December 8, 2010

Taking a Leak

Mia is five and she must know everything, even the unknowable things she could not comprehend or be trusted with because she is five. The existence of Santa Claus, what I've gotten Beth for Christmas, nuclear fission. Frankly, she's five and likes to talk so we keep certain information to ourselves. It's because she hasn't completely figured out the balance you need to strike when you have certain information. Is it best to tell someone? Or is it meant to be kept secret?

That conundrum is just as relevant for many adults. We've all been in situations in which we know something that others would clearly like to know as well. We wrestle with the morality of disclosure. Is it important to someone's safety or well-being that they have a certain piece of information? Or, by disclosing it, are you just being an asshole?

Despite the fact that it sometimes acts like an impertinent five year old, the government has an even bigger balancing act. We fund it, we elect individuals to represent us and, as a result, we should expect a certain amount of transparency. But we all know that it can only be so transparent, that there are certain things the government can't or won't disclose. So when someone or some organization (yeah, I'm talking about WikiLeaks) comes along and makes that decision for the government - disclosing that information - are they heroes or assholes?

(That's not a rhetorical question. Really, is what WikiLeaks doing a public service or is it putting people and governments in jeopardy?)

Posted by Chris at December 8, 2010 7:58 AM

I'm all for whistleblowers to have protection, but I think WikiLeaks has gone too far.

Posted by: daisy at December 8, 2010 8:29 AM

I'm all for whistleblowers to have protection, but I think WikiLeaks has gone too far.

Posted by: daisy at December 8, 2010 8:30 AM

In a word: assholes.

If they are exposing corruption, etc., etc., that is one thing. The information they are sharing has serious implications for people all over the world, not just us. I think they are just out to thumb their noses at the government without providing a useful service.

Posted by: Elizabeth at December 8, 2010 9:01 AM

The first release the Afghan documents was a good thing. It exposed (or confirmed) the outright lies being spread by the US Govt. The diplomatic cables don't seem to be accomplishing much. Diplomacy is a dirty business. We all knew that. I'm not sure what is gained by airing the dirty laundry.

Posted by: COD at December 8, 2010 9:08 AM

As someone who works in the government world I tend to think the concern over WikiLeaks is way overblown. First of all, nothing in the most recent leaks is all that secret or unknowable. Anyone paying attention to U.S. foreign policy wouldn't be surprised by anything in the leaked cables. At worst you're getting to see how the sausage is made. But, perhaps more importantly, all the calls to prosecute Assange (by all appearances a total asshat) or WikiLeaks is dangerous. The U.S. government doesn't prosecute media (yes WikiLeaks is a media outlet), they prosecute those that provide the info to the media. Plus, from what I understand (I can't view WikiLeaks from work and ethically can't on my own time) WikiLeaks did redact some of what they put out there so an effort was made to perhaps remove anything too damaging. So if the U.S. gov't is really concerned about this they need to tighten up their IT security and/or expect this to happen from time to time but prosecute those people consistently and harshly as a deterrent. Just my two cents.

Posted by: Bill at December 8, 2010 9:18 AM

What do I know, but I thought the media was supposed to be the thing that shined a light on the government. A checks and balances system of sorts... well, our media today has been bought and we're no longer told the truth. I think Wikileaks (or something like it) is the new media, the new checks and balances. Of course, journalism comes with it's own set of ethics and responsibilities and I don't think Wikileaks has that, so it's also dangerous.

Posted by: Erin at December 8, 2010 9:58 AM

I think they're being incredibly irresponsible. Being an adult means thinking about what consequences your actions might cause and then acting in a way to lead to the best possible outcome. I don't think they've thought through the consequences enough. I don't know if the actual posting is illegal though - I think the person who has leaked the information to Wikileaks is the worst of them all. It's just all so selfish it makes me sick.

Posted by: Jessie at December 8, 2010 10:09 AM

I'm probably gonna go with "assholes", maybe at best well-meaning assholes. I know that every one person in the world thinks they need to know everything, but it just doesn't - and can't- work like that. There is a certain trust in electing people to office and a hope that the system works, because when it does, you can trust the "higher-ups" in government to take care of the things we don't need to know about and tell us about those we do. Of course, this is in a perfect world...
But diplomacy and such depend on partial secrecy. I think the most important element here is probably having good, responsible people in positions of power. And if I figure out a foolproof way to do that, I'll be sure to let you know.

Posted by: Heather at December 8, 2010 11:08 AM

I think the guy is a Jackass. of course our government has secrets. I'm ok with that. I don't need to know what these secrets are. I guess if anything - going forward our government should have a better security plan on classified information.

Posted by: molly at December 8, 2010 11:21 AM

I think we're in a really weird, awkward stage here; sort of the equivalent of when in middle school you learn that somebody is going to end up reading your notes that you passed.

Did Wikileaks go too far? Traditionally, I thought that you exposed secret or confidential information within the context of a broader story; Entity A is doing bad stuff, and here is the back story, the proof, and the consequences. The newspaper industry ( for lack of space and paper ) did not print every little tidbit of information that they get. But with the Internet, it is possible to just dump it all out there and say "Here you go", which is what they did. And in the process, they have permanently tarnished the integrity of not just the US, but other governments as well. And the sad fact of the matter is that people will die, probably indirectly, because of this. Someone somewhere will use the disclosed information as justification to do bad stuff to someone, probably completely innocent but guilty by association.

I think the upshot of this is that we will see a forced maturity and evolution of information systems. Digital Rights Management ( DRM ), relatively well developed thanks to previous version of Wikileaks ( Napster ), was a response to securing files in such a way that only the proper person with the proper access could use the file. I imagine it won't be long before all sensitive government information gets tagged with some form of DRM. But even this will not stop the proverbial whistle blower, and so we'll be right back where we started.

I think the global response to the site is a fascinating look into cyber warfare. The news reports today, of hackers banding together and going after Mastercard and others, sounds like something out of a B-grade near-future movie.

If you've never watched the movie Serenity ( the ultimate "last episode" to the series Firefly, which is an absolute must watch from the pantheon of great shows cut down by Fox ), take a look; Can't stop the signal.

Posted by: metawizard at December 8, 2010 11:22 AM

I agree that our goverment needs a ceratn amount of transparency but there are things that are secret for reason. I think the problem here is that they failed to think through the larger consequences of their actions. Diplomacy is a delicate balancing act. People need to feel that things said in confidence will remain in confidence. Kind of like therapy. Unless the therapist knows you have or will do harm to yourself or others, they keep it to themselves. Is the world really a better place now that everyone knows our diplomat thinks the Italian ambassador, or whoever, is an asshat? I think not. I'm sorta with the Men in Black on this one, "There's always an Arcilian battle cruiser or a death ray. The only way these people can carry on with their lives is that they Do Not Know It."

Posted by: Annie at December 8, 2010 11:30 AM

There are several thought-provoking articles in last week's Time magazine about Wikileaks and Assange.

Posted by: Brooke at December 8, 2010 11:46 AM

I have to agree with Bill on this one- it seems like a lot of this is getting blown way out of proportion.

Posted by: Tai at December 8, 2010 11:51 AM

They're being children in a grown-up world. I don't like it.

Posted by: Brad at December 8, 2010 12:53 PM

Since I don't trust our gov't or the mainstream media, at all, and since I haven't looked on wikileaks to see what has been leaked, my answer is "I don't know."

I do, firmly, believe that our gov't covers up anything and everything that makes them look bad. I think having that stuff exposed is good.

I also believe that our own gov't totally overshares important information. Why are we telling everyone we can only inspect 5% of the cargo on airplanes and ships? Tell them we inspect it ALL! Whether we do or not! I don't care if you paint a cardboard box silver and stick it on top of the conveyor belt for the video released to the video. It's just STUPID for us to tell everyone "hey, we don't check MOST cargo!"

There is supposed to be some sort of check and balance. There is none. Maybe Wikileaks will get us back to something that resembles it. Maybe it will start a war (a real one, this time. Not an over trillion dollar waste of time and lives that has bankrupt our country.

Posted by: Mindy at December 8, 2010 2:09 PM

Wikileaks=asshats. And his followers seem to be willing to act like asshats too.
Like you, I understand and would like some transparency in our government. BUT, there are some things I don't need to know. If it has no noticeable effect on my life then keep your secret from me. Then there are those things that I probably should know but really don't want to. The world is scary enough as it is without knowing what the clowns running our country are doing.

Posted by: Jeff A at December 9, 2010 12:51 AM

well this post is kind of a can of worms. so many ways to go with this one. and yet something tells me that maybe in the short run it could have negative consequences but in the long run the whole world might be better off. assange seems like kind of an arrogant a-hole but i can't seem to hate what he's done. why doesn't he leak information about all govts, though? why just us? or has he?

Posted by: kati at December 9, 2010 2:59 AM

I'm reluctant to even comment on this one. Hubby and I both had high level clearances when we were in the military. Everything that I have read about the leaks scare me. In regard to what our government wants to do with these people that leaked the information. This isn't national security, lives weren't put on the line and this is not terrorism.

Would have they felt the same if the NY Times or another major paper had released this? I honestly think not.

What was the real damage? Some upset diplomats and governments. I feel the release of naked pictures and mistreatment at Gitmo was much worse.

Every so often, someone either discloses or sells information. This occurs periodically and isn't so uncommon. What sets this case apart is that it is diplomatic and embarrassing.

This Wiki dude is being financially cut-off without a trial or proper channels being followed simply because our government is irate.

Our government is getting ape crazy about what is important to classify, hide and this lack of transparency disturbs me. We are treading down roads we shouldn't be and they feel they are justified doing whatever they wish. I wonder where and when it will end.

Posted by: One Mom's Opinion at December 9, 2010 7:37 PM

Why one or the other? I think it's both a big public service and putting people/govts in jeopardy (but probably not really very much jeopardy).

Posted by: JW at December 11, 2010 12:03 AM