Monday, November 29, 2010

'Wow, your butt really does look big in those jeans.'

In postscript to today's earlier blog, I'd like to highlight the following lines from the Obama administration's formal response to the WikiLeaks disclosures, which included countless private communications back and forth among various ground-level diplomats and their Washington overseers:

"By its very nature, field reporting to Washington is candid and often incomplete information. It is not an expression of policy, nor does it shape final policy decisions."
That bears serious contemplation. What Washington is saying is that the cables, emails and other materials released by WikiLeaks contain preliminary brainstorming and "thinking-stage" reactions that should not be confused with, or misinterpreted as, fully formed policy or even actionable intent. And yet those materials are bound to be inflammatory and unhelpful in further diplomatic activities.

As a comparison, I recently watched the riveting film Thirteen Days, a dramatization of the Cuban missile crisis and the Kennedy administration's handling of same. Needless to say, there were many high-level meetings and impromptu tete-a-tetes during that two-week crisis when the viewpoints expressed were along the lines of "Kruschev is an asshole" or "The Soviets are a bunch of sociopaths who deserve to die" or "If we know what's good for us, we'd better bomb the shit out of them before they bomb the shit out of us." Would we want those sentiments to become general knowledge? To be framed as official policy?

Or to put all this in more personal terms: Yeah, we all say that a marriage should be based on openness and honesty ... but ... would you want every fragmentary or momentary thought or feeling you ever have about your mate (or, God help you, about another man or woman) to become known to him or her?

I didn't think so.


Steve Salerno said...

One never knows how valid these reports are in terms of taking the true pulse of the "average Ivan," but this brings up an interesting, counterintuitive subplot to the whole WikiLeaks situation:

Ryan said...

Let's just say if it turns out to be true then it may be just what is necessary to help us past our current weakness, the Obamanoid weakness. But that's just between us ;)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

But what about this Steve?,0,5616717.story

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 2:02, don't know about your end, but on my end the link doesn't work.

Steve Salerno said...

OK, the link just worked. Then didn't again. But the point is, I read the story.

I forget the name--it might be Latin--but there's a logical fallacy that I think covers this. To live in a world in which there are many secrets--and a few of them are suddenly divulged--and to then reason backwards and apply that same scenario to the run-up to 9/1l... Well, consider for starters the information overload that would set in. In fact, one of the most significant, generally acknowledged causative factors in 9/11 was the clutter of info that various agencies had to sort through as it was; there was so much chatter, there were so many discordant tidbits of data, there were too many random puzzle pieces to be melded into an intelligible whole. Do you really think the situation would have been improved upon by introducing millions more pieces of data into that chaotic mess, or divulging those data publicly? You can't go back, after all, and just cherry-pick one very special piece of data that became important in hindsight and say, now, "Ahh, if only this had been taken more seriously." What about all the other millions of bits of data that other people might want taken seriously? How many of those would have constituted red herrings or false leads detouring us off into unproductive directions?

As one who has read the 9/11 Commission Report (including most footnotes and a reasonable number of the other unclassified documents to which they refer), it seems to me that the main problem with 9/11 was too much information with too little focus and oversight.

But more to the point, to assume that a WikiLeaks or some other climate of full disclosure had been in place then--but to also assume that everything else would've remained just as it was--is a further, major leap of faith. Even as we speak, the Pentagon and other major agencies are reviewing their policies and, I'm quite sure, debriefing personnel who were in positions of knowledge and confidence. Major changes will ensue. Perhaps there will be prosecutions; who knows, perhaps there will even be a few "heart attacks" (as used to occur routinely in the old USSR). In any case, at least some of the leaks will be plugged.

What's more, had there been a different security climate at the time of 9/11, the hijacking network itself likely would have made adjustments in its game plan. Just as prospective hijackers today would be unlikely to try to use box-cutters again, maybe had things been different Moussaoui wouldn't have been using a laptop in the first place. Who knows?

To assume that everything else would have remained constant but that one variable would have been's tantalizing, but it doesn't work for me.

Dimension Skipper said...

I haven't followed this WikiLeaks thing at all. I just kind of tune it out as being way over my level of anything I need to worry or concern myself about.

I do have one question though and then a followup...

1) How did Assange (or whoever) verify the info that has been leaked, either this latest incident or prior ones? That is, how does WikiLeaks know for sure that everything is "The Truth" or at least representative of some portion of the facts?

2) How long before certain agencies, U.S. or otherwise, start trying to intentionally leak stuff, either real stuff or made-up stuff, to frame things a certain way trying to paint a specific picture to accomplish their own goals? (Or is it possible that has already happened and we just don't know it yet?)

With the latter question I refer back to the issue of whether Saddam Hussein had WMDs. Many folks said then and still maintain that Bush lied about it all. Maybe. I don't know. Others maintain that Hussein had'em and got rid of'em fast or was diligently working towards them. But I've always wondered if Hussein just put on a really convincing show of having that which he did not just so as to maintain a looming (and reputed) threat over his own Iraqi people and neighboring countries?

I can envision WikiLeaks becoming an exploitable tool, or viewed that way, by certain factions politically and nationally. How does WikiLeaks guard against being used?

As Steve says... I'm legitimately asking. Just curious. Thanks in advance for any views/opinions offered.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I don't think that your reasoning on information overload stands up Steve, because the wikileaks cables were only able to be gathered in one place because 9/11 was judged to be in part due to lack of information, they wanted access to MORE data points and chatter so they built the SIPRNET to put it all in one place and make data more freely available. It says that the 9/11 commission thought it would be better to have more data.

Nor do I think the notion that the environment would have been different so the terrorists would have done it anyway has total merit, though it may be strictly true.
After all, if you were burgled because you left a window open, would you keep leaving it open because you know the thief could just try to use a different entry point, that there is no way to know what would have happened otherwise?
As a principle I think it is possible to cherry pick data in hindsight, that's how security precautions of all sorts come about in the first place although as you point out of course it's hard to second guess fate totally especially with intelligent and flexible actors like a determined terrorist group. So flexible and detirmined that I'm surprised at the lack of terrorist activity - it's just not necessary to blow up planes in order to terrorize, it's just the most headline grabbing way. You could lock down the airports and have everyone searched naked three times in a row at check in, it wouldn't stop someone doing something else and you or I or anyone could write down 20 ways to kill in about a minute.

In the end I am one of those people who feel like I have been led a dance by our governments over their wars in recent years, and have no faith in them so like many I can't help being sympathetic to Assange, but youo are right it's still a what if.

Thanks Steve.