November 28, 2010

Another month, another document dump by Wikileaks. At this point, the United States law enforcement agencies might be best served to start thinking of these releases as test cases, not even so much to try to find the sources and plug them as to determine whether a non-egotistical, non-boasting internal source is still findable within the growing intelligence bloat. How much longer can the Defense Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (now part of Homeland Security), and dozens of other alphabet soup agencies imperfectly under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence -- not to mention all the private contractors doubling and quadrupling the cost of trying to keep track of things, adding to the nation's GDP without actually improving anything of substance -- continue along these skew lines before even inept bombing plots such as Friday's attempt by Mohamed Osman Mohamud fall between the cracks?

Of course, these massive releases hurt Wikileaks publicity not at all. It remains an open question to what extent future releases will be driven by the public interest v. Wikileaks' own rising profile. It becomes difficult to tell the difference.

Many, including the White House, have accused Wikileaks of "reckless and dangerous" behaviour. Ttwo days before the release, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange explicitly invited the United States Department of State to review the material and identify any information that would "put individual persons at significant risk of harm that has not already been addressed". Surely by now, there could no doubt that Wikileaks was not bluffing either about having the information or being willing to release it. Recognising the potential danger to individual people, Assange extended an offer of compromise in the interest of protecting individual people: yet the Department of State legal department refused.

The statement to Assange would seem to indicate that the United States government does not negotiate, some would say "with terrorists": yet the diplomatic cables show some interesting negotiations indeed. Perhaps it might be more accurate to say that, in the true spirit of realpolitik, the United States government prefers not to negotiate except from a position of power.

Some journalists have criticised Wikileaks as not acting in the public interest precisely because these releases are unedited, uninterpreted, nothing other than a mass of documents. Wikileaks has made no specific thesis statement of corruption nor of anything else: nor does the document leak purport to support this or that allegation. It simply is. Yet without a specific suspicion and a focused reason, there are those who believe that the Wikileaks release does not serve the public interest because it does not have an explicit purpose beyond the release itself. By this line of argument, documents such as these should be released only where they provide supporting evidence for a specific allegation.

Myself, I find the lack of an explicit thesis statement refreshing. Stating and then having to support a specific argument limits the ability to see solely to what can be used to defend or undermine a particular argument. Anything that does neither can be readily ignored as easily as an e-mail that need no longer be considered because it does not deal with an immediate problem or demand. The very process of defending makes it impossible to adjust to new evidence except from the perspective of support or opposition. Pretty or ugly though a particular story may be, it gets us no closer to the sense of a broader picture.

Instead, Wikileaks mostly leaves us to read for ourselves and even to make up our own minds about what we see. This might seem to suggest a basic faith in our ability to do just that. (I say "mostly" because the "-gate" suffix has carried its own set of connotations for several decades now.)

The current document release differs from previous releases by targeting diplomatic cables rather than the previous military-oriented releases. Several United States departments have been doing damage control ever since word of the impending leak hit the fan.

Yet surely any nation which believes in democracy, transparency, the (educated) will of the people, and a basic mutual respect for the free will of others -- and which acts at every level on those principles -- should have nothing to fear from any diplomatic leak?

I write nothing of the content of that release here. Why should I immediately limit perception by inserting my own pigeonholes? I will say only that there should have been no surprises. If you did not expect what you read, it was not because it was not there to be seen before.

... Which, in itself, could prove a useful mirror in which to see the truth of oneself, and perhaps also to see clearly for the first time the lenses through which one chooses to see the world.

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