So how do you feel about Wikileaks and its ongoing disclosure of the American government’s internal diplomatic memoes (presumably intended to be kept secret)? I bet people fall into three general categories: those who are horrified, those who love it….and the vast majority that can’t decide if it’s good or bad.
The Ambassadors of the world, professional diplomats skilled in the art of negotiating with different cultures, are doubtless horrified by the figurative bull in their delicate china shop. The diplomatic corps’ skills at subtle deal-making, and indeed the international legal concept of the sanctity of parley, go back thousands of years and is a rightly respected method for securing peace between nations. If Kings are to keep peace, they must be able to speak with one another across great distances, they must be able to send their trusted spokesmen on their behalf, and their trusted spokesmen must be able to communicate in secret back to their Master. So goes the theory at any rate, and based on this,Wikileak’s explosive disclosure of secret messages appears contrary to the Greater Good.
However, it is no mystery that for those thousands of years, the other King (to whom the Ambassador has been sent) has always tried to spy out the secret communications going back and forth. Thus, being no fool, the first King and his Ambassador devise secret codes to confound the other King and his spies. No one speaks out loud of the on-going ying and yang of such espionage, but none are such fools as to suppose it does not occur. Spying is a long-honoured black art, the price of discovery typically being execution: unless you have something to trade!
So the details of State diplomatic secrets disclosed by Wikileaks in and of themselves are not particularly newsworthy: what seems to be causing the greatest turmoil is the fact that it has gone public. Usually, the discovery of the other guy’s secrets has been kept under wraps, so it can be used against them, subtly, without their knowledge that you have it. Sort of like when Winston Churchill had cracked Germany’s Enigma code in World War II: well done, the British thus knew what the Nazis were up to ahead of time. The only problem was that if the British demonstrated their foreknowledge of a pending Nazi act, the Nazis would deduce that their code must have been cracked, and would change it, thus plunging the British intelligence community back into darkness. Thus, knowledge of secrets is a two-edged sword, and there is profound need for subtlety in its use. Going public, however, is rather a different matter and defeats the whole joy of the “cloak and dagger” world of international espionage.
Frankly, I expect it is only a matter of embarrassment for the Americans: whatever has been disclosed, will have been patched up by now. Surely non-American potentates (including Canada’s) cannot be amazed to discover that they are regarded as “less than American”, by the Americans. Do you really think that your neighbours don’t talk about you behind your back? Come on, that’s not news. Nor are the particular selection of words employed to describe you, news.
The trouble with Wikileaks, is that it is not a Nation State; the diplomats cannot approach it, and tempt it with traditional offers, bribes, territory, cash, trade-rights; it seems to rather have a non-traditional motivation : disclosure, pure and simple, for the sake of the public. But how should one feel about this Robin Hood company, stealing from the powerful and giving to the powerless? It is the Government’s job to protect the public, after all, not some private business corporation’s.
Many people construe this as irresponsible trouble-making but I believe that nothing has been taken which is not public property anyway: unless State secrets are not public property at all, in which case I ask, by whom are State secrets owned? Statists, (people who believe “the State” is a good thing in and of itself), will argue that State secrets are owned by “the People” -but that does not mean “the People” get to view the secrets; rather, its secrets are held in a Trust secured by those “in Power” [I could easily attribute this line of thought, at the extreme, to Robespierre, or Lenin & Stalin, or Castro or Mao for instance]. These are the same people who, with a bit of coaxing, would have believed it right and proper to send millions of young men to war to die for the Greater Good of “the State”. It follows that “the State” is a Thing unto Itself which must exist even if all its People were removed. That strikes me as absurd, and as a Capitalist, I personally don’t buy into that argument.
The State is a fiction, like money. It works only if everyone believes in it. Dinosaurs didn’t have States: they are simply things people invented. Like the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, if its existence is challenged, it can look rather naked to those with eyes to see.
In our time [indeed, throughout history] there are sufficient examples of power-hungry “leaders”, who will sell out “the People” to line their own pocket [a host of third world dictators, for instance, spring to mind: including that new North Korean kid]. Or, without being so extreme, “leaders” who will sell out some of “the People” in order to keep power stable for others of “the People”, for “The Common Good”.
Look at the recent G20 summit in Toronto, for instance, and the conduct of the Toronto Police, in particular. Doubtless believing themselves the very Angels of Social Righteousness: 1. the police illegally (and collectively) concealed their identity so they could break inconvenient laws with impunity 2. they knowingly publicly misrepresented the law and wrongly detained “the People” who called them on it 3. (like the RCMP in its darker hours), they only conceded their errors of principal when the media published their blatant lies… I am not inventing this, I understand that to their credit the RCMP and the OPP wanted no truck with Toronto Police Services’ illegal conduct – but then neither did they jump to arrest any of their “brothers in arms” for these illegalities of which they wanted no part! They turned a blind eye, instead; (one must wonder what the heck they are teaching them at police college these days: is it really just “us” and “them”, “sheep” and “wolves”?).
With this sort of collective “Banana Republic” disregard for their own illegalities by the very forces of law enforcement, [and this is rampant: I don't need to pick on the TPS, it's just current news and pathetically obvious - it's also in the Globe & Mail (December 11/10, A4) by the way, that the civilian Special Investigations Unit, whose job it is to investigate alleged police crimes, "looks to avoid conflict with the police it reviews", so it in turn is now being investigated for incompetence] it is no mystery that the youth of the world can become disenchanted with those “in Power”: the kids believe that they have no voice, they are victims on board a train-wreck being driven by unseen and uncontrollable hypocrites: the Government is massively more intrusive since 1945 (ironically the war to fight intrusive governments) than ever before in history; frankly, look at voter turnout in democracies around the world. It’s not just the kids… heck, most people believe the “fix is in” and have given up hope. This isn’t a world of Justice: this is just a world of Power. That’s why most people, even if they don’t think Wikileaks is good, can’t really conclude that Wikileaks is bad; there is just no love lost with Government. It lacks respect: the Emperor is pretty naked.
So, those people who like and support those “in Power”, and everything that represents to their way of life, will see the Wikileaks as a terrible affront to the “integrity of the system”. It’s a threat to the forces of “stability” and the status qüo. On the other hand, those who have little or no faith with those “in Power” will see the Wikileaks as a biblical David, hurling one small stone at the Goliath of the State, with no expectation of bringing down the Giant… but it feels good just the same.
For the vast multitude on the fence, who don’t sense yet how they should feel about this, I put this to you: admittedly, it is not a big deal to learn that the Americans don’t think much of the family of Afghanistan’s President. Who cares? However, no one thinks the Washington Post did wrong on slowly revealing the Watergate scandal, a probe of loose ends which eventually toppled a President. And what if Wikileaks were able to publish the top secret Government files relating to the assassination of President Kennedy? Regardless of what might be disclosed through its publication, how has the information not been “public property” since 1964? What concept of Right justifies a cover-up if it revealed that “the State” or “the Leaders” assassinated the highest politician of the land, who championed Truth in Government, who gave hope to “the People” who voted for him? Exactly who is protecting whom? What People would stand by such Leaders? “My country right or wrong” is a tough principle to stand by when the State’s wrong.
Most reasonable people, I bet, don’t want to see good people getting hurt, (whether policeman, diplomat or protestor); and for that reason have no problem seeing bad people,(whether policeman, diplomat or protestor), face justice. But there is an old adage in the law: “though the skies fall, let Justice be done”, which sounds fine and lofty until the sky actually may fall -that’s a rather scary situation, and then people are tempted to disregard Justice, out of fear of what could otherwise happen next. Wikileaks is making people choose: Justice, or embarrassing “Power”… a tough choice for most people.
As a Capitalist lawyer, I myself have no problem with that choice. Bring on the Wikileaks, and make them interesting!