Wikileaks floodgate should be closed


On Sunday, whistle-blowing website Wikileaks began its third major release of documents this year. Although the first two had targeted subject matter — the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — the latest (and largest) document dump covers virtually the entire gauntlet of topics that are critical to American national interests.

Alissa Masutani | Daily Trojan

The leak consists of 251,287 United States embassy cables, ranging from unclassified to secret. The cables reveal a variety of surprising pieces of information, including China’s privately communicated stances on North Korea and Iran, American spats with Russia and Turkey, requests by Arab leaders for intensified U.S. pressure on Iran, and American diplomats’ opinions of world leaders, including Robert Mugabe and Moammar Gadhafi.

Both current and former American officials, most notably Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former president George W. Bush, have condemned the leak as damaging to American interests as well as international order and peace.

They are right to do so. Though not all of the documents have been made public, a cursory scan of them is enough to make clear that they have the potential to stoke tensions and start conflicts around the world. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange seems to believe that these risks are “worth it,” but what is unclear is what exactly he is trying to accomplish by making the cables public.

This wasn’t always the case with Wikileaks. The first two leaks, although roundly condemned by U.S. and other officials for risking the safety of our troops, at least had a clear purpose.

By revealing sometimes-gruesome details about conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Assange was attempting to galvanize opposition to the wars and perhaps help bring them to a close sooner. Although the merits of that decision can certainly be debated, at least it was backed by legitimate, logical reasoning. This is not the case with the decision to publish the diplomatic cables.

On its website, Wikileaks tries to explain its reason for releasing the cables by saying, “The cables show the extent of U.S. spying on its allies and the U.N.; turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse in ‘client states;’ backroom deals with supposedly neutral countries; lobbying for U.S. corporations; and the measures U.S. diplomats take to advance those who have access to them.

This document release reveals the contradictions between the U.S.’s public persona and what it says behind closed doors — and shows that if citizens in a democracy want their governments to reflect their wishes, they should ask to see what’s going on behind the scenes.”

If citizens want their governments to reflect their wishes — which presumably entails ensuring security and international stability, avoiding wars and creating economic growth — they must allow those governments to operate in some degree of secrecy. This is because the reality of international relations dictates that states take certain unsavory actions because they are the least bad option available.

All of the actions to which Assange objects — spying, tolerating corruption and human rights abuses, creating backroom deals — are sometimes necessary in order to avoid worse situations. It is unlikely that many Americans would object to spying in order to avoid war and minimize casualties if it does occur, maintaining a relationship with a corrupt dictator in order to avoid isolating his country’s people from the world or secretly agreeing to support Yemen’s president in his counterterrorism endeavors.

Moreover, even if one did object to these types of government actions, in reality it is futile to try preventing them in the future by publicizing the fact that they were taken in the past.

Governments are enormous, complex bureaucracies whose protocols are virtually impossible to change significantly even for their leaders, let alone a civilian armed with only limited information about isolated past incidents.

Any effort to markedly change the way states do business — including Assange’s — is doomed to fail. He did, however, succeed in damaging the United States’ attempt to guarantee its citizens safety, create prosperity and ensure international stability.

What is puzzling about this is that, given how obviously futile it is to try to create wholesale change in the international system by releasing a batch of diplomatic documents, Assange must have realized that he would potentially do more harm than good by doing so.

This leads to the conclusion that, unlike in the Iraqi and Afghan cases, Assange did not decide to leak the latest documents because of a deliberate anticipation of their effects.

Perhaps he has become so accustomed to his role as the world’s whistleblower that once he gained access to sensitive information he leaked it out of habit. Maybe he did it for attention, or maybe even out of malice.

Certainly, though, he did not do it out of wisdom.

Daniel Charnoff is a senior majoring in international relations (global business). His column, “Through the Static,” ran Wednesdays.

6 replies
  1. Observer
    Observer says:

    Actually, I think this article is right on the mark and it’s insights are true. The only people who wouldn’t understand it would be those who haven’t truly come to grasp with the realities of this world, shame on you people for being so feeble and naive. How does releasing diplomatic cables of this nature benefit anyone at all? It only detracts from the image of the US and empowers their enemies with knowledge they would and should otherwise not have. How would you feel if your secrets and innermost thoughts were exposed to the world to see? I’m sure people would love having that kind of ammunition to decimate your life with.

    I also love the repliers who criticize without offering any counterpoint or support to back their accusations. It really shows that they’re the epitome of intellectual or moral standing. Flame and blame because that’s all people these days have the brains to do. No one is smart enough to show that they can write or have thoughts beyond a preschool level. People also forget that in order to even have freedom in the first place one must have the power to take it and hold on to it. If you think just having a voice is enough, let’s pray that words hit just as hard as fists or bullets outside of dreamland.

    • Haha!
      Haha! says:

      Observer,

      This has nothing to do with grasping the realities of this world. I understand the dangerous nature of the world we live in, and the things that the United States must sometimes do to preserve its interests. I am not even necessarily against those things! I think there is a reasonable case that can be made for closing the WikiLeaks site, but I just don’t think this article comes close to that. It just sounds amateur. The author argues that Mr. Assange has no purpose in doing this, and that it he would just “potentially do more harm than good by doing so.” The author fails to understand that while it is the United States’ job to protect its secrets, it is not the job of reporters and private citizens to do this.

      Following the author’s logic, where no one should question or expose government wrongdoing when it has to do with national security, we never would have known about Iran Contra or the Pentagon Papers. The end of the article is even worse, starting with, “Moreover, even if one did object to these types of government actions, in reality it is futile to try preventing them in the future by publicizing the fact that they were taken in the future.” You tell me this isn’t a completely moronic statement. That is exactly the way to stop abuses in the future. Following the author’s logic that our government is way top big and bureaucratic to change, make better, or keep in line, then we would still be waterboarding suspects.

      Its just a really ill-thought article. I’m not even against WikiLeaks being shut down, its just that this article’s draconian reasoning makes me want to throw up.

  2. Teddi
    Teddi says:

    I am astonished at this blatent piece of propoganda against our freedoms. Im shocked at the website being hacked, the documents show the level of corruption and how little freedom we actually have, and here you are dissing him for releasing them, ending by saying he did it for attention, or out of malice, and certainly not out of wisdom. He did it out of kindness, he´s putting his ass on the line, risking everything as the US will do everything to destroy him to stop him showing how malicious and freedom destroying they really are.

    You should be ashamed of your biased asslicking

    • Onceagain
      Onceagain says:

      Teddi,

      I don’t think it is bias, I think this kid just doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It’s like when you’re little and first learn about criminals and the law, and you think “Well anyone can search me, I have nothing to hide. Only the criminals have something to hide!”

      Just another unintelligent, uninformed article trying to sound opinionated and informed.

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