The conservative case for Wikileaks
No one questions that governments must maintain a certain level of secrecy, including WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who told Time that “Secrecy is important for many things … [but it] shouldn’t be used to cover up abuses.” The entire premise of Assange’s whistleblower organization is this: To what degree is government secrecy justified? And when particular secrets could be damaging to the other partner in the United States government’s relationship — the American people — should these secrets be revealed in the name of protecting the public?
How often does our government use “national security” simply as an excuse to cover up questionable dealings? Reports Time: “in the past few years, governments have designated so much information secret that you wonder whether they intend the time of day to be classified. The number of new secrets designated as such by the U.S. government has risen 75% … . At the same time, the number of documents and other communications created using those secrets has skyrocketed nearly 10 times…”
To say that government must keep secrets is not to say that all government secrets must be kept.
As admitted even by Pentagon officials and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, none of WikiLeaks’ revelations do anything to compromise national security or endanger American lives — but they have wreaked havoc on political life in Washington, D.C. Americans are not supposed to know, for example, that their government bullied and threatened individuals and other governments that might have undermined the Copenhagen climate change summit in 2009.
The federal government attempting to squelch anyone who might undermine global-warming dogma? Do WikiLeaks’ conservative critics believe revealing this is a “national security” risk?
Americans are not supposed to know, apparently, that behind the scenes Saudi Arabia has been encouraging the U.S. to take military action against Iran. But if we end up going to war with Iran shouldn’t it be in America’s national interest, and not simply as a subcontractor for another country? Asks Fox News’ Judith Miller: “Why should Americans not know that Arab states, often at the top level, have been urging Washington to take military or other drastic action against Iran, while they publicly oppose such action?”
And when did conservatives become so protective of Hillary Clinton? What happened to the days of the “Stop Hillary Express,” when right-wing talk radio portrayed the former first lady as Satan and theorized about all the devious ways in which, if in power, she might conspire to bring down the country? When WikiLeaks revealed that Secretary of State Clinton tried to obtain DNA, fingerprints, credit-card numbers, and other private information belonging to United Nations officials, we learned that Clinton’s style was every bit as mafia-esque as her conservative critics once warned. Yet conservatives now attack WikiLeaks for revealing what they once feared.
It should also be remembered that the same conservatives now calling for Assange’s head either ignored or were sympathetic to Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame allegedly at the Bush administration’s behest — a revelation arguably far riskier to our national security than anything ever released by WikiLeaks.
But the worst hypocrisy throughout this controversy has been in conservatives reflexively defending the government and attacking WikiLeaks. Since when have conservatives believed that Washington should be able to shroud any action it likes in secrecy and that revealing government’s nefarious deeds is tantamount to treason? Isn’t it government officials who might secretly work for corporate, ideological or transnational interests — and against the national interest — who are betraying their country?
Interestingly, Wikileaks’ founder espouses the traditionally conservative, Jeffersonian view that America’s constitutional structure limits and lessens government corruption. Reported Time: “Assange appears to believe that the U.S. has not become ‘a much-worse-behaved superpower’ because its federalism, ‘this strength of the states,’ has been a drag on the combination of the burgeoning power of the central government and a presidency that can expand its influence only by way of foreign affairs.”
Decentralizing government power, limiting it, and challenging it was the Founders’ intent and these have always been core conservative principles. Conservatives should prefer an explosion of whistleblower groups like WikiLeaks to a federal government powerful enough to take them down.
Government officials who now attack WikLleaks don’t fear national endangerment, they fear personal embarrassment. And while scores of conservatives have long promised to undermine or challenge the current monstrosity in Washington, D.C., it is now an organization not recognizably conservative that best undermines the political establishment and challenges its very foundations.