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Julian Assange Keeps the World on Notice

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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.

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About healeyb

  • Ruvy

    I dug into some of the documents in this latest Wikileaks delivery. There was painfully little revealed in them. Assange has embarrassed some world leaders. Generally, the huge egos of these “leaders” prevents them from being seriously bothered by “embarrassment”.

  • http://financialpolitics.net/ Sekhar

    Healeyb, Bradely Manning is just a suspect. Even trials have not yet begun. But, it seems you have decided Manning as the main source of the leakage. I doubt whether an ordinary soldier gets access to such highly classified documents. Maybe he is just a scapegoat!

  • http://www.bryanhealey.com Bryan

    Ruvy: The bulk of the cables are mostly embarrassing anecdotes about diplomats, that is true, but there is some hefty data regarding international relations. The revelations about Iran and the Koreas are of particular note.

    Sekhar: I would never rule out such a possibility. He may very well be an innocent in a political mess. But as far as we know today, he is recognized as the source of the leak. I apologize for sounding certain, though.

  • Ruvy

    Bryan,

    One of my sons will have to serve in the army here (Israel) in a bit. I don’t give two hoots about American security sensibilities. Since Americans interfere routinely in our affairs (bullying is a more accurate term), I want to know what is actually going on, and these cables give me better knowledge. I care about Israeli security (selfish of me, I know) and want to see traitors who compromise it hung by the neck. Once your country butts out of our business, I’ll be a bit more sympathetic to your concerns. I’ll be able to afford to.

  • Clavos

    I doubt whether an ordinary soldier gets access to such highly classified documents.

    Depends first on his security clearance, Sekhar, then on his “need to know.” An enlisted soldier can conceivably have a very high clearance. As a cryptographer and communications specialist, I had a Top Secret Crypto clearance back in the day. The real criterion, however, is the need to know — regardless of your clearance AND rank, if you don’t have that to fulfill your duties, you don’t see the classified info. Even a field officer who lacks the need will not be privy to info for which he might otherwise be cleared.

  • http://www.bryanhealey.com Bryan

    Ruvy: I would need to do much more research on Israeli-American relations, but in case you are unaware, the popular media in the US (and elsewhere, such as the BBC) often portrays the US as a primary (and occasionally sole) ally of Israel. Perhaps the citizenship sees the arrangement much differently.

    Also, the issues I was referring to have little to do with American security. About Iran, the surprise was the discovery that most of the neighboring countries despise Ahmadinejad, and the discovery that China would support a reintegration of the Koreas was also a shock.

  • Ruvy

    This doesn’t harm you at all, Bryan. It should make you feel enlightened and perhaps more secure.

  • http://financialpolitics.net/ Sekhar

    #5 Clavos, It seems one of the charges framed on Manning was unauthorized access, which means he was not authorized to access the documents. So, there must be some other people helping Manning, who were actually authorized to access the data. Also I cannot understand how Manning was designated as an intelligence analyst at his earliest age (born 1987) and service.

  • Boeke

    Security clearances are handed out like lollipops. Sometimes in place of a raise or promotion. After all, they’re free so they don’t impact your budget.

  • Clavos

    Sekhar, except for the lifers, most troops are very young — the average age of infantrymen who served in Vietnam was 22, a year younger than Manning.

  • Clavos

    Security clearances are handed out like lollipops. Sometimes in place of a raise or promotion. (emphasis added)

    Hardly. There is no advantage to be gained from having a security clearance.

  • http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/author/danmiller/ Dan(Miller)

    Leaving aside the content of the specific information released, my concern is with the confidentiality of diplomatic communications in general.

    If diplomat A has reasonable confidence that what he tells diplomat B will be held in confidence and therefore not shared other than with those to whom diplomat B is expected to report it, lots more useful information is likely to be provided than if that confidence were absent. Sometimes, such information is very difficult if not impossible to obtain otherwise. Perhaps an analogy can be drawn to the attorney-client privilege, which permits a client to talk freely with his attorney. If privileged communications were to disappear, it would generally be stupid for a client to do so and it would then be impossible for an attorney adequately to defend a client probably guilty of a criminal or civil offense.

    The author states,

    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.

    He goes on to observe,

    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.

    I disagree with the apparent thesis that all security efforts, with no distinctions drawn among them, are universally a threat to American ideals, at least as I understand them. Some are and some are not. Carrying the author’s premise little further, would it better serve the national interest if all diplomatic communications were to be conducted via letters to the editor published daily in the New York Times? How about eliminating all security classifications and requiring the Department of Defense and all other agencies to issue daily press releases detailing all information coming into their possession, from both internal and external sources? These requirements would go far to ensure that accurate information is publicly available, without leaving the dissemination up to the whims of a blogger. However, I don’t think either would be in the national interest.

    Dan(Miller)

  • http://www.bryanhealey.com Bryan

    Dan: I actually agree with you about diplomacy and the comparison to the attorney-client relationship. However, every leak of important but sensitive information has unfortunate side effects. I can recall to the leaks at Enron, to offer a private industry example, and the resulting layoff and financial devastation of thousands of workers. It is tragic, but I still feel the unraveling of the company was necessary.

    Furthermore, this leak was not the result of a loose-lipped diplomat, but rather a single hacker who will be severely dealt with. I think the diplomatic relationships are reparable given proper steps taken to tighten security.

    I also agree with you, Dan, that not all security is a threat to American ideals. I have no problem with people locking their cars or doors, for a rather silly example. What I said was that the quest for endless security is the threat, a symptom of the panic inherent in the war on terrorism. The fear of any level of risk encourages people to surrender everything to attain a peace that simply isn’t worth what is surrendered.

    The one area of partial disagreement I have with what you said is in your concluding sentences. I would actually have no problem with required releases of defense information, even daily, scrubbed to remove crucial locations and names to protect those involved in sensitive operations. It would alleviate the issue of ballooning defense budgets with minimal public accountability, and I would need some serious convincing to believe that it would pose as serious a threat to national security as most would argue for.

  • http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/author/danmiller/ Dan(Miller)

    Bryan,

    I also see no problem with “scrubbed” defense information, provided that the scrubbing prevents the release of sensitive information. We may disagree on what is and what is not sensitive.

    You say,

    this leak was not the result of a loose-lipped diplomat, but rather a single hacker who will be severely dealt with. I think the diplomatic relationships are reparable given proper steps taken to tighten security.

    However, now that the damage has been done, I think that more will be needed than merely tightening security. How can diplomats be assured of the confidentiality they had previously assumed? They are unlikely to accept merely on faith that there is nothing to worry about. Might it be necessary to advise all diplomats in significant detail of the nature of the security tightening? That alone could have bad consequences.

    Dan(Miller)

  • Ruvy

    From my point of view, Assange should get a medal of honor, not an indictment. Forcing secret international dealings into the open is the healthiest thing we can have. Little as I like Netanyahu, he was right to say, “if the leaders make these statements publicly there will be a significant change”. “When leaders are willing to tell their people the truth it promotes peace.” The prime minister said, adding that “peace based on truth has a lasting chance.”

    Secret banking deals – which have robed Americans and others of $billions – also need to be forced out into the open.

  • Ruvy

    Sorry, that was robbed Americans, not robed them.

    It is no big deal if America weakens because of the disclosures Assange has made. America has been on a weakening trajectory since the destruction of the Twin Towers in 2001. This may make the trajectory a bit sharper – especially if banks start to fail out of fear of Assange’s disclosures.