When I first met Jake Paleschic, the leader, singer, and songwriter of Patriot, he was reading Flannery O’Connor, ’50s and ’60s author of tough, serious short stories and two intense novels. Patriot is just as real as her work. Gritty, not unlike James McMurtry, Jake’s music makes you care — he and his band play, everyone stops to listen. The rest of the band is up to the task of accompanying him. Austin’s experience on classical guitar has trained his right hand to give every single note on bass its own sound, rather than the stream of identical notes you normally hear. Tyler’s fills on lead guitar are as thoughtful as he is, adding to the music like a voice. And Peter’s drumming feels personal, a genuine feel, where so many drummers just bang away mindlessly. I always want to listen to these guys.
Mailman is really fun. Austin has free range for his talent, and Jon sings from his heart. I’m eager to hear “Suburban Angst” recorded, perhaps their catchiest song. Read more about Mailman on the excellent site FortLive.
Ralph White also played solo that night, as did someone else — if you know this other person’s name, leave it in the comments. And if you know the name of the original artist for the song “Hard Way,” leave that in the comments.
On Tuesday 24 April 2012, about 13 people (including me) rallied in Dallas, Texas, in support of Private First Class Bradley Manning as similar rallies took place worldwide on the dates of his Article 39 pre-trial hearing. Manning, a 24-year-old U.S. Army intelligence analyst and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, is, after nine months of pre-trial humiliations and solitary confinement, currently undergoing court martial for allegedly leaking the following material to WikiLeaks:
The Collateral Murder video, which shows a U.S. helicopter firing on several Iraqis, killing, among others, two Reuters journalists and a van driver who tried to rescue one of the pair.
Cablegate, over a quarter-million secret State Department cables, which among other revelations show that U.S. Sens. John McCain, Joe Lieberman, and others promised Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi military hardware; that Hillary Clinton instructed diplomats to swipe biometric data, passwords, and credit card numbers from foreign dignitaries at the United Nations; and that Canada covertly promised aid for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
The Gitmo Files, memoranda describing prisoners held by the U.S. Joint Task Force at Guantanamo.
Manning is charged with multiple violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, including aiding the enemy, a capital offense, though prosecutors have said they will not seek his execution. For two years and counting, no one has been demonstrably harmed by the leaks. Manning’s nine months of extreme pre-trial punishment, the Bradley Manning support website points out,
sparked a probe by the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez. Mr. Mendez stated that he has been “frustrated by the prevarication of the US government with regard to my attempts to visit Mr. Manning.” After having his requests to visit Bradley repeatedly blocked, and after completing a fourteen month investigation, Mr. Mendez issued a statement saying that PFC Bradley Manning’s treatment has been “cruel and inhuman.”
The Dallas rally started at 4:30pm. I took the photos on this page (click ‘em for larger versions), and the videos of the rally embedded here are from bucky3phase’s YouTube channel, which has more, similar clips from the rally.
On Mockingbird Lane
(In the above video, the guy in the black WikiLeaks T-shirt messing with his phone is me. I was spreading information about the rally on Twitter.)
As I wrote for Salon, Geoffrey Robertson, one of Assange’s lawyers, says the nine months of humiliation and solitary confinement imposed on Manning were an attempt to make him “falsely confess to being groomed by Assange.” Right now, in northern Virginia, the U.S. is pursuing a grand jury investigation against WikiLeaks and its founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange. A plea bargain from Manning might mean information or “information” prosecutors can use against WikiLeaks. Though WikiLeaks works with many big media outlets worldwide, the U.S. has prioritized WikiLeaks as an enemy (in addition to pursuing whistleblowers and journalists not connected with WikiLeaks), probably in large part because the Internet and the organization’s design means many more leaks against powerful wrongdoers than otherwise. Prosecution of WikiLeaks is a gigantic threat to the freedom of the press, and it isn’t helping anything that the New York Times, which has worked closely with WikiLeaks, is siding more with the U.S. government than with Assange.
We had a mild incident with two police officers and a plainclothes guy with a gun (see video above) — he is, I’m told, a Dallas Police Department detective. I didn’t hear exactly what happened, but apparently we were in violation of Dallas City Code 28-158.1, which is titled PROHIBITING THE CARRYING OF SIGNS ON, OVER, OR NEAR FREEWAYS and says among other things:
In this section, SIGN means any device, flag, light, figure, picture, letter, word, message, symbol, plaque, poster, or other thing that is designed, used, or intended to advertise or inform.
(b) A person commits an offense if he carries or otherwise displays a sign on, over, or within 75 feet of the roadway of any of the following streets or highways in a manner intended to attract the attention of vehicle occupants on those streets or highways
The ordinance lists the highway we were over, Central Expressway. Essentially they wanted us to scoot our free speech activity 75 feet away from the Central Expressway access roads. What the detective reads out — about access roads — when he’s apparently quoting the ordinance is different than the ordinance as written online (linked above), but maybe the detective is accessing an updated version; the Dallas City Hall website says the online version may not be up to date. (As a Fort Worth resident, it might be hard for me to get a copy of the up-to-date, printed Dallas City Code; does anyone have it?) Anyway, as written online, the ordinance doesn’t specify access roads, and I think the overpass is more than 75 feet above the Central Expressway roadway proper. It is not clear to me that this (online version of the) ordinance is constitutional since generally the First Amendment guarantees the right to assembly and free speech activity on public sidewalks without permits, but I guess the overpass bridge might not be a “sidewalk” or something. Presumably there is relevant case law somewhere on this. (Please comment if you know more.)
Our conversation with the detective strikes me as particularly Southern somehow. I can’t articulate how I feel about all this very well. A city government has a legitimate interest in keeping people from dangerously distracting drivers, but that’s not what we were doing.
Excuse Me, Coming Through
Attending this rally made me think quite a bit about the challenges and payoffs of getting people involved with political, humanitarian, or other activist causes. (Nonprofits talk about encouraging people to climb a “ladder of engagement.”) Jon Stewart’s humorous Daily Show makes people feel good while they learn more about politics and possibly contribute to causes that, while sometimes centered primarily around dialogue and tolerance, more or less sync with establishment progressive Democrat goals and methods. Plenty of evidence shows nothing kills a cause like negativity (and this applies in other areas as well, such as trying to win someone over while flirting). For example:
Dr Gloor has found that, in Western countries at least, non-violent protest movements begin to burn out when the upbeat tweets turn negative, with “not”, “never”, “lame”, “I hate”, “idiot” and so on becoming more frequent. Abundant complaints about idiots in the government or in an ideologically opposed group are a good signal of a movement’s decline. Complaints about idiots in one’s own movement or such infelicities as the theft of beer by a fellow demonstrator suggest the whole thing is almost over.
The video above captures one of the ralliers calling out “Wake up, people!” while banging on a cowbell, which he did quite a bit during the event. I’m supportive of this, as well as — clearly, from my Twitter feed — more in-your-face measures; hacktivists and Occupy activists, for example, having chosen intense tactics ranging from the legal to the civilly disobedient. (And many with effective, feel-good humor as well.) I’m glad when people raise a ruckus that makes people think, even when I don’t support their cause; democracy is supposed to be noisy, and like the Manning rallier was saying, people need to wake up. But is the crying out (or, to put it less positively, the yelling) effective? Does the audience hear it and wake up some as a result, or do they just get turned off? And how much does that matter, since part of the point of a rally is to reinforce the base and therapeutically vent?
That the crying out makes me cringe a bit reflects my intrinsic personality, my discomfort with intruding on others (see this on the INFP personality interaction style; this issue goes a long way toward explaining why creative writing suits me as opposed to a performance art form such as live music) — my internal cringing has no necessary connection with how in-your-face rally tactics empirically affect audiences. It’s also interesting that I don’t really cringe dealing with in-your-face tactics when they are expressed in sheer text or static imagery, but I do when they are live or on video. Attending one of these events in person is very different from watching it on Twitter. And the cringing isn’t just needless embarrassment at the intrusion on others; it’s also a reflection of my emotional upset about the injustice that the intrusion is protesting.
Much of Occupy Wall Street’s critique of contemporary America accurately concerns the middle class or suburban or establishment tendency to act politely — or, submissively — when working for political change. When Manning is being abused, or when banksters crash the economy and don’t go to jail since they run so much of the political process, and that destroys people’s lives, or when immoral wars kill innocents and governments cover up the causalty numbers, why be meek at a rally? (See this blog post about the progressive middle class wanting change without conflict, the Phil Ochs song “Love Me, I’m a Liberal,” or the Jello Biafra cover of the same song with updated lyrics.) Well, because it might not be effective (or maybe it is?). Plus, I think there are real and legitimate reasons for some people not to stick their necks out. If you have dependent kids, for example, you’re morally obliged to take care of them, and so you have an interest in security and safety; some people take their kids to protests (which is great and teaches them values), but that’s not feasible for everyone’s financial situations or personalities. But they might be able to support causes in other ways (emotionally supporting more active individuals, for example). I guess this all goes to show that it’s good for causes to have a variety of techniques and ways to participate.
After many months of legal maneuvers–and illegal government maneuvers, the trial of Ellsberg and Russo finally opened in January 1973. This was the same month that the United States officially ended its war in Vietnam (a fact that escapes Wells’ notice). By this time, the Plumbers had burglarized the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, tried to physically attack Ellsberg at a demonstration, developed plans to firebomb the Brookings Institute (because Nixon thought Ellsberg had hidden documents in its vault), and burglarized the Democratic national party office in the Watergate Hotel during the 1972 election campaign. During the trial, Nixon’s aide John Ehrlichman twice tried to bribe the presiding judge with the possibility of being chosen to head the FBI. These facts were brought into the trial, which was now taking place during the Watergate hearings. Finally, when evidence of previously undisclosed White House wiretaps of Ellsberg was introduced, the judge was forced to dismiss all charges.
Unlikely things happen.
Group Photo/Social Graph!
The point is to do what you think is right, even if it’s uncomfortable or dangerous at times. I think that’s more important than measuring whether your action is the most effective one; but, as an artsy/emotional/creative person, that’s how I tend to relate to the world, and I’m glad there are more logical, practical-oriented people who focus on increasing efforts’ impact, since you don’t want wasted effort.
The leaks certainly weren’t wasted effort. To take just one example, when the U.S. wanted to keep its troops in Iraq past the 2011 deadline, the Iraqi government’s decision to say no was at least in part influenced by a WikiLeaks cable that showed Iraqi civilians, including children, were killed in a 2006 raid by American troops rather than in an airstrike as the U.S. military initially reported. (More.)
If you had free reign over classified networks… and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC… what would you do?
God knows what happens now. Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms… I want people to see the truth… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.
(Big thanks to my friend Kristyn for hosting me at her apartment.)
Just a little more than a hundred people attended the seminar. This was the agenda:
8:00-8:55: Registration and Continental Breakfast
8:55-9:00: Welcome and Introductions
9:00-10:00: Inside the WikiLeaks Legal Team: Geoffrey Robertson, QC, Doughty Street Chambers, via Skype from London
10:15-11:15: WikiLeaks and America’s Campaign Against Al-Qaeda: Eric Schmitt, New York Times
11:30-12:30: The WikiLeaks Debate: Panelists: Lucy Dalglish [Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Executive Director], Don DeGabrielle [private international governmental investigations attorney, former U.S. Attorney, and former FBI Special Agent], David Adler [federal criminal defense attorney and former CIA officer] and Tom Forestier [Moderator; law firm managing shareholder].
Transcript of most of the seminar below. Quotations indicate exact speech. Brackets indicate my clarifications. Brackets with my “– DAL” signature indicate my comments. Everything else is paraphrase. Mistakes mine. This transcript assumes you have some familiarity with the material.
Robertson began with three quotes: James Madison on the importance of a free press for governing knowledgeably, Theodore Roosevelt “calling on muckrackers to destroy what he called ‘the invisible government,'” and a Supreme Court opinion in New York Times Co. v. United States saying the only protection for the public lies in an enlightened citizenry. “Assange takes this philosophy seriously.”
Assange uses electronic methods to keep sources anonymous. “You could waterboard him for weeks, and he couldn’t name his source, because he wouldn’t know.”
WikiLeaks published exposes on “the malpractice of the church of Scientology” and “tax evasion in the Cayman Islands” and “banking fraud in Iceland”; “all these releases were of obvious media interest. Assange is often seen as being left-wing, but WikiLeaks published the so-called Climategate” wherein “Essex University seemed to be rigging the data.”
“In quick succession in 2010″ WikiLeaks published “the material that is alleged to be posted by Bradley Manning. There was Collateral Murder, which was manslaughter. An extraordinary revelation. I thought it should have been called Collateral Manslaughter because it was a tape that showed the killing of two Reuters reporters, children, and several civilians.” It was “a war crime.”
Skype call interrupted by a Windows automatic update on the Texas side. Call resumed.
“Iraq-gate included 400,000 raw field reports that showed many thousand more civilian causalities than had been estimated. A treasure trove for future historians writing about that war, showing exactly how it was fought on the ground.”
“Obvious stories of public interest.” A “very interesting fact: in 2010, as these revelations were coming out, a number of countries were so disturbed by what WikiLeaks was doing that they dropped all WikiLeaks-related websites and threatened to jail any of their citizens who were caught sending material to WikiLeaks. Which countries were these? […] China, Syria, Russia, North Korea, Russia, Thailand, Zimbabe.”
“It was with Cablegate in 2010 that we did get a burst of hysteria from the United States. It was the release of diplomatic cables […] published jointly by the New York Times, the Guardian, and Der Spiegel, with fact-checking, removal of names, and so on done together by all the organizations. Criticism from the government came not against the New York Times but singled out Assange,” casting him as “this peripatetic Australian with this supernatural power.”
When there was criticism of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp invading privacy with cell phone hacks there was “no real protest about” Murdoch from governments.
Vice President “Joe Biden accused” Assange “of being a hi-tech terrorist; “Huckabee called for his assassination”; Sarah Palin said “he should be hunted down like bin Laden.”
When going to visit Assange in Norfolk, Robertson keeps “an eye out for Navy SEALs.”
Robertson has received “death threats from middle America by email.”
Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense, said Cablegate resulted in “no long-term damage.”
The pragmatic United States diplomats were “so insightful that when all this was published, President Clinton suggested Assange was a secret CIA agent.”
“America was upset; its pride was wounded by this pesky Australian. It couldn’t — I guess because of the First Amendment and Democratic Party politics — attack the New York Times.” The attack on WikiLeaks is “a betrayal of the founding fathers who claimed belief in freedom.”
People keep saying “Assange has blood on his hands”; “let’s examine this”: “2.5 years and not a single causalty.” So “that’s the first point. No blood on WikiLeaks’ hands. Those who said there was were talking nonsense. We wouldn’t expect there to be casualties because these cables were not classified Top Secret” as the “Pentagon Papers” were. “Top Secret is a classification where there are likely reprisals from publication.” [Reviewing US government information on classification levels, I found nothing to support this claim. — DAL] “So obviously” the writers of “these cables didn’t expect reprisals.” That “two and a half million people had access to these particular cables” makes it “so entirely false to suggest lives would be at stake.”
“It’s the responsibility of a government that puts sources at risk to guard them; to encrypt their names, [to encrypt] cables, [and] to have a proper classification policy.”
It comes back to the Pentagon Papers and the principle that “the duty of government is to protect its sources.”
“Proper classification should” adhere to “four principles”: “Firstly, citizens have a right to know what the government does in their name”; “Secondly,” a “government has the responsibility to protect” sources”; “Thirdly, outsiders who have obtained it [classified information] should not be punished unless they got it by fraud” or “bribery”; and fourth, classification “should not stop whistleblowers from” revealing “war crimes.”
“It is not clear what communication there has been between Manning and Assange.”
“Look at the Espionage Act.” There are “three positions between journalists and sources. First is that the journalist receives the information unknowingly such as through the traditional brown paper envelope or through the Internet in various ways. It seems in that situation no one would suggest the publisher should be liable […] If it’s in the public interest, there should be no criticism in publishing [it].” 2. Intermediaries. With an “intermediary there is contact. The source says ‘I’ve got information of importance, how can I get it to you?’ […] The journalist says ‘drop it in a certain place at midnight’ […] arranging to receive information […] should not be criminal.” 3. “Where the journalist contacts the source and persuades him or her to breach confidentiality of government or bribes him, then that is soliciting and that should fall under the scope of the Espionage Act.”
Electronic leaks are “here to stay.” The “Wall Street Journal has something called Safe House that guarantees safety of information, if you trust Rupert Murdoch.” And there are “other sites outside the constraints of traditional publishers. So we’ve got to accept — governments and corporations have got to accept — that confidentiality is going to be limited where it deals with information of public interest. Information will not only leak; it will go viral on the Net. You remember, perhaps, that YouTube film set in Domino’s Pizza; a secret camera depicted photographs of one of the Domino’s Pizza cooks stuffing the pizza in his nose before” finishing with it, and “Domino’s stock went down 10%.”
“Corporations have to face up to the fact that this is the new power of ordinary people. Ordinary people — that [wrongly] condescending phrase.” We must “remember that WikiLeaks stands there […] at a time when Google is blocked by 25 countries in the world. You can’t get YouTube in Turkey.” Now there are “two billion people” connected online. “For better or worse, this prospect of breaches in confidentiality is here to stay.”
With “unredacted” material published “directly on to the Net there will be more danger, but perhaps more benefit. We must live with this” and “we should welcome” it.
“Some analysts say” that “the Arab Spring began with the revelation of the corruption in the Tunisian government […] through the revelation of the WikiLeaks cables […] The most virulent attack on WikiLeaks was made on January 14, 2011″ when “it was accused of leading the protesters in Tunisia astray by false claims against their incorruptible president [… this] violent attack on Assange was made by one Colonel Gaddafi.”
(In response to a question:) “At the end of the day you have the community standard that provides that ultimate judgment on the whistleblower” and “that is ultimately for a jury to decide”; “Governments make offers to” mediate “whistleblowers, telling its agents, ‘You can approach Congressmen with complete confidence if you’ve got anything to reveal'; that hasn’t been found to be effective. There is just not the trust that is necessary. The journalists by themselves are more trusted […] It is a principle of journalistic ethics that they do not betray a source.”
“Who judges the whistleblower? The answer is: the whistleblower begins” with a “moral imperative to make the disclosure” and “so long as there is a public interest defense, it would be a jury that would provide the ultimate decision.”
Question from the audience [me]: “Has the Swedish prosecution given reasons why they cannot ask Assange the questions over the phone or some other medium?”
Robertson: “No they have not. There is no doubt that Mr. Assange is willing to answer questions. He waited in Sweden for six weeks waiting to be interrogated […] He offered to talk to them from Britain by telephone or Skype or by any number of means and the Swedish prosecutor refused […] The Swedish prosecutor takes the view that when [and if] he returns to Sweden […] he should not get bail […] and [that] he should be tried in secret, because in Sweden these cases are tried in secret.” [Gasps from the audience.] “There will be a whole host of other issues, but it’s not particularly germane to the WikiLeaks issues themselves.”
Question from the audience: “You talked about corporations and governments needing to understand that confidentiality is really limited by the need of the public’s interest and that there’s a balance there. I was wondering [if you can] define what would be the public interest that would [override] legitimate confidentiality needs.”
Robertson: “This” type of publication is “power for the powerless to affect the way corporations behave […] It’s one way in which Internet technology can democratize corporate activity, make corporations accountable for human rights violations. I suppose there’s a failure — a black area — in international law saying corporations are not subject to international criminal law.” But this new Internet technology is a way “of making corporations liable for human rights abuses.” When “corporate insiders are offered by WikiLeaks-type organizations or even by the newspapers, which as I’ve explained are trying to set up WikiLeaks-style electronic letterboxes — where they’re offering that kind of anonymity as a guarantee — that may tip the balance and make [the insiders] more inclined to take the risk to expose” abuses.
Question from the audience: “So far we’ve been talking about the legality of WikiLeaks.” Can you say “how many of your resources you are using against the extradition & sexual assault issues versus [how many resources you are using to defend] the legality of WikiLeaks?”
Robertson: “These battles have been going on for a while. There’s nothing much, in fact, in the Swedish allegations; I won’t go into it because to do so would take some time. But it’s not been the Swedish allegations themselves that cause any worry; they may have to be faced down eventually, and I think Mr. Assange would deal with them willingly if the prospects for extradition to the United States” weren’t so likely. Sweden has a “regrettable record of supporting extradition to the United States” and it “has been exposed by the UN criminal court for doing that.” [Murmurs of surprise.] “The real problem is the grand jury proceedings which are of course cloaked in secrecy and have been going on a while, and the United States government hasn’t announced any position; it seems content to play a cat-and-mouse game; Alan Dershowitz and I are advising Mr. Assange on that.” Grand juries “can be open-ended”; they “haven’t been used in Europe”; they’re “unique to the United States. It may well be that the focus of concern will shift to Mr. Manning’s trial; that will come up shortly. It would be helpful, as I say, if the US Justice Department would say one way or another, if the United States government would say if they propose to bring a case against Mr. Assange.”
Eric Schmitt of the New York Times
“The Assange I met was not the hi-tech terrorist as Biden described him nor the crusader as his lawyer described him. The Guardian had set up an awful Excel spreadsheet” for us to look through the documents in London. “Julian Assange was supposed to arrive and help us clarify the muck. There was this mystique about this guy.” The “Guardian was unclear about” where he was coming from [to London]; “it was Scandinavia.” Assange is “a striking figure: tall, lanky guy, about 6’2″ or 6’3″ with a shock of white hair.” He arrived “that night alert and disheveled in this kind of dingy coat, cargo pants, dirty white socks that sort of collapsed around his sneakers […] It was almost like Oz showing up to show you what’s going on behind the scenes. All he had with him was this huge backpack which he kind of sloughed off and from which were disgorged cables and” all sorts of computer equipment. And he had this “plastic box and he said, ‘In here are the crown jewels.'”
We needed to “figure out an arrangement for how we could get access for these documents back to New York.” It was “too long, too difficult” to go through the documents in the condition they were in. Once we achieved “access back to New York,” then “my colleagues using special technical means could essentially bundle these documents; we could give them search terms […] whether it was civilian causalities” or “relations with Pakistan.” And “over the next coming weeks as we did work out this arrangement with Assange and WikiLeaks […] we as a team at the New York Times in our own bunker […] were able to divide up the content of these documents and write up over the course of several weeks some five or six stories that ran in a package that day […] Assange had not placed restrictions on the material we used, he certainly didn’t” give us money or anything like that. He did ask for an “embargo”; he wanted it all to come out at the same time; “we had to settle on a common time and date.”
“With Assange, though, it was always a struggle figuring out who this guy was. He is a brilliant man to be sure, he’s very well-schooled in American history and American law,” and a “computer hacker, though he doesn’t like that term. He’s also incredibly paranoid, sees conspiracies everywhere, [and has] this kind of Peter Pan quality about him.” When “walking out with a Der Spiegel reporter, he started skipping ahead and humming this kind of tune” and then “continued the conversation.”
“The most difficult thing we had to deal with Assange” was what to do “about the names.” We at the New York Times “were very concerned about the safety of these individuals who had spoken to the Americans or the allied coalition […] it was very clear to us […] the Taliban would take a list, and they would remember and there would be a retaliation because that’s exactly what they had done [previously …] they had killed and intimidated [families …] so we took out names of individuals that we felt could be in danger […] we went to Assange and hoped” we could work together on redactions. Assange said, ‘That’s not what we’re going to do, we are an anti-secrecy organization. Sometimes there have to be casualties in this fight for transparency.'” That “wasn’t [our] position or that of” the Guardian or Der Spiegel. “We [at the New York Times] can’t be as certain as Geoffrey Robertson was now in claiming there was no harm, no injury [from these publications].”
“I participated in the workings of the Iraq War Logs which Assange had given us access to […] the diplomatic cables we did not get from Assange or WikiLeaks […] He was very angry with the New York Times […] throughout our collaboration our whatever you want to call it […] We consider WikiLeaks today a source, a very different source to be sure, but a source” [This position from the NYT puts all digital journalism, which is to say basically all journalism, at risk — DAL] “Julian Assange saw the four organizations in that room, that bunker in London, as journalistic collaborators. It depended on what day it was. On a certain day, Assange would say, ‘I’m a journalist today,’ and the second day, ‘I think I’m going to be a publisher today,’ and the third day, ‘I’m back to being an advocate’ […] Even he was conflicted about the role he played […] We [the New York Times] were not part of a crusade or the Musketeers or anything like that” [Why not? — DAL] He “was very angry we did not link to the WikiLeaks site.” Assange “was angry […] we did not stand shoulder-to-shoulder with him.”
“The impact of WikiLeaks has really set new standards, I think. This remains a gold mine not only for journalists but academic researchers. Any kind of story that comes up now, my editors say, ‘What’s in WikiLeaks about this story?’ If there’s a prominent new diplomat, ‘Go and search the WikiLeaks documents'; so, this is a rich trove of information […] It remains a very important source of information not only for understanding our foreign policy but to understand those we trust with our foreign policy […] Government has gone a long way to [ensure] this never [happens] again.” [Some government figure] “said it could take five more years to make sure our system is not vulnerable to another WikiLeaks-type attack […] Another effort of this kind is very unlikely. This was a perfect storm type of event […] The access that [Manning] had, the restrictions that were in place […] makes it very difficult to [redo] that.”
Assange “has contracted for a couple of books; those seem underway.” What takes the cake is that “a couple of weeks the RT Kremlin-sponsored news station” has agreed to host his television program. [RT bought the show; hosting is the wrong way to describe the licensing. –DAL]
“Bradley Manning is facing court martial now […] Obviously” Manning is “some disturbed young man.” But “it’s much less certain what’s going to happen with Julian Assange and what’s going to happen with WikiLeaks. This panel that’s in northern Virginia could very well issue some indictments, but it’s very unclear what path they may take.”
“We do have access at the New York Times of classified documents [as a general matter], but nothing like this; to get 90,000 electronic documents was overwhelming. There was nothing in those documents you could pull out and say, ‘Oh my God, that’s an incredible revelation’ — that’s not there. [There is however] a fine-textured, round-eye view of what’s going on with this war.” For example, “the number of IED attacks” or “the war is heating up again by 2007, and there’s no [help from the US government] despite the cries from the commanders.”
“The other thing [WikiLeaks] did was fill in gaps of stories we have written about [such as] the double-game Pakistan was playing with the United States […] While playing a very productive role helping the CIA round up Taliban, but at the very same time help the Taliban […] because Pakistan was taking a longer-term look […] because Pakistan wanted to make sure it had influence against its arch-rival India. So there’s this double-game that goes on to this day where Pakistan will cooperate in some areas but not in others […] Even if you discount half of these reports as biased by the Afghan intelligence service, it was still much more detailed than we ever had before […] Same thing with the Iraq documents.”
“WikiLeaks was severely chastened by the names released in the Afghan documents, so what did they do in these Iraq logs? They went the other way, using a computer program that took out almost every proper name […] if you get copies of the documents today, they’re virtually unusable. We had to redact, very carefully, a certain portion of the documents we put online. Robertson’s right in laying out the key stories that came out from these cables; these were finished diplomatic cables. What they’re saying in public is pretty much what they’re saying in private, but without so much detail.” [WTF. I list some of the cables indicative of lies here. — DAL]
“In my book with Thom Shanker, we talked a lot about the financing of terrorism.” The topic is “not as sexy as a SEAL team” blasting people. But the “funneling [of] a lot of money to terrorist groups” is important to understand; we talk about how individually these cables single out key allies in the Persian Gulf such as the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait […] This [Cablegate] was just a stunner to diplomats who have to deal with their counterparts every day […] You can imagine being a diplomat and having to face [the people you talk with] after this […] But it was also quite revealing in many ways […] as I think Robertson accurately pointed out, you had these cables talk about corruption […] I do believe this contributed to the Arab Spring. It wasn’t the sole cause, but it told people what they had all along suspected — but here are the nitty-gritty details. It did spark that [Arab Spring] outrage to a certain extent.”
“This is the latest issue of Rolling Stone with Michael Hastings interviewing Assange [Schmitt raises it in the air]. This is fascinating because Assange today, as he did then, criticizes the New York Times for this collusion with the United State government, [saying] that we’re in collusion with the CIA.” [In the article Assange does not mention the CIA in relation to the NYT, but rather says the NYT was “sucking up to the White House.” — DAL]. “But we believe our moral and ethical responsibility in dealing with very sensitive classified information” is to run it by the government. “We are going to write a story no matter what; that’s our going-in position with the government no matter what. [We ask the government] is there any reason” to treat this material differently. [The NYT says to the government:] “We’re going to give you a space to push back against this […] Are there any individuals we have missed that you think we should redact for their own personal safety […] Is there any sensitive information about intelligence [methods]” that we might jeopardize by publishing the story as-is. “We would have phone conversations telling [the government] ‘Here’s what’s going on with this classified information; we’re not giving you” prior restraint “here. Is there a legitimate national security interest in holding back material? This is responsible journalism. Respectable news organizations have always dealt with classified material like this.” [Questionable — DAL]
“This Administration didn’t come after us. In London we went through all these goofy rituals […] We couldn’t use our cell phones […] and we all kind of got into this.” We used a “secret code” to describe the information. “Package one was the Afghanistan documents; package two was Iraq; package three was the diplomatic cables. Because we didn’t know if the NSA was listening to our conversations.” [Contrast “goofy” with panelist statements below. — DAL]
“We have heated [internal] debates about sources: ‘Why is the New York Times doing this?’ Today I asked [a colleague], ‘Do you still have these concerns? It’s a year after these cables have come out. [My colleague said] ‘We still have these concerns, some day something’s going to happen to them [the informants]. But there’s been a chilling effect on our ability to acquire new contacts because WikiLeaks is out there. Everyone knows what it’s like to be WikiLeak’ed.” [I don’t understand how leak publications decrease the number of leaks. Perhaps Schmitt meant non-leak contacts are more afraid of the press now? — DAL]
“It’s a rare diplomatic meeting that doesn’t begin with a semi-serious joke: ‘What I’m about to say is not for WikiLeaks.'”
[People ask] “‘How could the American government be so incompetent to let this happen?’ It’s completely true we [as in the United States] classify too much. The State Department points their finger at the Defense Department, rightly so. The Pentagon came clean, embarrassingly so, about how little they had done to restrict this kind of thing. You had the ability to put a memory stick in a classified machine” and pretend to be copying Lady GaGa songs. It’s still an issue, “how little supervision there was over these classified machines.”
“The impact on journalists continues today.” Though “we have [already] gone through the big publicity burst of these documents, we continue to go back into the documents. The [Gitmo Files] did add more fidelity to our understanding of who’s being held in Guantanamo Bay. We dip back into WikiLeaks.”
“The State Department felt burned [by WikiLeaks] like no other agency did. [That’s] something that I think is really unfortunate for the transparency issue. After 9/11, the State Department lowered some of its walls” to help interagency communications “and that’s some of what Bradley Manning tapped into [and now] the walls have gone back up again.”
“Just some final thoughts on where this is going on the legal front. Lawyers are the guys trying to keep us out of jail.” One NYT lawyer, David McCraw, “offered some interesting observations here. David talked about how our Espionage Act […] has been written […] but so far it hasn’t been applied to publishers, it’s been applied to leakers. What McCraw later drilled into our editors and some of us were some of the things that makes it unlikely prosecutors will go after us. [That is] to redact sensitive information, giving the government the chance to have a space to push back, [discussing] what the public interest is in these stories […] What made it easier with the New York Times is that there were other, foreign publications that were going to go ahead with these publications, that wouldn’t have to answer to the US Government. The Obama Administration said let’s not go ahead with this at all, but if you have to do this at all, let’s do it in a responsible way. It really would have been pointless” to try to stop the global publishing.
“We didn’t want to appear to be collaborating with the Guardian in any way that [would have] made us” liable to UK laws. “We also wanted to maintain that distinction between journalist/source relationship with Julian Assange […] It was impossible to know just what he had done […] I asked Assange what he knew about Bradley Manning, and he would smile and say ‘We don’t know.'” But “these court proceeding seems to show otherwise.” And “could we at the New York Times be seen as aiding or abetting what Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks did? No one in the government has come after us. David [McCraw] also suggested to me that there are only three open-ended legal questions. The first is: ‘Should leakers have more protection?’ The Obama Administration has been very aggressive in going after leakers.” For example, a “former CIA operative named John Kiriakou has been gone after by the Justice Department for sharing information with reporters including one of my New York Times colleagues Scott Shane.” The mainstream news organizations have historically taken the position that it’s “illegal to leak” in exchange for the freedom for publishers to publish.” [Make an exchange in order to receive First Amendment protection? — DAL] “Courts have rarely recognized the right to retain and collect information. Are we” liable “if the government asked for the documents back? The Espionage Act could be read to allow such prosecution.”
“Would we sign on to an amicus brief to [defend] Julian Assange? Would we be reluctant at the New York Times to the lock arms with him?” [Questions posited as hypotheticals. His tone of voice and other remarks seemed to indicate the answers would be ‘No.’] “It’s always going to come back to the ‘Why we did this'” and “‘Why is it important to have to sources like this?’ We may never have WikiLeaks”-style “documents come this way to us again.”
“What did our most seasoned diplomats think of what we’re doing? Individuals who had nothing but casual contact with individuals might be captured or killed.” The questions “forced us to try to come to grips with what these different kinds of sources mean when we’re coming to this increasingly cyber-world. And finally I think it also underscores our obligation to verify this kind of material.” We’re back “where we started this conversation when I was sent to London. Are these documents forgeries or are they real? The ability to supply context is so important for journalists. And finally, ultimately, it’s to make sense of what’s complicated in a fast-paced world.”
Question from the audience [me]: “How much of the New York Times going to the government to give them a space to push back is really about maintaining access with the government to receive information, to receive authorized leaks and the like for domestic news and other information?”
Schmitt: We’re “not going to give the government the right of censorship, but [the right] to say, ‘You’re missing something here; you’re missing something about our operations and methods that you might be jeopardizing.’ They make their case; but, the decision to publish is up to us. Almost always we publish. There are small things we can do [such as] taking out a name that we think might not undercut the” overall story. “We don’t take things out because we think it will hurt our relationships with the government. It’s very rare that we get an authorized leak. It’s very rare to get the traditional brown envelope with documents. It’s more like a lawyer building a story by getting information from a variety of sources. The idea that [by giving the government a space to push back prior to publication] you’re somehow jeopardizing your relationship with the government to get freebie classified docs? It just doesn’t work that way.” [I’m not sold — DAL]
Question from the audience: “Do you think Assange has an ideology beyond transparency?”
Question from the audience: “You talked about bloggers; I wanted to see if you had any comment about Glenn Greenwald …”
Schmitt: “That’s probably a better question to ask to my colleagues such as Scott Shane.” Greenwald’s “voice is valuable. Like most bloggers, he has a point of view; you have to be careful with that.”
Question from the audience: “Had those documents not been acquired from WikiLeaks […] would have reported on it […] differently?” [I didn’t quite hear the question — DAL]
Schmitt: “We got the final tranche of cables from the Guardian; that’s public knowledge. We had a falling out with WikiLeaks. He felt we weren’t being fair to him. He was particularly upset about a profile we wrote about Bradley Manning and a profile we wrote about him. I don’t think we would have written it any differently. The source is giving you documents; then you have to look at the documents themselves. Julian Assange needed these news organizations and their technical skills as partnership, collaboration, whatever — he thought it was more of a journalistic collaboration. He just felt he didn’t have the technical skills” to analyze them journalistically. “He was savvy enough to know that and pick the new organizations that he did to have that impact. WikiLeaks is an unusual organization. It was, before it started imploding. Its main branch was in Germany; that was where a lot of its funding and volunteers came from. But it had branches in Scandanavia and this branch in Iceland. He knew he had a more sensitive liberal audience in Europe. He had El Pais in Spain and Le Monde in Paris for the diplomatic cables. Is his organization starting to fracture from internal fighting? People took the documents with them, virtually, and they started popping up. He started losing control of his organization.”
Concluded by moderator due to time.
Lucy Dalglish [Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Executive Director], Don DeGabrielle [private international governmental investigations attorney, former U.S. Attorney, and former FBI Special Agent], David Adler [federal criminal defense attorney and former CIA officer] and Tom Forestier [Moderator; law firm managing shareholder].
L to R: DeGabrielle, Dalglish, Adler, Forestier
Dalglish: “WikiLeaks is an inevitable thing; it’s the collision of technology and national security; if WikiLeaks didn’t do it, someone else would have invented it.”
Dalglish: “What makes WikiLeaks different than the Pentagon Papers is the speed and volume of the information. I understand why this makes various people in the government very anxious and very angry. I think they’re responding not so much to WikiLeaks and what it did, but what will happen next time.” These documents “were not the ‘crown jewels’ […] What happened in the WikiLeaks case was good journalism.”
Dalglish: “The question, wherever I go, is, ‘Is Julian Assange a journalist?’ Under the Espionage Act, that really doesn’t matter. Whom it really matters to are the journalists who have been out there year after year because they want the public to understand the process of what they are doing, the fairness. They really, really care. Under the law it doesn’t really make that much difference, except the US government has shown the more you are acting like a journalist the more they leave you alone.”
Dalglish: “The first group of documents was really dumped out there. Julian Assange started as identifying himself as an advocate, but more and more as a journalist; I think that was something his lawyers advised. And as time went on [WikiLeaks] started paying more and more attention to people on the ground. That’s just what I’m surmising they did.”
Dalglish: Assange “putting himself in the position of a journalist puts him in a better position if he were to be charged in the United States.”
Dalglish: “I was at a meeting at the Wye River Plantation, which is owned by the Aspen Institute. It had been a long time since there had been a meeting between intelligence chiefs from the CIA, the Justice Department, the military” and more. “I was flattered to be invited. The ground rules were, we could report on what was said, but we could not report who said. It became very clear — because they point-blank said it — that they do not believe there is even the slightest possibility of there being a whistleblower in the national security arena. There are whistleblowers in government, but not in national security. If you leak national security info, you are not a whistleblower — you are a felon. Period. That is the attitude this Administration takes. At a meeting this was verified by the president himself; he said to us” there are whistleblowers “but that doesn’t apply in the national security arena.”
Dalglish: James Risen has been “fighting a subpoena for many, many years.” I was told at that [Wye River Plantation] meeting that “by the way, this Risen subpoena is the last one you guys are going to see. We don’t need you anymore; we already know who you’re talking to.” And then Jane Mayer’s “article came out about Thomas Drake, about how the government is capable of tracking everything you do. Reporters, if you have a source to protect, stay off cell phones, stay off email; do what Bob Woodward did: use flowerpots, balconies, and parking garages. Look how long he was able to protect those sources using tried-and-true methods.”
DeGabrielle made a joke that Robertson’s Skype call interruption might have been shut down by the US Government.
DeGabrielle: “We believe firmly […] that indictments have a lot of power — they can ruin lives, families […] don’t just do it because you can.”
DeGabrielle: Quick point about Robertson’s remark on rendition and extradition. “They’re not the same thing. Rendition happens like with our neighbor to the south, Mexico. They’ll show up in the middle of the night with someone we in the United States want. They’ll meet us on a bridge and” hand them over “and we’ll say thank you and adios. Renditions, they’re not” chock-full “of due process.”
DeGabrielle: “If the United States wants to prosecute Julian Assange, I rather suspect there will be an extradition hearing, and it will get done.”
Adler joked that with a criminal defense attorney background and a TV photographer background, he [Adler himself] must be very conflicted about WikiLeaks.
Adler: “I can tell you with the contact I maintain with my friends who are intelligence officers that people have been affected by this. Careers have been destroyed in the foreign ministries. You can imagine what your boss would do if he found out what you really think about him. Lives have been devastated by this. I’m not aware of anyone having been killed, but to say that no one has been hurt — I don’t agree with that. It comes down to your responsibility to your fellow human being. I understand the concept of leaking, and frankly, I’m in favor of it; the government makes a lot of mistakes […] but people are at the heart of the” issue. “My problem with Mr. Assange is, I think Mr. Assange wants the story to be about Mr. Assange. For whatever reason Assange chose not to” redact sufficiently “but being anti-war and still being willing to risk their safety [i.e. safety of informants] — it seems to be a contradiction to me. Even Mr. Robertson said” about Sierra Leone “he was very concerned about sources coming forward with information and being killed.” [I didn’t hear clearly the part where Robertsont brought up Sierra Leone; that’s why it’s not included above. — DAL]
Adler: “There are tremendous parallels between being an intelligence officer and being a journalist. Mr. Assange’s method does more to endanger journalists. I think you go to the government and say, ‘We’re going to do this, but what do you have to say?’ It is the moral thing to do, but it also has a practical effect: [it makes it] less likely that the government is going to come after you. So just to willy-nilly throw yourself out there with these documents, I think, was a very unfortunate difference.”
Adler: “There is some value” in the WikiLeaks documents. “And I think there’s some deterrence value in having government employees concerned someone’s going to leak their misdeeds. Mr. Schmitt mentioned this CIA officer Kiriakou who was indicted just this past week. The similarity between his case and Mr. Assange’s case is he also wanted to be the center of the story.” Kiriakou “was clearly enjoying the publicity. By the same token, he could have done it the way that got the information out” without getting his name all in the press. “As a CIA officer we were very wary of sources who wanted to be the story. Number one, the information may be suspect. But number two, you may end up being clients of Don and myself. Look for the good information, publicize it when you think it’s appropriate, but do it in the appropriate manner. I don’t think disclosing the names in many of the instances is” the right way to do it.
Forestier: “One of the comments that Mr. Robertson made that I found to be very intriguing is whether or not the government needs to do a better job of keeping its secrets secret.”
DeGabrielle: There was the “Vanessa Leggett matter where a subpoena ‘was issued to someone who called herself a journalist. She was writing a book; she recorded a conversation in secret.” [DeGabrielle said more about this Leggett matter, but I couldn’t transcribe it quickly enough since I wasn’t familiar with the case. — DAL]
DeGabrielle: “Don’t think if you’re using a cell phone that the government doesn’t know what is going on.”
DeGabrielle: “I agree it’s a responsibility of the government to maintain the confidentiality it is swearing people into” [I missed the rest of this –DAL]
Forestier: “Lucy, can you share with us about the Valerie Plame affair?”
Dalglish: “Okay, that’s like my least favorite case of all time. You know, the parallels, I can’t draw too many parallels to that case because the Plame case was a situation where there was a lot of debate over whether yellow cake uranium, I think, was being gathered by Iranians. A columnist by the name of Robert Novak wrote a column” in which “he identified, in a kind of offhand way, that the former ambassador they sent to Niger was married to a CIA employee named Valerie Plame. The mention was almost gratuitous. In that particular case, I would distinguish them by saying the WikiLeaks case is a matter of the national intelligence agencies sitting down and being very, very concerned and having a kind of meltdown over the damage that could be done with the government. With the Plame case there is far more politics […] there was Scooter Libby, Karl Rove […] and multiple reporters involved in all of it; there were political columnists involved in all of it […] There just weren’t all that many similarities. Did the release of Valerie Plame’s name do incredible damage to her career? Yeah, it did. To this day I don’t understand why publishing her name was necessary.”
Adler: “From my years in the” intelligence community / CIA … When “someone in the family breaches that trust,” the family is “beyond furious. It’s like your wife or husband cheating on you; you’re that angry. With someone who’s made a member of ‘the Brotherhood,’ let’s say, would turn it around to get their name out there and risk people out there […] I think Obama has prosecuted six of these cases […] I don’t think it’s a decision made in the White House, I think it’s people in the national security agencies saying shut this down, it’s getting out of hand.” [Dalglish nodding her head.] “Manning and Drake will be the subject of CIA training videos. Although I agree the Plame thing was politically motivated because Joe Wilson, the ambassador who was sent over there, was a Clinton appointee.”
Dalglish: “Reporters were calling me and saying, ‘Doesn’t this Plame affair have a chilling effect on reporters?’ And I’d say, ‘Don’t you think that’s the point? Yeah.'”
Dalglish: “Mostly” protection for sources “involves staying off the phones, acting more like a CIA operative.” Your airline tickets and more are being tracked. “They are trying to track people who are leakers.” The government “will kind of ‘go back’ and look for the connections with the reporters who did the stories. It is kind of a lesson from the Plame-Cooper-Liddy-Rove case, and this is, when you’re communicating on your employer-owned communication devices, your employer is going to take the position that that information and that product belongs to them. And under the law that is probably true. So as Matt Cooper found out, after he fought the subpoena” TIME Magazine lost, and someone at TIME “thought he had the duty to turn it over. So TIME Magazine turned it over. So that’s another thing you guys have to pay very careful attention to. So Eric I’m sure knows all of this, and the NYT and David McCraw know all of this, and they’ve probably told everybody these things. Basically, stay off technology if you have somebody you seriously need to protect, particularly if they are in the national security world.”
DeGabrielle: “In the U.S. Attorney’s office, email is referred to as ‘evidence mail.’ We hear about horror stories of people who’ve said certain things in email, and they still don’t think about it, the confidentiality of the employees at a company, or even among the government. Electronic information is just cascading […] I think we’re going to have to redo some of the laws. This generation thinks there’s instant access to anything, so what’s the harm in reading something WikiLeaks has divulged? I would like to see” the matter raised: “does the public really need to know? Or are these salacious details that people would just like to hear about? Frankly, the people who are the decision-makers now are a bunch of dinosaurs who didn’t grow up with this, so they’re basing information on outdated information about what’s out there […] Everything is going to be available to everybody. I think David pointed out, and I think Lucy has said it as well, that the government probably classifies too much, and you get” agencies “that protect their turf. In a perfect world we’d have a super classification agency, one kind of ‘pinnacle’ that’d understand what it takes to get something classified. However, that’s impractical. No single group […] is going to be able to make that call.” The government “needs to think more in a sober fashion before they put that stamp on their confidential or their top secret or whatever it happens to be and think about it before the stamp goes down and why.”
Adler: “I gave a talk a while back to some civil lawyers titled ‘Delete Doesn’t.’ So not only should you not communicate” via technology, “but you shouldn’t think deleting” is sufficient. “Forensic people” who work for the intelligence agencies “are spectacular.”
Adler: “A quick story that illustrates how bizarre the government is with classifying things. When I was with the [CIA] agency, you have to put everything in your desk at night, [your] safe, lock it up. I had this friend who just had a blank piece of paper there and was stamping SECRET all over it [for fun]. When I got back the next day, there was the equivalent of a CIA speeding ticket on my desk! And the paper was blank!”
Forestier: “About post-9/11 integration of intelligence agencies to help one another … Do you want to comment on that, anyone?”
Adler: “The government bureaucracy does not — They’re not very good at the appropriate response to the problem. It’s all or nothing. After WikiLeaks they don’t want anyone to share. They swing back and forth between these extremes, and it takes a long time to work out the mechanics. I’m not surprised this Assange thing — and let’s be honest, there’s still rivalry between the FBI and the CIA, between the CIA and the State Department. ‘Those weanies over there don’t know what they’re doing, so we need not send something over there for fear it’ll make it over there to Assange.'”
Dalglish: “I can tell you that just being in Washington and talking to various people that the rage over this particular [WikiLeaks] incident, the folks I’ve spoken to, the rage seems to be mostly focused on the Pentagon. So honest to God, as an outsider who doesn’t know much about this […] it blows my mind that a twenty-two-year-old Army private with known psychological issues has access to information that two and a half million people.”
Adler: “I think that two and a half million figure is inaccurate. It’s more like 300,000 to 400,000.”
Dalglish: These groups “trying to co-ordinate publishing –” [Something I didn’t catch — DAL] “In most other parts of the world, reporters have a right to protect confidential sources, but they are subject to censorship” including in the UK. “But in the United States, they’re not going to block you from publishing unless it’s something extreme or imminent, but they do have the right under the law to come after your sources. So I would think that the publishing partners in the UK must have been apoplectic when the folks at the New York Times went to the government and said, ‘We’re about to publish it, what do you think?’ The Guardian must have been thinking, ‘Oh my God, the White House might call Downing Street” and tell them.
Schmitt (from the audience): “It did come up. The way it worked was, the lawyers got together and talked about it, and as long as the New York Times got together and talked about it, and as long as the New York Times published before the Guardian or before Der Spiegel, even if it was just a minute or two more, they were released from that obligation. By the time we got to that point, the Guardian was less concerned about the impact because the UK had realized this stuff is going to come out — it’s futile to block it.”
Adler: “That middle-ground […] It can be revealed to a journalist, but it can be done in a way that makes it difficult for Don’s old colleauges to come after you. Maybe I’ll make my fortune teaching spy tradecraft to journalists […] It may need to be journalist-source-lawyer more than it has been in the past; lawyers can’t go over the line and tell people how to break the law.” But “some of you who are at smaller outlets need to, maybe, contact Lucy’s organization and say, ‘Hey there’s this situation I’m facing; I don’t want to step on a landmine.'”
Dalglish: “There are several bills that are in Congress trying to adapt the Espionage Act. There are some significant efforts to rewrite it. I don’t think it will happen in the next few months because Congress is not doing anything at the moment.” But “they are spending a considerable amount of time on the Hill with media trying to make sure people in the media understand the government’s point of view on this particular issue.”
Super Security Bros. (L to R: DeGabrielle, Schmitt, Adler)
I asked Dalglish after the panel what she thought of the argument that WikiLeaks is accountable since it depends on donations from the public. She thought the notion ridiculous and said legal accountability and financial accountability are distinct. After all, “people will buy anything.”
I asked Adler about the nascent US prosecution against Assange after the panel and he said to me one of the major issues surrounding the Assange case is whether “we [the United States] can drag his ass over here.” Obviously I don’t support that.
While working on a freelance infotainment assignment during the small hours of Thursday night, er, Friday morning, a friend alerted me to the presence of free tacos nearby. After engulfing a few, I happily tweeted:
This started innocently enough.
I asked who my taco benefactor was. Friend points him out: that guy over there talking philosophy. One of my BA majors was in philosophy, so I go over and talk up my taco benefactor on the subject, which we quickly hone in on Hobbes.
In 1651 Hobbes wrote in Leviathan:
I put for a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death.
The conversation gets mildly heated and a bit more interesting when he says he voluntarily chose to fight for the US military in Iraq. I asked him how he reconciled his philosophy studies with, you know, invading another country that didn’t do anything to the United States. My taco benefactor tells me that, metaphysically speaking, he thinks of reality as permeated and constituted by violence.
Kill them before they kill us, he says, because otherwise they will kill us — that sort of thing. I bring up nonviolence, Martin Luther King Jr., Zen Buddhism, etc. and win temporary favor with him by acknowledging the US MIL culture is at its best educated, sophisticated, etc., not easily rendered by broad brushstrokes (speaking of rendering things, the CIA renditions innocent civilians extra-legally, knowingly; then there’s the torture). My taco benefactor is assuaged enough by my token respect for military culture to carry on the conversation outside over a cigarette, but I carefully bum one (rare & for social purposes only) from my friend, not from him.
He (Chad Wood) tells me he worked as a communications analyst for the Joint Special Operations Command. JSOC, you know, black ops. Said he was integral to missions that led to the capture of AAM (Abu Ayyub al-Masri), for example. Said, a few times, “I don’t know if I should trust you” — I’d made my activism supporting WikiLeaks clear from the outset and that I was adversarial to his beliefs. In fact, I let him know that a few hours prior I’d been calculating bus fare to attend a protest at Fort Meade to support Bradley Manning, who was, like Chad, a military intelligence analyst. (It turns out the bus fare cost is prohibitive; the USA really needs some high-speed public transit.)
Chad philosophically justifies US aggression and treating people as expendable by reference to the grand historical project of democracy. Look, I like Madison-Jeffersonian democracy, too, but the approx 120,000 dead civilians in Iraq (due to the War since 2003) aren’t the price for that. It seemed to me Chad argued for the goodness of US foreign policy by an attempt at inference to the best explanation: Look around, he argued, things are fine, aren’t they? Don’t you think there are some really smart people making sure you and I can have this conversation, and that we should let them have their secrets? I’ll let Howard Beale reply to that one:
Well, if there’s anybody out there that can look around this demented slaughterhouse of a world we live in and tell me that man is a noble creature, believe me: That man is full of bullshit.
He pointed to a truck at a stoplight. He said if he saw such a truck overseas, a computer could give him the last 8 months on that truck in seconds. Exact maps of its past movements, actually. I asked him if they do that on domestic soil. He shook his head No.
He told me the NSA (No Such Agency National Security Agency) has a guy called “Crypto ******” — Crypto something; I didn’t catch the second part of the NSA man’s name, and when I asked Chad to repeat it, he wouldn’t. I do recall that the other, second part of the name was a dactyl (metrical foot: three syllables, stressed on the first syllable) and alliterative (starts with the same sound) — I think it was “Crypto Codekeeper” or “Crypto Keykeeper” or “Crypto Keymaster” or “Crypto Codemaster” or something like that. This guy, Chad said, arrives at top-secret meetings with a briefcase containing physical tape — like cassette tape — that’s used to communicate one-time cryptographic keys and is burned as soon as possible. This guy, Chad said, will be watched for the remainder of his life.
Chad also said he worked with CIA black sites. I’m not sure if he meant worked at them geographically or worked with them remotely (or both).
He posited a “hypothetical”: Why not a submarine vampire-tapping the communication cables that cross the oceans?
Another “hypothetical”: Why not a building here in Fort Worth — or any other major US city — with 6 elevator shafts and only 4 elevators, the other 2 used as antimissile silos or for other interesting purposes? I asked which building. He said I should have asked which buildings, plural. He didn’t specify any.
He said Obama personally authorizes dronekills (or at least the significantly controversial ones) and in general, the extrajudicial assassinations (my phrase). Said it’s public record that the Commander-in-Chief authorizes them, but that he has the experiential knowledge that it’s so.
Said AES-256 OTR properly done cannot be brute-forced yet and contains no backdoors.
Really, he asked me, if I’m so interested in this stuff, why don’t I join up? “The ultimate Assange is already working for the NSA,” he said. Get involved, he said, and get better health insurance than hippies currently have. I’d have access to all sorts of cool technology, he said, and since I’m an ace humanities guy, they’d even have stuff about metaphors and narratives for me and all that kind of stuff!
Night Shift by Stephen King. The earliest short story collection from this horror-meister. I figured if you’re reading in a tough place these stories, for some, might actually be comforting, simpatico.
The books went into the tent above; the guy who received the donations told me they’d probably use the bookcase elsewhere. I wonder who read the books and what they thought and if it made a difference.
Occupy Sesame Street comment, in the voice of Cookie Monster:
Yes, there always going to be rich and poor. But we used to live in country where rich owned factory and make 30 times what factory worker make. Now we live in country where rich make money by lying about value of derivative bonds and make 3000 times what factory worker would make if factories hadn’t all moved to China.
Capitalism great system. We won Cold War because people behind Iron Curtain look over wall, and see how much more plentiful and delicious cookies are in West, and how we have choice of different bakeries, not just state-owned one. It great system. It got us out of Depression, won WWII, built middle class, built country’s infrastructure from highways to Hoover Dam to Oreo factory to electrifying rural South. It system that reward hard work and fair play, and everyone do fair share and everyone benefit. Rich get richer, poor get richer, everyone happy. It great system.
Then after Reagan, Republicans decide to make number one priority destroying that system. Now we have system where richest Americans ones who find ways to game system — your friends on Wall Street — and poorest Americans ones who thought working hard would get them American dream, when in fact it get them pink slip when job outsourced to 10-year-old in Mumbai slum. And corporations have more influence over government than people (or monsters).
It not about rich people having more money. It about how they got money. It about how they take opportunity away from rest of us, for sake of having more money. It how they willing to take risks that destroy economy — knowing full well what could and would happen — putting millions out of work, while creating nothing of value, and all the while crowing that they John Galt, creating wealth for everyone.
That what the soul-searching about. When Liberals run country for 30 years following New Deal, American economy double in size, and wages double along with it. That fair. When Conservatives run country for 30 years following Reagan, American economy double again, and wages stay flat. What happen to our share of money? All of it go to richest 1%. That not “there always going to be rich people”. That unfair system. That why we upset. That what Occupy Sesame Street about.
2011 article from Rolling Stone: Why Isn’t Wall Street in Jail? Bankers commit economy-destroying crimes — actual crimes — and remain on the loose; meanwhile, many anti-Occupy folks (especially cozy liberals) are interested in nitpicking park regulations … WTF?
Occupy Dallas footage uploaded to YouTube (by someone else) on Nov 19, 2011:
On October 11 2011, with the help of a friend’s warehouse club card, I purchased 392 20-oz bottles of water (and elsewhere, some gas) using donated money entirely, for the purpose of bringing bottled water to the Occupy Dallas (Twitter) group. I was going to make a table of the ten donation amounts, complete with mean, median, and mode, but my other friend who’s a whiz at statistics told me that with such a sample size, I’d be making a complete fool of myself to post anything other than gross and net. Here you go: $100, $100.
Even the Honda Fit groaned under this water’s weight
Occupy Dallas is part of the larger Occupy Wall Street (Twitter) movement protesting genuine grievances, primarily income inequality and the unethical merger of governments, mega corporations, and big banks. I’ll throw the surveillance shadow state in there as well. If you’re so cozy within your white picket fence that you don’t see a problem, gander at these graphs from Business Insider.
The 99% aren’t asking for equality of opportunity or results.
Still voting Republican? No? Okay, good. Because the right-wing works by convincing enough people who have the resources to take off work and go vote that they, these voters, are the 1%. You too will own yachts! Actually, no, you won’t. Most you might be able to pull off is maintaining your white picket fence (if you have one), or rather, maintaining the bank’s white picket fence — banks own more home equity in the US than individuals do. Meanwhile the Democratic left, that is to say, more or less, everyone else taking traditional politics seriously, gets divided and disorganized arguing over how to best compromise with the 1% to achieve minor reforms — until populism such as Occupy Wall Street gains a loud enough nonviolent voice to bring about real change.
Hi y’all! You are also the 99%!
I stopped at Pioneer Plaza (the Dallas Occupation is now moving to City Hall Park) and, as a cop watched, hastily deposited my quarters into the parking meter. Activists at the Occupation then ferried water from my Fit to the supply base faster than I could pull my camera out. Peeps were thirsty. :-(
I had a minute to chat with the woman I understood to be Whytney (pictured left?), a leader there who is, I think I overheard, the chief operator of the OccupyDallas Twitter account. (Also: thanks to OccupyDallasCOS, OccupyDallasEMS, and CinnabarSweets for helping me out with some logistics.) I asked for, and quickly received, a list of other items — chairs, C-size batteries, walkie-talkies, shelving, ice, and more — that the 500-or-so people of Occupy Dallas desperately need. Working on that list now, y’all; I’m gathering donors.
Speaking of donations: hopefully, you’re now asking yourself how you can pitch in. There are plenty of ways.
This Friday evening a group of maybe twenty folks have assembled at the corner of Berry and Cockrell to proselytize for Christianity; I happened to pass by and jump into live-blogging mode. The speakers from the group, some using English and one Spanish, have been speaking into a hand-held microphone and through a portable PA for easily an hour counting. They’re passing out pamphlets identifying themselves as The Door Christian Fellowship.
The pamphlet handed to me says, among other things, “Are your hopes and dreams unraveling? Are your finances stretched to the breaking point? We Care! and We Can Help! Join us for Life-Changing Services. Find out why Jesus Is The Answer!” It gives an address — 3011 Lackland Rd, Ft Worth, Texas — along with a phone number: (817) 377-1098.
“Douglas-uh, maybe you should move out of Texas-uh.”
They picked this particular street corner for obvious strategic reasons. It’s catty-cornered by the Texas Christian University strip, where clubs, restaurants, and the like entertain students. I don’t know if the group got a permit, or if they needed to, technically, or not. People walking or driving by have expressed various reactions — mostly happy honks and cheers, but a few jeers and some “SHUT THE F*#) UP”s.
“Can we go home yet?”
Here are some quotes from the speakers, 90+% accurate.
I know there’s [sic] been advances in technology. The answer is not on Facebook, my friends. The answer is not on Twitter, my friends. There is [sic] real answers in God. Before I got saved, I used to look into all those kinds of — Buddhism, and all kinds of new age stuff. But the real answer was right here: Jesus Christ.
On the outside, we’re dressed-up, my friend, we look like we’ve got it all together, but on the inside, my friend, you’re dying because of your sin. You wake up at night and wonder what will come tomorrow. On the inside, you cry yourself to sleep. You go from relationship to relationship because on the inside, you’re dirty. Jesus Christ will clean you. He wants to do that. The Bible says He will set you free. You can be set free from the lifestyle of drugs and alcohol. You can be set free from living for the next party, the next big thing. Jesus Christ can change who you are on the inside, my friend. Jesus can change you. He can change you, my friend, so you don’t have to end up like your parents.
Your parents are paying for you to go to college, probably, and you’re wasting that money tonight by getting drunk so you can sleep with someone, maybe. But you will be free for real if you cry out to Jesus Christ!
Maybe you’re a queer — it takes God to save you.
God commanded us to go forth and preach the Gospel. We go all over the city and preach Jesus Christ. We’re not here tonight because we’re trying to put something on you. I love Fuzzy’s Tacos, my friend; amen, it’s nothing against anybody, my friend. We really care about you. We don’t want to see God put you in Hell.
Accept Jesus before it’s too late. If you reject the perfect and living God, he will reject you for all eternity and send you to Hell.
It’s this same group (different day, different place in the same city):
After Monday’s suicide of Russell Armstrong (a Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star’s estranged husband), Matt Zoller Seitz of Salon.com called reality TV “A blood sport that must change.” Seitz said:
The type of so-called reality show represented by the “Real Housewives” franchise is the soft-bellied, 21st century American TV version of a gladiatorial contest. It has no agenda except giving viewers the basest sort of entertainment: the spectacle of people doing violence to each other and suffering violence themselves. Instead of going at each other like gladiators with swords and clubs, or like boxers hurling punches, participants in this kind of unscripted show attack each other psychologically. The show’s appeal is the spectacle of emotional violence. The participants — or “cast members,” as they are revealingly labeled — suffer and bleed emotionally while we watch and guffaw. […]
Unscripted shows encourage, and sometimes cause, emotional damage. That’s the whole point of their existence — the reason they get on the air, the reason we watch and discuss them. They record intense, bizarre, sometimes ginned-up conflicts during production. They transform the participants into caricatures of themselves […]
Yesterday I asked a story editor on a long-running dating series who did not want her name used in this story if, during her years of working on these shows, she had ever heard a producer express authentic concern for a participant’s well-being as a person rather than an abstracted “character.” She laughed and said, “No. That just doesn’t happen. If anybody working on this kind of show thought that way, it would make the shows less entertaining, and that person would lose their job.”
Tonight I went to the corner grocery store to buy Wifely some Skinny Cow dessert and me some Mexican Coke. The cashier, a young woman, wore a nametag that, under her name, said:
I LOVE U :)
I thought to myself: that’s an exuberant nametag. Although people who aren’t actually in my skull insist otherwise, I do automatically, non-voluntarily think such words as “exuberant.” If that annoys you, you probably shouldn’t be reading my blog, but rather watching Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
No one was in the lane behind me, nor was anyone nearing the lane. For a moment I considered saying something or other to the cashier about her nametag. After all, I’ve checked out through her lane enough times for us to share mutual recognition, though just barely. I prefer to interact with a person when checking out, instead of using the self check-out lanes, because something worthwhile, interesting and unique and unpredictable, might happen during my encounter with another human being.
Then for another moment I considered not saying something about her nametag. Because by now the time for exchanging a greeting had nearly ended, she was starting to scan my Mexican Coke, she was about to ask if I’d brought my rewards card (I always lie and say I forgot; cashiers then scan theirs on my behalf, and not only do I not have to deal with signing up for one, but also I singlehandedly defeat the company’s entire research division). But the only word coming to mind during this expiring hourglass time was exuberant.
I decided not to chicken out, to go for it.
“That’s an exuberant nametag,” I said.
Her smile wriggled as happily and confusedly as she did until she stopped to ask what “exuberant” meant. Ah-ha, I thought, a person who doesn’t become angry like so many do when someone else uses a word they don’t know, but instead has the laudable reaction of curiosity. Now it was my turn to wriggle my hand happily and confusedly, trying to pantomime the meaning of exude while telling her, “It means, like, … happiness … like …” I managed to stop stumbling and say “It means something like, ‘Shining out happiness.'”
She said, “I really like that,” and I sensed she meant it. A few moments of silent, shared satisfaction passed as she scanned my items.
Photo ofPhilip K. Dick by Anne Dick “I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities” — PKD
One of the commonplace remarks about reality TV is that it “isn’t real,” that it’s merely “so-called” reality TV. This supposed phoniness is alleged to cover up the “natural” way of being, the “real” way, which is usually not identified by the shows’ deriders.
As I paid for the grocery items, I nervously — as if invisible judges were watching — began to, as they say, “walk it back”: retract and qualify what I said. Anxiously I told the increasingly disappointed cashier the following nonfiction anecdote from a few days back:
I walked down an aisle at this same corner grocery store to pick up some ice cream. A middle-aged female customer was squatting down with a freezer door opened, scrutinizing the vanilla flavors. Without my saying anything, she suddenly started talking haphazardly about the proliferation of vanillas. French vanilla, old-fashioned vanilla, vanilla bean and more. “She told me to get vanilla; I wonder which she meant? There are too many!” In a bad mood, I didn’t want to talk at first; like a person wearing sunglasses indoors, I didn’t want to interact with anyone, didn’t want to engage with people. I resented her a little for introducing conversation. Then I regretted my self-absorption and told her I suspected old-fashioned vanilla would do the trick. The woman half-nodded sorta-assent, and said, as I walked away, “‘Tis a quandary.”
Walking away still, I looked back at her, and she was still squatting, not looking at me. I felt irritated that she hadn’t continued the conversation, that she’d used the word ‘quandary.’ How would she have known I knew what it meant, anyway? Now I was feeling like those who call big vocabulary pretentious. But I guess something small helped her recognize that I’m the sort of odd person who knows odd words. I still feel bad for not engaging with her, for choosing instead to cultivate my sour mood.
I explained all this to the I LOVE U :) cashier who, like I said above, appeared disappointed with me for walking-back the happy shared moment of exuberant. I was disappointed with me, too. But at least when I was driving home I thought up this blog post; I realized there was a big connection between these interactions and the reality TV issue.
At their peak the destructive emotions flaring during these reality TV shows are definitely real. (Perhaps those who decry the shows and miss this point don’t actually see much of them.) Real doesn’t imply good, doesn’t imply that the shows shouldn’t be changed. (I like Seitz’s suggestion of psychologists and better screenings; you can’t eliminate a phenomenon like reality TV; and, to pretend an underbelly doesn’t exist doesn’t help anything.)
Here’s the point. I think that in our postmodern world, people are so hungry for authentic moments of human experience that, even it means havoc or worse for the participants’ lives, they’ll take what these shows offer, if that’s all they know how to find. Because sincerely engaging with other people during the day, even through a good work of art, and sincerely emoting, is a scary risk.
From my seat near the back of the auditorium, I placed the crowd size at about 150; Greenwald later said the sponsor(s) guessed around 150-200. Many were students, taking notes like mad. Greenwald speaks very quickly, very well, and in long, complex, grammatically correct sentences — I gave up my attempt to live-tweet the event. He didn’t appear to use any notes, either, though maybe he had a bullet-point outline page on the podium or something.
Two days prior, Greenwald spoke in Santa Fe on the current political climate, so with the two Santa Fe embeds below — I haven’t found any for the MWSU Wichita Falls event — you can hear some of the same content and also get a sense of his speaking style. There’s a transcript of the Santa Fe talk here and a transcript of its Q&A here.
not only is our policy of endless war wildly disproprionate and counter-productive, but it provides the pretext for endless civil liberties abuses. Here is what [Obama’s Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael] Leiter boasts after being asked about the Obama administration’s targeting of U.S. citizens for assassination who have been charged with nothing: “Just to be clear, the U.S. government through the Department of Defense goes out and attempts to target and kill people, a lot of people, who haven’t been indicted.” […]
Leiter concedes (as has been recognized by the U.S. Government for years) that [US counter-terrorism] actions have the opposite effect of what is supposedly intended: namely, these actions are what motivate so much of the very Terrorism (especially the recent Terrorism) that is cited to justify those policies. […]
All because there are a few hundred people hiding in caves in remote tribal areas who are really, really Scary: who will get you if don’t acquiesce to endless war, the transfer of enormous amounts of money to fight those wars, and the most unlimited and unchecked government powers imaginable. And even when they come right out and say that this is all about nothing more than a few hundred people — many of whom are motivated by the very violence we’re perpetrating — it changes very little. Fear is an extremely potent motivating force, overwhelming all reason and skepticism of power. That’s why political leaders — in all eras and all places — like it and use it so much.
Since I wasn’t able to take many notes during the (high-speed!) talk, and since much of the content matched the embeds and the article above, I’ll simply bullet-point some of the notes I did manage to take. These are comments from Greenwald, paraphrased by me; any mistakes mine.
He referred approvingly to the Washington Post’s Top Secret America investigation. The investigation shows the national security industry in America has grown so large, has become such a huge portion of the government, that no one has really been able to successfully keep track of it and its spending.
Our civil rights we’re told about from childhood (due process, free speech, free press, &tc.) do make us better (in that regard) than other countries, make us free; war is the great enemy of those freedoms. The greatest violations of civil liberties pretty much occur during war. The Espionage Act, the Japanese internments, Senator McCarthy, the current NSA.
Some secrecy is necessary for governments, but that’s supposed to be the exception, not the rule.
War creates constant fear. The way to get a citizenry to agree to wage a war is to get them to fear something. FDR had a difficult time convincing Americans to enter World War Two; after the senseless World War One, there was a broad sense in America that wars should not be entered unless we’re directly under attack. What finally convinced Americans was the fear the Japanese brought about through Pearl Harbor. Fear is the pre-requisite for war. Overall, fear is an important, valuable, and important emotion. But oftentimes, fear becomes its own addiction. No matter what, whether the war in question is just or not, it puts the citizenry in fear.
Here’s one of his anecdotes about the current climate of fear in America. He wrote an article about Wikileaks before they’d released the Collateral Murder video — before Wikileaks was known well in the States. He initially learned of them by reading the Pentagon had in 2002 prepared a secret report declaring Wikileaks an enemy to be destroyed — ironically enough, the report was leaked to Wikileaks [This line got much laughter]. Greenwald began to suggest his readers donate to the organization. But people told him they were afraid — though Wikileaks had never been charged with or convicted of a crime. They were afraid they’d end up on “some list.” The War on Terror has made people afraid of our government, has made people believe there’s very little the government can’t do to you.
It’s not as if we’re going to be able to round up a finite number of terrorists with T‘s stamped on their foreheads, kill them, and then we’ll be free of fear and terror, ready to resume our civil liberties. No, now we’re in a period of perpetual war.
Terrorism works because terrorists decide for whatever reasons that they’re willing to blow themselves up to kill as many other people as possible, to sacrifice their lives in other ways, in order to inflict damage and send messages … What is it that leads people to this point? Well, every day the Muslim world broadcasts the damage the USA inflicts there; imagine some group / country / government striking your weddings, parties, homes, and you hear about it day and day out — that’s what makes a terrorist want to attack the USA. Yet if as an American citizen you say the solution to terrorism might be to stop bombing people, you’re often considered a terrorist yourself!
And, from the Question and Answer period, audience questions:
Q: What do you say when people tell you you’re Anti-American for talking in your reasonable, critical way?
A: The ultimate patriotic duty, your obligation, is to critique the policies you think are hurting your own citizens. I don’t think there’s something inherently evil about the USA; but, the actions we’re engaging in are extremely destructive.
A: When people ask me how I manage to say things some people take as anti-American, I think about people such as Manning who are undergoing much worse than I am, and I get courage from that.
Q: What should an everyday citizen do to promote the kind of positions you’re advocating?
De-fund the wars. Talk to people about the issues. Also, the nascent grassroots alliances between Progressives and Libertarians might further the de-funding of the wars.
Q [by me]: Can you talk about tensions between transparency and privacy, not so much with groups such as Wikileaks where power disparities are clear-cut, but with other groups such as UniLeaks, who publishes leaks about universities … or, leaks about small businesses, medium-size businesses … [Here I wanted to mention a quote attributed to Assange in a Mother Jones article: Wikileaks “want[s] every person who’s having a dispute with their kindergarten to feel confident about sending us material.”]
A: This question has come up recently with people accusing Assange of hypocrisy. Public citizens with political power should be subject to transparency; ordinary private citizens should be allowed privacy. Right now our culture has completely reversed that .. that’s the dichotomy that has to be kept in line.
After the Q&A, I spoke with Greenwald briefly to thank him for making Texas something other than a right-wing state for a few hours. He seemed a fairly normal guy, and I mean that in a good way; partly it’s a superficial comment to make, but after run-ins with more than one odd political group or wiseman or …, I tend to take a moment to measure such things as body language and whatnot. (Not that I’m any sort of sartorial genius or smooth operator myself; I bumble.)
I asked Greenwald for further comment on my question — for instance, I asked, is the dichotomy between transparency and privacy something to be hashed out over time via common law and the like? He suggested it’s more of a cultural thing, that culture is more of the prime mover in this regard. Unfortunately he and I had all of twenty seconds to talk about it, but that’s how these events go. =) As a follow-up I’d have asked about Žižek’s take on Wikileaks. Žižek says the predominant leftist model of Wikileaks sees it merely as a “radical case of ‘investigative journalism'” and sees power as “held by the bad guys at the top” rather than as “something that permeates the entire social body, determining how we work, think and consume.” I don’t agree with Žižek’s downplaying of investigative journalism, but I think he raises interesting questions, especially in light of Assange’s comment in Mother Jones indicating an interest in publishing material on more everyday organizations. In Santa Fe Greenwald said:
to me, when people raise concerns, ‘well, isn’t Wikileaks going a little too far in disclosing some things that should be secret?’ We’re so far over towards the pole of excessive secrecy that I can’t even envision the day when I’m going to start worrying about excessive disclosure. I’d like to be in that position, but we’re so far from that day. So, yes, some things should be kept secret, but that is so far away from the problem that we have, that things that should be kept secret aren’t being kept secret, when everything is being kept secret, and that’s a real threat to democracy.
I basically agree with Greenwald here (and Clay Shirky), but I believe we’d benefit from experts such as Greenwald pondering aloud the far-off day of excessive disclosure, and the current time of a wildly changing public space, even if that’s not their exact realm of expertise. (See, for instance, David Brin‘s book The Transparent Society.) Then again, as a writer who often writes science fiction, I sometimes reason from the future backwards, which isn’t always the best thing to do.
Moral philosophers should consider this: are white lies, those social niceties, justified, and does social networking and the current change in the public space change the issue? Political science people should go after Obama’s statement “I can’t conduct diplomacy on an open source.” And one way for someone with a law background to look at it might be: what happens to libel and slander laws as we, through social networking, all become more public citizens? Wikileaks is a radical and good case of investigative journalism, but it is something more also, something we’re all having trouble putting our finger on.