[ Over the course of the next little while I'll post content or links to discussions I've had or I am having on the whole WikiLeaks situation. ]
This first one is a debate I'm having with a friend on Facebook. His comments/questions in italics.
Hi Fernando. You said "I fully support prosecuting WikiLeaks and anyone else involved in this to the fullest extent of the law." Who is anyone else? I'd think it is The Guardian, The New York Times, and the people that talk about those news, including you and me, right? what he did was to disseminate relevant information, like any other journalist would do. The difference is that he was just smarter an more effective.
There's a lot of assumptions on your statement that I think needs to be looked at.
First of all, there's fundamental differences between WikiLeaks and real news organizations:
- Assange himself refers to WikiLeaks as "activists", with an "agenda" for transparency (watch the TED video again). They also want to "punish" the US for starting the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
- The news media - Guardian, NYT, ... - use information to publish news articles, not just release the raw data. Personally, I find it objectionable that sites such as the Guardian are publishing the whole cables now, but in reality I don't think they could be prosecuted for it. It is interesting to see that the Guardian makes an effort to distance itself from WikiLeaks in describing how they scrub information more thoroughly that WL.
- Also, WikiLeaks has *threatened* to release passwords to an already distributed "insurance file" in case of severe harm to the organization. How is that compatible with responsible behaviour in news media?
In essence, I don't look at WikiLeaks as "any other journalist": they may have wanted to be that, but by releasing cables with the explicit objective of changing foreign policy, they become activists and not media.
One thing not being taken into account is that the State Department ITSELF publishes ist cables, but usually after a long (25 years+) period just to avoid compromising foreign policy. Who the hell does Assange think he is in deciding for himself that foreign policy is best served by publishing the data now? He doesn't seem to care that policy initiatives will have to changed/scrapped, that people will have to be reassigned, that careers may have been cut short.
To me, "all involved" are:
- the original leaker, for espionage/treason
- those who designed and/or operated the secure networks that allowed this to happen, for gross negligence.
- WikiLeaks, for aiding in espionage/treason. I don't know what specific charges should apply here. Actually one of my links recently was on the complications of prosecuting WikiLeaks. I just think there has to be a way to prosecute someone who engages in this type of "information warfare" action against the national interests.
Actually he has a political agenda, and interestingly he takes full responsibility for that. On his interview on TED (http://www.ted.com/talks/julian_assange_why_the_world_needs_wikileaks.html), he said "if a government is making an effort to conceal an information, releasing it is probably good". In contrast, my personal conversation with my wife would not make the news... (unfortunately :) even if Assange released it.
In my opinion, by having a political agenda, he gives up the protection of being "press". He can't have it both ways. (see above).
Funny enough that he himself seems to take secrecy pretty seriously. When asked about the irony of WikiLeaks being so secretive, he sidestepped the question answering that there hadn't been any leaks at WikiLeaks yet. It'll be interesting to see the fallout of some people at WikiLeaks leaving because of him.
As for that quote, to me Julian Assange has no idea of what he is talking about, and that quote summarizes it perfectly.
Does he not recognize that within the sphere of international relations, governments have ENEMIES, publicly declared or not? Does he not recognize that the relationship between governments and individuals is ABSOLUTELY different than the one between government themselves?
I can see value in investigative reporting and denouncing specific crimes/coverups, such as Watergate, but where is the investigative reporting in exposing to the entire world the opinions of State Department officials about things?
Now let's look at HR. Why would someone want to hide the fact that an overqualified immigrant recently hired makes half of his peer's salary? This loaded question has the answer... Have you ever used that website that tells you what is your car dealers margin (confidential information), so you can negotiate with him and get a more "fair" price? It seems to me that more "advanced" companies are more transparent, so they focus their efforts on building their values, and not on perceptions. The same may happen with society.
Well, I could argue that the company has evaluated that the immigrant is not competent in negotiating a better salary and should not be paid more, or that the other peer offers more benefits to the company (maybe he has better relationships with others in the industry, maybe he has more experience with the company's products, etc...). As a shareholder in that company, I want it to make the best business decisions that will maximize the business benefits: it has to balance how much to pay staff to ensure that works gets done (products are released) and morale and quality don't suffer (so the company can profit).
When I bring up the HR example is this: how does your opinion of your colleagues changes if you know how much they make? To me, the disruption on the workforce would be significant.
What WikiLeaks appears to fail to understand is that international diplomacy is based primarily on NEGOTIATIONS, and revealing the internal discussions of one of those sides can compromise their position.
I think that equating the business relationship between an individual and a company with the diplomatic relations between countries is nowhere near appropriate.
As someone in the auto industry, you may know that the relantionship between the dealer andthe manufacturer is a lot more complex than just the "margin" the dealer gets on the invoice, right? There's joint marketing costs, factory assistance to dealers, documentation fees, prep fees, etc... I doubt any dealer will open up the entire accounting to you to negotiate a deal.
I think transparency is great, if handled properly. What I don't want is that being decided by the leader of an activist organization with no accountability to anyone but themselves.
However, our world may not be ready (yet) to deal with this level of transparency. We will keep following on the news. One thing I am sure, our society will still "function", even if it is with a different distribution of power.
I can go on a tangent here and say that this 'distribution of power' you speak of may end up being extremely negative to the Western values we live under. That's for another discussion, if you wish.
Now if we have to think too much on how to prosecute wikileaks, that suggests a witch hunt. I'd ask something different instead "why does wikileaks make us so uncomfortable"?
I think that not a witch hunt, but the realization that the legal methods to hold someone accountable for their actions have to match the reality of the 21st century. Not sure how to do that yet...
As for what makes me uncomfortable about WikiLekas:
- the apparent inability (or unwillingness) of the government to hold accountable someone who is clearly attacking it.
- the celebration of this attack by so many in the Western world as "speaking truth to power" when in reality it is an almost anarchist organization doing damage with no regards for consequences
Thanks for the discussion!