Wikileaks revelations show US thinking and actions we all believed were US thoughts and actions. The real damage is that suspicions have been confirmed.
It is poetic justice that the US Federal Government has been exposed because someone hacked into their database secrets and emails. For a decade, the US Federal Government, the Blair Brown Regime in Britain and governments around the world have been eager to collect every possible piece of information on their citizens and place it in huge, weakly protected databases. They have sold and lost information that citizens regard as sensitive and private, and a low level of protection has enabled hackers to access the material. In the process citizens have been exposed to crime, some have been injured and some have lost their lives.
Now that the US Federal Government has been bitten, it is screaming about lives in danger and financial losses. Its difficult to sympathize but when yet more citizens have been exposed to risk by a political elite that has failed to safeguard their interests.
The basic lesson is that information has to be classified at an appropriate level and then protected as that level indicates. That often means that some information should never go anywhere near a computer and should never be trusted to email transmission.
Because governments are lazy and incompetent and arrogant, sensitive information is placed at risk levels it should never be exposed to. It is all too easy to access much of this material. Only careful and appropriate action will remove the most sensitive data from networked computers and adequately protect data that has to be held in networked computers. That’s only part of the story. Some information should never be recorded in any form, governments should be more honourable and careful in how they react and appraise other governments and individuals and a level of integrity should be returned to public life.
There is no excuse for on-line publishers to acquire illegal information and publish it in full on the Internet, but there is also no excuse for government negligence and low integrity. There is also no excuse for the news media to republish the leaks and add inaccurate comment that makes the leaked material more important than it already is. The US Federal Government has been made to look foolish, and it will be angry that this has happened, but the leaked material mainly shows how all governments work. This will come as no surprise to other governments and probably no surprise to terror groups. There will be some anger because other governments and politicians have been made to look foolish.
It may be damaging to US interests that long held suspicions have been confirmed. Some government employees may be placed at additional risk because the leaks include information that could be useful to an enemy. However, the same lack of security that allowed the mass of sensitive material to be published on the Internet has also exposed the material to professional attack by terrorists and hostile governments for years. It would be optimistic in the extreme to believe that the information has not already been read by hostile interests, long before it leaked onto the Internet.
So far what we have learned from the leaks was already common knowledge or belief. Britain and the US have always held a deep distrust of French politicians and that is reciprocated by the French. A large part of the European Federal project, promoted by French and German politicians, was directly anti-American and aimed to damage the US and its international position. US foreign policy has frequently been inept and niaive, even if much of it may have been well-intentioned. The Saudi Government has long wished that the US would bomb Iranian nuclear facilities or even invade Iran. They know that Iran has always wanted to build an empire that spreads across the Middle East and controls all of the oil. It is no secret because Iranian leaders have not been shy to broadcast their madness, greed and hatred. It is also no secret that Israel has been an enthusiastic supporter of a bombing campaign to stop Iran becoming a nuclear power and threatening the world. It is also no great secret that Saudi money has been used to finance much of the “Islamic” terrorism around the world, or that those same terrorists have the Saudi Government firmly in their sights.
It is no surprise to find that the Clintons have been happy to spy on friends and enemies. The Clinton Administration did much to create the current fashion amongst governments to regard the political elite as above the law that lesser mortals are subject to. That fashion carried on under George W Bush and on again into the under-performing Obama Administration that reintroduced the Clintons to a level of power. That Hillary Clinton has abused that power should come as no great surprise.
It is harder to analyse the real risks resulting from the exposure of US material on the Internet.
Every government spends time and resources trying to assess what friends and enemies are really thinking. That includes discussion privately that may show a lack of respect or sanity should it become public. There is little in the leaked information that a well equipped and competent intelligence service would not already know. What most citizens do not understand is just how much secret information is regularly exposed by the actions of intelligence services, and how much “secret” information is privately discussed between governments. Some material is deliberately shared with a competing or hostile government as a deterrent.
There will be embarrassment that some sensitive thoughts, knowledge and debate is confirmed by the release of the material onto the Internet. There may also be some more serious consequences.
The real lesson is that information should be appropriately protected by governments, enterprises and individuals. Getting lazy, and assuming that computer-based information and communications systems are safe, is very dangerous. The greatest danger introduced by computers is that huge amounts of information can be covertly harvested by low grade government personnel and then recorded onto tiny low cost data storage devices that are easy to conceal and smuggle out of government buildings. Some highly effective security systems have been available for many years but have not been used because they cost money and governments are as prone as any individual to convincing themselves that risks only ever hit other people. What politicians fail to understand is that the first step in data security is to reduce the risk that data is lost or can be accessed by unauthorized individuals from inside or outside government. Reduction implies that no security is perfect and the second equally important process is secure monitoring so that when data security has been broken it is possible to identify when the break in occurred, what was done during the break in and where any stolen data may have been taken. Knowing what was done and by whom is often almost as good as preventing the break in, and it greatly assists efforts to ensure the breach is not repeated.
What should really shock us deeply is that available technology is not employed in areas where it needs to be employed.
We have all been guilty of using technology just because its there, without thinking about the consequences. Developers have been guilty of greed and carelessness in failing to eliminate unnecessary risk during design and build, failing to remove known vulnerabilities promptly and of encouraging users to ignore data risk. The pursuit of profits by vendors and low cost by customers has created a great deal of risk that need never have been accepted.
Those governments that now rush to increase protection of their sensitive information should pause and consider how they also protect the citizens who have been terribly exposed because governments have collected personal information unnecessarily and then failed to protect it. There is a strong case for destroying much of the the database information now routinely collected by governments and at a time of economic difficulties a great deal of public funding could be saved by a drastic reduction in government information mountains.