Dreading with a pit in the gut

by Joshua Foust on 11/28/2010 · 27 comments

I am viscerally dreading the latest Wikileaks dump. Can’t do details, but I think a lot of genuinely good programs are under direct threat from this, to say nothing of how many Ambassadors will be recalled which will stall out several rounds of important negotiations.

Here’s what gets me. Lots of people enjoyed gloating that “nothing bad” really happened after the leak of the first Wikileaks. Except we still get occasional indications that some within the Taliban haven’t moved on:

A spokesman for the militant movement said it would scour the files for the names of Afghan intelligence sources who had given the Nato-led coalition information on the insurgents.

If found and captured the informers would be tried and punished by the Taliban’s shadow system of courts which extends throughout Afghanistan.

The spokesman would not say what punishment the movement would exact, but Taliban fighters routinely behead, hang or shoot dead those considered to be spies or associated with foreign troops.

It’s probably up for grabs about what this really means: if they’re really doing that or just posturing for a reporter. There’s probably not a systematic attempt to sift through the data, but I don’t doubt that if they come across a name, they’d respond.

What really bothers me is, how do people see this sort of thing and still think Wikileaks is a force for good in the world? I’m lost on that one.


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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 27 comments }

Anonymous November 28, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Look at it this way, Joshua: when we bomb a target in Afghanistan or Iraq and civilian casualties are killed in the process, we refer to this as collateral damage. That is to say, it was acceptable the civilians were killed in order to get the enemy (a bad thing happened in the process of a good thing).

Here we have a case of journalists exposing potential bad things about the USG, which *potentially* risks lives in the process. That is to say, for people interested in correcting bad things that may be taking place in the USG and elsewhere, the *potential* collateral damage is acceptable.

Personally, this isn’t something I would engage myself in. But I am interested in the material, particularly as it may shed a more candid light on US ME foreign policy and Israel.

anan November 28, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Anonymous,

I don’t think you can begin to understand how angry Russia, India, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Turkey, basically every middle east country, basically every European country is about the damage these leaks are causing to “THEIR” national security.

For example, many of the wikileaks refer to reports about Turkey backing Al Qaeda in terrorist attacks that killed many civilians. Many people will read this and assume these reports are true, rather than compilations of “so and so said such and such.” How many Turkish lives and business interests have now been put at risk? [Turkey is one of the largest investors and business partners of Iraq, Iran, Armenia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.] Is it fair that Turkey’s name might have been tarnished in the minds of 150 million Shiites [many Turks are Shiites too]?

Wikileaks is a huge story around the world, not because of America, but because of the potential harm wikileaks is doing to their own countries.

Assange is a wanted man. There is a significant chance that a Pakistani assasin will kill him for his role in a global Jewish/Buddhist/Hindu/Atheist/Crusader conspiracy to lie about Pakistan. I don’t think Assange has any idea how much many Pakistanis now hate him and want to kill him.

Anonymous, have you read what Iranians think about Wikileaks?

brianr November 28, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Your analogy only works if you consider these drone strikes to be a good thing, that they should continue with little discretion, just like these wikileaks dumps.

Samantha November 28, 2010 at 2:12 pm

I agree with Joshua. Classified information should not be exposed, that is why it is classified. Regardless if the potential exists, national security operations, and facts are being made privy to those who have no need to know about them. It not only damages our credibility, but also the credibility of our allies and NATO forces. I do not know what is contained within those documents, but I will not be visiting their website. Assagne, is out for fame and money, not the truth.

Don Bacon November 30, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Documents are generally classified because of one or both of these reasons: (1) citizens need to be kept in the dark (2) the info could be embarrassing. Neither treason is sufficient, as we are learning.

Julian Assange has a theory that governments and other large organizations are conspiracies operating on complex information networks. Large disclosures of information, besides the immediate learning benefit, can cause the organization to restrict its network, draw inward and be made less effective.

Don Bacon November 30, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Freudian slip — please take the “t” off treason.

Fnord December 3, 2010 at 11:37 am

Got to say he has a point when it comes to how European politicians and buerocrats have been using issues as platforms of promotion. In Norway, the whole JSF-purchase process seems to have been pushed by the undersecretery of defence angling for a UN job. The foreign ministry of the UK promised results in Diego Garcia months before the trial. And so on and so on. And of course, all of us are hoping that this will inspire details into the “secret” torture flights and who facillitated them through Europe.

So from a warfighting perspective, sure this is bad. But from a political poerspective, its a pretty decent anti-virus to the ruling elite.

Brett November 28, 2010 at 3:15 pm

What really bothers me is, how do people see this sort of thing and still think Wikileaks is a force for good in the world? I’m lost on that one.

What are you so worried about? It’s not like Wikileaks has dumped the State Department Cables on the web without any form of redaction – it’s one of the reasons why they leaked them to a number of papers, who can then take their own precautions.

Classified information should not be exposed, that is why it is classified. Regardless if the potential exists, national security operations, and facts are being made privy to those who have no need to know about them.

Good thing there’s no issues with “accountability” and “cover-ups” in your universe, right? Why do you think we have whistleblower protections?

Samantha November 28, 2010 at 5:50 pm

Accountability is different than risking national security. Accountabiility is being held responsible for your actions. The United States and any other government mentioned in these documents in bracing for their release. Laugh at that if you want, but it is true. I hope Assange is willing to be accountable for his actions.

Just because information is not readily available to the public does not imply a cover-up. Just because you do not know about something does not mean it is a cover-up. Just because the US has nuclear secrets and advanced weapons technology, does that mean that we should disclose that to other countries? Do you really want North Korea or some extremist or terrorist group to know what we know to kill United States citizens?

I am in full support of whistleblower protection laws. I used to be a big transparency person, and that I stopped and realized that there are some things that the public should not know about because they don’t understand it or refuse to, someone can use it against us, or that information can be used to hurt someone or groups of people.

Fnord December 3, 2010 at 11:38 am

Samantha: And who exactly are the chosen few who should decide wich parts of the political processes invovled in the finances of war to open up to the world?

Steve Magribi November 29, 2010 at 7:05 am

The real issue is not this public leak. Like the Pentagon Papers PFC Manning decided to do his part to throw a wrench in the assumptions of the War on Terror. Assange created an organization to spread this type of information on a grand public scale.

Manning is in jail. He will probably be there a long time. Assange is is not the source of the information. He is the willing disseminator as is the New York Time et al. Manning and Assange are clearly enemies of the US Super Power role in the world. Whether Assange gets charged for disseminating the information is still to be decided. The New York Times has also spread the information along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel. Some one else will decide on who or what gets prosecuted.

If US diplomats are now shunned or sources have been revealed that rests with Manning who leaked the information and the disseminators Assange and the newspapers. The system is rather broken in more ways than one. Ten years of constant war is pulling many things apart at the seams.

What concerns me is how easy it has become to infilitrate our intelligence system. Who else is leaking but this time to a foreign power?? What other information and analysis is out of control? We just don’t know. The whole system could very well be totally compromised and that is the real danger for the gurus to look at.

The quality of work at identifying enemies and understanding the basics of groups such as the Taliban is very very apparent, and the means employed to stop this threat are not working.This much is clear. Now we also need to worry that the whole system is compromised completely.

However, rather than celebrate this leak a word of Thanks should be out to those who stopped the potential atrocity in Oregon several days ago. This shows that some things still do work when it counts.

Not looking good for the Empire right now, economically, militarily or in a security sense right now. But the whole structure is not falling yet in any sense.

For those working on need to know, the solution is simple. Don’t read the leaks, that will absolve you from any part in the crime.

Mindless article November 29, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Dear Wikileaks Team!

I happened to be a witness of musings of mindless Irish Twat, known as journalist Brighid McLaughlin.
She’d written an article for ugly Irish newspaper “Sunday Independent”. Outrageous had been the words uttered from her mouthpiece, she had mocked God’s army and God’s children. She had tried to squeeze the utmost out of her little literary talent she got. Mind you, she had spilt out all her vermin to mock God’s kids and had called Johnny and Luther Htoo “a primitive race and people” and sung her father’s songs. That had happened in the year 1999, right before the Y2K craze. At the time she had paid little an attention to consequences she would pay. Please check out the link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God%27s_Army_%28revolutionary_group%29 to see what the story had been about.

And Judgment Day came forward. She got breast cancer. Her pretentious millionaire husband Michael Shanahan drowned while swimming. Her sister Siobhan McLaughlin got strangled to death by Brian Kearney. Her “beautiful brother” Owen McLaughlin got an impotency. May we call it a case of divine justice?

She is now turned into an artist, painting so called “naïve paintings”. I’m sure that Piero Manzoni’s stuff in tin cans has much more value than her “product”.

Psi Operator
Kyrgyzstan
Lake Issyk Kul

Jae November 29, 2010 at 1:34 pm

I couldn’t agree more with Joshua. This isn’t a targeted leak in the public interest; this is vandalism by a megalomaniac. Nothing more.

Kelley V November 29, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Could anyone say with any real seriousness that there would even be a Julian Assange, or even a Wikileaks (at least with the power they both wield today), if the United States hadn’t declared an infinite Global War on Terror, or better yet, defined for itself a Global Battlefield, after 9/11, in effect pissing everyone else on the planet off as American diplomats, military and politicians morphed into one giant fist and intelligence-sucking machine, extorting weaker countries in order to use them for fuel and airfields and prisoner renditions, bombing others under secrecy (or in the case of Pakistan, Somalia, and now Yemen, not so secret), sending private security goons under the stars and stripes to degrade, abuse and kill (however ‘accidentally’) civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, and yes, Pakistan, snatching people for long stays at Gitmo without charge, all the while turning a blind eye to the refugee crisis, the human trafficking, the environmental devastation and the corruption these wars have wrought … and on and on and on? U.S leaders beg these “international partners” for help in their wars, then ridicule and mock them — and their militaries — behind their backs. Americans strut and preen and chest thump and … then the proverbial chickens come up to roost. Come on, this did not happen in a vacuum.

anan November 29, 2010 at 5:44 pm

Kelley, the world has 7 billion people, of which only 340 million are American. Most global power, influence, wealth, income, are not American. Your American ethnocentric pride is so old. Foreigners laugh at your presumption and delusions of grandeur. Grow up.

Wikileaks is a huge news story in Turkey which sees wikileaks as an insidious plot to destroy Turkey.

Wikileaks is a huge news story in Iran which sees wikileaks as an insidious plot to destroy Iran.

Wikileaks is a huge news story among Sunni Arabs which sees wikileaks as an insidious plot to destroy Sunni Arabs.

Wikileaks is a huge news story among Pakistanis which sees wikileaks as an insidious plot to destroy Pakistanis.

Wikileaks has threatened the national security of Russia, India, all of Europe, America, Canada, Afghanistan and many other countries around the world. And for what? An overgrown ego.

The global Takfiri extremist violent movement is the largest security threat the world confronts today. It threatens many countries around the world more than it threatens the US. The US should lead on this issue, as should every other important country.

If you are saying that we Americans could learn a lot about improving our understanding of the world and attitude, you are right. You have subtlely inculcated the attitude of “ugly American” that irritates and humors so many around the world . . . the notion that America is all powerful . . . the only country that matters . . . the source of all that is good and evil in the world . . . and that no other country has agency. Change starts with you. And then Anne Coulter, Amy Goodman, Sean Hannidy, Gore Vidal and all our fellow Americans should follow your example.

“as American diplomats, military and politicians morphed into one giant fist and intelligence-sucking machine” I wish and so does the world in general. No, we Americans specialize is spreading confusion, disunity, lack of purpose. Even we Americans have no clue what other fellow Americans are doing and why.

“extorting weaker countries in order to use them for fuel and airfields” examples? Generally countries try to manipulate America to use them as fuel and airfields and overcharge us. You have much to learn about how much smarter and more sophisticated foreigners are than us Americans 🙂

“and prisoner renditions” Oh my God. Other countries want US prisoners. If we don’t transfer prisoners to other countries for interegation and prosecution, it would fuel global anti Americanism and justifiably so.

“bombing others under secrecy (or in the case of Pakistan, Somalia, and now Yemen, not so secret)”
Pakistan has “co-sovereignty” over drone strikes. A better way to put it is that Pakistan uses America to attack the enemies of Pakistan, and in return ocassionally authorizes a strike on a target Americans want to hit. Trust me on this, the Pakistanis are way ahead of us.

“sending private security goons under the stars and stripes to degrade, abuse and kill (however ‘accidentally’) civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, and yes, Pakistan, snatching people for long stays at Gitmo without charge” Example please? Do you mean the Northern Alliance in 2001? What private security goons are you talking about? CIA aren’t the brightest bunch to put it politely, but they aren’t private security.

“all the while turning a blind eye to the refugee crisis, the human trafficking, the environmental devastation and the corruption these wars have wrought … and on and on and on?”
Now what are you talking about? Which wars? The Afghan civil war of 1979-2010? The Iraqi civil war of 1980-2008? The Balkans war of 1992-1999? All of these were regional and international conflicts in which you over estimate America’s role.

“U.S leaders beg these “international partners” for help in their wars, then ridicule and mock them — and their militaries — behind their backs.” What country in the world doesn’t talk about people behind their backs? Not that it is a good thing. You are right that America begs other countries to act in their own interests and when they do, behaves as if other countries have done something for America. Kind of like congratulating Russia for donating equipment to the ANSF. Do we Americans understand how stupid foreigners think we are?

“Americans strut and preen and chest thump” Now here we agree. You also do this subtly without fully realizing it.

“then the proverbial chickens come up to roost.” Does for every country.

Kelley you are probably a very young idealistic American so sorry for going off at you. Maybe you don’t realize the degree to which you are criticizing yourself.

mevlahos November 29, 2010 at 9:51 pm

Ah, Anan, You are so the grown-up, and the poor American woman you flog the starry-eyed child. You will teach her the true wisdom of “realism” by water-boarding her foolish, if charming idealism.

Well O Seer, if you would teach you must first be able to speak. Opening your mouth, you must then be able to make a coherent argument.

After your ad hominum eruption you spend seven sentences saying: Exactly nothing. Then you follow with what I take to be your message: Global—Takfiri—Extremism. The “largest security threat the world confronts today?” My my, whose is the overgrown ego here: Yours or the “Takfiris”?

Your commonplace nugget of non-truth in itself might still allow you the possibility of a shred of respect from the reader, but then you proceed to do exactly what you accuse Kelley V of doing: Arguing against yourself.

You appear sadly conflicted. You want to put down the US and yet exalt her. You want to put down all those who criticize her and yet selectively defend those who do — if they fit your own incoherent historical reality.

Criticize — yes, by all means. But please, do so nicely, or some might begin to think you not so different from a Takfiri.

Capish?

Then, make a real argument for God’s sake! Why invite such casual scorn?

Samantha November 29, 2010 at 5:37 pm

Kelley V, there is always some jerk who is trying to act like some transparency savior.

Don Anderson November 30, 2010 at 8:33 am

Anand…

You are (as is often the case-almost every day) way off the mark.

Kelley V was simply pointing out what a disaster the whole War on Terror has been. Wikileaks is just one of the results

A. An almost insane single minded pursuit of one issue. This is our War on Terror-maybe with Tony Blair, but it is not Spain’s or Italy’s or Russia’s to the same extent. We have pressured countries (see Slovenia or Germany or Italy) to take our hooded and waterboarded detainees or accept our activities on their soil. Sorry not the way to win or influence friends. Make sure those biometrics and credit card numbers are right at the UN. So what if everyone else does it, what does it say about our mental state? We are paranoid like Stalin now?

What about our 400 or so overcharged military installations? Worth the money we need to borrow to maintain them? Needed? We cannot exist without them?

B. No we are not alone, King Abdullah and the other Arab new Pharoahs are hand in hand with us. On one side they pay our enemies on the other they beg us to invade Iran. The US cannot seem to get anything together on this count.

C. Your Dear Pakistan, friend or foe? Our competence is questioned every day. Petreaus is not a saviour, nor is Mullah Mansour. Iraq not a victory, it is an embarrassment, and just another new jihad front for innocents to die in.

D. Bombing of refugee camps or wedding parties, or compounds whenever we feel there is a threat. It does not matter if Zardari-the damaged head of a Nation is in joining in or Saleh in Yemen, (Your Bombs are my Bombs) This is just not working, it is wrong and it brings us enemies by the thousands as Kelley V pointed out.

E. We have lost our compass, we are exceptional- exceptionally confused, and in exceptional economic problems when the EC is finished refinancing Belgium and company. The War on Terror is not the only reason, but just one of the very big reasons for the collapse that we all feel is coming. Bush the Emperor or Obama does not make a real difference at all anymore. Kelley was right.

ps. I am not a young idealistic American, I am an old Cynical one, same message Anand. The gig is up and Wikileaks is just one more brick in the wall. Kelley V was right and you jumped for no reason.

JUST A NORMAL GUY (THE ORIGINAL) November 30, 2010 at 9:01 am

WELL JOSH I JUST WANTED TO ‘CHECK IN’ TO MAKE SURE YOUR ALLRIGHT, PHYSICLY. WELL I SPENT ALL DAY THROWING UP BECASUE OF THE WIKI-LEAK’S. EVEN THROUGH WE ARE WAITING FOR THE OTHER SHOW TO DROP BECASUE WE STILL DO’NT KNOW HOW MANY AMBASSEDOR’S GOING TO BE RECALLED … WELL ITS A WAITING GAME WORST THAN WAITING FOR THE OBAMACARE DEATH PANEL’S TO BEGIN.

WELL JOSH, I AM LIKE YOU, I BECOME PHYSICLY ILL VERY EASALLY SO I THINK I WELL GO THROW UP AGAIN … IF ONLY OBAMACARE COVERED ‘JULIEN ASS-STRANGE’ SYNDROME LOL!

Boris Sizemore November 30, 2010 at 9:55 am

Poor Poor Mr. Normal…(how original)

A. If you can’t take the news…turn off your phone and TV. Thus you will be pure of any the “evil” wikileaks information….looks like Assange got you big time. You can watch PTL or Batman and Robin(no not that,my mistake)

B. Poor Ambassadors…how terrible to be recalled. Does that mean that the extradition orders will be cancelled? Will we not be able to get the biometric data on the Central African Cabinet member now?

Feeling so bad are you? Call Mullah Mansour and Petreaus and Saleh of Yemen to a conference call. They will assure you not to worry, things are fine. We are winning this thing. Don’t forget to print more cash, for them, of course.

You preferred the world before such heretics dared to speak out?

C. Obama Care does apply for Post Wiki Traumatic Disorder. Take the pills they are giving our troops who also feel nauseated and stressed by what is going on and what happened to them.

Better than being detained by the WOT Zealots or sent to the Wolves in Baghdad for an interview from which you will never return.

Call in the Inquisition- the world is indeed very flat.

Some are laughing, some are crying…and getting sick. Funny symptoms-see you in nine months.

S November 30, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Greenwald calling you out was pretty lame, especially when he can’t even bother to muster a decent response.

http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/11/30/wikileaks/index.html

Bean November 30, 2010 at 5:02 pm

S — Actually, Greenwald nailed this guy to the wall.

But as soon as I read Foust’s description of the Iraq invasion as a “regional conflict” (above), it became clear there’s not much to nail here…

Joshua Foust November 30, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Now now, gurls, selecta-quoting things I wrote six years ago while a junior in college in a gay pornography blog is a little much to swallow, if I can abuse the pun, isn’t it?

Don Bacon December 1, 2010 at 8:20 pm

SecDef Gates (quote):

Now, I’ve heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer, and so on. I think — I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought. The fact is, governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets. Many governments — some governments deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us. We are still essentially, as has been said before, the indispensable nation.

So other nations will continue to deal with us. They will continue to work with us. We will continue to share sensitive information with one another.

Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.

Joshua Foust December 1, 2010 at 8:35 pm

I know what Gates is saying. I never worried this would fundamentally reorder the international system. I worried this would hurt us, and hurts us a lot. I’m working on a piece to explain why.

Fnord December 3, 2010 at 11:43 am

Umm, there is a certain division of thought here, Josh: Some would say that the US deserves to be hurt.

popsiq December 9, 2010 at 10:48 pm

The wikileaks thing is striking in two regards. First in terms of potential embarrassment, or those ‘good’ programs being affected. It strikes me that if something is really ‘good’, it shouldn’t require a layer of shinola to improve the optics. Wikileaks can only be damaging if it unmasks some layer of bullfeathering. If it reveals the truth, and that gibes with common perception, no harm, no foul and the work will continue. If there is something to be emabarrassed about, maybe that ‘work’ should not have been done at all.

As far as harm to friendly Afghans what part of military intelligence tells anybody to use peoples’ names in any written, or possibly interceptable reports? There IS a war on, and just like Americans know they’re facing a real enemy, the taliban know that there are real temptations and opportunities for some Afghans to aid and abet their enemy. For anybody to write the names of afghans who help, or even to make those names common knowledge ‘on base’, is the height of arrant stupidity. Thinking that ‘nobody will ever see’ this verges on criminal negligence. Those Afghans were compromised by those they trusted.

If such intelligence fell into US hands about taliban operatives, they’d be eliminated in short order. So what’s the difference? There IS a war on, no?

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