Thoughts on economics and liberty

Tag: Wikileaks

Why mindless release of information by Wikileaks endangers liberty

The rules of war (like the rules of human nature) have not changed for thousands of years, and will not change in the next 100,000 years.

That is why Wikileaks's attempts to disclose war-related information must be strongly condemned, and it must be shut down if it attempts such things again. Note once again that I have nothing against disclosure of political or other corruption and such harmful acts. However, I firmly believe that secrecy is of the essence for the defence of liberty. Assange must not hand over the free world to the enemies of liberty in a platter.

If he leaks the secrets of totalitarian China or Iran to the world I have no problem. But he won't dare do so, for these enemies of liberty will EXECUTE HIM INSTANTLY. But anything done to release operational information of the West would make him an enemy of liberty. He should know where to draw a line. 

I would like to invite Julian Assange (should he be capable enough of reviewing his indefensible ideas) to study the concept of defence. One good way to do that is to read Musashi and Sun Tzu. He will soon realise that war is not a matter of transparency but deception.

The classical liberal strives to MASTER reality. He avoids delusions, including delusions that our enemies will love us suddenly when throughout their lives they have acted to destroy liberty. The classical liberal lives and breathes what IS, not what OUGHT TO BE. He is not a fool, driven by single-minded zeal for transparency.

Yes, by all means we must have transparency – but only where it is relevant. It is not relevant in all cases. A blatant contradiction is obvious when progressives or "liberals" (social liberals) want both transparency and privacy. How is that possible?

The truth is that everything in this world has a time and place. No universal rule applies in all situations, except all necessary actions to defend our life and liberty.

I've annotated Sun Tzu and Musashi briefly in a Word document (this is work in progress). My draft annotated versions are available for download here: Sun Tzu | Musashi {These are two really short but outstanding books. I encourage members of the  Freedom Team to download these, but request that they return after about a month for updated version/s.}

Sun Tzu

The general who is skilled in defense hides in the most secret recesses of the earth.

one who is skillful at keeping the enemy on the move maintains deceitful appearances,

All warfare is based on deception.

Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.
 
Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.
 
If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him.
 
If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.
 
If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them.
 
Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.
 
These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand.

Mushashi

You win battles with the timing in the Void born of the timing of cunning by knowing the enemies’ timing, and thus using a timing which the enemy does not expect.

Attack in an unsuspecting manner.

threatening them from the flank without warning.

Observing the enemy’s spirit, we can make him think, “Here? There? Like that? Like this? Slow? Fast?”

chase the enemy around in confusing manner,

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Wikileaks will not make the world a better or safer place

I get to read The Economist a bit late, about 3-4 weeks after its date of publication, so you’ll notice that my comments on some of its articles are delayed. This editorial on Wikileaks (4 December 2010 issue) caught my attention today. It shows why Wikileaks is not a good idea (in its current reckless form and shape). I’m gratified that the The Economist made similar observations to mine. [See my blog posts here, here, and here.]

Before reproducing the Economist article below – for it is really worth reading – let me re-iterate the fine line involved in relation to Wikileaks: I’m all for whistleblowing. Therefore, so long as Wikileaks sticks to disclosure of crime, corruption or such things, I’m all for it. 

But going beyond that is inappropriate – for then it impinges adversely on the world’s security against the enemies of freedom.

THE ARTICLE

(Cartoon from The Economist, 4 Dec 2010, p.10 – copyright with The Economist)

Read cables and red faces

You don’t have to be Julian Assange, the man behind WikiLeaks, to think that governments have a nasty habit of abusing their powers of secrecy. Or that, whether governments are corrupt and malign or merely negligent and incompetent, then sunlight is often the best disinfectant. One of the jobs of journalism is to make a grubby nuisance of itself by ferreting out the establishment’s half-truths and embarrassments. And one of the jobs of the courts is to police the press by protecting whistle-blowers while also punishing libel and treachery.

But the most recent WikiLeaks dump of diplomatic cables has overturned that order in two ways. First by its sheer volume. When you have not just a handful of documents to release, but more than 250,000 e-mails seemingly touching on every file in the State Department, however dusty, you discredit not just one government official or one policy, but an entire way of going about diplomacy.

It is too soon to know what effect the leak’s revelations will have. The newspapers have so far published the e-mails piecemeal, and a lot more are to come. Foreign-policy experts are right when say they have learned little that is radically new. Revelations about the tireless nightlife of Italy’s ageing prime minister will surprise no one. Given that hundreds of thousands of people had access to the cables, the sensitive stuff will already be in the hands of many a spy service.

But the experts also miss a larger point: they themselves are part of the elite inner-circle that WikiLeaks wants to break open so that Everyman can judge for himself. Perhaps shattering all those taboos might do some good. The public airing of Arab leaders’ fears of an Iranian bomb might shake others’ complacency about the issue.

But any gains will come at a high cost. In a world of WikiLeaks, diplomacy would no longer be possible. The secrecy that WikiLeaks despises is vital to all organisations, including government—and especially in the realm of international relations. Those who pass information to American diplomats, out of self-interest, conviction or goodwill, will be less open now. Some of them, like the Iranian businessman fingered as a friend of America, could face reprisals.

In the past, the rights and wrongs of all this could have been determined by public debate, the passage of some legislation and the courts. Not any longer. The second way in which WikiLeaks has overturned the old order is by being beyond any jurisdiction. America can and will try to use its laws to protect its secrets. But even if it locks up Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old serviceman thought to be behind the leaks, and even if it captures Mr Assange, the information is out, on a network of computers somewhere in cyberspace.

Back to Chinese whispers

In any case, there will be other Mannings and other Assanges. You cannot uninvent the technology for copying a State Department’s worth of cables and carting them pretty much anywhere. The only remedy is to manage secrets better. The damage that America’s diplomatic service has suffered is partly the result of sloppy practices. It has now tightened access to the e-mails and the scope to copy them. Sensitive information will have to receive a higher classification.

On reading diplomats’ dissembling, people may be tempted to sneer. In fact diplomacy’s never-ending private conversation ultimately helps see off war and strife. That conversation will continue. Too many people have too much to gain for it to stop. But it will be less rich, less clear and therefore probably less useful. WikiLeaks claims to want to make the world a better place. It will probably do the reverse.

ALSO FROM THE SAME ISSUE OF THE ECONOMIST:

It would be an exaggeration to say that diplomacy will never be the same again. Self-interest means that countries will still send and receive private messages. But communication will be more difficult. The trading of opinions, insights and favours necessarily requires shadow, not light. Unofficial contacts such as businessmen, journalists, campaigners and other citizens who talk to American diplomats, out of goodwill or self-interest, will think twice about doing so. Being tarred as an American crony can be lethal.

Addendum: WikiLeaks damages free expression by choking private talks

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Wikileaks – a second opinion from a different classical liberal thinker

Tim Soutphommasane writes a regular column for The Australian, and claims to represent the classical liberal perspective – and often he does (although I sometimes find him veering to the social democrat side, and would keep my critical faculties wide awake while reading his work). On the matter of Wikileaks his article today reinforces the points I've made in my posts on this subject. Here are his views:

==EXTRACT==

"Aspects of the WikiLeaks disclosures are cause for concern, it must be said. The conduct of diplomacy, indeed order, in the world of nation-states depends on a certain level of secrecy.

"There is a big difference between Assange and whistleblowers such as Daniel Ellsberg. In the case of Ellsberg, who was responsible for the release of the Pentagon Papers, there were unambiguous wrongs that demanded exposure: the lies of the Johnson administration about its conduct of the Vietnam War.

"There is as yet no equivalent, identifiable purpose behind the release of this mass of cables (unlike WikiLeaks' previous release of data on Afghanistan and Iraq).

"This wrongly conflates transparency, important though it is, with the public interest. After all, there are occasions when the public interest is served by discretion. It seems inadequate to agree with Greenslade that the public interest in this case concerns citizens having a right to learn that "diplomacy equals hypocrisy."

Conclusion

I trust my good friends who have been blindly supporting everything that Assange does will think through the issues in the light of this well-balanced second opinion. 

In this context it will be useful to hark back to the debates of the French Revolution. In those debates Edmund Burke represents the strong classical liberal tradition. Although one might emotionally agree with Thomas Paine's wild fervour for freedom, it is Burke's balancing of these claims with the requirements of the business of the state that are the hallmark of classical liberalism.

The classical liberal does not divorce himself from the real world and from human nature. Assange has clearly divorced himself from reality, but so have many otherwise sensible advocates of liberty who blindly support his every move. 

Let this be clear: if and when we divorce ourselves from the brutal reality of defence imperatives and ongoing global warfare by the evil forces at work in the world today, we will end up badly harming the interests of our nation/s. 

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Wikileaks has reduced Australian security

Despite whatever Julian Assange may think (and he appears to have delusions of grandeur, sitting in judgement – without any authorisation from the people – about what is good for the world and what is not) he has harmed the security of many Western nations, particularly of Australia.

His actions have reduced the level of trust between Australia and US (Kevin Rudd has been put into a difficult situation with regard to USA).

His actions have damaged relations between Australia and China (by disclosing Kevin Rudd's views re: China).

It will take years, if not decades to repair these relationships. It puts Australia in a truly difficult situation.

And  other harm just adds to the damage caused:

  • US is now shifting many of its diplomats to avoid embarrassing relationships, thus significantly losing corporate knowledge and relationships which take years to build.
  • There is going to be SIGNIFICANTLY reduced information-sharing within the Western world for fear that it may be leaked.
  • Information on vital assets is now widely known, including to terrorists. This is perhaps the least important, but there are other things as well in the leaks that may disclose gaps in information or confirm uncertain information to enemies/terrorists. That is all in really bad form.

Citizens of the world are now far less secure than they were before the latest sage of Wikileaks. Julian Assange has undoubtedly caused far more harm than any good that might have come out of this. I am unable to count a SINGLE good thing that has come out of his recent mindless disclosures.

I reaffirm my view that I'm comfortable for Wikileaks to be shut down in its current form. We can't afford idealist lunatics like Assange. They are bulls in a china shop – destroying years of hard work without any knowledge of what they are doing.

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