Unpacking Wikileaks–A Few Observations

When I saw that Wikileaks’ Julian Assange was scheduled to do a live chat via The Guardian a few days ago, I had this fantasy that this would be a bit like the scene in The Sound of Music where the Von Trapp family escapes while they are supposed to be receiving an award.*  And maybe it was–with reports that he has been in England and that British law enforcement know where he is–and yet funny thing, The Guardian site glitched out due to overload when the chat was supposed to happen and they then posted not so live answers to viewers questions  instead.  Assange never appeared live and as I write this, still no word of arrest.


But the question of whether Assange should be arrested bears some examination.

The U.S. government is doing its best to paint him as an electronic terrorist. A large part of this latest release of documents has certainly been an embarrassing collection of diplomacy-speak accusations about various players on the international stage that has all the sophistication of third grade playground cooties banter.  Not flattering to be sure but if anything, it should  give us pause to consider the nature of what passes as ‘intelligence’.

Then however, there are those pesky cables documenting things like a scandal involving the private contracting firm DynCorp which paid for young “dancing boys” to entertain Afghan policemen that they were training in northern Afghanistan.  It really shouldn’t take us long to decide that the criminal in this case is Dyncorp, not Assange and like Abu Ghraib, this is a story that should be exposed.

Be that as it may, whether or not what Wikileaks is doing is a good thing or a bad thing, it is definitely not acceptable to be dismissive of the rape charges that have been brought against Assange.  Is it possible that they are trumped up?  Of course.  But as Reclusive Leftist points out, they should not be brushed aside by those who champion Assange merely because of the importance of his work.


Perhaps one of the strangest parts of this story is that Wikileaks was being hosted on Amazon.  Who knew Amazon offered webhosting.  And how ironic it is that Amazon is perfectly willing to sell books by George Bush, Sarah Palin and Glen Beck, all of whom do not hesitate to play fast and loose with the truth, but when someone uses their services to tell the truth, that sends Amazon running for cover.  As Amy Davidson observes on The New Yorker website,

WikiLeaks may be a brilliant sort of classroom—full of books that, unfortunately, one can no longer find by way of Amazon.

Human Rights First is asking Amazon to explain why they removed Wikileaks from their servers.  In addition, PayPal has cut off Wikilieaks from receiving donations via their service and in a major weird, disturbing email,

Talking about WikiLeaks on Facebook or Twitter could endanger your job prospects, a State Department official warned students at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs this week.

An email from SIPA’s Office of Career Services went out Tuesday afternoon with a caution from the official, an alumnus of the school. Students who will be applying for jobs in the federal government could jeopardize their prospects by posting links to WikiLeaks online, or even by discussing the leaked documents on social networking sites, the official was quoted as saying.

“[The alumnus] recommends that you DO NOT post links to these documents nor make comments on social media sites such as Facebook or through Twitter,” the Office of Career Services advised students. “Engaging in these activities would call into question your ability to deal with confidential information, which is part of most positions with the federal government.”

As one observant student pointed out,

“They seem to be unable to make the distinction between having an opinion and having a contractual obligation to keep a secret,”

That the University sent out such a warning is deeply disturbing and sounds uncomfortably like, ‘nothing to see here, move along, move along’, go about your business, it’s dangerous to know or think about this.


The Wikileaks documents should definitely give us pause to consider several issues.  First there is the question of what should and shouldn’t be state secrets.  When a nation or a company perpetrates crimes against humanity, such as the Dyncorp exploitation of children, it shouldn’t be a secret and those who keep those secrets are the ones who should be called to account.  As for the diplomatic backstabbing, who really cares and if, as my children were taught in grade school, people used there words appropriately, no one would have their feathers ruffled.

Another thing that is indeed quite worrisome is the denial of service by Amazon and PayPal.  With so many people using services such as Gmail or Yahoo, collecting funds via Pay Pal, getting our internet service from corporate giants like Comcast and the like, we need to consider that our access to these services can quickly be cut off, with little recourse.  We’ve known that for quite some time, and this is a grim reminder that freedom of information can be disappeared faster than you can say, “blue screen of death.”


*The other metaphor that came to mind was the old television series about Carmen Sandiego.  Enjoy:

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