Wikileaks, the repository for leaked private information, has been in the sights of the US government ever since they published a boatload of US classified data.
Let’s take a closer look.
Why is this undesirable? Governments are sore losers when it comes to information extraction. They’ll bend over backwards to spy on its own and foreign citizens, creating, modifying, and subverting legislation as they deem necessary. But when it comes to being on the other side of that game, they turn out to be humorless and extremely sore losers. The US government went on a famous secrecy spree when Bush Jr came to power, and it was strongly amplified after 9/11. The main architect of this movement was Vice President Dick Cheney, who is so easy to caricature as an evil cartoon character that I won’t even bother.
Valerie Plame made famous the law that makes it illegal to ‘out’ a CIA agent. In an extremely nasty case of sore-losership itself, she got outed as a CIA agent by the Bush presidency after exposing some of the more ridiculous lies the Bush white house used to justify the Iraq invasion.
But it put the spotlight for the first time on the fact that exposing a CIA agent is an illegal act. So people whose job it is to spy on the general population are protected by law from the very thing that is their job!
By extension, publishing classified information is protected in a similar fashion. So when Wikileaks founder Julian Assange took the massive amounts of classified files from US soldier Bradley Manning, and published them, he ran afoul of US law. Being outside of the US, he was safe from extradition, however.
Now why would anyone do such a thing?
Since the government is there for its people, most countries have laws that force them to publish internal documents and communications when requested. This makes sense – since they are elected by citizens, and do work in support of the electorate, why would they hide that work? That’s incompatible with diplomatic, military and intelligence work, however, so those departments are excepted from the obligation to publish when requested. What’s happening, however, is that this privilege is getting abused more and more by governments, and the ‘shield’ is used for political uses. The Bush administration may have been an extreme abuser, but they are certainly not the only one – France has numerous examples too.
Since it subverts the roots of democracy , there’s a huge political movement, called Open Government, that believes our governments have gotten completely out of control, and by overusing secrecy avoid oversight by civilian government, and, by extension, normal citizens.
Wikileaks, as part of the Open Government movement, acts as a ‘dropbox’ where people that see abuses can drop files, so they can get published, but without them losing their jobs (or their freedom). Wikileaks uses high-tech encryption to ensure the secrecy of the brave people that come forward. However, it all backfired rather dramatically.
When the Bradley Manning files were published, the US administration blew a major fuse. The Bradley files exposed the massive deceit, torture, and conniving that has been going on since 2001 – the Iraq invasion and the Afghanistan war are the saddest examples, but many more excesses were all exposed. Clearly, something had to be done! We can’t have people knowing the truth!
Wikileaks pays the price
Wikileaks found out that the price of pissing off the US government is indeed a high one. After being on the receiving end of numerous cyber-attacks, they went after them legally, cutting off their hosting, funding, and pressuring European and the Australian government to do the same. At the same time, Assange was indicted for alleged rape in Sweden. The details of this are deeply murky – as it’s the shortest route to an extradition to the US, where he can be punished with the death penalty, it’s easy to think the charges are politically motivated. However, there are no clear facts. Assange, afraid of being tortured and executed by the country that claims to support human rights, is fighting the extradition as hard as he can, but probably in vain.
But there’s good news too.
The French government, comfortable as always to be the loyal opposition to the US, decided to stick to them, and opened a new route for people to make donations to Wikileaks! The local Open Government outfit called FDN (a fighter for Net Neutrality, another cause of the Open Government movement), has gone to court to make it possible once again to donate to the WikiLeaks cause, and won. As of July 26, you can donate to Wikileaks again, and the Rude Baguette team recognizes another RUDE publisher when they see one, and strongly encourages you to do so.