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On Violence's Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2010

Here at On Violence, to inaugurate the new year, we like to look back at the old one. Specifically--instead of doing a recap, or a top ten list, or a most important person--we like to pick the single most thought provoking event. Last year, we annointed the “On V’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of the Year”, the Iranian “Green Revolution”. Predicting the importance of something or someone is the job of historians, not bloggers, so we just pick the event that made us think the most.

This year nothing tops Wikileaks, except Wikileaks. Start with a video of Army helicopters killing civilians in Iraq--with shock around the military community--followed with an even larger of leak tens of thousands of Afghanistan war documents--this stunned the world--trumped by even more Iraq war documents (over 100,000)--now you have anger and disbelief--and rounding out the year with hundreds of thousands of State Department cables--with resulting outrage and sheer confusion. Oh, and after the State Department cables, you finally had the Pentagon hurriedly closing the barn door--blocking Wikileaks, forbidding intelligence officers from viewing them, the Air Force banning the NY Times website, and other ridiculous measures I can’t specifically talk about--as the cows crested the farthest hill.

But while we--government, media and military--had most of a year to digest the Wikileaks phenomenon, we still don’t get it. The underlying problems that caused the leaks haven’t gone away. We've diagnosed symptoms, but not the disease.

The Wikileaks news coverage has focused almost exclusively on Julian Assange and Bradley Manning, the two individuals allegedly at the heart of this problem. By focusing our attention on those two individuals, we missed the larger structural issues endemic in our intelligence community.

Information has not just increased, it has increased exponentially. (Lack of) Intelligence sharing helped cause Wikileaks, but that doesn’t mean that any of our intelligence agencies actually got better at sharing intelligence (as opposed to information). What is the main story that the media missed, and the Pentagon/Intelligence Community/State Department/Government ignored though? That we still rely on all the technology and programs that allowed Wikileaks to occur, and that Wikileaks--not the website but the massive leak--will probably happen again.

To help remedy the Wikileaks misperception, the rest of the week is dedicated to analyzing the various angles of Wikileaks. We can’t answer every question, but hopefully we can raise some good points that have so far been ignored.

(I’ll finish with this caveat. Covering Wikileaks as an intelligence officer is tough. Often I stumble across knowledge that isn’t for public distribution. I have access to all the same secrets as Pfc. Bradley Manning, and more. Choosing the right path between my clearance and this blog is a never ending struggle. I’ll do what I can.

If you want to read the rest of "On Violence's Most Thought Provoking Event of 2010, click below:

- "Properly Diagnosing the Wikileaks Disease"

- "Wikileaks from Several Perspectives: Michael C Edition"

- "Wikileaks from Several Perspectives: Eric C Edition")

seven comments

Random comment: This really should have been covered by TIME magazine, but once again, they dropped the ball wth their person of the year. Zuckerberg relates to Facebook, Assange to the wars o ORaq and Afghanistan, privacy, freedom, government, diplomacy, and the entire consolidation of govt. secrecy since 9/11.

I really only read TIME if it is the only thing available in a dentist’s office.

I look forward to the articles. Specifically, I hope to hear about why, if for Julian Assange, Wikileaks was all about spreading the truth, he threatened to sue England’s The Guardian for publishing Wikileaks documents that he didn’t personally approve. The Guardian got all of the Wikileaks files from a former volunteer who gave them to someone who sent them to The Guardian.

Specifically, Assange threatened to sue because if The Guardian released Wikileaks documents on their own he could not earn any money selling them to that paper.

So, is it really about “truth” and “freedom” as Assange said or just a paycheck which, when threatened, caused him to seek legal action?

I doubt we’ll answer all your questions, but yeah a lot of hypocrisy and un-examined thoughts flow through this whole debate. As for Assange, he definitely has a flaw in his thinking. He published the private emails of Sarah Palin way, way back when, and apparently felt that was appropriate. Now that he is a public figure, it seems reasonable that his private emails are up for debate. I mean, I don’t think anyone’s private information is for public consumption, but Wikileaks doesn’t have that qualm.

Wikileaks “works” from volunteers while Assange pays himself almost all the money he gets from “donations.” Methinks were there not a quick buck in it he wouldn’t be there.

He objected when information about his illegitimate son was posted online.

I hope you don´t get your brother in trouble talking about this. In my opinion if so much of this was not operational intelligence of any use, no big surprise “bombshells” like a lot of the media has been proclaiming than why was it classified in the first place? Is it because of a simple culture of secrecy and confidentiality that goes to an extreme, or is it because making this kind of information publicly available has the power to influence elections and help inform and shape the nature of the debate over several key issues? There are some small scale shockers in there, like the minutes of the meeting between Saddam Hussein and the US Ambassador immediately before the start of the Gulf War, or the role hellfire missiles played in the surge in Iraq, or the fact that prisoners handed over to the Iraqi authorities were routinely tortured in a manner similar to the way Iraqi authorities acted under Saddam? I mean Wikileaks information has provided for some headlines:


In my unabashedly biased opinion Wikileaks has performed a public service, it has simply informed US taxpayers what is being done in their name with their money. For all the cries of operational intelligence and informants being potentially exposed, the DoD itself has yet to accuse Wikileaks of, let alone substantiate an incident in which data obtained from Wikileaks has lead to the harm of a single human being. On the other hand the things that have been revealed may have been “known” about or believed to be true by some people keeping tabs on specific issues, however when there is proof in black and white of things like US military forces operating in Pakistan (not just the CIA, very little information is publicly available about that), or the US spying on the UN (Katherine Gun talked about that already) than you have stories being covered that were largely ignored by news organizations beforehand. I think having organizations like Wikileaks are absolutely essential to informing a free press.

@ Harrison, I think Assange needs that money to pay the army of lawyers he has defending him. The legal fees for a defense like that aren´t necessarily cheap, and its very difficult when you get cut off from one source of income after another.

@ Chris C – Long time no see! Good to see you back. (I’m assuming this is the Chris C of old. Sounds like it is.)

Chris C- As we said earlier, check in tomorrow, I think we say something very similar to your thoughts.