No One Really Gets It About WikiLeaks


In the wake of the release of Vault 7, Fareed Zakaria is the latest to display an odd and perhaps willful ignorance of what WikiLeaks is about:

“The WikiLeaks revelations are designed to uncover and cripple U.S. intelligence operations of any kind, against any foe — including Russia, China, the Islamic State or al-Qaeda. WikiLeaks claims to be devoted to exposing and undermining centralized power, yet it has never revealed anything about the intelligence — or domestic policing — operations of the Russian or Chinese governments, both highly centralized dictatorships with extensive and advanced cyber-intelligence units. Indeed, WikiLeaks has chosen as its obsessive target the United States, which probably has more democratic oversight of its intelligence agencies than any other major power does.”

“America Must Defend Itself Against The Real National Security Menace”. Fareed Zakaria. Washington Post. 2017.

The “why doesn’t Wikileaks release sensitive information about Russia or China?” critique fails in five respects:

1) It’s refuted by the recently revealed likelihood that a CIA contractor (and not an agent of a  foreign government) passed Vault 7 to WikiLeaks:

“Contractors likely breached security and handed over documents describing the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of hacking tools to anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials told Reuters on Wednesday.

Two officials speaking on condition of anonymity said intelligence agencies have been aware since the end of last year of the breach, which led to WikiLeaks releasing thousands of pages of information on its website on Tuesday.”

“CIA Contractors Likely Source Of Latest Wikileaks Release: U.S. Officials”. John Walcott and Mark Hosenball. Reuters. 2017.

2) “Why not Russia?” isn’t an argument. It’s just a smear that substitutes innuendo for evidence.

In addition to Zakaria, Fred Kaplan (Slate), Owen Matthews (Newsweek), and Susan Wright (RedState) are pushing the “why not Russia?” critique:

“Nothing in [the Vault 7] documents describes what or whom the CIA is hacking with these tricks. The leak distracts attention from that issue and puts it on the fact of the hack. And because the documents are so detailed (whereas WikiLeaks never provides documents about Russian or Chinese or any other non-Western countries’ activities), America looks like the bad guy.”

“Wikileaks’ CIA Trove Is A Victory For Russia”. Fred Kaplan. Slate Magazine. 2017.

Deeper, this kind of critique is either about how little policy and media elites understand about how WikiLeaks works, or it’s about those elites wanting the rest of us ignorant of how WikiLeaks works.

WikiLeaks publishes secret information, news leaks, and classified media from anonymous sources.” It’s an anti-secrecy organization, not a news organization. Zakaria and the others are disingenuous when asking of it what they would ask of The Washington Post or The New York Times. Obscuring the difference between a non-profit that opens governments and a for-profit that produces news and opinion highlights the difference between 9/11 era journalism (e.g. Judith Miller) and journalism from the Nixon era (e.g. Woodward and Bernstein).  

3) The average American can price state power in the same way that an investor calculates the impact of political and economic developments on markets in the future. For instance, whatever one thinks about American military involvement in various parts of the world, we at least have enough information to form reasonable opinions about what its costs and benefits are.

Secrecy is different. We can’t properly price secrecy until secrets are revealed. Until then we substitute a strange hybrid of fear, propaganda, faith, hope, and taxes for the price of national security, which has nothing to do with the real price of secrecy. Therefore, as a hedge against the risk of secrets that compromise our rights and citizenship, secrecy itself should at least be priced high for those who control it. And necessarily so because we can never really know just they know. This is the only real source of balance of power that the people have—assuming that there’s really such a thing as “the people” anymore.

4) Should one think that business relationships between a news organization and a government agency might possibility affect how that news organization covers that agency, then one should at least be aware of the relationship between The Washington Post (for whom Zakaria writes opinion pieces) and the CIA:

“The Washington Post announced on Monday the paper had been sold to founder and CEO Jeff Bezos for $250 million. Bezos, one of the world’s wealthiest men, now controls one of the most powerful newspapers in the country. Some critics of the sale have cited Bezos’ close ties to the U.S. government. In 2010, Amazon pulled the plug on hosting the WikiLeaks website under heavy political pressure. Earlier this year, Amazon inked a $600 million cloud-computing deal with the CIA.

“How The Washington Post’s New Owner Aided The CIA, Blocked Wikileaks & Decimated The Book Industry”. Democracy Now!. 2013.

And we should be aware that Amazon’s cloud computing deal was about the CIA building something more than a data center:

“The government was spending more money on information technology within the [Intelligence Community] than ever before. IT spending reached $8 billion in 2013, according to budget documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The CIA and other agencies feasibly could have spent billions of dollars standing up their own cloud infrastructure without raising many eyebrows in Congress, but the decision to purchase a single commercial solution came down primarily to two factors.

“What we were really looking at was time to mission and innovation,” [a] former intelligence official said. “The goal was, ‘Can we act like a large enterprise in the corporate world and buy the thing that we don’t have, can we catch up to the commercial cycle? Anybody can build a data center, but could we purchase something more?

“We decided we needed to buy innovation,” the former intelligence official said.”

“The Details About The CIA’s Deal With Amazon”. Frank Konkel. The Atlantic. 2014.

Why would the CIA need its own data center if the NSA was building one as well? And what sort of data center would they buy from Amazon? After the Edward Snowden revelations, is this article from 2014 one of the first signs that the CIA was building its own NSA?

This should make us wonder how much cover did the CIA’s $600 million buy from The Washington Post:

“[A] petition campaign was launched related to news that Amazon, under the Post’s new owner, Jeff Bezos, recently secured a $600 million contract from the CIA. That’s at least twice what Bezos paid for the Post this year. Bezos recently disclosed that the company’s Web-services business is building a “private cloud” for the CIA to use for its data needs.

Critics charge that, at a minimum, the Post needs to disclose its CIA link whenever it reports on the agency. Over 15,000 have signed the petition this week hosted by RootsAction.

“Amazon, ‘The Washington Post’ And That $600 Million CIA Contract”. Greg Mitchell. The Nation. 2013.

There’s no disclosure of The Washington Post’s CIA ties in Zakaria’s opinion piece. Nor have I seen any Post articles about the CIA that disclose its CIA connection.

In addition, we should also wonder how much of its customer data can/does Amazon provide to the CIA:

“Amazon now has the means, motive and opportunity to provide huge amounts of customer information to its new business partner. An official statement from Amazon headquarters last fall declared: “We look forward to a successful relationship with the CIA.” … Bezos publicly savors the fact that Amazon has proven its digital prowess — aggregating, safeguarding and analyzing many billions of factoids about human beings — to the satisfaction of the CIA.

“Why Amazon’s Collaboration With The CIA Is So Ominous — And Vulnerable”. Norman Solomon. The Huffington Post. 2014.

These dots are connected in a way that  makes me confident that if Vault 7 had been leaked to The Washington Post instead of WikiLeaks, it would never have seen the light of day.

5) Lastly, let’s step back to contemplate America’s role in the world since “the end of history,” once the Soviet Union had collapsed and liberal democracy had triumphed over all other modes of organizing a society:

“What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the endpoint of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government. This is not to say that there will no longer be events to fill the pages of Foreign Affair’s yearly summaries of international relations, for the victory of liberalism has occurred primarily in the realm of ideas or consciousness and is as yet incomplete in the real or material world. But there are powerful reasons for believing that it is the ideal that will govern the material world in the long run. To understand how this is so, we must first consider some theoretical issues concerning the nature of historical change.”

Fukuyama, Francis. “The End Of History?”. The National Interest. 1989.

Fukuyama published this the year the first episode of The Simpsons aired. The foreign policy and media establishment celebrated the complete triumph of liberal democracy from then … until the DNC and John Podesta emails were released.

From then on their narrative has been about Russia and the threat it poses to our democracy. The irony of points 1 through 4 is how easily the establishment changed its tune and show no signs of letting up.

How did this happen? How have we become so weak and vulnerable that everything from the Pope endorsing Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton’s brain injuries are threats to our democracy? Why are we still talking about how our elections were hacked when nothing of the sort happened? How could our triumph after the fall of the Berlin Wall and everything that came with it have been compromised by fake news and a pizza and ping pong parlor in suburban DC?

My analysis of where we are and what sort of Rubicon we’ve crossed may sound weird. But it could also make some sense.

The welfare state fades as progressives have rejected FDR’s liberal tradition. Neoliberalism shows cracks no central banker’s glue can fill. The military industrial complex can’t produce returns on our investments. Things are falling apart for those in power. They’re in different degrees of panic mode because more and more people are rejecting “end of history” ideology.

What if “what about Russia?” is ultimately a critique of the nation state itself masked as a kind of patriotism? What if Zakaria and others like him think that the 500 year arc from the Treaty of Westphalia to January 20th, 2017 is over or at least in crisis?

What if they think that we’ve reached The End of “the end of history? What if they have no clue about what’s next but need something to fill the gap? Worse, what if to them the perverse outcome we saw in November 2016 is a signal that elections have outlived their usefulness as well and can no longer produce rational solutions to very complex problems?

Admittedly, this is a dark view for dark times, but the “blame Russia for everything” narrative is just the beginning, and the end is truly dark for who thinks Fukuyama might still be right.

I hope I’m completely wrong, because being even a little right could mean truly bumpy times ahead.


IMAGE SOURCE: hacking-cyber-crime-security-hacker-2077124


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