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WikiLeaks: Idealists Putting Good People in Mortal Danger

It was Thursday of the last week of the last year of the decade. The coming New Year’s Eve fell on a Saturday. So most businesses not committed to retail sales closed Friday, and released employees early on Thursday. As most folks prepared for the coming celebration, 5 planes secretly took off from three airports in the Ukraine. They carried enough fissionable material to build 2 nuclear bombs. It had been stored in relatively unsecured locations, easy targets for terrorists. And there was some interest among dangerous people in getting their hands on it.

The negotiations leading to the removal of the enriched uranium could not have been easily done without the cooperation of Russia, which is melting down the material, blending it to make it useless as a weapons core. A few days before, a similar operation removed vulnerable nuclear materials from Serbia. In all, 19 countries have gotten rid of unsecured stockpiles of weapons grade nuclear materials with the help and prodding of the United States, the most obvious target of any weapons falling into the wrong hands. 16 more countries are still negotiating. So far enough material to make 122 nuclear bombs has been taken out of the reach of terrorists.

The entire operation has been the result of precisely the sort of secret backroom deal making that makes open door advocates cringe. “Any time people with power plan in secret,” said Julian Assange in a recent press conference, “they are conducting a conspiracy. So there are conspiracies everywhere.” Assange is the founder of WikiLeaks, which publishes US secrets. His belief makes the Wilsonian proposal of “open covenants of peace, openly arrived at” less of a program and more of a religious dogma.

Secrecy conceals much evil. An early mission statement offered Daniel Ellsberg as an organizational ideal. It was partly a guide to whistle blowing, partly a guarantee of source protection, and partly a manifesto. A four paragraph analysis of whether indiscriminate leaking is irresponsible focused on false or misleading information (could be rebutted in the open) and invasion of privacy (embarrassing information can expose injustice).

The first recent WikiRevelations did indeed expose atrocities, one caught on video. The second was different. A dozen participants left the organization after documents were inadequately redacted. Ordinary people who stumbled into contact with information about terrorist attacks have stopped several threats. In exchange, their identities were protected. WikiLeaks blacked out names but carelessly published other identifying information.

Also revealed were negotiations with Pakistan to secure its nuclear arsenal, safeguarding it from terrorist attempts to secure weapons. And so the chances of more Ukraine-like deals may be less likely.

In its mission statement, WikiLeaks insists, reasonably, that a free society must protect journalists, a point echoed by well meaning defenders. “In its landmark ruling on the Pentagon Papers, the US Supreme Court ruled that ‘only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.’ We agree.” Well, duh and duh again. Legality is only one issue.

What is right ought to carry some moral weight. When Philip Agee left the CIA and published the names of 250 secret operatives around the world, he was breaking no law. But two identified British agents were executed in Poland as a result, and the revealed head of the Athens CIA station was assassinated. Those are only what was made public. Even though it was completely legal, the outrage in the free world was ubiquitous.

Decades later, when Bush senior deputy Karl Rove directed that Valarie Plame’s secret role as a CIA spy be revealed, it was to strike back at her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson,  for putting the lie to claims of nukes in Iraq. The outing of Plame also made public the “company” she worked for as a CIA front, which revealed the identities of other CIA operatives. The damage cascaded. Every informant with Plame or the other agents was put into some degree of danger. Defenders of Rove went to law books and calendars to make the argument that Plame had not been in service long enough to put Rove into technical criminality.

The year 2000 brought with it a new millennium, the election of sorts of a new Republican President, and a new ethic: that what matters is not what is right, but what can be gotten away with at the edges of the law. Secrecy does disguise many instances of evil. Occasionally, it also keeps ordinary people of good will from getting killed when they take huge risks. And sometimes it leads to a reduction of not-made-up-for-invasion chances of poisonous mushrooms. The distinction between good and evil escapes this elite band of brothers: Agee, Rove, and Assange.

Many thanks to Burr Deming

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Posted by on January 9, 2011. Filed under Commentary,Political,Social Issues. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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2 years ago

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John Myste
10 years ago

Gwendolyn, My big issue with your friend Burr is that he generally will not engage me. I have tried on multiple occasions to provoke him for this reason: just to get a response. It is virtually impossible to do. I have literally responded to his posts, laughing at the silliness of my refutation of something he said, just to provoke him, and failed. Thus far, I have only got any real response at all when I challenged his faith, and even then, it was utterly delicate. Therefore, though he may responds to this thread, it is not likely. I really believe that the only way you get a response out of him generally is if you say something that inspires a literary reaction. He is a literary thinker, which is what attracted me to his thinking in the first place. I once asked him why he does engage in an e-mail. He explained that he gave his position and others give theirs and there is no point in fighting over it (that is a paraphrase, and from memory, my own dilapidated memory, so it is possible that conversation never took place. My memory insists that it did, and if I am mistaken, I am not threatened. Burr will never dispute the issue with me). His intention is to throw his opinion out there, but I think he feels that attempting to challenge the opinions of others is somehow base. There have been a few occasions when he fires back, again with utter kindness, but don’t hold your breath.

All jesting aside, I would like to interject the point that Krell has become one of my intellectual heroes. OK, back to normal discourse:

As for Krell’s point, I must agree. Assange has done a wonderful job of deciding what national secrets shall be published and which ones shall not. Judge Assange’s adjudication skills are beyond question. He is a wonderful American leader, and his regulation of our national secrets has been exemplary. He should teach a class.

With all due respect to Assange, I think all documents and ALL national secrets should be revealed. All government foreign policy should be televised. It should be illegal for any private discussion to happen by any elected official regarding matters of national concern. Protecting the identity of anyone for any reason, or failing to disclose plans regarding any foreign policy, should never be allowed, as secrets breed conspiracy. If not for Woodword and Berstein and that other guy, all tattle tales of the finest order, we would not have learned of Watergate, right? That alone mostly proves my point. Only transparency in all things can ensure the trust of the American people will not be exploited. Trust your government, but verify its actions, each and every one, for governments are nefarious in nature; and never, never allow your leaders to withhold data, as this is America, a first Amendment nation with the freedom to tell and the right to know, and here only crooks want to harbor secrets. It is an established fact that good and righteous men blab. Our friend Assange is a more than a judge. He is a patriot, a brave superman, who looks into his heart for instruction and then decides all our fates as best he can; and with no thought to his own safety. He is self-sacrificing, like Jesus.

The guest contributor fretted that some innocent people were put in mortal danger as a result of Assange’s actions. Simpleton. Others have pointed out the obvious, that his tell-the-tale philosophy could endanger the innocent. However, they are all missing the point. The lives of these people and others in the future are worth it, because we gladly give their lives to support our need for openness. It has been decreed by our leader Assange’s as his defense against the aggressor from within: Uncle Sam, with his fake smile and his pernicious plans. He hides things, and lots of them. We would fall off our horses in shocked dismay if only we knew what’s really under his hypocritical flag-colored hat. We elected this Uncle to run things, but now he molests us while we sleep. Like the rest of the world, we feel he must be stopped. He is no longer one of us. Assange has taught us no greater lesson than this: If we have not learned who our enemies are by now, we never shall.

John Myste
Reply to  John Myste
10 years ago

OK, there is one quote here that I greatly admire:

“To me, WikiLeaks means that no longer will the victors write the history books. And that is something worth saving.”

That is a very good argument to why we may want Assange. It does nothing to defend him at a personally level, but it is a very profound observation.

Gwendolyn H. Barry
Reply to  John Myste
10 years ago

The first and lasting quality I come to meeting any mind with, is Kindness. Burr is exceedingly kind. He is a Spiritual man, his writing tone is intelligent, historical and yes, John, I agree, Burr can be very ah, “strict”, maybe orthodox nails it? Burr’s opinions often conflict with mine (check his site, he tasks my blog regularly – also promotes me!). Kindness is the offspring of intelligence and a yearning to expand through natural curiosity. I often think that Burr’s eclectic spiritual overview, anchored in his personal pastor / mentor relationship with so many of us fellow bloggers, is a kindly avuncular stand. And who of us would swat nasty as that? Eh? He does ‘back off’ from confrontation… he has, however, joined us on BRT and discussed / argued with us leftist liberals! He is progressive…. 🙂

There is a whole much to admire about Krell’s work! And I second, too, your admiration of the [“To me, WikiLeaks means that no longer will the victors write the history books. And that is something worth saving.” ] … I have been using that line over and over in the last month through the courtesy of Krell: the written! He is where I heard it first.

On secrecy we agree also. Kudo’s Mr. Myste. And here’s to Anonymous, too! You simply never know who has been placed on the rolls of that disorganized online organization….. eh? And when you might be sparring or agreeing with them… cool, huh? I like the notion of it… don’t you?

John Myste
Reply to  Gwendolyn H. Barry
10 years ago

Lest there be any confusion, I still want to emphasize that I do not actually admire Assange’s leadership in this matter. He does not have the right to empower himself with the decision of what government secrets remain hidden and which one he will reveal. If anyone took my sarcasm for sympathy, I sincerely apologize.

I do admire this quote:

“To me, WikiLeaks means that no longer will the victors write the history books. And that is something worth saving.”

But it does nothing to defend Assange on a personal level.

Gwendolyn H. Barry
Reply to  John Myste
10 years ago

You’re covered Mr. Myste. Understood…. I did not respond with irony. I think that these days… the candor of irony or the double fade or any essential snark is lost. Things are brutal enough without misunderstanding each other. I suppose I did misunderstand… ‘got cha’ now, 🙂

Gwendolyn H. Barry
10 years ago

Burr is an old friend online and I respect his opinions even when I disagree. He has a beautiful compassion that translates so well in his blog FAIR & UNBALANCED…
I disagree here…
As David said, it’s stunning how many people are willing to avoid looking at what WikiLeaks reveals, and the timely intercession it offers us in new awareness. Knowledge is far more valuable than secrecy, in nearly all cases. Espionage has failed modern western culture. Point to me, it successes, PLEASE! Historically, when new policies are put into effect, the history of their empowerment is revealed. Like the Paris Peace Talks, so long ago. Many of the best of those who have worked at espionage will say the same.
Oso points to the dynamics of spying and what it has wrought or not… I would restate that most good ‘spys’ would talk about the ineptitude of governments, intelligence oversights, and the ultimate injustice by many politicians against these gov. employees. How can anyone forget the EASY BETRAYAL by corporate hack politico’s within the Bush administration against an active field agent?
WikiLeaks is offering us an opportunity to take an honest look at how misguided and mangled our foreign policies actually are. Right up there with our domestic political mismanagement!

Stimpson
Stimpson
Reply to  Gwendolyn H. Barry
10 years ago

Moreover, Gwen, as I say, if people had leaked certain “secrets” before the Iraq incursion in 2003, would the U.S. have cluster-bombed Iraq? Leaks sometimes make government officials accountable and, if the timing is right, prevent them from doing hateful things.

I wouldn’t want to argue the merits and demerits of spying. That’s tricky, to say the least. But leaks are often a good thing. Of that I have no doubt.

Krell
Reply to  Gwendolyn H. Barry
10 years ago

Gwen, a strong debate could be put up for the merits of spying. The spooks have certainly had many successes, but I think some of those successes would have to be clarified as the definition.

Is a success measured by benefit to this country or benefit to a corporation of the country?

For example, helping ITT overthrow Allende and putting Pinochet in power in Chile. Good for ITT, bad for a democratically elected Allende. Central American history for the past 60 years is example after example of the CIA doing horrific things.

Meddling of Iran’s internal affairs way since way back in the 1950’s still is having repercussions.

Another huge intelligence failure was 6 months after a intelligence briefing on the Soviet Union about their increased strengths and additional budgets needed to fight them, the Soviet Union collapsed. I mean if you can’t get that right then what good is any of the “Strengths” briefings?

Remember the Church Committee and the revealing of the CIA’S “Family Jewels” and the startling things like MKULTRA?

Gwendolyn H. Barry
Reply to  Krell
10 years ago

I choose a different version of reality, any more, Krell. If we don’t get past the war mongering, the greed, the corporate dynamic and spoilage of our Home, we will become extinct. I want to work in that direction with support of the political nature in the moment.
It does filter down to that and I define it as my reality. While the world is dynamic in another reality; that of greed, it’s what you say…
Have to spy.
Have to develop weapons for protection.
Have to create boarders that ensure protection of one culture from another….
I hope for better. Really do.
A clean environment, a sustainable business dynamic globally, the evolution of a world culture that doesn’t squeeze out “different” or create the “other” … us versus them.
I have my union card: Dreamers’ Local #143
ya know?

and of course as all know here, I can be loud bitch about what I think is unjust or wrong or abusive… LOL

Stimpson
10 years ago

Washington: Realpolitik Cynics Lying To Americans To Justify The Killing of Innocents in Iraq.

That headline has more truth in it. If only someone had leaked the truth in early 2003, maybe all those cluster bombs wouldn’t have been dropped on Iraq.

oso
oso
10 years ago

Krell makes the point far better than I would have,and in more detail.
I might only add that the poster identifies with Western intelligence agency policymakers behind desks making these decisions,the people in the field implementing them and those foreign assets choosing to work with those agents.

Were he to identify with the people being tortured by the regimes either supported or installed by these policymakers, the people being killed by wars of aggression or drone attacks initiated by these policymakers, the people made jobless and struggling to feed their families due to their economies being squeezed by these policymakers – he might be less inclined to call those policymakers good people and instead welcome the exposure of the horror these malefactors have caused, and worry about the continuance of these horrors being inflicted on the world rather than the possible fate of a few bad people.

Holte Ender
10 years ago

Using Rove and Assange in the same sentence and calling them an ‘elite band of brothers’ is a little strong. For one thing Assange freely admits responsibility for the release of the cables. The ‘Snake’ Rove wouldn’t know the truth if it bit him in the ass (which it should). The suggestion that WikiLeaks and it’s actions could put dirty bombs in the hands of terrorists because covert operations are in jeopardy smacks of Republican fear mongering. Secrecy is important when fighting extremists, so keep it secret, stop flooding the diplomatic channels with information and then whining when it gets leaked.

Krell
Reply to  Holte Ender
10 years ago

Good point, Holte.

Citing cases of damage caused by revealing secret information like Phillip Agee, a suspected KGB/Cuban intelligence asset, does smack of fear-mongering.

They have absolutely no connection whatsoever and it’s a simple “Parade of Horribles” fallacy. Surprised that Victor Marchetti wasn’t included in this exclusive club.

Dusty
10 years ago

I support Weakileaks, but that said, I do have a problem with leaking individuals names and/or revealing information about said individual. It smacks of PlameGate, something I felt very strongly about.

Krell
10 years ago

There are several issues that I have with this post.

Julian Assange has stated publicly several times that secrecy does have a role. Time Magazine Interview when asked if there where instances when secrecy could be an asset in diplomacy or Global Affairs..

“Secrecy is important for many things but secrecy has its place. We keep secret the identity of our sources, as an example, take great pains to do it. But, he said, secrecy shouldn’t be used to cover up abuses.”

It never ceases to amaze me how much time is spent on defining the evils of WikiLeaks but not the evils that they reveal.

Ironically, your example given of the retrieval of rogue highly enriched uranium or HEU in Bulgaria can be used.

The Global Threat Reduction Initiative or GTRI, of which you refer in your post, has been highly successful in collecting HEU that is being kept under conditions of lax security.

HEU is VERY dangerous and to produce a bomb is simple with enough material. You could drop a sufficient amount of HEU from a distance of say 4 feet on top of another pile of HEU and you would have an atomic explosion.

But what most people do not realize is that the United States exports HEU. Hundreds of pounds per year of HEU at 93% or greater enrichment to corporations in several nations, often with greatly less security than that of a military base or the conditions we demand of those “rogue” nations that you mentioned in your post.

Exporting of HEU by the U.S. used to be somewhat regulated until the Senator Pete Domenici, Republican of New Mexico and chairman of the Energy Committee, included an amendment – section 633 of the 2005 energy bill that gutted restrictions on the export of highly enriched uranium.

Only last year were restrictions put back on. The 2009 American Medical Isotopes Production Act seeking to halt the export of highly enriched uranium for medical isotope production was just recently pass after being put on hold.

But due to it’s lack of enforcement teeth and 13 years to be implemented, it’s a testament to the power of lobbying in Washington in those secret smoke filled back rooms.

WikiLeaks has been very careful in reviewing and redacting the information that they have released. So far only about 2 percent of the diplomatic cables have been released. They work with organizations like the New York Times and Der Spiegel, months in advance before the information is released.

WikiLeaks has also offered to work with a intermediary for redaction review with the United States government but they refused.

WikiLeaks may have produced some discomfort and some re-locations of operatives in those war torn nations due to unintentional exposure of information.

But without a doubt I can say that the relocation numbers that WE have produced of the general population of those countries is far greater.

Do we, as Americans paying about 1 billion dollars per week, not have the right to know the truth about those events and not just some “embedded” P.R. campaign?

To me, WikiLeaks means that no longer will the victors write the history books. And that is something worth saving.