September 08, 2010

The attempt to counter WikiLeaks

In order to minimize the impact of the WikiLeaks expose, the government is trying to adopt a 'move along, nothing new to see here' message, hoping that the major media will drop the matter. But Nick Turse lists what he calls five 'jaw-dropping' stories to emerge from WikiLeaks release of documents that he says demand national media attention.

Scott Horton describes how what he calls the 'national-security state' is striking back at this latest threat to its information hegemony. Establishment journalists are tut-tutting about how WikiLeaks is being irresponsible by simply releasing secret documents without 'editing' them (which is just an euphemism for letting the governments decide what should be published) or 'providing context' (which means putting the government's spin on them).

As part of the anti-WikiLeaks propaganda effort, Admiral Michael Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, claims that WikiLeaks may have "blood on its hands" because of the leaks. This is truly rich since it comes from someone whose forces have killed tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of innocent civilians in their invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Maximillian Forte has a good analysis on the benefits of the WikiLeaks release as well as on some of the concerns. The most serious one that is being used to discredit WikiLeaks is the lack of redaction of the names of Afghan informants who may now face reprisals at the hands of the brutal Taliban. It is not clear if the sheer volume of documents overwhelmed the small WikiLeaks staff or they were just careless or whether it was deliberate. But it now turns out that WikiLeaks asked for help from the US government to provide reviewers to tell them what names should be redacted and they were rebuffed. WikiLeaks asked the New York Times reporter to act as an intermediary to convey this request and the reporter did so even as the paper condemned WikiLeaks for not doing the redacting. This is typical New York Times behavior, always seeking to ingratiate itself with the government by dutifully relaying their spin.

WikiLeaks has again offered the US government the opportunity to review the second set of documents before their release to enable them to identify the names of informants that should be redacted. It looks like the government has again chosen to refuse the offer. Thus the US government shares considerable responsibility for any danger that befalls their informants. As Glenn Greenwald says:

In the conflict between the U.S. Government and WikiLeaks, it is true that one of the parties seems steadfastly indifferent to the lives of Afghan civilians. Despite the very valid criticisms that more care should have been exercised before that first set of documents was released, the party most guilty of that indifference is not WikiLeaks.

For whatever reasons -- because it wanted WikiLeaks to release the documents with the names of Afghan sources to damage its credibility, because it was indifferent to the potential harm -- the Pentagon simply failed to pursue that option [of reviewing the documents and suggesting redactions], just as it is doing now with the next 15,000 documents. Are those the actions of officials with any genuine concern for the harm to Afghan civilians, other than to the extent it be can exploited to harm its arch-enemy, WikiLeaks?

It seems pretty clear that the US government is lying (as usual) in its efforts to discredit WikLeaks. But its long history of lying is so great that only the establishment US press takes it seriously or at least pretends to do so.

Will the effort to shut down WikiLeaks succeed? There is always the chance that it might, given the power and ruthlessness of the US government. But WikiLeaks is nothing if not resourceful. They have exploited sophisticated computer encryption technology to elude investigators. Assange has also now become now a columnist for a Swedish newspaper, thus giving him journalist status and enabling him to take advantage of the strong protections that country provides journalists.

But whatever happens to WikiLeaks, they have shown the world that there is another model of journalism that is far more powerful than what we have now, and that does not require journalists to ingratiate and debase themselves towards powerful figures. It is interesting that younger people (those under 50) are more likely to see the WikiLeaks disclosure as serving the public interest than those over 50. I am hopeful that young and idealistic aspiring journalists, people who really care about getting the truth out there, will find Assange and WikiLeaks and even Bradley Manning, with their vaguely outlaw personas, hacker histories, and nose-thumbing at those in power, to be far more romantic and appealing role models than the toadying, well-coiffed crop that follows the Watergate model and are the ones that now show up on TV and in government and military press briefing rooms and spout platitudes in support of the government.

If I was an idealistic young man starting out as a journalist, I know which model I would choose.


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