Hail to the whistleblowers
Whistleblowers like those at WikiLeaks make huge sacrifices and are a vital last resort to check the powers of government
James Madison (drafter of the US first amendment) once wrote that “government, without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or perhaps both”.
This is certainly true of Afghanistan, where the US-led coalition has been able to avoid a true audit of the impact of its presence via tight control of the media combined with manipulated patriotism.
To avoid greater tragedy in Afghanistan we may have to rely on a new generation of whistleblowers who are making huge personal sacrifices to challenge the official narrative.
Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, is well aware of the impact made by the film Collateral Murder, which featured US Apache gun camera footage of the killing of 12 Iraqi civilians. Since the arrest of one of his whistleblowers, Assange has been keeping a low profile but is preparing to release the footage of a US airstrike in Afghanistan that may have killed up to 145 civilians. Like Daniel Ellsberg before him, Assange may be the whistleblower that could help change the direction of the conflict.
Such individuals represent a necessary last resort to check the powers of government. Ellsberg was once described as “the most dangerous man in America”, yet his actions in publishing the Pentagon Papers were driven by his realisation that the greater danger was the fact that there were no longer effective checks and balances to a war in Vietnam that was entirely detached from reality.
In his book, Secrets, Ellsberg describes how once, travelling back from Vietnam, defence secretary Robert McNamara assessed his visit by saying that “things aren’t any better at all. That means the underlying situation is really worse”. However, 10 minutes later in front of a press conference, he announced: “I’m glad to be able to tell you that we’re showing great progress in every dimension of our effort.”
Ellsberg’s decision to become a whistleblower was based on his answer to the question he asked himself: “How could we possibly have justified doing this?” It is likely that the departure of Britain’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, was prompted by a similar dilemma .
Yet Cowper-Coles may embrace the very British syndrome of officials maintaining a dignified silence until years later when an autobiography is released one day describing how they knew it was a complete mess all along. Foreign Office lawyer Elizabeth Wilmshurst followed a similar pattern, resigning quietly after deciding that war would be illegal, before emerging much more forthrightly to speak at the Chilcot inquiry seven years later.
Meanwhile US General Stanley McCrystal’s honest description of the serious disunity at the head of Afghanistan operations may cost him his job, but beyond being a blow to the image of Barack Obama’s conduct of the war is unlikely to change its central tenets, as the focus will remain on the general’s naivety rather than the substance of his argument.
Speaking truth to power is too important to be left to such outdated methods. We are all complicit in the actions of our democratically mandated government and as Ghandi once observed, “coercive power, legitimate or otherwise, depends on the co-operation, on the obedience and support, on the assent or at least passive tolerance of many people”.
Katharine Gun of GCHQ refused to tolerate the secret US spying on UN security council members in 2003, yet her whistleblowing cost her job and almost her freedom.
Constitutional US lawyer Glenn Greenwald outlined recently how “the Obama administration’s assault on whistleblowers is more extreme than any prior administration, including the Bush administration”. Greenwald pointed out that the US security establishment is deeply concerned with how the release of footage highlighting civilian casualties damages people’s trust in their government’s prosecution of the war.
This fear drives governments to throw the book at those individuals who raise their head above the parapet and speak out. US army specialist Bradley Manning, the rumoured source of the Apache video, has disappeared into US custody in Kuwait.
WikiLeaks’s Assange claims that he is now under tight surveillance and is afraid to travel to the US. Although these individuals can be easily smeared with accusations of treason and being unpatriotic, more often than not history vindicates their actions.
Wikileaks: A Publisher Of Last Resort
Video Wikileaks editor interview on censorship.
Posted June 24, 2010
WikiLeaks founder drops ‘mass spying’ hint
By Andrew Fowler
Updated Tue Jun 22, 2010 2:57pm AEST
WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange. (Colbert Report)
Related Story: Fears for life of Wikileaks founder Related Link: Foreign Correspondent WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange has given his strongest indication yet about the next big leak from his whistleblower organisation.
There has been rampant speculation about WikiLeaks’ next revelation following its recent release of a top secret military video showing an attack in Baghdad which killed more than a dozen people, including two employees of the Reuters news agency.
Bradley Manning, a US military intelligence officer based in Iraq, has been arrested on suspicion of leaking the video but it is also claimed that Manning bragged online that he had handed WikiLeaks 260,000 secret US State Department cables.
In an interview with the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent, Mr Assange said cryptically of WikiLeaks’ current project:
“I can give an analogy. If there had been mass spying that had affected many, many people and organisations and the details of that mass spying were released then that is something that would reveal that the interests of many people had been abused.”
He agreed it would be of the “calibre” of publishing information about the way the top secret Echelon system – the US-UK electronic spying network which eavesdrops on worldwide communications traffic – had been used.
Mr Assange also confirmed that WikiLeaks has a copy of a video showing a US military bombing of a western Afghan township which killed dozens of people, including children.
He noted, though, it was a very intricate case “substantially more complex” than the Iraq material WikiLeaks had released – referring to the gunship video.
European news media are reporting that Mr Assange has “surfaced from almost a month in hiding”, speaking at a freedom of information seminar at the European parliament in Brussels.
But during the course of the past month, Mr Assange has been talking to Foreign Correspondent for a program examining the efficacy of the WikiLeaks model.
“What we want to create is a system where there is guaranteed free press across the world, the entire world, that every individual in the world has the ability to publish materials that is meaningful,” he said.
Whistleblower speaks (NOT A WHISTLEBLOWER Adrian Lamo ,aka A Drain Lame-O, is a traitor , a spy , a Judas ,an government agent!! This man spins so much he has to screw his socks on in the morning!!! )
The program has also spoken directly to former computer hacker Adrian Lamo who blew the whistle on Bradley Manning after a boastful online discussion in which Lamo alleges the military intelligence adviser revealed himself as a significant WikiLeaks source.
“He proceeded to identify himself as an intelligence analyst and pose the question: What would you do if you have unprecedented access to classified data 14 hours a day seven days a week?” Mr Lamo said.
“He (Manning) was firing bullets into the air without thought to consequence of where they might land or who they might hit.”
WikiLeaks has built an information repository it thinks is foolproof. Instead of secret documents physically changing hands, they are anonymously sent to digital drop boxes and stored on servers around the world. Finally, they are posted on the WikiLeaks site.
During Foreign Correspondent’s assignment Mr Assange had been preparing to fly to New York to meet his hero – Daniel Ellsberg – the former US military analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers which amounted to a devastating expose of the Vietnam War.
Instead, concerned about travelling in the US and attracting the interest of authorities, he used Skype to speak to the conference.
He told the crowd: “Leaking is inherently an anti-authoritarian act. It’s inherently an anarchist act.”
Mr Assange has been quoted as saying he feels perfectly safe in Europe, “but I have been advised by my lawyers not to travel to the US during this period“.
Daniel Ellsberg, named by Henry Kissinger as “the most dangerous man in America”, told Foreign Correspondent that Mr Assange was “a good candidate for being the most dangerous man in the world, in the eyes of people like the one who gave me that award”.
“I’m sure that Assange is now regarded as one of the very most dangerous men and he should be quite proud of that.”