Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Benedict Arnold in cyber space


I’m a snoop; I read other people’s letters; I even read letters intended for the sovereign in person, top secret, highly revealing documents that could cause tremendous discomfiture and embarrassment if published...or they could have caused these things if they had been published in the seventeenth century, the time when they were written!

Now there is WikiLeaks; now there is publication of confidential information online for all to see. And what do we have? In a lot of cases pretty much the small change of international diplomacy, the sort of things that people say in confidence and never expect to see repeated, at least not in their lifetimes. The action we see in history, the things that happen, really are the tip of an iceberg or, better said, they are the few seeds germinating from the thousands thrown.

It seems to me that a lot of the Wiki stuff is of such a nature, seeds that would never have germinated, lots of inconsequential gossip. I note the Iranians even believe that the whole thing is a fiction, designed to put additional pressure on them. Perhaps it is; perhaps it’s an indication of what might happen, a warning of how much ill-feeling there is against them across the region? I’m just anticipating the inevitable conspiracy theory!

The whole thing is an embarrassment for the State Department, a look at diplomacy in the raw; but is it anything more? Yes, it probably is; for it makes the confidence, frankness and the trust within which diplomacy must be conducted all the more difficult. I have no hesitation in saying that this is a form of sabotage, a threat not only to the interests of the United States but to its friends and allies also.

I think the hacker, Julian Assange, his collaborators and associates, are stupid, or malicious, or both; if they are Americans they are clearly traitors. I certainly hope that they are caught and pursued to the full extent of US law for theft and for espionage.

There are wider lessons here, though, in dealing with future attempts at cyber terrorism - I offer no apology for the use of that expression – which I hope are learned quickly. It’s really difficult to believe that there could have been a security leak on this magnitude, documents that should really have been left to future historians to interpret, the snoopers of a different age.

73 comments:

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  7. I heartily disagree, Ana. When Wikileaks was publishing material embarrassing to authoritarian regimes in Africa or Asia, or to corporations, it was applauded for revealing the 'truth' (whatever that is). But after being forced to open up some of their dirty secrets in the 1970s, our governments have gone right back to their secretive shennanigans. And as their misdeeds are revealed they cry "foul" and protest that the world is in danger because their lies are revealed!

    Is the world better or safer for their secrecy? No! And the proof is: at the height of the Vietnam War, and the Cold War of which it formed a part, the US was more open than it is now, with fewer travel restrictions, less government spying on citizens, and less corruption in office.

    Our lives and futures are being damaged by unaccountable bureaucrats and political vermin who foment wars and conduct outrageous foreign adventures without ever consulting the people who pay for it. This creeping coup must be stopped, and the only way to do so is by forcing them out into the open.

    Here is one counter comment from "The Gurnaridian:" (cannot bring myself to write the name)
    http://www.politics.co.uk/comment/culture-media-and-sport/comment-the-hypocrisy-of-the-media-attack-on-wikileaks-$21385948.htm

    and consider this:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/8169521/WikiLeaks-Julian-Assange-plans-to-turn-his-attention-to-US-banks.html

    Would we not all be better served as citizens - the citizens who pay, the citizens who are at risk of terror, the citizens who must do the actual fighting - would we not all be better if our governments were forced to negotiate and deal in sunlight, rather than in shadow? What future do you wish to see? One where people trade and travel and interact in openness and true friendship? Or a future of murky backroom deals, lies, bribes, and covert murder?

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  8. Spying does not have the consequences that it once did, now it is a game between nations with mutually agreed rules.They recently had a deep cover Russian spy round up in America and they were traded for some Russians that were spying for America and now they are all celeberties.

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  10. Adam, to begin with the material I refer to is not always by public figures but private individuals.

    Yes, I am in favour of freedom but I'm also a realist; this is a dangerous world and we need security. But we all have some prejudice. I freely confess my own. I am not Anglo-American by birth, as Churchill was, but I am by a form of adoption and by identity. I admire America hugely, a second home for me, and I identify with American interests. I approve, in short, of American 'hegemony'. It also has to be said that diplomacy is a murky business, no matter whose diplomacy.

    I am not uncritical of the US; I think Vietnam was wrong, Afghanistan was wrong and Iraq was wrong. I have no time at all for the present incumbent in the White House, whom I consider to be anti-British as well as a jolly bad chief executive, little better, so far as I am concerned, than a communist. But time and again America came to our aid, a vital prop for our continuing security and freedom during the Cold War. This Assage fellow has done so much damage, not to American power, but to American prestige, to the prestige of international diplomacy in general.

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  14. Calvin, thanks. I would like to live in a world of sunny uplands, eternal clambakes and perfect peace, a Brave New World that has people like me and you in it. Sadly, I don't; I never will. I live in this world. Diplomacy and international politics, as I said to Adam, is a murky business, one that rarely runs to high moral standards. It's a game one plays to win, sometimes using underhand methods. But I would rather 'we' won, no matter the methods, than 'them. 'Them', it alarms me to say, get stronger by the day. Wikileaks has added to this process.

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  16. Adam, yes, we were threatened especially in the immediate post-war period before Marshall Aid and the creation of NATO. No matter; as you've said before, this is a point on which we will never agree. I certainly see no evidence at all for the decline of American power, stronger now than ever. The economy is being appallingly mismanaged by the dreadful Obama, but that's something different. I think the world far more dangerous now than in 1848. Then there were certainties; the game was generally understood. Now we face a kind of Kulturkampf, more frightening in every way. Actually, my ideal period would be the 1980s, the time of the Reagan-Thatcher Axis. :-)

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  19. Don't mistake my position for one of Pollyanna-ish naivety and gullibility. The alternative to subversion, deceit, subterfuge, and corruption may be more overt aggression and actual violence - for a time. But there are clear advantages to most of us from having clear cut open conflicts instead of being associated with a nest of devious liars. The secret state has metastasized into a giant cancer since WW1, and we must bear its consequences in death and destruction with no idea whether such evils are inevitable and the result of 'enemy' action or provoked by the crimes of our own secret masters.

    I have been around long enough to have seen much and what I have seen leaves me disinclined to trust the future to those who proclaim: "Trust us." During the past 20 years there has been a drastic reduction in openness in government and a parallel increase in surveillance. I do not think we can afford to allow this to continue unquestioned.

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  23. I ask myself why people who oppose American hegemony would prefer Chinese, Russian, or even Muslim hegemony.

    Regarding the last wikileaks, I don't see anything disrupting in them. As you pointed out it is gossip. But no interesting gossip.

    Sarkozy is irritating and authoritarian? The Queen is more popular than Prince Charles? The Arabs actually fear that psycho of Iran (even if he is in denial about this fact)? Pakistan is helping terrorists?

    Everything was already in the news before. Assange should know that we want new gossip.

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  26. Well, numerous reports have shown that the 1980s were the time in which the Cold War came closest to heating up (mistaken intelligence of missile launches and so on).... And thinking of some aspects of what one might in a broad sense call the popular culture of mid-80s Britain might suggest that apocolyptic imaginings were if anything widespread.

    And then...the miners strike....and the Grand Hotel bomb...and the Labour Party, in bed with CND (themselves by this time in part useful idiots for the USSR), Sinn Fein and thoroughly unpurged of quite unreconstructed Trotskyites.... I really think Britain today is a lot more stable than it was then, honestly.
    (I think more than anyone that Thatcher is responsible for that, too)

    I'm far from convinced that the current Kulturkampf (which I think is certainly NOT too strong a word to describe the situation) we are faced with is neccessarily more frightening (or more intense) than that we still faced with Communism in the west in and up to....well...the Gorbachev era, I suppose. Although certainly some of the tactics of contemporary jihadis are more extreme and less easy to moderate.

    At present I think the problem is principally that we (and certainly America) lack a leader capable of defining the problems, and the enemy, we face: Thatcher and Reagan certainly were capable.

    It is certainly true that a large proportion of the ostensible "liberal" (for which, often, read "lily-livered") media and academia are all too willing to bow-down before the current totalitarian threat - - but really, that threat is still very much less entrenched or institutionalised, either internationally, or domestically, than was the Enemy Within of the Thatcher period. Al-Qaeda, or Saudi Arabia, let alone Iran, is not the Soviet Union.

    (It is perhaps worth noting that the first major public appearance of acts by the "new" enemy within - the death threat against Salman Rushdie, and the burnings of his books in numerous English cities - took place while Thatcher was still PM, in February 1989. Like a lot of us, even she was blind to the approaching, encroaching, new threat)

    What is perhaps most strange is how some supporters of the old threat have simply transferred their apparent allegiances to the, seemingly very different, new one, to a greater or lesser degree. (George Galloway, most obviously; but university arts departments unquestioningly worshipping the amoral idols of postmodernism, postcolonialism and promoting a dictatorship of relativism quite unknown to the "old", working-class, left, too...)

    Maybe it is the northern Irish side of me, but my sense is that life is always a struggle, and the wolf is always at the door, and that one should never be too complacent - nor too oversensitive to potential risks that may not materialise.

    Maybe I see the matter in these terms: the threat we face from the enemy today (in terms of total impact of the threat) is substantially less than was the case 25, 30 + years ago. But that the mindset and means of those who would attack us now means that much more damage can be done in "small" attacks (compared with those that the Soviets could have managed) that would not threaten the overall social structure or integrity of the state.

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  29. Regimes that claim to hold truth and justice sacred should not operate so much behind closed doors and secrecy. I welcome this information and would like to see more of it. The result will be a more careful discussion and actions on top of the table as opposed to dealings made underneath it.

    Honest and open government…it seems like a fairy tale these days. It is not naïve to expect honesty and truth from government. The U.S. has lost a lot of trust in the global arena as a result of such dealings. If governments operate so much behind our backs, the people have little or no control.

    Where do we draw the line on what the common populace should know from the people that were voted in place? Should we blindly trust governments to do the right thing with no visibility? Personally I would rather know everything than nothing at all.

    Still a huge fan and thank you for such thought provoking content.

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  30. @ Adam: Do not underestimate American resolve. You are probably on the M15 watch list of possible Communist subversives.

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  34. Adam, no, I’m not an imperialist, at least not by your definition of the word. As far as interference in Ulster is concerned I rather thought that a lobby issue. I wasn’t aware that I had suggested that any ‘external powers’ threaten us, at least not at the moment; but the world is still a volatile and dangerous place. The need for collective security in the face of potential threats and an uncertain future is as great as ever. The issue of parliamentary expenses is nothing at all to do with national security. There is no new Hitler or new Stalin; there will never be a new Hitler or a new Stalin. The challenges we face are much more invidious. There is no equivocation in my support for America and the Atlantic alliance; my feelings are absolute.

    I can’t imagine that there are too many now who ‘shed tears’ over Peterloo! Because I believe this Assange man should be tried for espionage in an American court does not for a moment imply that I associate myself with the views of those calling for his execution, a hysterical piece of prejudication. I have never stood on the grounds of political liberalism, which I despise. Gosh, I think you are going completely overboard in trying to compare me to a Nazi apologist and Holocaust denier. Pinochet came to Chile as a doctor; Stalin came to Russia as a butcher.

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  37. Calvin, yes, I understand, and I could agree with you if we had a completely level playing field. When the United States entered the First World War it did so, by its own definition, as an 'associated power' and not as an ally because it did not want to identify itself in any way with pre-existing and secret treaties entered into beforehand. The League of Nations was built on the concept of collective security and open diplomacy. But these ideals were quickly overwhelmed in a world where realpolitik prevails. The spotlight is on America at the moment because of these revelations, but can you imagine the kind of thing that lurks in the archives of the Kremlin, in a state run by the likes of Vladimir Putin and other FSB operatives? The American secret state is surely nothing compared with that of pseudo democracies like Russia or oligarchies like China.

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  38. Jean Paul, thanks for that, a timely reminder that so much of this stuff is little better than gossip!

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  41. Dominic, I do use that word quite deliberately, partially to imply the fluidity of our present situation. International diplomacy in the past was rather like a game of chess where the rules were generally understood. There was a certain rationality involved; one could hazard a guess at the motives and likely moves of one’s opponents. But now? In a world of suitcase nuclear devices the wolf, I fear, is not at the door: he’s in the next room.

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  43. CC, I would make the same observation to you as I did to Calvin: I would far rather have openness and honesty that backstabbing and deceit. If the diplomatic archives could be opened across the world, if it wasn't just the US in the spotlight, then some purpose might be served, a new beginning made. But this information, revealed in such a way, is a serious threat to the interests of the free world. It can only give encouragement to the malicious and the ill-intentioned.

    Thank you for your continuing support. It's greatly appreciated. :-)

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  45. The battle ground is never level; one must seize the high ground, and having seized it, hold it. That lesson should be branded on the mind of every Anglo-Norman descendant since Senlac. If we become like our enemies, we become our own enemy, and our politicians seem to be growing more paranoid and authoritarian by the day. There will always be Stalins and Hitlers - if we are foolish enough to let them be.

    This is not a new phenomenon; the pattern repeats itself again and again, hardwired into our social genome. But it can be recognized and fiercely resisted before it sickens a representative democracy. There are exercises of citizen vitality and formulas of law and custom that can kill the infection.

    By the way, do follow up on The Pentagon Papers and Daniel Ellsberg. You cannot really understand current US politics without understanding the rise of the military/industrial complex and all it entailed. And many of its players are still alive to talk to.

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  46. Adam, Russia remains an authoritarian state, where any kind of criticism places people in danger, either at home or abroad. You once provided me with what you described as an ‘etymologically exact’ description of imperialism, centering on the holding of territory, not one I agreed with, incidentally. Yes, I defend the United States; I will continue to defend the United States, devil or not. If the foul Soviet empire was a source of great good by the same measure so, too, was the Third Reich.

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  48. Calvin, thank you; I will. On the general point the principle you advance is an admirable one. We will never become like our enemies but we must understand how they think and use their own weapons against him. You might care to look at British black propaganda during the Second World War, some of it perfectly vile.

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  53. If you want to know the shades of a dark age I suggest you read Anne Applebaum's Gulag:a History or Varlam Shalamov's Kolyma Tales. Adam, I forget nothing; I simply file things away in my mind in the same fashion described by Napoleon. Communism was a threat to my country, subvesion was a threat to my country; the attacks came from within.

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  55. I detest everything about the USSR, not just its ruling ideology.

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  58. I wasn't aware that England was telling the rest of the world how to run their affairs. But as far as their alleged hatred is concerned I could not care less.

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  63. Oh, sorry, I did not realise that New Labour and the Blair/Brown government was England. Thanks for that clarification. :-))

    Seriously, to describe my country as a 'Satanic force' is laughable in its absurdity. Once again you ruin the sense of any argument you present by gross and meaningless overstatement. I never embraced 'Blairism', so I certainly do not have to 'renounce' Blairism. I am English; I don't want to be British, certainly not British in the sense that you define Britishness. As for ‘joining’ you, no never! And as far as the world hating my country is concerned, the world can go fuck itself. :-)

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  65. And this my business really is disgusting, as though to say only English Tories are legitimate and no one else counts.

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  67. England is my nation and I love my nation, Satanic force or not.

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  69. Did I suggest that it was not? The implication, really, is we have such different ideas of the nation. I could never describe my nation as a Satanic Force. I might, in a polemical mood, decribe the government in such terms, but that's different.

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