The Wikileaks Release: Smile, You’re on YouTube!

The only amazing thing about the release by Wikileaks of 92,000 plus classified documents related to the Afghan war is that anyone would think it’s amazing.

What the story really tells us is how far out of touch US policymakers are with the world in which they purport to operate. Failure to understand strategic and operational environments is a fatal error in warfare, and failure to recognize that media is a strategic front is an example of just that kind of failure. As revelations of incompetence and stupidity in Afghanistan surge, it’s increasingly obvious that the ‘fog of war’ is largely between the ears of those in charge.

What these ‘best and brightest’ have failed to recognize is that we live in an open source world in which every person is a unique media channel. Where the bandwidth of each individual used to be constrained by geography and number of personal connections — like how many people are in your gossip circle at the local market — now it’s potentially everyone with a cell phone, iPad and / or internet access. The only question is when individual ethics, sensitivities or pathologies will trigger release of sensitive information over those networks.

We also live in the most documented era ever, and it’s only getting more so. For a variety of reasons, not least covering one’s butt when things go sideways, virtually everything is recorded. Everyone — whether cops beating suspects, politicians making ‘off microphone’ comments, CEO’s making shady deals or four star generals unloading in a bar — has to expect that anything shared or stored digitally may reemerge at some inconvenient time.

Finally, just about everything — at least in broad strokes — is already in the public domain if we want to look hard enough. This is why the recently revealed Russian spy ring didn’t need access to classified material — only a rigorous trawl-and-collate system for open source materials. As Stewart Brand said way back in 1984, ‘Information wants to be free.’ Only lotus eaters and politicians believe they can contain it indefinitely.

The hard reality is, if policymakers want to avoid the kind of blowback that occurs when inept, criminal or just plain stupid actions are revealed, it’s best not to undertake inept, criminal or just plain stupid actions in the first place.