Last night, I watched Steve Kroft’s interview with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on 60 Minutes.
I was struck by a couple of exchanges between Assange and Kroft. First, there was the discussion about Assange not redacting names of Afghans who had assisted U.S. and Coalition forces:
Kroft: The most persistent criticism from within the press has been that you have behaved recklessly from time to time. And the example that they cite is the fact that you’ve decided to release Afghan documents without redacting the names of people who had provided intelligence to the U.S. government.
Assange: There’s no evidence, or any credible allegation, or even any allegation from an official body that we have caused any individual at any time to come to harm in the past four years.
Kroft: The Pentagon said that they’ve gone through all of these documents and they found the names of 300 people.
Assange: Well, that’s new public information to us. It’s possible that there are 300 names in the publically released Afghan material. We don’t pretend that that process is absolutely perfect. We did hold back one in five documents for extra harm minimization review and we also improved our process. So, when Iraq came around there was not even a single name in it.
Kroft: I mean, there have been reports of people quoting Taliban leaders, saying that they had the names of these people and that they were going to take retribution.
Assange: The Taliban is not a coherent outfit. But we don’t say that it is absolutely impossible that anything we ever publish will ever result in harm. We cannot say that.
Yet let’s consider Jonathan Foreman’s recent article in Commentary on Wikileaks where he cites Assange telling The Times of London that Afghans who had assisted U.S. and Coalition forces had behaved “in a criminal way.” Foreman writes, “They were, in other words, on the wrong side, mere collaborators who had put themselves in danger of reprisal. It would seem that, in Assange’s worldview, the Taliban is the legitimate government of Afghanistan, resisting imperialist invaders.”
Then, of course, there is the clandestine nature of Wikileaks:
Kroft: For somebody who abhors secrets, you run a pretty secret organization.
Assange: That’s not true. What we want is transparent government, not transparent people. We are an organization who one of our primary goals is to keep certain things secret to keep the identity of our sources secret so secrecy is an inherent part of our operation.
Kroft: The State Department would make the same argument. They have…doing very sensitive work that they’re trying to make peace and negotiate situations around the world. Very delicately. It’s very important that they do this in secrecy. What’s the difference?
Assange: We don’t say that the State Department should have no secrets. That’s not what we’re saying. Rather, we say that if there are people in the State Department who say that there is some abuse going on, and there’s not a proper mechanism for internal accountability and external accountability, they must have a conduit to get that out to the public. And we are the conduit.
In other words, it’s secrecy for me but not for thee. I don’t buy Assange’s claim he believes the State Department is entitled to its secrets. If anyone from the State Department or somehow has access to State Department information sends him documents is he going to reject them? Hell no. Assange accepts whatever he receives at face value. Given the sheer number of documents Wikileaks has received how can he and his organization have verified the veracity of the information? How do we know someone who has an axe to grind hasn’t falsified these documents or made them up out of thin air?
Clearly, Assange does not care about such things. His objective is to weaken, if not to destroy the United States. And if that means providing aid and comfort to our enemies then so be it. Yet perhaps the only way to discredit Assange and Wikileaks is if it can somehow be conclusively demonstrated the State Department cables, documents pertaining to the Wars in Afghanistan and Ira and other documents he has received and disseminated contains false information.
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