Monday, October 25, 2010

Still looking for the WikiLeaks Heroes


While nearly everyone in my world is cheering the release of a staggering 400,000 classified U.S documents by the website, WikiLeaks, in order to expose war crimes and atrocities by the U.S and its allies during both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, I can't help but dread the direction in which we're heading.

There are so many whistle-blowers I admire.  It takes great courage to go against the wind and do what's right.  Many of them have suffered mightily for their bravery.  (I would hope I could be as brave if the time came.)

Leaks have come in handy at times when the truth refused to surface without them.  (But even the seemingly benign can be destructive.  Ask Valerie Plame.) This is not an indictment of either method of letting the sunshine in.  Sunshine is good.  It warms us all.  But the flip side of sunshine is that if we're not careful it'll burn us.

My problem with this story is the cavalier approach to the theft of thousands of pages of classified government documents by a person who took an oath to guard them with his life, if necessary.  I've lived with, and known, people who held high security clearances, so it could be that I'm more sensitive than some to the obligations and fidelity a security clearance requires.  There is a long process of life-scrubbing scrutiny before a security clearance is awarded.  It can often take months of investigation, delving into every aspect of an applicant's life, past and present.   No one I know who ever went through it took the designation lightly.  I haven't asked them, but I think I can safely say that none of them would consider the acts of either WikiLeaks or Bradley Manning, the soldier who leaked an un-named number of documents, as anything other than acts of treason.

I hate war.  I hate everything about the bloody, messy reality of war-- the lies, the propaganda, the cover-ups, the lives lost in the name of honor or vengeance or blood-lust or money.  So, having said that, it seems reasonable that I should be rejoicing in the release--even the unauthorized release--of the unavoidable truths of the messes we've gotten ourselves mixed up in.  I'm not. I can't.

There is no doubt that there have been cover-ups in the numbers of casualties on both sides in both current wars.  There is no doubt that there have been atrocities and killings, with thousands of innocents caught in the cross-fire--and with each revelation we react with a kind of impotent fury that has become all too familiar.  So when whistle-blowers like Bradley Manning or Julian Assange come along with undeniable proof that we have good reason to distrust our own government, a nation as battered and war-weary as ours is going to let loose and hail them as heroes.

It's easy to forget in the heat of it that what we have here is a security breach of massive, unprecedented proportions, with unimaginable repercussions.

We know that Bradley Manning, a 22-year-old intelligence analyst stationed in Iraq found himself with way too much time on his hands and started "rummaging" through computer files he knew full well were off limits to unauthorized PFCs--even ones with secret security clearances.
"If you had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day 7 days a week for 8+ months, what would you do?" he asked.
We know that before he was caught he managed to download thousands of text and video files and pass them on to WikiLeaks for unauthorized publication.
"Hillary Clinton, and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning, and find an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format, to the public," he wrote to a hacker friend.
What we don't know yet is why this young soldier was allowed access to such sensitive documents and given so much time alone.  It must have seemed unreal, even to him, as he bragged about how easy it was to accomplish such an unbelievable breach.  (That's the rest of the story.  How could this happen when they're so security-conscious we still have to take our shoes off at the airport?)

Whatever the answers, I won't be celebrating the release of those documents.  It sets up a whole new dangerous phase for us--where the ideals of free speech and transparency trump the security of our country.  When the wholesale theft of mountains of classified documents becomes a heroic deed, it sends a signal that anarchy is now the favored act of rebellion. 

I guess I would be careful what I wished for.  This is what the Tea Party wants, too.


  1. A 22 year old only his mom could be remotely proud of. And fi so, for something else.

  2. Considering that in my family is one military member in the Middle East, I am very concerned about the repercussions of this careless act. He is serving his country while this 22 year-old is placing our family member in harm's way. I have also served in the Military and had access to Top Secret information, and would never place that on a website or even a newspaper or even out loud to other personnel. I am married to a scientist that worked on Top Secret projects and he never talked or talks that much about those projects. Top Secret means Top Secret and places way too many of our troops and those serving in embassies in possible jeopardy. And then to tout about Hillary Clinton, serving our government in an untenable position, in a compromising position does not show any level of patriotism or responsibility. Best, Nedra

  3. To a certain extent, I do think word of the monstrous acts we've been responsible for need to see the light of day.

    On the other hand, endangering the lives of American kids puts Assange in the same league as Jonathan Pollard, who I believe ought to rot in prison. And this sentiment trumps the other, to a fair extent.

    This is still my home, and Americans are still, in essence, my family. And endangering them doesn't sit well here for that reason.

  4. Quote from your post: "My problem with this story is the cavalier approach to the theft of thousands of pages of classified government documents by a person who took an oath to guard them with his life, if necessary."

    No soldier takes an oath to protect "documents" and "guard them with his life, if necessary."

    A soldier takes an oath to " and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same."

    You should think about what that oath really means and then decide if what this soldier did was an act of treason or an act of heroism. I am firmly of the opinion that it is is the latter.

  5. Thanks for weighing in, DG. Yours is the prevailing opinion, and there are legitimate arguments there. We're learning things about our military actions that are horrifying.

    But I'll stand by my use of "cavalier", mainly because I don't think enough thought was given to the ramifications of such a breach when those hundreds of thousands of documents were stolen and sent to Wikileaks.

    We want to believe that only good will come of it, but the fact is, we can't know what the long-term effects will be, or who might be hurt by the release.

    I never said I thought it was an act of treason. I don't know what it is. I said that most people I know with high security clearances might see it that way.

    Yes, there are times when bringing out the truth trumps an oath, but my entire point here is in the magnitude of the act. We're talking about hundreds of thousands of documents. That's millions and millions of pages of classified material out there now, in the hands of someone with an unreliable history (Assange) in a foreign country, and we can only take his word for what is in them and what he intends to do with them.

    He plays games with them. He releases them whenever he feels like it, dangling them over our heads like so much candy. He says on one hand they've been redacted and on the other hand, if the human rights groups want to take the time to redact the ones he's willing to release, it's okay with him.

    He is the only one who has control over them. He can now do whatever he wants with them, including selling them to our enemies. Millions of pages of U.S. classified documents are out there now and we have no control over who uses them and what that might mean down the road.

    That so many seem to think there is no problem with that really scares the hell out of me.


I welcome your input and want to keep this as open as possible, so I will watch for and delete comments that are spam, vicious or obscene. Trolls not welcome. We're all adults here.