Tuesday, November 30, 2010

WikiLeaks and the "Smoking Gun"

I’ve followed this week’s revelations from WikiLeaks with much fascination.

Part of that fascination comes from my fascination with the White House of Richard Nixon, and how information parleyed through leaks (as with the Pentagon papers) and with informants (as with Watergate) showed the American news media in one of its finest hours and showed how the control of information and the lack of control over information – and not just a little bull-headedness, lying, and deceit – can bring down a government.

So with Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’ founder, now calling on U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to resign if she did indeed authorize diplomatic spying on the United Nations, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the question that was asked of Richard Nixon – “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” – will be asked of Barack Obama.

I’m not one that’s out for Obama’s blood. I voted for the man. I had high hopes when I did so. But any politician who runs on a platform of change who then runs smack into the Same Old System in Washington and doesn’t make good faith efforts to change it – and that’s all of them, as far as I’m concerned – deserves to have that smoking gun question asked of them.

Time Magazine, in interviewing Assange, bluntly asked what the group’s next target is. I like very much what Assange said: “We don't have targets, other than organizations that use secrecy to conceal unjust behavior ... That's created a general target.”

It’s interesting to hear how many people are calling what Assange and WikiLeaks is doing “treasonous,” while at the same time not recognizing as treasonous the behavior of those caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Yes, there’s some parsing of language here: Treasonous against “our country,” whatever country that might be, without realizing or acknowledging that this kind of intelligence-gathering is treasonous against the greater good of mutual trust among nations.

None of the spying revelations surprise me; I’m not naïve enough to believe that even allies don’t spy on each other. But wouldn’t it be nice if we lived in a world where such spying just wasn’t necessary. Kind of like Thomas More’s “Utopia;” kind of like the opposite of Niccolo Machiavelli’s “The Prince.”

And kind of like the battles raged in the Book of Mormon against the robbers of Gadiantion, who did everything underhanded they could to usurp and destroy the rightful government. So says Helaman Chapter 7:25, 28-29:
Yea, wo be unto you because of that great abomination which has come among you; and ye have united yourselves unto it, yeat, to that secret band which was established by Gadianton!

And except ye repent he shall perish’ yea even your lands shall be taken from you, and ye shall be destroyed from off the face of the earth.

Behold now, I do not say these things shall be, of myself, because it is not of myself that I know these things; but behold, I know that these things are true because the Lord God has made them known unto me, therefore, I testify that they shall be.
The Nephites saw their collusion with these people, who used deceit to gain power, bring their downfall. This is how our Constitution will hang by a thread, not because wicked people in office do so, but because we collude with them, calling evil good and good evil. It’s good to spy on others, even our allies, because they spy on us. That’s good, right? And not spying, well, that’s naïve. There’s the good being called evil.

Assange sounds like the kind of guy working to combat evil, even evil that’s called good. He told Time:
This organization practices civil obedience, that is, we are an organization that tries to make the world more civil and act against abusive organizations that are pushing it in the opposite direction.

It's very important to remember the law is not what, not simply what powerful people would want others to believe it is. The law is not what a general says it is. The law is not what Hillary Clinton says it is.
Yeah, just like when Nixon told David Frost that “when the President does it, it’s not illegal.” Don’t buy it from him. Can’t buy it from the current administration.

Jach Shafer, writing for Slate.com, makes a good point for her resignation:
But what makes Clinton's sleuthing unique is the paper trail that documents her spying-on-their-diplomats-with-our-diplomat orders, a paper trail that is now being splashed around the world on the Web and printed in top newspapers. No matter what sort of noises Clinton makes about how the disclosures are "an attack on America" and "the international community," as she did today, she's become the issue. She'll never be an effective negotiator with diplomats who refuse to forgive her exuberances, and even foreign diplomats who do forgive her will still regard her as the symbol of an overreaching United States. Diplomacy is about face, and the only way for other nations to save face will be to give them Clinton's scalp.
But Hillary’s a politician. She won’t resign. Obama won’t ask her to do it, either. And because of that, he’ll be asked that Nixonian question. Wonder how he’ll answer.

And while I argued yesterday that perhaps the Internet was built for pessimists, today I have to offer this as evidence that it’s also made for the optimists and idealists as well.

Similar things, of course, happened to Richard Nixon when the Watergate tapes were released. Though they were heavily redacted as WikiLeaks’ document dump this week, they painted a clear enough picture for people to understand what was going on. And they were widely disseminated even without the Internet, given that they were in print and sold out in several printings, were dramatized in part on National Public Radio and other news outlets, and generally were the talk of the wonks. This weeks’ WikiLeaks revelations are nothing less, but are even more ubiquitously available, despite the denial of service attacks the site has suffered.

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