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.