Over the weekend Wikileaks, a vigilante media organization, released over 250,000 secret or classified government documents and cable-wires onto the Internet for public view. The documents are diffused throughout the world like ink in water and are causing more than a stir. To most of the public, this information is of little interest or no consequence. But to other governments or those who stand to benefit at the expense of the United States, the document dump is a goldmine. In a re-aired 60 Minutes interview, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange claimed Wikileaks harbors no prejudice against the United States in its work, but his radical ideology and personal essays imply otherwise.
In 2006, around the time he founded Wikileaks, Assange wrote a number of essays, blogs and (not-so) scholarly journal entries on the effect of governmental conspiracies on the public and counter effects on the government, something political scientists would dub a center-periphery relationship. Assange’s primary case study for one of his essays is the 9/11 attacks. In his essay he is careful not to explicitly expose himself as a 9/11 “Truther,” which is someone who believes that the United States was responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center. But he does seem to imply that the United States government had been engaging in conspiracies around the 9/11 period. He continued to decry any secretive actions as illegitimating of governments.
Five years later, highly sensitive State Department memos have been plastered on a global bulletin board for all to see, including those who would like to do the United States and her allies harm. This damage is not limited to Tibetan Monks living in China, whose names were left unredacted. It would be naïve to think that this will go unnoticed by the Chinese government. Unless these monks go into hiding, they will likely be killed (like hundreds of thousands of their fellow Tibetans over the decades) or imprisoned.
Nevertheless, this is of little or no consequence to Wikileaks or its founder, whose self-righteous indignation leads them to believe they are crusaders for the First Amendment and a free press against an illegitimate United States government. Unfortunately for them, the exact opposite of their expected outcome is occurring – the Obama Administration is the most secretive presidency in history, federal departments and agencies are tightening their security and, worse, people around the globe are losing their jobs, going into hiding or being hunted down for revenge by America’s enemies.
The question remains: What to do about Wikileaks and what it means for the general public? Some suggest extradition, assassination or other extrajudicial means. Unfortunately, the last thing that should be done is to create a martyr out of such individuals whereas it only seems to legitimize their actions. Bradley Manning, the army analyst awaiting trial for aiding the enemy and providing classified information to Wikileaks, has his own following that calls for his immediate freedom and alleges abuse by guards at Quantico military base in Virginia. The answer to the latter question is quite obvious: Americans are less safe if and no more enlightened, but at least they can find solace in the fact a small cohort of hackers are quite content with themselves and their actions.
Governments are painfully reactive entities that stand to only become more secretive and protective of secrets henceforth, rather than be more transparent as Mr. Assange seemed to think. Had he spent more time in his youth socializing instead of hacking private companies’ computers, he would understand social norms and the likely reactions of the United States to the threat he has created on the internet. Alas, this notion is well beyond a socially inept cyber-terrorist such as Assange.
Justin Thompson is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]