Wikileaks’ Cablegate as a threat to empire: Cyber Command scrambles

Today Wikileaks began its release of over 250,000 diplomatic cables in conjunction with media outlets around the world. I believe the work they are doing is on the emerging edge of resistance to US imperialism. The releases not only unmasks the powers in meticulous detail, but threaten the very mechanisms through which empire seek to influence, control and coerce. After all, if client states and their leaders know their collaboration with the U.S. could be published all over the world, they may be less ready to go along with imperial machinations.

For example in Newsweek, Christopher Dickey describe a cable in which Yemeni leaders promising to lie to their own people and parliament. He goes on to complain, “That bit of dialogue is not just embarrassing, it’s going to make the covert war against the most dangerous Al Qaeda franchise that much harder to wage.”

For once, it is the empire that it is on it’s back foot, scrambling to respond. The frenzied attempt at spin by the US State Department over the weekend speaks volumes. One congressman called on Secretary Clinton to designate Wikileaks as a foreign terrorist organization. Then there was the denial of service attack on the Wikileaks site an hour before the scheduled release. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this is a clumsy attempt by the new U.S. Cyber Command (I’m not making this up) to flex their newfound muscles. The command reached “Full Operational Capacity” less then a month ago and they are already squabbling with the CIA over who gets the authority to launch attacks on non-military targets.

Even if the Wikileaks site is brought down temporarily, the cables are available through traditional media outlets such as the he Guardian. In an editorial on their decision to participate in the release, Simon Jenkins says that the self-image of the US as world police “runs ghostlike through these cables.” The cables, he says, paint a picture of an empire already well into overreach, its power projection faltering. Unfortunately a wounded bear (his metaphor) is often at its most dangerous.

This is not the first challenge to the bear from Wikileaks. Earlier this years, they released the Iraq War Logs, reports from soldiers on “Significant Action” covering 6 years. The cumulative statistics of the report are stunning: civilians made up 60% of the 109,032 deaths described for an average of 31 killed every day. But the individual logs are a window into the sad specifics of the soldiers and their victims. For more on these stories, see this piece from October by Isaac Villegas on Young Anabaptist Radicals.

Some of the attempts to silence Wikileaks over the last year have been more subtle. For example, much attention has been focused on Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks. After all, what’s a story without an easy hero/villain? This approach is exemplified by the Daily Mail’s coverage which leads with a dramatic photo of Assange facing off against Prince Andrew with the caption “The astonishing claims of Prince Andrew’s (left) ‘inappropriate behaviour’ appeared on Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks site.” If Wikileaks began and ended with Assange, scuttling the site would be much simpler.

But the story isn’t about Assange, it’s about a a small and growing movement that is outmaneuver the world’s largest superpower. They have learned the digital landscape well and they have mastered the new tools for the struggle. This is what pro-active action to dismantle the war machine looks like. As Wikleaks widens our prophetic imagination, what other new and creative challenges to empire will emerge?

Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

November 30 update: Here’s a very useful analysis of some of the theory behind Wikileaks as it relates to the “authoritarianism” of the US government: Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy; “To destroy this invisible government”.

Comments (29)

  1. isaac

    Yes, the Emperor now has no clothes. The contradictions at the heart of our “democracy” are exposed. Listen to the official response to the WikiLeaks’ documents from presidential press secretary Robert Gibbs:

    “Such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the US for assistance in promoting democracy and open government.”

    I wonder what exactly he means by “open government,” if the U.S. administration doesn’t want citizens to know what it’s doing in the darkness.

    Reply
  2. 1nine

    Can you imagine a truth that would lead the American public into more war? If so, would you make that truth known.

    I think the most recent leak from Wikileaks does minimal damage to the U.S. government. From what I’ve heard so far, at worst, it is embarrassing and at best, it helps the public better understand the complexity of world issues.

    I do not doubt the existence of an increasingly covert element to U.S. gov’t operations. My only problem with the comments above is the assumption or implication that it is only the U.S. doing it. We live in a world of many empires…some big, some small, some growing up, and some dieing.

    Reply
  3. Shel Boese

    Are you REALLY this naive? It would not surprise me to see that it’s simply another rising empire – China – poaching information (the 18 minute “re-route” of all internet traffic through Chinese servers in April) and seeking to undermine another Empire. Wikileaks is most likely a tool of another regime.

    You’re choosing to attack one Empire with ignoring another rising Empire reveal you are much more of an imperial game player than radical anabaptist.

    geesh seriously take a “balance” pill in your critique of imperial ambition – the names matter much less – US, China, Russia, etc.

    The “information” is not from an altruistic neutral source for the expansion of human goodness.

    Again, get real.

    Reply
  4. TimN (Post author)

    1nine,

    Interesting question about a leak that would cause more war. I think I’d have to have a specific example to go very far with that thought experiment:

    I agree that it’s important to acknowledge that there are plenty of empires, large and small out there. Some people would say that all nations are empires in one way or another, but I think that loses some nuance. The scope and impact the U.S. and the corporations it allies with far outweigh most other countries, with China as the one possible exception.

    I’m not sure where in my post you get the idea I think only the U.S. uses covert operations. I live in the U.S., which is why I’m trying to focus on the log in our own eye at the moment. When I lived in the UK for a few years, my work with activists their taught me a lot about the issues there. We each have our own struggles with the excesses of our governments.

    Shel Boese,

    I’m not sure from your remarks whether you are interested in a serious conversation or not. If so, I’d be happy to have one. Do you have sources for your speculation about Chinese government involvement? Wikileaks is heavily censored by the Chinese government’s Golden Shield project, claims to have been founded by Chinese dissidents and the cables included some embarrassing revelations about China, but that could all be an elaborate smokescreen.

    Or perhaps to put the question a different way: Is there any evidence that would convince you that Wikileaks was not a tool of China?

    Reply
  5. AlanS

    I don’t know if this has been posted around here yet, but it seems enlightening. Especially in light of stepped up efforts to go after Julian Assange.
    Also, there’s an interesting discussion at 6:35 about receiving and releasing diplomatic cables, and why it’s important to do so. Also, a good quote at about 16:30, “capable, generous men do not make victims, they nurture victims.”

    Reply
  6. AlanS

    Sorry, here’s the link. The embedding didn’t work

    http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/julian_assange_why_the_world_needs_wikileaks.html

    Reply
  7. 1nine

    Hi AlanS….my statement to covert operations was based on my assumption that most if not all operations of Cyber Command / NSA are covert. I think it is safe to say that cyber warfare is by far not limited to the U.S. I also think that within all discussions it is good to acknowledge context. By only focusing on the U.S. it can, at times, seem as if the U.S. behavior is extraordinary when, in fact, it may not be.

    My point with the question about a leak leading to war is that leaks are not inherently pro-peace. I would say information regarding the increased buildup of the Chinese military (already known, but not emphasized in the media) could influence the American public into pressuring politicians into a more defensive approach to China (at some point war?) when economic realities (usually not understood or fully appreciated by the majority of the public) currently allow for a more interdependent relationship (peaceful enough) between the 2 countries.

    I think it is interesting how many of the leaks show the complexity of global conflicts, especially the views of Middle Eastern nations, China, etc. As I mentioned above, the context is important. The leaks show that it is not always the U.S. that is the party pushing for extreme (sometimes violent) means.

    Reply
  8. 1nine

    Were not the powers to influence, control and coerce (as stated in the original post) necessary for grassroots operations like the American Underground Railroad and undoubtedly still necessary for the current Asian Underground Railroad or Sanctuary Movement? Do you not think that some, if not most, of those working at the State Dept. also use such powers thinking they too are using them for “good”?

    Reply
  9. Tim Baer

    I don’t know much about this or anything…but, damn, Julian Assange has got the movie villain name and the movie villain looks. He’s perfect.

    Reply
  10. AlanS

    @Tim Baer, I think Jon Stewart was right when he said that he mainly looks like the Dyson vacuum guy. But, I agree, he’s got a great name.

    @1nine, I’m not totally sure why you were directing that comment me, because I wasn’t really directing my comment at you, but I can respond if you’d like. My main purpose in posting the video was that 1) it seemed good for us to hear him in his own words on his motivation for the whole wikileaks projects and 2) I found in incredibly fascinating to see him reference leaking state department cables 6 months prior to their actual release.

    Also, I’d agree with you that it’s important to keep a global perspective on secret keeping. I think that some of the most interesting and important revelations are not actually about what the U.S. said, but rather things like the UAE (I think) asking the U.S. to bomb Iran. That’s more significant that calling world leaders names.

    But I do think that the U.S. deserves to have more scrutiny than other countries. The U.S. deserves to be gone after because they are clearly the one with the most power in the world. I’ll use an example from the world of pastoring. I have to be extra careful and transparent when dealing with youth, counseling situations, and generally talking or touching anyone of the opposite sex (or any sex for that matter). Why? Because I’m the one with the power in the situation. I have the ability to either hurt or help heal vulnerable people. I make sure there are checks and balances (like meeting in a public place, having the secretary in the office when I meet with someone, never being alone with a youth, meeting in public places, etc…) because I have to make sure that the other person feels and is safe. The U.S. has the same responsibility, but the difference is that we have chosen to exploit that power rather than use it for healing. If the U.S. had been doing ethical things in the first place, it wouldn’t pose a threat to expose them to the light of day. So yes, I think it’s critical to have a check and balance on the sole superpower in the world. I’m good with that. Maybe you would switch your position on this if the Russia were the sole superpower and the U.S. had lost the cold war.

    Oh, and for the record, coming up with a situation where leaking information would cause more war is not particular hard. I’ll Godwin the conversation and bring up the Nazi’s. If the public had known more directly about what was going on in the concentration camps I think we would have been involved sooner. There’s your example.

    Look, just because you can come up with one hypothetical loophole that poses a potential moral conflict with peacemaking doesn’t mean that it negates the general principle that more transparency aids in truth telling which is a core for making peace.

    The questions that I put to you is; does the overall work of whistleblowing done through wikileaks benefit the cause of peace? Are you able to agree with that or are you trying to negate the value of their work and of this leak in particular?

    Reply
  11. Tim Baer

    @Alan,

    I love your example on Pastoring. It’s a great analogy and gave me a lot to think about. It’s like when I’ve had girls in my band. I ask them to call the single bass player, not me, the married guy. It just looks better.

    However, I’d alter this language when engaging conservatives. Your point is fanastic but I’d probably change things like “More scrutiny for the U.S.” to something like “Holding the highest ideals for our affairs…” I also wouldn’t say “exploit the power…” but rather “We need to realign how we use our resources.” Especially in dealing with conservatives. I also don’t think Wikileaks helps the cause of peace as much we’d like. Pro-war folks tend to discount this information heavily.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    Reply
  12. 1nine

    My primary concern from reading the original comment was the language used (similar to what Tim mentions above except that Tim seems to support a less-than-authentic form of communication). My struggle right now is finding a way to work within the world for peace and justice (as defined by Jesus) while not abandoning foundational values of truth, honesty, fairness, and ultimately, love to my family, to my church, my neighbor, and others in the world. I feel like Christians are to play a unique and separate (to some degree) role than that of others within any given movement for peace, social justice, etc. However, I’m beginning to see evidence suggesting that some “Christians” don’t even feel the need to claim Jesus as the Christ. To be honest, I myself for over a decade was willing to consider the possibilities of more than one Son of God. The path, rather than obedience to the Son of God, becomes the focus and that path can easily be tweaked to one’s own preferences with a little research and connections in academia. Obedience and submission to God then become irrelevant. Where I stand, I don’t see a struggle to know the path of Jesus. Rather I see Christians rushing to join left-leaning, inter-faith movements with little, if any, concern on whether or not it coincides with what Jesus (the Son of God) intended.

    Again, language is of the highest importance given how information is exploited these days. Peace, love, etc. can mean anything and Christians should take care to speak and protest with extreme caution (peacekeepers working for justice in Afganistan, peace and justice as defined at the MCC Damascus Road, peace and justice like the international intervention desired (but not received) in Hotel Rwanda?; Phillip Greaves definition of love, a Germantown Mennonite’s definition of love, a definition of love as defined by church tradition?)

    I think the leaks that I’ve heard and read about are primarily beneficial to a more peaceful and truthful world (in line with what I think Jesus intends). That said, the leak was attained through an act of stealing. A minor infraction this time, but these things can easily grow. I mean how much localized social change (and justice) could come if hackers began blackmailing politicians and corporate leaders throughout the country with less-than-virtuous information from their personal computers and online bank records? Again, where are the lines that Christians and/or YARs will agree upon where they will say enough is enough. Movements have a way of growing and, once power is attained, can easily become oppressive. Therefore, since Christians are committed to helping the oppressed, an exit strategy is crucial in order to avoid becoming the very thing we are trying not to be.

    Reply
  13. TimN (Post author)

    1nine, can you specify which Tim you are referring to? There are two Tims in the thread. :-)

    Reply
  14. AlanS

    @Tim Baer – I’ll have to do some more thinking on my use of language on this. Or just the use of language in general. Depending on the day you ask me I’m willing to use language that people are familiar with and re-define it. Other times, It has too much baggage.

    @1nine – I really resonate with what you said here

    My struggle right now is finding a way to work within the world for peace and justice (as defined by Jesus) while not abandoning foundational values of truth, honesty, fairness, and ultimately, love to my family, to my church, my neighbor, and others in the world.

    A couple of thoughts on that, because it poses some interesting challenges, both to conservatives and liberals. 1) I would add love of enemies to your foundational values primarily because 2) as a Christian, those foundational values are rooted in Christ, not social norms outside of Christ. Ultimately 3) the main challenge for both liberals and conservatives is to fight the tendency to separate the peace and justice from Christ and all of the other things you mentioned. This has been covered before, but the separation of peace and justice from the Gospel of Christ is a false one. The peace of Christ can’t be separated from salvation. Likewise, salvation can’t be separated from the Gospel of peace. Both sides tend to separate the two and when that happens it does a disservice to both. I would encourage you to keep fighting the tendency to separate them.

    As to drawing ethical lines the example that you give is clearly out of bounds (ethically speaking), and different than the wiki-leaks thing for a couple of reasons. I’m with you, in that I’ve got issues with stealing the info. However, this isn’t blackmail. There isn’t anything being extorted here. Blackmail is for personal gain, this is for enlightenment. Now how effective this will all turn out to be, that’s up for debate. But there is a difference here. And yes, as a peace maker, there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed. For starters, we should hold ourselves to the same standards of transparency that we demand of others. I think that gets a pretty long way in defining an ethical threshold.

    Reply
  15. Tim Baer

    @Alan,

    Let’s not justify this with “This is for enlightenment”. This would probably be best described as corporate/private/citizen espionage. The being wikileaks itself. I’m sure someone will come up with a good term. Assange isn’t an American Citizen so it’s “citizen espionage” and “Corporate Espionage” has it’s own connotations. “Private Espionage” is probably best.

    Let’s come to terms with this. Wikileaks is acquiring information in ways that may be illegal. But often times that information brings to light (maybe enlightenment isn’t a bad term afterall???) things that are ugly. For instance, Yemen was letting us (The United States) drop bombs in the country but saying that they were ones who were doing it. Bringing this to light is important. Assange is going after liars in the highest stages of power. People that may be using that power questionably. Assange has said that if they aren’t doing anything wrong then what do they have to fear? It’s about time someone brings to light the motivations of those who make important decisions.

    Assange is certainly a villain. But he’s my kind of villain. Let Hillary Clinton complain about Assange putting people’s lives in danger…he’s not dropping bombs on anyone and she is.

    Reply
  16. 1nine

    blackmail need not be for personal gain. Villains for Jesus? Will this be a new website soon?

    Reply
  17. AlanS

    First of all, as I was reading the last two comments I had a voice in my head that was going ‘MUUUAHAHAHAHAHA’ in an evil super-villain voice.

    Second, I think that my main point with the blackmail/enlightenment thing was that with blackmail the stealer of information also tries to continue to keep the secrets hidden and uses the threat of their release to covertly extort something from the person/organization. Even with espionage the goal is not necessarily to make the secrets of the other side public. The goal is just for your side to learn them and then exploit them. Wikileaks (in general) seems to be in the same category as whistle blowers. Their end goal is public exposure to expose corruption. That’s not saying that personal gain isn’t a part of the motivation, but there’s something bigger going on. Another interesting thought is that, in some situations, whistle blowers also engage in illegal activity, especially when they divulge copyrighted and proprietary information in the act of exposing the injustice.

    Also, to be clear, I’m not justifying the use of stealing in the larger cause of justice. In fact, it kind of feels like you guys are (Tim Baer and 1nine). I’d be interested to hear your ends/means justification thoughts on this one a little more in depth.

    Reply
  18. Tim Baer

    @Alan,

    Let’s say the information is “Stolen”, as in Wikileaks has broken the source nation’s laws in garnering the info.

    First, I think it’s dangerous ground to justify exposing secrets of any government. However, when those governments are actively involved in open acts of hostility or war (The US), the violent oppression of it’s own citizens (China, Burma), or any other mass act of violence against any group of people I think the public, who is at the receiving end of the violence, deserves an explanation.

    If a police department was routinely beating up citizens within it’s ward those internal documents need to be brought to light. How much more than when the governments of the world are bombing villages or forcing abortions or inserting infantry wherever they damn well please? Assange might be stealing information, but these organizations are the thieves of mens’lives. How much trust have we put in them to do right? To handle billions or trillions of our dollars? To negotiate arms treaties? To deploy endless soldiers and heavy artillery? These people, entrusted with so much, need accountability. It is not they who fight in the battles. Or starve with the Congolese. Or fight in the sand storms of the Middle East. It is they who send them, kill them, and prosper from them. Let their private words expose their motivations. If they can sit in lavish villas, and drink the best wine, and be waited upon hand and foot, then certainly they can explain their actions that have given them so much. If they cannot then they are not leaders we need.

    Reply
  19. Tim Baer

    Julian Assange in his own words: http://www.realclearworld.com/printpage/?url=http://www.realclearworld.com/articles/2010/12/07/dont_shoot_messenger_assange_wikileaks__99304.html

    And maybe I didn’t hear him right but Bill O’Reilly was really excited that Assange was arrested. WHile listening to talk radio yesterday I heard Bill O’Reilly (Who does a 60 second daily bit on 105.9FM Syracuse) saying how great it was that Assange the arrested, that the charges are probably false, but it doesn’t matter because Wikileaks is a threat. I was just aghast that anyone would be happy that a guy, who you think was unfairly arrested, could be removed from society. Again, maybe I heard him wrong…but I don’t think so.

    Reply
  20. AlanS

    Tim Baer, That doesn’t surprise me in the least about O’Reilly. Not because he’s conservative but because he’s a partisan pundit. It makes for good ratings to say that kind of stuff.

    As I was reading your response in comment 18, I realized I need to clarify something. The wikileaks cable leaks is a complicated thing to me. I’m content to say that it’s morally wrong to obtain the leaks through stealing. However, Assange has a good point in that, while he didn’t quite expilictly say it in your linked article, Wikileaks was the publisher of the documents, not the obtainer. Thus prosecution of any ‘crimes’ should be laid on the person who stole them. The other end of this issue is that even though the obtaining of the documents may have been less than ethical, the publication of the information is.

    On some related notes to this story; first, I found this website interesting
    http://sowhyiswikileaksagoodthingagain.com/

    and second, what are your thoughts on the developing retaliatory attacks by Anonymous and other hackers on Mastercard, Paypal, Visa, Swiss Banks, and Sarah Palin? It seems as though the Mastercard hacks have had some real impacts.

    Reply
  21. 1nine

    To be clear, my intention within this discussion was not to justify the use of stealing in the larger cause of justice. It just seems to me that certain trends are being created within the left-leaning church movement which may support such methods.

    Reply
  22. Tim Baer

    @Alan, So you’re saying that stealing the info is wrong but printing it is okay? I dunno. If I stole a car, and you knew it was stolen, would it be okay for you to drive it? After watching umpteen-gobzillion seasons of COPS, I don’t think so.

    I equate it more to if you’re a soldier and you’re given orders with which you morally disagree (“Destroy that Village”, “Kill those Jews”) you have the obligation to not obey them, even if doing so is illegal. So while I believe in Romans 9 and believe in obeying the government, I only believe that insofar as that A) Doing so does not hinder the spread of the Gospel and B) Is not morally unconscienceable (NEW WORD!, i think).

    The cyber attacks leave me with more moral gray areas then the theft of docs. For instance, some of these companies are just trying to distance themselves from Wikileaks because, and this is my assumption, the federal government is crazy scary. Amazon certainly doesn’t want problems with the frickin’ state department even if they fully support Wikileaks. And the attacks on Palin just seem trite, like a “we hate Sarah campaign” with a thin excuse. On the other hand, the attacks are non-violent and could be a good way for the public make their voices heard in a really annoying way. So, um, rock on but don’t debase your cause in the pursuit of justice, I guess.

    I remember a Bond movie a couple years back where the villain was a media mogul who thought wars of the future would be fought with the media. Golly, looks like that Bond movie might have been prophetic. Now if only they can be prophetic when it comes to oddly named Russian women appearing scantily clad in my bedroom…. ;)

    Reply
  23. AlanS

    May I’m not totally sure what I think on the justification of the stealing of documents. You make a good point.

    I’m also with you on the cyber attacks. The reason I brought it up was because, for me, they pose more of a moral conundrum than the actual stealing of the documents.

    Ah, isn’t ethics grand!

    Reply
  24. Sam

    Do we get to talk about the definition of ‘stealing’ here? A person who was legally allowed to view the documents but was not legally allowed to share them with others did so (apparently). We’re not talking about taking a physical object away from another individual (the most obvious definition of stealing). Rather, we’re dealing with the intellectual property of the state, which it seems to me is a little more nebulous moral area. The question is not would you steal if it helped people, so much as would you tell a state secret if you thought it might prevent the state from doing evil, which is a very different question. (this is not to justify wikileaks, because I do think they’re probably wrong, morally-its useful for the government to be able to talk amongst itself in private, and the massive document dump is excessive).

    Reply
  25. tim b

    @sam. Well, I think to define stealing you need to define ownership. The military and feds owned the info. They didn’t want to share it. Therefore, in so doing, I would say it is stolen.

    Reply
  26. TimN (Post author)

    Tim B, I thought US tax payers owned all the info. Didn’t we pay for it?

    Reply
  27. dave

    So Tim… do you think that there should be no government secrets?

    Reply
  28. TimN (Post author)

    Dave,

    My point was more that I’m not sure how a US citizen (such as Bradley Manning) can steal something they paid for. You can call it espionage perhaps, but Jesus never had a whole lot to say about that.

    But for the sake of a good discussion on government secrets, I’d be interested to hear what you think are secrets its important for the government to keep.

    Reply
  29. dave

    Fair enough… but to say that US Citizans own anything and all data/secrets of the federal government in turn implies that we should have access to all data/secrets.

    As for what secrets are important for the government to keep, it is a question that I have been wrestling with for the last few weeks. I think that there are absolutely secrets that should be kept from the public. But, to be perfectly honest, I am not sure where that line should be.

    As someone who would like to see much more diplomacy (instead of military might), I don’t think that diplomacy is helped by releasing any and all documents and conversations about such diplomatic relations. But again, I am not sure where that line should be.

    Reply

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