Wikileaks: not necessarily a good thing

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After wikileaks spread the US cables, Hillary Clinton said something along the lines of “this is bad for International diplomacy”. I think she’s right.

Diplomatic resolution (as opposed to violent resolution) of conflict requires trust, which is undermined by this leak.

Also, some information is not meant for public consumption. Pin codes are in that category; security/police information; a list of worldwide targets that are important to the US/global security/economy that may be of interest to terrorists (now on wikileaks) also fits that bill.

Someone somewhere wrote that if the internet/wikileaks existed during the time of the camp David accord, it would not have succeeded. The idea that any and all information, be it government related or not, should be available to all seems either naïve or scarily fundamentalist to me.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that are important and relevant for the public to know: Some Arab states asking the US secretly to be harder on Iran, while in public being all cosy with Iran and critical of the US, is questionable to say the least.

I think whether such a leak is ethically right or wrong depends a.o. on the contents of what’s leaked: It has to show greater wrongdoing than the wrong that leaking it represents. And the effects have to be taken into account: Are they positive or negative in the long run? Both are of course highly subjective judgment calls.

Thomas Friedman had an insightful column about wikileaks, in which he argues that the US lacks leverage on the geopolitical scene. He writes:

America lacks leverage in the Middle East because we are addicted to oil. We are the addicts and they are the pushers, and addicts never tell the truth to their pushers.

(…)

We also lack leverage with the Chinese on North Korea, or with regard to the value of China’s currency, because we’re addicted to their credit.

(based on my comment at Stoat)

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18 Responses to “Wikileaks: not necessarily a good thing”

  1. Magnus w Says:

    Washington post not necessary a good ting… However the reaction on wikileakes existence is absurd…

  2. Marco Says:

    Bart, didn’t you mean Iran rather than Iraq?

  3. Bart Says:

    Marco,

    Thanks, corrected.

  4. Marco Says:

    Hmmm….you only corrected it once….

  5. Bart Says:

    hmmm, thanks again in that case…

  6. melty Says:

    Remind me why blogs are worth reading again….?

  7. Neven Says:

    Isn’t transparency always a good thing?

  8. TimG Says:

    The trouble is who gets to decide if the ethical value of the leaked information exceeds the ethical harm of leaking information? In almost all cases people make the judgment based on whether the leak helps or hinders their personal political objectives.

    As evindence: compare the reaction to CRU email leak and the diplomatic cables. Partisans on both sides find themselves staking out hypocritical positions.

  9. Alex Harvey Says:

    Bart,

    Great post. I am glad there are at least a few sane responses to WikiLeaks.

    Best,
    Alex

  10. Bart Says:

    Neven,

    In so far as information should be open to others, it should indeed be transparent.

    But though I’m all for openness, I don’t think all information should be available to all. Of course where exactly the borders are drawn is subjective.

  11. Sou Says:

    Since it seems to be the major newspapers that are deciding what information from Wikileaks is published I don’t understand this post. Newspapers have published leaked information since forever.

    It’s only diplomatic stuff after all. Not too many secrets, mostly opinion. Some of it is in the public interest. Some simply confirms what many of us already figured out. And given the very large number of people who had access to the info it can’t really be called ‘secret’ in any case.

    More power to Wikileaks and similar organisations, I say.

    I agree that some information is not for public consumption. Don’t see anything from Wikileaks so far that would fit that description.

  12. Bart Says:

    Sou,

    See one such example in my post (a list of potential terrorist targets).

    But also the kind of information that amounts to no more than gossip is not meant for public consumption. It does no good. It could harm diplomatic relations though.

    My main point is this:
    Claiming that all government related info should be available for all to see, as if it’s some kind of reality TV, I think is ridiculous. Just as it it ridiculous to claim that because scientists were paid by public money (taxes) their email should be open information to all. Note that if you agree with the latter, you implicitly also agree to the former (dependent on how wide of a definition of “government related” is used). If I by a Microsoft product, that doesn’t entitle me to see any and all of Bill Gates’ communications either.

  13. Sou Says:

    Bart, I don’t agree that one can equate the personal emails of scientists, that were previously only available to the correspondents, with diplomatic documents that are already available to millions. The former are private and were intended to be read only by individual recipients, the latter are official or semi-official and always intended to be read by many more people than the named recipients. In the case of the Wikileaks diplomatic collection – more than 2 million people.

    I find it interesting that no-one debates the interpretation of the Wikileaks information. Lots of deliberate and otherwise misinterpretations were published on the blogosphere and in the mainstream media re the climategate emails.

    Re the potential terrorist targets – I’m guessing any terrorist already has a list of potential terrorist targets. (Diplomats are generally not involved in gathering intelligence – or are they?) I also understand that this is not a comprehensive list. The list was already available to more than 2 million people – hardly top secret.

  14. hunter Says:

    Good take. I do not recall Assange being elected to role of world secrecy czar.

  15. hunter Says:

    However, friedman is oddly ignorant abot where we get oil.
    We get very little from the middle east.
    friedman is a dependable reactionary opinion leader.

  16. Marco Says:

    Hunter, very little being >10%? Do remember that Nigeria and Venezuela (also Angola) are part of OPEC and ‘thus’ under Middle East control.

  17. Neven Says:

    From ClimateProgress:

    WikiLeaks cables show BP suffered devastating blowout in Azerbaijan

    Striking resemblances between BP’s Gulf of Mexico disaster and a little-reported giant gas leak in Azerbaijan experienced by the UK firm 18 months beforehand have emerged from leaked US embassy cables. The cables reveal that some of BP’s partners in the gas field were upset that the company was so secretive about the incident that it even allegedly withheld information from them. They also say that BP was lucky that it was able to evacuate its 212 workers safely after the incident, which resulted in two fields being shut and output being cut by at least 500,000 barrels a day with production disrupted for months.

    Other cables leaked tonight claim that the president of Azerbaijan accused BP of stealing $10bn of oil from his country and using “mild blackmail” to secure the rights to develop vast gas reserves in the Caspian Sea region.

    WikiLeaks also released cables claiming that:

    • Senior figures in Thailand are concerned about the suitability of the crown prince to become king, citing rumours that he has lovers in several European capitals in addition to his wife and son in Thailand.

    • American energy firm Chevron was in discussions with Tehran about developing an Iraq-Iran cross-border oilfield, despite US sanctions against Iran.

    The leaks came as the whistleblower site’s founder Julian Assange prepared for another night in jail ahead of tomorrow’s high court challenge to the decision to grant him £200,000 bail. Swedish authorities, who want to question Assange on allegations of sexual assault, believe he should remain in custody as he is a flight risk. On the Azerbaijan gas leak, acable reports for the first time that BP suffered a blowout in September 2008, as it did in the Gulf with devastating consequences in April, as well as the gas leak that the firm acknowledged at the time. “Due to the blowout of a gas-injection well there was ‘a lot of mud’ on the platform, which BP would analyze to help find the cause of the blowout and gas leak,” the cable said.

  18. Van Nuys Says:

    Excellent article and thank you for sharing!

    From a legal perspective, this is a very interesting case and I’m excited to see how it plays out in the courtroom. For one, will England extradite Assange? That’s the first step. 

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