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Wikileaks. What we can learn about American Intelligence and anti-Intelligence

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The information leaked in Cablegate -- or Wikileaks -- in spite of Assange's self importance, is much more ground affirming than ground shaking. That is not to say the nature of the act of leaking these documents for the entire world to view (as opposed to select news outlets) is not unprecedented but the substance itself is not all that revealing. There are embarrassing remarks here and there like the "Batman and Robin" comment about Putin and Medvedev and the caricatures of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Covers were blown. Foreign officials were betrayed. Some contacts, like the German Foreign Minister's Chief of Staff, have been sacked over the leak. Secretary Clinton has every right to be upset. Still, unlike the Pentagon Papers to which "cablegate" has been compared, what you won't find among the quarter-million documents is much of anything that we did not already know or suspect.

For those of us who care to chase down and look at the leaks themselves, we are given a rare opportunity to view how the intelligence apparatus works. Essentially, the cables are reports from embassies or chat between operatives addressing various situations. What might be striking for those of us living in the deluge of biased and distorted news is the honesty and balance of these reports. The cables are frank, honest, straightforward and present a balanced assessment emphasizing the need to get to the truth of the matter.

A good example is a 2007 cable from La Paz about the veracity of opposition claims that Evo Morales is Hugo Chavez's lap dog. The cable goes on to explore the various aspects of Venezuelan influence in Bolivia's affairs. Concise and to the point, it weighs the evidence from all sides and eventually concludes: "The opposition's cries of Chavez the big bad wolf are over the top, but they are right when they express concern that Evo is getting advice from the Venezuelans and Cubans."

This is just good reporting. Of course, it really should not surprise anyone that people charged with providing "facts on the ground" are actually delivering those facts. They are just doing their job. While it might find offer some comfort in knowing that our intelligence apparatus is professional and competent, it is no reason to feel too comfortable about our foreign policy as a whole. While the critical thinking and reporting of our intelligence operatives could inform good decisions by our leaders, it relies on the intelligence of our policy makers to do so. That is where the system breaks down.

We have witnessed, especially during the last administration, how little facts weigh in the minds of ideologues. There was evidence that Al Qaeda was going to attack us before 9/11. It was ignored. Joe Wilson called out the false yellow-cake assertion that helped make the case for invading Iraq. He was ignored. His wife was outed as a CIA operative.

The distorted and myopic foreign policy vision of those within the Bush Administration was not entirely their fault. It was the fault of the American people who elected them. It was also the fault of the news media. They failed to do what the intelligence operatives in those cables did. They failed to investigate the facts critically. This may be the essence of one of the biggest lessons we can learn from looking at the Wikileak cables ourselves. How facts are valuable and how crucial critical thinking is. How much more we can learn about a subject when an argument is presented along with its dissent.

Today, we Americans live in an anti-Intelligence community. We have become a nation of ideologues. We have no time to listen to what the other side has to say. Increasingly, we don't even have time for facts. Obama was born in Kenya. Global Warming is a hoax. We don't care if it is true or not. We are going to believe it anyway. A society that has lost its ability to address the world as it is rather than the world as it believes it is, embarks on a dangerous journey. The politicians who tell the truth have no chance against politicians who agree with what people believe. As a result, we elect an increasingly dimwitted crop of politicians, guided by the blind arrogance of their ideals, and our country is cast further into ruin -- taking much of the rest of the world with us.

As the soaring ratings for Fox News continue to prove that Americans prefer their "news" packaged in their beliefs, the future bodes ill for America. We have become lazy and are allowing our opinions to be spoon-fed to us. We are better than that. We need our facts. We need critical thinking. Like it or not, we need to hear the other side of the argument.

Serious problems require serious solutions. We live in a time when bad decisions will cost us dearly. Unfortunately, as things get worse we are likely to be propelled into a downward spiral. As people become angrier, they give rein to their emotions and facts become even more irrelevant. Things get worse.

Perhaps we need Wikileaks. We certainly need more raw data and less spin. We desperately need a voice that presents the facts and the arguments without judgment. We need to raise that voice on our shoulders so its voice can rise above the cacophony of spin and hype so people can think for themselves. Unfortunately, I don't think we can expect the corporate media to do that for us. Dry and accurate reporting gets bad ratings. We need to do it ourselves.


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J.P. Whipple is a vagabond, outcast, sleeping in a truck and staving off starvation on the outskirts of the American Dream by playing music and selling books and other artworks. Among his chief hobbies is writing political and economic essays for (more...)
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