There’s a relatively sober article at storify covering this, or you can go to the rt.com summary that’s been making the rounds if you prefer more yellow in your journalism. I found this reddit thread useful as well. Don’t bother with the Wikileaks links for the time being as a result of the DDOS attacks. There are a number of components that I think are worth considering in this story.
-That the United States is working on centralizing surveillance output for the purposes of data mining from a wide variety of “high value target areas”, through collusion between private and public entities, should be no surprise. Many of the details were published in bits and pieces here and there, but in this case the centralized data dump at Wikileaks from the Stratfor hacking provides a centralized catalyst for this conversation. That’s where the story gets interesting.
-It seems more problematic that it’s doing this by exploiting the far reaches of such collusion, where in fact interpreting Abraxas’ (the primary surveillance contractor in question) former CIA all-stars leadership as an exceedingly crass brand of revolving door profiteering is the most charitable interpretation possible, versus that of a front company designed to completely avoid any form of public oversight or scrutiny or restraint.
-If indeed it was ever anything more than a formality, the firewall between foreign and domestic espionage practices of the US seems to be gone altogether. This is exactly the kind of problem that reasonable voluntary transparency and public oversight should tackle directly rather than simply building elaborate networks of plausible deniability.
-Returning to the revolving door question, it seems plain (as per VI in the linked article) that the emails in particular demonstrate how unsavory profit-oriented solutions are going to sound in this context, where it becomes increasingly difficult to sort out what is effective, what is expensive security theater, and what is problematic in terms of ethics and civil rights.
-That last one is especially difficult because both the administrations of President Bush and President Obama are rigidly opposed to transparency, the latter especially has a Kafkaesque take on whistleblowing, and are only limited by what public opinion will tolerate or be able to ignore in terms of what they will do to those that interfere with them. While you could go on endlessly about other extensions of executive discretion such as drones or assassination clearance, the particular things I think are most relevant are the recurring overreactions to Wikileaks whether through the initial torrent of hyperbolic, irresponsible language or the present day use of illegal subterfuge to shut it down.
Whether we are talking about the always-constant pressure on the Assange trial, the original pressure on private companies to isolate and starve Wikileaks, or the current use of DDoS attacks (do click on it for the laughable Anonymous imitation of the “hackers”) on a grand scale to shut down the site, there’s plenty to go around in this story. If indeed one is comfortable with fighting transparency with every tool available, surely there must be some minimum threshold of accountability and demonstrable public benefit, as opposed to merely preventing the potential embarrassment of the government and its partners. Again, remember the difference between the reactions to the original leaks by people who actually knew what they were talking about (ie Robert Gates) versus those that were trying to generate hysterical witchhunts in order to avoid being asked hard questions about the documents being unveiled.
The lingering question remains what measures the US government should be permitted to take in secret and for how long; if indeed the war on terror is open-ended, then it is incumbent upon responsible leaders to recognize that we need institutions to shift out of emergency justifications for their actions sooner rather than later.