Current Events XVIII
Christian Sec. Fraud
Bridge School I
Bridge School II
Dr. Ralph Stanley I
Dr. Ralph Stanley II
Successful Aging I
Successful Aging II
Clear Thinking I
Clear Thinking II
Death Penalty 2010
Death Penalty II
Knowledge Create I
Kn. Creation II
Kn. Creation III
Doctor and Diva I
Doctor and Diva II
Doctor and Diva III
Doctor and Diva IV
Colton H. Bryant I
Colton Bryant II
'61 Rose Bowl Hoax
The King's Speech
Lk 17:11-19 (2011)
Caravaggio in 2011
A Trip to Maui
Advice to Young Folk
Bill Long 12/2/10
World, Meet Julian Assange
About three months ago the only people who knew of Australian (ex) computer hacker and (now) Internet activist Julian Assange were a loyal coterie who followed the early days of "Wikileaks" and Swedish prosecutors who were investigating him for some alleged untoward sexual conduct towards one of its young citizens. Both ventures seemed to be going nowhere or, better said, both ventures were confined to their fairly narrow areas of interest. Now, however, Assange has pushed the buttons/pulled the chain of the world's most powerful country and angered or embarrassed it (the US) by the release of 250,000 classified, confidential and many unclassified US diplomatic cables from the last 35 or so years.
American politicians immediately started crying for his head. They wanted him arrested, tried, convicted of an array of crimes, including treason...until someone pointed out to the politicians that, since Assange wasn't an American citizen, he couldn't be prosecuted for treason in America. Well, get his head for some other crime--maybe terrorism. That was their response.
Not surprisingly, the Swedish government now wants Assange's head, or other body parts, too. It might be interesting to have a "Wikileaks" on what happened to bring that case back to life in conjunction with the massive leaks of material, first on the Iraq and Afghan Wars a few months ago and then, beginning at the end of November 2010, of the aformentioned 250,000+ items.
I generally think that when politicians scream this mightily that someone has scored a fairly direct hit on them. I recall, for example, when Tom DeLay was finally indicted by a patient, career prosecutor a few years ago (he was just convicted last two weeks ago), he screamed as if he was a deer hit by an arrow. The vehemence of the US reaction to the relase of the latest trove of Wikileaks documents reminded me of DeLay's scream of pain. They knew, instinctively, that they were "hit," and that they had been "exposed." I think, also, they knew that the scream of pain reflected something else: they knew that they had a lot they wished they hadn't done, and that they were afraid that the world would soon know it. So, now the world knows it...or at least some of it.
The purpose of the rest of this essay is to reflect on the release of documents and what it portends for the US and its allies, for free speech and for the rest of us. First, a word on technology.
Marrying Information with Technology
We have lived in an age awash with information for almost a century, but only since the invention of the Internet has this information been married to a technological capacity so that the information can be readily available to almost unlimited outlets in real-time. This has led to reforms in nearly every aspect of human creative endeavor. It has also had a sobering and even harmful effect. For example, the crime of "identity theft," newly-coined about a decade ago, arises principally because of new ways to acquire people's personal information.
But the ready availability of information, paradoxically, makes us long for more, rather than less of it. For example, the latest Wikileaks has made me think that it would be great to have such a "leak" regarding life in financial institutions in the last ten years, or in legal proceedings in a number of cases, or discussions in back rooms of insurance companies regarding denial of coverage, or knowledge of what really goes on in hospitals, Big Pharma and the American medical establishment. If for no other reason, Wikileaks has created in our imaginations the possibility that knowledge of how things really work will be forthcoming.
Reading the Cables
With respect to the Wikileaks "leak," then, instead of just joining in the chorus and writing an essay, I decided to spend an evening reading the documents. You can find them on the Wikileaks web site, if it hasn't crashed because its American host (which now is hosting it no longer) is having second thoughts regarding hosting it. As is the case for most of life, many of the documents comprising the latest release of materials are ho-hum indeed, even if they are classified as "confidential" or are unclassified. I enjoyed, for example, reading a diplomat's summary of a dinner sponsored by the Adenauer Stiftung where a British diplomat was speaking about problems of integrating new countries into the European Community.
I had no idea who these folks were who were apparently at this medium-high level dinner/lecture. It was a dinner because the one summarizing the event had commented on its "rubber-chicken-like" nature. I smiled when I thought that the glamorous life isn't always so glamorous. But I spent several minutes studying up on the work of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (Foundation), with its 16 regional offices in Germany and its more than 200 projects in 120 countries. Then I looked up about the man speaking and the man taking notes. I was taken into interesting worlds of British politics and of American involvement in various European cooperation group.
The summary was lively, well-informed, even humorous at times. It reflected a person of good education and balanced ability to describe something. I smiled to myself as I imagined the event, and then quickly moved on to another cable. It described the author's "take" on developments in Chechyna during some difficult days earlier in the decade. Again, I recall reading headlines about the Chechnyan situation several years ago, but I never really studied that conflict. Here I had some pretty sophisticated analysis and speculation regarding the relation of Moscow to the area and the struggles of the post-breakup Soviet Union.
What I realized as I read cable after cable is that I was being invited into a seminar on contemporary world history and geo-political relations, a seminar I couldn't have gotten had I paid $50,000 in tuition to attend one of America's finest schools. And, along the way, you get some of the personality of the diplomats thrown in: occasional pique, curiosity, strutting, humor, boredom, patient description, thorough analysis. As I read more and more, rather than being embarrassed by the conduct of my diplomats, I actually became more proud of them. These were guys (mostly) who took their work seriously, were truly trying to understand the world and defend/represent America's interests. That there were catchy phrases about buxom Ukranian nurses or Batman and Robin was, to me, just window-dressing.
In general, I think that the release of the information is a good thing. Of course, I would expect that the State Department and other places will review policies, limit avenues of expression, tell its people to "tone down" lots of its language, etc. But I don't have the fear that this release will have a "chilling effect" on free speech. Indeed, if I had the fear that speaking freely would limit free speech, I guess I wouldn't support the First Amendment. In fact, I think American diplomats are probably heaving a huge sigh of relief that more confidential information wasn't revealed...and perhaps they now have fear that Assange, indeed, has some of those cables, too.
There is always some ironic danger for a politician when he makes pronouncements on his deepest values. Remember when then-candidate Obama stressed how he was all for government transparency? Julian Assange was probably smiling internally when he heard that, nodding his head, and saying, "I will give you transparency." In spades.
We are still discovering the power of information and the Internet; at some point in the future, we may want to draw back and say that, for the good of us all, information ought to be sequestered. But I think we are still pushing on the limits, unsure of where we are going, regarding what can be released and still have a free society. Julian Assange, to his undying credit, has helped that debate along.