December 10, 2010

Cablegate: Two Important Points

As Glenn Greenwald keeps pointing out:

(1) This is not a “document dump.”  WikiLeaks has not “indiscriminately” released all of the 251,287 cables.  At the time of this writing, WikiLeaks has only released 1,269 cables—that is, about 1/2 of 1%.

(2) WikiLeaks is only releasing these documents once they’ve been redacted to prevent innocents from being hurt.  It initially asked the US government to help it redact the documents, only to be rejected.  From the AP:

The United States rejected talks with WikiLeaks over its planned release of confidential US documents late on Saturday, saying the whistle-blower website was holding them in violation of US law.

The US State Department set out its position in a letter to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his lawyer that was released to the media... US officials said Assange had sent a letter to the Department of State on Friday, in which he tried to address US concerns that WikiLeaks' planned release of classified documents placed individual persons at risk.

In his letter, Assange said he wanted information regarding individuals who might be "at significant risk of harm" because of WikiLeaks' actions, the officials said.

Rejected by the US government, WikiLeaks decided to work with the newspapers it released the cables to.  For two weeks now, it has been publishing the cables after they’ve been published by these newspapers and it has included the newspapers’ redactions in what it publishes.  Also from the AP:

[WikiLeaks] is releasing only a trickle of documents at a time from a trove of a quarter-million, and only after considering advice from five news organizations with which it chose to share all of the material.

“They are releasing the documents we selected,” Le Monde's managing editor, Sylvie Kauffmann, said in an interview at the newspaper's Paris headquarters.

WikiLeaks turned over all of the classified U.S. State Department cables it obtained to Le Monde, El Pais in Spain, The Guardian in Britain and Der Spiegel in Germany. The Guardian shared the material with The New York Times, and the five news organizations have been working together to plan the timing of their reports.

They also have been advising WikiLeaks on which documents to release publicly and what redactions to make to those documents, Kauffmann and others involved in the arrangement said.

“The cables we have release correspond to stories released by our main stream media partners and ourselves. They have been redacted by the journalists working on the stories, as these people must know the material well in order to write about it,” WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in a question-and-answer session on The Guardian's website Friday. “The redactions are then reviewed by at least one other journalist or editor, and we review samples supplied by the other organisations to make sure the process is working”…

As stories are published, WikiLeaks uses its website to release the related cables. For example, The Guardian published an article Thursday based on diplomatic cables discussing the assassination of former Russian security officer Alexander Litvinenko by radiation poisoning, and WikiLeaks quickly posted three cables on the same subject…

Days before releasing any of the latest documents, Assange appealed to the U.S. ambassador in London, asking the U.S. government to confidentially help him determine what needed to be redacted from the cables before they were publicly released. The ambassador refused, telling Assange to hand over stolen property. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley called Assange's offer "a half-hearted gesture to have some sort of conversation."

U.S. officials submitted suggestions to The Times, which asked government officials to weigh in on some of the documents the newspaper and its partners wanted to publish.

“The other news organizations supported these redactions,” Keller wrote. “WikiLeaks has indicated that it intends to do likewise. And as a matter of news interest, we will watch their website to see what they do.”

5 comments:

Bob said...

I wish they would quit calling it "stolen" and musing about whether to charge Assange with receiving stolen property. That just hurts their credibility. There has already been a SCOTUS case that established that copies are not stolen property (pirated records transported across state lines found not to be transporting stolen goods). Unless Manning sent him physical copies that were property of the U.S. (stole an actual paper file for example), it isn't stolen property.

As for asking the U.S. to redact them: "Hey, I have your secret documents. I've outed your spies before. Want to tell me which pieces of info you most want to keep away from your enemies? I promise not to publish it or otherwise pass it to your enemies like I did before. Yeah, yeah, that's the ticket. You can trust me, just ask my wife, uhhh, Morgan Fairchild."

I'm shocked, just shocked that the U.S. didn't trust this convicted criminal (convicted of hacking) to keep the list of "this is the most important stuff in the mountain of secrets" out of our enemies' hands.

So he runs some of it by the legitimate press and then "someone" farms the unredacted version anonymously to the Lebanese press.

All this shows is that "someone" is trying to keep his fingerprints off the outing of America's allies, not that "someone" isn't doing it.

Don Emmerich said...

Before releasing the Afghan War Logs, WikiLeaks asked the US government for help redacting names but was turned down. WikiLeaks then redacted many names on its own.[1] It failed to redact every name that should have been redacted, and for that it was rightfully criticized.

WikiLeaks did a much better job redacting the Iraq War Logs. CNN reported: "An initial comparison of a few documents redacted by WikiLeaks to the same documents released by the Department of Defense shows that WikiLeaks removed more information from the documents than the Pentagon."[2]

And WikiLeaks is publishing the current diplomatic cables with the redactions made by the above listed newspapers, one of which (the NY Times) has been working with the US government.

So your argument that WikiLeaks wants to hurt innocent people is completely without merit. WikiLeaks is obviously anti-authoritarian. Some have said that it is an anarchist organization. It hates big, secretive governments, that's clear. But there's simply no evidence for saying that it's goal is to hurt innocent people.

[1] http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/08/20/wikileaks

[2] http://edition.cnn.com/2010/US/10/22/wikileaks.editing/

Bob said...

I don't hate dogs, I just hate all members of the species "Canis lupus familiaris" (actually, I like dogs, just making a point). Sorry, but "big secretive governments" is another way of saying "governments of large countries". All governments keep secrets. It's in the nature of governments. Countries have enemies and rivals. Anything known to the public of country A is known to the intelligence services of country B.

The point isn't whether they want to hurt innocent people. The point is whether they do hurt innocent people in pursuit of their attempts to harm governments. If they do, then they become legitimate targets. Just like any soldier is a legitimate target of the military of the enemy country.

There are two contexts that an attack can occur, 1) peaceful law and 2) the rules of warfare.

Our soldiers are attacking the enemy under the rules of warfare, not peaceful law. That makes if legitimate for the enemy to shoot our soldiers, but not to put captured soldiers on trial (except for war crimes). The soldiers on either side are not breaking the law by fighting, they are just at war.

So what is the context of these leaks? Are they under the aegis of peacetime law or the rules of war. If it is peacetime law, then Assange can be put on trial for whatever crimes he has committed. Regardless of the reluctance to prosecute journalists in the past, there is no actual precedent that says that prosecution after the fact for publishing classified info is unconstitutional.

If wikileaks is to be considered under the rules of war, then they are a legitimate target for the governments they attack.

Don Emmerich said...

"The point is whether they do hurt innocent people in pursuit of their attempts to harm governments. If they do, then they become legitimate targets."

And let me ask you -- for what must be the tenth or eleventh time -- what innocent people has WikiLeaks hurt?

Don Emmerich said...

"If wikileaks is to be considered under the rules of war, then they are a legitimate target for the governments they attack."

Again, what law has WikiLeaks broken?