Wikileaks

Friday night an arrest warrant went out, and was then rescinded, for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. He commented “We were warned to expect “dirty tricks”. Now we have the first one.” Even the New York Times was forced to call it “strange.”

I think that was the wrong warning. Wikileaks is poking at a very dangerous system. We went to war with Iraq, claiming it had links to Al Qaida and chemical weapons programs. (I think there were good reasons for both Iraqi citizens and Western democracies to want a well planned and executed regime change in Iraq, and even better reasons to expect that attempts to do so would descend into chaos. But that’s besides the point.) Since then, we have publicly announced that we have death squads targeting US citizens. Does Wikileaks expect any less?

The American system of classifying documents is seriously flawed. That’s been the conclusion of every blue ribbon panel that studies it. Transparency and accountability are key tools that we the people use to constrain the power of government. But people in power never like transparency. They don’t like oversight and second-guessing. So over-classification is a natural outcome. Insofar as leaks help to constrain that, they’re useful to us, the governed. To the extent that leaks force a conversation about “why was this document classified,” they’re useful.

Now, leaking the names of informers is clearly problematic. It seems that, like many news organizations, Wikileaks asked the Pentagon for advice on redaction. They were rebuffed.

But that’s not the point of this post. The first point of this post is to say that the Leviathan is an angry and mean son of a bitch that’s now going to attack Wikileaks as hard as it can. If discrediting works, great. If not, expect escalation. Whatever their personal failings may or may not be, more transparency and accountability in government is a worthy goal, and we should support that goal. We should support that goal even as we can see flaws in Wikileaks. And despite their flaws, Wikileaks is making more transparency in less comfortable areas than anyone else.

The right response to the Afghan war diary would be for the Pentagon and for each of our allies to review what they have classified and why, and release more of it. Little of what was released was really surprising, and much of it should have been officially released with minor redaction. But instead of that review, we see the Leviathan lashing out at Wikileaks.

To the extent that Wikileaks pushes governments to become more transparent, we all benefit. If But more transparency not the reaction we’re seeing, and to distract us from that is the dirtiest trick so far.

If you think government has too much power, you should support Wikileaks. If you think that America’s overseas entanglements are hurting America or the world, you should support Wikileaks. If you think military adventurism is hurting the world, you should support Wikileaks. Because whatever Wikileak’s faults, their goals are important ones.

Which brings us to the second point of this post, which is to remind you, when you read negative stories about Wikileaks, ask yourself “who benefits?” The answer isn’t going to be “you and me.”

7 thoughts on “Wikileaks

  1. The gov’t/mil/IC isn’t in the declassification business; just the opposite. To the extent that the system is misused/abused, that’s a shame, but leaking willy-nilly (which is all Manning has done and Wikileaks has facilitated) is not going to bring about change. Poking the bear doesn’t make it go away, it makes it angry.

    If you (writ large) are for responsible disclosure in any other fashion the right response is not to support wikileaks, its to vote. If you don’t like the way the gov’t does something, change your gov’t. Bureaucrats will do nothing unless their elected overseers make them.

    • Michael,

      I’ll freely acknowledge that you know more about how the intel community actually works than I do. However, you’re factually incorrect when you say they’re not in the declassification business. You’re right that they don’t want to be. See section 3, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/executive-order-classified-national-security-information

      As to voting, I don’t think we’ve seen a President more dedicated to transparency in my lifetime. He mentioned these ideals in his inaugural, and pushed to see data.gov created.

      • If we judge by the actions of the Department of Justice and the Executive branch under Obama, I’m not sure that the devotion to transparency that your speaking of is to be seen. There are two aspects of government these days: the public face and the secret side. While it is true that Obama and the administration have done a fair amount to increase he transparency on the public face of the government, when it come to national security, warfare, intelligence, and the like, Obama seems at least as dedicated to increasing executive power (not merely spying on but even assassinating citizens seen as a threat), warfare (both in declared and undeclared wars, and preserving state secrecy, executive power and prerogative as Bush.

        Both the Right and the Left want to see Obama as a leftist, but I’m not at all convinced that his record shows any such thing. He looks a whole lot more like a centrist hawk than anything else.

        Just my two bits worth.

  2. Years ago, the response to a hostile request for documents was to dump everything you ever wrote on the hapless head that had made the request. If the government took Adam’s advice and was more transparent, they would do a huge garbage dump and no one would ever read it. It’s the thrill of seeing something secret that makes Wikileaks appealing.

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