Wikileaks reveals thousands of state secrets - Macleans.ca
 

Wikileaks reveals thousands of state secrets

Leaked diplomatic cables show Saudi Arabia pressured U.S. to attack Iran


 

On Sunday, the website Wikileaks released the first 200 of the more than 250,000 classified diplomatic documents that it plans to release over the next few months. The documents include a American state state secrets, including the fact that Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah urged the U.S. to attack Iran over its nuclear program and suggested that other Middle Eastern states may seek nuclear weapons, too. Another controversial document appears to be an order from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telling American diplomats to spy on foreign diplomats by gathering frequent flyer card numbers, credit card numbers, signatures and biometric data like fingerprints. The U.S. State Department has denied the accusations. According to CBC News, very few of the original cables released Sunday include any mention of Canada. However, more than 2,600 classified U.S. dispatches are beleived to involve relations with Canada. Lawrence Cannon, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, condemned the leak as “deplorable” and said it “may threaten our national security.” France’s government described the leaks as an attack on democracy. The U.S. launched a massive security review on Monday. The documents date from 1966 to Feb. 2010.

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Wikileaks reveals thousands of state secrets

  1. Wikileaks is bad news for good government. Lets ignore for a moment the potential exposure of American intelligence agents to danger. Some element of secrecy is a vital element of government business.

    Behind closed doors we need frank assessments of foreign leaders, even if it would be impolitic to air those assessments publicly. We need broad-ranging discussion of options before decisions are made. Exposing those discussions to the public will inhibit discussion of bolder, more controversial initiatives.

    For better or worse, the United States is the world's only superpower. When its ability to conduct itself internationally is compromised, so too is global stability. That is the big picture. Does the US role involve a few misdeeds? Sure, though the US is leagues ahead of the British empire, which was itself leagues ahead of its predecessors in the world empire department.

    We need to balance the need for effectiveness with the need to keep governments accountable – a balance that is upset profoundly by wikileaks.

    • Wikileaks isn't impartial, but their main aim is to serve as a conduit for information that is leaked to them. While they've been releasing information about the US government recently, that is mainly because someone went out of their way to download a lot of non-public information and upload it to Wikileaks. Wikileaks can't really pick and choose what they do and don't release if they want people to leak to their site; if they start acting as a moderator, then their credibility and purpose is entirely undermined in the eyes of people who'd want to give them information.

      The issue here is more about the US government and their decisions regarding what's secret and how to share that information. They were the ones who placed this information on a network that was accessible to a large part of the military, and apparently over 3 million people have the ability to view these documents. I don't think that this was necessarily bound to happen, but I wouldn't really call it surprising.

      If you look at what Wikileaks does in a broader sense, it is good news since it allows anonymity for government and corporate whistle-blowers, bringing to light corruption that would otherwise remain unknown. I'll certainly admit there is some potential for harm and I'll acknowledge that there may have been some harm caused in this instance, but I entirely disagree that the site is bad for good government.

      • The pattern of data dissemination from wikileaks does not reflect a whistleblowing mission. If it was about whistleblowing and accountability we would see targeted documents making specific allegations coming out, leaked by conscientous individuals. Instead we are seeing indiscriminate leaks of items like diplomatic cables leaked by limelight-seekers like Bradley Manning.

        The fundamental question here is one of who the gatekeepers ought to be (and your point that that US didn't do a good job of guarding this information is well taken). Should it be individual civil servants (and for every whistleblower, you'll find plenty more with an agenda or a grudge) mediated by a private website, or elected governments? I believe it should be the latter.

        There is a tradeoff between effectiveness through secrecy and accountability. The right people to decide how much we value one or the other are the voting public. If they want less secrecy, they can elect a government that will be less secretive. Private actors like wikileaks and their allies take that decision away from the public, and generate a situation with far too little secrecy.

        • I agree with you almost completely (Wikileaks isn't ideal with regards to fulfilling a whistleblowing role, but there are clear examples of cases where they have done things very well, such as their leaks about Swiss banks or Scientology. Also, I'd be hesitant to call Manning a limelight-seeker considering that any attention he's received has only come after his arrest), but I'd argue three things:

          1. The current situation in the US doesn't strike the right balance with regards to accountability, because the public does not have the information to make an informed decision.
          2. The reason the public doesn't have enough information is because of the secrecy of the government and the self-censorship and deference of the media.
          3. Wikileaks helps to inform the public and restore the proper balance.

          I still think that the big story here is the amount of data that the US government has can be easily abused. This time it is diplomatic cables being sent to Wikileaks, but next time it could easily be a government database of personal information being abused by someone within the government.

          • I don't think the lack of public knowledge is necessarily an impediment to an informed decision in the long run. We eventually see the results of policies and can, to some extent, assess whether they are working. Periodic Watergates and WWII's provide signals on the need for more/less secrecy. Does it work post facto? Sure, but the deterrence posed by a potentially angry public can be as useful as harsh scrutiny.

            Moreover, in countries with something like a privvy council type system, opposition party elites do have a sense of what is going on, and can make an informed case for changing secrecy laws. Even though voters are not privvy to that information, they can elect elites that will have similar secrecy preferences to themselves. Those elites can make informed decisions about secrecy laws.

            Finally, most secrets have a life expectancy. At the longer end, declassified documents mean that we actually do know about a great deal of what went on in the recent past. We can use past events to inform our attitudes over whether or not harsher/more lenient secrecy laws are appropriate.

          • I think you could fit Wikileaks in there alongside WWII and Watergate, especially since the amount of information the US has marked as secret has expanded greatly since then. In fact, if you're arguing that we need a periodic shock and you're using those two events as examples, then we're due: Watergate and WWII were about 30 years apart, and we're past 30 years since Watergate.

            If you look at the way that secrets are handled politically in Canada and the US, I'd say that the opposition saying that they'll change things isn't a reliable indicator of what they'll actually do when in office. I'd point at the Conservatives handling of accountability legislation (with Conservative aids deliberately delaying Access to Information requests, among other things) as one example and Obama's promises to end warrantless wiretapping as another. Our elected officials have a nasty habit of deciding that once they're in power, they don't like accountability as much as they did when they were in opposition.

    • I agree with you but only to a point.

      There is far too much secrecy in government today and we'll have to see how all of this plays out.

      • I am probably more pro-secrecy than you are, but I hope we can agree that the best way to mediate our differences is through democracy. We can make secrecy an issue and lobby politicians to take one stance or another. Private actors like wikileaks undermine our ability to make that call.

  2. Wikileaks is the enemy of our ally, the United States, and by extension, they are our enemy as well.

    • Go ahead and send your fingerprints, frequent flyer numbers and credit card digits to US State Department c/o Hillary Clinton.

      • what the hell does this have to do with anything?

      • well you have a better idea on how to keep track of foreign agents? or are you saying the states shouldn't be keeping tabs on them at all? as the leaks seem to show (i haven't read them yet, so correct me if i'm wrong) they don't seem to really give a sh!t about Joe blow making a flight to France or something. what their interested in is foreign agents and how they might be a possible threat. i'm sure most governments do this to the best of their ability, Canada included.

  3. Oh yes shoot the messenger…. wake up people! .This is no big surprise. Did you really trust the US government?

    • Are you really so naive to think that other countries, if leaked, do not have the same embarassing comments and communique about other countries and their officials? No country can formulate good foreign and national policies without knowledge and insights on other countries and their leaders. This can only be achieve with good field work. Do not tell me, you never said or thought anything embarassing (if known) about any of your family members, relatives, friends, and enemies at any given time in your life? If not, then you must be beyond saintly? Even so called God may have cussed us a time or two (probably way more).

      As for taking credit card numbers (activities), emails, and passwords, in this I think US has gone too far. It's Nixon all over again but international in scope, and to think it happened and encouraged in Obama's (Democrat) leadership is quite telling. And this is a President and party being touted as pro human rights (and so smug on their moral superiority and self righteousness)?

  4. This is what passes for intelligence at the State Department?

    http://viableopposition.blogspot.com/2010/11/wiki

    Has no one at the State Department heard of Wikipedia or Google? From this cable, Colonel Qadhafi's proclivities look no worse than those of many celebrities and aging rock stars.

    As our mothers used to tell us, "Never say anything behind someone's back that you wouldn't say to their face.". Apparently, in this day of overwhelming statist secrecy, that was a lesson not learned.

  5. Ummm is it just me, or am I just thrown of off the fact, they spelt believed wrong in this article…

  6. Funny how many in the Muslim world views Israel as their boogey man, boy how wrong they were.