Sunday, December 5, 2010

Like we need another opinion about WikiLeaks ... but here it is

A couple weeks ago I didn't expect this to be my first topic of conversation, but I've been fascinated by the reaction to the diplomatic cables they released.

A few highlights ... 

An apparently coordinated series of denial of service cyber attacks were launched against the website hours before the diplomatic cables were released. They're still having trouble keeping the site up. At least some of the attacks appear to have come from someone who considers himself a "hacktavist for good." I appreciate the sentiment, but think it is misguided. WikiLeaks is not the enemy.

The U.S. based company EveryDNS dropped WikiLeaks supposedly due to the cyber attacks. Although, experts in the field have claimed this is extremely uncommon for DNS companies to do. This move forced WikiLeaks from their .org address to a .ch address based in Switzerland. & now have dropped WikiLeaks from their services. Whether this is based on their own judgment or under pressure from the U.S. government is currently unknown, but given what the leaks have revealed about how the government operates to get its way, I would not be surprised if the two companies were strongly advised to disassociate themselves from WikiLeaks.

Representative Peter King (R-NY), the leading Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, has called for trying WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for treason. Ignoring the fact that treason applies to citizens acting against their state and Mr. Assange has never been a U.S. citizen.

The Obama Administration has not ruled out legal action against WikiLeaks. 

Conservative intellectual, David Frum (who I admire) summarily stated, "The actions of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange are reckless, amoral, and dangerous."

Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has called Assange a "high tech terrorist" and likely 2012 GOP Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich says he should be treated as an "enemy combatant." These are hyperbolic statements even by the low, low standards of today's political soundbites.

Federal employees have been blocked from viewing the documents from government computers, because they are still technically secret. 

Why does all of this matter? Why should we care?

The more I think about it, the more I think what we are facing is a coordinated assault by the U.S. government on a free press, which is protected by our first amendment. It seems that Washington is having a collective knee jerk reaction to a new technological innovation. WikiLeaks is a new approach to journalism - it's crowd sourced. Any whistleblower with information to leak can submit it to the website with a promise of anonymity. This represents a revolutionary shift in an open society.

And yet what is the overwhelming response from our leaders and our punditocracy? Righteous indignation. A call for legal and possibly military action against a website that does exactly what news organizations do, but without the editorializing. WikiLeaks simply provides a forum for the release of information that the submitter and website administrators think is important for the public to know.

Don't get me wrong, the apparently disaffected soldier who leaked the diplomatic cables should be punished to the full extent of the law. He violated his oath to the U.S. government. He gave potentially dangerous and vital information to a foreign national. However, by going after WikiLeaks the government is in danger of shooting the messenger. The cat is out of the bag and you can't put this one back in.

If WikiLeaks is destroyed another wiki-leak site will fill the void. Technology allows this to happen and if we truly believe in a free press we should not be applauding attempts to silence the opposition. The lesson here is for the U.S. government to overhaul their e-security systems, re-think what deserves to be classified, and who should have access to that classified information. This can minimize the likelihood of another breach of national security of this magnitude. The lesson is not to find ways to silence our critics.

This is not without precedent. The Pentagon Papers regarding the Vietnam War were leaked by insider Daniel Ellsberg to the New York Times, who began publishing excerpts on June 13, 1971. Ellsberg was charged with felonies by the Justice Department. His case ended in mistrial after it was revealed the feds engaged in illegal wiretapping and other activities in order to convict him. The Justice Department also tried to censor the NY Times, requiring them to end their publication of the material. The Times v. U.S. case ultimately went to the Supreme Court. The Times were allowed to continue publication.

All is not lost. Libertarian congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) has come out in support of WikiLeaks. He tweeted the following (Yes, I kind of hate myself for "reporting" a tweet): "Re: Wikileaks – In a free society, we are supposed to know the truth. In a society where truth becomes treason, we are in big trouble.”

This gets to the heart of the matter. The release of the diplomatic cables is embarrassing, will have far reaching and currently unknown consequences around the globe, and likely changes how our diplomats will work going forward. However, the unrestricted access to information is fundamental to our being an informed electorate.

Julian Assange may never win a U.S. popularity contest, but he's not the enemy. He's the messenger. Don't shoot him.


  1. Why the World needs Wikileaks from the horses mouth:

  2. True, all these highlight the needs for the government to seal the leaks and reduce the number of people with access to classified information. And yes, free press should be a fundamental right of a democracy within certain legal/moral bounds.

    But I do not think he is just a messenger. His so-called philosophy, to me, sounds like an after thought: after the thrill of knowing they can do what they did, and the world tumbles. To say that they did not see any unintended consequences is a blatant lie. He also contradicts himself by stating that he doesn't know the sources of those documents yet "all the informants are well intended".

    In any case, if I were a government who'd like to accelerate the failure of American (or fill the blank) diplomatic operations, I would make anonymous donations to keep this 'volunteer organization' going strong, if not strategically facilitates their information gatherings. If I were the US, I would make the secrets even more secret, and set up a uber-secret entity devoted to generating fake documents and 'leak' it. It's freedom of information after all.

  3. The irony: