Tuesday, 14 December 2010


The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity. Cue the rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem.

I don't know about the best and the worst. I have a corner of my heart reserved for Tom Stoppard who once wrote an article titled Tom Stoppard Doesn't Know. I am with you there, Tom, albeit without any keen sense of being better for it.

What is surprising, as my historian friend Richard remarked to me, is just how many secret files a kid in the army could access. Let's say approximately quarter of a million. Nor was he alone. Apparently some three million people had access to the information currently streaming through Mr Assange's highly sensitive orifices. That, Richard wryly added, is an odd definition of Top Secret.

Do I feel the world is a cleaner or better place for the revelation that when diplomat X said Y he meant Z? Or that dirty tricks departments have actually pulled off some dirty tricks? Do I - more to the point - enjoy the fact that the US of A has been embarrassed to the point of apoplexy?

No, the Great Satan has never seemed quite satanic enough to me, if only because other Satans seemed rather more satanic, and, frankly, still do seem more satanic, that is if Satan comes into this at all. But then The Great Satan is what we know, and we, being the Little Satans, must take our satisfactions where we can.

On the one hand an occasional display of dirty washing is behovely. It tells us what we already know, precisely because we understand, and have always understood, that the protestations of the the wearer of the washing are ridiculous. And if we do discover a few war criminals in with the vests and socks, that is a positive bonus for the world at large.

On the other hand we are certainly hypocrites if we pretend that we ourselves are determined to be honest and transparent at all times. There is a vast range of human obfuscation we refer to as tact, sensitivity, kindness and manners. Tell me truly, am I ugly? No, of course not. You have, er, character and, er, fine, memorable features. In fact you are positively handsome. In some lights.

We play games that require subtlety and illusion. We have our poker face and our sympathetic looks. We admire the trickster. We also like a bit of schadenfreude now and then. (Like now, for instance.)

I rather suspect that 249,950 of the 250,000 leaks will be forgotten within a few months. There may be greater circumspection and suspicion on behalf of the secret keepers as a result which would be the converse of what we claim we want, but there may equally be a greater sense of realism in negotiations and a greater degree of honesty about the necessity or otherwise of dirty deals. In the meantime a few covers will have been blown, a few lives shortened. They may be less virtuous lives than the ones that might be being saved but we won't know either way.

Perfect transparency is not possible, not even when you're trying. Is it desirable when possible? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. In the meantime if states want to keep something top secret they might try to restrict the numbers of those with access to it. Or you have a gradation from Truly Truly Secret down to Not Really Secret But Keep It To Yourself.. Is that a secret worth knowing? Ask Tom Stoppard.


Gwilym Williams said...

Here's an interesting 'leak' but it's not from WikiLeaks. It's from the prologue to The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (Franz Werfel):
It was no surprise that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer should have eagerly paid Franz Werfel substantial option money for the film rights to his novel as soon as it was published [...] in 1934. A treatment was quickly written, but, although The New York Times Book Review considered it a "thrilling" narrative, the film was never made. Why?
[Leak now follows] In September 1935 Münir Ertegun, Turkish Ambassador to the US wrote to the Scty of State asking that he use his "high influence with a view to precluding the carrying out of this project" and stating that the Turkish govt had "reasons to believe that this novel, if filmed, would not find a market either in Turkey or in several other European countries" [...] less than a month later Ambassador Ertegun wrote [...] to say that "Mr Orr of M-G-M called on him to ... admit that the filming could not but be harmful from every standpoint. Consequently [...] they would drop the scheme altogether [End of leak]
. . .
So what was the consequence? The consequence was that Hitler, 25 years later, "echoing of cipher telegrams of the ruling Turkish trimuvirate in 1915" told his commanders "I have sent to the East my Death's Head Units with the order to kill without pity or mercy all men, women and children of the Polish race [...] Who talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians?"
And so things continue. The Armenian genocide remains "an alleged event".

The Leaks are needles are needless in haystacks. We have search through the things to find the points. I need to know, for example, that Saudi Arabia wants to bomb Iran.

By the way, I was inspired via your Wallace Stevens piece to write a new poem: The Conjurer.


Gwilym Williams said...

Gosh that's odd. I don't know how that signature got in there.


George S said...

'I need to know, for example, that Saudi Arabia wants to bomb Iran.'

Yes, that is interesting, if not earth shatteringly surprising. It confirms what must have been many people's guesses. Sheikhdoms prefer their own autocracy to that of commoners.

Gwilym Williams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gwilym Williams said...

I took my last comment off as I was drifting off theme.

Stephen F said...

Topp Sekret has always been my favourite kind of secret.

George S said...

Down With Skool?

Stephen F said...

The hole thing is a grate big wikichizz.