This WikiLeaks business is bringing out the stupid on all sides.
Start with all the folks who have been applying the Secret classification to all these diplomatic messages. From what I’m reading, most of latest batch of documents is utterly routine and pretty boring. The U.S. government produces classified documents at an insane rate, and with a few exceptions–ongoing military operations, intelligence sources and methods, the nuclear deterrent–they’re all dull and unimportant. That’s not to say there won’t be a few bombshells when all the documents come out, but rather that the vast majority of these Secret documents don’t really contain any secrets.
Then, of course, there’s the anonymous asshole who was trusted with access to all this stuff and decided to leak it. Leaking this stuff might have been justified if it contained the shocking truth behind the Kennedy assassination, or proof that 9/11 really was an inside job, or the alien autopsy video, but most of this stuff is routine diplomatic traffic.
Look, whoever you are, you took an oath to keep this stuff secret. People trusted you. Then you broke your oath and leaked it anyway. That ain’t cool.
Although, if the Guardian is to be believed, the leak was inevitable, thanks to whoever instituted this policy:
The cables themselves come via the huge Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, or SIPRNet. SIPRNet is the worldwide US military internet system, kept separate from the ordinary civilian internet and run by the Department of Defense in Washington. Since the attacks of September 2001, there has been a move in the US to link up archives of government information, in the hope that key intelligence no longer gets trapped in information silos or “stovepipes”. An increasing number of US embassies have become linked to SIPRNet over the past decade, so that military and diplomatic information can be shared…
An embassy dispatch marked SIPDIS is automatically downloaded on to its embassy classified website. From there, it can be accessed not only by anyone in the state department, but also by anyone in the US military who has a security clearance up to the ‘Secret’ level, a password, and a computer connected to SIPRNet – which astonishingly covers over 3m people.
Sharing information is probably a good idea, but with three million people approved for access, there was effectively almost no security. State Department personnel might as well have been posting these dispatches on their Facebook pages.
Then there’s WikiLeaks itself. Their About page professes all kinds of high-sounding motives, promising to reveal truths that evil people want hidden. It includes a list of stories they’ve broken, some of which sound pretty interesting:
- How German intelligence infiltrated Focus magazine – Illegal spying on German journalists.
- ACTA trade agreement negotiation lacks transparency – The secret ACTA trade agreement draft, followed by dozens of other publications, presenting the initial leak for the whole ACTA debate happening today.
- Secret gag on UK Times preventing publication of Minton report into toxic waste dumping, 16 Sep 2009 – Publication of variations of a so-called super-injunction, one of many gag-orders published by WikiLeaks to expose successful attempts to suppress the free press via repressive legal attacks.
- Climatic Research Unit emails, data, models, 1996-2009 – Over 60MB of emails, documents, code and models from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, written between 1996 and 2009 that lead to a worldwide debate.
- Stasi still in charge of Stasi files – Suppressed 2007 investigation into infiltration of former Stasi into the Stasi files commission.
- Eutelsat suppresses independent Chinese-language TV station NTDTV to satisfy Beijing – French sat provider Eutelsat covertly removed an anti-communist TV channel to satisfy Beijing.
- Report on Shriners raises question of wrongdoing – corruption exposed at 22 U.S. and Canadian children’s hospitals.
The problem is that none of this stuff is currently available on WikiLeaks. The references on the About page are not links, and when you go to the WikiLeaks home page, all you get are the big dumps of U.S. war documents–not even the current document release, which is actually at a subdomain with the hackneyed name Cablegate.
And don’t say it’s my fault if I’ve missed some obscure entry point to the WikiLeaks site. Web designers have known to put important navigation links on the home page for 15 years, you’d think WikiLeaks could figure it out. For that matter, WikiLeaks is not, in any sense, a wiki, and at the moment, it’s not accepting leaks either:
At the moment WikiLeaks is not accepting new submissions due to re-engineering improvements the site to make it both more secure and more user-friendly. Since we are not currently accepting submissions during the re-engineering, we have also temporarily closed our online chat support for how to make a submission. We anticipate reopening the electronic drop box and live chat support in the near future.
Instead of a functioning as a wide-ranging forum for revealing things that governments wish to keep secret, WikiLeaks appears to have adopted a tiresome anti-U.S. agenda. If WikiLeaks really operated in the spirit of a wiki, it would by publishing a lot of different stuff from a lot of different sources in a lot of different countries.
Meanwhile, the reactions from the other side aren’t very encouraging either. For example, right after WikiLeaks‘ previous document dump, people inside the government expressed their wish that WikiLeaks would have cooperated with them to avoid disclosing the most damaging information. Somebody at WikiLeaks apparently offered to do that this time, and the U.S. government turned them down. That might actually make some sense, because there is probably little to gain by telling the folks at WikiLeaks which information you really, really, really don’t want to get out.
Then there’s New York Congressman Peter King:
“This is worse even than a physical attack on Americans, it’s worse than a military attack,” King said.
King has written letters to both U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking for swift action to be taken against WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange.
King wants Holder to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act and has also called on Clinton to determine whether WikiLeaks could be designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
So again, I ask: Why wasn’t Assange garroted in his hotel room years ago?
It’s a serious question.
(Of course, since Julian Assange has the name, appearance, and mannerisms of a Euro-trash Bond villain–even if he is Austrailian–I kind of understand the urge.)
I don’t know if anyone at WikiLeaks did anything to directly instigate the breach of security that got them all these documents, but if they didn’t, then I don’t see how this differs from the situation in New York Times Co. v. United States which allowed the Times to publish the Pentagon Papers leaked by Daniel Ellsberg. As I understand it, once a news organization comes into possession of some information–documents, photographs, video, a story–it has a broad First Amendment right to publish that information (except maybe when publication would cause imminent danger, as in revealing troop movements or attack plans). This always made sense to me. Keeping national security information secret is the job of the government, not the New York Times.
Congresscritters who want to do something about this leak should be trying to find out how it happened and how to stop it from happening again, not wasting time going after WikiLeaks for making it public. After all, the real national security problem is not that WikiLeaks published the documents, but that a breach in security allowed them to obtain the documents in the first place.
When Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, he didn’t just give them to the New York Times, and if the Times hadn’t used them, there’s no reason to believe he wouldn’t have given them to other newspapers and organizations. So when it comes to the WikiLeaks documents, why do we believe that the leaker gave this stuff only to WikiLeaks? For all we know, he sent copies to China, Iran, and North Korea. Although, if the Guardian is correct in its description of how this information was mishandled, then foreign intelligence agencies have probably been reading this stuff for years.