And they come with no warning,
nature loves her little surprises.
Continual crisis!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday and just what am I talking about? I don't know.

From Jeff VanderMeer's Ecstatic Days, Jeff ProTem Lavie Tidhar gives some bulleted advice for writers. Yes. That. Loved it. "They don’t send people to Australia any more for stealing bread." Water through nose moment.

I've been getting asked for some of my "secrets" of landing the new job. Well, they aren't secret, first of all. Here's a good primer on interviewing. It boils down to do research, targeting yourself to that company, and being personable and open.

And speaking of secrets, well, I'm getting a little feed up with the media lately. We've now had both a Russian spy scandal and the wikileaks release of documents and I really haven't commented here about them. There's somewhat of a good reason for that, but maybe not so much anymore.

Here's the thing. Everybody in the media has been wrong about this. Dead wrong. Those Russian Spies? The media liked to portray that what they were after you could get the same with a CNN feed and home delivery of the NYT. The wikileaked documents only tell us what we already knew about Pakistan, civilians getting caught in the fog of war, and how it hasn't been going very well since we decided that Iraq was more of a problem. Well, if you believe that than you don't remember or know just what the spy game was all about and it points out just how far the internet has dulled our senses. Personally, I blame the Bush II Administration and their stance on the "Osama Plans to Bomb the US" briefing not having any "actionable intelligence."


Okay. First up, with the wikileaks, as it's being now reported in some places, the documents have names of locals who have helped us. Wave goodbye to those people. Either they'll go in hiding, be killed, or live in fear for the rest of their lives. It's not so much the problem of outing Valerie Plame, since she was in the US at the time and losing her as an asset meant at least we could still use her knowledge and skills, for a bit. No, it was the connection to a few people showing up dead in some of the former eastern block countries. People who knew her and had met with her over the years. The forth coming deaths in Afghanistan and those previous have one effect, it chills anybody who may have thought of sharing information with us (and now you know why there's all those cutesy code words for operatives). While I don't completely fault wikileaks for leaking the documents, understand they did it for no other purpose than to increase their brand (see earlier comments on "there isn't anything new here"). You all now know their name now, don't you. Isn't that great (for their monetary prospects). Thanks for that, wikileaks. Maybe you'll actually learn your job soon, or figure out it is a job and do the work so fewer people need to have to die. And yeah, if you don't think the Taliban/Al Qaeda isn't pouring through those documents, you really don't know how this war is being fought and won (or not as the case may be). We seem to have forgotten there is a dagger in that cloak and dagger work. Lose lips sink ships, but a knife in the dark can save or damn a country.

As to the Russian spies. Puh-lease. Do you really think that we say everything openly? Do you really think it doesn't matter to the Russians if we say we want, say, help on pressuring Iran to stop their nuclear program to know just how hard we're willing to press and what we're willing to give up? So we may say that we are going to talk, but if they can suss out that it's mostly for domestic consumption and we have no intention of giving the Russians anything (say, like freeing up their accounts of Iraqi money), their position is stronger. If you think that secrets are only "photocopy THIS", you're missing over 80% of the game. Let's say someone close to the President, or a CEO, suddenly isn't showing up on meetings and their house it dark, you can infer what is going on. Nobody needs to say anything. And we warren's even talking about what the poker players call "tells" (the former president had severals, including that annoying mouth twist when he was hiding the truth, the previous Bush did it with hand movements which is really why his handlers worked him hard to stop doing it).

No, I can't say more or some people out there will figure out my skills. And I'm not willing to let those out. Because I know what this game is and how it's played.


Eric said...

I have mixed feelings about the Wikileaks episode. I will say, though, that I don't think it's just about "branding." One of the problems a democracy faces is how to balance issues of security with the absolute requirement of transparency: a democracy simply cannot exist without those who vote having idealized access to information, whether we're talking voters among the masses or their representatives in a republic such as ours. (I say "idealized" because in principle a voter's information must be "perfect" for informed choice to actually occur, but in practice that's obviously impossible.)

The greater the degree of secrecy and the less-informed (or misinformed) voters are, the greater the degree of democracy's failure. (Indeed, the Iraq War is a particular illustration of this premise.) That having been said, however, a fact remains that some degree of secrecy is pragmatically necessary or it's possible democracy will fail when all the voters die in an extreme case.

One might say from this that there's a sweet spot. The problem is that there isn't. Secrecy is intolerable to democracy and perfect transparency a threat to any society. Therefore it isn't a matter of a supposed "sweet spot" where all things are in balance, but rather a matter of what awful price is paid on either end that results in the least of the evils that may be chosen from.

Wikileaks is, I think, making a choice on the extreme end of liberty. To the extent that I would rather be free than safe, I sympathize. But pragmatically I'm also distressed by the hideous price that will be paid on the other end. People will die because of this.

As for the Russians, I don't know if we're hearing the whole story or not. On the other hand, it does appear that the paranoid mentality left over from the Soviet Era remains ingrained enough that a spy re-writing a front page newspaper story has more credibility in some circles than a front-page newspaper story. When you assume everybody's a liar and all the press organs are government fronts, the mind gets to a funny place. It's happened here--it's the kind of thing that drove CIA brainiac James Jesus Angleton sort of batshit crazy back in the '70s or '80s, chasing shadows.

Steve Buchheit said...

Eric, see, the problem is, the wikileak documents didn't bring anything new to the table. For what matters to the US, the target of the leaks, we already knew this. Pakistan's secret service created and continued to support the Taliban, yeah, knew that. We killed civilians in the 'Stan, yeah, knew that one too. When the Bush Administration went to Iraq they took their eyes off of the 'Stan and our war there suffered, yeah, knew that one too. Yelled about it back then as I remember.

And again, for the Russians, what you don't get form the news is what the real thought processes are. If we want to direct the Russians to do what we want, how far are we willing to go, what are we willing to give up? Or is the action just for domestic consumption and they really are just going to meet in Switzerland, buy some clocks and chocolate and say, "We can't do anything, we're out of here." That's much more important.