November 30 2010
The WikiLeaks Fiasco
Senator Claire McCaskill said on TV the other day that the people in the government who helped WikiLeaks acquire the diplomatic cables they've recently dumped on the internet should do a "gut check" about their patriotism. I'm going to go out on a limb here, Senator McCaskill, and say: no gut check needed. Whoever did this is a traitor. They should be punished as harshly as the law allows.
So far the documents dump itself doesn't seem to have contained anything really new or unexpected. There may be some such revelations, but, as of now, most of it has been pretty humdrum stuff. The most interesting tidbit is that Saudi Arabia was begging the U.S. to take out Iran. Glad to get that on record. Oh, yes, and diplomats lie.
So why should we be upset?
The Weekly Standard's Phil Terzian, who once had a low-level security clearance, makes some interesting points on why the WikiLeaks revelations are nevertheless bad for the U.S.:
Everybody has heard the story about the Pentagon official who read an article in U.S. News & World Report and marked it Top Secret before circulating it among his colleagues. But in the wake of this latest document dump from WikiLeaks, it ought to be understood that security classification is not intended to hide facts from the public, or conceal wrongdoing, but to allow government officials-posted overseas, in the executive branch, on active service-to speak with candor. This applies to diplomats reporting from their posts or lawyers responding to an inquiry from the president.
The greatest danger of episodes like this is not the "damage" that might be done to foreign policy-which is minimal, since everybody knows that friendly governments gossip about one another, have occasional spats, and negotiate on many fronts-but to free and unfettered communication on matters of war and peace, life and death. If an ambassador or military officer knows that his honest answers to questions from superiors will soon be in the public domain, he will begin to furnish dishonest answers-or no answers at all. How any news organization can conclude that this is in the public interest is beyond me.
Terzian also makes a good point about Julian Assange of WikiLeaks and others like him and their motives:
That is why it is important to regard the actions of people like Julian Assange of WikiLeaks and his informants as dangerous to our democracy. There is a cult of the "whistleblower" in the American media; but whistleblowers have motives, and their motives are often grounded in hostility to American policy, or the national interests of the United States. These are not people to be celebrated or indulged, but to be called to account for their crimes.
Secretary of State Clinton emphasized the WikiLeaks dump is an affront to the international community. I care only about what it means for one country, my own country. There has been a lot of talk about prosecuting Julian Assange, but this strikes me as creeping litigationism. He's not a U.S. citizen. There is a move afoot to charge him with espionage. John Hawkins, however, suggests that the CIA take the matter in hand.
Just for the record-kudos to the news organizations that refused to use the WikiLeaks material.