Free Markets, Free People


Julian Assange: Tattletale

[The original version of this post appeared at the Washington Examiner on Nov. 29, 2010]

Well somebody really doesn’t like the United States now, do they? Or perhaps, as childish antics often turn out to be, Julian Assange’s provocations are really cries for attention from the most powerful nation in the world. Then again, maybe he just needs a nap. Whatever the actual reasons, Mr. Assange and Wikileaks do not warrant being treated as public enemy number one.

Some disagree, of course, such as Rep. Peter King (R-NY) who ranked Assange’s (and, consequently, suspected leaker Bradley Manning’s) actions as worse than al Qaeda’s:

“This is worse even than a physical attack on Americans, it’s worse than a military attack,” King said.

King has written letters to both U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking for swift action to be taken against WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange.

King wants Holder to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act and has also called on Clinton to determine whether WikiLeaks could be designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

All hyperbole aside, Rep. King’s suggested course of action — i.e. pursuing judicial remedies — are a bit over the top, but at least somewhat within reason. I’m not sure that anything Assange has done is actually prosecutable since he did not steal the information, and there is no discernible difference between his release of the information and that of, say, the New York Times. But at least criminal prosecution is within the realm of reason.

I’ve heard others mention much more violent courses of action for Assange, up to and including assassination. That would be truly ludicrous, especially given that the information leaked thusfar has done little more than expose the diplomatic corps as petty, niggling and dishonest.

Is that even news? If exposing stuffed shirts to embarrassment is all that is necessary to hurl the globe into World War III, so much so that assassination is deemed an appropriate penalty for the likes of Assange, then that would sort of obviate the need for diplomats in the first place. And while a world without pompous and pampered scolds pretending to be in charge of everything does seem like paradise, knocking off some waifish ex-Aussie just seems like a really poor way of bring that about.

So what do we do then?

Well, the first thing would be for the U.S. government to get a better hold on anything it deems “secret” or “confidential.” Step 1 might include such precautions as limiting access to sensitive information to something less than 3 million people:

The US embassy cables are marked “Sipdis” – secret internet protocol distribution. They were compiled as part of a programme under which selected dispatches, considered moderately secret but suitable for sharing with other agencies, would be automatically loaded on to secure embassy websites, and linked with the military’s Siprnet internet system.

They are classified at various levels up to “secret noforn” [no foreigners]. More than 11,000 are marked secret, while around 9,000 of the cables are marked noforn.

More than 3 million US government personnel and soldiers, many extremely junior, are cleared to have potential access to this material, even though the cables contain the identities of foreign informants, often sensitive contacts in dictatorial regimes. Some are marked “protect” or “strictly protect”.

Step 2 should probably involve an intense training program for all State Department personnel called “The Internet is Forever” including a two-day workshop on “What not to write in an email accessible by over 3 million people.”

Although I am being glib, I don’t find anything redeeming about the behavior of Assange and Wikileaks, and if there is some law akin to charging them with receipt of stolen goods, then sobeit. Bradley Manning, if he is indeed the leaker, should face much stiffer penalties, primarily because he was placed in a position of trust and he violated the duties commensurate with his position. Facing the death penalty for treason is too much, but a court martial and potential jail time would appear to fit the crime at this point.

What we should not do is overreact. Assange and his cronies are acting like children, and that’s how they should be treated — i.e. neither ignoring the bad behavior outright, nor giving undue attention that will ensure further incidents of such behavior. Getting into a high dudgeon just gives the insolent mite the reaction he’s looking for. It is true that the leaks have caused a great deal of embarrassment for the United States, but other than the first four French Republics, no nation has been rent assunder by embarrassment.

Let’s not act like that’s the danger we’re facing.

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19 Responses to Julian Assange: Tattletale

  • Then again, maybe he just needs a nap.
    I suggest a .30 nap.
    This puke is CERTAINLY subject to prosecution.  But, then, we have Holder in the DoJ, so don’t hold your breath.
    This is one of the stupider posts I’ve seen here.  Bill Ayers in his bombing days was “just acting out” according to your “thinking” here.  (Note the “scare quotes”).  I mean…damn.

    • Really. So what exactly do you think a non-U.S. citizen who released non-secret information that he was given (i.e. didn’t pay for) can be prosecuted for? And why haven’t the NYT, the WaPo, Der Speigel (which is actually the most analogous to Assange) or any other news outlet been prosecuted under the same statute?

      As for “stupid”, I’m not the one comparing an information leaker to a bomber.

  • I take the opposite view.  For all practical purposes, Assange and Manning were spying on the United States.  They they didn’t get anything earth-shattering (that we know of) is irrelevant: they were spying and should be hanged for that offense. 

    As for publication of their documents by various news outlets… This is and has been a tricky question.  On the one hand, the United States has various secrets that it is wise to keep, and the press does our country no favors by publicizing them.  On the other hand, we live in a free nation, and it is also not to our national advantage to stop the press in its task of keeping our people informed (it has been pointed out that the government really OUGHT to have been more open about what was known or suspected about the norkies proliferation activities, for example).

    I am not keen to censor the press or even have an “Official Secrets Act” as they have in the UK as I do not at all trust our government not to abuse such a power.  Therefore, it seems to me that we should take the following actions:

    1.  As you suggest, a thorough review of our policies and procedures for creating, classifying, storing, handling and disseminating information should be immediately undertaken;

    2.  PFC Manning should be tried by court martial and, if found guilty, sentenced to the maximum penalty allowed under the UCMJ, preferably death by hanging;

    3.  Assange should (ahem) disappear;

    4.  Various government officials should have a quiet talk with key media people (major owners, editors and publishers) to persuade them of the dangers posed by reckless dissemination of classified information.

    If we don’t respond strongly to this sort of thing, what’s to stop some other smart-a** who gets his idiot hands on REALLY sensitive information from plastering it all over the internet?  “Wikileaks did it and you didn’t think it was a big deal!”

  • I agree with Micheal’s assessment.
    By the way, Instapundit linked to a short post by Michale Totten. In that comment chain someone provided a link to an 11 page New Yorker article. The article touched on the childhood and development of Assange.  It was/is very interesting.
    I see similarities with the alienation in the upbringing of BHO.

  • My thinking is that all the info that can be found on Assange and the top Wikileaks people should be dumped to the internet. Likewise all the internal memos of the NY Times and other papers that publish Wikileaks.

    Hey, what’s the harm? No one gets killed, just maybe embarrassed. If there is harm, those people shouldn’t have been saying or doing whatever they said or did.

    • This makes much more sense to me.

      • “…those people shouldn’t have been saying or doing whatever they said or did”
        Wow.  This is brilliant.
        How ’bout we publish all your personal identity information all over the net?  Got any trade secrets or proprietary ideas? Nola problama…
        Nobody is gonna get hurt.
        Except in a world where we WANT people to communicate with us, and we mutually try to assure at least SOME of those communications are confidential…
        this HURTS REALLY, REALLY BAD.
        Put yourself in the position of being my client, vesting in me all your very confidential information, and having me carelessly let it out on the street.
        That would be a real confidence-booster in any number of therapeutic fields, too.
        A-FREAKING-mazing that MW is willing to trivialize this as “tattle-telling”.

        • Uhhh … nobody entrusted Assange with anything, it was leaked to him. And thusfar it’s only been info of the embarrassing sort. Getting all worked up about childish stunts doesn’t do anything to reduce embarrassment, nor does it stop the behavior. In fact, it makes it much more likely to occur.

          • So, publication of YOUR personal information is no problem?
            How about republication of YOUR personal information?
            See, each of those is a CRIME very often, and a TORT almost always.
            “…only info of the embarrassing sort”.  Forgive me if I find that empty, coming from you.  I’d be surprised if some of this info could not embarrass someone to death.
            But “information of the embarrassing sort” is EXACTLY what confidences are MEANT to protect, and often BY LAW.
            Are you REALLY this dense?

          • WTF are you talking about? Do you even have a clue as to what information was leaked? Take some time and inform yourself. Then read the post again. You seem to be awfully lost.

          • @ Rags:

            The information leaked is embarrassing only to a government that is not worthy of our respect. If anyone is harmed by the embarrassment, he/she no doubt deserves it.

            State-worshippers such as you have no concept that this is entirely different from personal information. I’m not harming anyone, nor am I forcing anyone to pay for my private life. Ergo, no one is entitled to that information. This is a government that acts in my name, and you actually support that it has a right to keep those things secret? These aren’t military maneuvers to wipe out avowed enemies. These are recorded statements by our diplomats, some of the biggest morons on the earth.

            By your own standard, it was perfectly fine had any of George Washington’s spies been hanged: they were breaking the law, specifically committing treason. Are YOU this dense?

        • Ragspierre: Actually I wouldn’t like my personal info hosed out onto the net anymore than I like my government’s private communications dumped out there either.

          My remark, If there is harm, those people shouldn’t have been saying or doing whatever they said or did, was  intended as irony because that is exactly what some Wikileak defenders have been saying about the US government with regard to the leaks.

          • Sorry, the irony got past me…
            sort of like everything I’ve been saying has whooshed over our host’s head…
            John Bolton says that these leaks have done immense harm.  Sort of a different take than these are as important as a TMZ episode, or a pre-pubescent putting up pics of his big sis in her underwear.  Reckon I’ll take Bolton over Wade.

    • Oh, but that’s a violation of personal privacy!  WE’LL SUE!

      / sarc

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