WikiLeaks:Strategy

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These are rough notes clipped from email discussions. There are a number of authors. These notes should not be considered an established or official position of Wikileaks

Contents

Be bold; avoid qualifications in writing

  1. All movements which bring substantive change, regardless of the demographics of their leaders, are youth movements.
  2. We should never sacrifice the passion of youth in order to move the old from weak dissent to limp assent.
  3. We can do nothing without strong support, but weak opposition, even of a great many, can always be ignored.
  4. Likewise we must not over-generalize criticism when support of the many often means their silence.
  5. Qualification makes a strong voice sound weak. As intellectuals who love nuanced truth we are prone to it. It must be resisted. If a point is to be dealt with then qualifications should be footnoted or given life as independent statements. We should learn from the examples of others who have moved people without deception.

Truth on and off the page

The truth is not found on the page, but is a wayward sprite that bursts forth from the readers mind for reasons of its own. I once thought that the Truth was a set comprised of all the things that were true, and the big truth could be obtained by taking all its component propositions and evaluating them until nothing remained. I would approach my rhetorical battles as a logical reductionist, tearing down, atomizing, proving, disproving, discarding falsehoods and reassembling truths until the Truth was pure, golden and unarguable. But then, when truth matters most, when truth is the agent of freedom, I stood before Justice and with truth, lost freedom. Here was something fantastical, unbelievable and impossible, one could prove that A implies B and B implies C and C implies D and D implies F and Justice would nod its head and agree, but then, when one turned to claim the coup de gracĂ©, A implies F, F for Freedom!, Justice would demur and revoke the axiom of transitivity, for Justice will not be told. Transitivity is evoked when Justice imagines F and finding the dream a pleasurable one sets about gathering cushions to prop up their slumber. Here then is the truth about the Truth; the Truth is not bridge, sturdy to every step, a marvel of bound planks and supports from the known into the unknown, but a surging sea of smashed wood, flotsam and drowning sailors. So first, always pick your poetic metaphor, to make the reader want to believe, then the facts, and — miracle! — transitivity will descend from heaven, invoked as justification for prejudice.

Often we suffer to read, "But if we believe X then we'll have to...", or "If we believe X it will lead to...". This has no reflection on the veracity of X and so we see that outcomes are treated with more reverence than the Truth. It stings us, but natural selection has spun its ancestral yarns from physically realized outcomes, robustly eschewing the vapor thread of platonism as an abomination against the natural order, fit only for the gossip of monks and vellum.

Yet just as we feel all hope is lost and we sink back into the miasma, back to the shadow world of ghosts and gods, a miracle arises; everywhere before the direction of self interest is known, people yearn to see where its compass points and then they hunger for truth with passion and beauty and insight. He loves me. He loves me not. Here then is the truth to set them free. Free from the manipulations and constraints of the mendacious. Free to choose their path, free to remove the ring from their noses, free to look up into the infinite voids and choose wonder over whatever gets them though. And before this feeling to cast blessings on the profits and prophets of truth, on the liberators and martyrs of truth, on the Voltaires, Galileos, and Principias of truth, on the Gutenburgs, Marconis and Internets of truth, on those serial killers of delusion, those brutal, driven and obsessed miners of reality, smashing, smashing, smashing every rotten edifice until all is ruins and the growing seeds of the new.

Truth teller vs. Leaker

A man can wed what seems to be a fine girl in a fine dress only to find out under it all is a man in jeans, yet at the wedding, the only words heard are "bride" , "love" and "forever", because that is what is demanded by the spirit of the occasion.

We say truth teller, because we want the truth and we demand the truth. If our demands are occasionally unmet, the remedy is not to suggest though our wording that sometimes we receive lies.

When we want to speak to another group (not potential truth tellers and so on), and ask them to be skeptical, we should focus their attention on the document and assessing its importance and its veracity rather than speaking ill of our sources who nearly always have shown great courage and conviction in their elopement.

If you search google news for 'leaked', there are several stories per day which are revealed to have been driven by leaked documents. However, it is hard to see any where fabrication is likely. Instead what one sees is frequent (perhaps 1/3) approved "leaking" of the truth by organizations for tactical reasons (ala Carl Rove, or for marketing effect). Official leaking, while something to be factored into an analysis does not undermine a document. Motivations may be pernicious, but the truth stands independent to its speaker. That is the definition of the truth.

Journalists are sensitive to fabrications, since one fabrication in a thousand is enough to ruin a career, but we make no claims as to the veracity of documents, so are mostly immune from this particular paranoia. In fact, we want to publish possible fabrications since their dissection, as per our Somali analysis is often more revealing than what they purport.

People think power is built on lies, and it is, but that is only half the story. Internally, power is sustained by a gargantuan of truth and organizational logistics. Power without internal rationality collapses immediately. Truth derived from internal sources comes for free, since the expense in its creation has already been met by the context it was created for. Fabrications on the other hand are difficult and a new expense. Lies are hard work. The truth, while often in shadow, sleeps all around.

Let us wake it with our sun.

About Wikileaks:About

Nearly all of About was quickly put together from emails. In the first third of the year we were fighting to get our words into the press over that of pro-censorship groups. The world press had discovered us and was intent on publication, despite our warnings to them that that we weren't open for business and would prefer their assistance at a later date.

In going through About, keep in mind at all times that we are fomenting a populist movement. It is not our goal to be yet another anti-corruption group. This is not to disparage these groups, but we are trying to do something new. Similarly, Wikipedia is not another encyclopedia and it is not another website. It has populist and technical features which differentiate it. In particular note that our audience is not conservative funding organizations, who, in general, are responsible for the tone and style of Transparency and other anti-corruption groups. That said, we do not wish to alienate these groups or their funding bodies without good cause. There are also cultural factors. Most non-Anglo, and especially Chinese human rights and anti-corruption groups use extraordinarily colorful and emotive language. If a choice must be made it will be made in favor of popularism. The question is what tactics can we apply to our writing to minimize the frequency where we have to choose one audience over another?

We want to speak in different ways to different groups of people. Much of our current writing is in what the Washington Post succinctly described as "dissidentese". Our "dissidentese", while it is difficult to untangle from the other features that make us news worthy, has substantial populist traction. See https://secure.wikileaks.org/liberty/Wikileaks:Wikileaks_Zeitgeist for a country by country analysis. Although it is not Global Integrity's intent to be a populist organization, so this is hardly a criticism, it is worth nothing that "global integrity"-ese, despite a much longer period of speech, has 65k references compared to Wikileak's 350k.

One of the difficulties with the present About page is that it is monolithic, so the only way of speaking to different groups is to use audience dependent subtext ("dog whistling" in the Australian-UK parlance).

We need to find a manner of getting our audiences to self-select the reading material that resonates with them the most.

The plan for some time has been to split About (which is after all a fairly long document now) up into sections (tentatively labeled "investigative-journalism" "anti-corruption" "citizen-journalism" "technical", "philosophical") which these groups will use to navigate themselves into. A single layer of self-selection isn't enough to entirely prevent people from wandering into writing styles which work better for others, but I have not yet understood what two layers of navigation would look like, although I can sense its possibility.

We've been avoiding this rearrangement until it the need is pressing, partly because there are so many demands on the people capable of doing this, but also because the first 10 questions have already been translated to many languages and it discouraging for translators to have to track down what has moved where. This also explains why "Why is wikileaks so important?" is at the end of the document and not at the beginning.

We need to draw inferences from concrete examples in this document. We have written over 300 examples in the form of truth-teller biographies, as part of surveying the terrain of what was needed, but these have not been incorporated into About due to time constraints. If you want to have a go at this, that would be quite helpful.

Similarly, concrete policies on privacy have not been written down due to the same constraints; however we will not be modifying source material under any circumstances. If sources wish to redact names then that is OK, but as a communications service it is not our place to mess with their material. Many journalists mistakenly see us as a publisher because that is their most familiar analogy. We are not a publisher. In terms of raw documents (as opposed to analysis) they should look instead to the phone system, the internet, google, you-tube and file-sharing p2p services. The general approach is perhaps put more cogently here: http://freenetproject.org/philosophy.html

There are some random notes (not many, and not representative) on writing on the https://secure.wikileaks.org/liberty/Wikileaks:Strategy page and it is probably also worth reading https://secure.wikileaks.org/liberty/Wikileaks:Media_Strategy , a more useful document which describes our approach to one audience in particular.

About and general positioning

What your doing is on the cutting edge of something big and scary: the takeover of electronic communication by anti-democratic institutions. We've heard some legitimately scary stories coming from our people in the field - state and other surveillance is real, public and threatening (ie reports from Russia of Internet cafe users required to register and leave an I.D. while they work). Most folks, particularly in the West, have never had an experience where institutions have been threatening their safety, particularly online. In the West, 'hackers' are individual bad-people attacking institutions who may or may not do enough to protect us, citizens. Even in politically progressive circles, there's little direct experience with institutions being misused to target individuals - the old clinches of 'agitators' who 'should have known better' are remarkably resilient. So it's not clear in the West why you need to exist - why can't a leaker just ship a letter to the New York Times? The need is not obvious.

You are also doing something completely outside traditional investigative journalism methods. Most really useful leaks are the result of long, long term relationships and grooming. Journalists like Sy Hersch spend decades cultivating contacts in key institutions. To these investigative journalists, your approach seems unserious at best. The potential for abuse of your network with bad information is ever present and you need to be more clear about how you will tackle this challenge. Remember the Bush National Guard documents retracted by 60 Minutes? Those were pros, and they got scammed. Now, a wiki approach may will have saved CBS from that blunder, as bloggers were the ones to successfully vet the document. But you'll need to explain how that works, and what the limits of this method are. This is a fundamental challenge you will need to address every time you present your story.

You need a more well reasoned policy around privacy and individual-specific information. Personally, I think ALL names should be redacted until a document passes some tests for public interest value. Putting out a person's HIV status serves no public interest, but you can't put the genie back in the bottle, can you? I have worked with teams publishing massive leaks (Abu Graib investigative material), and even in this context of clear public interest, there were difficult calls on personal privacy. You need a clear policy, starting with a blanket do-no-harm rule, and justifying exceptions to this with coherent public-interest tests.

In general, I want to present to you the general skepticism of the good governance and investigative journalism community. These should be your natural allies, but you haven't sold them. To do this you need to do a few things better: you need to make a clear case for the need, using specific examples and a minimum of rhetoric. You need to address the obvious criticisms of your approach and acknowledge the limits of what you're doing. You need to (publicly) focus more on the social impact of what you're doing and less on the technological means to do this. You need to be less secretive about who is involved and what their motivations are. Pseudonyms are fine, but tell us a story of how you came together and what your resources are. Secrecy, as you point out, is undemocratic. Don't operate that way, and let us know that you don't operate that way by showing the world what's going on.

I hope these thoughts are received in the spirit of open dialog and my desire to see Wikileaks go on to do good work.

The word "democracy" in Anglo countries

We use the word "democracy" a lot. To date the reasons have been:

  1. It is a western holycow. Our alliance with it makes us harder to attack where we are most vulnerable. It splits state opposition.
  2. Progressives are reclaiming the use of this word all over. e.g democracynow.org. It resonates with these type of leftists as well as members of the US democratic party.
  3. The intellectual classes know demos = people, cracy= rule (from strength, kratos). Democracy = rule of the demos, rule of he people.
  4. Our statement (using 3) is a true reflection of our real position and intent.
  5. "anti-authoritarianism" is often confused with "anti-authoritarian" and that latter phrase is automatically opposed by authority and its supporters; additionally its adoption by many fringe groups makes the phrase seem to be of the fringe.

Using "democracy" we can make a statement which appeals to the the state, the right, the left and the truth. Almost never in politics does one have such an opportunity.

For non-anglo countries, the situation is mixed. It's hard to know exactly how the word resonates for them without research.

Some countries see the word "democracy" as the paint on the club of US foreign policy.

The word "democracy" in the Ukraine and former Soviets

The problem for others, e.g former Warsaw Pact countries, is that it has not lived up to its promises. Democracy was over-sold.

I spoke to our russian/ukranian translator. She said that the phrase "you are a democrat" can be insulting in post orange-revolution ukraine, because the revolution failed to meet all its promises and the subsequent revelations of CIA money sloshing around the opposition groups involved in it. During the translation she had to water some of these "democra-" phrases down as a result.

This is part of a wider complication for the former soviet . Communist rhetoric was often very prophetic and forwards looking. Some of our writing is of this style, which I think mostly works for anglo countries, but needs skilled translation if it is to resonate effectively in post-communist europe.

In the case of english, my suggestion is footnoting the first use of "democracy" to an explanation of what we mean by it and, if it doesn't look like qualification, using the more direct "rule by the people", or, using "true" or "real" democracy.

In the case of a translation, we should explain to translators that we recognize the problem, give them the above considerations and leave it upto them.

Here is something written earlier on the word:

The word "democracy" in Somalia and (not) in the US Delcaration of Independence

It is worth pausing to reflect on the high power to wealth ratio of community building islamist movements such as the UIC when operating against well funded US/UN led democracy wagons. It appears the US promise of neocorporatism (better shopping) does not move the heart to engage in the cooperation, love and sacrifice demanded by war. The other US promise, democracy, is a difficult abstraction (try drawing it), and like all such abstractions, easily abused by those seeking power for other agendas. It is an alleged means to an end, not an end in itself. There's no human instinct for "democracy" in the form of voting. So what are the root political desires of men?

Consider the US Declaration of Independence (1776), a document which is the distillation of instinctive desires which drove men to war and kept them there.

...God.. Creator.. created equal... Life, Liberty,... pursuit of Happiness.. Safety and Happiness... [followed by 26 paragraphs of hatred for the abuses of King George].

In other words, religious / community feeling (x2), equality, life, liberty, happiness (x2), safety, and above all, an extreme hatred for the brutal acts, preferment, and corruption of foreign influenced or controlled government.

Not once does better shopping or its antecedent democracy appear.

The word "democracy" in Thailand

I am also troubled by the glib reliance on the word 'democracy' but not its essence. As a classical scholar, I find the roots of democracy in the Greek empire.

I agree that the strongest implementation of 'democracy' is to be found in US founding documents and in the early town meetings in the US. Most people today, including in Thailand, think democracy means voting. My observation is that every country always elects the worst candidates: Bush, Howard, Thaksin, etc.

Referenda work better than voting for politicians; they have the power to keep even bad elected leaders honest. However, I don't really see a groundswell movement for referenda anywhere, either.

I tend to think that, if proper, unbiased education were available to everyone, coupled with total free access to all information, that a fully-informed populace would make better decisions. However, this may be naive.

One of the biggest reasons I'm so active against Internet censorship is that I see the 'net as the best means for true participatory democracy we've had yet.

So if you mean democracy as voting, yes, Thailand is far toward the bottom. The military seems intent on retaining power. But I do see evidence of family, local and community democracy in action.

One final thought: If voting could change anything, it would be illegal...

The word "democracy" & general positioning

I think all the points you mentioned were substantial. Nonetheless, I retain a sense that Wikileaks should present itself as no more or less than it what it functionally is. There is no perfectly precise and accessible way to describe the spirit that animates Wikileaks or the potential it owns, but enough can be said about Wikileaks at the level of plain fact to stir that spirit and reveal that potential to all but the living dead.

(Notwithstanding the style of the representative pages as they stand, I think such an ideal of facticity is probably sufficently realised.)

The dressing of Wikileaks bare form can, and I think should, be heterogenous. Just as the religious disposition finds myriad expressions in different cultures and subcultures, Wikileaks can facilitate the expression of dispositions to probity and promotion of justice in all manner of superficially incompatible styles. But the key here is to avoid permamently fixing any article of clothing to the bare form, since it is bound to be a liability in some circumstance.

I think something like this perspective is already taking shape, with the regionalisation of Wikileaks and the fostering of Wikileaks chapters in cyberspace. It also seems apparent in your idea that the English page come with a footnote and the translation pages be subject to the discretion of the translators regarding the term 'democracy'.

Wikileaks can be all things to all men so long as no objectionably idosyncractic thing is inseperably stuck on it. It may well be that democracy is such a thing.

So much for my broad perspective.

As for pragmatics, it might be useful to have that english footnote begin by addressing the demon of merely superficial democracy. This immediately breaks all associations with the less pleasant side of US foreign policy while preserving a vigilant, pro-active footing. It also sets the stage to briefly and appropriately illuminate rule by the people and more fundamental ideals of true democracy without degenerating into qualification (as you appreciably put it). At the same time it makes the salient suggestion to the Western reader that their greatest enemy may be the corruption hiding under the superfices of their democratic society - precisely what Wikileaks is needed to fix.

This note might also glancingly mention the curio that user participation in Wikileaks is not by way of voting. This merely states a plain fact, but one which affrims that Wikileaks resonates with the substantial as opposed to superfical aspects of democracy. It thus provides both reassurance to any who distrust democracy, and savory food for thought for any who trust it all too naively.

I take your point about the unique opportunity to make mileage out of the term 'democracy' and it's related superiority over expressions like 'non-authoritarian', but I wonder how salient the point is in context: Wikileaks is not evidently democratic, in the sense of having any place for votes, but it is indisguisably and almost petulantly non-authoritarian, just by virtue of the features it introduces itself by and which were modelled on wikipedia. But this is something of a quibble, and might only prove that rheotric is not my forte..

Last and least, for reasons mainly outlined above I would still be inclined to substitute the second revision I offered for the paragraph in the writer's kit beggining with 'Above all, a Wikileaks editor is someone who believes in democracy,' (and also because devil's advocates should be as welcome on Wikileaks as they are in all truly rational discourses). But I only say so because it is on-topic. I don't see it as disasterous, and grant that it may have a bit more impact on the bulk of the target audience.

'Democracy' in Egypt and the Arab world

The status of 'democracy' in Arabic? There certainly exists a word for it; 'demokraseyya' and I feel that people-whether Muslim or Christian- use the word quite often in the Middle East. That's atleast what I have gathered from interviews, travel, and daily life over there. While I am not Arab myself (Swedish with an American twist), I think there is a widespread existence of so-called 'false or fake democracy' in the ME. The key here is really distinguishing 'true and real' democracy from the fake version, which I believe is a quite common phenomenon among many govts. At least in Egypt where the National Democratic Party and Mubarak calls themselves a 'democratic government' while elections are continously rigged, the people of Egypt are being abused, and the country's human rights record is plummeting at a rapid pace To me, it seems like people are almost losing the conception of the term democracy in the ME these days due to the turbulent and often corrupt political climate and high number of crooked regimes.


Furthermore,my arab journo friends stress that democracy is generally a 'good word' in arab culture. The socialists and the liberals call for it, even the muslim brotherhood call for it but with some conditions. Oppressive regimes tend to say that western democracy 'does not fit the people of the region' because it does not go along with the culture and tradition. Some radical islamists dont see the solution at all in democracy; in fact they despise it and argue that it hinders the application of islamic laws. The liberal and religious conservative camps tend to be rather divided.

Should we only talk about our technical functions, not our goals?

The idea is important and difficult. My tentative conclusion is that we should give two presentations and carefully structure our public information so that different types of people are lead to read what best resonates with them. A summary of my internal debate, which may not be very helpful, follows:

1. The claim talks about the present, but all things that grow need to make claims about the future. This is natural and at one stage even many of our functional claims were about a future state.

2. This functionality -- are we talking about the technicalities? We have no new technology, considered in isolation, rather we have a new context -- a political one -- and an ease of use within that context. The technical rearrangement and integration to serve that context, has of course been substantial and has made actions within that context take less energy than they did before. The reason we are seeing growth is because people predict that the energy balance within that context is going to become positive compared to alternative behaviors. They predict a bleed-in of energy from surrounding actions that are no-longer as motivating as they were prior to WL.

3. It is entirely clear to me, that the project is not mainly technical. It needs a "new invention" impramateur inorder to psychologically justify a shift in behavior patterns from what they currently are.

4. What is it this thing of ours? The thing is mainly those committed people behind it, their trust in themselves and each other, their unification in common purpose. These people do not want to build a machine (although there is a certain pleasure in the act of creation), they want the effects this network of people and this machine will have. Using that motivation they have built a machine, written a lot of rhetoric, and using it and other mechanisms are engaged in building new structures in the heads of people. Those structures in people's minds (brains) have a functionality. They too, are also machines.

5. Inorder to have people do things like man hundreds of postal drops we're going to need a level of commitment that is above that which can be generated by an alliance to a technology alone.

6. Idiosyncratic personal motivations and inspirational rhetoric will alienate some people. We should expect that our most idiosyncratic edges will be sanded down. Others are not motivated in the same manner or they would have done it already. We must be constantly aware of this but at the same time understand that adopting a homogenous philosophy, inoffensive to all, will lead back to the status quo and a complete failure to do what we are doing.

7. There is a purity in being a public service with a description only of functionality as seen by the end user -- with their motivations not seeded by ours, but rather however they're inclined. Is this kind of normalization, as per the telephone our long term goal, or are we inherently confrontational? Ellsberg and others whip people up to start "truth telling"; they have always had the telephone to do it on. Should we split operation and motivation further, when it is our motivations that imbue operation with the backbone to keep operating?

8. We will face repression in certain countries and have to go underground there and need rhetorical and organizational support for it that telephone companies do not provide.

9. Rather than having WL swallow all sorts of internal contradictions and divergent motivations, the desire has always been to federate as soon as possible so each portion can have its own motivational stance and rhetoric; for instance -- we may find ourselves with radicals in various countries that specialize in raiding government offices, mirroring any data storage they find and uploading the contents. That'll be supported if the country is North Korea, maybe for Tibet, but what about washington DC? It depends on how much people think the future is on their side in this form of action. Incorporating behavior and rhetoric so strong into a monolithic WL would fracture, alienate and bring the heat down on so many of us that our goals would be compromised.

10. Of words, it is only those that are suppressed that matter. Not only must we liberate words that are already suppressed, but should look to tactically provoking our own suppression whenever our behavior is too moderate. Some of our non-western journos are experts at this. They are raided every six months and locked up for half a day. Intelligent, tactical provocation is always of this form; small energy input to provoke a giant who must eat whole cows just to stand up, then leap back with only a scratch; enough repetition insures the giant no-longer stands, either because it has starved to death or because a new standard of freedom has been set for all.

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