Sometimes, a topic comes along that I really, really would rather prefer not deal with because it just isn’t worth the hassle with which it comes. But when one of these topics is everywhere you look and on everyone’s lips, it has to be at least acknowledged. I’m talking of course about the latest WikiLeaks stunt which released some confidential diplomatic cables Assange got from the same military officer who sent him the Afghan war log archives he so eagerly published. The web’s reaction seems to oscillate from those who worship the ground that Assange walks on and demand that the American government suddenly act like a naive child, disclosing anything and everything it does, lest it be branded a collection of tyrants and murderers, and those who holler that WikiLeaks should be declared a terrorist group without noticing that what the organization leaks tends to end up in politicians’ memoirs and current events retrospectives anyway. Perhaps the most disturbing issue to me in this brouhaha is how many people seem shocked and amazed that their government, and those of a myriad of nations with which it deals, lie to each other, spy on each other, and play dirty, elaborate games.
I mean really, how many concerned undergrads with a newfound political cause, or idealistic web crusaders could possibly be shocked that realpolitik isn’t exactly fair or pristine and that wars are very messy and always harm innocent people? They’re adults, not kindergartners who have to be shielded from reality because they need to have a childhood. Sure, a jolly, big fat guy in a suit with a luxurious white beard delivering presents is nice, and so is a floating little woman who gives you money when you loose your teeth, but eventually, those fairy tales have to be put to rest. Governments are in the business of advancing their strategic interests and if they didn’t, you would be very, very upset. Just like companies competing for market share, they have secrets, confidential memos, internal e-mails, and meetings in which they say things they’d never say in public as not to give their competition an edge, or offend people with who they have to work by giving frank opinions about them. And they need a certain level of confidentiality to actually get things done. These are the facts of life, and if you’ve managed to grow up and don’t know that behind every formal government press release there tends to be some cold, wonkish calculation, or when wars are fought, there’s always collateral damage and always will be as long as there’s war, I truly envy you and the kind of blissful sheltering you received.
Now, if you aren’t in a cozy cocoon of soothing naiveté, very few things that come from WikiLeaks will actually be new to you. As much as I have a distaste for Assange and people like him (which I’ll explain in a moment and in detail), I have to say that WkiLeaks doesn’t actually leak anything terrifyingly reckless, like say, source code to missile guidance software or plans for the ignition mechanisms in nuclear weapons. But what it will trumpet as grand revelations are usually anything but. Are you telling me that the army is bogged down in the remote villages of Afghanistan? And that there was a full blown sectarian war in Iraq with Iraqi police abuses that generals thought would be far too difficult to investigate and stop while fighting a war? And that Israel has issues with the current leadership of Iran? And that Russia backed out on the S-300 missile deal because it got weapons from Israel and didn’t want to sabotage its working relationship with the U.S.? Really? How can mere mortals like me possibly know this? Oh yeah, by reading news and military blogs once in a while. If the perpetually pissed off Assange wasn’t out there telling everyone he’s being hunted by the Pentagon because he’s such an awesome whistleblower and has all their secret stuff, there would be no outcries about how the media doesn’t cover "the real story" because actually, they do. They just don’t publish the raw sources.
And speaking of raw sources, have you ever noticed that this is all Assange does? Just throw out cables and logs with ominous remarks about what they contain and threats that someone’s next? WikiLeaks was once a place where really interesting whistleblowing once went on. Now, it’s a publicity vehicle for St. Assange. When someone tried a feeble, barely noticeable denial of service attack on his site, he hammed it up on Twitter to an extent that makes me question why parts of it weren’t available. Just 2 GB more bandwidth than usual will not bring a massive, well-oiled site down. Hell, this blog survives bigger traffic spikes just fine. When officials whose classified information he’s leaking complain about the release as per their script, he snidely says that he’s just holding governments accountable. But should anyone leak something about him, he starts a mini- crusade to find the leaker and blasts the blog to which the information was leaked as a tabloid in bed with the governments trying to stop him while he saves the world. In other words, everyone should be held to the highest standards of transparency. Just not him and his organization. Because, you know, he has things that have to be held confidential so he can keep his site running and because he’s good and everyone else is bad this double standard is justifiable. Or something like that. I wonder, how would he react if someone from his organization published WikiLeaks’ financial information and private e-mails for the last few years just to "hold his group accountable" the way he does with governments and banks. After all, transparency is a virtue…
I will admit that the government often classifies too many things and that revealing abuses and failures or big problems in organizations on which we rely can be a good thing and is necessary. But contrary to the cries of Assange’s ardent fans, it does get done. Maybe they missed the 6,000 word story of how politicians crushed the USAF’s attempt to buy a new generation refueling tankers it really needed, or all those articles about a chain of secret overseas prisons ran by the CIA and detailing abuse in Iraqi prisons. Also, come to think of it, the next big target for WikiLeaks is a major bank. And oh, by the way, Matt Taibbi already has an article in his magazine about widespread loan fraud and robo-signers, a topic also covered by business magazines. I’m just on the edge of my seat about those secret bank memos. What do you think they’ll be about? Refusing to work with customers and robo-signing? Gee, we’ve never heard about that before anywhere else! Thank you so much oh St. Assange, without you, we’d never know this was happening. Unless, of course, we just read a few front page stories in all the major publications. So forgive me if I don’t get excited if a hypocrite who hypes news most of us who have a daily reading regimen are usually quite well aware of, posts a file with a random chain of e-mails and documents and then tells everyone he’s being hunted by the CIA, FSB and the Pentagon for his pure awesomeness. Armchair generals with huge egos don’t impress me in the least.
[ illustration by CG artist Snitch ]