Before I dive into the thorny mess of the rape allegations against Juian Assange, I want to say this: For the record, I generally support what Wikileaks has done. Too many secrets corrode democracy. We now live in a national-security state that is also a surveillance-and-secrecy state – what Glenn Greenwald memorably describes as “the government’s one-way mirror.” Increasingly, the state gathers data on every aspect of our lives, to the point of intercepting and reading individuals’ emails without probable cause, while it demands absolute secrecy even for ludicrously quotidian operations. As Greenwald puts it:
One of the hallmarks of an authoritarian government is its fixation on hiding everything it does behind a wall of secrecy while simultaneously monitoring, invading and collecting files on everything its citizenry does. Based on the Francis Bacon aphorism that “knowledge is power,” this is the extreme imbalance that renders the ruling class omnipotent and citizens powerless.
Wikileaks poses such a profound threat because it undermines the asymmetry of knowledge/power, allowing us citizens to glimpse the inner workings of our government. I get nervous about the sheer scope of revelations, because it’s hard to be confident that Wikileaks has redacted everything that could put individuals at risk. A few days ago, there were reports that an Algerian journalist could come to harm as a result of leaked material. That’s one person too many. If this becomes a pattern, then we’ll know that Wikileaks has succumbed to the same ends-justify-the-means logic that has corrupted the U.S. government, and I couldn’t support that. So far, though, I’m convinced that its aims are essentially good: to make it harder for governments to act conspiratorially, and thus to foster a more just society. I’m also glad that human rights organizations are leaning on Wikileaks to make sure they get their redactions right.
Beyond its lofty long-term goals, Wikileaks had shed light on specific abuses. Though that’s not the group’s leading goal, it’s still a terribly important corrective to the secrecy state. Greenwald gives us a rundown of their most important revelations this year.
Too many of the revelations are reminiscent of the Pentagon Papers. Not because they reveal “top secret” info; they don’t. The Pentagon Papers, by contrast, bore a “top secret” classification. Nor do the Wikileaks revelations present a neat, self-contained analysis and narrative, as the Pentagon Papers did. These leaks are so messy and sprawling, they’ll still be spawning news stories a year from now.
No, the link between the Wikileaked materials and the Pentagon Papers is much simpler. Both show that our government is lying to us. That’s our democratically elected government, folks. As in the 1960s, it’s lying to us in the midst of war. It’s lying about the war. This parallel is striking enough that Daniel Ellsberg (he who leaked the Pentagon Papers) sees it, too. Behold him on Colbert:
(If you can’t see the clip, go here – or just pop over to Kittywampus, which has more kittehs than your blog reader does.)
I don’t want my government to lie to me. Far many more lives have been lost through its lies than were lost on 9/11. Far more have been killed in the name of “freedom.” I worry more about the structures and policies that enable this killing than I do about “terrorists” or Australians hackers.
Also: Don’t you just love Daniel Ellsberg? I don’t have many heroes. I don’t much believe in heroes. He’s one of my few.