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What did you learn from leaked documents?

We seek to understand the world, but it's made harder when part of it is hidden from us.

Leaked documents, represent a kind of ground truth, showing how the world really works. Telling us what's for sale, what the real agendas are, how powerful spies are, and how coordinated governments are. They are almost the opposite to conspiracy theories, as they present observations that can prune conspiracy theories.

But there are too many documents to read, so let's compare notes. What surprised you and caused you to update your view of the world?

Feel free to give a low effort reply, it's better than nothing.

Jump in the discussion.

No email address required.

The Afghanistan Papers revealed that if the truth is sufficiently awful people will refuse to believe it or discuss it because they are convinced it's more plausible that racially biased people are making unfounded accusations. (US forces unable to stop child rape and because 'it's their culture')

"Homosexuality was taboo among adults but it was not uncommon for afghan men of means to commit a form of sexual abuse known as bacha bazi, or boy play. Afghan military officers, warlords, and other power brokers proclaimed their status by keeping tea boys or other adolescent male servants as sex slaves. US troops referred to the practice as "man-love Thursday" because Afghan pederasts would force boys to dress up or dance on Thursday evenings before the start of the afghan weekend. Although American soldiers were sickened by the abuse, their commanders instructed them to look the other way because they didn't want to alienate allies in the fight against the taliban"

I also recall an old Foreign Affairs article that made an addendum to why it happens on Thursday. Broadly speaking, many Afghans believed that prayer on the Islamic holy day, friday, cleansed them of their sins. So if you rape someone on Thursday, pray on friday, you are then clean and worthy of paradise on saturday. Of course the sin was the homosexuality, not the rape.

What makes it doubly insane is that Bachi Bazi was a source of illegitimacy among the wider populace. which means destroying it would have an actually removed a source of Taliban legitimacy. (bachi bazi as source for taliban support) (Afghan governor was a drug dealer and tyrant but his province was actually stable)

When the US was stuck between a hardliner who could keep the peace and total anarchy it was incapable of biting the bullet as a matter of policy. If stuck between a plan that had proven successful but icky or a plan that would be unsuccessful but sounds good it went with the sounds good. (US aid would filter through contractors over and over again until about 1/20th actually made it to the country)

Literal actual corruption would have been more efficacious then what the US did. The US would spend outrageous amounts of money on domestic actors and not make any use of the purchasing power difference of Afghanistan being dirt poor. Who do we have to thank for this lighting money on fire policy? Thank staunch conservative senator Jessie Helms.

"...because when the soviet union fell apart we had to cut a deal with Jessie Helms to continue our aid programs. The deal with Jessie Helms was that we would spend the money in the United States. We would buy American products, American grain, American consultants, American Security experts, and they would implement our aid programs."

Finally just for a final kicker. Rural Afghanistan could be so isolated that it would literally inbred. ("I hate to say it, but there was a lot of inbreeding. The district chief had three thumbs" he said in an Army oral-history interview.)

That's a lot of scattered stuff. So lets return to my central point. When the truth is so awful people will take accurate descriptions of the situation as proof of racist evil rather than of tragic suffering.

It would have been tragic but true to describe Afghanistan as a land of inbred child rapists who believe that Islam means that if you commit a sin on Thursday then on Friday its cleansed away. That stability at the hand of tyrants would have been more valuable for producing peace than Western european style metrics about the percentage of women in parliament. And that literal direct bribery and corruption applied at the point of local discretion by the military would have been order of magnitude more effective than actual policy. And that the cause of restricting the military's discretion and demanding Made in America contractor corrupt fiscal suicide was due to a Conservative Senator.

But could you have said that? Does anyone believe that you could walk around in polite society and talk frankly about such issues and how we are going to approach solving them. Could you ever imagine Obama making destroying culturally acceptable religiously justified child rape as his first priority in an hearts & minds strategy?

Twitter personality InverseFlorida invented the term Sanewashing to describe how people watered down "Abolish the Police" into something sane sounding. That people would get angry at you for saying "Abolish the Police means exactly what it says and the people who first started saying it are very clear about this" because those people had actually come to believe that X actually meant Y. People who sanewash really believe their revised version of a statement to be the real meaning of the original statement.

The Afghanistan papers showed that people will Sanewash away not just Insanity, but also Evil. If forced to confront uncomfortable truths they will not just disbelieve a statement but they will go through a process of putting it through a sanewash sieve. Once they have their watered down pseudotruth they will then use that 'truth' as proof that the actual truth is just a racist overexaggeration.

Now consider how many people are unwilling to believe the accusations that Hamas uses hospitals as munitions bunkers & military HQ's. And you will be unable to unsee the instinct to Sanewash Evil.

Anecdote for further illustration.

A buddy was a contractor in Kabul. Late 00's - early 10's timeframe. Had local Afghan police / mil in the compound all the time, they even had their own bank of desks. One day, by buddy is walking through there and catches one of the Afghan's looking at gay porn. He tells him to cut it out. Bit of a facepalm, whatever. Plenty of American soldiers would trade porno DVDs back and forth. A few days later, it happens again, but not with by buddy as the witness. Instead, a military police type (I'm forgetting exact details here) saw it. He (the MP) decides to strictly follow protocol and report it to the Afghan porn watcher's local chain of command. My buddy hears about this as literally drops his lunch to sprint down to the Afghan commander's office. He assures / pleads with the commander that it's really not that big of a deal and they can set up his computer so that porno sites of any kind won't load.

Why would my buddy do this? Why did he sprint to do it? Because the next day, base security found that original Afghan (he of the gay porn) shot dead in a ditch at the edge of the base. The Afghan commander had considered it embarrassing and dishonorable for the dude to have been watching that in a setting where foreigners could (and did) catch him. When my buddy told this story, he got more emotional than when he told his story about seeing one of his best friends take a direct mortar hit and getting vaporized. To him, it was just the mindless and totally preventable cruelty of it (compared to the random chance of warfare that did in his friend).

"Oh, we have to be tolerant of the cultural differences."

Silvering lining concluding tangent: Afghanistan, way more than Iraq, really did see the development of meaningful and long-lasting partnerships between Afghan and American forces. During the hasty withdrawal in 2021, I knew a bunch of MAGA types (and others, to be sure) with multiple combat tours who took extended time off of work to help find ways to get their interpreters / local ANA / ANP buddies out of the country before Taliban could clip them.

What did you learn from leaked documents?

So many interesting topics here, let me start with this year's Teixeira leaks.

Yes, they are genuine, they are work of lone national air guardsman who just wanted to show off and boast to his anon friends on "Thug Shaker Central" discord channel. Not unique at all, many such cases when people posted classified documents on the net just for lulz.

Before summer, there was slight chance that Teixeira is sacrificial pawn/does not exist and the leaks are modern day Operation Mincemeat meant to disguise Ukrainian strength before mighty summer offensive smashes the front lines.

Now, what do they show?

They show that Ukraine is black hole. Money, equipment and supplies come in, nothing comes out. Pentagon has no independent sources of informations from Ukraine and fully relies on Ukrainian official data (and Oryx).

Pentagon is aware of it, but could do nothing about it.

The document summarizes Russian and Ukrainian equipment and human losses, at what the intelligence community refers to with "moderate" confidence. "We have low confidence in Russian (RUS) and Ukrainian (UKR) attrition rates and inventories because of information gaps," the document says, not only questioning Russia's numbers but also "potential bias in UKR [Ukraine] information sharing."

TL;DR: Ukraine is not American puppet, Ukraine is not animal that you feed and it obeys you and performs tricks for you, it is animal that eats your food and in exchange it does what it wants.

Ukraine is not American dog, Ukraine is American cat.

Woah, I haven't stayed up to date with Ukraine, partly due to the high signal to noise ratio on most of the discourse. But this is great, it facts. It's especially fascinating that the Pentagon could do nothing about.

I think the reason the governments are scared of leaks is that it shows their incompetence and lack of control. That's a threat.

IIRC regarding the ukraine leaked NATO documents, they ommited the strela-10, Kubs, shilka and tunguska out of pure mediocrity regarding the assesment of air defense

I learned that I don't learn much from leaked documents.

I've never read a leaked document and went like "woah, I had absolutely no fucking idea this could be happening!". More of "woah I can't believe people needed a document to finally believe they were upto this".

Agree, I don’t think I’ve ever been surprised by this kind of thing. It’s like the infamous Snowden thing where every movie, talk show, article, casual conversation about the patriot act in the years 2004-2013 involved the tacit or explicit acceptance that “yeah they’re totally spying on everything we say and do online” and then we were all supposed to be shocked when Snowden revealed it. Like, no shit, isn’t that what everyone’s been talking about for years?

I actually found myself surprised by the Twitter files simply because while I knew that something like that was happening I actually had no idea of the scale and extent of the government's involvement. It was also legitimately surprising to me how much pushback came from Twitter itself, when I expected them to simply give in and fold right away.

Plus it filled in some of the details of "how" which was nice

I wasn't surprised by it, but I think that there's a significant difference between on the one hand, the mass surveillance being a popular but shadowy theory that smells a bit crackpot-adjacent to many people, and on the other hand, it being an undeniable fact that is openly discussed in mainstream sources.

Almost like they were preparing consent to it through the media.

When you see more evidence you should be more sure, right?

But what about when you believe something, and expect it to show up in the leaked documents, then it doesn't show. Shouldn't that surprise you?

Wikileaks Hillary emails from 2016 showed that Tim Kaine had been selected as VP well before the election itself. It wasn't spelled out exactly why, but it was clear from the tone that Hillary's staff knew he was the pick a year in advance of the official announcement. The plausible working theory is that, since Tim Kaine had been chairman of the DNC, he selected Debbie Wasserman Schultz as his replacement in exchange for Hillary picking him for the VP slot. DWS was famously a Clinton acolyte and, if she didn't outright rig the primary for Clinton, at least did everything within her power to ensure the same.

This dynamic was barley-reported on: the mainstream media covered the emails but tried as little as possible to cover the content of the emails, or else focused on Goldman Sachs soundbites; social media preferred juicy coverage about John Podesta and "spirit cooking". But Hillary trading her VP slot for an arranged primary was right there in the data and largely ignored. And it was much more plausible and revealing of how power today works than any of the other angles.

Are there indications that the primary was rigged in the emails?

Off the top of my head, vaguely-remembered: I think the emails showed that a lot of the people in the DNC leadership did not like Bernie and actively wanted him to lose. I don't think there was anything in writing that pointed at anything specific. (But this might have been from the emails that leaked from the DNC and not the ones that leaked from Hillary.)

Wow, that is interesting and I totally missed it. It's nice to see the dynamics of mundane corruption.

I agree there was little reporting on the contents. I remember one spreadsheet that detailed "what they have given me" and "what position I have given them" but I can't for the life of me find it again. However, it showed that you can buy an ambassadorial position for ~$100k

I vaguely remember that Ambassador expose and am not convinced it came from the Hillary Clinton emails -- it might have been a different wikileaks dump or a different dump altogether. I'm fairly convinced Ambassadorships have been for sale for a long time. If you start running down the list of different ambassadors, any to countries that aren't especially important are basically all patronage jobs. It's one of those things.

not a secret the nice-but-unimportant ambassadorships go to politically favored people (donors mostly, but not required).

See this list of current US ambassadors, and compare which ones have type column of "Career" (career diplomats, rising up through the Foreign Service usually), and which ones are "other" (usually cushier locales, usually countries US already has good relations with, does not require an experienced foreign service careerist to head because there is no work or work is handled fine by others).

For example, Ted Kennedy's widow is the ambassador to Austria, while JFK's daughter Caroline Kennedy is the ambassador to Australia (previously to Japan as well). Both of these would be politically favored IMO, and campaigned for Obama/Biden.

Donor example would be Denise Bauer, current ambassador to France (and Monaco). Previously Ambassador to Belgium. Donated 4.3 million to Obama, and other money to Democrats in general. I'm surprised it only takes 4.3 million TBH? But probably is fun to hang out in Paris and send your kids to American School of Paris there.

Compare with the resume of the current ambassador to China (

Ehhh..sort of a nothing burger, in my opinion.

This has been known for a long time. There's a great clip of John McCain asking questions to some Ambassador nominees. Well, he asks the same question to each of them - "Have you ever been to the country you are to be the ambassador of?" They all say "No," McCain replies, "I have no more questions for these highly qualified candidates." It's hilarious.

It also doesn't matter because 1) The ambassadorships that matter always go to career no-bullshit diplomats or politicians who are still very qualified (see Rahm Emanuel as Ambo to Japan at present) and 2) For the donor-Ambo's .... they still have the full, career diplomat staff behind them. If anything, it kind of frees up the State Department staff to actually get shit done with their counterparts while the multi-millionaire donor/ambassador gladly spends all of his/her time going to dinners and galas and what not. The last thing you want is that person actually trying to run the diplomat staff and setting and agenda.

oh yeah, I don't think we're in disagreement here. I'm just showing with the State Dept link that this isn't a secret.

re: McCain, that's funny, but also I'm surprised if Denise Bauer or whomever was trying to be the Ambassador to France had not been to France. Maybe makes sense if it's to Sweden or Luxembourg?

I think, and maybe also your point, that ambassadors to smaller-but-potentially-important countries might also not have been there previously. E.g. Jonathan Pratt was the last US Ambassador to Djibouti, and had postings from Pakistan, DR Congo, R. of Congo, Jordan, Sudan... but I highly doubt he'd have ever been to, or needed to have been to, Djibouti prior to taking up the post there.

Even below those positions (i.e. less known professional staff that support the Ambassadors and Consulate Generals), career Foreign Service folks are rotated around frequently in my experience (grew up abroad, had a lot of interaction with local consulate folks). For example someone who was the business/economy attache was moved to a post in South East Asia after 5 years at the consulate in my hometown. They got 6 months of essentially full-time language learning before moving over there to begin the new post, and of you go! Again, no reason they would've needed to have been to e.g. Hanoi or Phnom Penh before getting a post there.

Good point regarding necessity of a previous visit.

Furthermore, I (think) I found the McCain clip I referenced. It's actually more substantive than I remember, and only with one nominee. Still ends with the great punchline though.

oh this guy! lol. Wasn't this hearing so bad that he withdrew from the nomination to Norway?

Anyway, he's the current Ambassador to Greece, which given his Greek-background seems much more appropriate.

In Canada there was a high level bureaucrat who didn't like the incoming government. He basically did nothing but attend meetings then leak the contents of those meetings to the press with negative spin.

Of course at that level he was impossible to fire.

So they put him in charge of one of the less important Mexican consulates.

There are certain jobs that you can only get by making powerful people very happy or very unhappy.

Indian Administrative Service officers, a brutally meritocratic branch of the government existing as a leftover from colonial days, have a reputation for being highly competent, and if not incorruptible, markedly less so than the norm.

When one of them offends a politician, for whatever reason, be it political or just being a PITA when it comes to corruption and associated bribery, the preferred method of dealing with them is shunting them off to oversee a backwater since they're almost impossible to fire. Some poor bastards have been kicked about all over the country on a nigh monthly basis.

Oh... that might be why I couldn't find it. I'll have another look.

I think, even if something is widely suspected, it's still nice to have written evidence and details like the prices. It helps with debates and economics papers if nothing else.

I read all the Climategate emails back in the day. Lots of people heard about a few juicy ones that got a lot of play in the discourse (e.g. "hide the decline"). But most of them were pretty benign. Nonetheless I found it fascinating to go through and get a sense of who these people were and how they thought and what sort of things they considered normal.

What I got from it probably wouldn't be super surprising to people here, but:

  • The climate science community is not that big. There's an everyone-knows-everyone dynamic.

  • They were not terribly concerned or interested in party politics. There was not much discussion of carbon taxes or other carbon abatement policies (and to the extent they were discussed it was as often as not in a derisive tone - one scientist in particular was very frustrated that no one could see that a geoengineering solution would be necessary). One scientist said on a personal level that he hoped climate change would not be prevented, so his research could be vindicated.

  • They were very interested and concerned about status. There was a bit of an "under siege" mentality where they were hypersensitive and reactive to criticisms from climate sceptics, and effort and pressure applied to ensure things were not presented in a way that "gave them ammo". There was some internal argument about the extent to which this was acceptable - Keith Briffa being one guy who was more principled and opposed to misrepresenting data, with Michael Mann on the other side being particularly shameless. Others were actively obstructive of people attempting to check their work, because they didn't want mistakes to be found.

  • They were paranoid about rooting out any possible "closet sceptics". Any hint of maybe-kinda-scepticism was reacted against furiously - e.g. there was talk of finding a way to push out a journal editor who allowed a sceptical paper to get published, exhortations to keep certain papers out of the IPCC process by any means necessary, even redefining "peer review" to exclude them, etc.

  • Privately there was more acknowledgement of uncertainty and gaps in the knowledge of the climate system than you see in public - again, they deliberately presented their knowledge as more broad and more certain than they actually were, to reduce attack surface.

The big takeaway I got was to be mistrustful of experts - even to the extent they are sincere and well meaning (and some clearly were), they are likely to be operating within an ecosystem and an incentive structure that makes honesty dangerous.

Fascinating, I've studies under some of these professors and this sounds entirely realistic and plausible human psychology.

It's worth noting that the stratigraphic record has many instances of climate change, and you don't need a simulation to put bounds on the type of changes we could possibly see. How likely it is, is another matter of course. (e.g.

Interesting! Do you mind if I ask who you studied under?

Oh not the climategate ones, just climate science professors (although I assume it's a field wide problem). I shouldn't mention names either way as it would dox my alt account. But I was just doing my honours, and while they seemed to have excellent character and integrity, I didn't have the full picture of the pressure they were under.

e.g. "hide the decline"

I remember this one. It got reported as climate scientists hiding rising temperatures in their data, which was then trivially debunked. It was actually that they had to apply statistical obstacles to hide the fact that their proxy data was badly flawed. They had used ice core and tree ring measurements to estimate temperatures over the 2000-year period before modern records. (This was and is standard practice.) But starting at around the 1960s, when such real-world data became available, the proxy data wildly diverged. The proxy models predicted lowering temperatures, while the real-world data showed rising temperatures. So, instead of throwing out the models and truncating a 2000-year theory to a few decades, they used "Mike's Nature Trick" to "hide the decline".

As I recall, the paper discussed here was influential but not ultimately important. However, the same methodologies were used to create the famous "Hockey Stick Graph," which purported to show that global temperatures had been flat or wven mildly declining until modern industry and CO2 emissions. It was probably this graph, or the idea of this graph, that did more than anything else to convince the public that climate change was a real and present threat. I haven't seen it in a while.

I'll start with a low effort set of "stylised facts". Feel free to argue

I assume that where there is one company or politician or agency or country doing something, they are probably all doing it.

Re: CIA spying on the Senate.

Not exactly. "Spying" heavily implies that the CIA put together a plan to covertly steal emails or other info. This was much more like corporate IT when they say "No, we can't access your computer without your password." Well, yeah, they can. And they did, which was a no-no an still bad. But it was limited to a shared drive concerned with one tranche of declassified files. It wasn't the CIA reading senator's e-mails in real time.

One thing that I think should always be kept in mind when talking about FBI/CIA/NSA etc. is that they're still all massive bureaucracies and are, therefore, subject to a lot of least-common-denominators-in-massive-bureacracy outcomes. Not everyone at CIA is a spy. They have IT people who are probably just ... IT people with security clearances. They do dumb stuff because they're bored and dumb and not the one's who get to drink martinis in Monaco and split Uber Blacks with James Bond or whatever.

Interesting, that is different from what I was imagining. I didn't realise it was on CIA premises either.