Cryptome: Often Heroic, but Sometimes Creepy

Cryptome is a website run by the mysterious (in the sense that we've never actually managed to meet) John Young. It has long been a cornerstone of the movement to publish government secrets that shouldn't be secret, especially about communications interceptions and cryptography.

Cryptome has done sterling service in reprinting published works that governments tried to suppress. It's been a thorn in the side of the UK government, for example, which has tried to recall and suppress published books. Every week is a small trove of interesting documents, most from public sources but some from anonymous, that have to do with spying or national security.

That's the heroic part. Now for the slightly creepy part.

Recently Cryptome has been publishing an “eyeballing” series—satellite photos of interesting places…including the homes of public figures involved in clandestine or security work. I understand the point John's trying to make—they can see us with their eyes in the sky, so why shouldn't we see them. Nevertheless, aren't the aireal photos of the residences of Karl Rove, John Ashcroft, George Tenet and Valerie Plame ever so slightly creepy? Not to mention the publication of their addresses and what purports to be George Tenet's phone number. I love the idea of the CIA Chief having a listed phone number, but this doesn't seem likely to encourage him to keep it that way. And this sort of treatment is not going to encourage the right sort of people to go into public service (I know, I know, they have all the data on us, turnabout is fair play, etc.) Please understand that I'm not saying it should be banned—just questioning if it's wise.

And then I really get antsy about this: I think Cryptome's going too far when it argues:

The idiot furor over naming Valerie Plame as a CIA officer, and the CIA's phony call for an investigation, should not obscure the need to name as many intelligence officers and agents as possible. It is a hoary canard — long-practiced intelligence disinforation — that naming these persons places their life in jeopardy. On the contrary, not identifying them places far more lives in jeorpardy from their vile, secret operations and the overthrow plots they advance. These officers, their agencies and governmental funders want their names kept secret so they do not have to face retribution for cowardly misdeeds they are fearful of executing openly.

Shamefully, the US continues to lead the world in criminal covert actions and secret agents, but it is hardly alone. Cryptome welcomes such secret names for publication, from any country in the world.

I don't support the overthrow of foreign governments by covert means. (And I think that people who can be outed by John Young are generally people who could be outed by the Bad Guys.) But I do support the gathering of intelligence, including by covert means. One thing the Iraq crisis teaches us is that bringing decision makers face to face with reality is less destabilizing and more conducive to peace than letting them stew in their fact-free paranoid imaginings.

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2 Responses to Cryptome: Often Heroic, but Sometimes Creepy

  1. Ralph says:

    Knowing intimately a few operations and participants,

    I’m not one to support complete secrecy.

    If there’s a cancer in the agency it should be examined and eliminated. If that means an exposure, so be it.

    Plame was dedicated and her work honorable. For every one of her there’s fourteen of the others. Republicans have become their own nightmare, set-up their own ultimate destruction. Tit for tat we say inside, give us time and we’re taking the ball and bat home when we leave.

    We’re betting ten bucks on the Taliban. We not only can manufacture a winner, we know one when we see one. He’s not our preferred type of gentleman, but he has ten times the honor as this current self-proclaimed President.

    We feel America’s been taken hostage, but redress is difficult when people defend it. Led is what I should say.

    Bush’s boys are far more deadly than you think they are. I promise that.

  2. Handy Fuse says:

    The gathering of intelligence does not depend upon “secret” intelligence agents (humint). In fact, humint seems to have been of almost no value in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion. If anything, it produced the greatest distortions of the situation.

    The UN inspectors were intelligence agents, were in no way secret and were grudgingly accepted by Saddam Hussein. They also produced the best intelligence. Of course, the CIA tried to get in on the act, with harmful consequences at the time.

    Of course, just because a course is harmful and/or ineffective doesn’t mean it won’t be pursued with vigor by the government.

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