In its early days, WikiLeaks dropped leaks from around the world and helped Obama clear his name as he campaigned for president. Doesn’t this repudiate the notion that it is strictly an anti-U.S. outfit?
WikiLeaks Myth Number 1
“What if China had a WikiLeaker,” Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times on November 30, “and we could see what its embassy in Washington was reporting about America?” Psst. Hey, Tom. China does have a WikiLeaker.
His name is anonymous, and he’s on the WikiLeaks, a site whose self-avowed mission to bring accountability to all world governments, not just the U.S., is making everybody think they have to act like China.
My interest in WikiLeaks began in August 2007, when Julian Assange wrote to me and presumably dozens if not hundreds of other journalists and whistleblowers introducing WikiLeaks. He opened his note with “Salut,” used plenty of vim and bravado throughout, and—before closing with “solidarite”—explained (emphasis mine):
“Wikileaks is developing an uncensorable Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis. Our primary interests are oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we also expect to be of assistance to those in the West who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their own governments and corporations. We aim for maximum political impact; this means our interface is identical to Wikipedia and usable by non-technical people. We have received over 1.2 million documents so far from dissident communities and anonymous sources.”
If it was to be modeled on Wikipedia, then it would have to be much, much bigger than any one person. This would mean it was, and is, a technological fix aimed at the problem of government secrecy. Not just U.S. government secrecy.
Here’s a tiny smattering of some of the early WikiLeaks press releases we found interesting enough to run on Guernica. (When WikiLeaks grew bigger and opened their twitter account, they stopped sending press releases.)
In March 2008 WikiLeaks (and Guernica) ran a press release for a leak on China and Tibet, with videos of Tibetan protests censored by China. A sample of the crackling prose: “The transparency group’s move comes as a response to the Chinese Public Security Bureau’s carte-blanche censorship of youtube, the BBC, CNN, the Guardian and other sites carrying video footage of the Tibetan people’s recent heroic stand against the inhumane Chinese occupation of Tibet.”
It proceeds with no shortage of political preaching: “Censorship, like communism, seems like a reasonable enough idea to begin with. While ‘from each according to his ability and to each according to his need’ sounds [inarguable], the world has learned that these words call forth a power elite to administer them with coercive force. Such elites are quick to define the needs of their own members as paramount.”
bq. But here’s the problem, Julian: North Korea said that was to be kept hush-hush.
Unfortunately, as with all the releases we ran, the links are now broken thanks to ubiquitous attacks on WikiLeaks.
This one, from April 2008, documents several secrets at once: the Tibet-ravaging, youtube-banning China lavishing weapons on the Zimbabwe of the very charming Robert Mugabe. At the same time this one sports the “leaked intelligence book on North Korea.” But here’s the problem, Julian: North Korea said that was to be kept hush-hush.
Not to mention that this release invokes an American patriot and alternative founding figure: “In 1789 Thomas Paine, American pamphleteer, philosopher and revolutionary, compared the sun to the truth: ‘[S]uch is the irresistible nature of truth,’ Paine declared, ‘that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.’” An anti-U.S. terrorist, as some have called Assange, who cites Thomas Paine? Who reads Thomas Paine?
What about corporate malfeasance? No shortage. Here’s one from January 2008 on a UK bank called Northern Rock that was brought down by the U.S. subprime mortgage disaster. Obviously, this wasn’t a classified U.S. government cable that Northern Rock was trying so hard to censor. It was hard evidence of fraud, with strong ties to a lending crisis that would worsen months later and lead to the economic recession of the fall of that year. And here’s one from March 2008 revealing insider trading at J.P. Morgan. It’s interesting these nearly three years later because it names some of the other WikiLeaks insiders besides Assange: Kevin Wilson, Maria Christina Padro. If the letter Assange sent me in 2007 is any indication, he has been recruiting scores of anonymous volunteers for years now. Yet for merely enabling the technology, a technology that remains in use despite his arrest, he remains the sole perpetrator?
bq. The links are broken. I, for one, can’t remember what they said; maybe Obama is a radical Islamist.
Not so. Nor was he the sole beneficiary of the leaks, as we shall see below.
Helping Obama Get Elected
In 2008, there were leaks from the U.S. presidential campaign trail. Here’s one from May 2008 that spells out McCain’s campaign strategy. Did the president benefit from this one? Tunku Varadarajan, the most partisan writer at The Daily Beast recently called Assange a nihilist. “[Assange] is, in short,” Varadarajan writes, “an avowed foe of [Americans’] way of life.” Not the first time a right-wing journalist disparaged an ostensibly pro-Obama Democrat (not that Assange could vote in that election). This next one was so special I had to write about it myself.
In June 2008, there were a lot of people who sought to spread the fabrication that Senator Obama was a Kenyan-Muslim terrorist. Assange and his team of (mostly) anonymous whistleblowers found first a fake and then a real memorandum of understanding between a candidate Obama ostensibly supported in Kenya named Raila Odinga, and a small moderate Muslim group. The fake MOU made the impossible claim that Odinga offered to turn the predominantly Christian country into a land run under Sharia. A lot of U.S. conservatives peddled this trash, including that “author” who wrote the faux best-seller Obamanation, and the right-wing editors of the now-defunct New York Sun. The real MOU promised Odinga would look into civil rights violations against members of the small Muslim minority.
Those of us who, with John Kerry’s Swift Boat not far from our thoughts, believed Obama’s candidacy should be judged on his actual record, rather than this obvious but widespread right-wing smear, had the WikiLeaks document to cite. In fact, to every insinuation of how do we know he’s not a radical Muslim?, WikiLeaks kept proof online that there was a smear campaign not only of Odinga, but of Obama too. No more. The links are broken. And I, for one, can’t remember what they said; maybe Obama is a radical Islamist.
To be sure, here are some of what by now we’re used to seeing from WikiLeaks: evidence of U.S. war corruption, lies and all-out war crimes. This one shows Blackwater and U.S. military’s use of chemical weapons in Iraq. This one, from December 2007, leads with: “The US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has been caught conducting covert propaganda attacks on the internet.” This one, from March 2008, exposes awful living conditions in Fallujah prison. And this one details how U.S. weapons were ending up in our enemy Al Sadr’s hands.
Valuable information to the public? I’d say. Let’s acknowledge that keeping the above secret saves many people some embarrassment. But is it feasible for the public to vote for candidates, to be informed about a major policy matter such as the war, if those candidates and that war remain shielded from public scrutiny? Why this sudden rush to shut down WikiLeaks now, when it so clearly has leaked real documents very much in the public interest? Is it only bad when it targets the U.S.? Is it not ironic that the U.S. is accusing WikiLeaks of violating the Espionage Act after documents prove the U.S. spied on the U.N.?
While WikiLeaks has been a consistent nag to the U.S. this year—from its Collateral Murder video showing U.S. soldiers killing Iraqis like they’re clay pigeons, to the cache of documents about the Afghanistan invasion, and now the diplomatic cables—it has collected and revealed documents from around the world, consistent with its original mission as described in August 2007 and cited above. The leaks I’ve shared above are few, as this was just a miniscule walk down Wiki-Memory Lane. The links to the actual leaks, like little snapshots of the past, are all broken now, thanks to government protectionism and secrecy—placing China, Zimbabwe, North Korea, the corporations that helped spark the economic meltdown—in league with the possibly leak-elected Obama administration.
But broken links or not, a casual browse through their site and mirror sites will drudge up those initial links, and their equivalents today; it will confirm the real target of WikiLeaks is the corrupt and oppressive. In trying to shut it down, the U.S. is allying itself with the worst governments and institutions on earth, and helping them all safeguard—and maintain—their corruption.
“Joel Whitney”:http://www.guernicamag.com/information/masthead/ is a founder of Guernica.