Special Report: Could Wikileaks cause World War III or the end of the world?

Special Report: Could Wikileaks cause World War III or the end of the world?

Summary: Trust can be all that stands between us and terrible circumstance, whether that's the breakup of a family or total, nuclear Armageddon.

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TOPICS: CXO
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Trust.

It's a simple, one syllable word. If you think about it, trust is all that stands between us and terrible circumstance, whether that's the breakup of a family or total, nuclear Armageddon.

Trust is vitally important to the operations of nations and governments, as well. Not everyone, for example, is entrusted with America's nuclear codes. Not everyone is entrusted with the command of virtually independent nuclear ballistic missile submarines. And not everyone is entrusted with secret government documents.

For many things, trust has to be selective. It's not a good idea, as an example, to put controlling nuclear weapons on the honor system. My friends worry enough when I get around a good fireworks store or wax poetic about plasma torches -- they wouldn't feel comfortable if I had nukes.

Yet, we have to trust some people. It's not possible to do everything yourself. Working parents must trust someone to watch their newborn. Bosses who can't do everything themselves, or be in multiple places at once must put some trust in their employees.

Because the United States is a large nation with many interests all over the world, our military and diplomatic leadership must put some trust into the lower-level men and women who move and analyze tremendous amounts of information the world over. Even if they're only 22.

And so it came to be that the great nation of the United States of America entrusted Bradley Manning -- a young Private First Class of the U.S. 10th Mountain Division in Iraq, a former school dropout and pizza greeter -- with handling message traffic considered confidential and not for foreign eyes.

While most American soldiers are more than worthy of our trust, respect, and thanks, young Bradley was not. Manning, without any formal training or education in geopolitical affairs, without the ability to see all the national security ramifications, and without the ability to understand (or possibly even care) about the lives that would inevitably be lost, took it upon himself to betray the sacred trust granted him by the United States military.

There are always people willing to take advantage of naive young people in positions of trust.  So it came to pass that Manning's betrayal had an outlet, in the person of an ambitious foreign narcissist named Julian Assange, a man so amoral he tried to blackmail Amnesty International.

But naivety and audience can't act alone.

There must also be opportunity.  Beyond the need to entrust our diplomatic security to 22-year-old dropouts -- we have another serious security flaw. We allow removable media, iPods, smartphones, and thumb drives behind the firewall.

I have been banging on this drum for years now. Over and over, I have told politicians, military leaders, homeland security professionals*, and the American people that these tiny handheld devices pose a tremendous security risk.

For a while, it seemed like the Pentagon, at least, was going to take some action. They put a ban on USB drives in the military. But then, after only a year, they substantially reduced the ban's effectiveness.

I'm telling you this because, according to The Guardian, Manning stole more than 250,000 confidential diplomatic cables (all of 1.6 gigabytes of data) by smuggling a thumb drive and a re-writable CD labeled "Lady Gaga" into work, filled them, and then forwarded them to a waiting Assange.

While it's not clear whether or not Manning's betrayal could have been prevented by better security procedures, it certainly could have been made more difficult. Even so, now we're left with the fallout.

I'm not going to recount the sordid details of what was contained in those not-for-foreign-eyes diplomatic cables. First, I don't believe they should be public and, second, many other publications, including The New York Times, are publishing the leaks.

I'm also not going to tell you that nothing contained in those cables was disturbing. Instead, I'll tell you why we (and every other nation) keep some information to ourselves, or release information only in carefully controlled circumstances.

International diplomacy is a precise dance.

Although some nations are vastly larger and vastly wealthier than others, it is a facade of diplomatic protocol that all nations and all leaders are treated as equals -- at least in public. Many nations (and the U.S., in particular) maintain protocol offices to make sure that every diplomatic interaction goes according to plan, stays on message, and doesn't offend (unless, of course, it's time to not be nice).

Internal national politics, on the other hand, is a gutter fight.

Nations must communicate with other nations according to an established protocol, but the leaders who make that national policy must always answer to their constituents. If the leaders can't seem to maintain an upper hand, can't demand respect, and aren't seen to be getting things done, those leaders are usually replaced.

The challenge is that diplomacy is always a give-and-take sort of thing. When nations bargain with other nations, sometimes it goes smoothly, sometimes there's horse-trading, and sometimes there's pressure to be applied. Whenever two leaders negotiate, each wants to come back to his or her country and brag about how he won the negotiation. Neither wants to lose face.

As we all know, people will do incredibly idiotic things to protect their honor. So will leaders.

I've written previously about how the documents leaked by Wikileaks could cause people to die. Wikileaks hasn't redacted the information about confidential informants, and it's likely that these informants -- in large numbers -- will be executed by their factions over the coming weeks and months.

That's bad enough. But many national leaders would prefer to project bravado, send people to war, and engage in years-long conflicts with other nations rather than lose face or admit a mistake.

Here is where the Wikileaks risk is extreme. Manning and Assange "outed" confidential negotiations (and, yes, pressure) about nuclear defense issues. They "outed" defensive tactics America was taking against cyberwarfare advances by certain other nations. They "outed" the procedures we're going through to find "homes" for Guantanamo prisoners. They "outed" discussions about protecting Americans from terrorists.

Each of these disclosures will likely cause leaders to do damage control. Because diplomacy always involves more than one player, the damage control will be different from nation to nation. Nations that were in some level of agreement (whether coerced or not) will now find that, for political reasons, they must agree to not agree.

For some nations, the fact that this information is now public will prevent them from being able to compromise. For some nations, the fact that this information is now public will prevent them from being able to trust.

Trust.

If you think about it, trust can be all that stands between us and terrible circumstance, whether that's the breakup of a family or total, nuclear Armageddon.

Read also:

*Sadly, some of these articles are in print, only.

Topic: CXO

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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323 comments
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  • RE: Special Report: Could Wikileaks cause World War III or the end of the world?

    The answer is simply this: no, you asshat.
    ALISON SMOCK
    • RE: Special Report: Could Wikileaks cause World War III or the end of the world?

      @stebidri Nice answer moron.

      Ever hear of Gulf of Tonkin? Biggest lie and dove us into the Vietnam War.

      Think before you post.
      cyberslammer2
      • Vietnam probably isn't your best reference

        @cyberslammer2

        Actually, the infamous Pentagon Paper leak of thousands of pages of actual paper outlined why we were in Vietnam, and why our ship was there to not be fired upon in the first place. If you fill a room with gunpowder, it's not the spark's fault your house blows up. Vietnam is actually an example of why so many see wikileaks as something necessary. In fact, consider the entire Nixon administration for why Wikileaks exists.
        tkejlboom
      • RE: Special Report: Could Wikileaks cause World War III or the end of the world?

        @tkejlboom

        Our failed diplomacy with the Empire of Japan drove us into WWII.
        Too Old For IT
      • RE: Special Report: Could Wikileaks cause World War III or the end of the world?

        @Too Old For IT No it didn't. You can't blame someone bombing the crap out of one of your naval bases on failed diplomacy. That's like saying you deserved a black eye because you couldn't talk a bully out of taking your lunch money.
        I12BPhil
      • RE: Special Report: Could Wikileaks cause World War III or the end of the world?

        @cyberslammer2 wasn't "gulf of tonkin" a "false flag" operation that was used as a pretext for war? i.e. in general, I'm not too interested in the leaks since, for all I know, the information is really disinformation, who knows?

        even the kayne west bush comments were idiotic since we all know that bush hated poor people and kayne wants to join the rich boys club, etc...
        mrminnman
      • @ David

        Don't worry. We, your allies, all know the US spies on us. We spend a lot time and effort at countering it. I suspect we try to spy on you. As much as you claim to be our "Friend", we also know that when it comes to the crunch, self-interest in DC will always trump bi-lateral relations. We spy on you to know which way the wind blows in DC. And to steal back some of the industrial secrets you steal from us.<br><br>What has been damaged by the leaks are American espionage capabilities. Everyone of your allies are busily examining the leaks, and back-tracking to see which holes still need plugging and who the sources are. <br><br>Also, which holes are still working. Knowing that you spy on us, do you really think that everything you hear from us is the truth? The leaked papers also tell us which sources of mis-information are considered credible, at least at the Ambassadorial level.<br><br>Of course everybody now gets to play the "If I know, that they know, that I know...." circle game.<br><br>So get over it.... the only real harm is to American espionage sources. You can be sure a bunch of sources have just ducked and run.
        snberk341
    • RE: Special Report: Could Wikileaks cause World War III or the end of the world?

      @stebidri
      I don't understand why the idiots in the Obama administration give credibility to these reports rather than dismiss them as pure fabrication.
      Linux Geek
      • RE: Special Report: Could Wikileaks cause World War III or the end of the world?

        @Linux Geek
        remember Bill and Monica? "I did not have..."
        Dismissals don't work anymore. A direct dismissal could in the eyes of many equal an admission of guilt more so than giving a little credibility, yet keeping things ambiguous.
        qbicdesign
    • RE: Special Report: Could Wikileaks cause World War III or the end of the world?

      To the editor who wrote this,

      What kind of issues does a person have to make them so paranoid like this guy. I would like to say wikileaks is one of the best things to happen for a tyranny nation such as ours. paybacks suck! maybe next time a nation thinks about staging false flag terror operations and inthe process killing thousands of innocent citizens thay may stop and say wait what about wikileaks!
      BL8Z
      • RE: Special Report: Could Wikileaks cause World War III or the end of the world?

        @BL8Z who are them?
        ​
    • RE: Special Report: Could Wikileaks cause World War III or the end of the world?

      @stebidri
      I agree with @stebidri .... you are an asshat.... in fact I am closing my account with ZDnet and hope you all rot... I hated your useless spam anyway.... grow up and admit the truth the government is a puppet show for the real people in power?. www.infowars.com
      MasterJediJohn
    • RE: Special Report: Could Wikileaks cause World War III or the end of the world?

      @stebidri I was a PFC who was assigned the duty of carrying diplomatic pouches. It is simply common practice to assign the carrying of such to low level soldiers and marines, always has been. It is only because of modern technology wherein a single person can carry a huge volume of 'documents' that one such PFC could cause such widespread damage. The pouch I carried might have had a couple of pounds of papers in it. The modern 'pouch' could contain thousands of 'pounds' equivalency in the form of ones and zeros on a passel of thumb drives. I would certainly be reviewing who gets to carry what.
      As for the putz who sold this to wikileaks the full extent of military law should rain down upon his head. He is a traitor and deserves to be shot, regardless of the quality or quantity of information revealed. As for wikileaks itself, again, cyber warfare of a thermonuclear nature should be utilized. "Let loose the dogs of war and run havoc." There should be a price paid for such celebrity.
      dheady@...
    • Typical &quot;reporter&quot; misdirection

      @David Gewirtz<br><br>How about, instead of attacking those leaking the military misconduct, you look instead at those guilty of said misconduct. Your Yanky-doodle military (and indeed government) are a bunch of arrogant, ignorant @rseholes, and no wonder the civilised world wants less and less to do with your damned country.<br><br>Australia should have cut all ties with your redneck country long ago!
      kaninelupus
      • RE: Special Report: Could Wikileaks cause World War III or the end of the world?

        @kaninelupus I agree. Nothing good comes from Australia. Why dont you give it back to those YOU stole it from.
        smartin684
  • RE: Special Report: Could Wikileaks cause World War III or the end of the world?

    Trust is based on truth, not lies, treachery and deception. Orwellian brain weevils ate David Gewirtz brain, also know as being a spin-tard for Satan.
    ALISON SMOCK
    • RE: Special Report: Could Wikileaks cause World War III or the end of the world?

      @stebidri

      That was unfair.
      kenosha77a
      • RE: Special Report: Could Wikileaks cause World War III or the end of the world?

        @kenosha7777 - Nope. You are unfair and unaware of the facts.
        The Danger is Microsoft
    • US government sycophants whine about truth seeing light of day

      @stebidri Well, duh.

      But it's really about trust. We hand money and power and authority to a government that sends people in to harms way, and then we later find out they're lying through their teeth about the reasons for doing so, and they're either ignorant of the corruption going on all around them or complicit in it, which.

      The US government kidnapped and tortured a German citizen who turned out to be the wrong guy and completely innocent. The German government threatened to arrest the CIA agents who had done this, and the US government threatened that there would be 'reprecussions' if they did so.

      That's what the US governemnt is doing with the trust we give it.
      HollywoodDog
      • Right. And all other governments are above reproach, is what you're saying

        right HollywoodDog?
        Seriouslly, spity it out: tell us what other governments have been doing and sayong all these years, or will you go on recod and say that onlt the US is like that, all other governments are above reproach...

        Waiting....
        John Zern