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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

WikiLeaks: Kind of the government’s sex tape

The latest WikiLeaks shenanigan, the release of hundreds of cables that detailed foreign diplomatic relations, feels a little like when a celebrity sex tape goes viral. Everyone kind of already knew what was up, but now they can find someone’s business spread all over the Internet.

In the wake of yet another leak, government officials are learning the same lesson fallen Hollywood starlets must face: Don’t record anything you don’t want people to see. Now, politicians have to try to find a little dignity.

Unfortunately, “”try”” is a key word. The knee-jerk reaction of panic and the predictions of doom need to be reined in. The second lesson to be learned from actors surrounded by scandal: Desperate bids to save face are rarely successful. There is nothing persuasive about desperation.

Government officials have condemned WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, for threatening national security. Everyone’s favorite Facebook user, Sarah Palin, wrote that Assange is an “”anti-American operative with blood on his hands.”” Rep. Pete King, of New York, urged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to declare WikiLeaks a foreign terrorist organization. The list of foreign terrorist organizations also includes groups like al Queda and Hamas.

You know how sometimes you say something mean about someone in a text message, and then you hit send and realize that you accidentally texted the person you were talking about? That’s basically what the WikiLeaks document dump was, except some jerk sent the text to the wrong person for you.

But if you believe the hype, that jerk is going to bring down the entire country by endangering precious lives.

The White House released a statement on Sunday, saying, “”We condemn, in the strongest terms, the unauthorized disclosure of classified documents and sensitive national security information.”” Many officials are calling for Assange’s arrest, and the shutdown of WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks acquired a total of 251,287 cables, thousands of which were labeled “”secret”” or “”noforn,”” material designated too delicate to be shared with a foreign government. But none were marked “”top secret.”” News organizations, such as The New York Times, have also redacted names and passages that could threaten intelligence or the safety of diplomats.

While there is an ethical dilemma in putting classified State Department documents online, it’s much more concerning that so much anger about that dilemma could be so misdirected.

Army intelligence analyst Pfc. Bradley Manning, who delivered the documents to WikiLeaks, can be held responsible for illegally leaking classified information. His arrest was perfectly justified, and a conviction would be, too. But WikiLeaks was simply a vehicle of information, and Assange is not the enemy.

According to Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers, Assange is nowhere near a terrorist. In a radio interview with BBC World Service, Ellsberg said the government reaction is exaggerated.

“”That’s a script that they roll out, every administration rolls out, every time there’s a leak of any sort,”” Ellsberg said. “”The best justification for secrecy that they can find is that lives are at stake. Actually, lives are at stake as a result of silence and lies, which a lot of these leaks reveal.””

WikiLeaks’ “”cablegate”” is, by no means, a trivial manner. It certainly begs us to re-examine who has access to classified documents.

However, the overreaction to cablegate also poses questions and threats. Would a shutdown of WikiLeaks’ website signal future curtailment of free speech? Where is the line between government transparency and national security drawn? When do we sacrifice knowledge for safety? Who decides these things?

Diplomacy is a lot of posturing and false fronts. It’s unfortunate that the WikiLeaks controversy has forced everyone to confront that fact. It’s not apocalyptic, though. It’s a bit more serious than a mistaken text message or a homemade sex tape. But we’ve got other things to worry about.

— Kristina Bui is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

 

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