Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Wikileaks Random Thoughts & Comments

December 8, 2010, 6:00 a.m.; December 9, 2010, 9:00 a.m. [additions to section: "Heavy handed use and abuse of government power"]; December 10, 2010, 8:00 a.m. [addition of new section: "Much world opinion ridicules, makes U.S. Government laughing stock, for its response"]

Sorting Through the Issues
(bought to you by FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.com*)

And see the earlier, Nicholas Johnson, "Wikileaks In Its Own Words," December 3, 2010 (and yesterday's earlier, but unrelated, Nicholas Johnson, "Downtowns' Future: 'Shop Locally' Column & Dialogue," December 7, 2010).

Note: Printed, this 5000-plus word blog entry (plus embedded videos) runs 12-20 printed pages, depending on formatting. Although it's designed to be read from start to finish, it is also broken down under a number of headings in bold, below, if you care to link to one or more of them:
How harmful are Wikileaks' leaks?

Have Wikileaks in general, and Julian Assange in particular, violated U.S. law?

America's commitment to openness.

The Progressive case.

If harm there be, who is most responsible, and who has done the most harm?

Heavy handed government use and abuse of power.

Much world opinion ridicules, makes U.S. Government laughing stock, for its response.

The Swedish charges.

The ever-popular Will Rogers (1879-1935) used to start his stand-up from the stage with the line, "All I know is what I read in the papers."

Will Rogers' popularity -- not to mention his ability with a rope -- eludes me. But I share his dependence on the media when it comes to Wikileaks.

Useful collections of media and other sources about Wikileaks are the New York Times' "Times Topics: Wikileaks," and the "WL Central: An unofficial WikiLeaks information resource."

More needs to be said about Wikileaks.

There's just so much at stake. National security, yes. What the U.S. government did, and failed to do, that made Wikileaks possible, yes. The implications for the privacy of each of us who uses the Internet, a privacy that we agonize about hanging onto as corporations and governments sing in chorus, to Simon and Garfunkel's tune, "We'd like to know a little bit about you for our files."

But interwoven with legitimate national security concerns are equally legitimate concerns about freedom of speech and press, and the challenges confronting ordinary citizens. After all, if we who would like to participate meaningfully in what is supposed to be our self-governing democracy are to do so, we simply must have information about what our government is up to in our name. And those who run our government sometimes conclude it is in their interests and ours to keep that information from us.

How harmful are Wikileaks' leaks?

Attacking Wikileaks has provided a mother load of publicity for politicians. Senator Joe Lieberman says those responsible have "blood on their hands." Senator John Kerry says what they've done "jeopardizes lives." Congressman Peter King thinks it "presents a clear and present danger to national security" and wants the group designated a "Foreign Terrorist Organization." Secretary of State Clinton says she is "taking aggressive steps to hold responsible those who stole this information." (All quotes from, Toby Harnden, "WikiLeaks: Hillary Clinton states WikiLeaks release is 'an attack,'" The Telegraph, November 29, 2010.)

On the other hand, someone who may have the most at stake in this fight, "U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said descriptions of the potential harm from secret diplomatic cables posted online by WikiLeaks.org are 'significantly overwrought' and the disclosures will have a 'fairly modest' impact on foreign policy. 'The fact is governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest -- not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets,' Gates said at a Pentagon news conference today. 'Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.'” Viola Gienger and Flavia Krause-Jackson, "WikiLeaks' Postings to Have `Modest' Impact on Foreign Policy, Gates Says," Bloomberg, November 30, 2010.

Watch the video:

Have Wikileaks in general, and Julian Assange in particular, violated U.S. law?

As I write this, the Department of Justice has yet to provide a public answer to that question. The answer turns, at least in part, on what Wikileaks has done. So far, no one who has really researched the law has seen fit to charge them with anything. And even if, or when, they are charged they are, of course, entitled to the American "innocent until proven guilty."

Someone who breaks into a governrment office (or computer) in the dead of night and "steals," to use Secretary Clinton's word, properly classified government documents has violated the law. Moreover, someone who has authorized access to those documents, but exceeds their authority by taking them -- whether or not they pass them along to someone else -- has also violated the law.

I have so far read nothing to suggest that Assange, or other officers of Wikileaks (if Wikileaks has officers), has engaged in either. Nor, so far as I know have they been charged with either -- except in the undocumented assertions of politicians.

Let us assume hypothetically for a moment that others, perhaps even others whose identity was unknown to Wikileaks, were the ones who obtained, and passed along to Wikileaks the documents in question. This would be the modern day, electronic equivalent of what used to be government documents in a plain brown envelope thrown over the transom into the newsroom of a newspaper. And the U.S. law (which I will discuss here shortly) is fairly clear in finding that First Amendment values usually trump whatever privacy interests the government may have in keeping that information secret. The government may successfully prosecute the person who initially and illegally obtained the documents, if that person can be found. But it cannot get an injunction to prevent the publication by the innocent third party who received them nor prosecute them after the fact.

So we have initial threshold questions here, the answers to which have explosive consequences. Was anyone who was a "member" of, or on the payroll of, Wikileaks, involved in the initial illegal acquisition of the documents? Even if not, should Wikileaks -- and other Web sites, blogs (and what used to be called "underground newspapers") performing a journalistic function -- be entitled to the same First Amendment protections courts would accord to your hometown newspaper or TV station?

The Espionage Act of 1917, e.g., 18 U.S.C. §793, is of almost no help in resolving the factual questions just mentioned. It's not much more help on the legal questions. It's an old WWI statute, seldom used, and modified in some respects over the years by Supreme Court decisions. It clearly is not primarily and precisely designed to cover a Wikileaks' phenomenon (not the least because computers and the Internet were not contemplated by the drafters). Here are some of this section's provisions:
(a) Whoever, for the purpose of obtaining information respecting the national defense with intent or reason to believe that the information is to be used to the injury of the United States, or to the advantage of any foreign nation, goes upon, enters, flies over, or otherwise obtains information concerning any vessel, aircraft, work of defense, navy yard, naval station, submarine base, fueling station, fort, battery, torpedo station, dockyard . . .. [None of that language in the first sub-section sounds like what Wikileaks has been up to.]

(b) Whoever, for the purpose aforesaid, and with like intent or reason to believe, copies, takes, makes, or obtains, or attempts to copy, take, make, or obtain, any sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint . . .. [Ditto; but note, it also ultimately gets around to mentioning "document, writing."]

(c) Whoever, for the purpose aforesaid, receives or obtains or agrees or attempts to receive or obtain from any person, or from any source whatever, any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, or note, of anything connected with the national defense, knowing or having reason to believe, at the time he receives or obtains, or agrees or attempts to receive or obtain it, that it has been or will be obtained, taken, made, or disposed of by any person contrary to the provisions of this chapter [This is getting closer; does include "document, writing," but the focus on "espionage" in the name and description off offenses still seems to be basically unrelated to whatever Wikileaks may or may not have done.]

(d) Whoever, lawfully having possession of,. . . the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation, willfully communicates, delivers, transmits or causes to be communicated, delivered, or transmitted or attempts to communicate, deliver, transmit or cause to be communicated, delivered or transmitted the same to any person not entitled to receive it [emphasis supplied; this is presumably aimed at government employees with clearance]

(e) Whoever having unauthorized possession of [and then similar to (d); emphasis supplied]
America's commitment to openness

None of what follows in this section is a "legal opinion," for a variety of reasons.

Nor is it provided as some kind of defense for whatever Wikileaks is found to have done. Most of the statutes and cases are easily distinguishable on their facts from Wikileaks.

What's provided here is simply by way of providing an overview of a general presumption in this country that openness and transparency, especially from government, is better than secrecy. It is our "default position" -- unless there is some really, really good reason for not doing so, we presume that agency meetings and government files are open to the public.

The Brits, by contrast, approach it from the opposite direction. Their presumption, as embodied in the name of their act ("The Official Secrets Act") is that the Crown does have official secrets, that it intends to protect them, and that all government documents are secret unless there's an exception that makes them available to the public and media.

"In 1643 the British parliament enacted a law conferring on a Committee of Examinations the power 'to regulate printing: that no book, pamphlet, or paper shall be henceforth printed, unless the same be first approved and licensed' . . .." Edwin Knoll,"The 'Secret' Revealed," The Progressive, November 1979, p. 1

Similarly, the "Official Secrets Act 1911 [made it] a criminal offence to disclose any official information without lawful authority." "A Basic Guide to Official Secrets Act 1989." And see, "Official Secrets Act 1989," wikipedia.org,

Here are some examples of the U.S. approach.

The Freedom of Information Act of 1966, 5 U.S.C. §552, sets forth the default position with regard to the public's access to federal agency records: "each agency, upon any request for records which (i) reasonably describes such records and (ii) is made in accordance with published rules stating the time, place, fees (if any), and procedures to be followed, shall make the records promptly available to any person." §552 (a)(3)(A).

That's the "general rule," for which there are exceptions. Subsection (b)(1) provides: "This section does not apply to matters that are - (1)(A) specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy and (B) are in fact properly classified pursuant to such Executive order; [This is why the FOIA is of little to no help for whoever actually took the cables and other documents initially.]

Subsection (b)(5) excludes "inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters which
would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency" -- a provision that might cover State Department cables.

The Privacy Act of 1974, 5 USC §552a, is what gives us the right to find out that "little bit about you" the government has in its files: "(d) Access to records. Each agency that maintains a system of records shall--(1) upon request by any individual to gain access to his record or to any information pertaining to him which is contained in the system, permit him and upon his request, a person of his own choosing to accompany him, to review the record and have a copy made . . .."

The Open Meetings Law, 5 U.S.C. §552b, gives the public and media the right to attend the meetings of federal agencies: "Except as provided in subsection (c), every portion of every meeting of an agency shall be open to public observation." §552b(b)

The same spirit carries over into Supreme Court decisions in which the First Amendment trumps the government's interest in secrecy.

A case often referred to as relevant to Wikileaks is New York Times v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971) (more commonly referred to as the "Pentagon Papers case"). Because many of the justices wrote separately, the nine of them ended up writing 10 opinions.

The "Court's opinion," a brief "per curiam" statement, said, "[T]he United States seeks to enjoin the New York Times and the Washington Post from publishing the contents of a classified study entitled 'History of U.S. Decision-Making Process on Viet Nam Policy.' 'Any system of prior restraints of expression comes to this Court bearing a heavy presumption against its constitutional validity.' . . . The Government 'thus carries a heavy burden of showing justification for the imposition of such a restraint.' . . . [T]he Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in the Washington Post case held that the Government had not met that burden. We agree."

This opinion is not dispositive of the Wikileaks case. (a) It is not yet clear that Wikileaks is the legal equivalent of the Washington Post. (b) The government was attempting to enjoin, to prevent, the publication of the "Pentagon Papers" by the Post, called "prior restraint." Because the Justice Department has yet to charge Assange or Wikileaks with any crime at this point, we can't know what it will do. But it seems more likely it will try to punish them for what has been done, after the fact, rather than trying to prevent future releases.

Nonetheless, it is a pretty strong statement by the U.S. Supreme Court that there are First Amendment values at stake even when government secrets are being published.

In some ways, the facts of Cox Broadcasting Corp. v. Cohn, 420 U.S. 469 (1975), come even closer to those in Wikileaks than do those in the "Pentagon Papers" case. It involved post-publication consequences for the media, rather than "prior restraint." And the TV reporter involved would seem to have rather clearly violated a statute prohibiting the publication of what the station put on the air -- albeit a state, rather than a federal, statute.

Georgia had a statute that provides, "It shall be unlawful for any news media . . . to . . . publish, broadcast, televise, or disseminate . . . the name or identity of any female who may have been raped . . .." p. 471. The father of a deceased rape victim sued an Atlanta TV station for an invasion of his privacy, because its reporter obtained and broadcast the name of the daughter -- in violation of the Georgia statute. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Georgia courts' decision for the father.

Because the reporter had obtained the name from an official court record, said the Court, "Under these circumstances, the protection of freedom of the press provided by the First and Fourteenth Amendments bars the State of Georgia from making appellants' broadcast the basis of civil liability." pp. 468-69.

Interestingly (though not legally relevant), in the context of Wikileaks, is the Court's observation that, "Because the gravamen of the claimed injury is the publication of information, whether true or not, the dissemination of which is embarrassing or otherwise painful to an individual, it is here that claims of privacy most directly confront the constitutional freedoms of speech and press." (emphasis supplied) p. 489.

In some ways Cox is the opposite of Wikileaks -- which may be found to have First Amendment protection against being punished for what it published, even though the material was obtained illegally in the first instance (as in the "Pentagon Papers" case). Because in the Cox case the material was obtained legally in the first instance (the Court held), but it was the publication that violated the Georgia law (a law the Court found could not be applied constitutionally in these circumstances).

The point is not that any of these statutes or court decisions (or more that could be found) exonerate Wikileaks of any and all responsibility. Most are not, as we say, "on point." What they do illustrate is the commitment of the U.S. Congress and Supreme Court to give considerable deference to our First Amendment values -- even over the objections of the U.S. Executive Branch.

Perhaps even more persuasive are the views of Floyd Abrams, among the country's most preeminent First Amendment lawyers, and advocate for some of America's largest corporations as senior partner in the respected Wall Street law firm, Cahill Gordon & Reindel, and named by the National Law Journal as one of the "100 most influential lawyers in America". Relevant in this context, in addition to his having been given virtually every award for which he could conceivably be eligible, is his having served on the Technology and Privacy Advisory Committee of the U.S. Department of Defense in 2003-4.

In short, Floyd Abrams is no radical supporter of terrorists and criminals.

Asked if what Wikileaks does is protected by the First Amendment, Abrams responded, "I think most of what they do would be."

Asked if the government could shut down Wikileaks, he said:
We can have criminal sanctions for people who leak the information, if they can find out . . . who the leaker is, but in terms of the publisher — the disseminator — to the public, absent a situation where you’re talking about atomic weapons or secret secrets where the publication will imminently threaten the country or its people, I don’t see much, and I don’t think there should be much in the law that really provides remedies to stop publication, and the technology makes it all but impossible anyway. (emphasis supplied)
Ashby Jones, "First Amendment Guru Floyd Abrams on the WikiLeaks Situation," Wall Street Journal, July 28, 2010.

Watch the interview:

The Progressive case.

In November 1979 Edwin Knoll, editor of The Progressive magazine in Madison, Wisconsin, chose to publish "the secret" of the atomic bomb. "The H-bomb secret; How we got it -- why we're telling it" -- an article by Howard Morland.

As Knoll explained, "He [Morland] undertook the project on assignment from The Progressive to demonstrate that official secrecy in this area serves no useful public purpose." p. 4.

Morland begins, ""What you are about to learn is a secret . . . [regarding] the coupling mechanism [that triggers] hydrogen fusion. [One sentence of explanation.] That, within the limits of a single sentence . . . I discovered . . . simply by reading and asking questions, without the benefit of security clearance or access to classified materials." Howard Morland, "The H-bomb secret; To know how is to ask why," pp. 3-12. As he asserts, "[Secrecy has] served since the dawn of the atomic age to shield nuclear weapons policies from public scrutiny and debate, giving an advantage to those who formulate the policies and have a stake in their perpetuation." p. 4.

In this case, a Federal District Judge actually did enter a prior restraint on publication against The Progressive, although it was ultimately overturned in the U.S. Court of Appeals.

"We could have simply and quietly acceded to the Government's demand for censorship on grounds of 'national security' -- as other publications have," Knoll wrote. "We refused. . . . The reason should be obvious: When the State imposes prior restraint, it places its own conduct beyond public scrutiny; it deprives the citizenry of its right to form an independent judgment as to the justice or injustice of its conduct." Edwin Knoll,"The 'Secret' Revealed," p. 1.

This is, of course, very close to what appears to be similar to Julian Assange's thinking and motive. Indeed, it is possible there are some lawyers in today's Department of Justice who respond similarly to those charged with prosecuting The Progressive.

"[W]e began hearing rumors about disaffection in the Justice Department's ranks. . . . [A] majority of the Department's lawyers working on the case had urged Attorney General Griffin Bell to drop it . . . a reluctant lawyer serving a stubborn and vindictive client -- the Department of Energy." Erwin Knoll, "Wrestling with leviathan; The Progressive knew it would win," p. 13.

Knoll even finds support from Albert Einstein and Dr. Edward Teller.

"[A]tomic energy [is] the most revolutionary force since . . . fire. . . . [T]here is no secret and there is no defense . . .. We scientists [have an] inescapable responsibility to [provide] an understanding of the simple facts . . . and its implications . . ..[W]e believe that an informed citizenry will act for life and not death." Albert Einstein, "Letter," January 22, 1947, The Progressive, p. 6

"[C]lassification of technical information impedes its flow within our own system, and may easily do far more harm than good by stifling critical discussion and review or by engendering frustration." Pentagon "Task Force on Secrecy," a group that included Dr. Edward Teller, "Father of the H-bomb." The Progressive, p. 10.

Does the harm caused by Assange -- what our Secretary of Defense has described as "fairly modest" consequences -- rival sharing "the secret" of the H-bomb in a magazine of general circulation? One would think so. Of course, once again there are distinctions when comparing The Progressive H-bomb issue and the Wikileaks operation. (1) The whole point of Morland's adventure was to show that there was no secret, that he could obtain the information he had from public libraries and many individuals quite willing to talk. Indeed, he said he did not see, let alone possess, any classified documents. (2) There was a federal judge willing to impose a prior restraint on its publication. The subsequent modification was grounded more in the futility of continued restraint (since much of the information had by then been revealed in other publications as well) than in any reversal of the judgment that if ever there was a case warranting prior restraint it was this one.

If harm there be, who is most responsible, and who has done the most harm?

This is a classic case of not even locking the barn door after the horses were stolen -- and then blaming a small boy for trying to ride one, injuring himself, the horse, and a neighbor's garden. Perhaps a better analogy would be an adult forgetting to lock the chain link fence gate to the swimming pool, and then blaming a drowning on the young ring leader who encouraged his buddies to take a swim.

You know who's responsible for any adverse consequences that flow from these formerly confidential cables that are now in the public domain? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Yes, I know, she's not personally responsible on a daily, hands-on basis for the operation of the State Department's Information Technology operations. But the buck stops with her.

With all the recent emphasis on terrorism, national security, cyber crime and cyber warfare, and the efforts to improve communication over the "stovepipe" system our intelligence agencies had pre-9/11, it's not unreasonable to suggest that the possibility something like the Wikileaks phenomenon should have been blinking on her radar. Continuing to make all these cables available to 600,000 or more individuals was not a really swift thing to do.

It remains to be seen, if some one individual really has suffered harm as a result of these disclosures, whether the United States Government could be found to have some responsibility for this negligence.

After writing this, I discover that at least one Australian cabinet member agrees:
Mr [Kevin] Rudd, now the [Australian] foreign minister, said that Julian Assange, the Australian citizen who founded the website and is now in custody in Britain, was not to blame for the damaging leaks . . ..

"Mr Assange is not himself responsible for the unauthorised release of 250,000 documents from the US diplomatic communications network," Mr Rudd said, in comments that depart from Prime Minister Julia Gillard's statement that Mr Assange's actions were irresponsible and illegal.

"The Americans are responsible for that. I think there are real questions to be asked about the adequacy of their security systems and the level of access that people have had to that material over a long period of time."

"The core responsibility, and therefore legal liability, goes to those individuals responsible for that initial unauthorised release," he said.

Mr Rudd's comments echo those of another former Australian prime minister, John Howard, who said Mr Assange had not done anything wrong by publishing cables that contained "frank commentary".
Bonnie Malkin, "Wikileaks: Kevin Rudd blames US for release of diplomatic cables," The Telegraph, December 8, 2010.

Finally, once the State Department's Swiss cheese cyber security leaked these documents, if harm was done who did the most of it?

Isn't it obvious? How many of Wikileaks' documents have you read on some Wikileaks' Web site? I don't know about you, but I haven't read any of them there.

Where I've read them is in the world's newspapers: Le Monde in Paris, El Pais in Spain, The Guardian in Britain, Der Spiegel in Germany, and The New York Times here in the U.S. Don't you imagine that's where most of those following this story -- including the community of international diplomats, are learning (and concerned) about the now-public cables?

I'm with Floyd Abrams. I don't think those papers should be presented with prior restraint orders, or their editors and reporters threatened with prison terms. Nor do I know of anyone else who is suggesting that (there though may be someone).

What I do find just a mite hypocritical is the myopic and exclusive focus of the American executive branch, and politicians, on beating up Wikileaks in general, and Julian Assange in particular -- up to and including a call for his assassination -- while uttering nary a whisper about the orders of magnitude greater significance of the role played by some of the world's greatest newspapers.

Heavy handed government use and abuse of power.

Finally, we have been witnessing a greater and greater reliance of government on private industry to do for government that which government might be constitutionally prohibited from doing.

Access to bank, phone and library records come immediately to mind.

Bear in mind Julian Assange is an Australian citizen, living in England. He has not even been charged by our government with anything at this point, let alone convicted. And yet it seems reasonable to assume that the decisions by, among others, Amazon, Pay Pal, Mastercard and Visa to cripple Assange's operations are almost certainly the result of pressure from our government.

See this morning's [Dec. 9] Guardian review, update, and reports of the backlash against those companies. Esther Addley and Josh Halliday, "WikiLeaks supporters disrupt Visa and MasterCard sites in 'Operation Payback'; MasterCard and Visa attacked after restricting dealings with WikiLeaks – and hackers say Twitter is next," The Guardian, December 9, 2010. The authors report, among other things,
Visa . . . forced a small IT firm which facilitates transfers made by credit cards including Visa and MasterCard, and has processed payments to WikiLeaks, to suspend all of its transactions – even those involving other payees. Visa had already cut off all donations being made through the firm to WikiLeaks.

[The firm,] DataCell, based in Iceland, said it would take "immediate legal action" and warned that the powerful "duopoly" of Visa and MasterCard could spell "the end of the credit card business worldwide". Andreas Fink, its chief executive, said: "Putting all payments on hold for seven days or more is one thing, but rejecting all further attempts to donate is making the donations impossible.

"This does clearly create massive financial losses to WikiLeaks, which seems to be the only purpose of this suspension. This is not about the brand of Visa, this is about politics and Visa should not be involved in this … It is obvious that Visa is under political pressure to close us down."
There are serious issues here. "Common carriers" -- the railroads, power companies, the old AT&T monopoly -- were required to provide service to everyone on the same terms. Visa is not just a domestic, U.S., "financial common carrier," it is a "global financial common carrier."

Businesses have a right, within limits, to have and enforce "terms of service." But when southern restaurants and hotels maintained for years as part of their terms of service that African-Americans would not be provided any service Congress ultimately passed the Public Accommodations Act. (See, e.g., "Civil Rights Act of 1964," Wikipedia.org.)

Whether organizations with the global financial power of a Visa refuse service to a user on the basis of the personal beliefs and whims of their officers and directors, or because of pressure from a government, I think DataCell has a point.

Why did PayPal cut off Wikileaks? "PayPal . . . says that it reviewed its policies regarding WikiLeaks after the U.S. Department of State publicized a letter stating that WikiLeaks may be in possession of documents that were provided in violation of U.S. law. . . . 'We restricted the account . . . ultimately . . . based on a belief that the WikiLeaks website was encouraging sources to release classified material, which is likely a violation of law by the source.'” Tricia Duryee, "PayPal Releases Funds to WikiLeaks as Supporters Strike Back," Yahoo!Finance, December 8, 2010.

Putting aside the vague "may be in possession" and "likely a violation," if "possession" of documents "provided" by the original "source" in actual violation of law is PayPal, and other financial institutions' standard for bowing to heavy handed government pressure, does that mean that Visa, Mastercard, and PayPal are going to cut off the New York Times and any and all editors and reporters who once possessed these documents in the course of writing their stories?

This is not a company complying with a court order. This is a company bowing to vague threats from a government regarding an organization or person the government doesn't like.

Ah, but let's complete the circle. As The Guardian reports this morning, that very same government is in a position to provide a lot of assistance to Visa -- and every other American corporation -- or not. In this case it already has. Luke Harding and Tom Parfitt, "WikiLeaks cables: US 'lobbied Russia on behalf of Visa and MasterCard'; US diplomats intervened to try to amend draft law so that it would not 'disadvantage' US credit card firms, cable says," The Guardian, December 8, 2010 ("A state department cable released this afternoon by WikiLeaks reveals that US diplomats intervened to try to amend a draft law going through Russia's duma, or lower house of parliament. Their explicit aim was to ensure the new law did not 'disadvantage' the two US companies, the cable states.").

It's certainly understandable why both Visa and the U.S. Government would like to continue to keep any stories about that cable from the American people. And it's also understandable why the Government might judge Visa to be ungrateful in the extreme -- given what the Government does for Visa from time to time -- if Visa were to refuse to cut off one of its customers just because the Government can't seem to come up with any legal theory, and hasn't charged, let alone convicted, Wikileaks of anything.

Gates says "governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest -- not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets." The same thing is true of American corporations. They knuckle under to government pressure "because it's in their interest." They have a lot at stake: potential antitrust violations, income tax audits, pending government contracts, earmarks and tax breaks -- and now we discover, diplomats lobbying foreign governments on their behalf. Compared to that, what are a few civil liberties violations?

Many believe the resuscitation of the bizarre Swedish case against Assange (after an apparent dismissal in September), and the speed with which it is now being handled, is another consequence of U.S. government muscle.

Even if you are among those who believe Assange should be tried and locked up in prison -- or worse -- you might want to think twice about applauding these actions by our government, if such they be.

Much world opinion ridicules, makes U.S. Government laughing stock, for its response

Much of the rest of the world is having great fun at America's expense over what is seen as a hypocritical, excessive response to Wikileaks.

One of the most dramatic reactions was that of Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera. He has simply posted on his official Web site all of the leaked cables having to do with his country. "Bolivia Hosts WikiLeaks 'Mirror,'" Associated Press/Google Hosted News, December 9, 2010.

The Guardian thinks our Government's response has been "vicious" and "tipping over toward derangement." It turns Secretary of State Clinton's earlier speech complaining of China's attacks on Google into "a satirical masterpiece." (She had said, among other things, "information networks are helping people to discover new facts and making governments more accountable.”) The Financial Times Deutschland says, "no one can explain what crimes Assange allegedly committed with the publication of the secret documents, or why publication by WikiLeaks was an offense, and in The New York Times, it was not.”

Steven Erlanger, "Europeans Criticize Fierce U.S. Response to Leaks," New York Times, December 10, 2010, p. A12 (For many Europeans, Washington’s fierce reaction to . . . WikiLeaks displays imperial arrogance and hypocrisy, [and an] obsession with secrecy that contradicts American principles. . . . American officials . . . have been widely condemned in the European news media for calling the leaks everything from “terrorism” . . . “an attack against the international community” . . .[and] “anti-American operative with blood on his hands” . . .. [The Guardian thinks the official reaction] "is tipping over toward derangement . . .. Not much truck with freedom of information, then, in the land of the free" . . . [a] "vicious, coordinated" [response].)

"The venomous furor surrounding WikiLeaks, including charges of “terrorism” and calls for the assassination of Julian Assange, has to rank as one of the biggest temper tantrums in recent years. . . . But stamping feet and lashing out at Assange is simply misdirected anger. . . . [T]he means to engage in cyber espionage have expanded dramatically because of the shift to networked infrastructures and social networking habits. . . . Cyberspace has brought us the world of do-it-yourself signals intelligence." Ron Diebert, "What Has WikiLeaks Started? The Post-Cablegate Era," New York Times, December 10, 2010. (Diebert is the Director, Canada Center for Global Security Studies and the Citizen Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto.)

The Swedish charges.

There are so many allegations being thrown about with regard to what Assange did or did not do with one or more women in Sweden, and whether whatever it was is, or should be, a crime, that it's very hard to sort it all out.

It does seem to be a bizarre case, the timing of which opens it to understandable suspicion that it is being handled in ways -- indeed handled at all -- in response to pressure from the U.S. government.

The case has certainly well served what may have been our government's purpose -- to create an ad hominem diversion that could turn global media coverage of its embarrassing cables into a "sex story." What I'm about to quote reports that well over half the media coverage of Wikileaks/Assange now focuses on the Swedish charges.

I do not, because I cannot -- how would I know? -- vouch for the accuracy of the following story. It may simply be as much misinformation from one side as our government seems to be creating with its propaganda from the other. You're going to have to be the judge.
I've spent much of my professional life as a psychiatrist helping women (and men) who are survivors of sexual violence. Rape is a hideous crime. Yet in Assange's case his alleged victim, the gender equity officer at Uppsula University, chose to throw a party for her alleged assailant after they'd had the sex that even Swedish prosecutors concede was consensual. [Former Julian Assange Melbourne] Barrister [James D.] Caitlin again:
[The] phenomena of social networking through the internet and mobile phones constrains Swedish authorities from augmenting the evidence against Assange because it would look even less credible in the face of tweets by Anna Ardin and SMS texts by Sofia Wilén boasting of their respective conquests after the "crimes" .

In the case of Ardin it is clear that she has thrown a party in Assange's honour at her flat after the "crime" and tweeted to her followers that she is with the "the world's coolest smartest people, it's amazing!". Go on the internet and see for yourself. That Ardin has sought unsuccessfully to delete these exculpatory tweets from the public record should be a matter of grave concern. That she has published on the internet a guide on how to get revenge on cheating boyfriends ever graver. The exact content of Wilén's mobile phone texts is not yet known but their bragging and exculpatory character has been confirmed by Swedish prosecutors. Neither Wilén's nor Ardin's texts complain of rape.
Small world, isn't it? Julian Assange is the human face of Wikileaks the organization that's enabled whistle-blowers to reveal hideous war crimes and expose much of America's foreign policy to the world.

He just happens to meet a Swedish woman who just happens to have been publishing her work in a well-funded anti-Castro group that just happens to have links with a group led by a man at least one journalist describes as an agent of the CIA: the violent secret arm of America's foreign policy.

And she just happens to have been expelled from Cuba, which just happens to be the global symbol of successful defiance of American foreign policy.

And despite her work in Sweden upholding the human right of gender equity in Cuba she just happens to end up associating with a group openly supported by an admitted CIA agent who himself committed mass murder when he actively participated in the terrorist bombing of a jetliner carrying a Cuban sports team"an act that was of a piece with America's secret foreign policy of violent attacks against Cuban state interests.

And now she just happens after admittedly consensual sex to have gone to Swedish authorities to report the sex ended without a condom" which just happens to be the pretext for Interpol to issue a "Red Notice" informing the world's police forces of charges against Julian Assange.

Who just happens to be the man America's political class the people who run America's foreign policy have been trying to silence. And who happens to be the man some of them have been calling to have murdered.

With a lust for vengeance like that, one could be forgiven for concluding they've just happened to have taken a page from Anna's revenge manual.
Kirk James Murphy, M.D., "Assange Accuser Worked with US-Funded, CIA-Tied Anti-Castro Group," OpEd News, December 5, 2010.

And see especially, James D. Catlin [Melbourne barrister who acted for Julian Assange in London in October], "When it comes to Assange rape case, the Swedes are making it up as they go along," Crikey ["Crikey is Australian for independent journalism"], December 2, 2010 (e.g., "Their [the women's] SMS texts to each other show a plan to contact the Swedish newspaper Expressen beforehand in order to maximise the damage to Assange. They belong to the same political group and attended a public lecture given by Assange and organised by them.").


* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source -- even if I have to embed it myself.
-- Nicholas Johnson
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