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Wikileaks: The Uncertainty of Transparency in a 5GW World

By now everybody knows about Wikileaks. If you don’t you have obviously been living in a state of ignorant bliss and you probably stumbled upon this site looking for a funny de-motivational poster about a Llama (Go ahead and follow this link if this is the case. Trust me, if you have managed to avoid the Wrath of Assange, then good for you. We should all be so lucky).

Anyway, without discussing the individual “leaks” I was thinking the other day about their validity. We are talking about thousands and thousands of electronically stored documents that were supposedly stolen and then given to Wikileaks in order to create some sort of radical transparency that revealed what the Army was shooting at, what State Department officials thought about foreign leaders and what places might be really good targets for terrorists. Those that I have seen seem to be plausible in that they pass the smell test. They seem like they contain information and opinions that might come up at a State Department water cooler, or planning session. But are they real? What makes us think that any of this legitimate? Is it the sheer volume that lends weight to their truth? Is it that the slightly scandalous remarks (that are only scandalous if they appear in public, but are gossip-as-usual in an internal e-mail discussion) would never have been allowed into the public eye by government media massagers? Why should you trust Wikileaks as a truth broker?

These are electronic documents that have been, for the most part, removed from their original context. They are a collection of endlessly alterable electronic bits that somebody committed a crime to put into the hands of an organization that may or may not have an agenda. What if only one of the thousands of leaked documents is demonstrably, court of law, defying the laws of the universe, provably fake? What does that do to your trust level for the rest of the documents if any of them could be subtly, or not-so-subtly altered? What if half of them are verifiable, but the other half are ambiguous in their provenance? If none of them can be truly verified as genuine what if ten percent of them are altered or outright manufactured? What if all of them are pure, unadulterated, fiction? So what that the government hasn’t denied that any of these documents are fake. Would you really believe them if they did?

The bottom line is that information, raw information, is endlessly mutable. Everything you believe about what you observe depends upon all of the preconceptions you carry in your personal orientative baggage. If you want to believe something, even in the face of evidence against its truth, you will find a justification to go on believing it. That mechanism is hard-wired into our brains. Without a context (and sometimes even with context), you will create a context for what you observe.

Fifth Gradient Warfare (5GW) doctrines are premised upon the manipulation of Observation in order to create specific effect on a target’s actions. 5GW actors spoon feed information to a target that is intended, by design, to trigger a specific context for that information in the mind of a target in order to cause that target to act (or not act) in a particular manner. To my thinking, the idea of transparency is a mechanism to promote trust in the validity of information (or lack thereof) that is fed into Observation. It is fundamental in a 5GW world to realize that nothing is inherently neutral. All actors have agendas, bias, preconceptions and will strive to promote their point-of-view over all others.

Update:

Pakistani Media Publishes Fake Wikileaks Scoops by Joshua Keating

The only problem is that none of these cables appear to be real. The Guardian, which has full access to the unreleased WikiLeaks cables, can’t find any of them. The story, which ran in four Pakistani newspapers, isn’t bylined and was credited only to Online Agency, an Islamabad-based pro-army news service.

It’s actually surprising this hasn’t happened yet. The vast majority of the cables are still unreleased, but the newspapers which have access to them have often reported on some of the more salacious details before the original cables are actually available. (Take for instance, the famous “Batman and Robin” description of Putin and Medvedev, which appeared in newspapers days before the actual cable was available). 

So, it’s pretty easy to just make up cables to serve your political agenda. If the Pakistani forgers had been more sophisticated they would have invented quotes or even mocked up fake cables rather than just paraphrasing. This, in my opinion, is an argument for just releasing the full archive now rather than trickling them out at the newspapers’ pace. It will be a lot easier to fact check false claims if we no longer have to rely on the Guardian as WikiLeaks’ gatekeeper. 

Shocking!

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2 responses

  1. Pingback: World Spinner

  2. Already responded a bit under the FaceBook posting.

    I’ve written a new post addressing yours; still uncompleted, it’s a “part 1” of something I should finish sometime in the next decade if all goes well:

    5GW: The War on Confusion – http://bit.ly/hdoHZI

    12/13/2010 at 12:53 AM

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