The return of information silos

Wikileaks will have long term consequences on how government’s share information

What Julian Assange and Wikileaks have done with privileged US government is plain wrong. Arrogant and self-righteous, the indiscriminate publication of internal discussions, assessments and correspondence cannot be justified on grounds of freedom of information. To suggest that all information must be made public, regardless of time, place, and context—ostensibly the grounds which Wikileaks uses to justify its anarchism—is to condemn government officials to life in a Panopticon. If everything a government official says and writes is liable to become public the next moment, you will only have self-censorship, political correctness and worse, a greater tendency to avoid putting debates and decisions on record. A government that can’t deliberate in private will be paralysed or ineffective, mostly both. The legality of Mr Assange’s actions is still under debate. The sensibility is not in question. It is senseless.

This time, it is also interesting.

In the cables released yesterday, there are few things that we didn’t know or suspect: Saudi Arabia and Israel both want someone to stop Iran’s nuclear programme; the Saudis detest the Iranians they see as ‘Persian’; King Abdullah is not well disposed towards Asif Zardari or that China facilitated the transfer of North Korean ballistic missile technology to Iran. It is the details make the cables interesting. Not least from a voyeur’s perspective.

It’s unclear whether the Wikileaks will have major consequences in world affairs beyond creating embarrassment for the people and governments involved. It’s not as if the people in the Middle East didn’t know what their leaders were up to, and what US officials thought of them. It’s not as if China is about to stop its game as the world’s worst proliferator of weapons of mass destruction just because it has been fingered in some cables. Politicians, in any case, have thick skins.

What might happen is that brakes will be applied in the trend towards sharing of information within government and across departmental silos. A process that began as a result of the US intelligence community’s failure to piece together data that could have led to the uncovering of the 9/11 plot—and was adopted by governments across the world, including in India—might come to an end with abuse of technological power by Wikileaks. ‘Information fusion’ within governments is likely to be the first casualty of Mr Assange’s war on responsibility.

Update: Well, here we are:

In addition to vowing to hold WikiLeaks to account, the administration also instituted new measures to try to prevent leaks.

Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob J. Lew instructed government departments and agencies to ensure that users of classified information networks do not have broader access than is necessary to do their jobs, and to restrict the use of removable media such as CDs or flash drives on such networks.

OMB, the federal Information Security Oversight Office and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence will evaluate aid the agencies in their efforts to strengthen classified information security, Lew said.

The White House move in turn comes a day after the Pentagon announced similar steps to bolster network security following a review ordered by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in August. [WP]

8 thoughts on “The return of information silos”

  1. Actually it will be interesting to ask the question, what did the last leak achieve other than the “shock and awe” (which happened to be a Bush takia-kalaam). Other than generating mild curiosity amongst journalists is the ‘mango man’ interested in it-perhaps only for gossip:)

  2. I appreciate your post on Wikileaks, which I quoted. It helped me see that it is wikitarianism in the State Department’s network architects as much as the wikitarianism of Wikileaks that led to this outrageous compromising of national and international security. And indeed, despite all the Gov 2.0 churning, a lot of which is fake, we will likely see a retreat to the silos as you mention. link

  3. “A government that can’t deliberate in private will be paralysed or ineffective, mostly both.”

    I would say that a government that has deliberated in private has screwed the whole world. It’s better that the deliberations are public and the people know who are the people who got them screwed.

  4. The only thing that struck me was that the analysis was weak. I quick look at the Der Speigel infographic also indicates that most of the wikileaks weren’t even classfied. The tea-maker had access to them. They weren’t private. The diplomats’ children probably read them on poppa’s desk. The diplomats repeated the same views at cocktail parties and in speeches. They even read them aloud clearly and articulately to the bugs in their offices so the local spooks could transcribe them word for word and pass them on.

    All that has changed is that people not involved in diplomacy have a window into what they pay for. It’s a case of Emperors’ clothes, not so? If Wikileaks prompts people to think more deeply and to remember everything they do and say in their public capacity should be legitimate and open to scrutiny, then we win. Otherwise my reaction is a non-event saying more about the diplomats’ universities than international relations.

  5. If someone turned up at Hillary Clinton’s press briefing without a clue about what was going on, they’d probably think there was another terror attack on the USA based on phrases she used! (puts people’s lives in danger, not just an attack on America’s foreign policy interests, an attack on the international community, nothing laudable about endangering innocent people, nothing brave about sabotaging the peaceful relations between nations)

  6. To me the biggest benefit of wikileaks is that government no longer have the assurance that anything illegal or criminal they do will never come into the public light. That fear might of openness might make them a hell of a lot more circumspect about what they choose to do.

    May wikileaks prosper!

  7. For a website focused on national security of India, I thought you will jump on Wikileaks to find out more about Pakistan – it does give credence to many ideas you have espoused – that Kayani is the real power center in Pakistan and that Pakistan is sponsoring cross-border terrorism, but the revelation that Pakistan is building nukes rapidly is certainly worrying.

    Instead, we get some lame post on whether to leak or not, and one has to turn to The Hindu to find out what is in the wikileaks that is relevant to India. Very few of the so-called security experts have bothered to delve into the cables relevant to India. Maybe they are simply waiting for someone to do the hard work, so they can continue their idle commentary?

  8. To me the biggest benefit of wikileaks is that government no longer have the assurance that anything illegal or criminal they do will never come into the public light. That fear might of openness might make them a hell of a lot more circumspect about what they choose to do.

    If Governments are doing illegal and criminal things they are not going to leave them as unclassified cables- As Nitin pointed out when it comes to diplomacy, if Govt officials cannot be blunt about things that they want to be blunt about , they can become ineffective and completely useless. So, you may be barking up the wrong tree here.

    And as we all know Governments have always done all kinds of borderline illegal and criminal things and gotten away with it. If you think this is going to “expose” such activities in the future, you are being a tad too optimistic.

    OTOH, I must say i was amused to hear from Hillary Clinton about India being a self appointed front runner for UNSC permanent membership – she should know a thing or two about what it means to be a self appointed front runner :=)……….. oh well.

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