Thursday, December 18, 2014

Vae Victis

Vae victis. Woe to the vanquished. 

It was reminiscent of the Gauls sacking Rome. Sony Picture's capitulation to the demands of state sponsored hackers this week marks a significant battle lost on the cyberbattlefield. Hackers widely attributed to North Korea forced Sony Pictures to withdraw the release of the film The Interview in exchange for withholding a damaging trove of data already extracted from the studio's servers. Data previously released by the hackers includes employee banking information, controversial email exchanges between executives, and studio salary information - the proverbial severed finger in the box sent to the distraught family. One can only imagine what more the hackers' threatened "Christmas Present" could possibly contain. The fallout from the Sony Pictures hack has not only created severe reverberations within the company, but globally across C-Level suites. Organizational leaders are turning to their CIOs and asking what damaging information resides on their servers and is it ever possible to secure them.

The aftermath at Sony Pictures is a trip back in time. Sony Pictures has resorted to removing physical machines, temporarily forcing employees to share one or two computers and printers for an entire office. Now employees are embracing face-to-face meetings to get work done as many corporate devices are simply unavailable. While the subsequent increase in direct human interaction is welcome (as it would be in most large organizations), there remains a challenge in capturing the new learning that is critical to the evolving corporate memory. This is the price to be paid for less-secure legacy enterprise systems such as email. The new call to action will be to move to highly secure, dedicated internal communication platforms with in-transit and at-rest encryption.

Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it. 
Over 2300 years ago, the Gauls sacked Rome in the Battle of Allia. The Gallic general Brennus admonished the Romans that one should not complain about the price exacted under the terms of their surrender. The Gauls extorted the Romans in exchange for leaving the city and literally tipped the scales used to weigh the gold in their favor. The Roman leader Camillus quickly arrived with the Roman army and threw his sword on the scale saying, "Not gold, but steel redeems the native land." A fight ensued and the Romans regained control of their city and eventually vanquished the Gallic forces. Camillus was later considered a second Romulus, or second founder of Rome, and there are more than a few organizations reeling from data breaches right now trying to identify their own Camillus.

One of the lessons learned from the Gauls sacking Rome was that the ancient city defenses were woefully inadequate or non-existent, so they built the Servian Wall, a defense so strong it repelled Hannibal during the Second Punic War. This is certainly Sony Pictures' call to action, and that of many global enterprises. It is time to move off of email to highly secure enterprise platforms in order to repel the next attack. Combined with best practices around password and data security, these new Servian Walls should help stem the tide of attacking hordes. 

While Sony Pictures and others have no guarantee that the highly sensitive data already extracted from their servers will not be used against them in the future, they can certainly prevent it from ever happening again and hand defeat back to their attackers. Then they can say to them, woe to the vanquished.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Omnia dicta fortiora si dicta Latina

Omnia dicta fortiora si dicta Latina: everything sounds more impressive when said in Latin.

Lucius Caecilius Iucundus
I took Latin in 6th grade. It was one of the most important classes in all my years of school as it introduced me to a foundational language of science, the root of the romance languages, and a common denominator of the classically educated. Our first text (in the Cambridge Latin Course) followed the family of Lucius Caecilius Iucundus, a Roman banker living in Pompeii in the 1st century. Caecilius, his wife Metella, and their son Quintus, lived in a fine home with their slaves Grumio, Clemens and Melissa. We learned about their daily lives, preparing meals, shopping and even dealing with the dangers of the versipellis (werewolf) during a full moon. In the course of a year we all became Caecilius (ego sum Caecilius), living as the Roman through his experiences.

Then one night Vesuvius erupts and everyone dies. Except Quintus who goes on to the next book. Seriously?

As much as the traumatic death of Caecilius by pyroclastic flow also scarred me forever, learning Latin left a far deeper impression. It helped me during my medical career (when you see "qid," or quater in die, it means four times a day), being far better at reading French, Spanish, Italian or Portuguese than I would ever be speaking them, and understanding a key maxim: nihil novi sub sole - there is nothing new under the sun... because the Romans did it first.

Well actually, the Greeks did it first. Or, was it the Egyptians? Mesopotamians? Fred Flintstone. Learning Latin taught me that the roots of modern language are buried deeply in ancient cultures and the daily challenges people faced in life: birth, death, peace, war, peace, war, charity, greed, commerce... None of these are new to mankind, and it turns out there are plenty of words to describe today's "newer" human behaviors, even with a "dead" language like Latin. Collaboration? Collaboratus. Community? Communitas.

People have always known how to work together in groups, so it is curious that it seems to be such a new and difficult concept for some individuals and organizations to grasp. And often we turn to the old to validate the new. And so I'll list a few Latin phrases that seem especially apropos for technologists, social enterprises and collaborative communities today to make your arguments for anything social far more impressive:

Buid si ea non sunt - If you buid it, they will not come
Mutantur omnia nos et mutamur in illis - All things change, and we change with them
Respice, adspice, prospice - Look to the past, the present, the future
Vox populi vox dei - The voice of the people is the voice of God
Ipsa scientia potestas est - Knowledge is power
Si vis pacem, para bellum - If you want peace, prepare for the war.
Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis - The times change, and we change with them
Abusus non tollit usum - Wrong use does not preclude proper use
Bibere venenum in auro - Drink poison from a cup of gold
Brevior saltare cum deformibus viris est vita - Life is too short to dance with ugly men
Cave ab homine unius libri - Beware of anyone who has just one book
Damnant quod non intellegunt - They condemn what they do not understand
Deus ex machina - God from the machine
Exceptio probat regulam de rebus non exceptis - The exception establishes the rule
Facilius per partes in cognitionem totius adducimur - It is easier to understand the whole, piece by piece
Gutta cavat lapidem, non vi sed saepe cadendo - A drop hollows out a stone, not by force but by falling often
Machina improba! - Wicked machine!
Mihi cura futuri - My concern is the future
Ne auderis delere orbem rigidum meum! - Don't you dare erase my hard disk!
Nihil curo de ista tua stulta superstitione - I do not care about your stupid superstition
Nihil est incertius volgo - Nothing is more uncertain than the crowd
Nisi credideritis, non intelligetis - Without belief, there is no understanding (especially useful for executives that just don't get it)
Non omne quod licet honestum est - Not everything that is permitted is honest
Non scholae sed vitae discimus - We do not learn for school, but for life
Nosce te ipsum - Know thyself
Probae esti in segetem sunt deteriorem datae fruges, tamen ipsae suaptae enitent - A good seed, planted even in poor soil, will bear rich fruit by its own nature
Purgamentum init, exit purgamentum - Garbage in, garbage out

Also useful:
Sentio aliquos togatos contra me conspirare - I think some people in togas are plotting against me
Si fallatis officium, quaestor infitias eat se quicquam scire de factis vestris - If you fail, the secretary will disavow all knowledge of your activities

So, in my best 6th grade Latin I will sign off with: Bonum commune communitatis collaboremus - collaborate for the good of the community.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Enterprise 2.0 - The Seven Year Itch

2011 marks the seventh year of the Enterprise 2.0 Conference, a critical milestone to be sure. The Boston session moved to the Hynes Convention Center and some of the biggest players in technology made their presence felt: Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, & Avaya. There was a common theme around where social enterprise is going and where the focus should be: collaboration feeds the deep human need of being connected and having a voice. And since passionate employees tend to be twice as connected, can the promise of social enterprise’s greater connectivity begin to restore passion in the workplace? And what kind of technologies and leaders do we need to make this happen?
MIT's Andrew McAfee explained in his keynote address that old-fashioned bosses are still the biggest threat to social enterprise advances. To make social enterprise software effective, we need to focus on what computers are bad at: the Eureka! moments. How do we take the flow of information passing through the organization, and develop those differentiating insights that become the future value proposition? The danger, at the end of the day, is not that computers will think like people, but rather, people will start to think like computers and we will lose organizational creativity.
This was certainly echoed later during the Business Leadership Roundtable by Marcia Conner, Fellow, Enterprise Collaboration at Altimeter Group: Enterprise culture has caused us to check our personalities at the door. Those people were just alive just a few moments ago when they were outside the door. What happened? We need to bring our full selves to work! The Dachis Group’s Lee Bryant added during his keynote that social business isn't just about direct collaboration. It's a about dynamic signal & ambient sharing around the enterprise. Organizations must refine the way they interpret data for maximum effect.
Sara Roberts of Roberts Golden pointed out that we can't incentivize employees to horde knowledge and then expect them to share, and the pervasive culture of many organizations has everyone but top management acting as choice-less doers. The reality is that line employees are building mental models for the customer segment, but those insights are often not valued or captured by the organization. And when employees leave the organization, they are taking their best ideas with them if the culture and technology has not been put in place to create an information legacy. A strong case for the value of social CRM.
Successful social enterprise software deployments begin with a simple problem, relevancy and immediacy. Yahoo's Kristen Sanders discussed building "The Source" with Appirio, a replacement for Yahoo’s “stinky, dirty information landfills.” She discussed the importance of both creating a governance model to avoid creating yet more digital landfills, and thoroughly understanding user requirements in order to build a healthy environment. Yahoo’s implementation success was based on two key factors: Salesforce Chatter implementation was straightforward and the initiative was business led and addressed real pain points and use cases. Kristen pointed out that a platform must be agile, mobile and integrated, and the technology must keep up with the conversation and solve globally, something Yahoo was able to achieve with Appirio in implementing Salesforce Chatter.
I spoke on a panel with Sovos Group co-founder Oliver Marks, Moxie’s Megan Murray and Saba’s (and The Career Within You author) Ingrid Stabb on Balancing Business Leadership with Governance, Regulatory and Compliance Realities. Two key takeaways from the session were to engage compliance early and often when implementing collaborative technologies, and that the future of HR is to take a stronger, leading roll in designing the employee experience. And part of that design must include embracing social enterprise software to not only understand what is driving employee behavior, but to direct behaviors in ways that are mutually beneficial to the individual and the organization.
Jive’s Chris Morace reminded us that 70% of enterprise employees are using unsanctioned cloud apps. In fact, evidence shows 35% of employees are spending their own money on social software at work so they can get things done when corporate systems fail to deliver. People want the same tools they have access to outside of work inside of work, and so they will find a way to get them even when it violates policy. This creates a huge compliance headache and ultimately impacts HR’s ability to recruit and retain employees when these tools and behaviors are absent.
EA’s Bert Sandi identified three elements critical to collaboration: head, hearts & hands. He challenged the audience: is your physical environment collaborative? And once you are more than 35ft. apart, you might as well be in a different building, so what does social enterprise collaboration look like in your organization? And so Bert really addressed what is the social enterprise itch... Can we access the tacit knowledge contained in the heads of employees, engage their hearts and make them passionate once again about walking through the door, and can we put in their hands the tools necessary to get the job done and create institutional memory? After seven years the E2.0 Conference is showing us how to scratch that itch.

Dr. Steve Elmore is Business Architect for Collaboration at Appirio and develops organizational blueprints for the launch of collaborative initiatives. Steve serves on the faculties of University of Phoenix and Grand Canyon University and sits on the board of the Central Texas SPCA. In addition to a Doctor of Business Administration, Steve holds an MBA in Global Management and a BS in Business Management. Steve has been published in the Journal of Leadership Studies, co-authored with best-selling business writer Don Tapscott, and is a regular conference speaker. You can follow him on Twitter @steveelmore.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

It Takes a Village... Idiot

We are in the process of creating what deserves to be called the idiot culture. Not an idiot sub-culture, which every society has bubbling beneath the surface and which can provide harmless fun; but the culture itself. For the first time, the weird and the stupid and the coarse are becoming our cultural norm, even our cultural ideal. - Carl Bernstein (b. 1944), U.S. journalist. Guardian (London, June 3, 1992).

In software development the joke goes that it is pointless to spend too much time idiot-proofing a product, as you'll soon just be confronted by a better idiot. Idiocy takes many forms, and finds its origins in everything from a lack of mental capacity to a lack of applying mental capacity. Thinking like an idiot for the non-idiot developer or community manager is an art form, and begs the question, how idiotic should your prevention get?

Foundational norms that address idiocy tend to be old and proactive: we guarantee certain freedoms to prevent some idiot from trampling them. By contrast, new constraints are generally created reactively, and for the simple reason that we cannot possibly imagine all the things idiots might do to hurt themselves and others. Even if we could imagine with the greatest of idiots, there is usually insufficient probability - no one could be that stupid! [enter new idiot, stage left]. 

So, we create new constraints in nearsighted hindsight. And when the actions of village idiots like Richard Reid cause us to change laws and behaviors (taking our shoes off during airport screening), we also create a greenfield for unintended consequences: increasing the level of frustration with air travel security and concern over the increasing intrusion of government and erosion of personal liberties. And this certainly applies to social media. There is nothing more irritating than filling out some impossible to read Captcha just to be able to post a public response because some idiot created a spam robot.

Village Life
Villages need rules constructed on foundations that are timeless and universal (a consequence of prior idiots): self-determination, equality, freedom of thought...

Ecclesiastes 8:8: There is no man that has power over the spirit, to retain it; neither has he power in the day of death.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 18: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
Words written thousands of years apart, but based on common, enduring precepts.

There are similar, enduring (hopefully) foundations for social media:

  • Participation - harnessing the power of mass collaboration through user participation.
  • Collective - participants gathering around a unifying entity (i.e Facebook).
  • Transparency - participants get to see, use, reuse, augment, validate, critique and rate each other’s contributions.
  • Independence - any participant can contribute completely independent of any other participant, time, place, or technology.
  • Persistence - participant contributions are captured in a persistent state for others to view, share and augment.
  • Emergence - you can’t predict, model, design and control all human collaborative interactions and optimize them as you would a fixed business process.
Without a foundational underpinning for interaction, it is nearly impossible to maintain current norms or address emerging ones. Additionally, there is no way to adequately architect a future state without a deep, historical understanding and appreciation for the current state. 

This is why sometimes it takes an idiot to better know the village.

Village Idiots
We face the fundamental challenge of the village idiot: how do we maintain our foundational underpinnings in the face of new and improved idiots? There are certainly a number of ways designers of social media technology protect the non-idiot from idiots: authentication, access, moderation, organization. Those responsible for managing social media platforms take great pains to moderate their environments, and even communities themselves can be highly effective at self-moderation. But the relative anonymity afforded by social media makes the idiot a moving if not invisible target, and sometimes idiocy within a community is the norm.

Truly, the greatest threat to the village is overreacting to the idiot. This applies to the developers as well as the villagers. This is not to say the idiot simply should be ignored, but a balance must be struck between discouraging unwanted behavior and creating a punishing experience for everyone. Punishing aspects of social media already appear in the onerous steps some platforms add in order for users to participate, such as convoluted registration processes (a reason Google and Facebook Connect have gained so much traction), or rigid, permission-based architectures (read enterprise) that stifle creativity and participation.

Additionally, the villagers themselves can be punishing: heavy handed moderation by community managers, ostracizing users, and overreacting to any content that irritates anyone's thin skin. Community managers must study and understand elements of group psychology (i.e. polarization, social loafing, bystander effect) and negotiation (depersonalize issues, soften entrenched positions, create options, etc.).

Villagers should:

  • Promote a wide spectrum of ideas
  • Depersonalize issues
  • Maintain a friendly tone
  • Use non-punishing language
  • Encourage honest debate
  • Stay on point
  • Never leave mad
So, let the village treat the idiot with grace... lest we become idiots ourselves.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Alter ipse amicus

Alter ipse amicus: A friend is another self

Is that a friend or contact? We must discern between the two, as social media has made the act of friending into a meaningless competition that often deludes people into a false sense of self. A few years ago, a colleague and I conducted an experiment on a now defunct social platform to better understand the role of social influencers (highly connected people) in building a personal network. We found that by using a persona to only friend complete strangers with 500 or more friends, we were able to quickly build a network of over 1000 friends in a matter of weeks. We also studied how some superficial changes in that persona became highly magnetic and dramatically increased the rate of friend requests. After finally destroying the persona, we concluded that we had to clearly define friend and contact, differentiate the two, and create distinct weightings when determining their level of influence in the social graph.

On Christmas Day, 2010, Simone Black posted on her Facebook page that she was taking her own life. None of her 1082 friends did anything to stop it, and some even mocked her. This is not the first time someone used a social platform to broadcast their intent to do harm and there was total inaction by that individual's social network. We do not know enough of Ms. Black or her friends to launch any kind of blanket indictment, but this tragedy speaks to several issues:

People can be incredibly callous to the pain and suffering of others
The current state of humankind leaves much to be desired. There is room for much improvement in our regard for one another, as evident by increasing attacks on the most vulnerable. Ian Birrell of Mail Online writes:
Every day, people with disabilities are attacked in their homes, spat on in the street and taunted in their towns. And every year, this torrent of abuse, bullying and torture ends with more and more names on the list of those who die in terrible circumstances simply because they are disabled.
It is symptomatic of a larger emotional disconnect to our fellow man. But it is not just the clearly disabled who are at risk, it is anyone who demonstrates or perceives that they have any level of weakness or vulnerability. And so people develop a range of defense mechanisms, from preemptive behaviors marked by unusual aggression, to building extensive but shallow social networks that provide a false sense of community or mutual consideration. This movement from fostering meaningful, permanent friendships to casual, temporal friendships is often based on the mistaken sense that they carry the same weight. They generally do not.

There often remains a fundamental emotional disconnect when using technology for asynchronous communication and social interaction
In the 1990's email emerged as the communication medium of choice, but there arose the issue of flame mails: communication that was hostile, inflammatory and generally counterproductive. At the heart of the issue was a new communication medium that had not yet developed its own rules of decorum, and people mistook the ability to write with ease, relative anonymity and immediacy as a parallel for handwritten communication. It became apparent that the thought and deliberation that went into letter writing did not carry over as often to email, and the ease of distribution and redistribution introduced an entirely new and problematic dynamic. Over time best practices emerged to address the issued created by electronic communication. As with the mass adoption of email, we now see the same period of whitewater from the disruptive qualities of new social media technologies and the corresponding lack of best practices.

We are experiencing a rapid increase in technology-driven social engineering, and we should be cautious of what are essentially untested ideas and new behaviors that do not always transcend generations, cultures or even exhibit common sense. As someone behind the development of new collaborative technologies, I constantly ask myself, is this a good idea? Sometimes it is not. And sometimes it is not for me, but it may be for others and so it is built. But the rule of unintended consequences should always be considered, and where technology fails to consider social consequences, we must develop our own methods and best practices for dealing with them, or simply opt out.

There needs to be differentiation between friends and contacts - they are not the same
Recently I unfriended almost 200 people on Facebook. It was not that I didn't like them, but they were not what I could define as friends for a number of reasons:
  • I never have or will meet them in person
  • They friend me and then don't interact with me afterwards
  • They are completely inactive
  • They are strictly a business contact
  • I feel uncomfortable due to their lack of personal familiarity and that they can see into my personal world
  • They have creepy friends
There is a certain irony in the occasional uproar over personal security on Facebook. What most users fail to consider is that the accounts of their friends are the critical point of vulnerability. You can easily hide all of you personal information from the public, but if someone hacks your friends' account you have created a trusted pathway to the very people you were trying to avoid. As a result, I do not keep inactive friends on Facebook.

Aristotle declares, alter ipse amicus: a friend is another self. I must recognize my self in my friend and my friend in me. Genuine friendship is defined not only by a friend who acts for his friend's sake, but is also aware of his friend by knowing him. I think this is why we need to make the distinction between friends and contacts and use the appropriate technologies for each:
 friends - Facebook, contacts - LinkedIn. 
And so there may be this grey area for some that straddle the friend v. contact chasm, and this is where we need to develop new norms and behaviors to distinguish between each in an era of social media that frequently has difficulty in recognizing the difference.

Monday, January 3, 2011

L’arte di non fare niente

L’arte di non fare niente: the art of doing nothing.

I first heard this expression in Eat, Love, Pray, and it really resonated. I am hyper-connected for better or for worse, and multitask with the best of them. The iPhone and iPad, in particular, make it possible to watch TV, respond to emails, follow the news, FB (yes, it is now a verb), and play Angry Birds all at the same time. I can't say that this is actually good for my brain and I wonder how perpetual hyperactivity affects my emotions and response mechanisms.

I noticed towards the end of 2010 that I had become increasingly agitated, and so I used the Holiday break to throttle back my social media interaction, email and other forms of electronic communication. I will admit I raised my Angry Birds score over 16 million, and I watched the most football ever, but much of my time was spent vegging and just enjoying my kids. I was very unproductive, but it was one of the most relaxing breaks I've had and my batteries are certainly recharged.

I think certain cultures lend themselves more easily to l’arte di non fare niente, especially those that originated in warm climates where midday inactivity is necessary to survive or at least remain productive. Like ethnic cultures, organizational cultures develop in response to their environments and create corresponding survival habits. Perhaps its time to examine the habits we are fostering in a Web 2.0 world and ask ourselves if we are spending enough time (if any) disconnecting from electronic communication and social media. It might be prescriptive to sometimes just experience life rather than share every moment of it. And it might be good for your soul. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Gerwitz gets to the heart of the matter.

ZDNet's David Gerwitz nails the underlying issues with Wikileaks. Alarmist headline, but he makes a great point...

Special Report: Could Wikileaks cause World War III or the end of the world?

By David Gewirtz | November 28, 2010, 11:29pm PST


Trust can be all that stands between us and terrible circumstance, whether that’s the breakup of a family or total, nuclear Armageddon.
It’s a simple, one syllable word. If you think about it, trust is all that stands between us and terrible circumstance, whether that’s the breakup of a family or total, nuclear Armageddon.
Trust is vitally important to the operations of nations and governments, as well. Not everyone, for example, is entrusted with America’s nuclear codes. Not everyone is entrusted with the command of virtually independent nuclear ballistic missile submarines. And not everyone is entrusted with secret government documents.
For many things, trust has to be selective. It’s not a good idea, as an example, to put controlling nuclear weapons on the honor system. My friends worry enough when I get around a good fireworks store or wax poetic about plasma torches — they wouldn’t feel comfortable if I had nukes.
Yet, we have to trust some people. It’s not possible to do everything yourself. Working parents must trust someone to watch their newborn. Bosses who can’t do everything themselves, or be in multiple places at oncemust put some trust in their employees.
Because the United States is a large nation with many interests all over the world, our military and diplomatic leadership must put some trust into the lower-level men and women who move and analyze tremendous amounts of information the world over. Even if they’re only 22.
And so it came to be that the great nation of the United States of America entrusted Bradley Manning — a young Private First Class of the U.S. 10th Mountain Division in Iraq, a former school dropout and pizza greeter — with handling message traffic considered confidential and not for foreign eyes.
While most American soldiers are more than worthy of our trust, respect, and thanks, young Bradley was not. Manning, without any formal training or education in geopolitical affairs, without the ability to see all the national security ramifications, and without the ability to understand (or possibly even care) about the lives that would inevitably be lost, took it upon himself to betray the sacred trust granted him by the United States military.
There are always people willing to take advantage of naive young people in positions of trust.  So it came to pass that Manning’s betrayal had an outlet, in the person of an ambitious foreign narcissist named Julian Assange, a man so amoral he tried to blackmail Amnesty International.
But naivety and audience can’t act alone.
There must also be opportunity.  Beyond the need to entrust our diplomatic security to 22-year-old dropouts — we have another serious security flaw. We allow removable media, iPods, smartphones, and thumb drives behind the firewall.
I have been banging on this drum for years now. Over and over, I have toldpoliticians, military leaders, homeland security professionals*, and the American people that these tiny handheld devices pose a tremendous security risk.
For a while, it seemed like the Pentagon, at least, was going to take some action. They put a ban on USB drives in the military. But then, after only a year, they substantially reduced the ban’s effectiveness.
I’m telling you this because, according to The Guardian, Manning stole more than 250,000 confidential diplomatic cables (all of 1.6 gigabytes of data) by smuggling a thumb drive and a re-writable CD labeled “Lady Gaga” into work, filled them, and then forwarded them to a waiting Assange.
While it’s not clear whether or not Manning’s betrayal could have been prevented by better security procedures, it certainly could have been made more difficult. Even so, now we’re left with the fallout.
I’m not going to recount the sordid details of what was contained in those not-for-foreign-eyes diplomatic cables. First, I don’t believe they should be public and, second, many other publications, including The New York Times, are publishing the leaks.
I’m also not going to tell you that nothing contained in those cables was disturbing. Instead, I’ll tell you why we (and every other nation) keep some information to ourselves, or release information only in carefully controlled circumstances.
International diplomacy is a precise dance.
Although some nations are vastly larger and vastly wealthier than others, it is a facade of diplomatic protocol that all nations and all leaders are treated as equals — at least in public. Many nations (and the U.S., in particular) maintain protocol offices to make sure that every diplomatic interaction goes according to plan, stays on message, and doesn’t offend (unless, of course,it’s time to not be nice).
Internal national politics, on the other hand, is a gutter fight.
Nations must communicate with other nations according to an established protocol, but the leaders who make that national policy must always answer to their constituents. If the leaders can’t seem to maintain an upper hand, can’t demand respect, and aren’t seen to be getting things done, those leaders are usually replaced.
The challenge is that diplomacy is always a give-and-take sort of thing. When nations bargain with other nations, sometimes it goes smoothly, sometimes there’s horse-trading, and sometimes there’s pressure to be applied. Whenever two leaders negotiate, each wants to come back to his or her country and brag about how he won the negotiation. Neither wants to lose face.
As we all know, people will do incredibly idiotic things to protect their honor. So will leaders.
I’ve written previously about how the documents leaked by Wikileaks could cause people to die. Wikileaks hasn’t redacted the information about confidential informants, and it’s likely that these informants — in large numbers — will be executed by their factions over the coming weeks and months.
That’s bad enough. But many national leaders would prefer to project bravado, send people to war, and engage in years-long conflicts with other nations rather than lose face or admit a mistake.
Here is where the Wikileaks risk is extreme. Manning and Assange “outed” confidential negotiations (and, yes, pressure) about nuclear defense issues. They “outed” defensive tactics America was taking against cyberwarfare advances by certain other nations. They “outed” the procedures we’re going through to find “homes” for Guantanamo prisoners. They “outed” discussions about protecting Americans from terrorists.
Each of these disclosures will likely cause leaders to do damage control. Because diplomacy always involves more than one player, the damage control will be different from nation to nation. Nations that were in some level of agreement (whether coerced or not) will now find that, for political reasons, they must agree to not agree.
For some nations, the fact that this information is now public will prevent them from being able to compromise. For some nations, the fact that this information is now public will prevent them from being able to trust.
If you think about it, trust can be all that stands between us and terrible circumstance, whether that’s the breakup of a family or total, nuclear Armageddon.