…in the Nation of Sweden, with all due apologies to the Bard, and it stinks like the Chicago at low tide. It is Wikileaks and its founder, Julian Assange. Mr. Assange, for those who haven’t heard, is the Australian hacker “Internet activist” who has decided that it is his mission to play “cop of the world.”
For a fellow who once hacked computers under the handle “Mendax” (“nobly untruthful”), this is something of a step up in the world — he permits others take the risks leaking classified information, whilst cloaking himself in the rainment of a “crusading journalist.” His gifts are more in the field of self-promotion than in honest journalism. He does little work, takes few risks and the information comes to him. He grandstands and preens for the camera, claiming to be providing the public a “service.”
Of late, “Mendax” has decided that the United States needs to be put in its place, what with all this war and anti-terrorism business. His latest foray into this field has been the release of diplomatic cables sent to him via Wikileaks, presumably by PFC Bradley Manning . In this action, he lives up to his old hacking handle, acting nobly in front of the camera while his deeds belie his alleged goals. Mr. Assange rationalizes his actions by saying that he is providing a service to the public by “exposing the contradictions between the US’s public persona and what it says behind closed doors.” This argument is risible, insofar as, as one EU diplomat put it, “you should hear what we say about you.”
By leaking these cables, he is making it harder for all parties to end the conflict. His cable dump will have the net effect of impeding diplomatic activities by exposing the unseemly “quid-pro-quo” aspects of international relations. Politics, to paraphrase the Iron Chancellor, is a little bit like making sausage — you feel better about the results if the process remains out of sight and out of mind. What Mr. Assange has accomplished is not to provide the public with a useful information, but demonstrated that international politics and world diplomacy has all the social dynamics of a clique of middle-school girls, complete with snippy comments, a little backbiting and the odd comment about which outsider has been putting on weight or is just plain weird.
Realistically speaking, Mr. Assange has not done a single thing to “stop the war.” Going further, I would suggest that, other than a little unfortunate marginalia and characterizations in these memos, he’s not telling anyone much that they couldn’t have already figured out, were they paying attention. I mean “Iran’s neighbors worry about the theocracy developing a nuclear umbrella?” That’s a shocker up there with “Water is wet” — Stop the presses! Silvio Berlusconi is described as “feckless, vain and ineffective” with “frequent late nights and a penchant for partying hard…??” Shocking! I mean, did *anyone* not get that Putin was the “alpha dog” and Medvedev was the pack beta?
All that Mr. Assange is going to accomplish is to get a few little people killed, such as the source in Iran, at least if President Ahmadinejad comes to his senses and realizes that Mr. Assange is not “George Bush in a mask,” to quote one Internet commentator, and that his statement to the contrary is wishful thinking at best. What will happen is that Assange and his merry band of marauders will get some people killed in the name of Mr. Assange’s Q rating. For example, while Mr. Assange piously says that he redacts names of sources in the documents, so as to protect individuals, he leaves more than enough biographical information to readily identify intelligence sources:
¶3. (S) The Baku businessman is a UK-educated engineer from a
prominent Pre-Revolution Isfahan family, and formerly owned a
large factory in Iran. He is a former national fencing
champion of Iran. former President of the Iran Fencing
Association, and Vice-President of an Azerbaijan sports
association. He has been based in Baku for more than ten
years, working primarily as a sub-contractor to BP and the
Cape Industrial Services company. While his oil services
company includes an insulation division that may be in
competition with INSULTEC, source has provided “inside”
information on many other Iranian issues (including
comprehensive data on the status of new Iranian oil refinery
construction) that does not relate to his private interests
in any way.
Not to sound cynical, but I have to ask, how many UK educated former national fencing champions from prominent Pre-Revolution Isfahan families who own oilfield services firms do you imagine there are in the whole of Iran? If the number exceeds two (leaving an outside chance for grotesque coincidence), I would be shocked. Therein lies the rub.
The real outcome is that Mr. Assange damages the trust between allies, much in the same way that Kim Philby’s penetration of the British intelligence for the Soviets in the sixties harmed relations between the intelligence services of the West. In destroying this trust, he weakens the intelligence community’s ability to cooperate.
If Mr.Assange truly wanted to not put lives at risk, he would release these documents only after an actual and thorough vetting. If Mr. Assange truly wanted an end to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he would do well to try to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. His bulk release of documents merely confirms what people already know, affirms what they suspect and put the innocent at risk. The British used to call the twin realms of espionage and diplomacy as “the great game.” Unfortunately, “Mendax,” in his efforts to be a player, like a misplaced pawn, merely complicates play.