Your Ready-Made Defense of WikiLeak's Latest

12/06/2010 10:25 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Larry Womack Writer, layabout and all-around nogoodnik; web publisher; former Associate News Editor, The Huffington Post

Last night, Julian Assange's WikiLeaks posted a list of sites outside of the US that the State Department had identified as key to public safety. The list contains mostly known information about sensitive targets, and as a handy reference is basically only useful two kinds of people: Those with an interest in protecting or maintaining critical infrastructure and those with an interest in attacking it.

The list of potential targets included:

"...Two telecommunications centres, several undersea communications cables, a military manufacturing plant and a vaccine production centre... a facility manufacturing the vaccine for foot and mouth disease run by BAE Systems in Lancashire, and the landing station for the transatlantic Apollo undersea cable at Bude in Cornwall... a facility making the rabies vaccines in France and typhoid vaccines in Switzerland... the email and direct telephone numbers of two State Department officials compiling the information."

"Everything from British pharmaceutical factories churning out vaccines and insulin, to a Bauxite mine in the African nation of Guinea... the entry point for a massive trans-Atlantic communications cable in Britain, key shipping lanes and natural gas facilities pipelines in the Middle East, and a smallpox vaccine factory in Denmark."

In Canada, they helpfully point interested parties to vital:

"Dams; undersea cables; oil and gas pipelines; border crossings, including bridges; nuclear power plants; defence production factories; mines; and, last but not least, pharmaceutical and vaccine production plants."

And if you're a terrorist who doesn't already have your heart set on hitting one of those sites (or, to be fair, a vigilant citizen looking for one to guard,) you might want to try one of the other "ports, fuel companies... undersea cables, pipelines, communication hubs," or "mineral resources and firms of strategic importance in countries ranging from Britain to New Zealand, via Africa, the Middle East and China."

If you're on the other side of the fence and also happen to be one of the millions of diabetics dependent on it, you might want to pick one of the insulin manufacturers identified and start watching guard outside. That seems like the sort of target that most terrorists wouldn't have thought to hit, but could cause quite a bit of pain.

It is difficult to see how the publication of this list can be taken as anything but a deliberate strike at the US. WikiLeaks immediately defended itself, arguing that it was an example of the US spying on foreign countries (who were not told that the information is being gathered,) rather than a display to the US of just how little regard it has for public safety. Those reading the links above will see that that is not exactly the reaction that other nations were having in the immediate aftermath.

A few days ago, I criticized many bloggers and Internet activists for their unwavering support of Assange. WikiLeaks, I pointed out, has broken many important stories, but also has a history of failing to redact--flaunting, in fact--crucial state secrets, even when a revelation would serve no public interest and, in fact, could or did put innocent people in danger. The release of State Department memos, unlike earlier leaks, was also noticeably short on revelation and long on diplomatic sabotage.

Particularly, I focused on the gap that was evident between the ethical standards of Internet crusaders and those of traditional journalists and, by an increasingly wide margin, a majority of the American public. (Though I would like to point out that I personally believe most of the documents relating to Afghanistan and many before them were fair game--had they been redacted to remove the names of civilians working with the US.) This has given me a very, very shocking view into that ever-widening ethical chasm.

In the days since, I have spoken to a lot of people about the WikiLeaks dilemma and most are, I am happy to report, quite thoughtful, conflicted and reasonable. These reasonable people I've spoken with tend to agree that WikiLeaks has done the public many services and would be an amazing, invaluable tool... if it were in the hands of more competent and caring people. Assange, however, has repeatedly proved himself to be neither. Most can acknowledge that government corruption is bad, but governments do need to keep some secrets secret. Most can acknowledge that whistleblowers are a vital part of democracy, but that a responsible gatekeeper does not publish things that can put innocent lives in danger. In a world not populated by fanatics, there is room for nuance. However, the Internet is not that world.

So, what do I have to offer those who want to make those seemingly-obvious points online? Don't. Never try to argue with hero worship or fanaticism and all too frequently, that is what you will encounter. How else can one describe the mindset of a commenter on this blog who likened Assange to Jesus Christ in not-so-limited terms? Yep, that's when I stopped reading (and not for religious reasons).

For those who wish to continue defending Assange's competence and character until his legend's bitter end (and if this latest release is an indicator, he might be entering a downward spiral,) I have something more practical to offer.

Having heard all of them repeated ad nauseum all over the Internet this weekend, I would like to share with you my collection of ready-made pro-Assange arguments, gleaned from the web and condensed for quick review and easy regurgitation. That's right: I'm going to argue with myself for you. Or, argue with you, if you happen to agree with me, as confusing as that might sound.

Feel free to copy and paste for whatever use suits your needs. They're great for Internet comments, email arguments, letters to the editor or just plastering in layers all over your bedroom wall. I'm including every presentable angle I've encountered--except for Jesus, which I'm omitting in the spirit of the holidays--plus a couple tailored to fit the latest leak. You can even use 'em on me, I don't mind.

Here they are (go right ahead, use them all you want):

* Hey, no harm done! No one has died yet! (That we know of. Not that we really would, since that would also be classified for very good reasons). Everyone knows that if someone does something horrendously irresponsible or malicious and it puts another person's life in danger but no one dies publicly and immediately as a result, then it retroactively becomes totally okay to have done that thing. Also, since that fails to address a significant portion of the potential devastation caused by many of these particular leaks, I'd like to point out that loss of vital contacts through fear and intimidation is meaningless and will henceforth be ignored.

* American foreign policy kills a lot of people. Therefore, it is totally okay to facilitate the murders of a few people, so long as it sabotages American foreign policy. Hey, they do it in the Middle East all the time! I mean, someone has to kill people, right! I say it's the Taliban's turn.

* You probably missed the announcement, but every human being on planet Earth now has the authority to declare other human beings collateral damage in international conflicts without accountability to any elected body. For this, I am personally thankful, as I have always wanted this power but never really had the drive to join the military or enter public service, to earn it and learn through experience how to use it responsibly.

* I realize that a "reasonable person" might say that both a war and the reckless spread of classified information about innocent people related to the war can be simultaneously wrong, but in this case, it's actually one or the other because these leaks (though public opinion polls tell a very different story,) have totally turned the public against the wars. In fact, I'm pretty sure they ended them both.

[The above three work best together with just a little tweaking, but can be used as individual points.]

* This latest leak is an important, long-overdue revelation. It was very noble of WikiLeaks to have brought this horrible situation to light. To think that there are people out there actually manufacturing things like insulin and anthrax vaccines in relative safety! Thank God that now, finally, they're just a teensy bit more likely to get blown up!

* All of these locations were already known to some people and most were known to a lot. I mean, someone had to have put them there! I see no risk or malice in identifying them specifically as the most devastating potential places for attack and then distributing that list on the Internet.

* He cut a few things! Many after they were already published, even then not nearly as much as any reasonable person would have and even that was done only under enormous pressure, but he did cut a few things.

* If you say that someone is indefensibly irresponsible, you clearly want that person's outlet shut down and that person murdered. This makes you a fascist.

* My brain censored the numerous failings you and others have mentioned, as they were at odds with my world view. This left nothing but "Assange = Bad" in my brain. You are therefore a ___ for having made the discussion about personality. [Fill in the assault on their character there.]

* This whole situation is the fault of the State Department, or even President Obama himself, for failing to aid in the publication of classified documents illegally stolen from them. I mean, you threaten the government, you expect them to negotiate, right? And hey, who gets to decide who runs the "government," anyway? I know I didn't vote! Did you? No, this "random guy accountable to no one declassifying huge caches of classified documents" thing is a much better idea.

* This whole situation is the media's fault. I don't like some of the details revealed either, but if WikiLeaks hadn't posted the unnecessarily damaging details of well-known relationships and standard practices (Ban Ki-moon doesn't carry around all that encryption equipment for nothing,) we would all be in total ignorance! I mean, nobody else covers this stuff! Except for the major papers that helped them with these State Department cables, I mean. And hey, who gets to decide what newspapers print, anyway? It's not like we pay them to tell us what we'd like to see or read or anything--these people are the ones obsessed with reality TV! No, this "random guy publishing everything without regard to the safety of innocents" thing is a much better idea.

* Hey, come on! Get with it! We live in an age where there should be no such thing as secret information, no matter how harmful it might be in the wrong hands. So let's put it right into those hands! To prove this point, I am posting my home address, phone, bank account and social security numbers: [Fill those in here.] I will also forward anyone who requests them the contents of my home and work email accounts and fill them in on any other private conversation I might have had. I don't expect this to affect my ability to do my job whatsoever. (Note: This one only works if you don't believe that your information is more important than national security. If you do, you'll have to find another point of contention.)

* Okay, private persons have a right to keep personal information secret, but governments have no right to keep anything secret. I mean, if you don't want people to know you're doing something, don't do it. (Suck that, you paranoid freaks in witness protection! Your time on the dole is up!)

* I disagree with a statement made in the ___ sentence of paragraph ___. Although that is clarified in the ___ sentence of that paragraph, the broader points of your piece are invalid until you show up on my doorstep and re-read that paragraph to me slowly and accompanied by three string instruments. [Fill in the blanks. This one actually works with any topic, really.]

* You are probably just being critical of Assange because you are writing something, which makes him competition of which you are jealous. The remainder of the vast majority of Americans who believe the leaks are harmful are just jealous of his hair. I mean, look at it. It's great.

* Since the Plame Affair, nobody is accountable for anything ever again. Anyone who disagrees for some reason loves Dick Cheney and thinks it was totally cool for the Bush Administration to commit outright treason.

* Anyone who disapproves of the publication of any of these details also loves the wars, which will definitely be stopped by a number of wildly unpopular leaks of information that have real life implications that will in fact make the wars more difficult to end quickly.

* Anyone is always right if they use words like "transparency" and "freedom" against an "evil empire" that is on the very verge of collapse. Freedom! Plutocracy! Corporations! Rome in its last days! America is evil! Empire! Axis of Evil! I win! Wait a minute... I need to put this all in a poem!

* Rush Limbaugh/Barack Obama hates him, so he must be great. (Remind me never to get Limbaugh's opinion of Mussolini.)

* Ellsberg totally hearts WikiLeaks, so the content is automatically just like the Pentagon Papers.

* Even though the specific leaks you take issue with actually threaten lives in many countries, most not in America, you are an ugly American who cares only about American lives and interests.

* Proof doesn't mean anything.

* Diplomats, especially American ones, never really work for peace. This is why the US bombed Iran recently when other nations urged it to. It is also why China is planning to invade South Korea if they attempt to reunify with the North following Kim's death. And why Iran is becoming increasingly popular in the Arab world. Also, I did not read any of the cables relating to those situations. But, diplomacy: Ha!

* Not WikiLeaks' bad! Someone leaked it to them, which automatically means that WikiLeaks couldn't have redacted a single thing or withheld a single document.

* Even though the names of Afghan collaborators were published prior to the complaint, it is the fault of human rights groups, for failing to immediately supply Assange with staff in the thirty second window he offered them to. It was unreasonable of them to request a meeting with him.

* Some of the very same human rights organizations that wanted names removed from WikiLeaks documents also want certain WikiLeaks revelations investigated. Also, they used to like him--gave him some awards before all this stuff critics are mentioning. This means they don't actually think he has endangered any lives, contrary to what they have explicitly stated.

* I have become emotionally invested in my belief that Assange is a crusader for every good thing I have projected onto him, not just some reckless crazy with a few anarchist tendencies who has gotten himself into trouble and is now lashing out in wildly irresponsible ways. I have done so mostly because it feels really good to think that I'm an idealistic crusader. Have you ever gotten a rush from arguing for restraint when faced with unpleasant realities?

* Hey, my Obama delusions were just finally shattered last Tuesday. I have to love somebody!