Posted on : 28-11-2010 | By : Chikodi | In : Media Criticism
Today’s Guardian headline says it all; “US cable leaks spark global diplomatic crisis,” and demonstrates why Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is not long for this world.
Like a fly buzzing the ear of the world’s most powerful nations, Assange is bound to get swatted, and it will look like an accident when it happens. Surely the day is not far off.
Posted at Cablegate.Wikileaks.Org, a trove of 250,000 leaked dispatches were today circulated, uncovering among other things a wide scale spying operation ordered by the State Department to keep tabs on UN diplomats– quite often America’s allies–which even included the covert retrieval of DNA samples. Also revealed was that Saudi Arabia’s king had urged the U.S. to launch a preemptive strike against Iran’s suspected weapons-capable nuclear facilities, which, if true, would be nearly impossible to walk back.
Shown in the light of day, this represents nothing less than a pie in the face of the U.S. Department of State specifically, and the government as a whole. Anticipating the fallout, the U.S. State Department on Friday issued a warning to its allies to be prepared for an embarrassing leak of highly classified information, though this would do little to quiet the storm that is brewing.
The Wikileaks organization also demonstrated its media savvy, selecting the name “gate” in anticipation of an impending scandal, even before the news broke. By choosing a Sunday to make the revelation, Wikileaks will almost certainly dominate the news cycle on Monday, and possibly beyond, as millions of Americans return to their offices from a long holiday weekend.
Stemming the flow of such harmful information by a single source must today have risen to a top priority by intelligence agencies in the U.S. and elsewhere, as the potential damage of today’s leak is certainly massive. The means by which future Wikileaks blockbusters will be staunched will almost certainly be extrajudicial, and plans to that effect may have been set in motion by Cablegate.
Since the launch of Wikileaks as an online outpost for whistleblowers, Australian founder Julian Assange’s days have been numbered. Today he may have sped up the clock considerably.
Wikileaks was founded in 2006 and its “primary interest is in exposing oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we also expect to be of assistance to people of all regions who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their governments and corporations,” according to their home page. As an online repository of highly-sensitive, classified documents, videos and other sundry information, Wikileaks has brought to light killing for sport in Iraq by American helicopter pilots, corporate malfeasance, the contents of Sarah Palin’s personal email account and a diary of the Afghan War, among numerous other caches of data. Unlike the explosive release of the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg in 1971, in the age of social media, Wikileaks revelations go viral instantly.
There is something truly noble and commendable about the way in which Wikileaks uncovers the “truth,” which is far too often obscured, distorted or hidden from the public. What the average person knows about the world comes from a media establishment who increasingly sees its cozy relationship with government as a way to ensure access and a steady flow of puffy personality-driven stories.
Political journalism today has far too much to do with good looks, regurgitating official releases, and little to do with hard-hitting exposés, or actual news. Wikileaks will certainly never enjoy such privileges or access, and does not risk jeopardizing its standing with deep background sources or knowledgeable insiders by publishing inconvenient facts. While exposing our folly in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is one thing, Cablegate is a completely different beast.
While the press and the American public were provided with another burst of tragedy porn with secret documents pertaining to the Iraq war exposed, Wikileaks could do little to change the course of the war, which has depleted America’s treasury and given us a black eye. At best, what Wikileaks could do was to remind the American people that the war in Iraq is far from over–regardless of any troop drawdowns–and that our zeal for revenge will have far-reaching consequences in the Middle East and throughout the Arab world. In the end, it was a cheap thrill at the expense of the Iraqi people, paid for by American citizens. The revelation by Wikileaks that the groundtruth was far worse than we had feared was, at best, an anticlimax, grizzly though it was.
The difference between Iraq War leaks and Cablegate is that while the public at large has a visceral reaction to war and armed conflict, there is far more nuance to diplomacy, and secrecy is of the utmost importance. Therefore, this latest move is unprincipled and reckless.
Cablegate constitutes the release of sensitive information for which the public at large has little or no context for evaluation, and no means of corrective action. It’s a coup for Wikileaks, to be sure, but it will accomplish little for which the organization should boast, and they may have forced the hand of the U.S. government or other nations caught up in today’s controversy.
Discussions of Assange’s personal life and management style deserve scrutiny as well because they have bearing on his motives and state of mind. Facing questions about rape allegations stemming from two incidents in Sweden, and his public spat with a former staffer, Assange walked out of an October 2010 interview with CNN reporter Atika Shubert, refusing to address the issues. “This interview is about something else,” Assange told Shubert, according to Huffington Post. “I’m going to walk if you’re going to contaminate us revealing the deaths of 104,000 people with attacks against my person.”
From the video above, Assange appears erratic, irritable and paranoid. Believing himself to be under threat, Assange says he has had two encrypted laptops stolen from his luggage, and he is constantly on the move to avoid detection–though he does make the occasional press appearance. Furthermore, Assange has alienated key supporters who might otherwise provide him with safe haven and a sympathetic ear.
“Outside of the Iraq and Afghan dossiers, Wikileaks has been incapacitated by internal turmoil and politics,” Smari McCarthy, a former Wikileaks volunteer and freedom of information campaigners from Iceland, told The Independent.
“Key people have become very concerned about the direction of Wikileaks with regard to its strong focus on US military files at the expense of ignoring everything else. There were also serious disagreements over the decision not to redact the names of Afghan civilians; something which I’m pleased to see was not repeated with the Iraq dossiers.”
When New York Times reporter David Rhode was held hostage by the Taliban for seven months, competing journalism organizations agreed to an embargo on the story because it could have endangered his life and threatened his release if the information were made public. Despite the newsworthiness of his capture, the higher duty was preserve life through silence. Had Assange gotten hold of the story, it stands to reason that Wikileaks would have made it public in the interest of full disclosure, which could have lethal consequences.
Few people know what potentially damaging information Assange and the Wikileaks organization now possess, or what plans they have to release it. Assange seems to be on a crusade to undermine the American war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he is not operating according to any known playbook.
While the release of classified information can constitute a public service, and serves a key journalistic function, irresponsibly publishing the names of Afghan civilians who collaborated with American forces, spilling sordid details of American statecraft, or the next bombshell revelation have real-life implications and can undo the hard work of thousands of diplomats, soldiers, spies and real people who are working towards a goal. While me may not agree on what that goal is, it’s clear that there is a process involved. What are the real goals of Wikileaks, and what, if any method is Assange following?
When the next bombshell hits, this time it might just land in Assange’s lap.