Wednesday, March 16, 2011

WikiLeaks - Unnecessary Evil

Freedom of information, or necessary secrets? Julian Assange and his team that contribute to WikiLeaks have taken their stance and shaken up how the world views this question. In my opinion, the information they release is harmful and should not be considered in the same light of activism as individuals like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. According to Jaron Lanier, "We celebrate the masters of nonviolent activism, such as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. All these figures displayed astounding courage, faced arrest, and suffered without hating their oppressors in order to demonstrate a common humanity. These remarkable people did not make "Crush the bastards" [as did Assange] into their mantra."

The release of confidential cables is detrimental to democracy, diplomacy, and safety. My belief has always been that if a piece of information is essential to national security and is held secret for the greater good of the people, so be it. Lanier holds a similar view, stating that "If the secret is about something that isn't a vital interest for other people, then everyone has a right to keep a private sphere private. If the secret is about something of vital interest to other people, then secrets can be kept by those who are sanctioned and accountable to keep them within the bounds of a reasonably functional democratic process." In release of these cables, and the threat to release more revealing ones, the potential breach of national security information can produce negative outcomes which far outweigh the positives.

As I mentioned earlier, diplomacy is negatively affected when sensitive information is released. Lanier holds that "The point of Cablegate is to make it hard for diplomats to function. We know this is the point, since Julian Assange has described the strategy in his writing. He hopes to screw up the USA, which he considers a conspiracy of bastards, by screwing up the trust which glues the USA together. When you reveal what one person said in confidence to another, you screw up their relationships with other people. That's what Wikileaks has come to be about with the Cablegate episode, not the revelation of deeply scandalous secrets." The Knowledge@Wharton article supports this sentiment, stating that "In the aftermath of the WikiLeaks furor, Pentagon and State Department officials have said some foreign officials now seem reluctant to trust U.S. officials. "We have already seen some indications of meetings that used to involve several diplomats and now involve fewer diplomats," said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. "We're conscious of at least one meeting where it was requested that notebooks be left outside the room."" This breach of trust creates a negative environment for diplomats and prevents effective communication from occurring. Instead, talks are apprehensive and diplomats fear that whatever they say in confidence may be released for the public to dissect and criticize.

In the end, the manner in which Assange and WikiLeaks release and threaten more action is detrimental to the idea of "freedom of information." The fact that he does not care about collateral, just sticking it to the "bastards," runs counter to the fashion in which the most influential activists have gone about their protests. To quote Lanier, "Civil disobedience is fundamentally respectful of the shared project of having a civilization, but only when the protester gets arrested voluntarily and without sneering at opponents. Instead, one hopes to raise consciousness with a flood of respect and compassion, even for those who disagree." Assange behaves in a cowardly fashion, choosing to hide behind the curtains and raise hell, as opposed to facing his opponents head on.


  1. You said that Assange "behaves in a cowardly fashion," but I would say he's been quite brave. He's the public figurehead for Wikileaks, and he's been taking most of the flak for the organization. I would say he's engaging in a public, courageous, non-violent form of activism.

    Wikileaks can't afford to be totally transparent, or they'd be crushed instantly. By nature of what they're doing, they have to give themselves something of a chance by staying hidden. I think the fact that Assange has gone public on their behalf says something good about the organization, though - they are leading by example as much as they can.

  2. While it may be true that wikileaks' information has hurt the USA's relationships, why would this be so?

    Because what we were doing, saying, and thinking about these people wasn't right by them. Same goes for these diplomats who fear their meetings being revealed to the public and criticized- if these people were truly LEGITIMATE, wouldn't they be at ease letting the public criticize, or at least know what they were doing since they would obviously know that what they were doing was RIGHT?

    Privacy is something I believe we all need, but this amounts to nothing more than secrecy, and as we see we are full of dirty secrets that paint a picture we're so encouraged to ignore.

    Why is it that Assange is a coward, hiding behind a curtain when the United States (along with every other country outed in these leaked documents) is not, even when we confidentialize every single meeting between diplomats because we have /something/ to hide? What's the difference?

  3. To both who responded:
    It's a matter of principle. What if Assange somehow got a hold of sensitive documents related to the national security of a country? What if he threatened to release this information as retaliation for his potential conviction on charges of rape?

    Specifically at icebergtheorist:
    What is the benefit to the world him being "brave" for releasing information? Has anything good come from the release of information? Nothing bad has come of it yet, sure. But realistically, what impact has any of this had?

    Specifically at Tom:
    If you look at the cables, none of this necessarily painted the US in a negative light. But not everything you say is for a public forum. In your personal life, does everyone need to know EVERYTHING you're saying? No, of course not. It's the principle that he's stealing these cables and threatening action. The issue I take with Assange is that he believes himself to be some sort of freedom fighter when he's nothing more than a guy who has phenomenal computer skills and likes to ruffle people's feathers.