Top Secret Envelope

The Strange Episode of Wikileaks

The whole WikiLeaks.com situation is getting old. Our government’s response is predictable, understandable, but 100% wrong. Freedom of the press and freedom of speech don’t go away just because you have computers, massive quantities of information and the words “top secret” are involved.

We, the people have the right to discuss our National Dirty Laundry. That doesn’t mean that the government has to tell us where or what the dirty laundry is:

  • It’s illegal for someone who works for the government to disclose classified information to someone who is not entitled to see it. If you work for the government, you can be legally subjected to the death penalty for this.
  • For those who don’t work for the government, it works differently: if you decide to publish something that is secret, the government has a problem. The Supreme Court has created a situation where the government has the right to try to stop publication, but has to meet an impossible high standard to punish the publisher. It’s a strange balance, and there is an excellent Congressional Research Service report on prosecuting disclosure of secret material by Attorney Jennifer Elsea. In short, the Supreme Court has held that the purpose of freedom of speech is to protect “the free discussion of government affairs.”

Ultimately, one of the features of our government is that it’s powers are limited. The government has the right to keep a secret. It does not have the right to punish the publication or discussion about a secret once it’s disclosed. So, it comes down to trusting people.

When I was in the Navy (I was enlisted), I had a clearance, and after training on handling of classified material, the one thing I knew is:

I was being ultimately trusted and the penalty for violating that trust was very, very severe.

The severity was for a reason: I was being trusted with information that in the wrong hands literally could undermine our entire country’s security. People could die. Fortunes could be lost. Nations could literally rise and fall. Leaders, up to and including the President could fall from grace. You see, no amount of technology, no process and no number of spies and watchers could stop even the lowest ranking sailor who wanted to disclose a secret. It’s remarkable, but true: our nation’s deepest, darkest secrets stay that way simply because the people entrusted with them choose not to disclose them. Because someone’s got to fix that expensive and deadly equipment we defend our country with, you have to trust people with some very scary information.

Back to WikiLeaks and Jullian Assange: the real criminal in all of this is PFC Bradley Manning, the soldier gave WikiLeaks their stash of cables. Manning is a tragic figure. He knowingly put his career, future and life on the line to give Julian Assange and WikiLeaks their trove of diplomatic cables. I’m sure Manning rationalized it. I’m sure he thought that he was doing right. Reality is that he’s going to be remembered as a great traitor, worthy of the same contempt we use when we say Benedict Arnold. Even worse, it appears that Manning’s disclosure is largely boring, everyday communication that every nation has with it’s diplomats and employees. So Manning traded it all in for nothing, and Julian Assange is milking it for every bit of attention he can get for his cause.

7 thoughts on “The Strange Episode of Wikileaks

  1. One thing though Mike, Assange is in the wrong if A) An Ally of ours is thrown out of government because he helped us and replaced with someone who won’t (ie Yemini Leader who is taking responsibility for bombings we do so we don’t get the heat) B) We lose any major treaties because of some off the cuff remark some ambasador says in joking fashion…( You can tell a joke by the tone of voice not by written paper) or C) Someone DIES because the information, especially the information in May results in someone being outed as a Helper of the infidels or a known person in hiding’s location is revealed.

    While I do agree that Freedom of Press and Freedom of Speech is a major part of our national freedoms and something we all enjoy regularly but just because you have information doesn’t mean you have to use it. There is a time and place where such information can be released. But Assange isn’t doing this under the notion of Freedom. He’s doing it under the notion of I want to be famous for posting information that the US doesn’t want anyone to know. I don’t care who gets humiliated, hurt or killed my ego is more important.

    Personally I’m tired of all forms of media now taking the stance of, if this information hurts the party we don’t like we are going to use it. MSNBC and FOXNews are both in the wrong. I”m sick of misinformation being spread on TV and the internet. Report the news, report the facts, these news medias need to stop reporting their opinion. The line between an op-ed and new reporting has been blurred to the point there is no line anymore.

    • I really appreciate your point of view. None of it is a problem if Manning had not given Assange his documents. The real question is did Assange give anything to Manning or make any promises to Manning that would have provided an enticement. If that is the case, than Assange has committed a crime.

      • I just wanted to tell you the last paragraph was nothign towards blogs or this article. Blogs are forms of op-ed. Opinion pieces written by the point of view of the person who wrote them. Unfortunately thats also what MSNBC, FOX and CNN do. Their site is supposed to give us the facts of the situation and don’t anymore. Instead they themselves have become overpriced blogs. It astounds me how Assange and Wiki Leaks are reported on the the big 3 news sites. 90% of it is not the same, some are worded to lean towards Democrats opinions and others Republicans.

        As for Manning. I can’t help but wonder that also. He had to have a motive, either Greed, or Anger is my guess. In terms of Anger I wonder if someeone he knew died in the war or he got overlooked for a promotion etc. It seems we are all to thin skinned today and always have to have a reason for everything and can’t accept the notion that somethings just happen and either have to find a reason or revenge.

        • The most interesting story in the whole WikiLeaks episode is why did Manning spill the beans… I’m sure that story will be revealed as his case goes to trial… if it ever goes to trial.

  2. Wikileaks revealed so much terrible stuff… This is awful in so many ways and will haunt the US for a long time to come. The worst part of all is that it does nothing to secure this country or our soldiers! If anything, it makes life more dangerous for them.

  3. Julian Assange may be a megalomaniac, but he’s not doing this merely to gain fame. His intention is to throw a monkey wrench into what he sees as a collection of authoritarian conspiracies bent on the unjust control of people and nations.

    “A man in chains knows he should have acted sooner, for his ability to influence the actions of the state is near its end. To deal with powerful conspiratorial actions we must think ahead and attack the process that leads to them since the actions themselves can not be dealt with.”

    Wikileaks, then, is an attack on the processes by which conspirators exchange information and gain trust. Decrease the flow of information, decrease the trust between conspirators, and you decrease the power of the conspiracy.

    From a post by zunguzungu:

    Teddy Roosevelt realized a hundred years ago that “Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people,” and it was true, then too, that “To destroy this invisible government, to befoul this unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of statesmanship.”

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