Why WikiLeaks matters

Posted by By at 6 December, at 13 : 34 PM Print

Scott Paterno

Unless you have been living under a rock or in a cave – and, hopefully, the terrorists who might find actionable intelligence in the released memos are doing just that – you have heard something about the most recent WikiLeaks document dump.

The airing of our diplomatic dirty laundry, the exposing of our techniques and opinions, may seem to many of us as mere trivialities – a socially accepted sin that is nonetheless embarrassing to have exposed to the party.

Some of them are.

The fact that Quaddafi has an all female bodyguard detail and our view of that is hardly a high-state secret.

Nor is the fact that the majority of State department officials working overseas are encouraged – even directed – to engage in open source intelligence gathering an earth-shattering revelation; as any mature diplomat from any country would tell you privately, all diplomacy is a form of intelligence gathering.

It is embarrassing to have it demonstrated to be true, but it won’t – nor should it – stop the practice in the future.

So, if the above is true, is the document dump an act of treason? Sabotage? Terrorism? Journalism?

And, ultimately, does it matter? First of all, let’s deal with the criminality. From the gathering end of the business, the answer is obvious: the person who took the documents committed an act of treason and espionage.

They should be tried, convicted (if guilty, obviously), and shot. It is that simple, Pfc. Manning. The Constitution defines treason as giving aid and comfort to enemies of the United States.

As a duly sworn soldier of the United States, Pfc. Manning knew he was hurting the United States and aiding its enemies when he handed over the documents and files – including sources and methods.

It is easy and reasonable to assume that this has already cost us assets and lives. It should – and will – cost Pfc. Manning his.
That is the clear-cut part of this equation As for the strange Mr. Assange – who even this Monday asked President Obama to resign, a request that leads to an unimaginable President Biden – his conduct is harder to classify.

Was it sabotage to publish the Pentagon Papers? Does his recklessness in terms of redaction take him past journalism?
Did he in any way try to monetarily induce the gathering of the information, thus making him part of a conspiracy? Is he a guy who looks creepy with odd sexual tastes (actually, that one we know)?

Many of the unanswered questions will determine what he and his organization are.

It may simply be a non-state actor who is, admittedly, hostile to the US. As such, we can and should work to frustrate and shut him down.

We should seek every legal advantage to contain the damage. In fact, we SHOULD have been doing this for these many months past (something that might have happened had the original documents dealt, as these documents do, with embarrassing the current administration rather than the last one).

Why should we do this?

Because these leaks matter.

They are going to cost real human lives.

They may be primarily embarrassing at the highest levels, but they are flat out deadly on the ground level.

Consider this: in the past, we could expect some amount of actionable intelligence from disaffected or ideologically motivated foreign nationals.

That intelligence has to be transmitted to be useful. How many people are piping up these days? Can a US operative truly say her communication network is secure? IS IT?

So, as a result, our available intelligence pool grows shallower. And as a result of that we have less ability to safeguard our soldiers, assets and country.
This cannot be understated, and it’s why Secretary of State Clinton was doing the self-flagellation tour last week: if our allies no longer trust our ability to protect their secrets they will share less information with us.

Critical information. In an area of the world like the Middle East, where we already have tremendous cultural and language barriers to overcome to achieve any success at intelligence gathering, such reserve will cost us lives.

It will also have a chilling effect on what information we share with each other.

Remember what we blamed missing 9/11 on? Information that was not shared inter-agency. These leaks will mean less of that, as the various services entrench and try to ensure that they never suffer the State Department’s public humiliation.

There are many valid arguments to be made as to why the dump was just “information” and therefore not a big deal – I do not dispute that.
The dump probably makes clear to most that we over-classify things, as well.

But the fact is any of these arguments MUST be weighed against the cost of the dump. And in terms of its impact on intelligence gathering – both from diplomatic and foreign sources – the cost far outweighs any benefit proponents can claim.

Making sense out of WikiLeaks is what we do on Rock The Capital.


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This post was written by:
- who has written 77 posts for Rock The Capital
Scott Paterno is an accomplished policy analyst and political consultant based in Hershey, PA. Mr. Paterno, never one to sit still, has practiced law, run for a house seat, and worked as lobbyist in Harrisburg and Washington. Paterno is Vice Chairman of the Sustainable Energy Fund and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Political Science. He is happily married with three children. - Email scottp

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