On the Topic of My Worldview, or Why I Have and Will Continue to Support WikiLeaks
Originally posted on my personal blog, however I’ve had a number of friends suggest I post it here as well; believing that the community would find it of interest.
This post has been, like most things worth doing, long and difficult in its birth. Its impetus was a long conversation with a friend, mentor, occasional verbal sparring partner, and erstwhile business associate on December 6th, one day after Wikileaks began to release what has now become known as “Cablegate.” We were both forced to come to the conclusion that given a specific topic of conversation, there was no way we would be able to meet in the middle. This was the first time in almost three years that we’d been unable to find common ground or see each others’ points of view, and the fallout has been unfortunately severe.
The topic at hand was Wikileaks, and on one side was the idea that it was a terrorist organization, and on the other, that it was a tool and a news organization which served a vital purpose. Following that conversation, I felt compelled to write down my thoughts for a number of reasons, not the least of which was to allow myself the opportunity to put them in order. Since then, there have been many twists, turns, revelations, and repercussions in the Wikileaks saga. This has required me to re-edit, add, subtract, and change much of what I had written in my initial treatise to make sure that when it was published, it would reflect my most current opinion given the most current evidence and facts. That being said, unfortunately I won’t be able to address every aspect of the organization, leak, response, or repercussions individually, but I hope that I will address them generally by way of demonstrating my beliefs and worldview, and explaining how Wikileaks fits into that system.
ON MY WORLDVIEW
Before I get into specifics, it may be best to pull an Alias and flash back for some additional background information. First and foremost, for those who don’t know me on a personal level, I’m a member of what’s often referred to as the “Connected Generation.” Basically, this means I grew up alongside the emergence and proliferation of the Internet. One of the hundreds of side-effects of this environment is that due to having spent nearly two decades in and on the internet in its various forms, my base groups of connections is less affected by geography than those of my elders. More plainly said, I have friends and acquaintances all over the world and from all different cultures. Prior generations were necessarily limited in their social connections by geography and the limitations of connectivity of the times. Now, with a few keystrokes I can easily connect with someone in nearly every country and territory in the world. From a scientific standpoint, were we to enter Dunbar’s number into the conversational equation, it could be said that my monkeysphere would consist of a much larger swath of geographic territory than those of my elders.
To be blunt, because of this I hold viewpoints that many people consider to be “Unamerican.(1)“ The main point of contention seem to be that I do not consider the life or worth of an American citizen worth more than the life of another country’s citizen. This nonacceptance of American Exceptionalism(2) manifests itself in a variety of ways within my viewpoints, but within the current world’s events, it mainly comes up within the topics of “National Defense” and “Security.”
People, to me, are people. While cultures differ, the essentials of our humanity are no inherently different due to geographic location of birth or residence. Walking out to the desert below California, the only actual delineations between the United States and Mexico, are those that are man-made to represent those delineations (borders, fences, and signposts, mainly.) Countries are, after all, essentially imaginary lines drawn in a map that everyone (somewhat) agrees upon. Now these artificial entities have practical applications, but we should never lose sight of the fact that a person being born ten or a hundred or a thousand feet inside or outside of a border, is no fundamentally different for the locale of their birth.
Start combining the two paragraphs above, and you’ll start to get the 30,000 foot level version of my worldview. Countries are practical artificialities, but artificialities nonetheless; people are real. No one person is inherently more or less worthy or exceptional than another.
So to stop beating around the bush, let’s get to the paragraph that I have no doubt will be quoted back to me in and out of context for some time: It is clear to me that what is “right for America” is not always objectively right; there are some things more important than the interests of the American government or the people it represents. I do not consider the life of one human from one country more or less inherently valid, important, or worthy than the life of another human from another country. While I am an American Citizen, I see that as a subset of Humanity, and I consider the protection and acceptance of Humanity more important than the acceptance and protection of Americanism. Basically “Human” trumps “American” in the deck of cards.
Now let’s be clear, there’s plenty that I do like, love, and enjoy about my country. That’s another essay for another day though, as I don’t think the people who read this are either so intellectually shallow as to assume that absence of mention is mention of absence, or to require every negative comment to have a corresponding positive to “prove” a lack of bias. If I didn’t like it, I would have already moved and given up my citizenship – it’s as simple as that. Like an adult, though, I don’t believe that loving something means it’s flawless.
If you consider your country and your God to be the highest powers to which you answer, you will not understand my philosophy. Because I do not consider Americans worth “more” than others, you may consider me “UnAmerican.” You may ask me whether I have “no loyalty” or “no morality,” as if one can and should be more loyal to an artificial construct, and morality stems from a zip code. Conversely, the idea that “American” trumps “Human” is a concept that I feel I’ll never fully understand or comprehend, and to those who do I’d simply ask how an ideology was able to supersede their humanity.
Let’s be very clear on what Wikileaks is and does. Wikileaks is essentially a high-tech whistleblower organization, it accepts incoming anonymous transmissions that the senders believe to be important enough to disseminate widely. Wikileaks does not solicit specific information, however they do research each release to verify its authenticity before it goes public. In the past, Wikileaks has revealed corruption, human rights violations, and cover-ups within the governments of Kenya, Somolia, Peru, and Iceland – winning numerous journalism awards for their work. Their whistleblower documents on private companies are too numerous to mention. Next year they plan to release information pertaining to large financial institutions and energy companies.
Earlier this year, they released a video that showed US soldiers indiscriminately killing civilians and journalists in Iraq by firing upon them with a 30mm cannon from an Apache gunship. Later, they released war logs and records that shed light upon tens of thousands of civilian deaths that had been deliberately misclassified as “enemy combatants” for the dubious distinction of being unarmed on the wrong end of a nervous or overzealous gun. In both cases, the release of this information was condemned by the United States Government, and deemed to be “perilous” to “the war effort” and “dangerous” to “our troops.” Many said that Wikileaks would have “blood on its hands.” (To avoid getting more mired in past releases I’ll address this claim later on.) Suffice to say though, that their record so far as accuracy of release is concerned, is spotless.
This month, Wikileaks began to release several hundred thousand diplomatic cables from 274 embassies over a period of time spanning several decades. They range in topic from the truly mundane to the truly scary. These cables ranged in confidentiality classification from unclassified, to “Secret.” They were likely leaked to Wikileaks by Pvt. Bradley Manning earlier this year, however due to the aforementioned anonymity, even Wikileaks remains unaware of who sent the information. Prior to release, Wikileaks offered the United States the opportunity to “privately nominate any specific instances…where it considers the publication of information would put individual persons at significant risk of harm…” The response from the State Department was “We will not engage in a negotiation regarding the further release or dissemination of illegally obtained U.S. Government classified materials.”
Once these cables began to be released, certain information came to light:
• Hillary Clinton directed U.S. diplomats to gather intelligence on the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and top UN officials, including biometric information, passwords, and personal encryption keys used in private and commercial networks for official communications.
• CIA officers kidnapped and then tortured an innocent German man whose name was similar to a “suspected militant.” Germany was then warned to call off arrest warrants for those CIA officers. Failing that, “the German government” should “weigh carefully at every step of the way the implications for relations with the U.S.”
• That while Saudi Arabia was asking us to openly engage Iran on a new war front, Saudi Arabian donors are also the chief financiers of Al Qaeda.
• That we traded Guantanamo Bay prisoners for favors.
• That the United States illegally carried out attacks within Yemen, which killed 41 civilians.
• That the United States leaned on Spain to drop both torture and murder investigations because they involved US citizens. At least one of those murders was of a Spanish journalist, whose death was initially listed as an “enemy combatant.”
• That we not only were United State officials and diplomats aware of a PMC (Private Military Company) operating in Afghanistan using United States resources and money to operate a child slavery and prostitution ring – in some cases even doing so on US military bases – but that the State department protected the company and people involved from prosecution, and helped kill at least one international story about the sex ring.
• That the United States habitually and knowingly misclassified the deaths of innocent civilians as “enemy combatants” to deliberately skew the numbers.
And that’s just from the first thousand or so cables – less than half of one percent of the total.
Now the more cynical amongst us may say that none of these “revelations” were groundbreaking, or even new; that this is simply how politics is done. Regardless though, these cables and the information held within them are truthful, and that truthful information shows many activities that are either blatantly illegal or overtly immoral. Whether or not this is “how things are done” is irrelevant, the release of this accurate and indisputable information allowed United States citizens to see in a better light how their government officials treated other nations and their citizens, shed light upon illegal and immoral activities, as well as showed how the United States disseminated inaccurate information to the public.
This is the very goal and necessity of nongovernmental journalism – which is the only type of journalism that I actually consider valid. To go even further, it highlights the inability for the more “established” journalistic entities within the United States to actually perform real journalism. By not sanctioning their information from the government before release, Wikileaks was able to distribute more truthful information over the past six months than four broadcast news networks have over the past decade.
There are those who question whether Wikileaks should have asked permission of the government. I’ll politely remind those people that it’s not the job of journalists to reveal only that which is comfortable and acceptable to a government; neither is it the job of the press to keep government secrets. Indeed the whole presumption of journalism is that it exists outside of and independent to governmental and commercial intervention. That’s the concept behind the Fourth Estate and the Free Press and is vital to the entire concept of the press keeping government honest. As an example, I’ll quote our own president here, speaking in this case about the FOIA:
A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”… In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve.
Taken back further to the founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson wrote:
The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.(3)
Fine, but doesn’t the press have a responsibility to make sure that nothing they report is damaging to the United States? To a degree, yes. However, as I said above, not everything that is advantageous to the United States is objectively right, and therefore not all that is damaging to the United States is objectively wrong. Concealing war crimes may be advantageous to the United States, and revealing them may in some way “damage” a war effort, but it’s vital to note that the revelation of those war crimes is still a journalistic and ethical necessary. Otherwise, we’re failing two entire separate tracks of logic: That American Exceptionalism is logically valid (in this case, the justification of covering up war crimes because it involved “the good guys” and may theoretically hamper further theoretical “good guys” efforts) and secondly that the revelation of war crimes would somehow be worse than the war crimes themselves.
In the case of Wikileaks’ Cablegate, it’s obvious that the traditional aspects of journalism weren’t being handled and the truth about illegal activities was not being reported. Does doing so then constitute terrorism?
The basic crux of this comes down to a simple question: can journalism be terrorism? Let’s take this in context and define terrorism for a moment: It is the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims. Somehow, over the past decade though, it has come to any and everything that is inconvenient or an impediment to the pursuit of national interests, regardless of the legality or ethics of said national interests. “Terrorism” has been used to push aside established constitutional and international law, to condone that which we condemn in others, and become an almost universal trump card to be politically played whenever necessary. As a byproduct, the word “terrorism” has become a less meaningful and overcited buzzword.
• 9/11 was terrorism, PETA is not.
• Attempting to kill people because of an ideological or political motive is terrorism, getting a pie to the face is not.
• Babies are “babies” not “potential terrorists.”
So regardless of the commonality of usage, let’s be very clear: simply being an active or potential inconvenience, irritation, or impediment to a political, commercial, or national interest of the United States does not make something terrorism. Were that that case, then not only would the internet as a whole – developed by DARPA and brought to the wider world by the US Congress – be considered a potential terrorist entity for its ability to more easily disseminate sensitive materials internationally and hamper vital US corporations’ business models, but every other nation on the planet would also be an active terrorist organization.
Everything that is not explicitly Pro-American cannot and should not be considered potential or active terrorism. Terrorism is real, even if it has been politically diffused to a buzzword, so let’s not make light of it by treating it like a magical “you have to agree with me” card to be played at every opportunity.
So by the above definition, is Wikileaks a terrorist entity? In no way, shape or form. It’s still a journalistic endeavor, devoted to whistleblowing on a truly global scale, and a reflection of the ease at which information is currently disseminated. It’s a tool for those who have no voice. It’s a way to help shed light upon abuses and cover-ups that would otherwise never see the light of day, as we’ve seen demonstrated over the past two weeks.
Is Wikileaks a potentially destabilizing element? Absolutely. But as I said above, so is nearly the entirety of the rest of the real world. And if we’re to be candid, if you’re dealing with a situation where both the real world and the truth are each destabilizing elements then perhaps it’s best to just admit that you have an unstable base to begin with.
If you call objective journalism “terrorism,” then how far are you willing to go? We’re starting to see the answers there as well, as various entities are beginning to “crack down” on what’s publicly being called “illegal activity.” Now aside from the fact that not a single charge has been filed and it’s far from certain that any ever will, it’s very telling how certain aspects of the affected entities are reacting to this release of information.
First and foremost, the information itself became the enemy. Wikileaks was hit with a DDoS attack and members of Congress and the State Department immediately began making phone calls to private corporations specifically to recommend they not work with, for, or as a tool of Wikileaks. The first strikes were against their DNS provider – making the website inaccessible by the public at large. Then the tools being used by private citizens to provide donations to Wikileaks were taken offline. These banking and credit card processing entities were told by congressmen that Wikileaks was an illegal organization performing illegal activities – an assertion that was far beyond the job descriptions of the people making these assumptions. These companies were also told that association and commerce with Wikileaks was a problem that needed to be fixed. It is now impossible for a citizen of the United States to donate to Wikileaks using Paypal, Mastercard, or Visa. No charges have as yet been filed against Wikileaks.
Publicly, United States government representatives began crowing that this site, and its people needed to be shut down, arrested, or even immediately assassinated. The phrase “Wikileaks will have blood on their hands” became a constant refrain.(4) The litany of illegal activity performed by United States congressional representatives in response to Wikileaks is too numerous to list here, but suffice to say that their actions have been, and continue to be in direct violation of the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth, Amendments to the Constitution, and too many specific laws to list.
Over the past two weeks, it has been made painfully obvious that Wikileaks in fact broke no laws in any country in which it operates (the US included) with the revelation of these cables. Regardless, and perhaps in light of these revelations, new laws are being drafted to retroactively punish (once again, in direct violation of established US law) the “offenders.” Before, during, and even after his incarceration for “questioning” on an unrelated case in Sweden, calls for the assassination of Julian Assange have become commonplace in both the media and government.
Meanwhile, students are being threatened that to read the leaks could threaten their careers in the future, soldiers are being blocked from even mainstream news sites that cover the cables, rumors are that Bradley Manning is being tortured and held in nearly 24 hour solitary confinement for over 7 months now until he changes his story to implicate Wikileaks, and efforts are under way to officially declare Wikileaks a foreign terrorist organization (thus making people like myself “terrorist sympathizers” at best, and “active terrorist supporters” at worst.)
It’s hard to come to any conclusion other than information, it seems, not only is truly power, but is powerful enough that the context of the information is less important to the information holder than the threat that it no longer holds an information monopoly. According to its own representatives, the United States government has (or should) adopt an official policy of “the ends, no matter how cruel, severe, or unlawful, justify the means.”
So let’s wrap up all of the above and call it a day, shall we? I see the world from more than the “us versus them” American Exceptionalism viewpoint, which is demonstrated by believing America is always the good guys, never does anything wrong, and “they” are out to get us and “destroy our way of life.” I prefer to think that all people are indeed created equal regardless of their citizenship to a country that professes the same. Within that worldview, I support Wikileaks for their dissemination of truthful information that, while unflattering to the United States, sheds light on atrocities, as well as illegal, immoral, and unethical activities. I care and support them because I want change; public or private acceptance of atrocities is bad for the future of my country, and it’s bad for the world. I am truly embarrassed by my government’s response to the leaks; but more than that I am honestly frightened by the intimidation and threats from the United States government towards both private corporations and private citizens who support or discuss Wikileaks and/or the “Cablegate” documents.
Wikileaks is journalism. It’s only terrorism if you believe that one human life can be inherently and instantly worth less than another human life based on geography alone; that there is no higher order and ideology than nationalism; and that when horrific and illegal acts take place, it is the knowledge and discussion of the acts that is truly dangerous and must be stopped at all costs. Indeed, American Exceptionalism is the only possible explanation for why censorship, lies, and coverups are more important to maintain than truth. By bringing to light human rights violations, as well as illegal and immoral actions on the part of certain representative members of the American population, Wikileaks is performing impressive and necessary journalism, not terrorism. If, in the process of performing said journalism, those revelations are inherently (or as a byproduct) an impediment to American progress, security, or national interest,that does not change the legality, illegality, morality, or immorality of the reported actions. Nor does it instantly transform truthful journalism into terrorism.
Binary truthful information (i.e. information that can absolutely established as either truthful or not) does not change into false or improper information depending on geography, citizenship, or method of dissemination. Mistaking truth for terror is antithetical to the founding, laws, and principles of the nation, as well as the interests of humanity as a whole. The journalistic and political entities who maintain that line of thinking are at best sorely mistaken, and at worst are actively and consciously eroding the foundations of our country by playing politics with the truth. It is important for the progress of humanity that we independently distinguish between that which is good or bad for a subset and that which is good or bad for the whole, and that we not condemn those who bring an ugly truth to light as being equal to those who created the ugly truth in the first place.
Lastly, and on a more personal note, I should probably note the necessity of my own full disclosure. Since I began my company 18 months ago, political and government projects have composed a not insignificant portion of my income. I expect and understand that this essay will likely result in the cessation of any government work or projects for the immediate or possibly permanent future. Indeed, I’ve already been informed of one instance where I was “let go” directly and explicitly due to my support. I won’t lie, it’s been a tough couple weeks trying to reconcile my priorities and decide how open and explicit my support (or not) should be, compared to how badly I want to pay my rent. In the end though, I consider my principles more important than a few dollars. I’m not unique in this respect – we all make sacrifices for our beliefs – but I would find it hard to look myself in the eye if I decided that comfort was more important than honesty, that money was more important than integrity, and that personal fear was a good reason not to speak truth to power.
We are all Wikileaks, whether we support them or not, because Wikileaks is the best representation of the future of the world as we’ve ever seen. They represent the connected future, where people can be people regardless of their country of residence or origin. They represent the ideal that atrocities should not have favored nations, and citizens do not need to dehumanize a caricatured “other.” Most importantly, for those of us living in the United States they represent that we have been lax in our own accounting of those who purport to speak in our names.
Wikileaks has given us unequivocal and indisputable evidence that the moral code of those at the highest ranks of the “free world” takes neither of those words into collective or individual consideration. We’ve been handed the information; the dangerous information that all is not as we’ve been told. The rest in up to us – individually, and collectively.
1 – While I don’t exactly agree or revel in this description, I also don’t shy away from it; other people are welcome to their opinions on the various levels of “Americanism” I show and exhibit, and I don’t generally worry about changing their minds. I’m more concerned about making sure that the personal viewpoints I hold are logical, consistent, and without hypocrisy, than whether or not they fit within someone else’s definition of “American.”
2 – This idea, while not specifically part of “American Exceptionalism,” has close ties with the same philosophy. If you’ve heard the comment “I’d rather have a thousand dead Iraqi civilians than one dead US soldier” than you’ve borne witness to this philosophy. (For brevity and simplicity’s sake, I’ll tie them both together from here on out under the umbrella of “American Exceptionalism” so long as we all understand that there is a small difference, however related in concept and cause they may be.)
3 – Now I could easily make a section of nothing but a constant reiteration of supportive Thomas Jefferson quotes on the necessity of journalism to enlighten the people on all of their government’s actions, but instead I’ll just leave a link and move on.
4 – As I said above, I want to address the concerns and claims of “blood on their hands.” I see a supreme irony that threat. For showing the world the admitted truth about thousands of foreign civilian deaths, Wikileaks would, in the future, have “blood on its hands.” Within this, and indeed inherent to this, is no admission of the previous spilled blood, only a concern over future blood that could come in retribution for the aforementioned deaths. Obviously the only “blood” the previous statement concerns itself with is that of an exceptional Our Side™ – a philosophy of logic predicated on the idea of there being a better and worse class of citizen to kill.