For the better part of last couple of weeks, the US government has been in damage control mode over the latest revelations by WikiLeaks. For the most part, the leaks seem more embarrassing than damaging. As President George W. Bush said in his Facebook Live interview yesterday, “When you have a conversation with a foreign leader and it ends up in the newspaper, they didn’t like it. I didn’t like it.” [sic] So far, however, it doesn’t seem as if there are any smoking guns.
WikiLeaks is run by an idealogue. In a new interview with Forbes, founder Julian Assange articulates his faith in complete transparency – that governments and corporations should be transparent in their dealings, and if necessary, involuntarily. An information “terrorist”, Assange and his organization have revealed, and continue to reveal, a vast stockpile of government and corporate secrets. Much of it is banal, venal, or embarrassing. Occasionally what Wikileaks reveals is horrifying; for example, the gunship camera footage showing journalists and children being casually killed in Iraq. Some of what WikiLeaks reveals might even be important for ordinary citizens to understand.
In every idealogical position, there is a kernel of truth. In this case, the kernel is the idea of transparency in government – that citizens are sovereign, that the government is the people’s government, and government serves at their pleasure. The trouble with idealogy is that it tends to lack nuance. For an idealogue, there are no shades of grey. Yet judgement and attention to the shades of grey are required when revealing information that might compromise the lives of people “on the ground” in a war zone.
Governments have responded to Wikileaks by redoubling security efforts. This will fail. Just as the entertainment industry was unable to thwart internet pirate music downloads, and was forced to evolve new business models, governments will be unable to contain the threat of leakage from the vast banks of information and communications they have accumulated. Those information stores are a ticking time bomb, as WikiLeaks has so clearly proven this week. No, in today’s world of near instantaneous information sharing, governments will need to respond by becoming more circumspect in their dealings, and more open in their disclosures.
As odious as his tactics are, that transparency – that openness in disclosure — seems to be just what Assange is seeking.
- King: Prosecute WikiLeaks, Assange (politico.com)
- WikiLeaks: The four most extreme calls for retribution (salon.com)
- WikiLeaks, A Terrorist Organization? (buzzfeed.com)