There’s been another major WikiLeaks data dump. The previous ones which made the news here in America focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But this one shifts focus from the Pentagon to the State Department, releasing around 250,000 lightly classified documents which reveal the inner workings of US diplomatic relations.
The usual cast of clowns are up in arms about this, calling for a quasi-Stalinist government stranglehold of information and war on the press for reporting embarrassing facts about them. Republican Congressman Pete King of Long Island, NY, is calling for WikiLeaks to be classified as a terrorist organization, and the reality television star / internet troll Sarah Palin compared WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the Taliban. She also suggested that the government use “cyber tools” in order to track him down. Perhaps the cyber police could use their cyber tools in order to backtrace it. And when that happens, consequences will never be the same.
But the American right wing isn’t the only political faction angry with WikiLeaks. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims that WikiLeaks is part of an American plot against his country with the goal of stopping Iranian nuclear capabilities because some of the leaked cables contain pleas from other countries in the region calling on the American political leadership to attack Iran’s nuclear sites.
To be fair, Ahmadinejad is not exactly the Taliban. For one thing, Iran is mostly Shia while the Taliban is Sunni. But when you’ve got two opposing sides, like the political leaderships of America and Iran, and they both accuse a journalistic organization of being on the side of their enemy, then that’s a pretty strong indication that the journalistic organization in question is not a part of either camp. They’re just doing their job. And that job happens to involve publishing information which will make powerful people in all camps extremely angry.
I normally stay away from sports metaphors, but if you’ve got two opposing teams both of which accuse the referee of favoring their opponents, then similarly that would be a pretty strong indication that the ref is actually being fair and that it’s the players who are biased in their own favor. WikiLeaks is like that kind of referee, but obviously on a much more significant scale.
So the whining of world political leaders over WikiLeaks have basically here been reduced to the level of discourse normally reserved for Buffalo sports fans. Or even, now, the players themselves, but that’s a different story altogether. It’s pathetic.
Joe Lieberman has also weighed in on the subject. He, like many others, is of the opinion that WL puts American lives at risk, but stops short of calling them a terrorist organization. White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs also reiterated the claim that WL puts American lives at risk. But this seems to be largely just chest-pounding, since neither statements contain any specific information in the now-public cables which connect the data to any risk at all. Lieberman and Gibbs are simply asserting that claim without any data to support their assertions. And it can’t reasonably be said that drawing a specific connection between the cables and supposed danger to American diplomats must remained classified because thanks to WikiLeaks and the newspapers involved, those cables are now available to the public.
The only way that the position of “WL endangers Americans” can be maintained would be if a much more general connection were to be made. For example, since the release of these documents makes the DoS look bad, then other countries might be less willing to cooperate with them. But that would be the case for any reporting which reflected poorly on the State Department. Taken to its logical conclusion, that line of thinking would mean a necessary prior restraint on any reporting on the State Department, which would be a problem in a country with something like a First Amendment and a Supreme Court which rules against prior restraint.
If that weren’t bad enough for this “OMG Julian Assange endangers Americans” argument, there’s one final nail in the coffin here. Prior to the release of these documents, WL offered to review the information by proxy with the State Department, just as they had with the Pentagon in the previous cases involving military issues. Here is a link to the relevant correspondences from the UK’s Index on Censorship, but this is the important quote which gives lie to this claim about how the State Department would do anything to prevent these alleged risks to American lives, from State Department legal adviser Harold Hongju Koh:
We will not engage in a negotiation regarding the further release or dissemination of illegally obtained U.S. Government classified materials
So even if you were to believe the ‘putting lives at risk’ claim at face value, the underlying and unspoken claim that the State Department cares very much about these risks is completely ridiculous. They clearly don’t care enough about these imaginary risks to bother talking to a few icky computer nerd hackers. Gross!