“An Invasion Of Armies Can Be Resisted, But Not An Idea Whose Time Has Come.” Victor Hugo
“WikiLeaks, for the purposes of law and public policy, is a journalistic organization. In order to have a functional legal system that privileges the kind of transparency and information we need as a democracy, you have to make the argument that WikiLeaks is journalism and Julian Assange is a journalist.”
There is much agitation about Wikileaks on the chattering channels in the US and elsewhere. The politicians are up in arms, many commentators are aghast and the legal eagles are pontificating. The press is having a field day, at least as regards the stories it can publish from leaked material. But all of them seem to be missing the import of what is happening.
History is on the march.
There’s a strong analogy in this with the Diet of Worms and the doomed attempt by Pope Leo X to silence Martin Luther.
Let’s eliminate some of the noise that is currently clogging the air.
· The Julian Assange extradition to Sweden is almost irrelevant. It is generally perceived as an attempt to harass Assange and all it has done is provide him with a dramatic stage upon which to perform. The only relevant element in this is the fact that it has become global news.
· The extradition of Julian Assange to the US will possibly make his life uncomfortable, but it will provide him with an even more powerful public stage. If it doesn’t happen the US government will be perceived as weak. If it happens it is unlikely to result in his conviction. If there’s no conviction it will be a victory for Assange and if he’s convicted, it will be an even greater victory for what he represents. For the US government, in terms of perception; it’s lose-lose-lose.
· Julian Assange’s only importance is that of figurehead. If he’s pulled down from that position, by any event at all, whether it’s accidental, a conspiracy or the result of a legitimate recourse to law, it will not stop what has now started any more than finding Luther guilty at The Diet of Worms stopped the genesis of the Protestant movement.
The Battle That Was Lost
There was a brief attempt by the US government and its allies to try to close Wikileaks down. If we think of this as an information war, then the first battle in the war ended in a terrible defeat for the US. Here’s how it went:
· Wikileaks was hit by denial of service attacks. It quickly acquired enough mirrors to become invulnerable.
· Commercial power was brought through PayPal, Visa and Mastercard to try to deny donations. This back-fired. There can be very little doubt that more money flowed to Wikileaks because of the use of that commercial weapon, and anyway it wasn’t fully effective. To stop such donations you’d need the co-operation of nearly every bank in the world.
· Technical infrastructure power was brought to bear, with Amazon ejecting Wikileaks from their servers and EveryDNS revoking Wikileaks DNS registration. It wasn’t hard for Wikileaks to find another DNS and all that the Amazon gesture achieved was brand damage for Amazon.
Anything short of closing Wikileaks down was defeat, and the US government went down to defeat in days. It was difficult, of course. The US Government needed, for political reasons, to be seen to be doing something, so it did a few ineffective things. Maybe more could be done.
The Lutheran Current
In war, if you don’t have a clear understanding of what victory amounts to, you are in trouble. It is tempting to suggest that the US government is in deep trouble for that reason alone. However, it’s a mistake to see the US government as a specific side in this war. This is an info war and info wars take place between power structures not countries. It’s the US power structure, not the US itself, that currently has a side in this war. Info wars are, by their very nature, civil wars between groups of citizens that live under the aegis of a given information control structure. One side wished to conserve it, while the other wishes to change it.
Martin Luther triggered an info war. On one side were power structures that were based on controlling information in the way that it had been traditionally controlled. On the other side were revolutionaries who believed that those power structures needed to be replaced and information made more freely available than before. The initial battle was over the Bible. The Roman Catholic Church in Europe controlled the Bible. When printing presses appeared its control was weakened. The Gutenburg Press began business in 1450, the Diet of Worms was 70 years later in 1521.
Following The Diet of Worms, Pope Leo X issued a “fatwa” proclaiming it legal to kill Luther, but Luther simply retired to Wartburg Castle at Eisenach where he lived incognito, but also protected, translating the Bible into German. And of course, Luther wasn’t alone in translating the Bible. Others began to do the same. The Catholic Church not only lost its monopoly on the Bible, it also lost control of which language it was published in.
Nowadays, this doesn’t sound as big a deal as it really was. At the time the Bible was regarded as the foundation of truth and knowledge. Very few other books existed; just the Greek classics of Plato, Aristotle and others. Those too were held in very high esteem.
Without the Protestant movement, Henry VIII of England would probably not have dared to rebel against Rome and set up his own protestant Church of England. Much later the English monarch, Charles I would be beheaded by the protestant Oliver Cromwell. Europe quickly divided between Protestant and Catholic countries, and the monarchies were gradually replaced either by democratic republics or democracies that relegated their monarchs to figurehead roles. The Diet of Worms had momentous consequences.
A War On Two Fronts
The US power structure cannot behave like the Soviet Union once did. It cannot roll into Prague with columns of tanks and install a different government by fiat. The Prague they seek to conquer is a virtual super-hydra. Strike it down and a hundred identical mirrors rise up from nowhere. Even if you destroy it entirely, other virtual Pragues will no doubt be established.
The infowar is now being fought on two fronts.
1. The first front is the media itself, both old and new.
2. The second front is the information technology that enables it.
In the Media
The ranks of the leaker-friendly side in this war are quickly growing in number. Many professional journalists have stood up in Australia to protest their government’s poor protection of Assange, its own citizen – and the public seems to be on its side. Similarly a whole host of UK journalists have stood shoulder to shoulder with Assange. Only in the US, where the press has become remarkably docile, is there a shortage of Wikileaks support in the main stream media, but this will change if the first amendment becomes the heart of the debate – and it probably will.
Wikileaks is spawning imitators quickly. At the last count there were 7 infoleaks sites; BalkanLeaks in the Balkans, BrusselsLeaks in Belgium, Indoleaks in Indonesia, Rospil in Russia, Tunileaks in Tunisia, Open Leaks (a splinter from Wikileaks) and Wikileaks itself. Most of these sites have mushroomed up in the past few weeks. There will be more.
It is likely that the idea of stealing information and leaking it “as a public duty” has become viral. The number of actual leaks is likely to increase. And this could spell disaster for any organization, government or otherwise, that has inadequate information security and also has something to hide. Information security was never a big area of investment for most organizations and it clearly wasn’t a priority for the US Army. Many more embarrassing leaks will occur from many places before any real semblance of information security is common.
The tide seems to be running with Wikileaks. There are details in this that ought to worry the US government if it is seeking to preserve any semblance of the status quo.
· President Obama promised openness in government but never delivered. Now he’s hoist by his own petard. The US government now needs to get to grips with the issue of transparency or to simply declare transparency to be undesirable.
· Except for within-the-beltway-political-leaks, nobody leaks information to the US media any more. The US media is no longer trusted, because Wikileaks and organizations of that ilk are a “safer and sexier” place to leak to. Additionally, the US media appears to have lost the taste for investigative journalism.
· The US media’s business models are failing. They are beginning to look like dinosaurs.
· The US government is not the only target. Other governments are targets too. So are many large companies. The US indignation right now is because of the content of the diplomatic cables. But how will the US government handle the leaking of, say, banking information that indicates some fraud, or any corporate information that demonstrates back-door collusion with government or between other governments. Trying to shoot the messenger will not work well with those types of leak.
The attempt to close down Wikileaks revealed genuine areas of vulnerability for Wikileaks and any other operation that wants to operate with impunity:
· The DNS structure itself
· Payment systems
· Service providers (like Amazon)
· Physical location
The very idea that US government can control the Internet for its own ends is worrying to many people, not necessarily because of the present situation, but because of situations that may arise in the future.
The natural reaction is to create a secure virtual infrastructure that makes such action impossible. This is probably achievable with a series of technical innovations. (Whether it is will determine the course of history) The innovations would include:
· A DNS based on peer-to-peer technology (which would be impossible to close by closing any node)
· Physical mesh networks (so that it would be very difficult to disconnect any individual node).
· Regularly encrypted traffic
· Peer-to-peer payment systems (circumventing major clearing operations like Visa and Mastercard)
· Cloud services (like EC2) that are anonymized
It would also require some minimal legal protection for such systems. That, in turn, requires a government that will champion the kind of freedom that Wikileaks seeks. Whether such a a government will step forward is hard to know, but if any, Iceland is probably the candidate.
We will probably see such innovations come to pass – provoked by the current confrontation.
It’s A Far Wider Conflict Than You Imagine
The infowar is real, but the protagonists are not as I have thus far described them. The US may be sore right now with Wikileaks, but this is about power structures. The US government is merely one of the power structures that is under the threat of “looser transparency” Almost all governments are under the same threat. Corporations that base their business models on corruption and extreme lobbying are also under threat. It may even be that the current world economic systems (national currencies and the world banking system) will be challenged.
The last great info war was enabled by the introduction of printing. It gave rise to a whole host of effects that were unpredictable at the time, but logical in retrospect. Its revolutionary nature was not appreciated at all at the time. However the following consequences can be laid at its door:
The schism in the Roman Church, the fall of the monarchies of Europe, the rise of democracy; the introduction of paper money, modern banking, insurance, limited companies, stock markets and other financial markets and much greater international trade; the birth of newspapers, literacy, the publishing industry and universal education.
This infowar did not begin with Julian Assange and Wikileaks, it began with Tim Berners Lee.
The previous infowar did not begin with Martin Luther and his Ninety-Five Theses, it began with Johannes Gutenberg.
Ultimately, it seems inevitable that other power structures will be drawn into battles in this war: the governments of China, Russia and Iran, for example.
Earlier this month, online retail giant Amazon.com portrayed its decision to drop the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks from its servers as a brave, moral stand prompted by its tremendous concern for protecting innocent lives.
But New York University journalism professor Dave Winer thinks he's stumbled across the real reason the company moved so quickly to boot WikiLeaks, “”: Amazon's desire to secure lucrative government contracts that could've been jeopardized had it agreed to host a website whose founder has been labeled a “” by the vice president.
“Today I got a promotional email from Kay Kinton, Senior Public Relations Manager for Amazon Web Services [AWS], entitled 'Amazon Web Services Year in Review,'” Wisner recounts on his blog -- an email that heralded the company's financially lucrative and growing ties to the federal government.
“Today we have nearly 20 government agencies leveraging AWS, and the U.S. federal government continues to be one of our fastest growing customer segments,” reads the letter from Amazon. “AWS customers include Treasury.gov, the Federal Register 2.0 at the National Archives, the openEI.org project at DoE's National Renewable Energy Lab, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program at USDA, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA.”
Like any corporation, Amazon acts in the way it thinks it can best maximize its profit, not how best it thinks it can serve society or, say, public discourse. And its – that WikiLeaks violated its terms of service because it didn't “own” the content it hosted – never made sense considering the company sells all of Bob Woodward's books, which are loaded with classified information disclosed to him by government insiders, as well as a Kindle version of .
However, “It makes perfect sense that the U.S. government is a big customer of Amazon's web services,” writes Winer. “It also makes perfect sense that Amazon wouldn't want to do anything to jeopardize that business. There might not have even been a phone call, it might not have been necessary.”
The standard comeback for Amazon's defenders is that, as a private company, it is free to host or not host the content of its choosing. And indeed, as stated, that's hard to argue with. But then, Amazon is also a major recipient of taxpayer dollars, making it more of a corporatist creation than a legitimate example of free market virtue. And its customers are also free to give their money to those who share their values – and if free speech and the right to know how the U.S. government is spending its taxpayers' money is one of them, there's better places to shop than Amazon.com.
Interviewee: -C. W. Anderson, Knight Media Policy Fellow,
December 29, 2010
WikiLeaks' release of classified U.S. military and diplomatic documents, and its collaboration with traditional news media like the New York Times for their publication have raised questions about the future of journalism. At the same time, the U.S. State Department's efforts to press for the prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange raises questions about the nature of journalism.
The WikiLeaks story affects both how journalists do their jobs and the bigger question of what their mission is, says C. W. Anderson, a media policy fellow at the New America Foundation and assistant professor of media culture at the College of Staten Island (CUNY). Anderson says journalists now have to "come to grips with" other online communities. Still, he argues, while WikiLeaks has posed new challenges for the traditional news media, it has also reinforced the latter's power.
What impact does WikiLeaks have on journalism?
You can divide the impact WikiLeaks is having into two general categories: the practical day-to- day aspects of journalism, and the way journalists do their job; and on the bigger, more philosophical, issues related to journalism.
The idea that a source-- and in this case I'm referring to Julian Assange as a source, because that's how news organizations see him--is working with multiple news outlets simultaneously; the fact that he is sort of able to withdraw cooperation with particular news outlets if they do something that he doesn't like, is very new; [and] that affects how journalism gets produced.
Another daily impact is that dynamics between journalists and government officials, in terms of journalists' ability to access information, are going to change pretty dramatically. There are going to be a lot of crackdowns in the government in an attempt to rein in officials and their ability to work with the press. You are going to have people with the State Department, people with the Defense Department, really attempting to rethink the policies they have with regards to interacting with journalists. That won't necessarily work. I don't think it's necessarily the right way to go.
What about the effects on the bigger issues related to journalism?
Journalists getting handed a set of 250,000 primary source documents is unheard of. It's profoundly new and it's a profoundly new way that our entire society and our entire culture are trying to grapple with information. You're seeing this explosion of massive amounts of primary source data in all sorts of domains, in research, in science, on the Internet. And it's impacting journalism as well.
Journalists have to try to understand: What does it mean to get 250,000 primary source cables? How do we analyze those? How does our idea of what important information is--how does that change? What does it mean to get handed a database rather than a document? Journalists have certain ways of thinking about what information's important. Their ability to come to terms with what a database is, is a new kind of profound challenge for journalism.
I would think that it would be a treasure trove. For instance, for journalists covering the Afghanistan war for the last nine years to be handed over these documents, military or diplomatic, would be a boon.
To have a functional legal system that privileges the kind of transparency and information we need as a democracy, you have to make the argument that WikiLeaks is journalism and Julian Assange is a journalist.
Journalism has always been primarily concerned with what is new. What is new is not necessarily what is important, and sometimes journalism's focus on what's new isn't always good. It can kind of miss the big picture, and it can miss the things that are really going on in society. So, this is good for journalists that they are getting this information, but they're going to have to kind of learn how to deal with it and come up with new routines and new practices for figuring out what their actual mission is.
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley recently remarked that the United States does not consider WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to be a "journalist" or a "whistleblower," but a "political actor." This has fueled the debate on whether WikiLeaks is a media organization and Julian Assange a journalist. What is your view?
WikiLeaks, for the purposes of law and public policy, is a journalistic organization. In order to have a functional legal system that privileges the kind of transparency and information we need as a democracy, you have to make the argument that WikiLeaks is journalism and Julian Assange is a journalist.
Now, of course, his status is highly politicized. It certainly does the State Department much good to want to make the best argument that they can that he is not a journalist. At the same time, it's smart for Julian Assange to try to say that he is. That helps him in a number of ways. But the fact that it helps him doesn't mean that it is, when push comes to shove, not true.
If we were to say that WikiLeaks and Julian Assange are not journalistic [entities], we would end up in a situation where many other news entities would not be journalistic organizations either, based on what they do.
It's very hard to draw that line that excludes WikiLeaks and includes the New York Times.
Some Columbia University's journalism school faculty wrote a letter to President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, arguing "in publishing diplomatic cables, WikiLeaks is engaging in journalistic activity protected by the First Amendment, and that as a historical matter, government overreaction to publication of leaked materials in the press has always been more damaging to American democracy then the leaks themselves." Do you share this concern?
Journalists, the way the Internet is developing, are going to have to learn to not only live with other online communities like geeks, like hackers, but also understand these communities in a complicated and non-simplistic way.
I do. I was a graduate student at Columbia, and as full disclosure several of the signatories of that letter were on my doctoral dissertation committee. I would agree with the basic argument that historically, the overreaction to government leaks has been worse than the leaks themselves.
You can go all the way back to World War I, people that nowadays we would consider American heroes were imprisoned in the middle of a governmental overreaction. That's certainly capable of happening today. Again, what would probably happen is that a good number of media organizations that we like very much: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and even TV organizations -- I'll even include Fox news in this -- would see restrictions that would be very damaging to them in their ability to do their jobs in the long run.
You have written: "To understand the world of Wikileaks and what it means to journalism, you have to understand the world of geeks, of hackers, and of techno-dissidents." Could you elaborate?
Hackers and geeks have views on information. They have views on transparency that are not necessarily identical to those we've traditionally considered to be the views of journalists.
There is a strong current in the world of geeks and in the world of hackers that ultimate information transparency is a good thing. I do not think that that is necessarily representative of the viewpoints of all journalists. So even though [Assange] may be acting as a journalist, his core beliefs are not necessarily the same as other journalists we're more traditionally used to.
The way the Internet is developing, journalists are going to have to learn to not only live with other online communities like geeks, like hackers, but also understand these communities in a complicated and non-simplistic way. They're going to have to understand that not everyone online is them. That not everyone online is a traditional government source, not everyone online is a traditional business community source.
What does WikiLeaks' collaboration with traditional news media tell you about the future of journalism?
The fact that Assange and WikiLeaks did collaborate with traditional news organizations over these last several months actually speaks very highly and speaks well of the continued power of traditional news media.
The news power structure has changed less than some people would say. The fact that Assange and WikiLeaks did collaborate with traditional news organizations over these last several months actually speaks very highly and speaks well of the continued power of traditional news media.
Assange himself has said this. He sort of said "the reason why we call ourselves WikiLeaks is that we thought these documents would be posted and then commented upon by people on the Internet. And as it turned out, we published this stuff and nobody noticed. And then we realized that our mission was not just to put information out there; our goal was to put information out there that would have an impact. And we realized that the way we had to do that was to make information scarce rather than everywhere, that that would paradoxically get us more attention."
So that speaks very highly to the continued power of the traditional media. That said, the fact that a source can now kind of play these news organizations off each other-- that's a new dynamic that does change the power structure a little bit.
Does the WikiLeaks story prompt some sort of a rethink as to what kind of information journalists should release or what they should withhold?
It could prompt such a rethink. Bill Keller [executive editor] at the New York Times, just to name one person I've seen talk about this, has said: "Look, this is just like everything else we've always done. This is not all that new, this is not all that big a deal." So if there is a rethink going on, it's happening behind closed doors.
I do think there's a rethink going on, but it's going on in Bill Keller's office, and he's not going to tell us about it. But it's the job of the great journalism schools of the world to bring these conversations into the public.
Some commentators have suggested that the WikiLeaks story is the first real battleground between the political establishment and the open web. Do you agree?
That's a bit hyperbolic. With the Internet, we tend to like to believe that everything is new all the time. The difference with WikiLeaks, as opposed to earlier battles between the open web and government, is a difference in degree.
The amount of data is greater, the collaboration with news organizations is new, the impact of that data is greater, so the real question is when does a difference in degree equal a difference in kind. And have we reached the moment where difference in degree has now tipped over into a difference in kind?
Weigh in on this issue by emailing CFR.org.
For decades, thousands of rebellious Swiss youths were put in prison or labor camps without trial.
Switzerland is known for its idyllic alpine landscape, its neutrality and its secret private banks.
But there are also darker secrets.
For many years — until the 1980s — thousands of rebellious or disruptive youths were locked up without trial. The authorities called it "administrative detention." But in reality, the kids were put in prison or labor camps.
In the late 1960s, Zurich-born Ursula Biondi was 16 years old when she ran away to Italy with her 20-something boyfriend, after fighting with her parents. Biondi was pregnant when Italian authorities returned her, against her will, to Switzerland.
In the meantime, Biondi's mother had turned to local Swiss canton, or state, authorities for help. Seeing the girl as morally lax, local officials locked Biondi up upon her return in Hindelbank prison for women.
"I didn't know it, that this was a jail, because I was never in front of a court, in front of a judge," she recalls.
Biondi, then several months pregnant, says she sometimes worked 10 hours a day in the prison laundry alongside convicted murderers, thieves and drug offenders. At night, she was locked in a cell. Biondi says that in some ways, the criminals had it better.
"They knew when they would be released. We didn't know. They had more rights than we had. I never felt ashamed personally. I just had a terrible anger in me. And always the same question: 'What have they done to us?' " she says.
[The criminals] knew when they would be released. We didn't know. They had more rights than we had. I never felt ashamed personally. I just had a terrible anger in me. And always the same question: 'What have they done to us?'
Biondi's father, a construction worker, had to scrape to come up with the 7,000 francs for the so-called tuition fee for what authorities called an "educational program" for his "promiscuous" daughter. Prison officials told Biondi her baby would be put up for adoption. Her mother soon demanded her daughter's release, and after a year, Biondi was reunited with her infant son and released from jail.
Her tale is one of thousands suffered by Swiss youth subjected to administrative detention. It was a practice started in the 1880s and lasted until the early 1980s. Now, after decades of silence, many victims today are demanding accountability — and compensation for damaged lives.
'So Broken That You Are Never More A Rebel'
Christopher Poeschmann is among them. He keeps a homemade book of carefully preserved documents and letters. The papers are his proof.
"The people don't believe you. So you close your mouth," he says.
The 50-year-old Swiss crane operator was abandoned as an infant and had a troubled childhood. In the mid-1970s, as a teenager, he went on the road, working carnivals and doing odd jobs. He ended up in Germany without papers. Deported back to Switzerland, local authorities deemed him a "dangerous, work-shy gypsy."
"They're thinking, 'This little tramp, and we want not this. You cannot be always traveling in the world and how you like. You must be learning working,' " Poeschmann says.
The camp was more like a prison chain gang. Poeschmann worked alongside criminals cutting trees on steep hillsides. It was incredibly dangerous work. He remembers frozen hands, horrible food and stuffing old newspaper into his ragged boots to try to keep his feet dry and warm. He says the labor camp bosses tried to break his will — and his mind.
[Swiss authorities] didn't want to deal with the problems of these kids, and they had problems because their parents were divorced, for example, or they were poor and nobody really cared about these kids. And in the end, they put them in prisons because they said, 'You don't do well, you always run away.' We shut them away and let the parents pay for it.
"That you are so broken that you are never more a rebel," he says.
Eventually, Poeschmann made a run for it. He ended up in Marseille, France, and joined the French Foreign Legion. It was his ticket out. He was 17.
In later life, he never told his wife and kids about the work camp. Now, he says he's done keeping his mouth shut. He says, tearing up: "The authorities had a responsibility for helping young people, and instead they did this."
Neglected And Exploited By The State
It's been nearly impossible for researchers to determine how many victims were involved because many official files, to this day, remain closed, while many older victims have died. This barely known chapter of Swiss history was exposed recently by journalist Dominique Strebel with the Swiss magazine The Observer. Strebel, author of the new book Locked Away, says Swiss officials found a way to sideline rebellious teens while getting free labor out of them.
"They didn't want to deal with the problems of these kids, and they had problems because their parents were divorced, for example, or they were poor and nobody really cared about these kids. And in the end, they put them in prisons because they said, 'You don't do well, you always run away.' We shut them away and let the parents pay for it," he says.
This fall, the Swiss justice minister apologized. Victims welcomed the symbolic gesture as long overdue but said "sorry" was totally inadequate. Some now want compensation and for wider Swiss society to acknowledge its part in going along with the systemic abuse of young people.
Even today, many ordinary Swiss seem reluctant to acknowledge what happened. Victim Biondi says many people in Switzerland simply assume she must have done something wrong to be put in Hindelbank prison.
She says of her country: Beware of places that appear too clean — there's always muck just below the surface.
The End Of Diplomacy As We Know It?
The End of Diplomacy As We Know It?
“Too early to tell,” was the alleged famed response from Chinese Prime Minister Chou En-Lai in 1972 to U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s question on the effect of the 1789 French Revolution. It’s possible that some 183 years from now statesmen will give a similar answer about the long term effect of the November 28, 2010, publication by Wikileaks of some 250,000 confidential U.S. diplomatic cables.
The fact that secret discussions between foreign leaders and U.S. diplomats ended up on the front pages of publications across the globe by necessity forces foreign governments to reassess how they do business with the U.S. When current Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri told U.S. diplomats back in 2006 that “Iraq was unnecessary, Iran is necessary,” he no doubt did so assuming that his comments would be kept confidential. Given the power of Iranian proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon, his publicly urging action against Iran is dangerous.
While the State Department is not directly to blame for a rogue official leaking documents, in the eyes of other countries the U.S. has shown a worrying inability to protect private conversations. There’s no certainty that this won’t be repeated, and so tongues will naturally be more guarded in future meetings. Countries cannot and will not stop dealing with the U.S. – it is the world’s superpower and other countries must work with it – but they’ll likely seek alternative messengers to local U.S. diplomats where possible. Either they’ll go directly to Washington with their messages, or they’ll turn to trusted third parties to deliver them.
Beyond the lack of trust created by the leaks, there’s the personal offense caused to foreign leaders by comments made about them in the memos. French President Nicolas Sarkozy was described in a cable as an “Emperor with no clothes,” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev “plays Robin to Putin’s Batman,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel “avoids risk, not very creative,” Turkish Prime Minister Erdagon has “an authoritarian loner streak” and a “distrust of women,” the mental health of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner was questioned, and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was described as “feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader.”
Trying to downplay any offense caused, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rather adroitly told journalists that “I can tell you that in my conversations, at least one of my counterparts said to me, ‘Well don’t worry about it, you should see what we say about you.’” There’s truth in that (and over the last few days private comments made about the U.S. no doubt got even more impolite). But there’s a big difference when an insult is broadcast publicly. A private comment, even if it reaches a leader, can be dismissed; but when a leader is insulted publicly, in front of their nation and the entire world, it’s a humiliation that’s not easy to forgive or forget.
What’s also causing alarm in foreign capitals – perhaps even more than the leak itself and the personal insults – was the internal U.S. memo instructing U.S. diplomats to collect intelligence on foreign diplomats. The cable instructed officials to collect: “office and organizational titles; names, position titles and other information on business cards; numbers of telephones, cellphones, pagers and faxes,” along with information like “credit card account numbers; frequent-flier account numbers; work schedules, and other relevant biographical information.” This could then be used to track and monitor these foreign diplomats.
This appears to transform U.S. foreign service officers from professional diplomats to undercover spies. The U.S. State Department has claimed the memo has been misinterpreted, but perception is what counts – and you can expect foreign officials to be wary of interacting with U.S. diplomats out of a fear that they’re really being spied on. It may also give countries looking to expel U.S. diplomats an easy excuse.
After the U.S., it was Iran that appeared to be angriest about the publication of the memos – for good reason. The cables show that almost the entire Middle East is united against Iran’s nuclear ambitions. While Arab states publicly declare Israel to be their enemy, in private they’ve been strongly urging the U.S. to deal with Iran – a blow to Iranian claims that it’s only the U.S. and Israel who oppose its nuclear program.
The cables show that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia asked the U.S. to “cut off the head of the snake,” the King of Bahrain warned that “the danger of letting it [Iran] go on is greater than the danger of stopping it,” Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak called the Iranians “big, fat liars,” and United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed said that “they have to be dealt with before they do something tragic.” (He also declared that “Ahmadinejad is Hitler.”)
Diplomacy, especially in the Middle East, often involves saying one thing privately and another thing publicly, and it’s no secret that Iran’s neighbors fear her nuclear march – but now Iran doesn’t even have public niceties to hide behind. Unsurprisingly Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denounced the leaks as an “organized” U.S. effort to achieve “mischief.”
It’s safe to say that the leaked memos will change how diplomacy is practiced around the world, at least for the immediate future. Will it herald “the end of diplomacy as we know it” (as one foreign statesman privately put it)? Ask me in 183 years, now it’s too early to tell.
Daniel Freedman is the director of strategy and policy analysis at The Soufan Group, a strategic consultancy. His writings can be found atwww.dfreedman.org. He writes a fortnightly column for Forbes.com.
Global Hero, Local Criminal, Exposes War Crimes
By Dan McIntyre
MIT Professor Noam Chomsky in his book "Imperial Ambitions," (Metropolitan), called the U.S. invasion of Iraq as "open an act of aggression as there has been in modern history, a major war crime." By ratifying the UN Charter the U.S. ...
Peaceful Freedom - http://peacefulfreedom.blogspot.com/
By Dan McIntyre
MIT Professor Noam Chomsky in his book "Imperial Ambitions," (Metropolitan), called the U.S. invasion of Iraq as "open an act of aggression as there has been in modern history, a major war crime." By ratifying the UN Charter the U.S. ...
Peaceful Freedom - http://peacefulfreedom.blogspot.com/
Afghanistan War Weekly: December 27, 2010
…Two years after a devastating Israeli onslaught on the Gaza Strip and almost four years into the crippling Israeli siege on Gaza, misery still continues for 1.5 million Gazans.
The following is the transcript of Press TV's interview with Omar Nashabi, a security analyst and a lecturer at the American University in Beirut, on the issue:
Press TV: Do you think that Israel is held to a different standard than the rest of the world, meaning it can get away with aggressive acts that most countries would have to pay a heavy price for?
Nashabi: Yes, there does not seem to be a system of accountability that applies in this case. Israel is getting away with this. It got away with a lot of massacres in the past and that is why there is an ongoing series of crimes against the international law and crimes against humanity that the Israelis have been engaged in since the creation of the Zionist nation. The fact that they are getting away with this, means that this could happen again in the future unfortunately…
(District 3 of Texas.)
CONTACT ME AT: email@example.com
Welcome to this site for Emma Berry where I will post my opinions about candidates running for office in 2010.
Education: BA degree in English from the University of North Texas in Denton 1968–second generation of Texas women in my family to have received a degree from that university. My mother received her degree when the school was known as North Texas State Teachers College.
Experience: From the self-employed middle class, I have worked as a free-lance writer and researcher all my life. I know what it means to work for a living and pay taxes to support my community. I am appalled by the inequities of our tax system. I am appalled that I paid 25% of my earned income in taxes in 2008 and Goldman Sachs paid 1%. This imbalance serves no one who is interested in having a democracy.
I don’t believe that it is necessary to raise taxes on anyone–the rich or the poor. I do believe that it is necessary to start collecting what is owed from everyone. Every year for the past 10 years the USA has a tax gap of $350 billion on average of taxes owed that are not collected. Max Baucus promised in 2008 “to get right on it.” Don’t hold your breath on that promise.
Baucus is the same guy who will hand over 50 million Americans as guaranteed customers for his health insurance predator buddies if he, Evan Byah and Joe Lieberman get their way. Both Byah and Lieberman have wives who are lobbyists for the health insurance industry and both couples literally have hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of health insurance stock. They do not care what you think and they do not give a flip for their constituents, much less the American people.
To tell the truth, I am fed up with the dog and pony show of both parties.)
Invoking the Espionage Act Against Assange
By JENNIFER VAN BERGEN
There have been some suggestions in the press that Wikileaks founder could and should be prosecuted under the Espionage Act. While this law has been on the books for almost 100 years and no court has ever declared any part of it unconstitutional, either facially or as applied, it is a troubling law that falls into the same category as the material support of terrorism laws, conspiracy law, and RICO -- all prosecutorial favorites because they are far easier to obtain convictions with than other kinds of laws.
These laws are all troubling for similar reasons. They criminalize behavior that could as easily be viewed as First Amendment-protected behavior: speech, association, and freedom of the press.
There are rumors that the Department of Justice has been trying to press Bradley Manning to testify that Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, conspired with him to release tens of thousands of Iraq war-related doucments and U.S. Department of State cables via Wikileaks.
Conspiracy law has a long history and is a powerful prosecutorial tool that has troubled many lawyers and judges. A conspiracy is an agreement, express or implied, to commit a crime. Under federal law, there must be an overt act for someone to be convicted as a co-conspirator, but the accused need not have participated in the crime itself; he needs only to have agreed to participate.
Judge Learned Hand once described conspiracy as the "darling of the modern prosecutor's nursery. (Harrison v. U.S. (2d Cir., 1925)). More recently, a legal scholar noted: "The difficulty in demonstrating an agreement [in conspiracy] has proven to be the prosecutor's greatest advantage because 'in their zeal to emphasize that the agreement need not be proved directly, the courts sometimes neglect to say that it need be proved at all.'" (Joshua Dressler, Understanding Criminal Law (1995), p. 398, quoting "Developments in the Law - Criminal Conspiracy," vol. 72, Harvard Law Review, p. 933 (1959)).
Conspiracy laws "have frequently been used to deter the exercise of various civil rights and civil liberties, such as freedom of association and freedom of speech, as in many of the World War I espionage prosecutions." (Jethro Lieberman, A Practical Companion to the Constitution (1999), p. 117.)
According to this commentator, had conspiracy "been invented in the twentieth century, the courts might well have voided it for violating due process. But because of its ancient lineage and because it has proved so powerful a device for securing convictions in criminal cases, the courts have consistently refused to find a constitutional flaw in its central feature."
Conspiracy law rides the narrow edge of legal legitimacy.
When it is combined with other constitutionally suspect laws, concerns increase about the constitutional and moral legitimacy of the prosecution. Legally illegitimate prosecutions undermine the rule of law and the legitimacy of the DOJ, and consequently of the Executive. Initially, Attorney General Eric Holder was said to be looking to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act.
More recently, he signaled that his office was looking at other statutes.
Section (c) of the Espionage Act (18 U.S.C. § 793) makes it a felony punishable for up to 10 years when a person "receives or obtains or agrees or attempts to receive or obtain from any person, or from any source whatever, any document" ... "respecting the national defense with intent or reason to believe that the information is to be used to the injury of the United States, or to the advantage of any foreign nation." Conspiracy to engage in any action found to violate the Act receives the same punishment.
The Espionage Act has a long, troubling history.
It has been used all too often to quell speech and association of political undesirables, which has raised repeated doubts of its constitutionality, but it has never been found unconstitutional. The landmark case of Schenk v. U.S. (1919) was an Espionage Act case where the so-called "clear and present danger" test was articulated. That test was modified some 50 years later in Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969) to the "imminent lawless action" test.
Other cases (namely, New York Times Co. v. United States, and United States v. The Progressive, Inc.) have raised doubts about the Act's constitutionality, but it remains on the books, still and once again raising the specter of illegitimate prosecutions to the discredit of the DOJ and the Executive.
Recently, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) noted they "agree with other legal commentators who have warned that a prosecution of Assange, much less of other readers or publishers of the cables, would face serious First Amendment hurdles, and would be "extremely dangerous" to free speech rights." (EFF links to a report by the Congressional Research Service which is important reading for anyone interested in understanding these laws.)
In addition to the specter of constitutionally problematic laws and illegitimate prosecutions, one must ask, as a preliminary question, why the DOJ must search for a law with which to prosecute Assange.
Why is our government openly admitting to trying to find a law under which to prosecute someone they disfavor? Isn't there something wrong with that picture?
Isn't it supposed to be the other way around?
The government is supposed to use the laws to prosecute those who have broken them, not sua sponte (spontaneously, of their own accord) come up with something to fit an act of which they don't approve.
On that note, why is Congress considering passing a new law so prosecutors can go after publishers?
Doesn't the Constitution (Art. 1, para. 10) prohibit ex post facto laws - laws passed after the occurrence of a fact or commission of an act which retrospectively change the legal consequences of such facts or acts?
We're not supposed to go around punishing people for things that aren't legally prohibited. And wouldn't prosecuting publishers be a horrendous invasion of the First Amendment freedom of the press?
In June of this year, the Supreme Court made a ruling which should give us pause when we consider the Wikileaks situation. The court ruled that a law which prohibits providing "material support" to foreign terrorist organizations was constitutional, even where the "support" was peace training. The court ruled that "even well-intentioned aid to terrorist organizations is likely to backfire."
It has been one of our founding principles that intent matters when it comes to criminal liability. Now suddenly the Supreme Court is saying intent doesn't matter. If that is the case, any of us could be brought up on charges of terrorism or espionage. Increasingly in the past ten years, bad new laws have been promulgated and bad old laws have been dusted off and used to prosecute more and more people for legitimate speech and association.
This is why we have a Constitution. We should look to it.
Jennifer Van Bergen, J.D., M.S.I.E., is the founder of the 12th Generation Institute, and author of THE TWILIGHT OF DEMOCRACY: THE BUSH PLAN FOR AMERICA (Common Courage Press, 2004) and Archetypes for Writers: Using the Power of Your Subconscious (Michael Weise Productions, 2007). She is currently working under contract with Bucknell University Press on a biography of Leonora Sansay, an early American novelist who was involved in the Aaron Burr Conspiracy, and on a screenplay about the conspiracy. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.