who needs a clearance? you’ve got wikileaks!

WikiLeaks' stunt is unlikely to end well for informants helping to fight the Taliban and seems designed only to boost Assange's profile.
sci-fi army charge
Illustration from Square Enix’s Supreme Commander

Ordinarily, if you wanted to sift through all the day to day reports of an ongoing war, you’d need to apply for and receive a security clearance, a process that involves page after page of forms signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, then buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters. But now you could sidestep all that and plunge into WikiLeaks’ deluge of over 90,000 reports from Afghanistan which give readers even the most minute details of how the war effort is going. Who cares about such things as actually respecting the military’s right not to release every tidbit of information and daily logs when it’s conducting operations? Julien Assange dumped tens of thousands of pages of pretty raw, first-hand intelligence on his servers and gladly took another bow for being such a great and wonderful hero who prizes truth and transparency over everything else. Oh and also, he wants your donations to keep at it.

Here’s the issue that those cheering the tsunami of war documents seem to be missing. It’s one thing to give information about serious abuses that cause more harm than good to any war effort, like the incidents at Abu Gharib and the authorized torture of anybody suspected of having any information about, well, anything. But a wholesale release of daily reports being used to survey strategies and formulate plans in a very unstable and violent country where the military is fighting a group of fundamentalist lunatics who’ll kill people for listening to music or trimming a beard because it so offends their religious beliefs, especially by someone like Assange, is downright irresponsible. Remember that while PZ was so eagerly singing praises to WikiLeaks for “doing humanity a service” and gladly helped publicize a very controversial video showing how ugly and messy wars really are firsthand, he never seemed to mention that the video that launched WikiLeaks to household name status around the world was released when Assange was threatening to pull the plug on the whole project unless he secured a certain sum in donations. And as soon as the war in Afghanistan returned to prime time news, bam! There he is with more than 90,000 fresh, right from the field reports.

Oh, and it just so happens that he probably got the video and the documents from a young analyst who had second thoughts about this whole war business and got them a while ago. Considering that little tidbit, plus my probable paranoia and pessimism from an upbringing in the former USSR, does it seem like Assange is exercising editorial control to make sure his project gets a big splash in the news at exactly the right time? He sat on this information until the right moment and released it exactly when he needed cash and publicity. If he was such a great hero rather than a muckracker with much more interesting muck than what starlet opted to leave her panties in the dresser at a Hollywood shindig, why didn’t he just release the data to anyone able to host it? For that matter, does he have leaked documents about North Korea detailing how Kim Jong Il’s family and friends are brutalizing and enslaving an entire nation so they can live in luxury? Any memos that answer the question why a fragile and old Khamenei decided to ally himself with an airheaded whack job who’s still Iran’s president thanks to an election so fraudulent, they might as well declined to have one? Where’s all that data and would it actually get published? Is WikiLeaks even trying to get it? I’ll even take details about EADS’ sweetheart deals with the EU for rockets and latest generation fighter jets getting a big buzz.

For those who blithely dismiss that releasing raw intelligence data could possibly be dangerous to the troops and their work, it doesn’t seem to matter that buried among these 90,000 reports could be names of Afghani informants fighting the Taliban, whose families may now be in danger of being killed. It doesn’t seem to be a concern that crucial supply nodes or weapon caches could be identified, or that any details on procedures or standard approaches to certain scenarios might give Taliban sympathizers an edge by telling them what they could expect in a particular combat situation. No, those reports must just be the military’s dirty laundry and an underpinning for cries against “militarism” because they seem to think that every military dollar goes directly into either killing someone or stealing natural resources. War is an ugly business, one that kills people every day on our planet and the last human war will end when the last humans go extinct. Unfortunately we can’t all gather round and peacefully resolve our differences because so many people are either willing to take those who are kind and trusting for a ride, or see their bloodthirsty ambitions as the ultimate goal in life. That’s why we’ll always have wars and while we can and should argue about their place and how they’re conducted, we also need to remember that we can’t put every single military action to a vote or a popular panel.

Really, what did we gain from Assange’s attempt to influence global politics? A confirmation that there really are civilian casualties? That the war isn’t going well, as we’re constantly told anyway? That the attempt to use Afghanistan as a bulwark against the USSR in the 1980s backfired spectacularly? What part of this is new? I mean other than sensitive data now interwoven through reports that are basically stating the obvious? I’m not going to heap praise at the altar of WikiLeaks or call them great heroes for spreading classified data in a bid to get donations, relevance and political power. How about they help dethrone a tyrant or work with the UN or the World Court to bring one of the countless war criminals or genocidal maniacs scattered across the world to justice, since they say believe in transparency, honesty, and international cooperation? Real whistleblowers want to do what’s right, not flood the web with classified or juicy tidbits and ask for your money to support their next big publicity stunt, or else they’ll shut down. And that’s why I see Assange as less of a hero and more of a wannabe politician who uses leaked information as leverage for his growing organization.

# politics // international politics / military / war / wikileaks


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