State Department, Once Again, Asks Wikileaks To 'Return' Leaked Cables

from the that's-not-how-digital-works dept

Earlier this year, we all had a good laugh over the demand from the Pentagon that Wikileaks "return" the leaked documents it held. Lots of people pointed out that they were digital copies. You don't "return" stuff that's digital. All this demand did was make the Pentagon look totally clueless about how digital information works. It looks like the PR geniuses at the State Department have decided to do the same thing. They've put out a demand that Wikileaks "return" the remaining diplomatic cables in its possession.

Once again, this just makes the State Department look clueless, out of date and confused about the internet. First of all, you don't "return" digital documents. But, more importantly, Wikileaks has already shown that it has no intention of doing any such thing -- and making such a request just looks silly by the State Department. It's foot stamping rather than doing anything productive. Given the State Department's ridiculous PR over this whole Wikileaks thing, is it really any wonder why those old attempts by the US government to hire PR people to convince the people we were invading that it was for their own good turned out so disastrously bad?


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 11:33am

    Well why doesn't Wikileaks just take all the files (documents if done in Word,) zip them up and email them to the State Dept? Problem solved.

    Of course, there probably is something in that demand that says something about destroying any other copies.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 11:35am

    Physical thinking

    I believe this shows a sort of "physical thinking", which treats copies of the cables as if they were physical objects which can only be at one place at a time.

    The same sort of thinking can be seen on the attempts by copyright owners to find a way - any way - to make digital data behave as if it were physical objects, being moved instead of copied.

    They do not seem to be able to comprehend that, on the digital world, copying is the natural action, unlike on the physical world, where moving is the natural action.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    icon
    Richard (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 11:35am

    Impossible

    Given all the mirrors out there (not to mention the torrents) it is now de-facto impossible for wikileaks to delete all copies of the documents ( giving the government the benefit of the doubt on tech. competence).

    Maybe they should print the lot out onto paper, pack it into cardboard boxes, and post it to the state department.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 11:45am

    "Maybe they should print the lot out onto paper, pack it into cardboard boxes, and post it to the state department."

    That might be crazy enough to work.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    icon
    crade (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 11:46am

    Yeah, they are just playing to their uninformed (or uninvolved) crowd. It's a good PR move I think (unethical of course, but when did that ever matter?). It's the same PR move as calling copyright infringement "theft" and "piracy". A little lie that people won't really care when they are called on it and proven it was a lie, but still serves the intended purposes of painting a picture that they are knights in shining armor going after an evildoer.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    icon
    ottermaton (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 11:47am

    at risk?

    In response to the direct question, "Do you actually have any evidence of a specific incident where a person has been harmed because of what's come out from Wikileaks?" he blathers on vaguely for a while implying that there are people at risk, and then she pins him down with, "Specifically because of the Wikileaks information?" and he says, "Yes."

    Well, who ARE these people? If they really are "at risk" what are you doing to "protect" them?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    icon
    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 11:49am

    Re:

    Dear State Department,
    Under normal circumstances, you would be able to retrieve your copy of the cables from Wikileaks.com. However, due to circumstances beyond our control (ie political pressure being exerted by parts of the US Government) our site is experiencing technical difficulties.
    Sorry for any inconvenience, but your request cannot be processed at this time. Go DIAF.
    Sincerely,
    Wikileaks

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    icon
    jsl4980 (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 11:49am

    Probably a legal loophole

    I would guess that there's a law stating that not complying with this type of request is a crime or a factor in some type of crime that they're trying to conjure up.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 12:00pm

    Please accept this spider as payment ...

    This reminds me of the "please accept this spider as payment" story ...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    PRMan, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 12:00pm

    Re: Impossible

    COD

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    icon
    crade (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 12:05pm

    Re: at risk?

    I am these people. I'm at risk of losing my right to elect my government because they hide the truth that I need in order to be able to vote. Being at risk of not being able to elect my government puts me at risk for all sorts of other harm they might do to me after they have falsely obtained authority over me and the others who didn't have the information they needed to vote either.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 12:07pm

    What if...

    Well, lets just play devils advocate here, and lets say perhaps the DoD and State dept. are not (god I hope they are not) as stupid as they seem. Maybe they are asking for the "Orginals"... like, prior to any modification/redaction. Perhaps they are watermarked in some way. Maybe they are not asking for all copies of the digital file, but instead, the actually files (unmoded) or better yet, the USB/CD-ROM.

    Also, they may be asking for legal reasons... later on, they can use their apparently unwillingness of "Wikileaks" to return 'stolen' goods, or something to that effect. I dunno, just brainstorming here

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 12:08pm

    Re: Re: Impossible

    including a bill for the time/manpower it took.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 12:13pm

    Return, as in send back the fake lady gaga disk, delete any and all copies, and have a nice day.

    How hard is that to understand?

    It plays into the US government's hand here too. The demand for the return of the documents, no matter how much you don't like the term, sets up the basis for legal action.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 12:13pm

    Linked BBC article - "His comments came after the arrest of Mr Assange by British authorities on the request of Swedish prosecutors over allegations of rape and molestation."

    I wonder if the Guys at DynCorp are going to be arrested for rape and molestation.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 12:18pm

    Is it a point of law?

    Mike, is there some point of law (that may also be outdated) where the State Department must formally request the return of the documents (e.g. in order to claim ownership and thus theft)?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    icon
    Richard (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 12:19pm

    Re: Re: Re: Impossible

    Or crowdsource the operation so they receive thousands of letters -each with one document!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 12:27pm

    DMCA

    Why not claim copyright to the material? It was, I assume, property of the US. Set the copyright police after Mr. Assange and he would be in a world of hurt.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    The Baker, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 12:28pm

    Not Suprised

    I was ordered to return copies and originals of all emails referring to a mater by a federal district court judge in SC. I provided a CD and printouts. He was quite angry that I hadn't complied with the order and threatened me with contempt if I didn't provide the originals. It took my lawyer quite a lot to explain that this wasn't how it works. That was just four years ago.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    icon
    interval (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 12:32pm

    Back the the Future (Or Shades of Dr. Strangelove)

    Even after one generation in to the internet age. I just have to guess there's an old guy in the state dept's IT section smoking a pipe and telling heads that they really need to put all the state's secrets into a "...taped memory bank, connected to a series of gigantic computers..."

    Christ; even the motionless media "cassettes" in Star Trek were larger than our microSD forms we have today, but at least they were on the right track only a few years after Dr. Strangelove.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    icon
    Chargone (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 12:32pm

    Re: Re: at risk?

    because being able to elect them helped so much.

    representative democracy is just oligarchy where those on top found a better way to solve questions of who should be in charge at any one time than assasinating each other.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 12:41pm

    Re: Not Suprised

    Pretty scary isn't it.

    "If I delete it on my blackberry. Will the person I sent it to still be able to see it?"

    "But if I copy a disk, I have two disks. What do you mean? If I copy a file I only need one hard drive, thats amazing"

    Analog -vs- Digital some people haven't gotten out of the "This Is Physical Stuff" mentality.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Kris B, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 12:45pm

    Seriously?

    First, wikileaks would have to ask the Guardian, New York Times, Der Spiedl, et al to 'return' them to wikileaks.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    icon
    crade (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 12:47pm

    Re: Re: Re: at risk?

    Well I haven't given up on it yet.. Throw me in jail :) You got a better idea?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    icon
    ignorant_s (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 12:48pm

    Re: Probably a legal loophole

    That is exactly what it is. The Espionage Act makes it a crime to possess or transmit "information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation"....and also makes it a felony to fail to return said documents. The request was a formality.

    So, if its a crime to "possess or transmit" said docs, how many people could get screwed here? If they only go after Assange is that selective prosecution?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    icon
    interval (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 1:18pm

    Re:

    Simply asking for the material back implies a lack of fundamental understanding of the nature of the media itself. If the state dept. had it in its mind to some how "trick" Wikileaks into both returning the material and deleting the local copies I think instead they'd have opted for simply legally strong-arming Wikileaks into doing whatever they felt would be necessary to paper-over this little episode. Like bashing down the doors and confiscating their IT equipment, and at the same time getting information on Wikileaks other nodes (being a distributed repository).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 1:19pm

    by that standard, they don't "have" the documents. They are merely in possesion of a copy of the 'contents' of said documents. The documents are still present at the DoD and have not been stolen. Furthermore, Manning is the only one who should be facing charges for this crime. Wikileaks is not under US jurisdiction, and never was. Bradley Manning saw these documents, copied them, possessed the copies, and transmitted copies to a foreign news agency. Wikileaks is merely the messenger.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 1:33pm

    Re:

    I am going to nitpick, but you do know that a "document" is just a file too, right? Also, there are a thousand different types of documents made by hundreds of different software applications, not all in the MS Office suite.

    Sorry, that bugs me for some reason.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 1:33pm

    Since we are on the topic, I have a question. I've downloaded a file other day, and it looks like I don't need it anymore. How can I put it back?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 1:33pm

    Part of me hopes this is just disgruntled IT workers in the State Dept trolling their bosses.

    "Yes Sir, the Internet IS a series of tubes.... lol"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    icon
    ignorant_s (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 1:46pm

    Re: Re:

    When I use the word "document" I am referring to the information itself, compiled the way it is in whatever format, not necessarily something tangible.

    So ..."They've put out a demand that Wikileaks "return" the remaining diplomatic cables in its possession".....

    Just pointing out that this is merely a legal formality to set up a case against Assange. They have put it in writing that they think this information could harm or injure the US and they have asked for it back. That is in preparation for a case. Wikileaks actually "returning" the cables is impossible and I am sure the government knows it.

    This letter serves not only as the basis for a case against Assange, but also a warning. Read between the lines.... What the government is really saying is "Don't release anymore cables, asshole".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Johnny, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 1:50pm

    I stole the files back for them

    I am sure the State Department will be happy to know, that I stole* the "Insurance" file from Wikileaks with the purpose of returning it to the State Department. I'll be sending it back to the State Department shortly, hope their inbox can handle large files.

    * stole in the MAFIAA sense of the word.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 1:59pm

    This insistence on the return of documents probably is to set up dumb move to assert some legal basis.

    What it really does is show the world how corrupt they are and will stop at nothing even in the face of the absurd or impossible.

    It removes any doubt that whatever happens it is happening not because of justice, common sense or whatever it is happening because someone is angry and have the power to do it regardless of what others think.

    Those people are spitting in the face of society.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 2:06pm

    Actually everyone is misinterpreting this request. The government isn't asking for the documents back because they think they can put the genie back in the bottle.

    They are asking for the documents back because they themselves don't have a copy (or can't find them). Plus they are too technically inept to scrape them from wikileaks.

    They just want to have their own copy.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    identicon
    Rich, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 2:27pm

    Re: Re: Not Suprised

    This has nothing to do with analog vs. digital. The difference between the two has nothing to do with physical and non-physical. There are analog recordings and file formats, and there are even analog computers (esoteric they may be).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    icon
    Mark Blafkin (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 2:32pm

    Re: Re: Probably a legal loophole

    Thanks for inserting a bit of sanity into this discussion. Perhaps when the rest of the TD community finishes asserting its faux-technological superiority to the State Department, they'll realize this has NOTHING to do with a lack of knowledge about the nature of the Internet.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    icon
    Prashanth (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 2:34pm

    Lage Raho Wikileaks!

    I've got an idea stemming off of the person's idea to send them ZIP files of the leaked documents. That idea alone won't be quite enough, so let's do this Lage Raho Munna Bhai style: [either method is acceptable]
    [Analogue Method] Print out several of these leaked cables, package them in envelopes and/or boxes along with flowers and "Get Well Soon"/"Deepest Condolences" cards (roses if the former, daisies if the latter), and send these packages to various State Department addresses.
    [Digital Method] Do the ZIP file idea, but also rig the package with a Rick Roll video and make it show the document names (but not the contents) and only play the Rick Roll when the ZIP file is opened.
    How does this sound?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 2:39pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Impossible

    I love this idea. It would be like a paper DDOS attack.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 2:42pm

    Re: Re: Re: Probably a legal loophole

    It is the rush to judgment, the rush to condemn that is the most concerning here. No, not the Feds condemning wikileaks, but rather the TD community as well as other communities rushing to damn anyone who dares oppose Wikileaks. The yahoos from 4chan anon are pretty much a fine example of react first, judge later.

    It is truly a shame to see TD and the community that comes with it doing all the things they damn their opponents with.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 2:43pm

    wikileaks should print out the entire archive, pack it up, and ship it to the state department. maybe the state department would be dumb enough to hail it as a victory in the media: "wikileaks caves, returns stolen cables." great lulz would ensue.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 2:47pm

    Re: Re: Re: Not Suprised

    I have a Tandy color computer III that has a cassette storage "drive". Kickin' it old school baby!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
    icon
    Blatant Coward (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 2:53pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Impossible

    I have a stamp and an envelope, and I'm not scared to use them!!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
    identicon
    Vic, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 3:29pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Probably a legal loophole

    Sorry, up to now I have noticed only one rush at the official level - and that is exactly the rush to blame Wikileaks for everything!

    So, do you want to see the same rush on an unofficial level? Just blindly "stand by your government", right?

    And, oh man where are you looking to, that is the US government that reacts here and now first, without even any promise to think later...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
    icon
    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 3:32pm

    Re: I stole the files back for them

    Better be careful. If some mailer daemon along the way strips off the attachment, you'll never get them back. And you're now guilty of giving state secrets to a third party.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
    identicon
    Mr. Oizo, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 3:38pm

    The key is the 'remaining'

    Maybe they know that there is something much more damaging in it and want it 'not released', so they demand the 'return' of those documents. Which is possible, if only 1 person holds it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 3:51pm

    Re:

    Legal action against whom?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
    icon
    TtfnJohn (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 5:05pm

    Re:

    If you printed them out on the Ultra Ultra Soft Charmin with the dancing bears with an anal fixation? :-)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 6:07pm

    Re: Re: Re: Not Suprised

    Now you're just nitpicking, and missing a bit of 'cyberspeak,' wherein 'analog' means 'physical' as opposed to something that has been digitized on a computer. (Note that a file format may be 'analog,' but a hard drive saves in a digital manner.)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49.  
    icon
    ottermaton (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 6:10pm

    Re: Please accept this spider as payment ...

    WTF?!?! The least you could do is give credit where it's due instead of some crap scraper site.

    Just look at some of the comments on the site you referenced: "I like you am associated with carpet cleaning and it is wonderful to see fellows associated this industry with the same mentalities and thoughts" Yeeeaaa ..

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  50.  
    icon
    ottermaton (profile), Dec 8th, 2010 @ 6:16pm

    Re: Re: at risk?

    Wow. You totally missed the point AND got marked insightful. Impressive.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  51.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 8:16pm

    Re: Re: Re: at risk?

    Ha! Your right, I misread your post and thought you were talking about being at risk because of the secrets, not because they were being revealed :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  52.  
    identicon
    Manfred Manfriend, Dec 8th, 2010 @ 9:11pm

    old bash.org quote....

    See: http://www.bash.org/?104052

    lol
    I download something from Napster
    And the same guy I downloaded it from starts downloading it from me when I'm done
    I message him and say "What are you doing? I just got that from you"
    "getting my song back fucker"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  53.  
    identicon
    Rekrul, Dec 9th, 2010 @ 9:21am

    Re: Back the the Future (Or Shades of Dr. Strangelove)

    Christ; even the motionless media "cassettes" in Star Trek were larger than our microSD forms we have today, but at least they were on the right track only a few years after Dr. Strangelove.

    Yes, but today's storage is limited to 16-32GB at best. They never said what the capacity of those cartridges was. For all you know, they could hold 1,000 petabytes.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This