After the most recent release of diplomatic wires from the US State Department (starting on Sunday, November 28), that’s what Peter King, the ranking Republican on the House’s Homeland Security Committee, is arguing. He says WikiLeaks (www.wikileaks.org), a whistle-blowing website that posts leaked material from governments and corporations, should be classified as a terrorist organization and its principals held to account.
The argument is that the material released endangers US operations, our diplomats, even soldiers’ lives.
But is that really the case? And can the site itself be accused of terrorism?
WikiLeaks doesn’t actually seek out intelligence and leak it through the web. That would be impossible. It merely provides a conduit for others to do so. The sources themselves typically have legitimate access to the material; they work for the governments they’re exposing. They act to expose something they think is important enough for the public to know to risk their careers and freedom.
In an era of wishy-washy journalists unable to ferret out real intel; journalists always distracted by stories about shopping it seems; WikiLeaks is a godsend to the public. In the US, the public’s charge has ever been to watch its government closely and hold them to account. WikiLeaks allows us to do just that, carry a candle into the darkest corners of government pretense. No wonder the government is scared.
And surely any breach of security cannot be pointed at WikiLeaks or its founder Julian Assange? That’d be like giving an automobile the speeding ticket instead of the driver. Only the individuals who have squirreled away the information and distributed it on the web via WikiLeaks can be prosecuted. And as they don’t get anything in return from WikiLeaks for risking their lives, their motives would appear to be pure and for the public good.
The most recent leak of over 250,000 diplomatic cables from the US State Department has certainly caused the US embarrassment. It’s also provided the public a rare window into the world of international relations and US jockeying, with all its name-calling and personifications of rival heads of state. (North Korean President Kim Jong Il is described as “a flabby old chap”, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is “Alpha dog” and “Batman”, and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Burlusconi is “feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader”. No surprises there, then.) But in this business everyone is aware how the game is played. I doubt there will be any fallout or bruised egos over such tittle-tattle.
As to the claim that the release of the material endangers US personnel, and threatens their lives, that would also appear unlikely. WikiLeaks runs its material by the Pentagon previous to its release, offering a chance to counter the release or make statements concerning the material (which the Pentagon has thus far refused to do). WikiLeaks does blackout names where appropriate and doesn’t release all the material it’s given at once. That happens over time after careful and thoughtful review.
That’s not to say some of the files released in this newest expose aren’t jaw-dropping. Although the vast majority of the cables are unclassified (133,887 out of 251,287) some are considered secret (15,652). One such release is a State Department cable that detailed spying on top-ranking UN Security Council members, including obtaining passwords and frequent flier miles. Another reveals that Saudi Arabian King Abdullah stressed the US should attack and destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities. That should come as a surprise to many, particularly Iran.
But perhaps more importantly, what these cables do show is context. They reveal the theater of statesmanship, with all its props, bells and whistles. To other statesmen around the world, there won’t be much new here. But to the public, who seems ever more trusting of their government precisely when they shouldn’t be, this should come as a real eye-opener.
From the WikiLeaks website:
“The [United States embassy] cables show the extent of US spying on its allies and the UN; turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse in “client states”; backroom deals with supposedly neutral countries; lobbying for US corporations; and the measures US diplomats take to advance those who have access to them.”
The real bottom line is the US doesn’t like having its scurrilous methodology uncovered. The charade of our moral imperative is fading. The days of righteous government, as envisioned by our founding fathers, are long passed. Our government has resorted to low-level tactics, cloak and dagger, black-ops, and some pretty startling cover ups – basically all out lies to the public.
Is this really surprising?
But WikiLeaks has brought much of this to the attention of the media and subjected it to verification, including 77,000 files on the war in Afghanistan (in July) and over 400,000 on the war in Iraq (in October), the world’s largest leak of war material in history. These reveal the stark contrast to official US policy and public statements compared to actual facts and operations. These run the gamut: Civilian casualties in Iraq (over 15,000 more than acknowledged publicly, according to the BBC). Corruption (one “high-ranking Afghan official” was found with over $52 million in cash while on a foreign excursion, for example – that’s something every tax-payer should know). Even the slaying of two Reuters journalists by a US helicopter in 2004, which the Pentagon vociferously denied at the time.
As far as the government is concerned, rather than represent us, the public are just cattle to be handled. They don’t want us to think they makes mistakes. As long as we believe this, we’re letting them lead us by the nose. A competent government is able to admit fault, and correct itself. An incompetent government seeks dishonesty to hide its failings and profit thereby.
“Every American schoolchild is taught that George Washington – the country’s first President – could not tell a lie. If the administrations of his successors lived up to the same principle, today’s document flood would be a mere embarrassment. Instead, the US Government has been warning governments — even the most corrupt — around the world about the coming leaks and is bracing itself for the exposures.” Says WikiLeaks.
While the government is busy telling you that your rights as a citizen are tamped because of national security, that they must put the State in your home, in your school, and through your baggage at the airport, it’s pertinent to note they don’t like having their laundry subject to the same scrutiny at all. They like to tell you that you’ve got nothing to worry about if you have nothing to hide.
So, with all this worry, what is our government hiding?
Public scrutiny of government is a moral imperative. The government, as run by our representatives, necessarily must be transparent. Otherwise, what’s to stop the rampant corruption, venality, unscrupulous gerrymandering, self-serving policy, political double-talk, lies and calumny, and all that tireless lobbying? Until the government learns to respect its people, and work for them according to the public good rather than seeking only to legitimize its own existence, the US cannot be said to be a light of democracy at all.
Using the war on terror as a pretext to silence WikiLeaks is an abuse of the public trust. It’s also a frightening posture for the State to assume. “We have the right to suppress and censor everything,” they say, “because of the threat of terrorism. If you disagree or dissent, you must be a terrorist.”
But didn’t Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, write that “dissent is the highest form of patriotism”? In America, the government is the deputy. The people are the sovereign. We must never let government tell us otherwise.
I think WikiLeaks should be commended for removing the veil of government obfuscations and pretenses. The emperor is wearing clothes. But they’re looking more dirty, blood-soaked, and tattered than ever.