I found this letter on Reddit from a guy to his parents about the Wikileaks situation. Nat and I just read it together and are both pretty in-step with the points this guy makes, so for your reading pleasure:
I know you may not like Wikileaks and view what they did as irresponsible and harmful. I want to take the time to give you all a second opinion on the situation. I want to express why I feel the media is horribly misrepresenting this issue. I have heard in news reports the accusations of Wikileaks being a hacker organization or indiscriminately leaking 250,000 diplomatic cables. They have been blatantly lying about leaks themselves, Wikileaks, and Julian Assange.
Let’s get the facts straight before jumping to conclusions or forming opinions. Wikileaks is a journalist organization who’s mission is to help whistleblowers remain anonymous. Julian Assange, an Australian citizen, is the site’s public figure. Here’s a short list of previous publishings that wikileaks has been lauded for:
- Systematic killings and disappearances by the Kenyan Government; this leak changed the Kenyan election.
- Illegal Cayman Island activities of the Swiss Bank Julius Baer.
- Mass corruption in the Icelandic government just prior to the economic collapse
- Iranian nuclear facility accident (related to the Stuxnet worm)
These exposures were from information that other people leaked to wikileaks. Wikileaks does not go out and steal documents, they are given information from a source just like any other news organization. Again, Wikileaks’s goal is to help whistleblowers remain anonymous while making their information public.
Private Bradley Manning downloaded the 250,000 cables and other documents from his army computer. He then leaked those file to wikileaks within the last year. After the leak, Manning was turned in after admitting to it to hacker Adrian Lamo. He was arrested and charged with the crime, he is currently being held in a military prison in the U.S.
Of the 250,000 diplomatic cables, over 130,000 are unclassified, 100,000 are confidential, and 15,000 are secret. Nothing is rated top secret. Wikileaks passed these cables along to several major news organizations and did not release them publicly. The news organizations then, after reading and analysing them, publicly released about 300 of the cables. After they were posted by The New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, and El Pais did Wikileaks make only those 300 cables available on their website. The release has been proceeding in this fashion with Wikileaks publishing the cables after they are made public by the mainstream media. So far, out of 250,000 cables only 1,200 have been released.
Wikileaks is not leaking this information, the information is leaked to them. They are not hacking government computers and stealing files. They have not publicly released any of these cables, they are hosting 1,200 cables which had been publicly released by other news organizations.
So, if you think the cable releases were irresponsible and someone should be punished, I have to ask why should it be Assange and Wikileaks? Surely the responsible party was Manning himself, who is facing very serious punishment for the laws he broke. If you still blame Wikileaks for facilitating the leaks and making them public, would not The New York Times (which is actually a U.S. based company) be more complicit in the act?
And then there are the ludicrous allegations against Julian Assange. In almost every report on TV I have heard it said that he is facing rape charges in Sweden. Yet another lie. There are two charges from two women in Sweden from his visit to a conference. The first woman was organizing the event, and offered to let him stay at her apartment while he was in Sweden. During his stay they had consensual sex and the condom had split. She explained what STDs were and how to get tested, and he refused. At the conference he met the second woman. They later went out and had dinner and saw a movie. The saw each other the next day. They had sex at her apartment that night. She said she had asked him to wear a condom, but he refused. The next morning she made him breakfast before he had left. The charges are that he had consensual sex without a condom, yet he is being smeared as an alleged rapist. I would like to ask, since when is having sex without a condom grounds for an Interpol international arrest warrant, or being held without bail on extradition charges in the UK where what he did is not a crime?
What about the documents themselves, how irresponsible was this leak? I hear that these cables will compromise our national security and set our foreign policy back decades. These are the same people who say Assange should be hunted down and assassinated as a terrorist, as if extra-judicial killings are perfectly reasonable. Sarah Palin said ignorantly that he should be charged with treason, as if someone who is not a U.S. citizen could commit treason against the U.S. Of course I should reiterate that Bradley Manning is the person who comprised our very lax national security, but that is besides the point.
I do understand threats to national security are real, but there is a big difference between national security and foreign policy. These are exchanges between diplomats, nowhere are intimate military details or defense secrets discussed. And, had we found such discussion, that would show diplomats clearly overstepping their authority and acting illegally. Even if this does hurt our foreign reputation, that in no way entails compromising our national security. This is why we separate diplomats and military. If there is a threat to our national security, it is the miserable state of computer security that allowed Manning to leak the documents. But there are no calls for their heads.
Many people on both sides of this issue agree that this will hurt America’s foreign reputation. Some of those opposing Wikileaks say Assange should be charged for hurting our foreign reputation. This is a very dangerous idea that needs to be attacked. This is a direct argument for political censorship, prosecuting someone for embarrassing the government, and I cannot believe it is being called for in the United States. I want to remind you that the majority of the cables are unclassified and available to the public by request. Had the New York Times requested all unclassified diplomatic cables and published the most embarrassing ones, should they be charged for embarrassing the government? What about when Watergate or the Pentagon Papers broke loose, those certainly embarrassed the government, but I don’t know anyone who objects to them.
When you call for political censorship, you are setting a trap for yourself. The question raised is this: who is going to be the censor? To whom do you award the job of deciding what you can and cannot read. To whom do you trust in relieving you of the responsibility of determining, for yourself, what is harmful to hear? Thoreau asks us, why possess our own conscience if we are going to relegate moral responsibility to someone else.
Well we chose our faithful servants and we relegated our responsibilities, and now we get to see what has come of that. And what is revealed? To no surprise we find the State Secrets Privilege horribly abused. The majority of the confidential cables that have been released do not meet the criteria for being classified in the first place. Nor was there any judicial oversight to their classification. More to the point, we were betrayed the minute the State Secrets Privilege was granted. The case U.S. vs Reynolds, where it originated in 1953, involved widows seeking accident reports for the B-29 crash where their husbands had died. The government claimed that the reports contained sensitive information the would risk our national security. In 2000, the accident report was finally declassified. There were no secret mission details as claimed, only embarrassing information about the poor condition of the airplane. That is the license for government secrets, but do we hear about that every time the privilege is invoked?
Now we get to see this practice of lying and misinforming the public institutionalized on a grand scale. And yet where are the news reports about this revelation? We do not hear much about what the cables actually say. Do we hear about political pressure stopping a trial in Madrid against 3 U.S. soldiers who killed an innocent reporter? Do we hear about pressure stopping CIA agents from going to trial for kidnapping an innocent German citizen then torturing him for months in Afghanistan? Do we hear about how Pfizer lobbied to avoid clinical trial payouts? Do we hear about our tax dollars paying for “bacha bazi” which is child prostitution where “young boys are dressed up in women’s clothing, forced to dance for leering men, and then sold for sex to the highest bidder.” No, the real crimes being committed are being swept under the rug.
Yes, the cable disclosures may be very embarrassing for the government, but that’s because our government does some really embarrassing things. The most embarrassing of which was to completely fail the public in protecting these secrets in the first place. Julian Assange and Wikileaks are not the criminals here. They are providing us with the transparency our government has been promising for decades, and I hope you will not let them be used as a scapegoat.