Monday, December 13

You're Not Helping. Not That We Aren't Beyond Help Anyway.

Scott Shane, "Keeping Secrets WikiSafe". December 11

I'VE spent a lot of time lately wondering whether the Second Coming of Richard Nixon will answer the age old question If History's A Farce The First Time 'Round, How Does It Get Repeated? or, maybe, How Many Idiots Can Tapdance On The Edge Of An Apocalypse? I don't believe in Apocalypse, for reasons having less to do with a rejection of Semitic fairy-tales, and more to do with the question of what level of collateral damage would be required to make the elimination of the species something other than a net positive, but I think if one does then one should probably admit that if God is perfection, then Her comic timing has got to require milking this gag for a while yet.

And let's have this much clear: I do think the Republican party is a big part of this. I do think that the Nixonian Impulse, which I would describe as the hyperreality created at the intersection of the abject and squalid profit-taking which has hidden behind American Exceptionalism for decades and an infantile sexuality that would have put Krafft-Ebing off his lunch, is the very juice and marrow of the modern Republican party. And I think that, having in yet another election managed to milk a bull and produce ice cream, it will be drawn once again to demonstrate its essential nature the way a flasher inhabits a playground.

My question, though, is more stimulated by Wikileaks than the prospect of the horrifying but relatively survivable Reagan Dime, or the unsurvivable, but promising-in-a-Weimar-Republic-Let's-All-Have-Sex-With-Each-Other-While-We-Still-Can sense Palin administration. I'm not sure, frankly, how many more times I can take seeing Brian Williams self-satisfied, expense-account-fed phiz spouting off about State Secrets as though the issue was closed, let alone as though his profession was just naturally supposed to be on the government's side. It's funny how rapidly that government went from pre-election Mammoth Devouring Tax Monster to Fragile Lamb in a Killer Snowstorm.

Okay, so like you I still recall 2003, when Our Fighting Men marched bravely off to repossess those WMDs the Reagan administration sold Saddam Hussein, or Sodom, as he liked to be called, and when you couldn't actually see the outline of William's tanning-booth glasses for all the fucking bunting they surrounded the screen with. Times have changed. Teevees are bigger.

Hey, don't take my word for it. I unwrapped the blizzard-proofed Sunday Times yesterday to find the Op-Ed section demanding I consider

How To Wikiproof Our Vital Secrets

Which seemed to me wrong on at least two counts, only one of which was You're the People Who Helped Disseminate Them. Because the even larger questions--Why were these Secret, and what's so fucking Vital?--seem to go unasked, despite the constant yammering. And then I discovered that we weren't even asking questions here, just molding Our Serious Concerns into something which would fit on an iPhone:
Even two decades ago, in the days of kilobytes and floppy discs, such an ocean of data would have been far more difficult to capture and carry away. Four decades ago, using a photocopier, a leaker might have needed a great many reams of paper and a tractor-trailer.

Y'know, really. I can't for the life of me understand who th' fuck cares about this stuff. It's like watching one of those risible Star Treks (but I repeat myself!) when suddenly, with some slight provocation you or I might not even notice, or perhaps a bit too much Antarian Qoom Nectar, DeForest "Bones" Kelley would sham an emotional breakdown over the thought that, back in the 20th century, doctors actually cut people open!

This, of course, is prima facie evidence that the author is playing with the net down, on a court the size of a mall parking lot, and with no opponent. But the slightly more realistic option--that Bones would have spent much of his time crowing over how advanced the Third Quarter of the 23rd century was compared to the Second--is not exactly notable for the rigor of its results, either. What does "now we've got thumb drives" have to do with anything? And isn't what it does have to do with anything, well, sort of obvious? Do we get to avoid--or are we permitted to reopen--every ethical issue each time someone invents a new storage device?
Or consider the speed at which news travels. During the Iran-contra affair, American arms sales to Iran were first reported by a Beirut weekly, Al Shiraa, in November 1986; it was a few days before the American press picked up the story. “Now it would take a few minutes,” said [Steven] Aftergood.

Weepers! Y'know, maybe we could use some of that time we save to, oh, consider fully the implications of the news, rather than gawking like a Depression-era Iowa farm boy who's just seen his first monoplane.
Long before WikiLeaks, of course, reporters often met bureaucrats with troubled consciences or agendas, and produced sensational disclosures. The Pentagon Papers is the iconic case. More recently, the classic muckraking model unveiled closely guarded programs that the Bush administration put into place after Sept. 11, 2001: the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret prisons; waterboarding and other brutal interrogation methods; the National Security Agency’s eavesdropping without court warrants on American soil.

Okay, well, now I see why a major news organization would be equivocal about this sort of information getting out.
All those disclosures led to public debate and to action: the prisons were closed; coercive interrogations were banned; the N.S.A. program was brought under court supervision. But the disclosures also fed a bipartisan sense in Congress and across the intelligence agencies that secrets were too casually whispered to reporters. One unexpected result in the first two years of the Obama administration has been four prosecutions of government employees on charges of disclosing classified information, more such prosecutions than under any previous president.

Governments are still informed by the totalitarian impulse, but now it comes in a convenient purse-sized mister!
That is a reason to suspect that the openness of this new era will have limits.

No, the reason to "suspect" it will have limits is the natural toadying instinct of the average human with a comfortable job.
Now, with the third WikiLeaks collection linked to Private Manning in the news, members of Congress have called with new ferocity for punishing the group and its provocateur-in-chief, Julian Assange. Representative Peter King, a New York Republican, has asked the State Department to consider designating WikiLeaks a terrorist group; Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, has called for espionage charges against Mr. Assange, an idea that legal experts say is problematic.

Unlike "naming WikiLeaks a terrorist group"?
“They’ve actually embraced” the mainstream media, “which they used to treat as a cuss word,” [Thomas S.] Blanton said. “I’m watching WikiLeaks grow up. What they’re doing with these diplomatic documents so far is very responsible.”

Thank God revelations of our dirty, homicidal international shit-dealing for profit aren't sliding into disreputability.
It is a 21st-century threat, and one the Obama administration is taking very seriously.

Yes, for just kilobytes a day, you can assure that one little diplomatic boy or girl won't go to bed embarrassed tonight.


Anonymous said...

1) forgive me but if memory serves wasn't the major reason that Iran-Contra broke overseas was that the US Press had its eyes closed and was keeping its fingers in their ears going "la la la I can't hear a thing."?
2) of course back in the day they were more worried about the Russians who had something called microfilm -or at least so the FBI told us.

Kathy said...

When Humans invented writing, it made keeping secrets much easier, but of course the flip side of being able to record information was that Others could do so too, and even -gasp!- copy your carefully written animal hide Secrets onto this newfangled "parchment" stuff and let anyone who could read know what was was going on! ... then the Printing Press was invented, and it's been nothing but a nightmare for Intelligence Agence ever since.

arghous said...

...the prisoners were moved to other, as yet undisclosed, prisons; coercive interrogations were banned nudge-nudge; the N.S.A. program was brought under court rubber stamping.

Fixed that for ya, Mr. Times.