By now, I’m sure you’ve heard of Cablegate, the release of some 250,000 United States diplomatic cables to the whole world via the internet. Just like the Afghanistan and Iraq War Logs, various newspapers got early access to them, and are slowly reporting what they find; of course, the rest of the media is picking it up too. Don’t get me wrong, the cables themselves paint an interesting picture of the real world of international diplomacy, giving us that raw, unvarnished look at what goes on behind the photo ops, press conferences, flashy treaty signings, testy negotiations, and so on, but I’m interested in more than the cables themselves.
The fallout around the world has been quite interesting to watch unfold, and quite alarming as well. None other than our own government is pretty much going bat-shit insane as a reaction, to a level that I sometimes have to take a brief pause and say to myself “yeah, that just happened”. Because of the way these things are happening, I can safely say I’ve never been more afraid for what a political reaction means for our country’s future.
Since before the cables were release late last Sunday, Wikileaks has been under almost constant cyber-assault, with a Distributed Denial-Of-Service attack targeting it almost constantly. Nobody really knows where any of it is coming from, who’s behind the attacks, but it could legitimately be just about anyone, including the US government. I’m not saying it is, nor am I attempting to start any sort of conspiracy theory, but let’s face it, the US, perhaps more than any other actor, has a stake in seeing Cablegate grind to a halt.
After the DDoS attacks began, Wikileaks, as you may have heard, moved to Amazon’s cloud-based hosting, supposedly among the best in the world as far as absorbing traffic like that, and was kicked off the next day. I don’t know Amazon’s internal motivations for this, but Senator Joe Lieberman played a role in convincing Amazon to boot Wikileaks. Yep, an official of the United States Government is directly pressuring an American corporation to censor speech against the government.
Not only did Lieberman pressure Amazon to try to censor Wikileaks, disturbing reports are circulating in the media about a chilling new development in the story of freedom of speech in our country. Apparently, students at Columbia University in New York City received an e-mail from their Career Services department basically saying that they should not even talk about Cablegate if they want a job in the Federal Government. Now, we haven’t received one from the Career Center here, but this is a disturbing development no matter how you look at it.
I’ve always been sort of indifferent about Wikileaks; it does provide a service to the global society by promoting transparency, but it is quite reckless with the information it releases. At the same time, some information is a little too sensitive to be released at this time, such as some of the War Logs data; I draw the line at anything that could directly lead to physical harm to an individual. As far as what I’ve read about, it doesn’t seem like anything in Cablegate released thus far meets that test; it should therefore get out in my opinion.
It’s Time to Make A Stand
Preventing citizens from discussing what they read in the newspaper is not how the America I love is supposed to function. Sure the documents may have been illegally obtained, but by being published in major national media, they instantly become part of the public discourse, and no less than our right to freedom of speech ensures we can talk about them. For God’s sake, most of the documents allegedly aren’t even classified! Asking citizens to practice self-censorship, for any reason, is outright wrong and should be stopped immediately. There is a big difference between being a good citizen and discussing current events, much less the workings of our own government, and being unfit for a sensitive position in the government.
I speak as a blogger, a student, and someone who has been long interested in working for the Federal Government. As those of you who have been coming to this blog for the past several months know, I wrote a post about the Afghanistan War Logs. Just because I read the New York Times and other papers and analyze what’s happening in the world doesn’t mean that I will become a security risk if I decide to work for the government. If anything, I would respect the rules regarding disclosure even more once on the inside; I take matters of trust very seriously, and I would in fact do my best to keep the secrets secret.
There are different standards of a citizen and a trusted Federal employee with a security clearance. The latter must do whatever it takes to ensure that things like Cablegate do not get released, or at the very least ensures that all harmful information is redacted before publication. Therefore, issuing a directive to prevent further leaks is sensible policy; saying information in the national and international media is still classified is not. Well, sure, you can say it’s still classified, but what good does it do when millions of people can see it as easily as a Google search? If, on the other hand, the national media does get its hands on information, it has a duty to report on it and to inform the people about the workings of their government.
We as citizens have, in turn, a duty to discuss it, to pay attention, and to work to change the unsavory parts. We cannot stand idly by and let whoever has a stake in the secrets censor us; the day the population just accepts a governmental attempt to censor information is the day American democracy dies.