WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks: Court Upholds US Subpoena For Twitter Records

In a 21 page opinion, US Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan of the Eastern District of Virginia District Court has just granted the United States Department of Justice subpoena demand for records in the WikiLeaks investigation.

Three people associated with WikiLeaks – Jacob Appelbaum, Birgitta Jonsdottir, and Rop Gonggrijp – had petitioned the court to vacate the subpoena and to unseal the court pleadings. The court held:

For the foregoing reasons, petitioners’ Motion to Vacate is DENIED. Petitioners’ Motion to Unseal is DENIED as to docket 10- gj-3793, and GRANTED as to the 1:11-dm-00003 docket, with the exception of the government attorney’s email address in Twitter’s Motion for Clarification (Dkt. 24), which shall be redacted. Petitioners’ request for public docketing of the material within 10-gj-3793 shall be taken under consideration. An Order shall follow.

The three WikiLeaks individuals had argued the subpoena violated constitutional protections for free speech and association; the court disagreed. Appelbaum, Gonggrijp and Jonsdottir have already stated they will appeal.

You can read the full opinion here. I will be updating the post as I read the decision.

In December of last year, the US government, upon ex parte motion, moved the EDVA Court to enter a sealed Order (“Twitter Order”) pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2703(d) of the Stored Communications Act, which governs government access to customer records stored by a service provider. The Twitter Order, which was unsealed on January 5, 2010, at the request of Twitter, required Twitter to turn Continue reading

The Disinformation Campaign Bank of America Considered

Wikileaks has posted the presentation three security companies–Palantir, HBGary Federal, and Berico Technologies–made to Bank of America, proposing to help it respond to Wikileaks.

In addition to the degree to which the proposal emphasizes the national security ties and military background of the employees of the company (particularly Berico), the presentation fleshes out what the companies proposed. Under potential proactive tactics, it lists:

  • Feed the fuel between the feuding groups. Disinformation. Create messages around actions to sabotage or discredit the opposing organization. Submit fake documents and then call out the error.
  • Create concern over the security of the infrastructure. Create exposure stories. If the process is believed to not be secure they are done.
  • Cyber attacks against the infrastructure to get data on document submitters. This would kill the project. Since the servers are now in Sweden and France putting a team together to get access is more straightforward.
  • Media campaign to push the radical and reckless nature of wikileaks activities. Sustained pressure. Does nothing for the fanatics, but creates concern and doubt amongst moderates.
  • Search for leaks. Use social media to profile and identify risky behavior of employees.

Of particularly interest, they describe HBGary Federal’s abilities to conduct INFOOPS, including “influence operations” and “social media exploitation.”

In other words, in addition to proposing to conduct cyber attacks on Wikileaks’ European-based infrastructure (complete with a picture of WL’s bomb shelter-housed servers), the proposal appears to recommend that these companies be paid to troll social media, like Twitter, to not only “identify risky behavior of employees” but also, presumably, “push the radical and reckless nature of wikileaks activities.” You know–the kind of trolling we often see targeted at Glenn (and in recent days targeted against David House, who was also listed in this presentation).

In addition, the presentation proposes to create a concern over the security of the infrastructure. Interestingly, when additional newspapers in Europe got copies of the State cables (including Aftenposten), some people speculated that the files had come from a hack of Wikileaks servers. (Note how the slide above notes the disgruntled WL volunteers.)

That doesn’t mean we’re seeing this campaign in process. After all, Glenn has a ton of enemies on Twitter. And if the intent behind leaking additional copies of the cables was to suggest WL’s infrastructure had been hacked, that perception has largely dissipated as more and more newspapers get copies.

One final note: according to Tech Herald, the law firm pitching these firms, Hunton and Williams, was itself recommended to BoA by DOJ. As the presentation makes clear, these are significant government contractors. (Remember, we’re getting these documents because Anonymous hacked HBGary Federal, which was offering what it had collected to DOJ.) To what extent is what we’re seeing just an extension of what our own government is trying to combat Wikileaks?

Omar Suleiman Promised the 2006 Election in Gaza Wouldn’t Take Place

Back in 2008, David Rose had a fairly explosive article on Condi Rice and Elliot Abrams’ incompetent meddling in Gaza, which he compared to Iran-Contra. Here’s how I summarized its revelations at the time:

The story explains how the Administration pushed an election for the Palestinians, not seeing what every sane observer saw–that Hamas would win. Immediately after the election, Condi started pressuring Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve Parliament. When he refused, the Administration started backing the Fatah strongman, Mohammad Dahlan, in hopes that he could strengthen Fatah and the Palestinian Authority’s security organizations–which had been devastated by Israel during the intifada–sufficiently to overcome Hamas. This set off a civil war between Fatah and Hamas. To end the bloodshed, Saudi’s King Abdullah brokered a national unity government, without warning the US he would do so. In response to Abdullah’s unity government plan, the State Department developed its own $1.27 billion plan, what Hamas considered “a blueprint for a U.S.-backed Fatah coup.” The US handed that plan to Abbas and had him adopt it as if it were his own. Hamas responded by taking over Gaza and capturing the Egyptian weapons intended to strengthen Fatah.

Central to the whole story is how the State Department could have been so stupid as not to see that Hamas would win a democratic election in Gaza in 2006.

Elections for the Palestinian parliament, known officially as the Legislative Council, were originally set for July 2005, but later postponed by Abbas until January 2006.Dahlan says he warned his friends in the Bush administration that Fatah still wasn’t ready for elections in January. Decades of self-preservationist rule by Arafat had turned the party into a symbol of corruption and inefficiency—a perception Hamas found it easy to exploit. Splits within Fatah weakened its position further: in many places, a single Hamas candidate ran against several from Fatah.

“Everyone was against the elections,” Dahlan says. Everyone except Bush. “Bush decided, ‘I need an election. I want elections in the Palestinian Authority.’ Everyone is following him in the American administration, and everyone is nagging Abbas, telling him, ‘The president wants elections.’ Fine. For what purpose?”

The elections went forward as scheduled. On January 25, Hamas won 56 percent of the seats in the Legislative Council.

Few inside the U.S. administration had predicted the result, and there was no contingency plan to deal with it. “I’ve asked why nobody saw it coming,” Condoleezza Rice told reporters. “I don’t know anyone who wasn’t caught off guard by Hamas’s strong showing.”

“Everyone blamed everyone else,” says an official with the Department of Defense. “We sat there in the Pentagon and said, ‘Who the fuck recommended this?’”

But a Wikileaks cable released by Aftenposten may explain why State was taken by surprised.

They may have thought the election itself wouldn’t happen.

Continue reading

Government Admits Brig Commander Improperly Put Bradley Manning on Suicide Watch

Quantico entrance. (photo: crowdive on Flickr)

The government has admitted to MSNBC that the Brig Commander at Quantico improperly put Bradley Manning on suicide watch last week.

The officials told NBC News, however, that a U.S. Marine commander did violate procedure when he placed Manning on “suicide watch” last week.

Military officials said Brig Commander James Averhart did not have the authority to place Manning on suicide watch for two days last week, and that only medical personnel are allowed to make that call.

The official said that after Manning had allegedly failed to follow orders from his Marine guards. Averhart declared Manning a “suicide risk.” Manning was then placed on suicide watch, which meant he was confined to his cell, stripped of most of his clothing and deprived of his reading glasses — anything that Manning could use to harm himself. At the urging of U.S. Army lawyers, Averhart lifted the suicide watch.

So Manning allegedly fails to follow an order and the Brig Commander decides he loses his glasses and is stripped of his clothing?

Remember, Manning has not been convicted of anything yet.

The rest of the article describes that the government has been unable to link Manning to Julian Assange. Maybe that’s why they took his glasses away.

Update: This certainly puts the events from Quantico yesterday in a different light. According to MSNBC, government lawyers realized last week Manning had been improperly treated. By preventing David House from visiting Manning yesterday, they made sure that he wouldn’t have confirmation of that from Manning directly. But since Jane and David’s comments said they’d be back next week, DOD realized they’d need to ‘fess up themselves.

So, Amazon, Visa, PayPal, Was It Worth Accepting Government Lies?

Mark Hosenball reports that aside from some pockets of short-term damage, the impact of the Wikileaks leak of diplomatic cables has been embarrassing, but not damaging.

Internal U.S. government reviews have determined that a mass leak of diplomatic cables caused only limited damage to U.S. interests abroad, despite the Obama administration’s public statements to the contrary.

A congressional official briefed on the reviews said the administration felt compelled to say publicly that the revelations had seriously damaged American interests in order to bolster legal efforts to shut down the WikiLeaks website and bring charges against the leakers.

“I think they just want to present the toughest front they can muster,” the official said.

But State Department officials have privately told Congress they expect overall damage to U.S. foreign policy to be containable, said the official, one of two congressional aides familiar with the briefings who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.

“We were told (the impact of WikiLeaks revelations) was embarrassing but not damaging,” said the official, who attended a briefing given in late 2010 by State Department officials.

[snip]

National security officials familiar with the damage assessments being conducted by defense and intelligence agencies told Reuters the reviews so far have shown “pockets” of short-term damage, some of it potentially harmful. Long-term damage to U.S. intelligence and defense operations, however, is unlikely to be serious, they said. [my emphasis]

More important than yet another indication that the Obama Administration has oversold the damage done by Wikileaks is the reason given by Hosenball’s Congressional source as to why they oversold that damage: to bolster legal efforts to shut down Wikileaks’ website.

The Administration lied, says a congressional official, to make it easier to shut down Wikileaks.

Now that’s important for several reasons. First, all this time the government has been pretending that the series of decisions by private corporations to stop doing business with Wikileaks were made by the businesses on their own. Surprise surprise (not!), it seems that the government was affirmatively trying to shut down Wikileaks.

Just as importantly, Hosenball’s story seems to suggest, the government was going to service providers–the same service providers they routinely go to on terrorist investigations–and lying to get them to do the government’s bidding. The government was making claims about the damage of the leak to convince service providers to shut down Wikileaks.

And companies like Amazon, Visa, and PayPal complied.

So, to these companies, now tainted with cooperation in government censorship, was it worth it? Was it worth being branded as a collaborator, knowing you were lied to?

And to Philip Crowley, whom Hosenball quotes talking about “substantial” damage: given your critique of Tunisia’s suppression of social media, and given that we now know you lied in the service of similar repression, do you still want to claim there’s no disjunct between claiming to support free speech while squelching that of Wikileaks?

The US Prevented BabyDoc from Returning in 2006, Why Not Now?

Five years ago, BabyDoc Duvalier applied for a passport for Haiti, threatening to return in a period leading up to elections. As a series of Wikileaks cables make clear, the US pressed hard–with apparent success–to prevent his return to Haiti. One cable shows the US asking France, on January 11, 2006, whether it could prevent Duvalier from leaving that country. Another shows the US raising concerns about Duvalier with Haiti Prime Minister Latortue that same day, and again on January 16. And the US raised the same concerns with the Dominican Republic, first (as far as we can tell from the cables) on January 11 and then again on February 7, 2006.

Over the course of those conversations, the US government tried the following methods to keep Duvalier from returning to Haiti and disrupting the elections:

  • Asking France to help convince Haiti’s interim government to refuse Duvalier the passport (which failed)
  • Asking Latortue to prevent Duvalier from boarding any plane to Haiti
  • Asking Latortue to use informal communication channels to ask Duvalier not to return
  • Getting a commitment from Foreign Minister Herard Abraham, after he had issued the passport, to do anything else he could to prevent Duvalier’s return
  • Getting Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez to prohibit Duvlier from entering his country in transit to Haiti

All of which raises the question why, if the US prevented Duvalier from returning in 2006, they were either unable or chose not to prevent his return this time?

Interestingly, the Guardian provides some background of these efforts in 2006. But they focus entirely on one cable recording discussions with Dominican Republic (the rest of the cables were made available by Aftenposten, the Norwegian paper that somehow got its own set of cables). This has the effect of making it appear that US objections were equally to Duvalier and Aristide (both are mentioned in the cable, though it is clear Duvalier is the worry). Yet the rest of the cables make it clear that the US was panicked about Duvalier’s return.

So is and was the US as concerned this time around about Duvalier’s disruptive influence? Has it simply lost its influence with the various players (who might just be ready for a stronger influence in Haiti, given that country’s problems)? Or did the US give tacit approval for Duvalier’s return, either explicitly or by not making the same efforts this time around as they made in 2006?

American Democracy, Tunisia, and Wikileaks

Update: BBC and al-Jazeera report that Ben Ali has left the country and security forces have arrested family members at the airport.

The simultaneous (and related) unfolding of the uprising in Tunisia and the latest Wikileaks events reveals a great deal about our own country’s support for democracy.

If you aren’t already, I recommend you follow @abuaardvark (aka Mark Lynch) so long as this crisis in Tunisia lasts. Not only is Lynch following the up-to-the-minute events closely on Twitter–such as the news that dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali just sacked his government and will hold elections six months from now. But he also has chronicled the strange silence about this popular uprising in the US, particularly among the NeoCons who used democracy promotion as their excuse to launch an illegal war in Iraq.

Barely a month goes by without a Washington Post editorial bemoaning Egypt’s authoritarian retrenchment and criticizing the Obama administration’s alleged failure to promote Arab democracy. But now Tunisia has erupted as the story of the year for Arab reformers. The spiraling protests and the regime’s heavy-handed, but thus far ineffective, repression have captured the imagination of Arab publics, governments, and political analysts. Despite Tunis’s efforts to censor media coverage, images and video have made it out onto social media and up to Al Jazeera and other satellite TV. The “Tunisia scenario” is now the term of art for activist hopes and government fears of political instability and mass protests from Jordan to Egypt to the Gulf.

[snip]

Perhaps they’ve had nothing to say simply because there has been little coverage of Tunisia in the Western media, and the United States has few interests or leverage in Tunis, making it a marginal issue for U.S. political debate. Tunisia is not generally on the front burner in American thinking about the Middle East. It’s far away from Israel, Iraq, and the Gulf, and plays little role in the headline strategic issues facing the U.S. in the region. Despite being one of the most repressive and authoritarian regimes in the region, Tunisia has generally been seen as a model of economic development and secularism. Its promotion of women’s rights and crushing of Islamist opposition has taken priority in the West over its near-complete censorship of the media and blanket domination of political society. Indeed, the United States has cared so little about Tunisia’s absolute rejection of democracy and world-class censorship that it chose it for the regional office of MEPI, the Bush administration’s signature democracy promotion initiative.

This is understandable, but hardly satisfying. I can understand the hesitation of U.S. officials to take a strong position on the side of either the protesters or the regime at this point, given the strategic complexities and the implications of taking any rhetorical stance. To my ears, at least, the U.S. message has been muddled, with some officials seeming to take the side of the protesters and warning against too-harsh repression and others seeming to avoid taking a stance. For what it’s worth, I told a State Department official in a public forum yesterday that the absence of major U.S. interests in Tunisia and the real prospect of change there make it a good place for the Obama administration to take a principled stand in favor of public freedoms and against repression.

Click through for his update–a response to a WaPo column regarding such populist uprising as a threat.

With Lynch’s comments in mind, consider two different versions of the role of Wikileaks in this uprising.

Elizabeth Dickinson has a piece that–perhaps too strongly–calls Wikileaks “a trigger and a tool for political outcry” in Tunisia.

Tunisia’s government doesn’t exactly get a flattering portrayal in the leaked State Department cables. The country’s ruling family is described as “The Family” — a mafia-esque elite who have their hands in every cookie jar in the entire economy. “President Ben Ali is aging, his regime is sclerotic and there is no clear successor,” a June 2009 cable reads. And to this kleptocracy there is no recourse; one June 2008 cable claims: “persistent rumors of corruption, coupled with rising inflation and continued unemployment, have helped to fuel frustration with the GOT [government of Tunisia] and have contributed to recent protests in southwestern Tunisia. With those at the top believed to be the worst offenders, and likely to remain in power, there are no checks in the system.”

Of course, Tunisians didn’t need anyone to tell them this. But the details noted in the cables — for example, the fact that the first lady may have made massive profits off a private school — stirred things up. Matters got worse, not better (as surely the government hoped), when WikiLeaks was blocked by the authorities and started seeking out dissidents and activists on social networking sites.

As PayPal and Amazon learned last year, WikiLeaks’ supporters don’t take kindly to being denied access to the Internet. And the hacking network Anonymous launched an operation, OpTunisia, against government sites “as long as the Tunisian government keep acting the way they do,” an Anonymous member told the Financial Times.

Compare that the very weird logic State Department Spokesperson Philip Crowley uses in his speech to a class on media and politics the other day.

No one is a greater advocate for a vibrant independent and responsible press, committed to the promotion of freedom of expression and development of a true global civil society, than the United States. Every day, we express concern about the plight of journalists (or bloggers) around the world who are intimidated, jailed or even killed by governments that are afraid of their people, and afraid of the empowerment that comes with the free flow of information within a civil society.

Most recently, we did so in the context of Tunisia, which has hacked social media accounts while claiming to protect their citizens from the incitement of violence. But in doing so, we feel the government is unduly restricting the ability of its people to peacefully assemble and express their views in order to influence government policies. These are universal principles that we continue to support.  And we practice what we preach. Just look at our own country and cable television. We don’t silence dissidents. We make them television news analysts.

Some in the human rights community in this country, and around the world, are questioning our commitment to freedom of expression, freedom of the press and Internet freedom in the aftermath of WikiLeaks.  I am constrained in what I can say, both because individual cables remain classified, and the leak is under investigation by the Department of Justice. But let me briefly put this in context and then I will open things up for questions.  WikiLeaks is about the unauthorized disclosure of classified information. It is not an exercise in Internet freedom. It is about the legitimate investigation of a crime. It is about the need to continue to protect sensitive information while enabling the free flow of public information. [my emphasis]

He sort of wanders back and forth between a discussion of press freedom and an insistence that persecution of Wikileaks is not a violation of that principle through the rest of his speech, at one point drawing a bizarre analogy between Coke’s secret formula and Google’s search algorithms and the US’ diplomatic secrets, as if our diplomatic secrets are the essence of our identity.

Maybe that was his point.

I find Crowley’s statement in the quoted passage interesting for several reasons. Continue reading

Wikileaks Redactions: It’s Not Just the Chinese that Bribe for Oil

Given the past history of how newspapers have redacted (or not) Wikileaks dumps, I was very interested in an article that reveals what the Guardian (or one of its media partners) redacted in a cable on Kazakh corruption. The Guardian summarizes the cable this way:

Top Kazakh energy official reveals the four principal gate-keepers around President Nursultan Nazarbayev, including Timur Kulibayev, the favoured billionaire presidential son-in-law.

But read more closely, it serves to record Ambassador Richard Hoagland’s judgment that KazMunaiGaz First Vice President Maksat Idenov is currently (on January 25, 2010) successfully ensuring that two big hyrdocarbon projects will be developed according to “international standards”–which seems to imply something about the level of bribery involved, but it’s not entirely clear whether that implies less bribery or none at all. The big question, in any case, is whether President Nazarbayev’s son-in-law, Kulibayev, will demand bribes associated with the projects.

But as Israel Shamir reveals in an article for Counterpunch (here’s a Fast Company article with more background on Shamir) there are three details that have been redacted in the Guardian version, all of which make the role of bribery more obvious and point to much closer British, Italian, and US ties to that kind of bribery.

In the first instance, the Guardian version of the cable redacts an explicit reference–attributed to Idenov but not a direct quote from him–to the role of bribery in Kazakhstan and in capitalism more generally. (The bolded text is what is redacted in the Guardian version.)

According to Idenov, in Kazakhstan, market economy means capitalism, which means big money, which means large bribes for the best connected.

But it’s not that analogy which seems to tie the US and Britain more closely to the culture of bribery in Kazakhstan. With two other redactions, the Guardian version of the cable hides the ties between British Gas Country Director for Kazakhstan, Mark Rawlings, and a US citizen recently acquitted of bribery because he had offered the bribes at the behest of the CIA.

When the Ambassador arrived, Idenov was barking into his cell phone, “Mark, Mark, stop the excuses! Mark, listen to me! Mark, shut up right now and do as I say! Bring the letter to my office at 10:00 pm, and we will go together to take it to (Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources, MEMR) Mynbayev at his house.” On ending the call, Idenov explained he was talking to British Gas (BG) Country Director for Kazakhstan Mark Rawlings who had missed the deadline to deliver a letter about arbitration on the Karachaganak super-giant oil-field project (reftel). Still clearly steamed, Idenov alleged, “He’s still playing games with Mercator’s James Giffin,” the notorious AmCit fixer indicted for large-scale bribery on oil deals in the 1990s, whose case drags on in the Southern District Court of New York. “I tell him, ‘Mark, stop being an idiot! Stop tempting fate! Stop communicating with an indicted criminal!’” Idenov asked, “Do you know how much he (Rawlings) makes? $72,000 a month! A month!! Plus benefits! Plus bonuses! Lives in Switzerland but supposedly works in London. Comes here once a month to check in. Nice life, huh?”

As Shamir explains in his article, Giffen was ultimately hailed as a patriot by the judge who dismissed most of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act charges against him in November 2010 (that is, ten months after this cable was written, and around the same time the US signed a new airspace deal with Kazakhstan). Main Justice provides background of how State Department considerations–they didn’t want prosecutors to mention that President Nazarbayev was the recipient of the bribes Giffen was alleged to have arranged–and CIA stonewalling–they refused to provide the details of what Giffen claimed was his role in their “intelligence collecting” operations–led to the dismissal of most of the charges.

Continue reading

OMB’s New Security Memo Suggests WikiLeaks Is Media

A number of outlets are reporting on the OMB memo requiring agencies to review their security procedures in response to WikiLeaks.

Now, this memo is explicitly a response to WikiLeaks. It’s a follow-up on a memo sent in November that names WikiLeaks.

On November 28, 2010, departments and agencies that handle classified national security information were directed to establish assessment teams to review their implementation of safeguarding procedures. (Office of Management and Budget, Memorandum M-11-06, “WikiLeaks – Mishandling of Classified Information,” November 28, 2010.)

And one of the questions it directs agencies to ask names WikiLeaks (and, in a sign of the government’s nimbleness, OpenLeaks) specifically.

Do you capture evidence of pre-employment and/or post-employment activities or participation in on-line media data mining sites like WikiLeaks or Open Leaks?

But the delay–almost six months between Bradley Manning’s arrest and the November memo, and another month until this memo, sort of reminds me of the roughly eight month delay between the time Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to set his underwear on fire and the the time a bunch of grannies started getting groped at TSA security checkpoints.

Why the delay?

And from a document usability standpoint, this list of questions designed to help agencies identify weaknesses is a piece of shit. Trust me. No matter how good a bureaucrat is, asking them to use nine pages of nested bullets to improve a process is not going to work. This is simply not a credible process improvement effort.

I also wonder why it took WikiLeaks to initiate this effort. Just as an example, Los Alamos National Labs has been losing both storage media, computers, and BlackBerries going back a decade. You’d think the vulnerability of one of our nuclear labs would alert the government to our overall vulnerability to the loss of data via computer medium. Yet losing data to–presumably–our enemies did not trigger this kind of no-nonsense vulnerability assessment, WikiLeaks did.

The Russians and the Chinese are probably bummed that WikiLeaks will make it a teeny bit harder for them to spy on us.

All that said, Steven Aftergood makes one curious observation about the memo: this unusable list of nested bullets suggests that agencies should monitor employees’ contacts with the media.

Among other troubling questions, agencies are asked:  “Are all employees required to report their contacts with the media?”  This question seems out of place since there is no existing government-wide security requirement to report “contacts with the media.”  Rather, this is a security policy that is unique to some intelligence agencies, and is not to be found in any other military or civilian agencies. Its presence here seems to reflect the new “evolutionary pressure” on the government to adopt the stricter security policies of intelligence.

“I am not aware of any such requirement” to report on media contacts, a senior government security official told Secrecy News.  But he noted that the DNI was designated as Security Executive Agent for personnel security matters in the 2008 executive order 13467.  As a result, “I suspect that an IC requirement crept in” to the OMB memo.

I agree with Aftergood: it is troubling that an intelligence community requirement now seems to be applied to the federal workforce as a whole.

But isn’t this, at the same time, rather telling?

If a memo instituting new security reviews, explicitly written in response to WikiLeaks, institutes a policy of reviewing contacts with the media, doesn’t that suggest they consider WikiLeaks to be media?

El País Editor: When Democracy’s Rules Are Flouted, Democracy Is Put at Risk

The Editor of Spain’s El Pais, Javier Moreno, has an interesting piece explaining why he published the Wikileak cables. He points to the same thing I pointed to–American efforts to squelch torture investigations in Spain and Germany–to explain the importance of the cables, though he also adds US efforts to prevent Spanish banks from doing business with Iran, even while Iran had not violated international law. These disclosures are important, Moreno argues, because they show the degree to which the US refuses to abide by the legal procedures in other countries, which in turn represents a danger to democracy.

A democracy comprises diverse elements: institutions and rules; free and fair elections; independent judges and a free press, among others. At the bottom of all this there are legal procedures. When these are flouted, all the rest is put at risk.

We have come to accept the difference between the government that we elect every five years, and the military, bureaucratic, and diplomatic apparatus that it is sustained by, but that all too often it fails to control. The WikiLeaks cables have confirmed this beyond any doubt.

But his second point–that the permanent bureaucracy manages to ignore the law regardless of what the elected officials of either party do–raises another important question: whether that permanent bureaucracy delivers what it promises–ostensibly in exchange for secrecy–instead.

Political classes on both sides of the Atlantic convey a simple message that is tailored to their advantage: trust us, don’t try to reveal our secrets; in exchange, we offer you security.

But just how much security do they really offer in exchange for this moral blackmail? Little or none, since we face the sad paradox that this is the same political elite that was incapable of properly supervising the international financial system, whose implosion triggered the biggest crisis since 1929, ruining entire countries and condemning millions of workers to unemployment and poverty. These are the same people responsible for the deteriorating quality of life of their populations, the uncertain future of the euro, the lack of a viable European project and the global governance crisis that has gripped the world in recent years, and which elites in Washington and Brussels are not oblivious to. I doubt that keeping embassy secrets under wraps is any kind of guarantee of better diplomacy or that such an approach offers us better answers to the problems we face.

The incompetence of Western governments, and their inability to deal with the economic crisis, climate change, corruption, or the illegal war in Iraq and other countries has been eloquently exposed in recent years. Now, thanks to WikiLeaks, we also know that our leaders are all too aware of their shameful fallibility, and that it is only thanks to the inertia of the machinery of power that they have been able to fulfill their democratic responsibility and answer to the electorate.

The whole point of democracy is to ensure better decision-making by subjecting ideas and policies to debate and transparency. I’m none too sanguine about the seriousness with which voters take their job. But so many of the decisions getting us in trouble are those made by the permanent bureaucracy, in secret.

And when those decisions prove to be wrong or dangerous or illegal, the permanent bureaucracy secretly (and sometimes not so secretly) breaks the rules that exist for the rest of us–like rule of law.

Constitutional lawyer Floyd Abrams may not care about all this. But it is vitally important the citizens of democracy have the opportunity to see this.  It is vitally important to demonstrate that all that secrecy the permanent bureaucracy likes to claim leads to good governance not only leads, instead, to rank incompetence, but also to the decay of our democracy itself.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel @ovelarsen I'm of the opinion that as soon as we think of these entities as distinct we stop seeing the big picture. @trevortimm
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JimWhiteGNV RT @MasaccioFDL: What do people in Kansas City think about guns? Could they think they have the right not to be shot by crazies? http://t.c…
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bmaz @BradMossEsq Also could've used existing UCMJ military system, which also would've been better. But both those options had too much fairness
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bmaz @JONF34 @AppellateDaily We did by electing idiots!
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bmaz RT @J_T_Horowitz: .@SarahKnuckey Lots 2 speculate about Maybe deemed proportionate But that wouldn't follow #Obama rules or explain Y not w…
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bmaz @JONF34 @AppellateDaily Yes, it has actually been the law for a while. Insane, but there it is.
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bmaz @walterwkatz @radleybalko And unfortunately, thats exactly how exceptions for, and expansions of, general govt power trickle down to street
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bmaz RT @AppellateDaily: 9th Cir.-DUI: It’s a crime to refuse blood test on U.S. land, http://t.co/XwWE6CzDIN
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bmaz Chief Judge Garland+DC Cir lay down some hurt onDOJ for handling of Slatten Blackwater prosecution http://t.co/jHuoZvyssG h/t @MikeScarcella
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bmaz Pieces expensive, broken+don't really fit together RT @fpleitgenCNN They sell @Redskins Russian doll sets in Ukraine! http://t.co/P4xRMIC3p6
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bmaz @evanperez @fpleitgenCNN @Redskins If true to form, the pieces are quite expensive and don't really fit together.
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bmaz @KagroX Always a fine plan. Probably they are confident in the superb oversight of the US Congress.
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