Is Assange just super briefing the public in what it already knows?

I recall a few years ago being berated in Slugger’s comment zone by Julian Assange for daring to suggest that some decisions were best discussed behind closed doors. Despite our heavy duty investigation of Northern Ireland Water last year, I still don’t believe that everything in government automatically benefits from the transparency of the public square.

But reading the Irish Independent’s batch of Ireland cables from the State Department, begs the question: is Assange simply super briefing the public in what it by and large already knows?

The exercise may well have had different effects in the Arab world, but Ruth Dudley Edwards nails the ‘so what?’ nature of much of the Irish output:

The job of US diplomats — like that of diplomats everywhere — is to try to understand the country they’re serving in, to keep the interests of their own country in mind at all times and to feed useful information back to HQ. Big, rich countries have more diplomats than the small and weak, so even such a tiny cog in the global wheel as Ireland is closely scrutinised by American officials in case it is of importance to the big picture.

Diplomats get their information as journalists do: they read, listen and talk to people in the know. There was almost nothing in the Ireland cables that couldn’t have been written by well-connected hacks. Like hacks, diplomats vary in quality and judgement, so cables to the State Department contain their fair share of errors as well as insights.

All of which is why there has been too much fuss about the leaking of US diplomatic correspondence. True, it has made the job of diplomats more difficult and in some cases has put sources at risk, but in today’s world there is no such thing as confidentiality and it’s time governments recognised this.

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  • “I still don’t believe that everything in government automatically benefits from the transparency of the public square.”

    What types of information do you think should be withheld, Mick?

  • Neil

    All of which is why there has been too much fuss about the leaking of US diplomatic correspondence. True, it has made the job of diplomats more difficult and in some cases has put sources at risk, but in today’s world there is no such thing as confidentiality and it’s time governments recognised this.

    So not just superbriefing the public on what it already knows, but impacting on how the highest levels of government conduct themselves.

    Up until now diplomats could quite happily say what they pleased, be that information passed directly from a government to misinformation from a third party. Then the cables, which while based on American correspondence has had a global impact. Governments worldwide have cause for concern. It may even force some of them to behave in a more acceptable manor.

  • I suppose some may think it has made the job of diplomats more difficult but what has struck me about much of the correspondence is the over the garden fence gossipy nature of it. Indeed most of it has not been what many would describe as secret, leading me to wonder just what qualifications diplomats actually have or even need.

    Having said that I do think that in all governments there are times when discretion is essential and if some want to call that secret so what. A brief guide might be the discussions between the British and Irish governments in the run up to the GFA or negotiations involving multi national companies, those would definitely need to be conducted in private.

  • Ní Dhuibhir

    Maybe the absence of any big revelations in the NI leaks is down to the pervasive effectiveness of our ‘dogs in the street’ rumour mill. Being such a ‘tiny cog’, no part of the eeny-weeny population is distant enough from the cast of Stormont not to be aware of their personal peculiarities, and how these might be seen by bemused Americans. The real surprise is that the diplomats didn’t mention more of our widely held, if unpublishable, beliefs!

  • joeCanuck

    “I still don’t believe that everything in government automatically benefits from the transparency of the public square.”

    What types of information do you think should be withheld, Mick?

    I would echo Nevin’s query, Mick. I find it hard to believe that you believe that transparency isn’t necessarily a good thing. These people in Government claim to be (basically) representing us. So why wouldn’t we be entitled to know what they are secretly saying is our viewpoint on an issue.

  • “I suppose some may think it has made the job of diplomats more difficult but what has struck me about much of the correspondence is the over the garden fence gossipy nature of it. Indeed most of it has not been what many would describe as secret, leading me to wonder just what qualifications diplomats actually have or even need.” …. pippakin 6 June 2011 at 12:15 pm

    It would be wrong to assume that they need any more than national politicians, pippakin, or even that qualifications of any particular sort are needed and/or heeded at all.

  • J Kelly

    On the theme of gossip, openess or what have we the right or not to know whats the craic with these four superinjuctions. Please do not speculate on who or what they are about, not my site. I wonder if any of these details are in the cables to the states. The one thing I can say is that the Assembly is brighter and a bit more fun with Jim Allister in town, though all his ranting and ravings are not funny. The question to the Speaker of the use of the term NI that was good craic poor Willie Hay, will earn his few quid nowadays.Today he spoke of the “so called gay community”. I reckon he goes to the Assembly every Monday and Tuesday thinking what can I say today that will get me on the news or Nolan.

    I know a bit off course but generally not that far off.

  • RepublicanStones

    RDE article is ridiculous. She assails John Pilger for ‘loathing’ the West. What she doesn’t realise is that Pilger by shining a light into the hypocritical actions of various Western Govts and conglomerates, has shown more interest in upholding ‘the west’ and its alleged ideals and standards than the various Govts RDE wants to protect. She also idiotically writes…

    There would be more good than bad if Assange showed the same enthusiasm about embarrassing, nasty totalitarian states as he does in exposing America’s secrets.

    Quite clearly RDE hasn’t even bothered to log onto Wikileaks site. It seems she has formed her opinion from what she has read about it, not what it actually contains. It launched in 2006 Ruth, check it out. And if the fact that Wikileaks came into a possession of a tranche of US secret documentation, annoys you, I suggest you just ignore it (and the crimes unearthed), but don’t shoot the messenger.

    She also seems to be squarely in the camp of insisting on shielding western govts dirty linen from view whilst pointing the finger at other nations. Its much easier to throw stones if you live in a brick house Ruth. A lesson John Pilger has been trying to teach for quite some time.

  • Mark

    “I recall a few years ago being berated in the Slugger comment zone ny Julian Assange for daring to suggesting that some decisions were best discussed behind closed doors ”

    Any chance you could provide a link Mick ?

    While you’re at it , could you answer both Nevins and Joe’s question regarding what information you felt should be kept from the voters / Pubic …

    I look forward to your answer and assure you that I am in no way venting and would hope that you wouldn try not to invent anymore of my venting … thanks .

  • “the Assembly is brighter and a bit more fun with Jim Allister in town”

    I’d like to have seen Eamonn McCann there alongside Jim. They could have played the roles of Kimberley and Clark in our very own version of the Muppet Show.

  • wee buns

    I was with Ruth on the gossipy trash Irish cables, until :

    ‘’Assange, said the judges (who included the journalist John Pilger, whose loathing of the West has dominated his professional life), is “brave, determined, independent: a true agent of people not of power”.

    Then I remembered she is a right wing nit.

    Pilger’s so called ‘loathing of the west’ is that he has bourne witness first hand to the horrors of the west’s diabolical foreign policies.

  • I would have thought the spooks info goes down a different cable to that of the ‘normal’ diplomats’ hence the lack of more interesting stuff.

    There is also a major difference between the diplomatic exchanges with so called Irish movers and shakers and those the spooks, under diplomatic cover have with their assets. Phil Agee exposed this dirty business in central and SA in his ground breaking book inside the company. Now it would be interesting to know whom the US regard as its Irish assets and what their price was?.

    I too would be interested in Mick F reply

  • she saying that journalist need to know these things but the plebs don’t!