September 03, 2010

Wikileaks and the role of the messenger

Needless to say, the emergence of the WikiLeaks model is a danger to those who want to be able to control the message, lie to the public, and make sure that only viewpoints that have been filtered by 'respectable' people should be voiced in the marketplace. There are already signs that the leaks have led to a drop in support for the war in Afghanistan.

Hence there is now an organized campaign to shut down WikiLeaks and discredit it. It should thus not be surprising that the establishment media, upset by WikiLeaks exposing its complicity and undermining its gatekeeper role, is eagerly joining up with the Pentagon and the Obama administration in waging war on it.

As part of its war on WikiLeaks, it seems clear that the Obama administration is seeking to make Bradley Manning, the 22-year old soldier accused of leaking to WikiLeaks the Collateral Murder video, into a warning for other potential leakers and it will not matter if the government believes he is the leaker or not. Based on the allegation of a former hacker who claims that Manning told him he was the leaker, the US arrested Manning on May 26 and took him away to jail in Kuwait where he was kept incommunicado before being transferred recently to Quantico military prison in Virginia. He has been charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice with, among other things, "communicating, transmitting and delivering national defense information to an unauthorized source". Attempts to provide him with independent legal representation have been rebuffed by the Obama regime, which should be no surprise to readers of this blog where I have repeatedly described Obama's contempt for due process. Friends of Manning are trying to obtain due process for him.

Glenn Greenwald has an excellent summary of the curious features of the Manning case, the strange, publicity-seeking person Adrian Lamo who turned him in, and Lamo's journalist friend who broke the story. It should be borne in mind that no evidence has been presented for the common assumption that Manning had anything to do with the Afghan documents leak. He has only been charged in connection with the Collateral Murder video. Jeremy Scahill also writes that Manning's reported words to Lamo indicate that Manning strongly felt that this kind of information should be in the public domain. WikiLeaks provides leakers with the kind of outlet that whistleblowers need.

Meanwhile, there have been various rumors spread about Manning's personal life and motives, trying to portray him as someone who a disgruntled loner and about his sexual life and his mental state. All this by way of trying him in the media before he is even proven to have been the leaker.

We also have the strange on-again, off-again, and then on-again investigation of rape against WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange in Sweden. James Fallows at The Atlantic explores the arguments for and against the theory that Assange was set up, possibly by the CIA

I have no idea of the truth of these allegations which will presumably be investigated thoroughly according to Swedish law. If he is guilty of rape, then Assange should be punished because that is an awful crime. But the point of the Pentagon Papers/WikiLeaks model of journalism is that when you have the release of official documents, the identity and motives and character of both leaker and disseminator are independent of the issues raised by the leaked documents. This is unlike the Watergate anonymous source reporting where everything hinges on whether you can trust the reporter and source to be honest and truthful because you have no documentary record to fall back on.

Jeremy Scahill writes about the new things that the WikiLeaks release has revealed and how having concrete evidence changes the nature of the whole discussion from a fog in which some anonymous sources say one thing to a reporter only to be challenged by other anonymous sources, to actual facts.

Time managing editor Richard Stengel drew the contrast with WikiLeaks in an editor's letter accompanying the story, claiming that the WikiLeaks documents, unlike the Time article, fail to provide "insight into the way life is lived" in Afghanistan or to speak to "the consequences of the important decisions that lie ahead." Actually, the documents do exactly that. WikiLeaks may not be a media outlet and Assange may not be a journalist, but why does it matter? The documents provide concrete evidence of widespread US killings of Afghan civilians and attempts to cover up killings, and they portray unaccountable Special Operations forces as roaming the country hunting people—literally. They describe incidents of mass outrage sparked by the killing of civilians and confirm that the United States is funding both sides of the war through bribes paid to the Taliban and other resistance forces.

Next: Other attempts to counter WikiLeaks.

POST SCRIPT: The Daily Show on the current political dynamic

This was from January of this year but is still accurate.

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Shalom Mano,

I agree that open documents are necessary for a free society, but in the digital age when any recorded report, in any form, can be doctored or created out of whole cloth, and in the absence of independent verification, I continue to assert that knowledge of the source is important.

Providing protection under the First Amendment ought to be sufficient, but it is not. Short of actual battle plans, there is very, very little for which I can allow our government to claim a cloak of national security.

When politicians are forced to operate in the full light of day, our nation is safer.



Posted by Jeff Hess on September 10, 2010 07:42 AM


That's a good point. One has to be assured that a document is genuine and not forged. Usually, though, once a genuine document has been released, the authorities do not deny that it is genuine because can lead to greater embarrassment.

If the genuineness of a document is challenged, then experts can be called in to see if it has been doctored, kind of like how Obama's fake Kenyan birth certificate, that got the birthers all excited, was debunked.

Posted by Mano on September 10, 2010 08:27 AM