Leaks and Leakers

Call me Saul on the road to Damascus.  I have seen the light.  As a former intelligence officer, I was initially appalled at the leak of a quarter of a million classified documents by someone who had responsibility for protecting them.  I was highly skeptical of the entire WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning saga but following the leaks has convinced me that there is a lot of material that deserves a public airing to demonstrate to the American people how Washington is pursuing a senseless policy almost everywhere in the world.  I have been particularly mortified in reading the accounts of meetings of US Ambassadors and Undersecretaries of State with their foreign counterparts, encounters revealing an unbelievable arrogance derived from the Bush Administration dictum "you are either with us or against us." Persian King of Kings Darius addressing his satraps could not do it any better.

The WikiLeaks plus Manning story has truly revealed that the US government will do anything necessary to silence its critics, legally or illegally.  The way in which it is orchestrating a highly questionable international effort against both WikiLeaks and Julian Assange is despicable.  There exists a sharp divide between those who believe government secrets should always be protected at all costs and those who believe that secrecy in government exists only to conceal official misbehavior.  Obviously there is a middle ground hidden somewhere between the two, but those who favor the narrative that accepts that there is a nefarious government in Washington ruthlessly manipulating a world empire have pretty much gotten it right.  The documents and the Obama Administration behavior together tell the tale.

There is an enormous amount of hypocrisy in those who are defending the government’s right to over-classify and deny access to the information that has been used to justify going to war, among other crimes.  Insiders in government have no qualms about abusing classified information as long as it suits their purposes.  Dick Cheney used insider secret information to "out" CIA officer Valerie Plame to punish her husband.  The White House leaked intelligence that turned out to be bogus to Judith Miller at the New York Times to make the case for going to war against Iraq.  George Tenet, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, wrote a book called In the Eye of the Storm, which earned him in excess of $4 million.  He worked in a SCIF (which stands for sensitive compartmented information facility) run by the defense and intelligence contractor SAIC and had access to all of his classified "papers" to help him write the book.  Bear in mind that he was retired, with no official status at the time, was writing something for profit, and was using freely provided government resources to turn a buck.  There was apparently no problem in his using classified material. 

Unauthorized release of classified information and what becomes of it was also the focus in the trial that was terminated in May 2009 of Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, AIPAC employees who passed sensitive intelligence to Israeli government officials and to Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post.  The very same people at the Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Standard who are now calling on the federal government to declare war on WikiLeaks and to summarily execute Julian Assange were at that time complaining about the fact that Rosen and Weissman had been charged with a crime because "everyone" passes around classified information in Washington.  Particularly to Israel, which is okay because it is an ally (which, in fact, it is not).  Apparently the talking heads at the Wall Street Journal believe it is all right to trust classified information to the kleptocrats in Tel Aviv but not to the American public, which has been footing the outrageous bill for the bloated and ineffective intelligence and diplomatic communities during the past ten years.  Newt Gingrich meanwhile is calling Assange, who has threatened no one, a "terrorist." By that standard what should he call former officials like Doug Feith and Paul Wolfowitz who started a war that has killed hundreds of thousands?

Specialist Manning is undeniably a whistleblower, though the government will try to portray him as someone engaged in espionage.  Whistleblowers should be encouraged as a check on irresponsible government and should be protected by law when they reveal something that is either illegal or unconstitutional.  Government is intrinsically opposed to such transparency, recently and increasingly using the states secret privilege to deny whistleblowers their day in court.  Daniel Ellsberg did the right thing when he published the Pentagon Papers about Vietnam.  Sibel Edmonds did likewise when she revealed details of foreign espionage and influence buying in the United States.  Stories about CIA torture, renditions, and secret prisons as well as accounts of Army thrill killings and the goings on at Abu Ghraib all originated as leaks and were needed to reveal the war crimes being committed by the US government in its hideous "global war on terror."

Contrary to the message emanating from the chattering media, WikiLeaks has embarrassed many but it has neither killed nor endangered anyone.  Washington’s relationships with most foreign nations are based on mutual interests and they will continue in spite of concerns expressed by Hillary Clinton and others.  And the positive far outweighs any potential negatives.  When WikiLeaks revealed how US helicopter crews had recklessly targeted and killed civilians in Iraq, a story originating with Manning, it was a good leak, showing just how dirty and amoral the American initiated war in Iraq had become. Likewise, its release of bundles of documents relating to the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan served a good purpose in revealing that the US government was lying about both wars and ignoring its own intelligence analysis to continue to blunder around like a blind elephant in a small room.  As the documents continue to appear they tell a tale of how the American empire is run and how, like an iceberg, most of it is concealed beneath the surface, hidden from public view.  Manning took it upon himself to release the hundreds of thousands of secret papers, reportedly because of his belief that the diplomatic documents expose "almost criminal political back dealings" and explain "how the first world exploits the third, in detail."  He was right to do so.  The American juggernaut must be stopped and the transparency provided by Manning and other whistleblowers is the best weapon to accomplish that. 

My only remaining concern continues to be the possibility that WikiLeaks itself has an agenda beyond exposing the machinations of an essentially duplicitous government.  If it does that will presumably emerge eventually, but for the present WikiLeaks is providing a necessary service. I do not know if Julian Assange is working for any intelligence service, as has been alleged in some circles.  It does seem to me that the release of documents so far has been selective, but perhaps as more of them surface that impression will vanish.  I have heard that the newly formed US cyber command aided by the Israelis is behind the hacking campaign directed against WikiLeaks and its servers, particularly ironic as President Barack Obama has several times extolled the freedom of the internet. Apparently that is only true if it is hosting criticism of Iran or China. 

The United States should not be mounting a huge international campaign to silence WikiLeaks, nor will it be successful.   Nor should it attempt to "regulate" the internet, which is the inevitable next step.  And the attempts to personally punish Assange, which might succeed, are a measure of how low America and its allies in Europe and Australia have sunk. He has broken no law even in an age of Patriot Acts and Military Commissions and the charges against him in Sweden appear to be a set-up.  Once upon a time there was a rule of law in the United States and a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, but no longer.  Ultimately WikiLeaks will rise and fall based on its credibility and its ability to tell stories that are being suppressed elsewhere and that the public believes should be heard.  WikiLeaks must be allowed to speak.

Author: Philip Giraldi

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest.