- CRITTER TALK
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
Edify means "to uplift, enlighten, or inform."
// The speaker's words edified the graduating class, giving them hope and encouragement.
// As they grew older, the children realized their grandfather embellished the stories of his travels abroad.
// The gift shop had cowboy shirts and hats embellished with beads and stitching.
"Well, I've always wanted to write a children's book. This is just partly based on a story I used to tell Krishna, my daughter, when she was going to bed at night, but we just embellished it and embellished it." — Padma Lakshmi, quoted in Bon Appétit, 27 May 2021
Edify comes from the Latin verb aedificare, meaning "to instruct or improve spiritually"; it is based on aedes, the word for "temple." Edify shares the spiritual meaning of its Latin root, but it is also used in general contexts to refer to the act of instructing in a way that improves the mind or character overall.