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ETpro's avatar

Wikileaks Speaks: What are the pros and cons of total, world-wide governmental transparency?

Asked by ETpro (34552points) July 26th, 2010

There is a huge uproar right now about the leak of some 90,000 classified documents about the Afghan war. It’s like the Pentagon Papers on steroids. And look for more to come. In this information age, which hacking and proxy servers and cloaking, how long till no government can be sure it can act in secret? And should that day come, what would be the pros and cons it would bring?

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14 Answers

Blackberry's avatar

I can’t even get on the website to read them because it is so flooded, and I don’t want to download them from the guardian because I’m on a government computer right now lol.

It is funny, and expected, how the white house is of course downplaying it and showing their disapproval, and it is also typical of random american people to call the founder of wikileaks a traitor, and saying he should be killed for treason. Do people intentionally want to stay in the dark? I agree that some stuff in these documents can be dangerous, like naming where drones are coming from in the U.S. But people need to know what is really happening.

kevbo's avatar

I’m kind of skeptical about the way this story is playing out, although I appreciate that this does bring a little bit of balance and disclosure. It’s dubious that the release of the files is being pinned on a first-class private, and that the L.A. Times story is about Wikileaks and not about the material that has been disclosed. Can you imagine 20 or 30 10 or 20 years ago a newspaper writing a story about how a blog has the big scoop news story of the decade? Where the fuck has the L.A. Times been all this time? Of course, that question is kind of stupid for anyone who’s been paying attention to the tooth extraction the media has undergone in the last decade.

Also, there have been more test balloons going up lately about the status of the “war” in Afghanistan from many official sources—basically mumbling about whether it’s time to wrap things up. It may be, then, that this big Wikileaks disclosure is part of a planned and more or less deliberate effort to prepare public opinion for some kind of transition away from Afghanistan and into whatever the next thing will be.

Or, that TPTB have decided to handle this by going with the flow until they can change the direction again.

Cruiser's avatar

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange I feel did all he really needed to to handle this delicate matter in the best way he could. He handed the info over to 3 well respected media sources and they too made great efforts to carefully redacted the documents of sensitive personal information.

I think the larger issue is how to deal with the people who steal information, especially sensitive information and attempt to use it for sensationalized ends. This all will be made into a movie in no time.

ETpro's avatar

@Cruiser Hopefully this White House will do a better job of dealing with the leaker than the Nixon Administration did with Daniel Ellsberg. He finally walked free thanks to the Fielding Break in, the attempt to divert the Judge, evidence obtained by illegal wiretapping and suppression of exculpatory evidence. Years later, we learned that G. Gordon Liddy and the “White House Plumbers” secretly tried to have him assassinated by a goon squad of Cubans working for the CIA.

wundayatta's avatar

No foreign power has ever been able to run Afghanistan. Not the Brits, not the Russians, not the few others who tried. The mountains and the ornery people always defeated the invading forces. When I saw we were going in, and it wasn’t a quick search and destroy mission, my heart went clunk at the bottom of my stomach because I knew the history.

The Afghan government knows we will leave some day, and when that happens, they will have to deal with the Taliban and many other warlords without the US army at their back. Is it any wonder the Karzai’s of the world are cutting deals with the Taliban now?

I believe in transparency. Secrets only create more harm. People are just trying to protect themselves at the expense of others. They are not honorable and a war fought using secrets is not an honorable war and any “victory” achieved in such a way is not an honorable victory and is doomed to fall apart once the threat of force has gone.

If these documents hasten the retreat of my country, then they are a good thing. We have no business in Afghanistan. We went there to catch a terrorist. We failed. We should have gotten out as soon as possible. But no. We fall prey to the gambler mentality—pouring good money after bad, believing our luck has to change some time.

What amazes me is that Bush started it, but Obama is doing exactly the same thing. I hate to say it, but he’s chicken, and he is gonna get bit by the fox. Of course, the alternative to Obama will be far worse. I wonder what would have happened had Hillary been captain, instead of helmsman. Will we ever know? Maybe after her memoirs are writ a couple decades from now. Interesting how the Shrub ain’t writ an apologia yet. Course, he’d call it a memoir, but it will defend all his choices.

Anyway, transparency is the wave of the future. There is no other possibility. Information wants to be free, and nowadays we have more than enough technology to make the flow of information freer and freer. There will always be whistle blowers, because there will always be someone who breaks in the face of institutionalized hypocrisy and reveals the hidden truths.

Any sane administration would have a bureau of damage control which prepares for this kind of eventuality. It would cover the administration’s ass for things like the Gulf oil spill and the firing of that poor lady and this: the wikileaks revelations about Afghanistan. It’s coming thick and fast, isn’t it?

As Rosanne Rosannadanna always said, “If it’s not one thing, it’s another.”

Rosanne, why did you have to go so soon? You are badly needed.

Cruiser's avatar

@ETpro Also what could be a better way to sway public opinion over a war Obama wanted no part of. Sure just make available 90,000 letters from the front lines and people will lose their stomach for a war draining billions of dollars a day when so many people are barely getting by. Just watch the public opinion of the war turn on a dime.

ETpro's avatar

@Cruiser I wouldn’t bet against that being part of it.

wundayatta's avatar

Wow, @Cruiser! That is a conspiracy theory of truly epic proportions! Well done!

Qingu's avatar

I think, on the balance, Assange handled the situation responsibly, as Cruiser noted.

In general, transparency is a good thing. In general, privacy is a good thing. Sometimes—increasingly in the modern world—transparency butts heads with privacy. The reason Assange is holding 15,000 documents back is because, presumably, Afghan informants on the Taliban would like their identities to remain private, so they don’t get killed.

Do government institutions have some right to privacy? I think so. I don’t believe that every single discussion in the White House should be recorded and instantly viewable by the public. Transparency can dovetail into a “panopticon” scenario—nobody, not even government officials, should have to live in a transparent bubble watched by thousands of pairs of eyes. So I think there needs to be a recognition that transparency is not this alloyed good, that it needs to be balanced with privacy.

Should soldiers’ reports in warfare be transparent, or private? So far, I haven’t seen anything on Wikileaks that cries out for privacy. Just like police reports, I think war reports should generally be available to the public, because doing so allows for accountability. But I also think there should be exceptions.

ETpro's avatar

@Qingu GA. We really are in a panopticon age, aren’t we. And that has it’s pros and its cons. For instance, a ski-mask wearing bandit recently robbed a bank here in Boston. Of course, there were security cameras watching, but the images were of no use in identifying the perpetrator since his face was completely covered by the mask.

However, a man wearing a ski mask in the summer on a main street is likely to draw unwanted attention, so he took the mask off while exiting the bank. Other cameras on the street—I believe 8 in all—recorded him as he existed the bank, walked briskly 2 blocks to his getaway car, got in and drove off. They recorded the license tag number. The next day, he learned the con side of the panopticon society, as police made an arrest. He will soon be a con, and with the number of security cameras in modern prisons, he might as well be in a panopticon..

Qingu's avatar

So, it looks like Assange did a shitty job redacting the names of Afghan informants and such, and the Taliban is probably going to end up killing a bunch of people.

My opinion on Wikileaks has changed from “cautious ambivalence” to “fuck Wikileaks.” I hope Assange and his source rot in jail for the rest of their lives.

ETpro's avatar

@Qingu I’m leaning the same way. I think he let his own dislike for the war get out ahead of doing the responsible thing, reading through and redacting before publishing. Same goes for the American soldier who did the leaking.

Nullo's avatar

Generally speaking, I think that transparency in government is a good thing. But more specifically, I realize that some things ought to be kept secret; I remember watching the invasion of Iraq on Telegiornale and wondering if it was really such a good idea to be telling the world where the troops were going next.

ETpro's avatar

@Nullo One that really hit me as a stupid thing to reveal was the fact that the recent Printer cartridge bombs were intercepted because a former Guantanamo detainee ratted out Al Qaeda. That’s going to make that informant’s life short and you can bet that any other former inmates from Gitmo will now be under intense scrutiny by al Qaeda and will be kept away from any sensitive information they could share with our security people. It seemed to me a piece of information that even if the Press did learn it, they should have had sense enough to keep it quiet.

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