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Wikileaks and the US State Department


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If these documents dont damage national security then why the hell were they classified in the first place? How many documets are kept secret without any legitimate national securiy reason? Hundreds of millions? Billions?

This is an interesting point. It might simply be expediant to classify whole subject areas with the same brush rather than hire staff to determine the valid classification of each and every document. I mean, how much staff would you need to properly classify hundreds of millions or billions of documents? I think it would take quite a few people and a heck of a lot of salary dollars.

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It might simply be expediant to classify whole subject areas with the same brush rather than hire staff to determine the valid classification of each and every document.

I was Head of Records Management in two government departments in Ottawa. Essentially, you're correct in your assumption. Generally, federal records are organized according to a numeric subject classification system. For example:

Let's say budgets are assigned file series 100. The policy file would be 100-0, general file 100-1 then broken down by budget year, 100-2009/2010, 100-2010/2011 etc. Let's suppose management decided to make all budget files confidential, then those files would have to be housed in a locked filing cabinet and access to the cabinet would be limited to staff with the proper security clearance. More stringent processes apply to secret files and requires a higher security clearance to retrieve, access and maintain those files.

In my experience, too many records were classified simply because some managers had an inflated view of the value of the program they administered and the paperwork they generated.

I mean, how much staff would you need to properly classify hundreds of millions or billions of documents? I think it would take quite a few people and a heck of a lot of salary dollars.

Again you're on the mark. Each department and agency manages its own records and information program, including Access to Information. Staff assigned to those tasks vary with the size of the organization. Then you have the Treasury Board Secretariat staff that develops and audits the relevant policies and procedures applied throughout the federal government. You're talking a huge investment in public servants, equipment and resources.

I'm not surprised that some of the stuff being released is rather banal and much of the information being released should not have been classified in the first place.

Another thought. If this wikileaks business turns into a regular event, what's to stop some governments from planting information they want made public and then cry fowl over the leaks. How do we know this hasn't already taken place with some of the documents now made public?

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Like everyone else on the planet vaguely interested in politics, I too have waded through some of these State department cables from posts abroad back to analysts in Washington. And for the most part, so far, I have been vastly unimpressed. They contain either rank gossip and innuendo or else conclusions that are so blindingly obvious that any polisci undergrad could make them. You can get better analysis reading any random copy of The Economist.

These cables seem to contain the typical chit-chat anyone can hear among expats in embassy cocktail parties in any capital city around the world. It's the beltway mentality applied to foreign affairs - even down to the PC style commentary of politically correct nominations.

If the State department was irrelevant before, it is moreso now. Nixon used the leaner NSC apparatus to pursue his foreign policy directly from the White House and most presidents since Nixon have done more or less the same. State exists for formality and official representations. I suppose the consular services are necessary.

No presdident would rely on State to accomplish anything and no one serious wastes their time reading these so-called reports. The bureaucracy is too vast and too leak-prone. The bureaucrats involved are too risk averse. They live in their own little universe, insulated from the real world.

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Like I said the interesting part is the insight into how much secrecy is abused by the US government. If these documents dont damage national security then why the hell were they classified in the first place? How many documets are kept secret without any legitimate national securiy reason? Hundreds of millions? Billions?

Thats the same thing that came to light when the pentagon papers were released too.

Nixon Solicitor General Erwin N. Griswold later called the Papers an example of "massive overclassification" with "no trace of a threat to the national security". The Papers' publication had little or no effect on the ongoing war because they dealt with documents written years before publication.[3]

And the question is why would the government bother sharing ANY INFORMATION AT ALL with us, if we dont demand it?

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This is an interesting point. It might simply be expediant to classify whole subject areas with the same brush rather than hire staff to determine the valid classification of each and every document. I mean, how much staff would you need to properly classify hundreds of millions or billions of documents? I think it would take quite a few people and a heck of a lot of salary dollars.

I see your point! Free and democratic government is indeed QUITE A HASSLE. A country like North Korea probably doesnt have to spend any money at ALL deciding which documents have to be made public. ;)

The various pieces of "freedom of information" legislation have probably cost us billions! You gotta print stuff... fax stuff... answer questions... turn on cameras during legislative sessions... store information in a manner thats organized and retrievable. Pain in that ass I tell ya. Citizens should just make and purchase widgets, shut the fuck up, and stop asking questions. Wed save a pile of dough!

Elections? Also quite expensive and time consuming! <_<

Im sorry Shwa... that was way more sarcasm than you deserved. Your post was actually quite reasonable, and it appears Iv gone on a bit of rant about this. It just seems to me that when people start talking about involving people in their own government being "just too damn much work" or "too expensive" I start wondering if maybe theres a slippery slope somewhere.

All the stuff about government record keeping and classification.

Thanx :) Good information in there and I dont doubt your explanation of some of the things that happen and why they happen.

Another thought. If this wikileaks business turns into a regular event, what's to stop some governments from planting information they want made public and then cry fowl over the leaks. How do we know this hasn't already taken place with some of the documents now made public?

Well... probably the best way to know that our government isnt engaging in that kind of trickery and fraud is to keep a very close eye on them. The beauty of it is that when the government embarked on the conspiracy you described a paper trail would be created. There would be documents, phonecalls, emails, and countless other things. Im sure they would be "classified" of course :DBut those documents could be in the NEXT wiki dump :ph34r: .

I guarantee it. The more afraid these people are that their actions and words will eventually see the light of day and be discussed openly in public with their names attached to them, the better a job they will do representing us. They should feel the eyes burning into the back of their necks 24/7.

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This incident may precipitate a change in attitudes towards government secrets. As I have been posting, the Government 2.0 initiatives are starting to take root globally - demanding that government be more open in the way they operate. This incident may push that forward.

Not in the short term...what will happen is better control and monitoring of access to "government secrets", which will always be necessary if only because of sources and methods of intelligence collection. Would people be so confident and supportive of such disclosures for their own personal data?

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Not in the short term...what will happen is better control and monitoring of access to "government secrets", which will always be necessary if only because of sources and methods of intelligence collection. Would people be so confident and supportive of such disclosures for their own personal data?

They should be.

The older generation is so petrified of Facebook (okay, sample space=my parents, but still) and the scares that get reported in the (competing) older media that they have become paranoid.

For damn sake, you can go on there with just your name, protect your information, and only select friends you know - what the hell can it do to you ?

Protecting secrecy and privacy is very expensive, and overblown. People need to relax.

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This incident may precipitate a change in attitudes towards government secrets. As I have been posting, the Government 2.0 initiatives are starting to take root globally - demanding that government be more open in the way they operate. This incident may push that forward.

I think it will do the opposite. Certain things do need to be kept confidential. People need the ability to be candid with each other without everything they say becoming public knowledge. The more sensitive the job, the greater the necessity. Look for more security and less access to these kinds of communications, not more.

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Protecting secrecy and privacy is very expensive, and overblown. People need to relax.
I think people should be entitled to decide for themselves what personal information is made public and no one else has any business making that decision for them. If that imposes a burden on governments and corporations then so be it.
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I think it will do the opposite. Certain things do need to be kept confidential. People need the ability to be candid with each other without everything they say becoming public knowledge. The more sensitive the job, the greater the necessity. Look for more security and less access to these kinds of communications, not more.

Bring it on.

I think people have generally become a lot less sensitive to the peccadilloes of their politicians and governments but not people who are politicians and work for the government. This probably only makes them and how they react more interesting to the rest of us. I think this latest leak will only increase their bunker mentality and their attempt to hide more of what they do will only fuel closer scrutiny and back and forth this will go until the government has cracked down on itself so hard that it becomes completely paralysed with fear and suspicion.

Recall that old safety meeting adage if nobody moves nobody gets hurt.

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I think it will do the opposite. Certain things do need to be kept confidential. People need the ability to be candid with each other without everything they say becoming public knowledge. The more sensitive the job, the greater the necessity. Look for more security and less access to these kinds of communications, not more.

I agree....years ago it was far simpler to enforce the physical security of printed documents and investigate the degree of any compromise...up to and including TOP SECRET crypto cyphers sent by armed courier. Now, I have corporate clients who disable all I/O devices/methods and when connected to their internal networks. One of them even filled their desktop/laptop USB ports with epoxy!

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Not in the short term...what will happen is better control and monitoring of access to "government secrets", which will always be necessary if only because of sources and methods of intelligence collection. Would people be so confident and supportive of such disclosures for their own personal data?

I'm more afraid of a more dangerous change; that diplomats may begin couching their language out of fear that their frank and honest utterances will, while they may still be at their posts, published for the world to see.

There's that difficult balancing act when it comes to national secrets. Obviously some things have to be secret. General publication could lead to death and disaster. At the same time we can't allow this apparatus to be co-opted too often for purely selfish purposes by politicians and bureaucrats.

It's too early to say what the long-term effect will be. There have been serious breaches of security before, and the solution has always been to clamp down. But we live in the age where a leak can no longer be contained. Once it's out there, there's no getting it back. You can punish those who leaked the information, maybe even those who initially disseminated it (though I don't see how that is all that practical), but you can't go after everybody. If you kill Wikileaks, if recent history is any indicator, you'll end up spawning twenty more (think of the entertainment industry's battle against illegal downloads).

Thus far the only things that seem of a serious nature are the revelations that Middle Eastern states have all been begging the US to take out Iran's nuclear program. Judging by Israel's ecstatic reaction, there's one country out there that probably is toasting Assange and Co. as we speak. The pressure on the US to do something meaningful about Iran is going to grow immensely now that we find out that the Egyptians, Saudis and Jordanians are on the same page as Israel. If Assange thought that the release of information was going to turn hawks into doves, he may have in fact inadvertently done quite the opposite.

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I agree....years ago it was far simpler to enforce the physical security of printed documents and investigate the degree of any compromise...up to and including TOP SECRET crypto cyphers sent by armed courier. Now, I have corporate clients who disable all I/O devices/methods and when connected to their internal networks. One of them even filled their desktop/laptop USB ports with epoxy!

It's getting to that point. I haven't gone that far, but certainly I've restricted access to removable storage on our networks, and may end up disabling the ports programmatically. Not a perfect solution, but the fact is that the ease of moving information has created some potent security holes.

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Not a perfect solution, but the fact is that the ease of moving information has created some potent security holes.

Then there's the added challenge that for various reasons, a lot of people need to and like to keep paper files, so as a result electronic documents are printed. Trying to control the movement of information maintained in multiple formats is like trying to plug leaks in a dam with your fingers.

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I think it will do the opposite. Certain things do need to be kept confidential. People need the ability to be candid with each other without everything they say becoming public knowledge. The more sensitive the job, the greater the necessity. Look for more security and less access to these kinds of communications, not more.

Look for more security and less access to these kinds of communications, not more.

If thats the case you can expect the quality of government we get to keep decreasing as transparency and accountability decreases. You can expect more failed mega projects like Iraq that happen when the government says "Trust us! The evidencse is there! You dont NEED to see it!", and you can expect dissatsifaction with government to grow even from the record levels its at now. Its an absolutely certainty that the quality of government we get will be directly related to how much we can see and understand about that how that government operates. It comes down the whole concept of who exactly is subservient to who... who is the master... who is the servant.

Expect us to keep getting the kind of government we deserve.

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It's getting to that point. I haven't gone that far, but certainly I've restricted access to removable storage on our networks, and may end up disabling the ports programmatically....

I see some pretty crazy behaviours by employees who find themselvse so restricted; those with technical ability actually like to challenge the protective measures and brag about it to peers.

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I see some pretty crazy behaviours by employees who find themselvse so restricted; those with technical ability actually like to challenge the protective measures and brag about it to peers.

I'm more afraid of a more dangerous change; that diplomats may begin couching their language out of fear that their frank and honest utterances will, while they may still be at their posts, published for the world to see.

I dont buy that for a second. My employer can dig up records of most of my activities if they want... they can read emails, monitor network traffic, etc. It doesnt stop me from being frank and honest at all. It WOULD probably stop me from negotiating a drug deal during my shift, or using company time/resources to schedule an encounter with a prostitute, or spend my time at work using an illegal gambling site.

Oversight just about ALWAYS improves the quality of work that you get from human resources, no matter industry/sector youre in. And you can look around the world and pick the countries that you think would be the best to live in, and its no coincidence that youll see those countries have the MOST open, and the MOST transparent governments, and youll also see that countries with the most secretive governments will be at the very BOTTOM of your list, and that youd be afraid to even VISIT a lot of them.

We should look at how successfull private sector companies monitor their human resources and apply the same concepts to the civil service. Quality would improve across the board, as would our understanding and satisfaction with the process.

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....We should look at how successfull private sector companies monitor their human resources and apply the same concepts to the civil service. Quality would improve across the board, as would our understanding and satisfaction with the process.

.....not to mention peeing in the bottle to get rid of the Druggies! ;)

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I dont buy that for a second. My employer can dig up records of most of my activities if they want... they can read emails, monitor network traffic, etc. It doesnt stop me from being frank and honest at all. It WOULD probably stop me from negotiating a drug deal during my shift, or using company time/resources to schedule an encounter with a prostitute, or spend my time at work using an illegal gambling site.

Oversight just about ALWAYS improves the quality of work that you get from human resources, no matter industry/sector youre in. And you can look around the world and pick the countries that you think would be the best to live in, and its no coincidence that youll see those countries have the MOST open, and the MOST transparent governments, and youll also see that countries with the most secretive governments will be at the very BOTTOM of your list, and that youd be afraid to even VISIT a lot of them.

We should look at how successfull private sector companies monitor their human resources and apply the same concepts to the civil service. Quality would improve across the board, as would our understanding and satisfaction with the process.

I'm not sure what this is supposed to mean. Clearly the issue here is that governments do have to keep secrets. We can debate about what constitutes a secret, how we have oversight over the keepers of secrets to make sure they're not abusing their powers to hide their inadequacies or dishonesty or whatever metric you apply. I don't see any way to replace that in a world still filled with dangers, still requiring us to maintain covert information networks and the like. The solutions produced thus far; some variant on the foreign affairs and intelligence committee (however it is created in each country), made up of elected representatives with clearance to review the data, is probably the only workable one.

I'll stand by what I say. Diplomats and operatives have to be able to give frank assessments of what they see and here. They need to feel secure in this, otherwise the whole intelligence infrastructure explodes.

The Wikileaks situation is a case of poor security practices. I don't see the wanton leaking of tens of thousands of diplomatic dispatches as a good thing, and believe me, I firmly believe in significant oversight. This isn't just about some guys at the State Department trying to save their butts, it's about representatives and agents of foreign governments talking candidly with their American counterparts, with the implicit understanding that they can do so without fear of repercussion. What should count to the average citizen is that the government makes the right decisions, and it is there that the citizen's control lies. If American citizens feel the Administration is making poor foreign policy decisions (based on the results or lack thereof) then the solution is to put someone else in the Executive, which Americans get a chance to do every four years.

What I don't accept is that some poor guy working at the Beijing desk who reports his observations as per his job description is now suddenly going to have those observations, out of any kind of context or any kind of appreciation that his position often depends on those observations not being published for the world to see. He isn't dictating US foreign policy, he's not a decision maker, he's a conduit of information, often very sensitive information.

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Oversight just about ALWAYS improves the quality of work that you get from human resources, no matter industry/sector youre in.
Gee. Soon you will be arguing that China's controls on Internet communication are something we should emulate.

No company could function if all coorespondence was public. In fact, some coorespondence would be covered under securities law and people can go to jail if it is made public.

Lastly, the most successfully companies do not monitor thier "human resources" (gawd I hate that term). They hire people they can trust and then judge them on their ability to meet goals and targets. The IT dept restrictions are mostly designed to prevent accidental or deliberate damage rather than designed to monitor employees.

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I'm not sure what this is supposed to mean. Clearly the issue here is that governments do have to keep secrets. We can debate about what constitutes a secret, how we have oversight over the keepers of secrets to make sure they're not abusing their powers to hide their inadequacies or dishonesty or whatever metric you apply. I don't see any way to replace that in a world still filled with dangers, still requiring us to maintain covert information networks and the like. The solutions produced thus far; some variant on the foreign affairs and intelligence committee (however it is created in each country), made up of elected representatives with clearance to review the data, is probably the only workable one.

I'll stand by what I say. Diplomats and operatives have to be able to give frank assessments of what they see and here. They need to feel secure in this, otherwise the whole intelligence infrastructure explodes.

The Wikileaks situation is a case of poor security practices. I don't see the wanton leaking of tens of thousands of diplomatic dispatches as a good thing, and believe me, I firmly believe in significant oversight. This isn't just about some guys at the State Department trying to save their butts, it's about representatives and agents of foreign governments talking candidly with their American counterparts, with the implicit understanding that they can do so without fear of repercussion. What should count to the average citizen is that the government makes the right decisions, and it is there that the citizen's control lies. If American citizens feel the Administration is making poor foreign policy decisions (based on the results or lack thereof) then the solution is to put someone else in the Executive, which Americans get a chance to do every four years.

What I don't accept is that some poor guy working at the Beijing desk who reports his observations as per his job description is now suddenly going to have those observations, out of any kind of context or any kind of appreciation that his position often depends on those observations not being published for the world to see. He isn't dictating US foreign policy, he's not a decision maker, he's a conduit of information, often very sensitive information.

He isn't dictating US foreign policy, he's not a decision maker, he's a conduit of information, often very sensitive information.

No problem! Classify the sensitive information for as long as its still sensitive!

But in addition to being a conduit for information diplomacy is one of the most important ways that we project foreign policy, and how a government conducts foreign policy is one of the most important things for voters to judge them on, and its an area where MASSIVE COSTS AND LIABILITIES can be incurred by the tax payer if its not done well/right. Its one of the most important areas to have oversight into.

But were talking about two different things here. You can be right that theres good reasons for secrecy in certain cases and I can still be right that its been grossly abused. We arent just talking about the guy at that Beijing desk handling sensitive information we are talking about many many many millions of documents related to the publics business, some of which are still kept secret even after many decades.

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