Wicked leaks?

This blog has been in abeyance for some time, owing to pressure of other things, but the enforced idleness imposed by the snow, plus a couple of recent events, have triggered the desire to blog again.

I must confess to feeling somewhat ambivalent about the Wikileaks business. I know I would be very put out if, e.g., our Vestry felt it could not fly kites in private, for fear of being quoted out of context. When I was a line manager (horrible phrase), I took care not to make proposals known to colleagues until they were mature (the proposals, that is). I was determined that half-baked or provisional or adventurous ideas would not become the stuff of rumour and paranoia.

Confidentiality is even more defensible when large diplomatic or security issues are at stake, and when lives may even be put at risk.

Having said that, my anarchist streak makes me have a sneaking sympathy with Julian Assange, even allowing for the fact that he is probably carrying on a vindictive vendetta against the US. There is too much being done in our name that is being kept secret from us.

Nevertheless, the most valuable revelations of the last few years (e.g., abuse of civilians in Iraq) have become public knowledge through the efforts of investigative journalism, which ultimately works under some sort of accountability, however tenuous. To whom is JA accountable?


14 responses to “Wicked leaks?

  1. Why should he be accountable to anyone?

  2. Because power without accountability is one of the greatest dangers to our world and to civil society. He has enormous power – even over human lives, if the perceived threats to security are true.

  3. Agreed, Alison. Besides, since he claims to be acting in the public interest, he owes it to the public to engage in some consideration of whether his revelations actually do serve the public interest. Some of them may, but I am not convcined that they all do.

  4. Kennedy Fraser

    Nick Baines has something to say about this:


    I think his drawing a distinction between confidentiality and secrecy is a valuable one.


  5. Chris Athorne

    If governments can’t defend their own securities then can it really be up to individuals to do it for them?

    The question is: Which are the defensible ways in which governments should defend which things?

    But, closer to home Eamonn, I’m alarmed by what you say about Vestries! I can see that confidentiality applies to matters of individual, personal detail but to apply it to “kite flying” on a body which is representative of a congregation and which is neither a private club nor an executive body seems to me unnecessary. I feel exceedingly uncomfortable finding myself in such “closed” situations. Has the congregation no interest in or input of value to the half-baked and adventurous? How is a vestry member to form an opinion if open discussion is not allowed? When one only allows proposals to go public when mature one excludes the body of the congregation from influence at the formative stages, and, often as not, presents it with a couple of final options one of which is often, in my experience, just a foil to the other. And it doesn’t prevent rumour and paranoia anyway.

  6. Good to hear from you, Chris! Welcome to this somewhat intermittent blog.

    I agree that rumour and paranoia are not preventable. Open discussion is certainly allowed in our Vestry, and, on occasions when major structural or policy decisions are to be taken, involves a meeting to which the whole congregation is invited. Furthermore, we have a mechanism whereby individual members can submit comments, which are then considered at the next Vestry meeting. But there have to be occasions when bodies like Vestries need to have the freedom to think the unthinkable without the fear that members will subsequently be accused of wanting to do things that no-one is proposing doing. It has happened in my experience, not only in church but at work as well.

    Incidentally, the Vestry is an executive body, part of the government structure of the Diocese.

  7. Yes it’s been a long time since our days with the GCC, Eamonn. I’m not a blogger myself but I saw your’s on the side of Anne Tomlinson’s to which I’d contributed so I strolled over and your remarks caught my eye, the issue being of some concern to me.
    I stand corrected on the executive front, Eamonn. Thank you.
    Nevertheless the antidote to being “accused of wanting to do things that no-one is proposing doing” is surely open and accurate reporting of proceedings. I have two concerns with your view though I know it is uniformly shared by the rest of the diocese. I prefer, myself, to be in the minority.
    The first concern is why vestry members are somehow capable of coping with the unthinkable but that the rest of us not. I’m an adult and so, so far as I can see, is the vast majority of the congregation to which I belong. I’d like to see the vestry thinking. The idea that I might be upset by that or be driven to irresponsible actions I find faintly patronising.
    The second concern is that by allowing “confidentiality” for kite-flying is that it starts to get applied to everything that carries a whiff of contention about it. The vestry reports/minutes then become the “Cow and Gate” version adapted to the percieved immaturity of the congretational digestive system.
    Really the only point I can see in such blanket confidentiality is that it is comfortable for the upper echelons of the church hierarchy. No tricky questions in public. Savoir = Pouvoir. Oui?

  8. Far be it from me to patronise congregations, Chris! More than my life is worth! And I take your point about the dangers of applying confidentiality to things that are merely embarrassing for the powers that be.

    I guess my main concern stems from experience of situations (not solely in church, BTW) where because of premature leaks, people got hold of the wrong end of the stick, and no amount of persuasion that their view was erroneous would convince them otherwise. This meant that the executive’s considered proposals didn’t receive anything like a fair hearing.

  9. Only a closed system leaks. An open system of the sort I’m advocating has no leaks – premature or otherwise.
    So what is the problem with an open system?

  10. The discussion seems to have run into the sand but I had wanted to address the original topic. Visits to the Wikileaks site leave me with the following thoughts: 1) I do not WANT to know these things; 2) I do not know if I have a RIGHT to know these things; 3) But my heart, my intellect and my faith tell me that, as a human being, I have the RESPONSIBILITY to seek to know the truth or otherwise of these things.

  11. I think our positions have ultimately converged, Chris.

    PS It was the pressure of writing projects that made the discussion apparently run into the sand, but I’m trying to keep the blog live as far as possible.

  12. Hmmm. But you didn’t answer my question re vestries, Eamonn.
    “What is the problem with openness?” The question is important to me as I resigned from a vestry precisely because of the imposition of blanket confidentiality. The vestry was never able to give me a clear answer to the question.

  13. To take a (fictional) example, Chris: vestry decides to consider spending money on, e.g., a new set of vestments. Subsequently decides that it can’t afford the expense, and that the current set is serviceable anyway. Decides not to proceed. If restricted to vestry discussion, no harm done. But if released prematurely, could provoke controversy over expense/competing needs/worship style which could run and run, and no-one would remember that it was ultimately a non-proposal. Vestry members remain bruised and resentful over unnecessary flak.

    Avoidance of unnecessary turbulence is a good thing, no?

  14. Chris Athorne

    Dear Eamonn – yes, let’s keep it general and hypothetical! It seems to me that in a situation where the discipline of openness is the accepted norm there is an understanding that a proposal to buy new vestments is just that: a proposal being discussed. If there are good reasons to consider the purchase and good reasons not to proceed then all those reasons will be understood by responsible, adult members of the congregation who would like to see and be assured (believe me they would!) that the vestry is capable of such discussion. Further, if they have opinions to add to the melting pot that is all well and good … I would claim that they are necessary for vestry members to function properly. Controversy should NOT be avoided and when engaged in a spirit of openness is healthy and infinitely preferable to the atmosphere of distrust promoted by the perception of “secrecy”. Why is openness not currently the norm in the SEC?

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