He also offers disturbing reports on the "inhumane conditions" and possible torture of Bradley Manning, the alleged source of the Wikileaks document unload, who has been detained, without charges, in a military brig in Quantico, VA. since the summer of 2010.
Greg Mitchell over at The Nation continues his informative Wikileaks blog.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has asked Wikileaks to (belatedly) redact the name of a journalist in Algeria who spoke to the US Embassy there and who is mentioned in a leaked document, having accused the Algerian president of manipulating a 2006 election. Wikileaks agreed to the request, but not until well after the document was made public. But the question remains whether the reporter's life or livelihood are in danger, Colum Lynch writes on the Foreign Policy blog.
In a "Question and Answer" forum on the website of Britain's Guardian newspaper, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assangechallenged allegations that his actions have placed individuals in danger. WikiLeaks, he said, has "a four-year publishing history. During that time there has been no credible allegation, even by organizations like the Pentagon, that even a single person has come to harm as a result of our activities. This is despite much-attempted manipulation and spin trying to lead people to a counter-factual conclusion. We do not expect any change in this regard."
The (UK) Guardian raises the question of whether charges of treason against Zimbabwe's Morgan Tsvangirai, opposition leader against the murderous president, Robert Mugabe, resulted from careless Wikileaks revelations. If convicted Tsvangirai could face the death penalty.
Wikileaks attract attention and hysteria for exposing classified documents (that contain few actual secrets), but a far greater challenge is reading, digesting, analyzing information that's already in the public domain that's necessary for good strategic geopolitical decision-making. Sam Roggeveen, an Australian intelligence analyst who runs an interesting blog on geopolitics, points out that "often the problem is not that we have too little information, it is that we fail to correctly interpret the vast amount of information we have. That's a far more difficult problem to solve."
"There is precious little that was revealed that was unknown to the informed observer...Indeed, U.S. diplomats come away looking sharp, insightful and decent...The leaks paint a flattering picture overall of the intellect of U.S. officials without revealing, for the most part, anything particularly embarrassing...One can pretend that WikiLeaks has redefined geopolitics, but it hasn’t come close." -- George Friedman, the global intelligence analyst for Stratfor.
"For today, in the internet age, power shifts from those who hold secrets to those who create openness. That is our emerging reality. Business, be warned: You are next." -- Jeff Jarvis, Huffington Post.
Ironically, 9/11 led indirectly to Wikileaks. Concerned that America's defense information collectors weren't sharing what they knew with each other, were indeed stuck in "separate silos," there was a strong move to set up online sharing of military and diplomatic information through the huge Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, or SIPRNet. As the (UK) Guardian reports, nearly all US missions are linked into this system, nearly all State Department employees, and many military personnel, representing an astonishing THREE MILLION PEOPLE. The law of averages could have predicted that at least a fraction of those three million people would break security.
Reassuringly, "Top Secret" and above foreign intelligence documents cannot be accessed from SIPRNet.
It does appear that 22-year-old PFC Bradley Manning was reckless in giving a slew of documents -- 260,000 classified U.S. diplomatic cables -- which he says reveal "almost criminal political back dealings" to Wikileaks. The documents contain “incredible things, awful things … that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC,” he wrote, according to Wired. "“Everywhere there’s a U.S. post, there’s a diplomatic scandal that will be revealed,” Manning wrote. “It’s open diplomacy. World-wide anarchy in CSV format. It’s Climategate with a global scope, and breathtaking depth. It’s beautiful, and horrifying.”
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange asserts that cables are being redacted "carefully" — hence the slow rollout. He has also repeatedly asked the US government to suggest redactions involving persons whose lives might be in danger. At least officially, the government says it has refused to cooperate with him.
In an ironic symbol of the age, the first news that Manning had been arrested came from his Facebook status update: "“Some of you may have heard that I have been arrested for disclosure of classified information to unauthorized persons. See CollateralMurder.com.”
A lawyer friend writes of his concern about Wikileaks: "A concept I have defended repeatedly in my cases is something called "the deliberative process privilege."
"The idea is that if Joe Biden KNOWS that if he tells Barack Obama "you are being incredibly naive in trusting a self-serving chief of staff who couldn't care less about you except insofar as you can help him advance his own political career," if he knows that quote will be the headline in tomorrow's Times, he's going to be far less candid in offering his President his advice.
"Ditto for foreign service officers whose appraisals of Sarkozy make the headlines - if that becomes a routine occurrence, they're simply going to stop being frank and edit everything they write to their supervisors with an eye to how it would look in the paper. That, I submit, would not aid the prospects for good governance or intelligent formulation of policy after frankly considering all points of view."
The Wikileaks controversy, he says, "involves balancing two important interests, so there is no absolute answer where the one need always trumps the other." On the one hand, government officials need to be able to communicate openly with each other without watching their words, and, on the other hand, the public has a right to be informed about what their representatives are contemplating doing in their name.
He points out that the U.S. Supreme Court's full opinion in US v Nixon (1974) offers a classic discussion of that balancing process. "Governments, of course, tend to favor the institutional concern for their own freedom from oversight, to the point of absolutizing it, and the press favors openness, to the point of absolutizing it." But in his view, a balance must be struck between these two important interests.
Part of my skepticism about the government's self-serving penchant for secrecy is because I worked for Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) during the debate over Iraq's so-called "weapons of mass destruction." As you know, "WMDs" provided the Bush administration's primary rationale for the war. Graham, as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, did what few other senators did: read all the intelligence reports on Iraq. He did not find the case for war with Iraq persuasive. The Bush administration manipulated the public by boiling down a 90-page secret intelligence report into 25 pages, giving only the case for WMDs, and for war. As Graham noted in this Washington Post op-ed, by law he was muzzled -- he could not release or quote from secret documents that doubted Iran's WMDs. Before the war in Iraq, Congress did not have a full and fair debate over whether it made sense. The nation rushed blindly into war without thinking it through, and we have paid the price in lives and treasure since. If Wikileaks had been around back in 2002, might war in Iraq have been avoided? Or at least, might American government officials have debated the run-up to war more fully?
Just thınk ıf our "ıntelligence" on Iraq had been made publıc before the war rather than trustıng blındly ın the CIA and Bush administration. It could have been pointed out that much of our so-called ıntellıgence about WMDs was comıng from aggrieved ex-pats with an ax to grind and Ahmed Chalabi, the ambitious former minister of oil who, with the assistance of a lobbying powerhouse, hoped to be ınstalled as presıdent of Iraq by the US. That ıs the true scandal.
Certainly, Wikileaks has performed a valuable public service by leaking battlefield reports in Iraq and Afghanistan, including horrific video of a US helicopter attacked that killed at least 11 US citizens. The American public has a right to know how it is being represented abroad.
Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers regarding the Vietnam War, observed in 2008: "Many, if not most, covert operations deserve to be disclosed by a free press. They are often covert not only because they are illegal but because they are wildly ill-conceived and reckless. "Sensitive" and "covert" are often synonyms for "half-assed," "idiotic," and "dangerous to national security," as well as "criminal."
Has the United States shifted too far away from the first of Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points and are Wikileaks a good corrective? Wilson asserted that covenants or understandings between nations should be arrived at openly; that there should be no "private international understandings" or secret treaties of any kind (such as between two nations, to support each other in war). Secret understandings or treaties, Wilson maintained, were dangerous because "opposing nations would be unaware of the treaty and therefore unable to add it to their calculations, which could obviously result in a difficult situation for the party that declared war when they are suddenly confronted with the troops of two or even three nations."
President John F. Kennedy, shortly after the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961, made an eloquent case against secrecy in a democracy (Hat tip, Brad Friedman's blog, where the full text can be found):
The very word "secrecy" is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions...
In Wikileaks we learn that Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, have urged the US to attack Iran's nuclear capacity. If Iranian leaders and the Iranian people knew this, might they be more inclined to make their nuclear ambitions more transparent to United Nations inspectors?
There is also undeniable strategic and public interest in knowing that
Iran is buying advanced missiles from North Korea, and could strike cities in Europe or Russia. (This was later credibly denied.)
U.S. diplomatic figures have been ordered to engage in espionage at the United Nations, in violation of the international covenants to which the U.S. has signed up. The State Department, under the approval of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, ordered U.S. diplomats to spy on their foreign counterparts by secretly collecting personal information such as credit card numbers, frequent flier membership records, email addresses, even fingerprints and DNA.
Yemeni officials are claiming that US bombs against Al Qaeda in their country are actually Yemeni bombers.