write (the cables are just gossip, and also they‘re totally harmful to democracy and the sum total of human happiness in the world) than what the cables actually mean in Zimbabwe. This, apparently, is what Guardian reporter Richardson means when he suggests that “WikiLeaks ought to leave international relations to those who understand it.”

This post has dragged on, and if you’ve gotten this far, I think you get my drift. So let me hand you over, finally, to Petina Gappah at African Legal Brief, whose opinion I completely endorse:

Tsvangirai encapsulates the dilemma of the revolution donated from abroad: for the west, he raises the question of what to do about a pro-democracy leader who is not all that he should be, but represents the best alternative to the regime it is fighting. Dell compared him to Lech Walesa, but he is more like Hamid Karzai. Like the Afghan leader, he is a deeply flawed man whose success is nonetheless essential to the interests of the US and its allies, and who, flawed as he is, still offers a better alternative to the regime he is fighting.

But the strategy of uncritically supporting the lesser of two evils has been to the detriment of politics in Zimbabwe, and indeed, to its democratic development. Tsvangirai may be a lesser evil, but there is still much about him that causes discomfort. Supporting him has led to multiple contradictions and hypocrisies, both for the people of Zimbabwe and the MDC’s western allies. So while Mugabe is castigated for hanging on to power, and refusing to let democratic processes take place both within his party and the country, Tsvangirai, who intends to stay on as MDC president beyond the constitutional limits imposed by his party’s constitution, is considered essential to democracy. In effect, undemocratic means are used to advance supposedly democratic outcomes. And in pushing and supporting a man who as patently flawed as Tsvangirai, they may effectively be creating a monster.

And to G. Pascal Zachary, who points out that Mugabe is not, himself, really the problem anymore; at this point he’s just an 86 year old figurehead for a cabal of Zanu-PF powerbrokers who will certainly outlive him. So Pascal suggests that Mugabe “will be replaced by a leader of the military junta that actually runs Zimbabwe,” and anticipates this sort of outcome, either before or after Mugabe‘s death:

…The Zimbabwean regime depends on a cabal of Mugabe loyalists operating in the shadows. One of them is likely, before long, to seize power, declare Mugabe history — and appeal for recognition and assistance from the international community. Zimbabwe’s next strong man will do what others in African have long done: say they need time to stage legitimate elections….The aid money will pour into Harare, so will the technical experts. Improvements in the material life of the people will come quickly, though more educated Zimbabweans — those few who remain — will leave the country. Then about a year from now, the regime’s leader will declare that he is decided, after much anguished reflection, that he will stand as a candidate for president in the “free and fair” elections to come. The international community will moan and groan, diplomats will say they’ve been cheated, the opposition will cry foul. But after a week or two, the decision will come to be accepted.

[1] Let us not overlook that Mugabe’s response to Wikileaks bears a certain resemblance to the US government’s towards Wikileaks. After all, when the attorney general issues cryptic statements about starting an “investigation” to see if treason is appropriate, which government am I talking about?

[2] And as Mahmood Mamdani pointed out in a controversial LRB article, what makes the problem particularly complicated is that Mugabe:

has ruled not only by coercion but by consent, and his land reform measures, however harsh, have won him considerable popularity, not just in Zimbabwe but throughout southern Africa…Many have compared Mugabe to Idi Amin and the land expropriation in Zimbabwe to the Asian expulsion in Uganda. The comparison isn’t entirely off the mark. I was one of the 70,000 people of South Asian descent booted out by Idi Amin in 1972; I returned to Uganda in 1979. My abiding recollection of my first few months back is that no one I met opposed Amin’s expulsion of ‘Asians’. Most merely said: ‘It was bad the way he did it.’ The same is likely to be said of the land transfers in Zimbabwe…What distinguishes Mugabe and Amin from other authoritarian rulers is not their demagoguery but the fact that they projected themselves as champions of mass justice and successfully rallied those to whom justice had been denied by the colonial system.”

That article provoked a really interesting exchange at the LRB, and elsewhere, which you’d benefit from reading. But at least some version of the underlying point is sound: Mugabe uses violence ruthlessly when he has to, but the really thorny problem is that, quite often, he doesn’t even need to.

Glenn Greenwald and Wired Magazine: “I see no reason to doubt Poulsen’s integrity or good faith”

Yesterday afternoon, Wired magazine Editor-in-Chief Evan Hansen lamented

It’s odd to find myself in the position of writing a defense of someone who should be held up as a model. But it is unfortunately necessary, thanks to the shameless and unjustified personal attacks he’s faced…Our critics — notably Glenn Greenwald of Salon, an outspoken WikiLeaks defender — have resorted to shocking personal attacks, based almost entirely on conjecture and riddled with errors.”

“Shameless,” “unjustified,” “personal,” “attack,” “shocking,” “personal,” conjectural, and error-riddled are the key terms there, in a piece which accuses Greenwald of mixing up a wild cake of conspiracy theory and baking it in the oven of ad hominem.

When I read the original Glenn Greenwald piece, way back in June, I agreed with it. I still do. He criticized Wired magazine’s decisions to publish only selected excerpts from the chat logs between Adrian Lamo and Bradley Manning, and that seemed basically right to me: Bradley Manning’s case is really important — something Hansen is quick to emphasize as well — and while anything that’s merely gossipy should not be publicized, it is hard to understand why anything that is of clear public interest should be held back. And actually, it turns out that Greenwald and Hansen are in agreement on this principled, that only the portions of the chat logs which are of public interest should be revealed. Where they disagree is in their assessment of what those portions are. Here, for example, is what the “shameless” and “shocking” Glenn Greenwald wrote in his original “riddled with error” article:

Wired should either publish all of the chat logs, or be far more diligent about withholding only those parts which truly pertain only to Manning’s private and personal matters and/or which would reveal national security secrets.  Or they should have a respected third party review the parts they have concealed to determine if there is any justification for that.  At least if one believes Lamo’s claims, there are clearly relevant parts of those chats which Wired continues to conceal.

This still seems to me to be wholly reasonable; all of Glenn Greenwald’s shocking and shameless personal attacks must have occurred in the other parts of his error riddled piece. For example, Adrian Lamo has claimed that Bradley Manning told him that he received help from Julian Assange in leaking the cables. This is important because any case the US may eventually try to raise against Julian Assange and Wikileaks will almost certainly hinge on showing that he and they did more than simply passively receive leaked data. After all, it is a protected journalistic activity for a journalist to receive leaked information; it might have been illegal for Manning to leak that data to a journalist, of course, but that has nothing to do with the legality of the journalist receiving it. This is why the Wikileaks site specifically notes that

“Like other media outlets conducting investigative journalism, we accept (but do not solicit) anonymous sources of information.”

Again, accepting and publishing a leak is legal, since (in the US) it is a form of journalism protected by the first amendment. This is why any US legal action against Wikileaks will be hard to get off the ground unless they can prove that Julian Assange or Wikileaks aided or conspired with Bradley Manning in the commission of what would be (for him) an illegal act, then they would have something to pin on him. From the NY Times:

Justice Department officials are trying to find out whether Mr. Assange encouraged or even helped the analyst, Pfc. Bradley Manning, to extract classified military and State Department files from a government computer system. If he did so, they believe they could charge him as a conspirator in the leak, not just as a passive recipient of the documents who then published them.

This is a weird sentence, by the way, since you can’t charge someone for being a passive recipient of a leak; the grammar suggests that would be a crime, and it isn’t. But here’s where it gets interesting; it’s exactly this notion — that Assange actively aided Manning in leaking the data — which Adrian Lamo had previously admitted to the New York Times that he didn’t have, actively confirming that he has no reason to think Wikileaks helped Manning obtain the classified information:

Mr. Lamo acknowledged that he had no direct evidence that Private Manning had help. He said he based his belief on information from people who knew Private Manning, not on his contact with the soldier himself. Asked if Private Manning had ever told him of any WikiLeaks assistance, Mr. Lamo replied, “Not explicitly, no.”

And yet! In the article of two weeks ago, the NY Times quotes Lamo as saying the exact opposite, claiming that Manning told him he did and that the chat logs show it:

Among materials prosecutors are studying is an online chat log in which Private Manning is said to claim that he had been directly communicating with Mr. Assange using an encrypted Internet conferencing service as the soldier was downloading government files. Private Manning is also said to have claimed that Mr. Assange gave him access to a dedicated server for uploading some of them to WikiLeaks.

Adrian Lamo, an ex-hacker in whom Private Manning confided and who eventually turned him in, said Private Manning detailed those interactions in instant-message conversations with him. He said the special server’s purpose was to allow Private Manning’s submissions to “be bumped to the top of the queue for review.” By Mr. Lamo’s account, Private Manning bragged about this “as evidence of his status as the high-profile source for WikiLeaks.”

Wired magazine has published excerpts from logs of online chats between Mr. Lamo and Private Manning. But the sections in which Private Manning is said to detail contacts with Mr. Assange are not among them. Mr. Lamo described them from memory in an interview with The Times, but he said he could not provide the full chat transcript because the F.B.I. had taken his hard drive, on which it was saved.

So despite all his shameless and shocking personal attacks on journalism‘s living avatar and embodiment, I wholeheartedly agree with Glenn Greenwald about the inexplicability of Wired’s actions. If they haven’t done something weird like delete the chat logs at the behest of the FBI or something, then Wired can easily confirm which of the two mutually exclusive and irreconcilable things that Adrian Lamo has publicly alleged are actually true: did Manning tell Lamo that he received assistance from Assange (as Lamo told the NYT recently) or did Manning tell Lamo nothing of the sort (as Lamo said back in July). I simply can’t imagine what reason Wired could possibly have for not clearing this up. It can’t be both ways, it is of public interest, and since Lamo is out there talking up a storm, it can’t really have anything to do with protecting Manning’s privacy.

So, since because we can‘t possibly trust a shocking and shameless purveyor of conjecture and errors like Glenn Greenwald, here’s a series of some of the respectable and reasonable journalism people that I follow on twitter who have made similarly respectable and reasonable points (but not at all the kind of shameless, unjustified, shocking, conjectural, and error-riddled personal attacks of your screeching and hysterical Glenn Greenwald types):

Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at NYU, tweeted “I know @evanatwired. I respect him hugely. I don’t get why he’s not releasing the logs, redacted to meet the concerns”

Zeynep Tufekci, professor of sociology and general smarty pants, tweeted@wired is implying that everything related to Wikileaks has been published.  If they can confirm that, everyone can leave them alone.”

Dave Winer, totally impressive and reasonable technology person, tweetedif there’s more information to be had about manning and the leaks, let’s have it.”

Adam L. Penenberg, “journalism professor and assistant director of the Business and Economic Program at New York University” tweetedA good first step: Wired should collect all of Adrian Lamo’s published comments based on the logs and compare them to the actual chat.”

Evgeny Morozov — “contributing editor to Foreign Policy and Boston Review and a Schwartz Fellow at the New American Foundation” — wrote this in a series of tweets: “I can’t see how Wired would be able to justify not releasing specific portions of the chat referenced by Greenwald. What kind of secret injunction would apply to Wired but not to Lamo, who is talking nonstop? The point is that Lamo has already violated Manning’s privacy & honor with his statements. Wired can help restore the latter. If Wired’s argument is that in choosing b/n honoring Manning’s privacy & restoring his honor, they chose privacy, I find it hard to accept. Greenwald offered them reasonable options. Wired can confirm/deny Lamo’s (very serious) statements w/t releasing all logs.”

Terry Heaton, author of Reinventing Local Media, tweetsAs one who teaches journalism ethics, Wired’s position troubles me deeply. How far we’ve fallen in the name of sources.”

Jeff Jarvis, “author of What Would Google Do?…associate professor and director of the interactive journalism program and the new business models for news project at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism” tweets: “Wired has not answered a series of factual, important questions. Simple as that.”

Looking back at Even Hansen’s piece, though, I do feel comforted that he  was able to refute several tendentious claims brought by some very dangerous straw men:

“Not one single fact has been brought to light suggesting Wired.com did anything wrong in pursuit of this story.”

or this one:

The bottom line is that Wired.com did not have anything to do with Manning’s arrest.

Suck it, straw men! And also this:

Our position has been and remains that the logs include sensitive personal information with no bearing on WikiLeaks, and it would serve no purpose to publish them at this time. That doesn’t mean we’ll never publish them, but before taking an irrevocable action that could harm an individual’s privacy, we have to weigh that person’s privacy interest against news value and relevance.

I leave the internet to have the final word on the matter.

Update: And also, Kevin Poulsen, his own self, who tweeted me this link to the Wired’s article responding to the NY Times, and commented (at my query) “I can send you the link, I can’t make you read it.”

%d bloggers like this: