Wednesday, December 1, 2010

So who gets to keep secrets in America?

A lot of government officials seem to think the old 1963 Crystals' song perfectly describes WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
He's a rebel and he'll never ever be any good
He's a rebel 'cause he never ever does what he should
Whatever Assange's faults are, he certainly is the darling of the 24-hour news cycle. We've never had such a cyber bad boy to talk about. The question for us all to address, however, is does this rebel have a legitimate cause? Or is he just being disruptive because he can.

Julian Assange's attraction to disruption is certainly understandable. This is not a guy raised among the Cleavers or the Waltons or anything approaching a stable, nuclear family. And it is what we feel in childhood that feels comfortable to us as adults.

I lifted these "fast facts" from Time Magazine's "2-minute bio"  of the founder of WikiLeaks.
Bad Boy?
•Assange was reportedly born in 1971 in the city of Townsville, northeastern Australia. He was mostly homeschooled as a child, thanks in large part to his already peripatetic existence: by the time he was 14, he and his mother had reportedly moved 37 times.

•After his mother's relationship with a musician turned violent, Assange lived on the run between the ages of 11 and 16.

•When Assange turned 16, he began hacking computers, reportedly assuming the name Mendax — from the Latin splendide mendax, or "nobly untruthful."

•In 1991, at the age of 20, Assange and some fellow hackers broke into the master terminal of Nortel, the Canadian telecom company. He was caught and pleaded guilty to 25 charges; six other charges were dropped. Citing Assange's "intelligent inquisitiveness," the judge sentenced him only to pay the Australian state a small sum in damages.

•Assange studied math and physics at the University of Melbourne, though he dropped out when he became convinced that work by others in the department was being applied by defense contractors and militaries.

•In 2006, Assange decided to found WikiLeaks in the belief that the free exchange of information would put an end to illegitimate governance. The website publishes material from sources, and houses its main server in Sweden, which has strong laws protecting whistle-blowers. Assange and others at WikiLeaks also occasionally hack into secure systems to find documents to expose. In December 2006, the website published its first document: a decision by the Somali Islamic Courts Union that called for the execution of government officials. WikiLeaks published a disclaimer that the document may not be authentic but "a clever smear by U.S. intelligence."
Okay, so Julian Assange had an unstable introduction to life. But does that give him the right to try his highly-intelligent damnedest to destabilize the world for the rest of us?
David Brooks, writing yesterday in The New York Times thinks it does not.
. . . Some people argue that this diplomatic conversation is based on mechanical calculations about national self-interest, and it won’t be affected by public exposure. But this conversation, like all conversations, is built on relationships. The quality of the conversation is determined by the level of trust. Its direction is influenced by persuasion and by feelings about friends and enemies.
The quality of the conversation is damaged by exposure, just as our relationships with our neighbors would be damaged if every private assessment were brought to the light of day. We’ve seen what happens when conversations deteriorate (look at the U.S. Congress), and it’s ugly . . .
Tacoma's News Tribune also breaks very bad on Assange, beginning an editorial today by stating that
Julian Assange, the chief of WikiLeaks, is a pirate willing to endanger people’s lives with mass releases of secret U.S. military, intelligence and diplomatic documents.
The U.S. government is also Officially Alarmed. The Washington Post reports today that Julian Assange could be charged under the Espionage Act.
Okay, so the establishment press and the establishment, itself, are pretty much freaked out about WikiLeaks. But I'm not as sure that the rest of us are.
Listening with half an ear (I do have work to do, you know) to On Point and Talk of the Nation yesterday, I heard many people rejoicing (is that too strong a descriptive?) that the ragged underbelly of high-level diplomacy was now slightly more visible.

I was talking about all this with Charlie this morning and he casually made an interesting, and I think germane, point. "There would be a lot less hoopla about this," my husband said, "if the government had not made everything it does secret, while actively rooting about in the personal business of American citizens."

Of course, saying the government has made everything secret except our business is at least a slight exaggeration, but I do think Charlie makes a valid point. There's a certain nah-nah-nah quality about WikiLeaks that appeals.

But is that enough to make Julian Assange a rebel with a justifiable cause?

Your thoughts, please?

1 comment:

  1. I'm with Assange's publication of many, if not all of those documents, simply because it may aid in pushing policies forward that my have real effect rather than shoveling money into bottomless pits (Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan). The more we know as citizens, the more we can steer our government with our vote. Denial and complacency does little good when the desire is to exact real change.