Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The problem with Wikileaks

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is currently in hiding, not from his increasingly mindless efforts at self-aggrandizement, but from an Interpol arrest warrant on rape and molestation charges in Sweden. It may be that these charges are just a cover story for his real “crime,” which seems to be poking his finger into the eye of the United States. Assange, a so-called “internet activist,” is also an Australian national, so naturally he has no personal stake in the effects of his activities has on his own country. I find it immensely hypocritical for him to take advantage of the openness of the U.S. system, as he is clearly not so daring as to make an effort to explore what is going on behind the scenes in much more hazardous territory, like North Korea or Iran. He dare not expose China or Russia; Russian agents might poison his food. The fact is that Assange would not be conducting these “exposures” which are really not all that surprising if he felt fear from U.S. authorities.

The long-term problem with Assange and his activities is not the material he has released; we can nit-pick from thousands or millions of military dispatches on the ground and point fingers at alleged crimes being committed, but the fact that there is no context provided just makes it all a jumble that is often too incomprehensible to put in perspective. The latest leaks of diplomatic documents only reveals what is generally suspected and discussed in the media (Middle Eastern monarchies are afraid of a nuclear-armed Iran? Who isn't?), but takes on a different flavor when the actual actors in the diplomatic world put them into words. Given the failure of China to restrain North Korea, the snubbing of the U.S. in the recent economic summit, the continuing jumble that is the Middle East and the Islamic world in general, U.S. diplomats are merely expressing the sentiments of most Americans. Assange’s call for Hillary Clinton to resign over alleged spying in the UN sounds more like a lame effort to justify his activities now that he has apparently gone too far, and wants to appear the persecuted political fugitive.

The real matter of concern here is the seeming inability of the U.S. to secure its own sensitive materials. Whether by hacking or provided by government and military insiders, it is clear that there are Americans with security clearances who should not have them, not least because they have no scruples. It is possible that someone felt that the world needed to know the “truth” about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but there is a crucial difference between these leaks and the Pentagon Papers: the latter exposed the behind-the-scenes political and diplomatic machinations that propped-up the South Vietnamese government and the war effort. Troops on the ground were not endangered by the Papers’ revelations; the same cannot be said of the Wikileaks dispatches, which exposed American tactics and intelligence that could be used by anti-American forces. Assange obviously had no need for context that revealed the dangers that American troops were exposed to every day; that we shouldn’t have been there in the first place is a moot point. As far as the diplomatic dispatches are concerned, they are certainly embarrassing to some governments (not just the U.S.), but international diplomacy is always a sensitive subject best conducted in private, where horse-trading that is not always fit for public consumption can occur.

Democracy Now and freedom-of-the-media-to-expose-anything organizations have praised Wikileaks for its “courageousness,” but what we should in actuality take from its activities is the total lack of accountability and failure to have a clear agenda save public embarrassment and humiliation. Assange doesn’t want to change the world; he is just a self-aggrandizing hooligan who happens to be on the run to escape a rape charge. All he has done is gather a mountain of material with no rhyme or reason, tossing it out there for many ignorant people to derive false assumptions about things they don’t understand.

No comments:

Post a Comment