Ryan J. Suto's Blog

22 December 2010

The Over-Reaction to WikiLeaks

“If you want safety, peace, or justice work for competency, honesty, and transparency.”
Dr. Bill Corcoran

Politicians and commentators from across the country and across the aisle reacted worrisomely to the WikiLeaks cables released over the past months. From Congressman Peter King to the more legally nuanced position of Vice President Joe Biden, the word terrorism has been brought up in discussions of the actions of Assange & Co. Simply put: the American reaction to WikiLeaks tells the world more about America than the cables have. That reaction has been a dangerous one.

1.      Public Diplomacy
In general, Americans would like the world to view America as an ethical entity. Our foreign policy generally supports governments we feel are controlled by The People and the democratic peace theory is often a core assumption of our foreign policy. Recently the Obama Administration praised Google for standing up to China by refusing to censor search results. Several years ago the Bush administration condemned China’s treatment of political dissidents. After all, the President of the United States is the ‘Leader of the Free World’.
Despite this, America’s collective national knee-jerk reaction to WikiLeaks was to yell ‘terrorist!’ and to have the site shut down, as evidenced by reactions of Amazon, PayPal, MasterCard, etc. In terms of maintaining trusting relationships, honesty and staying true to one’s values are best practices. This goes for personal relationships and inter-governmental relationships alike. How America’s public and private sectors react to journalists show the world what America values. We as a people can’t condemn China for silencing whistleblowers and dissidents when our own corporations and politicians are trying to stamp them out as well. We must realize that if we wish the world to value openness in governance, we too must value it.

2.      Civil Liberties
The labeling of WikiLeaks as a terrorist organization is worrying. WikiLeaks has simply published material, the veracity of which the government has not denied, against the interest and wishes of the government. It’s true that material has been classified, but the simple fact that no actually crucial or important security information has been leaked is proof that this material was not deserving of such a designation in a government of The People. If a legal case against WikiLeaks were to be successful, no organization or individual would publish leaked material, denying citizens that rare glimpse into a government that is supposedly run by them.
 The 1st Amendment to our constitution reads, in part, "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press..." While that right has never been absolute, the language of the text and the case law which has followed hold high the burden on the government when attempting to act against journalism. This is partially because journalism and whistleblowing like WikiLeaks is actually a social benefit. Democracy only works in the world of perfect information: every voter has all the information he/she needs to make the best choice in the voting booth. However, without things like the Pentagon Papers or WikiLeaks, voters would have little knowledge of what the government is doing. Thus, there needs to be a vocal critic of the government, ready to report mistakes and to publish information otherwise unavailable to voters.

We as a people should condemn the actions and statements of our politicians and corporations as attempts to silence a legitimate whistleblower. Our government and our people must apply the principles of our founding to be viewed legitimately abroad and to protect our liberties at home.


  1. How does competency, honesty, and transparency (all good things in general) translate into safety, peace, or justice? We get safety and security by giving up some of our liberties.

    Calling Wikileaks a terrorist organization or even a whistleblower is just misnaming it because neither are correct. Assange and Co., as you've aptly put it, are simply posting hundreds of thousands of documents that someone else sent to them without a filter or attempting to find some problem with the government. This is not whistleblowing or making the government transparent. This was terribly stupid because it put American lives at danger when documents concerning current military strategy and confidential informants were released. Granted, many of the documents in the second batch regarding foreign cables weren't especially secret or needed to be that way, but their release should still be condemned. There are certain things that the general public just doesn't need to know. Additionally, these documents' classified statuses should have been maintained and respected. I would rather have over-classification than not enough being classified.

    This isn't about making government transparent or making sure that the freedom of speech is protected, this is about the safety and security of this country. Wikileaks threatened that.

    I'm curious how you think the Pentagon Papers or Wikileaks actually help educate voters. There might be things in there that voters don't agree with, but I can't imagine how many times a President has done something to secure our country that some people just wouldn't like. There comes a time when things just need to get done for the betterment/security of our nation, even if it upsets some people.

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  3. You seem to imply/assume a few things. (1.) That the primary job of the federal government is security, and (2.) that security is the highest good, or at least a higher good than government transparency.
    Where should Americans go to find out the reason for the creation of government in general and American governance in particular? The Declaration of Independence. What does that document have to say? It first tells us that all humans have unalienable rights. “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” Thus, here, government’s primary reason for existence is to secure rights. The sentence continues, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” Once a rights-securing government is in place, its form should be the form most likely to bring safety to the people. Of course, the three listed rights are “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.
    Remember, we broke away from Great Britain, inter alia, for reasons of liberty and governance, not because we felt insecure. The rallying cries of the Revolution were ‘give me liberty or give me death’, and ‘no taxation without representation’, not ‘give me national security or give me death’ nor ‘no taxation without adequate security’. Governments are instituted to secure rights. Liberty (including the freedoms of speech and of the press) is just as important a right as Life. Also remember that this was written during a time a war. A war in which many of the signatories were involved directly. This balance and these values were enshrined in the time of war, and do not alter because of any threat. No threat we face now was greater than the treat of our Founders; the destruction of their State, their land, and their people.

    How has Wikileaks actually helped educate voters? As a voter, I would like to know if my government is ignoring the illegal use of torture (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-11611319), or when my military kills civilians and reporters (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/06/world/middleeast/06baghdad.html?_r=1), or the reports of elected officials in their employment capacity(https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/11/AR2009021101388.html), or that taxpayer-funded contractors engage in child prostitution while on the job (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/08/wikileaks-reveals-that-mi_n_793816.html).
    Is the job of governance and security dirty? You bet it is. But as it is instituted by The People, and is supposed to act for The People, we have a right to know. None of these examples given compromise security; all of them compromise credibility. We cannot trust the government to tell us when it’s doing wrong; that’s not in it’s self-interest. We The People must be the ones to decide when the government is doing wrong, but we can’t without journalism and whistleblowing, or, if you wish, the wholesale in indiscriminate leaking of information.

  4. Salon must have liked my post... http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/12/24/wikileaks