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Why I support WikiLeaks · 22 December 2010

In my book, “Dictatorial CEOs & their Lieutenants: Inside the Executive Suites of Napoleon, Stalin, Ataturk, Mussolini, Hitler and Mao”, I wrote about the people who serve dictators. They are the same sort of people who are part of the worst side of the present Russian Government, and who are often found in “democracies”—where they mainly keep their views to themselves.

On 21 December I woke up in my Moscow apartment only to read on the Lowy Institute’s “Interpreter” commentary (http://www.lowyinstitute.org/) site that we have a similar individual working in the Australian Government who is a “senior Canberra security insider” .

In my view, the commentary of “senior Canberra security insider” has an underlying tone that suggests that he/she would make a good lieutenant to a authoritarian or dictatorial leader.

Bob Johnston, Former Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, wrote in the Foreword to my book:

“Subordinates rarely rate more than footnotes in historical studies of such tyrants, but here motivations and actions of the lieutenants are extensively noted and compared. Once again there are commonalities that highlight the universal nature of human beings; and how desires and fears can lead people to serve a despot.”

It is a pity that “senior Canberra security insider” does not have the courage to identify himself/herself – but such is often the case with such servants to the power of others! I would welcome the opportunity to compare “senior Canberra security insider” with one of the subordinates/lieutenants in my book.

Here is the text of “senior Canberra security insider” on the Lowy Institute’s internet site:

“Rory Medcalf’s Interpreter post on the real world fallout from WikiLeaks’ so-called ‘cablegate’ is spot on. Sure, there may be some positive consequences along the way, but the broader impact will be overwhelmingly negative. It will make the job of national security harder, and more expensive. Lives will be unnecessarily put at risk. One of the greatest contemporary challenges for agencies involved in national security (the number of which is growing) has been information sharing. The events of 11 September 2001 were avoidable if the right information had reached the right people at the right time. And as if we needed a reminder, it was only last year on Christmas Day that Northwest Airlines Flight 253 avoided by only the narrowest of margins being bombed out of the sky over the US. It was another incident that could have been prevented if information had been shared adequately, and acted upon. So how do government agencies and their people now respond to a world with WikiLeaks? They have no choice. Corporately, they must move to protect their information from wholesale disclosure on the internet. They’ll expend scarce resources strengthening information security and will need to monitor employees more carefully. They’ll need to ensure other agencies (including international partners) with access to their information can protect it, and in the meantime may well restrict access. Much needed efforts to strengthen information sharing and connect information systems will be reviewed, slowed or will stall completely. Any money available for information-sharing initiatives will be sucked into protecting existing systems. Lingering inter-agency mistrust will be given renewed life. And at a personal level, individuals will think twice before committing something to writing or sharing it with a colleague. This is why I find some of the ‘it doesn’t need to be this way’ comments in response to Rory’s article so misplaced. It is quaint to talk about a new era of diplomacy conducted in public. I’m not sure how that would work in practice. There’s a suggestion that confidentiality is not itself a problem — and in fact is necessary in diplomacy — but that governments haven’t got the calibration right between openness and confidentiality. But let’s be clear. This is not what WikiLeaks is about. WikiLeaks is not trying to reinvent statecraft. It is not trying to recalibrate government openness. It is not a whistle-blower. It is not practicing free speech. It is not just a publisher. It is not a media outlet. WikiLeaks has a political agenda that is anti-American and anti-government. And like most ‘anti-’ movements, it is not offering practical solutions, it is just against what other people are trying to do to solve problems. Why aren’t diplomats and other officials’ names removed from the US diplomatic cables it is posting to the internet? Because in WikiLeaks’ eyes they are the enemy. Any real world personal damage to them is collateral to the WikiLeaks political objective. So why do government agencies need to act in the way I describe? Because we don’t know what’s next. Yesterday it was tactical military reports, today it is diplomatic cables. Tomorrow it could be anything that WikiLeaks sees as promoting or defending its interests. It could be information from the Tax Office, the Federal Police, the Health Department, or any other institution of state or, for that matter, private enterprise. True colours are beginning to emerge. The Australian Government has displeased WikiLeaks and is now under attack, per Julian Assange’s thinly veiled threat in the Australian on 8 December. Who’s next? Amazon? Financial institutions that have withdrawn their services from WikiLeaks? It will be interesting to see. If WikiLeaks truly believed in transparency it would reveal all about itself, its decisions and internal deliberations, and each and every source of funding — such an approach would certainly be consistent with the ‘scientific’ approach to journalism that it advocates, whereby the public can reach back to the source to judge for themselves what is true, and what is not. Even if WikiLeaks disappeared tomorrow, its damage is done. There is certain to be copy cats. What remains to be seen is the cause they summon to justify their actions. And the tragic irony in all this is that many of those who currently support or sympathise with WikiLeaks will be the same ones outraged when the next preventable security incident occurs. They’ll also argue for the right to privacy when there is some massive spillage of personal data onto the internet — for that’s also a certain in a WikiLeaked world.”

My response to the commentary of “senior Canberra security insider” is this:

“I think that your ‘true colours’ are pretty clear. I think that you would happily work for whoever has power. If I knew more about you I might be able to compare you with one of the subordinates (lieutenants) who worked for Napoleon, Stalin, Ataturk, Mussolini, Hitler or Mao. Are you a sometime lawyer, military officer, diplomat, politician, academic or spy? Do you have the courage to identify yourself?”

I am not as conspiracy minded as Assange, but there certainly are conspiracies – even in democracies!

I have some personal knowledge of one that was attempted a few years ago between very senior Treasury officials and the highest level of “big business” in the area of taxation. These people thought that they were acting in the public interest, and to achieve their aims they planned to put out to the public information that was not true. I actually nipped it in the bud with some well placed media leaks of my own.

Howard/Blair/Bush etc probably thought that they were acting in the public interest in the invasion of Iraq. On its very eve I appeared on Australia’s SBS television station to discuss the economic consequences of the war. When discussing “weapons of mass destruction”, one of my fellow guests (Dr. Chris Caton from BT) said: “Who knows what he (Saddam Hussein) has.” In response I said that it was “pretty clear by now that he has none”. It was a strong statement by me, but one that was not hard to make because I had been reading generally available information. The issue with Caton was that the pressure of work (as well as his particular interests) had restricted his reading and thinking. But the ultimate effect was the same: Caton was very susceptible to the connived propaganda of Howard/Blair/Bush.

Such ignorance of much of the population has been the source of empowerment to many a potential dictator. As Benito Mussolini put it, “people do not want to rule, but to be ruled and to be left in peace”. This is what attracted Albert Speer to Hitler and the Nazi party in the early 1930s: “My inclination to be relieved of having to think, particularly about unpleasant facts … In this I did not differ from millions of others.”

Thus, the real value of WikiLeaks maybe that is makes it more difficult for the masses (and if it does not directly affect them, the non-thinking masses often constitute a majority of the population in most countries, including in Australia and Russia) to avoid the sometimes very obvious stupidity and lies of their “leaders” (who often feel themselves to be acting or the public good). Left unchallenged, these lies and this apathy toward stupidity can result in public support – or, at least, acceptance – of policies which are actually against the longer-term public interest. It is one thing for parts of the mass media in democratic societies to report supposed “facts”, but it is another thing to see them in an official documents. The direct effect on most of the non-thinking masses may soon wear-off, but in most countries such leaks will encourage a minority of the population which is willing to put some effort into finding out the truth and thinking about it – and discussing it.

Amongst the important issues (for Australia at least) that seem to have been given greater expose by WikiLeaks are:
the reality or not of Iran making an unprovoked nuclear attack on its neighbors (Australian intelligence officials think it not likely, but you would never believe this from listening to Gillard etc);
Afghanistan (where the Government and the military would have us think that victory is within sight, even if not close);
China, with both Rudd and Beazley being too ready to act as cheer-leaders for force no matter what the merits of issue.

Of course, “senior Canberra security insider” makes some good points about information etc, but whatever the WikiLeaks agenda, it is clearly – to my mind – about “free speech”. Yes, WikiLeaks may be an “’anti-’ movement” and not “offer practical solutions” to problems, but I personally do not have a lot of faith in the ability of the “other people … trying to … to solve problems”.

Tell us, who is this brilliant “senior Canberra security insider” problem solver?

I will conclude with a point about Russia and Australia. There is actually a huge amount of material available in the Russian printed media about the incompetence (leaving aside the issue of corruption) of much of the government. But, it is often suggested that because much of this does not get to appear on television (which remains the main news source for most Russians) it is allowed to continue for longer than if there were more public exposure. A WikiLeaks on Russia would bring considerable public benefit.

I am often amazed how much of what I read in the Russian printed media reminds me of aspects of government in Australia. This is another reason why I support WikiLeaks.

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