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Wikileaks Blows Whistle; Most Miss the Point

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Monday's much-anticipated D.C. press conference by the Wikileaks organization revealed a leaked video showing that 12 men who had been identified by the Department of Defense as "anti-Iraqi forces" and shot dead in Baghdad in 2008 were killed by U.S. troops acting out of apparent failure to accurately assess the situation. The real issue, though, is larger than a single battle, an ongoing war, or the enterprise of warfare itself, and in fact transcends not only particular nations but even nationhood; still, the crucial lesson risks being lost at a time in which such a lesson most clearly merits the attention of every individual who takes seriously his duties as a citizen of whatever nation-state happens to claim his as its own.

Of course, a story does not become a non-story by virtue of having tremendous implications. Here, for those who have somehow missed it, is the video:

Meanwhile, more background regarding the manner in which this video was finally made public (after two years of refusals by the DoD to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request made by Reuters) is available by way of my recent interview with Antiwar.org radio's Scott Horton. Consider familiarizing yourself with Wikileaks as well as that which is publicly known regarding U.S. intelligence community's plan to marginalize and weaken that organization; over all, familiarize yourself with the ongoing struggle between pro-secrecy power centers on the one hand and those who prefer the citizens of a given nation to know what is being done in their name on the other; there are a number of parties whose strategies hinge on your inattention to this struggle.

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Certain matters that end up in the history books by virtue of their significant effect on human society also tend not to receive adequate public attention at such time as the history in question is being made. There are legitimate reasons for this to be so:  it is easier to look back upon the truth than to figure it out as it happens, there being a lag between each day's collected occurrences and one's chance to learn of and evaluate them. But of course one may easily look back upon the months and years and identify some developing trend or other formless and dateless but nonetheless crucial matter; the extent to which man proceeds unthinkingly through an age of unprecedented potential for both good and ill is due in large part to the structural problems that exist within the media, itself the product of forces that do not. Such flaws are difficult to fix from within the outlets and institutions collectively making up what I'll call the corrupted/corrupting media, until such time as I think up a less idiotic-sounding term, and they are caused by the largely ubiquitous lack of impetus for any given individual working within the C/CM or whatever to act in such a way as to fix these flaws, even assuming that a given individual is aware of these flaws and is not a flaw himself. As such, there is a tendency for crucial stories to go largely unreported - and that itself is among the most important of these largely unreported stories, and the one most necessarily unlikely to get much play. A large problem fundamental to the majority of all others has effectively been taken off the table in terms of the national dialog, as it is often called, perhaps wrongly.

In our own era, two tendencies that have always been in play are working in opposition to each other during a particular point in history in which both have an unprecedented chance to largely decide which finally ends, and the result of this struggle will. One of these tendencies is that of the world's various centers of power to attempt to perpetuate themselves by means of information in general and secrecy in particular. The other tendency is that of some number of individuals who may or may not be powerful themselves to gain as much information as they can about the nature of society, both broadly and in terms of specifics, and with an emphasis on centers of power and particularly those with which they interface. By way of example, some Chinese citizens would like to know more about the process by which they are governed as well as potential ways in which they could govern themselves in the future; most of those who govern them are opposed to such knowledge being available to the citizenry.

Much of the above is obvious to most every attentive and intelligent person. Rather it is the implications that often elude even highly intelligent people with above-average knowledge of the world and its workings. Those implications are indeed understood by, say, the U.S. intelligence community, a certain faction of which advocates a dramatic reworking of the internet in such a way as to render it useless as a means of communicating anonymously or privately, and without fear of monitoring by malevolent governments. Such changes as this faction seeks would put an end to the internet's role as man's greatest weapon against centers of power ranging from Beijing to Harare to Langley. We need not come to this conclusion merely by thought experiment or any such thing, as this faction has announced its intentions openly, most recently by way of former Clinton Administration NSA director and Bush Administration director of national intelligence Michael McConnell, who announced the nature of the game we're now playing in a recent op-ed for The Washington Post. Due to the U.S.'s alleged losing battle with various unspecified cyber armies and the prospect of further such conflict in the future, wrote McConnell on February 28th of this year:

... we need to reengineer the Internet to make attribution, geolocation, intelligence analysis and impact assessment -- who did it, from where, why and what was the result -- more manageable. The technologies are already available from public and private sources and can be further developed if we have the will to build them into our systems and to work with our allies and trading partners so they will do the same.

McConnell also speaks approvingly of Secretary of State Clinton's statement that "[i]n an Internet-connected world, an attack on one nation's networks can be an attack on all," while also holding out for stronger backing from the executive branch (and he has received it, on which more later):

That was a promising move, but it means little unless we back it up with practical policies and international legal agreements to define norms and identify consequences for destructive behavior in cyberspace.

Although McConnell's statements and the conclusions we can draw from them have not been much discussed by those outlets with popular reach, they have seized the attention of those who advocate for privacy, information freedom, and action against statist regimes across the world, all of whom have good reason to be concerned. For one thing, McConnell's stated intention of saving the U.S. from its losing position in an ongoing cyberwar is entirely made-up, as has been noted by various respected cybersecurity experts and even current White House director of cybersecurity Howard Schmidt, who flatly rejects the existence of any such cyberwar or any major U.S. defeat in such a made-up phenomenon:

There is no cyberwar. I think that is a terrible metaphor and I think that is a terrible concept. There are no winners in that environment.

Why would a major figure in the U.S. intelligence community assert the existence of a major threat that requires the U.S. intelligence community to be given major new powers over an unprecedented human institution? That's rhetorical, by the way.

Among the various uses that entities ranging from the NSA to the Pentagon to the State Department could make of such of McConnell's proposals as are actually adapted, the marginalization and rendering harmless of Wikileaks comes to mind. Over the past few years that organization has served a singularly crucial role in keeping humanity informed about the doings of its less conscientious institutions, such as when it acquired and published a procedures manual from Guantanamo Bay that described how the Red Cross was circumvented, among other things. At least one U.S. agency has concocted a plan to do just that, as was revealed by Wikileaks itself last month when it released a leaked copy of a Secret/NOFORN Army Intelligence document describing the watchdog group at great length and proposing that leakers be identified and targeted for firings, prosecution, and other measures intended to discourage other leakers and eventually weaken Wikileaks by drying up its supply of those willing to risk involuntary mid-life reassessments in providing the organization with significant information.

Wikileaks has drawn negative attention from entities concerned with preventing the world's citizens from learning the truth of certain matters; for the same reason, Wikileaks deserves far more attention that it has received thus far, as does the larger story of secrecy, power, information, and an American citizen's desire and duty to know what is being done in his name.

Update, March 5th 8:05 EST

Now would be a good time to note that I write for Skeptic and have a monthly column for The Skeptical Inquirer and am the author of a skeptical book which debunks a range of nonsensical things; either I am a solid skeptic, then, or I have managed to put one over on tens of thousands of people who are notoriously difficult folks upon which to put one. Unfortunately, there is a logical fallacy in existence that equates mention of intelligence agencies doing something interesting with craziness, this being due to the fact that some instances of actual craziness involve intelligence agencies in the role of leading man, or sometimes alien. Anyone who dismisses out of hand evidence that U.S. intelligence agencies still do some of the things that they now brag about having done not too long ago is not a skeptic, but a fool.

When I first wrote about Wikileaks last month, several of its staff members were being subjected to aggressive surveillance by U.S. officials under State Department cover, at least two of whom appear to have been following a Wikileaks editor during his departure from Iceland. Iceland has recently become the focus of the two opposing factions insomuch as that there exists proposed legislation which would make that republic a haven for information deemed illegal elsewhere, be it China or the U.S. - and the people at Wikileaks are helping to formulate the proposal. If this is accomplished, it will be a massive setback for the respective intelligence agencies of nations across the globe, not to mention the governments on behalf of which they operate as well as any number of non-government entities including banks, multinationals, and religious institutions. There is quite a bit at stake as of now; luckily for the enemy, few people have any idea what that might be.

Cover-ups, deception, and secrecy in service to individual reputations are poison to individual liberty and functioning representative government.

Update April 7th 5:06 PM EST

Quite a few mainstream media outlets as well as the more prominent bloggers did eventually cover this story, and some of them have even gone so far as to remark upon the more important aspect of how this story came to be, if not the even more fundamental story regarding the war over information that is being fought with varying results from China to Australia to the United States.

Though it is heartening to see that major outlets did eventually pick up on this thing - after all, it consisted of a video of people being shot, which is of great appeal to the more amoral of producers and editors - the manner in which this particular piece of information flowed throughout the media superstructure is still worrisome.

The morning after Wikileaks released a series of Twitter messages announcing that certain of their employees had been targeted by an aggressive surveillance operation orchestrated by members of the U.S. intelligence community, at which time I wrote an article on this development including background and commentary, there existed exactly one blog post covering the story and not a word from any traditional news outlet. Although Gawker did a fine job of alerting its readers to what was going on as well as explaining why it mattered, almost nothing appeared on this for the rest of the day, with only a few minor outlets bothering to discuss it all (although those that did usually did so quite competently). Likewise, when Wikileaks released a statement a few days later providing more information on its editors' encounter with Icelandic police and U.S. intelligence agents, my post on the subject was followed by very few other articles (which is to say a great many of them relative to the previous news cycle). Upon the Wikileaks news conference on the morning of April 5th, the only news outlet that had provided a mention of that conference earlier in the morning was al-Jazeera; this time, though, pretty much everyone ended up covering the story, but not before the noticeable dynamic by which most editors and producers seem to have waited for their counterparts to cover it first (notably, the excellent Dan Froomkin of had a similarly excellent piece up here at Huffington Post after the press conference, including much-needed early analysis of the video).

All of this is not simply to demonstrate that those who wish to be informed on issues of information flow and media dynamics - and additionally would like to know of related occurrences without having to wait until such time as the world's newspaper editors and handbag-obsessed television producers get done figuring out what has happened and what it means and whether covering it will please those above them on the totem pole and whether or not it involves underage sex and who's having handbag sales today - should follow my work.

Incidentally, you should indeed follow my work. But you should also be following the work of those bloggers and correspondents who collectively cover the world and its workings in a manner superior to anyone else, and in such a way as to keep an audience far better informed than could any other outlet of both the traditional and internet sorts. After it launches this summer, Project PM will be that very thing: a means of obtaining the best possible information as determined by the most honest and capable of journalists and commentators.

Although I and our existing participants believe that this effort will produce a news source of unparalleled quality, Project PM has another, more crucial function which it is already serving to some extent, which is to get people to realize what is possible - not to mention necessary - in the information age. As I have discussed elsewhere and about which I will continue to harangue everyone for the rest of my professional life, magnificent and largely unprecedented things are about to happen as the implications of our budding age begin to sink in among the citizenry at large, and particularly those of intelligence, honesty, erudition, and good will. This is just as well, as those of intelligence, dishonesty, erudition, and a totalitarian mindset have access to the same wonders as everyone else. Such people also tend be early adopters.

If you wish to take responsibility for the future and would be willing to consider my proposal, please read the this early description of what we're trying to accomplish and how we intend to do so and the contact me at barriticus@gmail.com and either I or someone else will get back to you shorty. You do not need to be a blogger or journalist to join; you will be given the chance to serve in a sort of legislative body that will oversee this project as well as new functions added as we expand. A number of people, including some of the nation's best and most widely-read journalists, consider Project PM to be a viable means of improving the news media both from within and from without. A more comprehensive manifesto will appear soon, although the link above will provide a specific understanding of certain key aspects of the project, and we are happy to answer questions ahead of our official announcement.

Again, I'd ask the reader to spend a few minutes reading my plan and to consider participating in one of the many capacities available. Becoming a member of our legislative network does not entail any time commitment whatsoever and, like the associated blogger network, it is designed not to suffer by way of the inaction of those involved. You'll find, I think, that the whole project is designed in such a way as to take advantage of the environment in which we now live - unlike, say, nations.