Secrets and governments and politics

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, December 1, 2010, 12:12 AM | comments: 0

I have to say that the reaction to the latest set of docs released by WikiLeaks has been interesting. Most people I think could care less, which might be why few of the stories in the press are dealing with what these documents actually say, and instead concentrate on what blowhards in Washington think.

I've been trying to keep up with the stories that the New York Times has been publishing, and they're really quite fascinating. I haven't seen anything yet that really falls into the category of putting lives at stake, as people on TV (and Bill Clinton) suggest. That's not to say some of it might, but mostly what I've seen is accounts of history that you just don't get to ordinarily see. You get to see just how difficult it is to be a part of a complex and often scary world. I was particularly interested to see the accounts of how hard it has been to close down the Guantanamo prison, finding willing partnerships from various nations to take those guys.

Putting the political rhetoric aside for a moment, the question you have to ask is whether or not it's OK for the government, your government, to keep secrets. Like anything, there's no black and white way to answer those questions. I find that secrets are often toxic, which is why I try to keep as few as possible, but in an international context, it's more complicated. Do you give out the name and location of a deeply embedded spy trying to infiltrate a terrorist organization? No, of course not. If you're any kind of new organization, do you publish accounts of morally questionable dealings between governments, even if they're embarrassing? Absolutely.

And that's why I don't get the crazy shit that pundits and politicians are spouting. Senators are talking about going to war with this WikiLeaks guy, cyber-attacking the Web site (which is, in fact, down) and even shooting the guy. What the hell is that all about? Why aren't they suggesting the same thing for the editor of The Times? It's the press' responsibility and right to find out what the government is doing and report on it, and let them use their own moral and ethical judgment to decide what to print. This is an American tradition that has served us well for more than two centuries now. That many of these voices are the same people calling for less government involvement in our lives and the world, the suggestion to stop it by all means necessary is ironic.

I'm not going to sit here and say that releasing these diplomatic cables is OK, because the truth is that I have no desire to read all 250,000+ to decide. But a cursory look at what the papers are reporting on so far leads me to believe that there are great historical lessons unfolding right in front of us, and that's absolutely in the public interest.

So with all of that in mind, more harmful and scary to me is that crazy shit I was talking about. Talking heads are calling for WikiLeaks to be declared a terrorist organization? Really? I get really nervous when people, elected or not, start talking about declaring people terrorists, shutting down Web sites and the like. It's the same thing that went on with Watergate, the Warren Commission, Iran-Contra, and God forbid, the Lewinsky affair (although that last one was hardly a matter of national security).

I'm also scratching my head on why Republicans are using this opportunity to attack Obama for not doing anything. When will this party get its shit together? The AG can't do anything about this because the First Amendment has been pretty clear that you can't do anything about it. You can bust the guy who stole the documents, and they have, but even if you find the WikiLeaks guy to be doing something morally wrong, I don't think you have to be a Constitutional scholar to see that his actions are protected free speech, to say nothing of the fact that he's not a US citizen anyway.

While I'm at it, why does Sarah Palin continue to get any attention at all? Her resume includes tanking a presidential bid and quitting her job as a governor so she could be on reality TV. I've never heard her offer even one constructive proposition for policy of her own on anything. She has no official Web site detailing her position on issues. With her calling herself a Republican, no wonder the party can't get anything done.

All things considered, this whole affair is an interesting exercise in free speech and diplomacy. For all of the enabling of stupidity on the Internet, maybe it's potential isn't as far off as I thought.


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