Throughout the history of email there have always been people who think every funny thing they read should immediately be forwarded on to their friends. While this habit can quickly become annoying, there is a wealth of knowledge that we all now hold in common because of them. For example, there are a number of oxymorons in our vernacular, such as Jumbo shrimp. Also, someone, somewhere compiled a number bulletin bloopers, misspellings or unintentional double-entendres, such as "We have a young Mothers club that meets on Tuesday mornings. Anyone wishing to become a young mother should meet with the pastor in his office."
Now imagine for a moment a church where the secretary of the church council wrote the minutes in such a way that everything that was said and the tone it was said in got recorded. Finally imagine that this church council secretary is married to the church’s administrative assistant who is prone to making the aforementioned typos and verbal gaffes, and they have a teenage son who, out of teenage angst, likes to post their work on the internet to poke fun at his parents. This is essentially what is happening with the whistle-blowing website wikileaks.org.
The website was started a long time ago with the premise that if people had access to documents they thought should be released to the public, whether or not it was legal to do so, they could submit them to this website, and they would release the documents anonymously shortly after that. Until recently this has seen as a bad idea, but with little concrete activity to worry about. Now the recent series of releases of US intelligence communiqués, people are worrying quite a bit.
The content of these releases ranges from international gossip (psst, the first lady of Azerbaijan has had a lot of plastic surgery) to military secrets (China thinks North Korea behaves like a spoiled child, the US knows Iran bought nuclear missiles from NK, etc.) Knowing that the US has these various pieces of information will be of assistance to its enemies, and intelligence partners (ie. other countries) may now be less willing to communicate with the US at this level to avoid being discovered through this venue, and so the US states that this will hinder not only their national interests, but global terrorism as well.
Various institutions have responded to the actions of wikileaks. The US government have condemned it as illegal and unethical and were no doubt investing a lot of their secret intelligence services into stopping it. Others have responded, either directly or indirectly because of the American reaction. Credit card companies refused to process online donations to the website. There was already an arrest warrant out for the site’s founder, Julian Assange, but all this increased the urgency with which the police around the world were pursuing him. Not to diminish the severity of the charges against him, but his opponents think the wikileaks releases are a far greater crime, and his supporters think the charges were trumped up to discredit him, so really nobody cares about those particular charges.
Among Assanges many supporters are anonymous computer hackers who have since attacked the credit card companies who were quick to punish him. A number of activists have protested in favour of his right to free speech, etc. The Russian government has even hinted he would be a good candidate for the Nobel peace prize. (Wouldn’t that be ironic for the US to be criticizing China’s human rights record for jailing the current Nobel peace prize winner, while the next one is arrested by American forces.)
All of this would be a little more noble to me if it pointed to more obvious wrongs. Very little of what’s been made available through this latest release actually demonstrates bad statesmanship. We expect governments to talk about each other behind their backs. This isn’t news. When Bradley Manning released footage of American soldiers callously shooting civilians and other documented proof of battlefield injustices, that makes wikileaks a credible and important organization. However, when they release these documents, mostly because they can, not because they’re important, it discredits the organization and downplays the importance of true heroes like Bradley Manning.
The missing piece of the puzzle is the other anonymous contributors who made this distribution even possible. While the US government certainly hasn’t forgotten about that part, the press doesn’t seem to want to pay as much attention to that. You have to wonder what would motivate someone to risk their jobs and likely their long term freedom to upload secret files.
There are basically two ways to limit the release of this kind of document. The first is to punish wikileaks for doing what it has and in so doing scare away any wannabe copycats. The alternative though, is to stop being an international jerk and demonstrate integrity among its employees. Then there would be no incriminating documents to release and no disenchanted employees to do the releasing. I think it’s clear which alternative they’ve chosen.
Our own government have dirty secrets, and they may also be released in time. Our churches and families and individuals within our churches have dirty secrets too. I hope we handle them better than this.