December 8, 2010

Feinstein and the crimes of secrecy

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, writes in the Wall Street Journal:
When WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange released his latest document trove — more than 250,000 secret State Department cables — he intentionally harmed the U.S. government. The release of these documents damages our national interests and puts innocent lives at risk. He should be vigorously prosecuted for espionage.

The law Mr. Assange continues to violate is the Espionage Act of 1917. That law makes it a felony for an unauthorized person to possess or transmit "information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation." ...

Just as the First Amendment is not a license to yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater, it is also not a license to jeopardize national security.
First, Wikileaks at the time of this writing has released fewer than 1,200 of the more than 251,000 cables it received. All of them include redactions as made by other media outlets, such as The Guardian in the U.K., Der Spiegel in Germany, Le Monde in France, and El Pais in Spain. (CNN and the Wall Street Journal were offered the cables but were too scared to take them, and the New York Times got them from The Guardian.)

Second, it is falsely yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater that you don't have the right to do. As is evident by the U.S. war machine's desperate reaction, Wikileaks has revealed that there is indeed a fire.

Feinstein herself has said she voted for the invasion of Iraq on the basis of lies from the G. W. Bush White House (which she apparently lacked the common sense to question). Would she not have welcomed a leak of the facts in that case? Secrecy serves only the lazy bureaucrats and venal opportunists of armchair empire, who are the only ones complaining about Wikileaks, about their secrets being revealed.

The people of the world and of the U.S. itself are only harmed by secrecy. Secrets and lies ensured Feinstein's support for invading Iraq, which has killed some 900,000 people and seriously injured more than 1,500,000. Instead of repeating this crime, what future atrocities might we avert with our eyes open to what our governments are actually doing and thinking?

Finally, about that Espionage Act: As Feinstein quotes, it's about "information relating to the national defense", not to the tawdry everyday dealmaking, strongarming, and occasionally criminal information gathering revealed in the cables being released by Wikileaks. The honor or trust of diplomats is not a matter of national security. If they act honorably or in a trustworthy way, then there is no need for secrecy. It is because they don't, because American empire and corporatism require otherwise, that secrecy is necessary. And why violating that secrecy is so necessary.