Run in circles, scream, and shout

December 17, 2010 at 1:40 pm | Posted in Media, Obama Administration | Leave a comment
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Dear Governments and Media Outlets: Wait a minute. Stop. Take a deep breath. Put your heads down on your tables and close your eyes. The milk and cookies will be here soon.

Why are you all screaming about Julian Assange and Wikileaks? They didn’t steal any secret documents. The Swedish government has made two criminal accusations of Assange. They say that he had consensual sex with a woman twice, the second time without a condom. And they say that while having consensual sex with another woman (a friend of the first woman) his condom broke while he was climaxing—and he continued to climax. Did you ever try to stop in the middle of a climax? Well, the women went public because each one is angry at him for cheating on her with the other. But one of them has quit cooperating with the prosecutors anyway.

The Swedish government issued a warrant for Julian’s arrest; the British government arrested him and held him, setting bail at $316,000. The Swedish government wants to extradite him, but when told about the bail said “Huh? Bail?” (OK, I’m paraphrasing here, but you get the point.)

Murderers, drug lords, financiers who fraudulently steal huge sums money—all of you stand aside. Julian Assange’s condom broke, which puts him ahead of you in the Master Criminal category, requiring more than $300,000 in bail. Vindictive, yes. Silly, yes. If you believe they want him that badly because of a broken condom I have a nice toll bridge for sale.

Despite the screaming and yelling, nobody has actually charged Wikileaks with anything, and the reason is quite simple: as far as anybody knows they didn’t steal anything, buy anything stolen, or sell anything stolen. They took material that was given them—250,000 U.S. Government classified documents. They gave copies of these documents to three newspapers: Le Monde in France, El Pais in Spain, and The Guardian in Great Britain. The Guardian gave the documents to the New York Times. Wikileaks worked with these newspapers on timing the release, and redacted its copies in cooperation with the newspapers to prevent intelligence sources from being revealed or national security being compromised. I think that counts as responsible journalism, and if what was released makes governments uncomfortable, that’s too bad. One of the most important functions of the free press we have under our constitution is to make governments uncomfortable.

By the way, U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning, who is alleged to have stolen the documents, has been held in solitary confinement since his arrest in May, according to reports. He hasn’t been convicted; his trial has not even begun. In many places extended solitary confinement is considered torture. It is certainly unheard-of in pre-trial confinement! What happened to the principle that the accused are innocent until proven guilty? Private Manning should probably be confined until trial, but he should be confined under the same conditions as other accused people. If found guilty he must pay the penalties prescribed by law, and he should serve his time under the same conditions as any other convict. Anything less is vindictiveness, not justice.

How about the people who designed the procedures and environment that allowed an Army private to allegedly steal 250,000 classified documents? A few heads need to roll, I suspect. President Obama has ordered federal agencies to review their procedures on classified material. Better late than never.

There are some questions about this whole incident that need to be examined. Should governments have secrets? If so, what ought to be secret and what should be fodder for whistle blowers?

Should governments have secrets? Absolutely. It is impossible to conduct the business of governing, diplomatic and otherwise, without keeping some things secret, at least for a time. Just to look at the diplomatic side of things, frank communication between diplomats in the field and diplomats at home is critical to good diplomacy. If diplomats must fear that their cables may be released to the public they won’t speak frankly and honestly, and U.S. interests will be compromised. The same thing is true for personnel matters; for military matters; for financial negotiations, etc.

I don’t mean these secrets should be kept secret forever, and I don’t mean that everything government does should be secret. We all know that there are people in government who classify documents to conceal wrongdoing or incompetence. There must be checks and balances, and there are: the freedom of the press I mentioned earlier is one. It’s part of the media’s job to find out what’s going on, and to let the public know about it. Whistleblowers are another: they bring to the attention of the media—and therefore the public—things that the public ought to know, but that are being concealed.

But I don’t think we’re dealing with a whistleblower here. There are simply too many documents involved, and it’s not credible that the alleged thief knew enough about them to select the documents that show a specific problem. I think we’re dealing with the actions of a disgruntled individual, and the problem is that he was able to steal so much classified information.

Government, get your house in order. Improve your security, protect classified information, and prosecute any criminal wrongdoing. But don’t be vindictive—even when your security is inadequate, even when the theft of a huge number of classified documents makes a big, worldwide stink.

And Julian…trust me, you need to start buying a better grade of condom. And using one every time.

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