Thanks to WikiLeaks? 3

We are libertarians – though firmly on the small government (patriotic, conservative) end of the libertarian spectrum, nowhere near the anarchist end. And being so, we fail to see why an elected government should have any secrets from its electors except those which are truly necessary to protect the nation.

If the people running WikiLeaks – Julian Assange is the name of one we are told – have released information that identifies individuals who provide secret intelligence to America (or any Western country) in order to help national defense and security, they have committed a crime. If agents have been killed, the crime is capital.

As far as we know, no such names have been published, and no one has been killed as a result of the WikiLeaks action.

So, with that important exception borne in mind, how in general do we evaluate what WikiLeaks has done?

We do not like the hue and cry for blood. We hear Mike Huckabee’s demand that Julian Assange be executed, and note that it comes from one who, as Governor of Arkansas, commuted death sentences on convicted murderers, at least one of whom was released from prison to murder again. (See our post, The deadly danger of Christian forgiveness, December 1, 2009.)

The two most interesting opinions we have found are in contrast with each other. One is Diana West’s, with which we agree, and the other is Theodore Dalrymple’s, with which we do not agree (though we almost always do agree with, and appreciate, the articles and books of that wise and erudite writer).

Here (in part) is Diana West’s opinion:

I am still working out why I watch the high dudgeon sparked by Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks dump of a quarter-million State Department cables that has given rise to the most heated, bloodthirsty chorus I have ever heard in Washington, notably from conservatives, and feel strangely numb.

I observe the fits over “sovereignty” lost, and note that some of the same people find such emotion in bad taste when the prompt is our unsecured, non-sovereign border. I hear the arguments that our national security is hanging by a computer keystroke, and note the fecklessness of a U.S. government that hides from us, the people, its own confirmation that North Korea supplies Iran with Russian-made nuclear-capable missiles; China transfers weapons materiel to Iran (despite Hillary Clinton’s pathetic entreaties); Iran honeycombs Iraq; Syria supports Hezbollah; Pakistan prevents the United States from securing its nuclear materials; Saudis continue to provide mainstay support to al-Qaida (despite pie-faced denials come from Saudi-supplicating U.S. administrations). Everything good citizens need to know, in short, to see through the dumbed-down, G-rated (“G” for government), official narrative, all “engagement” and “outreach,” to throw the ineffectual bums out – all of them – and start from scratch.

But what we’re supposed to see in Assange’s Internet release of thousands of “classified,” mainly non-sensational, if often embarrassing, documents (something journalists usually call a scoop in the singular) is an act of “terrorism,” say Republican leaders … [It] has drowned out all other news this week, including the murder of six American trainers by an Afghan “policeman.”

Why?

These six unnecessary, punishing deaths may well have resulted from the disastrous statecraft and policies that come under discussion in the leaked cables, but as far as news coverage went they just couldn’t compete with the leak frenzy itself. The establishment, right and left but mainly right, coalesced around melodramatic accusations that Assange did have, or would have “blood on his hands.” As I have read my way through some fraction of the leaked record, no evidence for this frequently leveled charge yet appears, certainly none that begins to compare to the blood already spilled to implement a hopelessly misguided U.S. foreign policy that, from the Bush administration to the Obama administration, determinedly ignores Islam in its prosecution of wars in the Islamic world. …

More see-no-Islam evidence comes straight from the leaked cables … but that’s official U.S. policy, as supported from the pro-war right to the Obama left. More than that, it’s part of the shambles WikiLeaks confirms U.S. foreign policy to be. Could this be why the establishment condemns WikiLeaks as the worst thing ever? The Pakistan cables alone [ of which she gives examples – JB] should stop the presses …

But the reaction instead is to kill the messenger – literally, say many. The more I read, however, the more I wonder whether the raging rhetoric is less about blood on WikiLeaks’ hands than about egg on the faces of others, including a secretive Uncle Sam.

Yes.

And here (in part) is Theodore Dalrymple’s opinion:

It is not, of course, that revelations of secrets are always unwelcome or ethically unjustified. It is not a new insight that power is likely to be abused and can only be held in check by a countervailing power, often that of public exposure. But WikiLeaks goes far beyond the need to expose wrongdoing, or supposed wrongdoing: it is unwittingly doing the work of totalitarianism.

The idea behind WikiLeaks is that life should be an open book, that everything that is said and done should be immediately revealed to everybody, that there should be no secret agreements, deeds, or conversations. In the fanatically puritanical view of WikiLeaks, no one and no organization should have anything to hide. It is scarcely worth arguing against such a childish view of life.

The actual effect of WikiLeaks is likely to be profound and precisely the opposite of what it supposedly sets out to achieve. Far from making for a more open world, it could make for a much more closed one. Secrecy, or rather the possibility of secrecy, is not the enemy but the precondition of frankness. WikiLeaks will sow distrust and fear, indeed paranoia; people will be increasingly unwilling to express themselves openly in case what they say is taken down by their interlocutor and used in evidence against them, not necessarily by the interlocutor himself. This could happen not in the official sphere alone, but also in the private sphere, which it works to destroy. An Iron Curtain could descend, not just on Eastern Europe, but over the whole world. A reign of assumed virtue would be imposed, in which people would say only what they do not think and think only what they do not say.

While we share Dalrymple’s loathing of totalitarianism, and of all government prying into private lives, we do not see how the WikiLeaks action threatens any private citizen, or how it is an attack on the principle of privacy. What a government does should not be private (with the exception we noted above). The lives of individuals must be as private as they desire. We don’t believe that ordinary people’s emails would be sought out and downloaded by Wikileaks, though we don’t doubt that an Obama government might do it. Of what conceivable interest or use can they be to the world at large?

WikiLeaks works to destroy government secrecy, not “the private sphere”.

If it makes government more circumspect in what it communicates, more aware that it is answerable to those it governs, WikiLeaks may have delivered a service to America rather than a blow.

  • Tyler520

    I keep hearing people claim that nobody has been harmed as a result of the Wikileaks documents. Yet in 2009, I specifically remember an interview in which the news agency conducting the interview stated that they had verified with the Iraqi government that 40 translators and informants in Iraq, along with their families, who were named in the first Wikileaks document dump have since been slaughtered. If I recall, Assange simply shrugged it off and walked out of the interview. Of course, tracking down these early interivews has become something of a challenge, as the people who tend to sympathize with Assange are the very same people who control work as ITs for networking and information websites, engaging in extensive “search engine optimization” to ensure that when Assange is looked up, critical analyses are buried, while sympathizers crying “conspiracy!” are stacked up top.

    Nevermind the fact that we live in a nation that abides by the rule of law, not the rule of individual special interests

  • Fernando

    Jillian, I respectfully disagree with your conclusion that this was a good thing. Several points I’d like to make:
    – as CEM mentioned below, the context around the information is valuable as well.
    – it is IMPOSSIBLE for an organization (a family unit, a company, a government) to formulate positions for any negotiation with another party without some measure of privacy. What WikiLeaks did is steal that privacy.
    – Sure, government must be accountable, but that is why there is a Senate Intelligence committee, secret FISA courts, etc… WikiLeaks can’t be the judge, jury and executioner of determining what gets released.
    – The “misguided foreign policies” are the responsibility of the political leadership, but there’s no hope that any leader can craft good policies without accurate information. One consequence of the leak is that not only foreign services will be more careful in their discussion with the US, but that individuals will be more guarded in what they write.
    – While I think that Palin/Huckabee/… need to tone down a LOT, I think all those involved in the theft and illegal disclosure of sensitive information should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

    Respectfully,
    Fernando

  • CEM

    This article demonstrates your lack of understanding as to the seriousness of the Wikileaks release of classified documents and information. There does not have to be a direct leaking of names to expose agents and sources. And often, the information alone can be innocuous. However, the content and context of the data alone can provide clues to counter agents and governments as to the identities of agents and sources that can place them in grave danger.