The Null Device


Some time ago, Wikileaks posted online video footage apparently showing US troops massacring children in Iraq. This caused a flurry of condemnation, and further tarnished the already shabby image of the Iraq war. This was followed by a large cache of documents pertaining to the conduct of the war. The US government fumed, but, it seemed, Wikileaks was unstoppable.

More recently, Wikileaks announced that it had possession of a cache of US diplomatic communications, which are by convention considered sacrosanct, and was going to release them. Cue more fuming, and a somewhat predictable denial-of-service attack (one of which seemed to be the work of a patriotic good-ol'-boy, and not the NSA), but then it came out. And we find out that... well, that diplomats say impolitic things in private about their hosts, Gaddafi's vain and flamboyant, Berlusconi's in the pockets of the Russians, and the Chinese government was behind hacking attacks on Google. Oh, and Iran has missiles that can hit Berlin, and poses an imminent threat to a lot of people; so much so that the Obama government actively had to resist the Saudis' demands that they bomb Iran.

Which all seems a bit too convenient. Nothing particularly embarrassing to the US (they do like to spy on other world figures, but that's neither a huge surprise nor a shocking atrocity), though a few things which make the Obama administration look weak, and strengthen the hands of hawks calling for the bombing of Iran. Meanwhile, the world's hegemonic superpower can only fume impotently and possibly put behind-the-scenes pressure on the Swedes to kick Wikileaks chief Julian Assange out. (Assange is reportedly currently in the United Kingdom, not a country known for its reluctance to extradite anyone to the United States.) You'd think that if the US government really wanted to get Assange, they would have had him bundled into a van and flown over to Diego Garcia for a spot of light waterboarding within a week maximum of him popping up on their radar, but it seems not. Which makes me wonder whether, at some time between the original video and now, they managed to reach him and turn him into a propaganda asset.

"Now, Mr. Assange: this flash drive contains some files. You release these to the world through your channels, and make a good show of it, and nothing will happen to your family. Pleasure doing business with you."

There are 8 comments on "Cablegate":

Posted by: datakid Tue Nov 30 01:51:40 2010

Oh yeah. I love it when you do conspiracy.

Posted by: Greg Tue Nov 30 11:31:20 2010

I wonder if Obama is looking to break Goldman Sachs' stranglehold over US finance? ..

Posted by: steve Tue Nov 30 11:52:03 2010

The only way for the US to silence Wikileaks is by discrediting Assange and the organisation. They've missed their chance to bundle Assange off to Gitmo. By making himself such a visible public figure he's greatly diminished the possibility of suffering some sort of unforseen "accident".

I find it hard to believe he's a US asset. Unless the State Dept. is trying to do some sort of truly bizarre re-calibration of their diplomatic relationships with the rest of the world the release of the cables doesn't serve their interests.

People are looking for a smoking gun somewhere in the cables. Conversely, I think the value of this release is in the insights it gives into US diplomacy and the way the US handles it's allies and problems such as North Korea.

Posted by: acb Tue Nov 30 13:31:49 2010

If the US has managed to turn Assange and Wikileaks, assuming that he's being handled by competent strategists and not idiots, they'll be playing a long game. They won't just have him spout easily discreditable propaganda straight up; the information will be plausible, peppered with just enough embarrassing revelations to appear to be working againast the US, whilst not actually causing much damage (it'll cause some, but that's an investment in building up credibility). Then they can gradually feed Wikileaks with what they want to get out and get believed.

Whether Obama could be using Wikileaks to sink Goldman Sachs (or some other bank) with plausible deniability is another question: would Obama or his allies be running the operation, or would it be Cheneyite neocons working to get Obama discredited? Or some other faction altogether. (Of course, other factions could have their own grudges against a massively powerful bank. Or they could just be shorting its stock.)

Posted by: steve Tue Nov 30 13:56:02 2010

That's a long bow to draw in my opinion but, having said that, you never know with these kind of things. For my money, I think it's simply a case of Wikileaks hitting the jackpot with Bradley Manning.

One area there could be some convergence between the leak and US interests is in the public airing of divisions in opinion in Beijing about the alliance with North Korea. Clearly the US would like Beijing to cut North Korea loose and having those doubts broadcast globally could be useful given the paranoia of the regime in Pyongyang.

There's an interesting Q&A with Assange here where he talks about an upcoming leak regarding an American bank:

The banking system's shortcomings are a bit more systemic than Matt Taibbi's "giant vampire squid" portrayal of an omnipotent Goldman Sachs. There's any number of these squids snacking away, they're just one of the biggest.

Posted by: acb Tue Nov 30 13:59:45 2010

I thought the thing about Goldman Sachs was that they also owned the networks that exchanges were connected to, and were alleged (though, of course, never proven) to have developed systems that intercepted trades using deep-packet inspection and delayed them by milliseconds, getting their own trades in first and making a killing.

Posted by: steve Tue Nov 30 14:50:36 2010

I remember reading something about that, an interesting theory, but there's no proof that I'm aware of. Conversely, even if they weren't doing that I'd argue that they don't actually need to. Goldman's wealth, power, influence and the byzantine ever-evolving complexity of their financial dealings places Goldman and their ilk beyond the grasp of toothless regulators. If Washington was going after the big banks, which is unfortunately very unlikely for many reasons, it'd be for their institutional malfeasance rather than their technology.

Posted by: Wed Dec 1 02:25:24 2010

An important thing to remember about the leaked cables. There are allegedly 250,000 of them. So far, yesterday and today, Wikileaks have released 246 of them. 0.1%. And they are going to be drip-feeding them out, day after day. So I wouldn't be quick to assume that there's nothing harmful to the US in there. It's also dangerous to assume that Assange is an anti-US actor, anyway. People have asked him "why haven't you released any secret Taliban documents?" His reply; if you know someone with inside information on the Taliban, tell them about us. "Why haven't you released secret Chinese cables?" His reply; We've been working for a long time to get more Chinese people involved. Wikileaks got very lucky with Manning, and as far as I can see are simply drawing it out as long as possible.