So, here we are again, another WikiLeaks "event." Serious people can argue both sides of this matter; that such leaks put sources and lives at risk, or that it puts those who wield power on notice that their actions and decisions may not go un-accounted for -" that there may be accountability.
As a former investigative journalist who saw more than his share of classified this and that, I have come to my own conclusion. Serious investigative journalists quickly become jaded about stuff that arrives bearing stamps likes, "Classified," "SECRET," or "EYES ONLY." A couple of pages into the file and any fire of excitement is almost always replaced by a combination of disappointment, puzzlement -" as in "why the hell is this classified? -" and/or wonderment that agencies that spend tens of billions of taxpayer dollars on every year could be so lame, so clueless, so petty, so sophomoric, so much more like Maxwell Smart than 007.
US general McChrystal approved peace talks/payments to fake Taliban leader
That's not to say that on occasion a manila envelope would land in my mailbox containing something of genuine interest and importance. It happened. But most of the time what I got from whistle-blowers was the kind crap that fill the files of human resource directors worldwide; petty inter agency hissy fits, disgruntled employees smearing a supervisor that refused to promote them to the next government higher level on the "GS" pecking order org chart.
But occasionally leaked documents contained real zingers, some actual bone fide smoking guns. And I'd investigate, write my story and... well usually, nothing. I might of just as well written the story, printed out and fed it straight through the shredder, for all the impact it had.. The government agency or agencies exposed would just deny everything or refuse to comment or, occasionally if I really hit a sore toe, try to discredit the messenger. But in the end nothing much ever changed.
But I digress. I wanted to discuss WikiLeaks; is it a good thing, or a shame and disgrace? Which is it?
Well, some of both, since there's always a Yin to every Yang. But those in government now complaining about WikiLeaks can only blame themselves for abusing the classification process and for hiding behind it to avoid personal or institutional accountability when things turn out badly, which they seem to do more often than not.
And, as I noted above, investigative reporting has done little to change or even moderate the way government operates, especially in the area of national security and intelligence. Reporters are always writing Humpty-Dumpty-Was-Pushed stories after the fact -" reporting barn doors left open and horses gone, and how that happened -" AFTER it happened, after the damage was done -" after the money was wasted and/or stolen, after people had already been killed.
I'd like to claim that the ripping good yarns I and other investigative reporters wrote over the years, often thanks only to leaked classified documents, changed government for the better. But they didn't. They just didn't. Because in the end those involved were protected, sheltered, promoted, even given Medals of Freedom by the President. Because wielding a "CLASSIFIED" stamp means never having to say you're sorry. Accountability, individual or institutional, is always avoided at all cost. From claims of "executive privilege" to "national security reasons," to "we must not criminalize governance," the individuals and agencies are kept safe from accountability behind what have proven to be nearly impenetrable palace walls of secrecy.
But what of the damage government officials claim will flow from exposure of government secrets?
Will the release of these new State Dept. documents cause damage to the US? Probably some. Will some people die because of these new revelations? Maybe. But then people have already died -" tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, have died already, in part at least, because of whats in some of these soon-to-be-leaked documents. So, as this secrecy v. transparency pendulum swings it claims victims with each sweep.
Then, like your mother used to warn, "you are judged by the people you hang out with," factor. Besides exposing wrong-headed, deadly decisions, WikiLeaks is about to pry the lid off the cesspool of US enabled-crookery, the broth in which many of those wrong-headed decisions were made and paid for. There's Karzai the Crazy and his narco-lord brother. There's the double-dealing tribal leaders stuffing Swiss bank accounts with US taxpayer dollars while playing both ends against the middle. And there's the Pakistani, Indian and a host of "stan" governments, milking Uncle Sap for all it's worth, and on and on and on.
I doubt the US is as worried about these new documents getting people killed as they are about what they'll tell us about the kind of people they've decided could provide a better life for their people than the Taliban. That these documents will reveal the realpolitik of our foreign policy. The amoral intellectual juggling act where we choose between aligning our country with Tweedledum Dee and Tweedledee Dum " Stalin, or Hitler " John Gotti or Manuel Noriega.
But the bottom line of official concern over these leaks can be boiled down to a single word: accountability. It's a threat that now hangs over them like a Sword of Damocles. It puts the fear of god in hearts of those accustomed to working behind the lead curtain that surrounds all things deemed even tangentially connected to national security. These leaks of raw, unfiltered, un-redacted government "work product" threatens those agencies and those individuals. Leaks like this threaten them with being stripped, for once and for all, of their cloaks of deniability and accountability. Because, right there, in black and white, are their names, their signatures, their handwriting in the margins.
Well, maybe. But then maybe next time they'll be more careful, more thoughtful, less cavalier about the lives affected by their decisions. Maybe next time they'll think twice before the aid and abet crooks, sociopaths and despots, simply because we share an enemy with them. Maybe the next time someone in the White House asks an analyst at the CIA to provide a bullshit cover-their-ass memo, that analyst will think twice about it. Or maybe, just maybe, they will "just say no,"if for no other reason because they don't want to have to explain to their kids, after the circumstances of that memo are leaked, why they helped get 100,000 innocent civilians killed somewhere on earth.
Maybe. And if leaks like the ones WikiLeaks has engaged in are the only way to put a moral backbone back into government, then so be it. Leak on baby, leak on.