By now, most are aware of the massive international intelligence leak that has catapulted the already infamous Julian Assange of wikileaks.org to new heights of notoriety. Releasing a selection of documents gathered through a single leak from Bradley Manning, a 23-year-old intelligence analyst who was formerly working in Iraq, Assange has demonstrated with stunning clarity that he is unafraid to throw rocks at the metaphorical wasps’ nest.
Earlier in 2010, wikileaks unveiled a series of war documents that outlined casualties and operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq by the United States and its allies. These documents, colloquially known as the War Logs, revealed controversial and troubling information that shook many politicians and military officials into intense rebuttal. Many called the release a significant threat to the lives of serving soldiers, with Robert Gates calling the website “morally guilty for putting lives at risk.”
With this release, which Assange has claimed to be only a fraction of the total information obtained from Manning, wikileaks has assured its position in international politics. Officials can shout and rage as much as they wish, but there is no doubt that they are all now fearful of this man and his little website. The power of information, for all forces regardless of orientation, has once again been demonstrated on a grand scale.
The backlash has grown quickly and is becoming fierce. The latest documents have outlined diplomatic relationships in gory detail never before recognized and has dealt significant damage to the interactions of national figures. Many pundits have claimed that much of the information was well understood within the diplomatic community and will not come as a shock to those in the know, but the exposure of the information to the general public will surely bruise egos. Examples of this harsh language include calling the President of Afghanistan “paranoid” and “extremely weak,” and the French Prime Minister “thin-skinned” and “authoritarian.”
Beyond the concerns of diplomatic insult, the documents have also revealed the depth and breadth of United States espionage, including conscripting diplomats into gathering information on their host countries and local officials. It has revealed a number of interesting and disconcerting points about the international arena, including an assertion that the January 2010 Google hacking incident was a deliberate attack by the Chinese authorities and is part of a wide campaign of computer malfeasance directed at the United States and its allies.
Much of the revealing information could also have wide-ranging consequences for the growing conflict regarding Iran; one statement by the King of Saudia Arabia to American military leaders urged a preemptive strike on the nuclear facilities of the nefarious nation, claiming it is necessary to “cut the head of the snake.” Also on record is the prince of Abu Dhabi, who compared Iranian President Ahmadinejad to Adolf Hitler in encouraging the United States to take proactive measures against the hostile leader.
The documents also reveal crucial and sometimes worrying information about the military efforts of Israel, the Koreas, Pakistan, Syria, and a myriad of other countries, and has threatened popular images and relations between many nations that were previously seen as cooperative, even friendly. The world, it seems, was in far greater turmoil than many of us were aware. A truly disturbing discovery, to say the least.
With the potential devastation to international politics and the broken trust among diplomatic and military leaders, it is easy to call the leak a travesty, and to vilify Assange and his organization for their cavalier attitude toward the situation. Some political leaders have even gone so far as to request that the organization be declared a terrorist group, with all that that declaration would obviously imply. I believe, however, that what Assange and his organization have done is within the principles that most Americans should recognize as acceptable according to our ideals.
The outcry against the leak has primarily focused on a concern for safety and security. Many have voiced the opinion that the leaks have weakened American efforts abroad and at home and made our country less safe. For this I am dearly thankful. The quest for endless security is, in my estimation, the greatest threat to American ideals at large today. Terrorism and its evils cannot hold a candle to the damage that this quest has inflicted on our national culture. We have willfully, and often happily, surrendered our rights, our privacy, our prosperity and, with terribly regularity, our citizens to an effort that is foolhardy and destined for failure.
Most would agree that the government should do what it can to protect the sovereignty and ensure the survival of its citizenship. But the government must always be accountable to that citizenship, and if the revelation of information has the potential to undermine that purpose then that purpose was corrupted from the beginning. The idea that the government must operate covertly to protect its citizens is fundamentally opposed to the ethics that America claims to support and its persistence is an indictment of American apathy. The concept of open government is, and always will be, a mechanism for preventing corruption and exalting accountability and should be recognized as the correct method of operation. A sure sign that you may be outing an evil lurks in the righteous outcry of a leader who has had actions previously secret revealed.
Assange may be a fool who is much too concerned with his own fame and position to consider what he is revealing. But he is most assuredly a man who believes, with utter conviction, that freedom of information and the revelation of truth is always correct, no matter the outcome. The man has surrendered his life, guaranteeing an existence of endless hiding from a world that has, at the level of its leadership, grown to hate him. He may very well have committed himself to an early grave. If only others could have the conviction of principle that he has demonstrated in the face of such self-imposed danger.
The most important result of this juggernaut has been the demonstration of the power of information. Within knowledge lies the key to everything, and it can motivate tremendous actions. A simple release of documents has set off a firestorm of debate and discourse that is certain to endure well into 2011 and could even precipitate military conflict. Assange and wikileaks, meanwhile, seem determined to stay true to their mission, announcing a forthcoming release about a major American bank and its “flagrant violations, unethical practices…” This information has been promised for early next year.
The age of the information war, it seems, has officially begun.