Time to make national heroes out of those who steal secrets and publish them in the newspaper

Coleen Rowley, legal counsel to the FBI field office in Minneapolis from 1990 to 2003 and Bogdan Dzakovic, a special agent for the Federal Aviation Authority’s security division, suggest that had WikiLeaks existed in 2001, they might have been able to make public information that could have prevented the 9/11 attacks.

In the Los Angeles Times they write:

The 9/11 Commission concluded, correctly in our opinion, that the failure to share information within and between government agencies — and with the media and the public — led to an overall failure to “connect the dots.”

Many government careerists are risk-averse. They avoid making waves and, when calamity strikes, are more concerned with protecting themselves than with figuring out what went wrong and correcting it.

Decisions to speak out inside or outside one’s chain of command — let alone to be seen as a whistle-blower or leaker of information — is fraught with ethical and legal questions and can never be undertaken lightly. But there are times when it must be considered. Official channels for whistle-blower protections have long proved illusory. In the past, some government employees have gone to the media, but that can’t be done fully anonymously, and it also puts reporters at risk of being sent to jail for refusing to reveal their sources. For all of these reasons, WikiLeaks provides a crucial safety valve.

“Dr Ellsberg, do you have any concern about the possibility of going to prison for this?” Daniel Ellsberg was asked after he had leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times in 1971.

Wouldn’t you go to prison to help end this war?” Ellsberg responded.

Since 9/11, how many employees or now former-employees of the US government have asked themselves whether actions they declined to take at the most opportune moment could have prevented a decade of war and the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives?

The idea that WikiLeaks could have facilitated such actions, seems to me, to have more to do with soothing troubled consciences than with a need to make whistle-blowing easier.

Ambassador Joe Wilson published his famous op-ed, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa,” in July 2003, once it was clear that weapons of mass destruction were not going to be found in Iraq. The day he should have gone public with what he knew was January 29, 2003 — the day after President Bush’s State of the Union speech in which Bush falsely claimed: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

What Wilson lacked was not WikiLeaks but the courage of a man like Ellsberg and the willingness to place the interests of others above his own.

Rather than looking for ways to make whistle-blowing safer, we might benefit more as a society if we more whole-heartedly celebrated those who risk their careers and even their liberty by following the dictates of their conscience.

While WikiLeaks can perform a vital function, we should not lose sight of the fact that the political impact of whistle-blowing can have more to do with the power of a public act of conscience than with the information that is revealed. When an individual in a position of authority takes a huge personal risk because of their allegiance to truth, the sheer power of their integrity calls the operations of government into question. The availability of WikiLeaks cannot make up for the shortage of Ellsbergs.

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5 thoughts on “Time to make national heroes out of those who steal secrets and publish them in the newspaper

  1. isadore ducasse

    eye wonder if this is why joe wilson was ‘found dead’… mayhaps in time mr wilson found
    enough testicular strenght to go publik but alas thee bogey man got him first

  2. Nigel Gibson

    I completely agree. And wouldn’t it be great if a government employee could contribute to how and why WTC7, the ‘forgotten building’ of 9/11, came to collapse?

  3. Ingolf Eide

    I think you’re absolutely right, Paul. For anyone in a position of authority, however, taking that step isn’t necessarily just a matter of placing the interests of others above his own. There’s often also the vexed question of when it’s no longer right to remain a team player.

    The classic example is Colin Powell. I still remember the acute embarrassment I felt listening to his UN speech in February 2003. How could he have allowed himself to be used in this fashion? The speech was so transparently a cobbled together collection of nonsense and yet in the madness prevailing at that time, his willingness to “take one for the team” was probably critical.

    Or perhaps I’m wrong; perhaps he was doing it for essentially selfish reasons. What I still find impossible to believe is that he actually bought his own pitch. In any case, as you say, “the sheer power of [his] integrity” (as it was perceived at that time) would indeed have “call[ed] the operations of [the] government into question”.

  4. Gray Risk-Raven

    >>> Many government careerists are risk-averse …
    >
    > What Wilson lacked was … the courage … and the willingness
    > to place the interests of others above his own. …

    Only a naive fool would place the “interests” of American consumers,
    and their Vampire-Elite predators, above one’s own narrow interests.

    However, only a degraded human being would place their own *narrow*
    interests above their own *Honor* and *Integrity*.

    > we might benefit more as a society if we … celebrated those
    > who risk their careers and even their liberty
    > by following the dictates of their conscience. …

    “Conscience” neither dictates, nor even suggests, anything in advance,
    to those who have failed to cultivate Virtue.
    Rather, conscience is the reactive rancid waste in which you stew,
    after you have allowed Virtue (e.g, honor and integrity) to wither,
    and the germ of a single event has caused it to rot.

    There is no cure for a bad case of conscience (ask Lieutenant William Calley).
    Fortunately, the therapeutic of “Moral Amnesia” is widely available,
    and socially encouraged in America.

    > we should not lose sight of the fact that the political impact
    > of whistle-blowing can have more to do with the power of
    > a public act of conscience than with the information that is revealed.
    > When an individual in a position of authority takes a huge
    > personal risk because of their allegiance to truth,
    > the sheer power of their integrity calls the
    > operations of government into question.

    The political impact depends on “… the courage … and the willingness”
    of various American publics — to *re-cognize* the vast gap between their
    own integrity and “allegiance to truth”, and that of the career-risking
    whistle-blower. That is, such acts simultaneously call into question
    the Integrity and Moral Courage of each individual American who
    reads about the leaked info.

    In America, what we celebrate is our common degradation, as human beings.
    A public demonstration of moral courage is abnormal — it creates discomfort,
    since it proposes to “raise the bar” for what is normal and acceptable.

    Hence those nearest any such dangerous outbreak of Virtue,
    typically conspire to *Scapegoat* that courageous individual,
    lest they, themselves, be held to higher standards in the future.

    Major General Antonio Taguba is a prime example of such scapegoating:
    Long before he actually said, “Our national honor is stained,”
    his official Abu Ghraib investigation report made it clear that
    he refused to accept the degraded ethical standards and complicity
    he had discovered in the higher levels of the command chain.

    (We make exceptions for those who “instinctively” act courageously,
    in responding to some unusual emergency situation that we, ourselves,
    are unlikely ever to face.)

    To promote deeper understanding of the ethical context and dynamics,
    my underlying points are four:

    (1) Yes, channels like Wikileaks do reduce the career-path risks
    of whistle-blowing. And so yes, they will tend to promote
    more truths leaking out to the public. But merely
    “call[ing] the [Integrity] of government [further] into question,”
    does not guarantee a productive response by the public.
    It may, instead, further disempower the public — e.g,
    “Everything is hopelessly corrupt; I’m gonna look out for Numero Uno.”

    (2) Just as the “availability of WikiLeaks cannot make up for
    the shortage of Ellsbergs,” a plethora of Ellsbergs cannot make up
    for a shortage of Virtue among members of the American public.

    (3) It is said that, “A society rots from the top down,
    but it rebuilds from the bottom up.” There is no guarantee
    of such bottom-up rebuilding. To examine its possible viability,
    we should look at the ethical character — and the social cohesion —
    of individuals at “the bottom”.

    What impresses me most, by my (informal, “unscientific”) examination
    of America’s economic bottom, is how easily people can now be manipulated:
    If they cannot be goaded into foam-flecked rage against some “Other”,
    they typically can be co-opted into complicity,
    or debilitated into futility.

    (4) I consider it an open question, whether American society can — or
    should — be “saved” or rebuilt in anything like its present form.

    “Ethics says that Virtue is its own reward;
    Economics says that reward is its own Virtue.”

    Those ronin who understand that Virtue is internal, will pursue Virtue,
    regardless of external social costs or social celebrations.
    The most important impacts will be on the personal character
    of individual Americans who learn of Virtuous actions.
    The politics must follow the personal.

    I.e, any “social rebuilding” must proceed from a *very* low base.
    Consider it akin to an Ethical Insurgency, that tries to challenge
    the perception-managed appearance of Moral Legitimacy,
    of nearly all (compromised, complicit, or corrupt) American institutions.

  5. DE Teodoru

    Pentagon Papers were McNamara’s apologia, not secret documents. No one should consider them anything but an embarrassment rather than informative. They started with conclusions and worked back to justification. Weakileaks are fresh “intel” that often proves how little we knew about both friends and foes. Yet the mass of materials available now in secrets exposed retrospectively from Vietnam 50 years ago and Afghanistan now, are most striking thing in that they prove Petraeus and his star-bimbo colleagues at the Pentagon learned nothing from Vietnam. If you want to put that case together just read the Petraeus PhD thesis at Princeton on the Vietnam War. NOTHING else need be said.

    As we run out of Americans willing to fight and Americans with the capacity to learn the realities of COIN warfare rather than what’s written in a thrown together plagiarized cookbook, exsanguinating our precious assets, we may find that there’s no point to looking back anymore because there isn’t much we can do to change our circumstances going forward. When I see the audacious mendacious videos secretly funded by pro-Israel money in Pennsylvania, obliged in no way to account for itself, I can only conclude that Weakileak’s treasure trove will be read only by whomsoever takes over America in order to see how, once again David felled a giant.

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