In case Al Qaeda, its cohorts, and their sponsors lack for summer reading, WikiLeaks — as we all know by now — has just tipped out onto the web a trove of classified U.S. military documents on the war in Afghanistan. As far as there’s an upside to this, some of the concerns described in the documents may help focus attention on the problem of nuclear-armed Pakistan’s double-dealing in fostering Islamist terrorism, while receiving huge handouts from the U.S. in its role as an ally. Tunku Varadarajan has an impassioned piece on this in the Daily Beast, and the New York Times weighs in on the same theme.
But in the larger picture, such leaks are routinely cherry-picked by the U.S. media, and in turn by the world media, for anything damning to the U.S. Never mind the context, or the terrorist assaults and continuing threats that have impelled America into this war. Not only will America’s enemies now enjoy a chance to cull the leaked documents for any useful intelligence, but odds are that this huge data dump will become the latest ammo in the hands of the Blame-America-First contingent.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is right now all over the media, explaining that this posting of tens of thousands of classified U.S. documents is all about “transparency” and ending the abuses of war. In a video clip posted on the web site of the Guardian, Assange pats himself on the back that “It is the work of good journalism to take on powerful abusers.”
Amen, Mr. Assange. So when does WikiLeaks get serious about that noble mission? Leaking American secrets is no great trick – it’s a regular event; staple fare at The New Yorker, The New York Times, or pick-your-source. America is where the in-house conversations of Gen. Stanley McChrystal are reported in Rolling Stone, and “Top Secret America” is featured on page one — with interactive search functions — by the Washington Post.
What’s rather more difficult, for those aspiring to confer transparency upon abuses of power, is to get hold of the document troves of America’s enemies – a collection of tyrants and terrorists who respond to unwanted leaks not simply by trying to spin, deny, or appease, but by threatening, jailing or murdering anyone discovered disclosing secrets to the world public. That makes it a lot more difficult to pry documents from their archives; but it also means that any success could be of extraordinary value.