December 7

Wikileaks: good or bad?

the issue

Julian Assange, the man behind Wikileaks, has recently become a household name – but does he garner fame, or infamy? My first instinct was the former – that Wikileaks (or “WL”) is a “good” thing – but, like any levelheaded political enthusiast should, I decided to take a closer look. Assange has been under attack from the “right” AND “left”, an honor not often bestowed but currently shared by the TSA. Huckabee has called for his execution and Gingrich calls him an enemy combatant, while Obama wants him for espionage and Clinton charges him of “an attack on the international community”. But is there logic and reason behind these flurries of words, or might they be passionate but reckless verbal assaults?

The prevailing charge against Wikileaks is simply that it endangers American and other lives. One would presume that the released documents list names of individuals who would be compromised should they become known to the “enemy”, whoever that may be at the time. However, upon researching, one finds that before being leaked, the documents are first redacted – that is, sanitized of such personal information as specific names. How then does Wikileaks put lives at risk? According to the Pentagon, at least in August: “We have yet to see any harm come to anyone in Afghanistan that we can directly tie to exposure in the Wikileaks documents.”

How, then, can the faces of media outlets make such cursory claims? The answer, of course, is that journalism has become a lost art, at least in the mainstream. High-ranking government officials, too, should be held to a higher standard before lashing out – but at this point in our governmental discourse, we know standards have gone out the window. But never fear, there are some of us remaining out in the Inter-ether who’ve retained the skill of objective and impartial research and reporting, and thus I present “the rest of the story”.

the rest of the story

The most recently-released cables, known as “Cablegate” – while flushing out most of the newest media hype and backlash – are in reality little more than a PR embarrassment for the US, for the majority. However, there is evidence of at least one critical document which was leaked: a list of facilities ‘vital to US security’. To quote the article:

There are obvious pieces of strategic infrastructure like communications hubs, gas pipelines and so on. However, other facilities on the list include:

* Cobalt mine in Congo
* Anti-snake venom factory in Australia
* Insulin plant in Denmark

It is not clear whether the document reveals exact locations of these sites, or merely that they exist. However, let us assume the worst. If the document reveals exact locations of sites ‘vital to US security’, let us ask one question: how was such a document made so accessible to so many with low-level federal clearances? Anyone who isn’t a felon or a raging alcoholic can relatively easily get a ‘secret’ clearance; I’m pretty sure I had one to work for VDOT during a college internship. The highest clearance level of any of the leaked documents was ‘secret’. Nothing was ‘top secret’ or ‘classified’. If such information is so critical… why not?

the conclusion

The reason people are so scared of Wikileaks, particularly the higher-ups in the administration, is because it makes clear on many levels the incompetence of the federal government. It causes embarrassment, and it is easier to band together against a fall guy like Assange, than admit that our own government is vulnerable and, at least to an extent, incompetent regarding such things as potentially important to our national security as “state secrets”.

For the civil liberties-minded among us, the Wikileaks have led to many positive outcomes, such as this headline: UN urges US and Iraq to probe Wikileaks torture claims. There is an old Latin phrase: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” which translates to “Who watches the watchmen?” Watchdog expose’s are often controversial, and while Wikileaks may cause the US gov heaps of embarrassment and pain, the common US citizen must exercise careful deliberation and weighing of all sides (there are more than two here) before joining behind mouthpieces like Huckabee or Gingrich, grabbing the pitchforks, and yelling “kill him!” in common mob mentality. Nobody throws the ‘traitor’ card when other ‘journalists’ convey important leaked information from ‘inside sources’ in the government. There is no principal difference here; only scale.

the moral

In this electronic age, if one document gets into the wrong hands, it can never be taken back. And where one site gets offed, ten more will pop up. Claiming that Wikileaks should be shutdown (or worse) is akin to Senator Jay Rockefeller’s claim that the “Internet should have never existed” because of the high amount of hacking attempts on high-profile DoD databases every day. If DoD databases are vulnerable, take them off the Internet. And if government documents are vulnerable, restrict access to them. But, fedgov, don’t push your intel failures onto a scapegoated watchdog website. That’s Wikilame. WIKILAME.

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