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The Real WikiLeaks Villian Is Not Julian Assange

December 9th, 2010 - 11:05 am

The Berkeley City Council plays a handy role in contemporary American politics: If you want to know what your opinion should be regarding any particular event, note carefully what the Berkeley City Council has voted on that week, and whatever they’re for, that’s what you should be against. In this instance, Berkeley is voting to give Bradley Manning — the traitorous ex-soldier who was the original source of all the “Wikileaks” documents — an award for heroism.

Berkeley’s sickening municipal resolution has received a smattering of media coverage here and there, but it hasn’t aroused the national outrage it deserves, for the simple reason that most Americans still don’t know who Bradley Manning even is. Bradley who? Shouldn’t Berkeley be giving an award to Julian Assange, just as so many other leftists have lavished praise on Wikileaks’ Australian-born head honcho?

Well, no. Say what you want about Berkeley, but they got it right this time, in their own sick way: If you’re going to praise the America-hating traitor responsible for this incident, your award should go to Manning, who actually leaked the secret government files, rather than Assange, who merely put them on his Web site.

The very fact that this incident is usually dubbed “the Wikileaks case” by the media is absurd; it’s not about Wikileaks. It should be called “The Manning Incident” or “The Manning Files.”

Julian Assange is a bit player in this case. His crime, if any, is minor. I can’t fathom why there has been so much media attention focused on him as opposed to Manning, who after all is the one who stole the secret documents.

The focus should be on the leaker, not the leakee. When the Rosenbergs “leaked” nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union, did we put Stalin on trial for treason? Of course not. He was simply the recipient of the leak. Even though Stalin benefited from the treachery, it was neither his fault, nor was he under U.S. jurisdiction, so he could not be (nor should he have been) prosecuted. Instead, the law and the nation’s attention were correctly directed at the people who actually did commit treason and who were under United States jurisdiction: the Rosenbergs.

Antiquated Espionage Laws Inadequate to Handle Stateless Anti-American Sentiment

Just as our honor-based rules of war are not equipped to handle our interactions with stateless amoral opponents in an age of terrorism, so too are our laws against treason and espionage not equipped to deal with stateless opposition in the Internet era.

Despite the much-mocked phrase “war on terror,” we’ve never officially declared war on anyone since 9/11, because you can’t declare war on an individual, an ideology or a tactic. And now it’s becoming clear that it may be difficult to prosecute someone like Bradley Manning as a traitor or a spy because there is no foreign government to which he has betrayed his nation.

In an age of non-state players, “leaking” government secrets to the Web plays the same role that traditional espionage played in the Cold War.

If Julius and Ethel Rosenberg had lived in the 21st century, they would have given atom-bomb secrets to Julian Assange, not the Soviet Union.

Fury is now being directed at Assange due to the lack of a tangible nation-state opponent in this case. Someone has to fill the role of “bad guy.” But the public’s anger is misdirected. Julian Assange is not the source of the leaks; he is simply the mechanism through which they have been publicized. Bradley Manning is the real villain here, since he is the one who violated his oath to protect and serve his country, and to guard national secrets. Assange has never sworn to protect the United States; not only is he not in the U.S. military, but he was never given access to classified documents, and he’s not even an American citizen. Consequently, he has no allegiance to the United States, nor should we expect him to respect our laws or defend our national interest.

Nihilism Is Not a Crime

It’s not that I like Julian Assange or have sympathy for him; in my opinion, he’s an anti-American political nihilist who takes adolescent pleasure in tearing everything down just for the fun of it. But that doesn’t mean I think he’s committed a crime. Is he malicious? Certainly. Unethical? Probably. But criminal? Not so much.

As much as I hate his politics, I can’t bring myself to zero in on Assange as the supervillain here. He is simply a name we have affixed to a tactic — the tactic of disseminating information on the Internet. As you may know, by now there are innumerable “mirrors” of the Wikileaks files — identical duplicates put online and hosted by sympathetic anarchists and hackers all over the world. Even if Julian Assange and Wikileaks had never existed, the same information would have been available on the Internet; all Assange provided was a brand name and publicity. If it had not been Assange putting the leaked documents online, it would have been someone else. Once the information is leaked, it has been leaked — the horse is out of the barn. There’s no point in chasing it around the field, because you’ll never be able to catch it; nor will you be able to build a new enclosure fast enough and big enough to capture it. Nor do you curse the field for playing host to the horse. Just assume that once the horse is out, it’s gone. Instead, try to find out who left the barn door open in the first place, to make sure it doesn’t happen again. And (if the news reports are true), that person is Bradley Manning.

To borrow a phrase from Bob Dylan: Julian Assange is the Wicked Messenger, the man who takes glee in bringing bad news. Yet despite his ill-intent, his sanctimonious attitude, and his undeserved attention, he is in the final analysis just a messenger. We may hate him and hate his message and hate the pleasure he derives from delivering it, but he did not create the message. He should be dismissed from the stage and quickly forgotten.

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