Using Wikileaks To Figure Out What The Government 'Redacts'

from the compare-and-contrast dept

We've talked in the past about the ridiculousness of the US government pretending that the State Department cables that were leaked via Wikileaks are still confidential. The reasoning, obviously, is that they're afraid that declaring anything that's become public is no longer confidential is that it creates incentives to leak more documents. But the actual situation is simply absurd. Documents that everyone can see easily and publicly... live in this world, a world where anyone in government has to pretend that they're still secret and confidential. There have even been cases where officials have gotten into trouble for using information from a "public" document, because they're supposed to create this fiction that it's not.

Still, there is one way in which this has actually turned out to be enlightening. A few months ago, the ACLU filed some Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the State Department on some issues, getting some of the very same documents that were leaked via Wikileaks. Except... the kind that came with the FOIA had redactions. The Wikileaks documents, for the most part, do not. That created an interesting opportunity for Ben Wizner at the ACLU. He could now compare and contrast the two version of the document, to see just what the government is redacting, and figure out if they're redacting it for legitimate reasons... or just to do things like avoid embarrassment.
The ACLU then set up a special page allowing people to compare multiple versions of documents with just a simple mouseover. This came out a few months ago, but I didn't get a chance to write it up until now. It's pretty enlightening to see just what makes the censor's cut, and (not surprisingly) raises significant questions about the government's temptation to simply excise stuff they don't like, rather than information that there are valid reasons to keep hidden.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    xenomancer (profile), Jan 30th, 2012 @ 4:40am

    New FOIA Policy

    REDACT THE EMBARRASSING SHIT NOW!!! ... and make us look like badasses if you can.

     

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

  2.  
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    Skeptical Cynic (profile), Jan 30th, 2012 @ 5:00am

    It's kind of like seeing behind the Wizards curtain.

    And finding a sweat shop using child labor.

     

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

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 30th, 2012 @ 5:06am

    and this is surprising to who, exactly?

    dont forget, governments in general (and it seems the US government in particular) can do as they like. when doing so, they are acting in the best interests of the people that put them in power, not in their own best interests! (sarc)

     

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  4.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jan 30th, 2012 @ 5:13am

    It is often amazing how far they are willing to go to protect their image, even when people know the truth.
    The world doesn't hate us because we are champions of Democracy, they hate us because we bully those who won't bend to our demands.
    Our government seems to behave like a wife beater, in public we are all smiles and everything is fine. Behind closed doors we sometimes have to smack them around for being lippy.

     

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  5.  
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    Skeptical Cynic (profile), Jan 30th, 2012 @ 5:17am

    Re:

    Agree with you that this is not surprising, enough already of everybody US hating.

    I am willing to bet anything that the US is not the worst offender in the world. I would bet also that it is not even in the top 10. The US government is doing a lot things that we all agree are bad but because of the level of free (not as free as it use to be) speech we have in this country we are more aware of it. We know about it. In a lot of countries you don't.

     

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  6.  
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    Machin Shin (profile), Jan 30th, 2012 @ 5:29am

    I'm not at all surprised that they would try to cover up anything that might embarrassed them. Although I'm surprised they were not more creative with the redaction. They totally could have had some fun with the UFO hunters.


    Of particular concern is the issue of overflights by _____________. Italian prosecutors allege that ______________traversed Swiss airspace on the day __________ was abducted. ____________________________ Washington has yet to respond.

     

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  7.  
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    Skeptical Cynic (profile), Jan 30th, 2012 @ 5:32am

    Re:

    Sure those things do cause the US some problems. A lot of problems. But I think the larger problem stems from the fact that the US is the largest economy in the world and is directly responsible for the success of 2nd Japan and 3rd China. They are envious.

     

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  8.  
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    Skeptical Cynic (profile), Jan 30th, 2012 @ 5:35am

    Re:

    Much better way of going about it.

    "If you can't dazzle them with skill, baffle them with Bullshit"

     

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

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 30th, 2012 @ 5:45am

    Re: Re:

    to Skeptical Cynic
    you are right. there are countries worse than the US, such as China, Iran. those countries dont try to pretend they are open democracies, promoting freedom and human rights etc. the US does the promoting but in reality is getting as bad as they are. on top of that, China for example, mainly keeps itself to itself. the US is forcing itself everywhere

     

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  10.  
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    Skeptical Cynic (profile), Jan 30th, 2012 @ 5:55am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Yep, true. As the largest economy in the world and the most powerful country everything we do is going to be fraught with mistakes and missteps. But the US has done more than any other country in the world to promote those ideas. We send billions of hard-earned tax dollars to other countries to help them in a lot of different ways. Including promoting those ideas.

    As for China mainly keeping to itself. I don't think those in Taiwan or Tibet agree with you.

     

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  11.  
    icon
    :Lobo Santo (profile), Jan 30th, 2012 @ 5:59am

    Re: OOh Madlibs!

    Okay:
    1: Zombie Pigmen
    2: Janet Jackson
    3: Michael Jackson
    4: George

     

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  12.  
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    Bob V (profile), Jan 30th, 2012 @ 5:59am

    Re:

    I'm not ignoring the fact that the US tends to be a bit heavy handed in trying to get it national way, but singling out the US walking in to an AA meeting and pointintg out one guy and saying that's the drunk. Good going Columbo.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 30th, 2012 @ 6:04am

    There is a meeting facilitated by th U.K department of culture between copyright holders and Google, Bing and Yahoo. It's being held behind closed doors of course but an FOI request has revealed some of the information. Who knows what it didn't reveal and why aren't these meetings being held in public. Why the backdoor dealing again? Does the public not matter. and, for all we know, the FOI results could be rigged. Hollywood really never did learn anything.

    We really ought to protest laws and government facilitated policies that are held behind closed doors a whole lot more. This is unacceptable.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 30th, 2012 @ 6:18am

    Re: Re: OOh Madlibs!

    uhm ... Ghosts????

     

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

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 30th, 2012 @ 6:19am

    Documents created within the government receive classifications in accordance with procedures developed in accordance with Presidential Executive Orders. Those Orders also specify procedures by which documents are either downgraded or declassified.

    Whether or not you and others may find this silly in light of their unauthorized release, the Executive Orders remain in full force and effect, and their procedures must be followed until such time as the process for downgrading/declassification has taken place.

     

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

  16.  
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    nasch (profile), Jan 30th, 2012 @ 6:23am

    Re: Re:

    They are envious.

    There are plenty of countries with similar standard of living and lower poverty, and their governments are not hated like the US government is. It's not envy. And from what I've heard and read, it's the US government that gets most of the ire from other parts of the world, not the people of the US (with some exceptions of course).

     

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

  17.  
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    nasch (profile), Jan 30th, 2012 @ 6:24am

    Re:


    Whether or not you and others may find this silly in light of their unauthorized release, the Executive Orders remain in full force and effect, and their procedures must be followed until such time as the process for downgrading/declassification has taken place.


    In other words, "that's how it is because that's how it is". I think we already knew that.

     

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

  18.  
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    Skeptical Cynic (profile), Jan 30th, 2012 @ 6:26am

    Re: Re: OOh Madlibs!

    1. pigeons
    2. fat men
    3. the sandwich
    4. The Subway in Walla-Walla,

     

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

  19.  
    icon
    Skeptical Cynic (profile), Jan 30th, 2012 @ 6:30am

    Too funny!

    In this column about Free Speech I just posted a comment to the Madlib comment by Lobos with a list of my own and it was held for Moderation!!

    See if I can get the list to go through here.
    pigeons
    fat men
    the sandwich
    The Subway in Walla-Walla,

     

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

  20.  
    icon
    Skeptical Cynic (profile), Jan 30th, 2012 @ 6:35am

    Re: Too funny!

    See censorship never works!!!!!! The citizens of the world will be heard!!!

     

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

  21.  
    icon
    Skeptical Cynic (profile), Jan 30th, 2012 @ 6:52am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Yes, but they are also less involved in the world. They have to be by virtue of size and money. The US is a world leader. So they can either lead which will piss off some people or they can set aside and piss off Americans.

    Which would you do if you were the US?

     

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

  22.  
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    nasch (profile), Jan 30th, 2012 @ 7:54am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    So they can either lead which will piss off some people or they can set aside and piss off Americans.

    Again, IMO it is not simply the fact that we're a leader that angers most of the people. Some few will just be resentful of whoever's on top, but I think mostly it's stuff like Gitmo, Abhu Graib, helping crash the world economy, pushing ACTA and TPP, and so on. They don't hate us because we're rich, they hate us because we're assholes.

     

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

  23.  
    icon
    E. Zachary Knight (profile), Jan 30th, 2012 @ 7:59am

    Re:

    The funny thing about procedures is that it takes two committees, 3 years of debate, 6 months of negotiations, two votes, 6 appeals and a final ratification to get them changed. In the mean time, the world has moved passed them at the speed of light.

     

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

  24.  
    identicon
    Let's..., Jan 30th, 2012 @ 8:44am

    Your reasoning "skeptical cynic" is akin to the wife who is beating declaring to her friends, "Sure he beats me...it's not like it happens all the time. Only when I go too far. I deserve it. Besides, it's not like he beats me to a bloody pulp every week like Mrs. Jones husband does...and nobody seems to even know about her beatings." The right to know. A conscience free from suppression by outside sources. These are the SUPREME LAW of this land Mr. Cynic. Stop apologizing for the abusive husband.

     

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

  25.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Jan 30th, 2012 @ 8:56am

    Re: Re:

    "But I think the larger problem stems from the fact that the US is the largest economy in the world and is directly responsible for the success of 2nd Japan and 3rd China. They are envious."

    I couldn't disagree more. I think envy has close to nothing to do with it. I think that the US forcing its will on the rest of the world both through economic and military power is what does it.

     

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

  26.  
    icon
    DH's Love Child (profile), Jan 30th, 2012 @ 8:59am

    Re: Too funny!

    As a proud former Walla Wallan, and in deference to Mel Blanc, I believe that last one should be The Wishy-Washy Washing Machine Company in Walla Walla.

     

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

  27.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Jan 30th, 2012 @ 9:00am

    Re: Re:

    As citizens of the country, it is our responsibility to to act to improve it. It is required by fundamental citizenship that we call our nation out of the bad things it does and work to improve them.

    To coopt your analogy, it's more like waking up to the fact that our brother is an abusive alcoholic and trying to get him to the AA meeting in the first place.

     

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

  28.  
    identicon
    Let's..., Jan 30th, 2012 @ 9:41am

    "Because he beats me for my own good. He knows what's best for me."

    Free conscience is only possible if given the information to make an informed decision. If such information is withheld and decisions are made based on false or incomplete information then the conscience was not free to make the decision. It was suppressed. And, according to George Washington, that is the anti-thesis of freedom (i.e., the right of every man to a free conscience, free from suppression). A government that no longer upholds the Constitution and Bill of Rights is a treasonous government. And who, may I ask, is it the responsibility of to bring such a government back under the control of the people? China, Iran, and other abusers do not have as their Supreme Law the right to a free conscience. So please stop degrading the freedom of your fellow Americans by comparing us to the rest of the world.

     

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

  29.  
    identicon
    DogBreath, Jan 30th, 2012 @ 11:43am

    It all comes back to state secrets...

    and the continual abuse of power by those who control them.


    Supreme Court recognition in United States v. Reynolds

    The privilege was first officially recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States in the 1953 decision United States v. Reynolds (345 U.S. 1). A military airplane, a B-29 Superfortress bomber, crashed. The widows of three civilian crew members sought accident reports on the crash but were told that to release such details would threaten national security by revealing the bomber's top-secret mission.[1][2][3][4][5][6][9][10] The court held that only the government can claim or waive the privilege, and it “is not to be lightly invoked”, and last there “must be a formal claim of privilege, lodged by the head of the department which has control over the matter, after actual personal consideration by that officer.”[1] The court stressed that the decision to withhold evidence is to be made by the presiding judge and not the executive.[1]

    In 2000, the accident reports were declassified and released, and it was found that the assertion that they contained secret information was fraudulent. The reports did, however, contain information about the poor condition of the aircraft itself, which would have been very compromising to the Air Force's case. Many commentators have alleged government misuse of secrecy in this landmark case.[11]

    Despite this ruling, a case might still be subject to judicial review since the privilege was intended to prevent certain, but not all, information to be precluded.[1]

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    DogBreath, Jan 30th, 2012 @ 11:51am

    Re:

    They totally could have had some fun with the UFO hunters.

    Something like this would do the job nicely.

    Congress(Classified) Vote To Defend Against(Classified)

     

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

  31.  
    identicon
    Loki, Jan 30th, 2012 @ 12:44pm

    Re: Re:

    I, for one, do not hate the US. But given thousands of years of history, I can see what is happening in this country and draw some (what are likely to be fairly accurate) conclusions as to the consequences of those actions. Personally I'd rather not see events transpire they way they are headed.

     

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

  32.  
    identicon
    Loki, Jan 30th, 2012 @ 12:55pm

    Re: Re: OOh Madlibs!

    1) Ostriches
    2) Miss Coco Chanel
    3) Jimmy Hoffa
    4) Booker T

     

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

  33.  
    identicon
    Code Name John Wayne, Jan 30th, 2012 @ 2:42pm

    If you don't want somebody to read something, DON'T WRITE IT DOWN IN THE FIRST PLACE!

     

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

  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 30th, 2012 @ 3:03pm

    Re: Re:

    "US is the largest economy in the world"

    Not for long. China is growing at 9% per year, the US is 2% per year, maybe. The Chinese government has a motive to underestimate their growth. The US government is definitely lying to overestimate US growth. China has more middle-class consumers than the whole population of the US. The US is about to become number 2, then 3, then ...

    Once that happens, you will see what happens to US influence and status in the world. It will not be pretty.

     

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

  35.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 30th, 2012 @ 3:15pm

    Re:

    "really ought to protest"

    The only effective protest that the US people has available is to vote the bums out. No amount of complaint to the existing bad guys, who are doing all this stuff, will work. They have been ignoring complaints for decades. Why should they stop?

    Get organized. Do your duty, US voters.

     

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

  36.  
    identicon
    CodeZero, Jan 30th, 2012 @ 3:24pm

    Re: Re:

    "America is not the worst offender in the world."


    Dont make me laugh. American and it's insidious culture is the most dangerous threat to humanity that has ever existed on planet earth.

    How many other countries are conducting two illegal wars, have stockpiles of nuclear weapons larger than any other, spend most of their budget (which is four or five times more than anyone else, while being trillions of dollars in debt) on more weapons. Meanwhile their own people are being turfed from houses. The USA now tries to control the internet for the sake of a few multinational corporation, and have a tame press that plays nicely with all this.

    And that is just scratching the surface. Whoever you are you don't know the first thing about reality.

    The most offensive thing is the total hypocrisy and denial.

     

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  37.  
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    nasch (profile), Jan 30th, 2012 @ 4:28pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    China is growing at 9% per year

    Actually they're all worried recently because their growth rate dropped to around 7%.

     

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

  38.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Jan 30th, 2012 @ 4:29pm

    Re: Re:

    No amount of complaint to the existing bad guys, who are doing all this stuff, will work.

    Did you not notice how it worked on SOPA/PIPA?

     

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

  39.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 30th, 2012 @ 5:25pm

    Re:

    "It's not silly because we said so!"

    Convincing argument.

     

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

  40.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 30th, 2012 @ 7:19pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    > As for China mainly keeping to itself. I don't think those in Taiwan or Tibet agree with you.

    Well... I think in the view of Chinese officials, Taiwan and Tibert issues are "herself" issues. So in their eyes, it's other countries stepping in her business, not the other way round.

     

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

  41.  
    icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jan 30th, 2012 @ 11:04pm

    Re: Re:

    It is only painful because the US is in the AA meeting and still refuses to admit its a drunk.

    If we upheld the same standards we demand of others we would be leading by example, but to publicly say A while doing B C D (the same things we called everyone else out for) makes us hypocrites. One can not claim the moral high ground unless one is actually moral, not just moral when other people might see.

     

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

  42.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 31st, 2012 @ 12:53am

    Re: Re:

    Yes, because majority voting actually works in the US.

     

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

  43.  
    icon
    dcee (profile), Jan 31st, 2012 @ 3:34am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Leading by example would be something. Leading by forcing the world to be like you want it to be, not so good.

    You are not a leader, you are a bully.

     

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

  44.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Jan 31st, 2012 @ 7:25am

    Re: Re: Re:

    It is only painful because the US is in the AA meeting and still refuses to admit its a drunk.

    We don't have a problem, we could stop bullying other countries whenever we want. We'll stop, just, you know, next year. This just isn't a good time.

     

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

  45.  
    identicon
    Noone@Nowhere, Jan 31st, 2012 @ 2:29pm

    Voting.

    What, exactly, does voting do? Emma Goldman said, "If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal." While I don't agree with that statement on a community level (I do vote), I need only point of the Obummer's grassroots campaign followed by the corporate buyout that rendered his pre-president ideals null to verify that, in fact, the politicians you "trust" enough to put in office will vote in a stupid majority to indefinitely detain ANYONE. US or not, that is treasonous, and it was done by your electorate. Stop acting like voting = democracy. You have to assert your ENTIRE presence into your government to hold them accountable, and not only does is that incapable of starting at a stupid ballot box, the ballot box is rendered a useless trinket inside a broken system that paints your ballot with loads and loads and loads of capital.

    Further proof? He with the most campaign contributions wins 94% of the time. This American market has turned every thing into TV drama, and the only reason anyone has time to pay attention (while they themselves work endlessly for the goal of accumulation and/or withdraw silently to avoid putting a bullet in their head) is because the clowns that manage to stumble over their corrupt feet in search of accumulation make us all feel a little better about our own role (or lack thereof) at the stupid ballot box.

    Further proof? Look at all those tea party candidates that make up the Congress with a lower approval rating than communism.

    You simply cannot vote when the ideology you support is influenced by money, and when it takes all that money to "get the votes," the only people that make it there are the ones cut throat enough to sell you the hell out. Anyone incapable of seeing that doesn't deserve to vote in the first place, and fixing that problem by voting is... well, let's just say this: "And I'm the idealist?"

     

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

  46.  
    identicon
    Robert, Feb 1st, 2012 @ 8:02pm

    The big problem here is whether or not the redactions would have a material impact upon the next election. If those redactions would impact elections, the the sitting administration is conspiring to obstruct democracy.
    Also of those redaction hide crimes then those that do the redacting are accessories after the fact in those crimes.
    Obviously all redaction should in fact need to pass a judicial board to ensure nothing is redacted that the public should have access to.

     

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


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