Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Why haven't we been able to deal with Wikileaks?

Bret Stephens sees at least one bright side of the whole Wikileaks story - liberals have come to realize the importance of government secrecy.
So WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is guilty of "a reckless action which jeopardizes lives." That's according to John Kerry, on this week's unauthorized release of a huge tranche of State Department cables. Confronted with a previous Wiki-avalanche, the senator took a more sanguine view: "However illegally these documents came to light," he intoned in July, "they raise serious questions about the reality of America's policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan."

The latest WikiLeak may ultimately amount to no more than a colossal headache for U.S. diplomats. By contrast, the previous leak exposed U.S. sources and methods on the battlefield. Yet the senator somehow finds the prospect of an embarrassed State Department more troubling than the exposure, to the Taliban's vengeful gaze, of Afghan informers—another instance, I suppose, of John Kerry reporting for duty.

Still, every fiasco must have its silver lining, and this one is no exception. For starters, it has belatedly prompted at least some liberals to grow up on the topic of government secrecy and its connection to national security, international stability and, not least, human rights.
Scott Johnson points out the blatant hypocrisy of the New York Times which last year thumped its chest with pride over its refusal to publish the Climategate emails because the documents "appear to have been acquired illegally and contain all manner of private information and statements that were never intended for the public eye, so they won't be posted here." Yet, of course, the Times was willing to publish the Wikileaks information and didn't have any qualms about how these documents were "acquired illegally" and "were never intended for the public eye." James Delingpole at the Telegraph reminds us of the Times' willingness to put a thumb on the scales when making editorial decisions that fit with their liberal ideology.

Anne Applebaum wonders why, if Assange were so concerned about openness, why we are not seeing a Wikileaks dump of Russian or Chinese or Iranian documents?
How about a leak of Chinese diplomatic documents? Or Russian military cables? How about some stuff we don't actually know, such as Iranian discussion of Iranian nuclear weapons or North Korean plans for invasion of the south? If the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, is serious about his pursuit of "Internet openness" - and if his goal isn't, in fact, embarrassing the United States - that's where he'll look next. Somehow, I won't be surprised if he doesn't.
Well, I'd certainly be surprised. Earlier in her column, Applebaum touches on the real reason that we don't see such leaks authoritarian governments.
A Russian official can keep a politically incorrect statement out of the newspapers. A Chinese general would never speak to a journalist anyway. Low-level officials in Iran don't leak sensitive information to WikiLeaks because the regime would kill them and torture their families. By contrast, the low-level U.S. official who apparently leaked this week's diplomatic cables will probably live to a ripe old age.
Exactly. If Assange were to publish a dump of documents from Russia, he wouldn't be wandering around Iceland without fear of retaliation. He'd be assassinated on the street. The Russians have gotten away with attacking inconvenient individuals on foreign individuals who embarrass their government.

We do not assassinate individuals in foreign countries, but there may be a legal option that the Holder Justice Department is getting around to exploring. The administration may be setting up Julian Assange to be tried under the Espionage Act. However, they need to catch him first and other nations don't seem interested in cooperating by turning him over to the U.S. just because he's damaging American security. As Mark Thiessen writes, the Obama administration has had months to deal with Assange and WikiLeaks but can't seem to figure out how to shut down the operation. There has been real damage to our security efforts around the world, yet we seem powerless against this guy.
Is the Obama administration going to do anything - anything at all - to stop these serial disclosures of our nation's most closely guarded secrets? Just this past week, the federal government took decisive action to shut down more than 70 Web sites that were disseminating pirated music and movies. Hollywood is safe, but WikiLeaks is free to disseminate classified documents without consequence.

With this latest release, Assange may now have illegally disclosed more classified information than anyone in American history. He is in likely violation of the Espionage Act and arguably is providing material support for terrorism. But unlike leakers who came before him, Assange has done more than release information; he has created a virtual system for the ongoing collection and dissemination of America's secrets. The very existence of WikiLeaks is a threat to national security. Unless something is done, WikiLeaks will only grow more brazen - and our unwillingness to stop it will embolden others to reveal classified information using the unlawful medium Assange has built.

WikiLeaks' first disclosures caught the Obama administration by surprise. But how does the administration explain its inaction in the face of WikiLeaks' two subsequent, and increasingly dangerous, releases? In both cases, it had fair warning: Assange announced what kinds of documents he possessed, and he made clear his intention to release them.

The Obama administration has the ability to bring Assange to justice and to put WikiLeaks out of business. The new U.S. Cyber Command could shut down WilkiLeaks' servers and prevent them from releasing more classified information on President Obama's orders. But, as The Post reported this month, the Obama administration has been paralyzed by infighting over how, and when, it might use these new offensive capabilities in cyberspace. One objection: "The State Department is concerned about diplomatic backlash" from any offensive actions in cyberspace, The Post reported. Well, now the State Department can deal with the "diplomatic backlash" that comes from standing by helplessly, while WikiLeaks releases hundreds of thousands of its most sensitive diplomatic cables.

Because of its failure to act, responsibility for the damage done by these most recent disclosures now rests with the Obama administration. Perhaps this latest release crosses a line that will finally spur the administration to action. After all, the previous disclosures harmed only our war efforts. But this latest disclosure is a blow to a cause Democrats really care about - our diplomatic efforts. Maybe now, finally, the gloves will come off. Or is posting mournful tweets about the damage done to our national security the best this administration can do?
So how can we shut down pirated music websites but can't do anything about the WikiLeaks server? If the Obama administration was so concerned about "diplomatic backlash" from other countries for making a cyber attack on the Wikileaks server, do they really think that this dumping of State Department documents will not cause a "diplomatic backlash?"