Monday, December 06, 2010

It's not information, it's disinformation!

Regular reader and occasional commenter JM commented on my previous post thusly:
There's suspicion of government conspiracy too:

But then why would the government be after the guy if they participated in the leaking? Granted, she's got a sobering analysis of the publicity here:

I don't really care of Amazon doesn't host him, it's their choice.
(I did turn the written-out URL's in the original to hyperlinks for convenience; it is otherwise unchanged and quoted in full.)

I wrote a response but it kept getting longer and longer until I had to break it into two comments and - well, the hell with it, I decided to make it a post since I think some of the points are relevant enough for general consumption. So here it is:

To be precise for non-link followers, the suspicion expressed in the first linked post was of a conspiracy by people in the government ("the remnants of Cheney's operation at State and in the military"), not by the government.

Okay. To be direct, the argument made there by Anglachel (the poster) that this is "a rather large rat-fucking operation" by the right wing to "embarrass and compromise people, force resignations, undermine conduct of policy" doesn't impress me in the least.

For one thing, it's typical conspiracy-mongering: "This much information being released does not happen without some serious coordination and power." Why not? The Pentagon Papers, which had more impact than this release ever will, was the act of one person. So why not? The only answer seems to be "Well - it just doesn't, that's all."

Something that pretty much everyone (the qualifier there included merely for the purpose of scientific-level doubt) agrees on is that the info was available on an essentially unsecured computer network accessible to a rather large number of people. In light of that, I find the whole "must have been a big coordinated operation" line, offered without anything to back it up other than the assertion itself, wholly unconvincing.

And, like many conspiracy theories, it changes definitions as the need arises: Early on the leak is described as "information on so many fronts being made public all at once" - but later it's "carefully selected stuff."

So it's a carefully selected but huge mass that shows "fairly conventional politics of states," i.e., contains nothing special or particularly damaging, even though it was intended to, again, "embarrass and compromise people, force resignations, undermine conduct of policy."

Nope. I don't buy it. I do notice, following some links to links, that the idea that this is some sort of conspiracy by someone(s) for some purpose has its supporters - one even arguing that the fact that there were a few significant bits buried in a mass of trivia was itself evidence of a conspiracy. But then again, some people are still arguing about Samuel Mudd.

As for the second linked post, I find it more revealing than intended since in it the judgment on WikiLeaks, the release of the cables, and all the rest of it appears to come down to a personal distaste for Julian Assange, which is a really crappy basis for judgment.

Just how crappy can be seen in the argument, made by Anglachel in comments, that his failure was not in releasing the "carefully selected stuff" but in not doing his own "careful selection" to "embarrass" people and "undermine conduct of policy" in some particular area such as Honduras. It appears that all the talk about his "paranoic ego trip" (which is at least somewhat internally contradictory) and repeated references to dealing in "stolen goods" would evaporate if only Assange had used the cables in the way Anglachel would want him to.

I agree Assange comes off as an arrogant twerp. But I know that's totally irrelevant: In their personal lives, Isaac Newton, Gandhi, and a host of others we could name were real pricks. Does that mean we ignore what they did outside that realm? As Joan Baez said, referring to Bob Dylan, "Idols are best when they're made of stone/A savior's a nuisance to live with at home."

As for Amazon, the issue isn't whether it hosted WikiLeaks or not. It's that it agreed to host WikiLeaks and then took it down after Joe Lieberman gave it the evil eye - which represented both corporate cowardice and, far more importantly, government intimidation. Do we really want to go the route of having the only websites that can get hosted be those that never tick off government? Or a single senator?

And finally, just BTW/FYI, it is legally incorrect to describe, as Anglachel repeatedly does, the documents that WikiLeaks has as "stolen property." This came up in the Pentagon Papers case, where the government wanted to charge Daniel Ellsberg with "theft," among other things. The defense pointed out, however, that Ellsberg had copied the documents and - the same as in this case - the originals never left government hands; the government was never denied either use or possession of the documents. The charge was dropped (after the government made a ridiculous attempt to maintain it by saying Ellsberg had "stolen the arrangement of the words on the page," that is, copying = theft) and as far as I'm aware, the argument has never been made since. This is why all the talk of laws revolves around "release" of the cables, not the "theft" of them.

Footnote: Instead of idle speculation and armchair psychoanalysis of what Assange is "about" or "after," we could look to his own words. (Link via Digby.)


JM said...

This what raised the Conspiracy theorist hackles up- the fact that Wikileaks revealed how other Saudi arabian leaders wanted to attack Iran:

and I dunno how his agenda helps matters. the files don't reveal anything totally extreme since folks like Greenwald have already revealed the dirty secrets. Does he want the whole government to collapse on itself or what?
I also have to say there's no real fear of being charged with treason since he's not American.

LarryE said...

I was aware of the claim that the whole thing is a trick to push an attack on Iran. That was actually what I was referring to in pointing to those who take some tidbits buried in a mass of what amounts to trivia as proof of a conspiracy. I think that's nuts.

Now, that the revelations might be used by those who want to push an attack on Iran is a different matter. Of course they will; they'll use whatever comes along that's useful to them. But that's a damn sight different from saying the leak was arranged for that very purpose.

As for me, I find the idea that the Wahhabi Saudis might want the US to attack Shiite Iran while they pretend to outraged not at all difficult to swallow.

On the matter of Assange's agenda, it is essentially that governments should have no or at least very few secrets. How, in his opinion, this particular release advances or retards that agenda is something you'd have to ask him. I suppose he could answer the argument that so much of what came out is either trivial or already known by saying "That's the point: Why, then, is it secret?"

And as for no fear of treason, true dat. As I said in the very first paragraph of the first post on this, "how an Australian can be a 'traitor' to the US goes unexplained."

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