Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Naked Government

TSA screenings pale in comparison to what Wikileaks has just done to Americans--and with less justification. Airport body searches are meant to save lives. The release of all those stolen diplomatic cables strips government bare just for the hell of it.

After the Eisenhower years, a former aide named Emmet Hughes wrote a "scathing" book about inner deliberations of the White House, which JFK denounced to his staff, saying, "I hope nobody here is writing that kind of book." Nobody did.

We are a long way from bipartisan agreement that governing without reasonable privacy invites chaos. Barack Obama promised transparency, but a document dump by a criminal Private First Class has set off what the UK's Guardian calls a "global diplomatic crisis."

The New York Times justifies publication on the grounds that "the documents serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match."

Maybe so, but does the public have a need to know every detail of its representatives' "frustrations," doubts and just plain dirt-dishing--about Libyan leader Qadafi's "voluptuous blonde nurse," the bags of money an Afghan vice president carried on his trip to Washington and other such gossip?

An answer to this argument is made in the recent publication of Daniel Patrick Moynihan's papers. After a distinguished career as scholar and public servant, Sen. Moynihan told his constituents on retiring just before 9/ll:

"(T)he great fear that I have is the enveloping culture of government secrecy and the corresponding distrust of government that follows. Since the end of the Cold War--which, incidentally, all those secret agencies quite missed--the secret side of government just keeps growing."

All this has worsened since then, but is the alternative an indiscriminate airing of everything that Wikileaks can lay its hands on?

It's like broadcasting to the world the pillow talk of a couple before and after a family holiday reunion. To what purpose? And with how much truth about their real feelings?

There has to be a better way.

: The source of all those secrets says it was "childishly easy," according to a published conversation with a fellow hacker:

"I would come in with music on a CD-RW labelled with something like 'Lady Gaga'...erase the music...then write a compressed split file. No one suspected a thing ... [I] listened and lip-synched to Lady Gaga's Telephone while exfiltrating possibly the largest data spillage in American history...

"Hillary Clinton and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning and find an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format, to the public...It's beautiful, and horrifying."

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but "horrifying" is just about right. No word from Lady Gaga.


Anonymous said...

Just a minor correction: the files were not "hacked" by an outsider. It was allegedly an inside job, a leak by Private Manning.

Anonymous said...

you are so naive that it is almost cute.

Liberal AND Proud said...

Yes. The public has a right to khow how their representatives are conducting themselves, what is really being discussed behind closed doors and what is being done in their name.

If the government can't keep it a secret, that's the government's problem.

I suggest you catch up on your history and role of the Fourth Estate, and please spare me the discussion about bloggers versus "journalists".

Press credentials don't make a person a journalist, particularly when he is beholden more to his paycheck than to his professional responsibilities.

Anonymous said...

People with secrets are not to be trusted.

Anonymous said...

Remember when the US Government was revealed to have been illegally spying on it's citizens without a warrant? The response was "You don't have to worry if you didn't do anything wrong." Back at you.

Anonymous said...

You bemoan a lack of transparency, offer no alternative solutions, and rail against Americans getting an education on diplomatic history. I haven't read a more myopic column on this Wikileaks release. Information seeks to be free, until everyone gets that in their heads, I say leak leak leak away, the more the better in this age of false histories.

Roamer said...

having worked with "secret" materials when in the military i came to the conclusion that the level of duplicity was so layered as to defy comprehension by even most of the people involved. who knows the agenda here? i agree that on the surface it appears to be amateur hour but who knows.
alas, most of what we learn today about "leadership" makes my stomach churn.