The Future of Government Secrecy

WikiLeaks, the Swedish website that publishes sensitive government and corporate information while preserving the anonymity of its sources, has come under serious criticism in recent days. Last week, authorities arrested Bradley Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst suspected of supplying WikiLeaks with 260,000 secret cables between U.S. diplomats and their contacts around the world. In addition, Mr. Manning is suspected of leaking footage of a U.S. helicopter gunning down a crowd of men in Iraq that included two journalists from Reuters. Most commentators find that WikiLeaks will drastically alter the government's ability to protect classified information. Whether or not that is a good thing is a more divisive question.

A Threat to Our Safety

The Wall Street Journal finds that the existence of WikiLeaks and other outlets for classified information is something we must "learn to live with" that will make us "less safe."  The Weekly Standard objects to WikiLeaks because informing the public necessarily leads to informing "our mortal adversaries." The Weekly Standard contrasted the present situation and the Supreme Court case of New York Times Co. v. United States, in which the court permitted the publication of the infamous Pentagon Papers, a 7,000-page history of America's involvement in Viet Nam. Because the Pentagon Papers were a historical narrative that referred to events at least three years old, the Standard argues that it was appropriate for them to be released. In contrast, the video and diplomatic cables supplied by Mr. Manning should not be released because "intelligence sources and methods are likely to be revealed" and "American soldiers and intelligence agents may die."

Parroting a Tired Line

The Weekly Standard is, in fact, echoing the same draconian arguments made by the United States during the Pentagon Papers case. In 1971, Michael Hess, chief of the Civil Division of the United States Attorneys Office, argued that "serious injuries are being inflicted on our foreign relations, to the benefit of other nations opposed to our foreign relations, to the benefit of other nations opposed to our form of government." The U.S. Supreme Court rebuffed the government's arguments, stating "security is a broad, vague generality whose contours should not be invoked to abrogate the fundamental law embodied in the First Amendment." Instead, "the press must be left free to publish news, whatever, the source, without censorship, injunctions or prior restraints." In an era where the mainstream media is struggling to find the resources to carry out investigative work, WikiLeaks is filling the critically important role played by the New York Times 40 years ago. In addition, the video depicting the murder of the Reuters journalists is, like the Pentagon Papers at the time of their publication, over three years old. For three years, Reuters has been demanding to know what happened to its journalists. Thanks to WikiLeaks, Reuters now knows the answer and the public is better off for it.  


I don't see the government's ability to protect classified information as a good thing at all so who cares if it goes down. They are mainly trying to bs people and hide things so I am more than happy if things come out. Is it better to know things or to be lied to and deny things? Think for yourself.

People leaking information is nothing new. As I see it there are two sides to the story. Governments need to do better on who has access to what information and security clearances and the media has a right to report information that becomes public. No one in the 2,000 year old Western history has been able to stop this so why think it will happen now.

The US Government, if I'm reading <a href="">this</a> correctly, has basically declared war on Wikileaks and other websites around the world. Specifically, the administration calls for action against "pirate" websites. "Identify Foreign Pirate Websites as Part of the Special 301 Process. Included in USTR’s annual Special 301 report is the Notorious Markets list, a compilation of examples of Internet and physical markets that have been the subject of enforcement action or that may merit further investigation for possible intellectual property infringements While the list does not represent a finding of violation of law, but rather is a summary of information USTR reviewed during the Special 301 process, it serves as a useful tool to highlight certain marketplaces that deal in infringing goods and help sustain global piracy and counterfeiting" and "Combat Foreign-Based and Foreign-Controlled Websites that Infringe American Intellectual Property Rights The use of foreign-based and foreign-controlled websites and web services to infringe American intel-lectual property rights is a growing problem that undermines our national security, particularly our inational economic security Despite the scope and increasing prevalence of such sites, enforcement is complicated because of the limits of the U S Government’s jurisdiction and resources in foreign countries To help better address these enforcement isues, Federal agencies, in coordination with the IPEC, will expeditiously assess current efforts to combat such sites and will develop a coordinated and comprehensive plan to address them that includes: (1) U S law enforcement agencies vigorously enforcing intellectual property laws; (2) U S diplomatic and economic agencies working with foreign governments and international organizations; and (3) the U S Government working with the private sector" While this particular part of the War Against Sharing is couched in economic terms, we can be sure that punitive action will be taken against countries like Iceland that publish US secrets. US Citizens should be opposed to the strengthening of "Intellectual Property" laws for the sake of their own rights and should also be angry when the rights of others are imposed on.

That video of the US helicopter gunning down men is disturbing. Never thought we'd do something like that.

A lot of top secret info should remain on a need to know basis, otherwise how on earth will we keep things secret from those whom we class our enemies. However the video of the troops gunning people down is disturbing but sometimes our troops do tend to get a bit gun ho and it need not be quite as dramatic as this. So good that it comes out and people can see what really goes on.

How about instead of worrying about PR, the government worries about doing the right thing the first time? I know, easier said than done, but it still irks me.

There has to be a balance. Just because the government messes up doesn't mean that we should put the lives of our service men and women at risk. But on the filip side we need to try and keep the government honest. It is a hard balance to strike but not impossible.

It troubles me when someone speaks of balance (a thing that is mostly good I guess) when so many people on the other side are dying.