Column on Leak Embarrasments

Leak embarrassments

Tibor R. Machan

newspaper carried the AP headline the other day, “U.S. cuts access to
files after leak embarrassment,” and the body of the article reports
that Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks is now on a most wanted
list in Europe.  

do not have the time or even the curiosity to figure out if the leaks
contain anything that would be criminal to steal–such as genuine
national or military secrets–but I am told they do not and I also
recall that when Daniel Ellsberg sent similar materials to
The New York Times many moons ago, which The Times
then published, a great many people in the American media defended him
despite the fact that those at the Pentagon who were responsible for the
material were very upset with him and with
The Times
about revealing stuff to the world they would just as soon have kept
secret.  There was a big brouhaha about this back then and my
recollection is that many people, especially on the political Left
including liberals and critics of the administration, defended Ellsberg
The Times.  “How dare anyone try to stop this good man from telling us what we all had a right to know?” was the mantra then.

however, I hear nothing much other than, gasp, on Fox TV, in defense of
Julian Assange despite the fact that most of what he has put out there
for us to check if we’d like to is by all reports quite innocuous and,
in any case, ought to be available for us to find out about in this new
era of government transparency. Indeed, all the materials WikiLeaks
revealed seem to be no more than simply embarrassing and probably have
no business being secret.  Transparency, I was made to understand when
the Obama administration took office, would be the order of the day, not
secrecy.  Yet didn’t the president go on record condemning the
WikiLeaks revelations?  Curious.

am not sure just what makes something an “important diplomatic message”
but the number of individuals, the AP article reported, who are
permitted to read them will soon be “significantly reduced.”  Is this
really right?  Unless it is shown that people are put in harm’s way it
seems to me nothing coming out of the government of a free country
should be kept hidden.  How can the citizenry judge the conduct and
ideas of members of the administration, the president and his team and
all those in Congress who support them, without having access to their
work?  Must I trust these folks just for the asking?  Are people in
governments all that trustworthy?

strong impression is that free men and women must never trust those in
government very much, given that such folks have immense power and
unless they and their works are watched carefully they are likely to
abuse it–to quote the famous English political theorist Lord Acton,
“Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  

there is good reason to applaud WikiLeaks’ efforts to inform us about
how the governments of the world go about their business.  The excuse
that such knowledge may be embarrassing seems to me quite irrelevant
since governments simply ought not to engage in conduct that embarrasses
them.  It is no fault of a news reporter that the transparency that he
or she achieves has that effect.  If the citizens have the right to
know, to avoid embarrassment requires acting decently in the course of
doing government’s work.  If other countries rely on secrecy to do
business with the American government maybe it is high time this stops
and they, too, confront the reality that the people they supposedly
represent in diplomatic negotiations have the right to know.

WikiLeaks stolen a bunch of private information, say from banks or
doctors’ offices and computers, the charge that it was acting criminally
would be credible.  But since the information it is letting everyone
have bears on public affairs, I do not see that any breach of privacy is
involved.  Embarrassing just doesn’t matter here.

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