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December 21, 2010

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Nato

For the horrible damage te leaks are doing to Zimbabwe alone, they were not worth it.

Nathan Smith

Well, I think I disagree, though I don't know enough to have a very informed opinion. I resist the question "were the leaks worth it?" It is an invitation to a purely consequentialist analysis: what were the good and the bad effects, and how do they balance out? But (a) there may, so to speak, a *deontological* case for WikiLeaks, a case that openness is just a moral imperative regardless of the consequences-- I'm not saying that there definitely is, but I suspect there might be-- and (b) the consequentialist analysis is in any case so completely intractable. For one of the great benefits of WikiLeaks is simply that by showing what the US State Department really knows and thinks and does, they leave less room for conspiracy theories, and conspiracy theories do a tremendous amount of harm in the world. Nazism and Communism were based on conspiracy theories, and conspiracy theories do great damage in the Middle East today. Now, if we were to ask, "How much good did WikiLeaks do to the world by greatly reducing the plausibility of all manner of conspiracy theories?" it's pretty clear that this is too difficult a question really to answer. But it's plausible that it's done a whole lot of good.

I'm inclined to think that most government secrecy is a BAD THING. It's not possible for a whistle-blower to weigh precisely the likely consequences of any particular revelation. WikiLeaks moves us in the direction of openness. And if Morgan Tsvangirai is killed because of WikiLeaks exposing State Department cables, please let's everyone be perfectly clear about this: the blame will lie entirely, 100%, on MUGABE, the killer. Not Julian Assange.

Nato

I sort of agree about conspiracy theories, but I also think that conspiracy theories are a product of incomprehension of our complex world than they are of a lack of actual information. Clearly Assange still maintains his blanket suspicion of everything the US does despite having read the cables and knowing their provenance. Still less are conspiracy theorists in other countries dissuaded when they don't have firsthand access to the 'chain of evidence' so to speak. I will grant that lack of information can lead to ignorance and incomprehension, but I don't think the willy-nilly revelation of confidential information is likely to cure those in more than a small fraction of cases.

Meanwhile, the ammunition handed Mugabe and his people to continue to frustrate the return of democracy to Zimbabwe is just an example of the kinds of damage Assange's conspiracy-theory-driven leaks can do to legitimate efforts to improve the world. The irony is that relatively open societies like the US are the ones damaged by fools like Assange while there's little chance of the equivalent happening in Russia, Iran, and so on. Likewise, I'm willing to bet that Bank of America's peccadilloes are nothing compared to Chinese state banks and the like.

I won't deny there's some value in the involuntary proof of the US' basic decency (in most cases) to those who might otherwise be on the fence, but I would say that the tradition of confidential diplomacy has persisted through the centuries for good reasons.

Nathan Smith

There are ill-intentioned reasons for diplomatic confidentiality-- sometimes international relations consist in states conspiring against their peoples--as well as well-intentioned reasons, and even the latter may tend to be a mistake much of the time, since rulers are always overestimating their ability to control things in a beneficent way and underestimating the value of more decentralized and participatory processes.

What is particularly interesting about WikiLeaks is that the fact that the exposure of US diplomatic correspondent was *involuntary* is what gave it its special value. The US didn't break its word to anyone in revealing information that was embarrassing, mostly, to others. The frank assessments of the Russian regime, which were precisely right and which usefully undermine the logic of Obama's policy (stupid in conception but perhaps fortunate in its effects) of "reset," are one of many examples of the value of openness. And the ammunition that ultimately makes the difference in Zimbabwe is thugs, not memos.

I agree, though, that it would be much more useful to crack into the secrets of the governments of Russia, or China, or Kazakhstan. And surely the existence of WikiLeaks makes it more likely that that will happen!

Tom

If government secrets of the aforementioned countries were leaked, we might discover that things aren't quite as bad in those countries as we suppose.

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WikiLeaks helps to dispel conspiracy theories by showing what the State Department really does. It's particularly useful to have some of the frank things the State Department says about bad foreign regimes exposed without the State Department's consent, because that means they can't get blame us for saying it, but they still get the bad press.

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Julian Assange believes that government secrecy is bad for the world, and that in exposing government secrets he is doing a service to mankind, and this belief, too, is quite plausible. Indeed, in this case it seesm as if he benefited the target of his expose, the United States.

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And if the State Department punishes Bradley Manning, well, if they were consistent they would punish their own informants in the same way.

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It's particularly useful to have some of the frank things the State Department says about bad foreign regimes exposed without the State Department's consent, because that means they can't get blame us for saying it, but they still get the bad press.

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And if the State Department punishes Bradley Manning, well, if they were consistent they would punish their own informants in the same way.

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And if the State Department punishes Bradley Manning, well, if they were consistent they would punish their own informants in the same way.

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it actually happened that way in Germany, though it probably happened that way somewhere.) Well, that's just what Julian Assange did to Bradley Manning. And if the State Department punishes Bradley Manning

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