Tuesday, December 14, 2010


This is funny. I always enjoyed how Yosemite Sam got hot and bothered over trespassers getting "footy prints" all over his desert. It's a classic. Best of all, the clip reminds me of how people are getting hot and bothered over the WikiLeaks document dump that's all over the Internet. Seriously.

Why beat up the camel on Julian Assange for dropping "footy prints" all over when there's all kinds of "footy prints" already out there?

I've been watching the WikiLeaks-National Security drama unfold for the past week and see Yosemite Sams and political theater all around. Indeed, cries of treason and terrorism are almost as absurd as are suggestions that we should consider both the death penalty and the censorship of private media groups for those who helped publish WikiLeaks' documents.

What a bunch of drama queens. Here's why.

What About Scooter Libby (and Iraq)?
Remember I. "Scooter" Libby? He was convicted of lying to conceal the involvement of the Bush White House in leaking the identity of an active CIA agent. Curiously, the same people who either gave Libby a free pass or provided propaganda cover are now suddenly concerned over national security secrets. Why is that?

And what about all the lies and corruption that led us into war in Iraq in the first place? Where's the indignation here? The last time I looked, going to war on a pack of lies has produced far more death, destruction, and debt than what WikiLeaks has done.

State Secrets Exposed? Hardly
Still, I'm particularly amused by the absurd claims of damage to our national secrets. As I pointed out months ago, starting with the cold war our nation has slowly become an overly militarized and secretive state. The events of 9/11 only made this trend worse.

How bad is it? Think about this:
* We now have over 10,000 counter terrorism, homeland security and intelligence locations across the country.

* We have over 850,000 intelligence personnel with "top secret" access.

* We also produce over 50,000 intelligence reports (no doubt all "top secret") every year.
What this means is that most of the cables that were downloaded and transferred to WikiLeaks were already accessible to around 3 million diplomats, military people, agencies, and private security companies (and their staff) at many levels. In addition, most of the stuff we've seen from WikiLeaks we've known about for years. As John Allen Paulos put it, "Something is not all that secret ... if millions of people can pull it up on their computers."

(And, besides, according to George Bush's Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, "not every wrong, or even every violation of the law, is a crime.”)

But Let's Kill the Messenger Anyways ...
Just as I'm concerned by the absurd claims of damage to our national secrets, I'm equally concerned over the equally absurd notion that killing the messenger, Julian Assange, will somehow make us safer (or send a message). Just as Yosemite Sam did himself a disservice by beating the heck out the poor camel, going after Julian Assange and WikiLeaks will not make anyone safer.

This is the 21st century. Because there are lots of "footy prints" out there we will have more WikiLeaks. What our diplomatic corps needs to keep in mind is what I tell my students - don't write or post anything that would prove embarrassing if it were put on the front page of a newspaper.

Concluding Comments
As we privatized and expanded our military apparatus the result has been that we've ended up with more and more national security crazies. Their level of importance (in their minds) is tied to the amount of top secret stuff they work with. Many of them think they're the second coming of James Bond. They're not.

With so many top secret clearances, and with so many hands and eyes in the national security pot, many of them are doing little more than looking for Boris and Natasha ...

This is why so many work to classify everything that crosses their desks as "top secret" - even when the information is run of the mill stuff that can be easily accessed on the Internet. While much of the stuff our analysts see is important, they don't want to appear insignificant by missing anything or, worse, be accused of overlooking some thing.

Put another way, our evolving cloak and dagger culture is increasingly making a mockery of national security. 

Still, we're urged to kill the messenger of leaked national security documents because the documents are considered so "top secret" that only a few million should have access to them. The reality is the WikiLeaks document dump revealed petty gossip, and proved more embarrassing than many are comfortable with. Worse, they show how we've become an overly secretive and militarized culture - which allowed us to be lied into a war of choice that we still don't know how to leave.

WikiLeaks did us all a favor by reminding us all of this.

I'm with Rep. Ron Paul on this one. If it's not WikiLeaks today, there are plenty of "footy prints" and wannabe WikiLeaks out there. I guarantee it.

- Mark

Update: This piece from Arianna Huffington argues that the WikiLeaks that were posted revealed little because they were limited and vetted by Julian Assange's group. Put another way, they provided no national security threat (unlike George Bush's wars). It also underscores my point that we live in the 21st century, and that there will be more WikiLeaks coming down the pike. Just because the U.S. gets embarrassed by inconvenient stories - many of which should not even be classified - should not be the basis for turning exposed lies into protected speech (while the truth becomes criminal). This is especially pertinent for the Obama administration, who turned its back on their opportunity to expose and prosecute extraordinary lies when they had the opportunity. At the end of the day, Huffingtonpost reminds us, we should be focusing on transparency and what the government is doing, instead of protecting the lies that make Washington insiders uncomfortable.

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