Julian Assange, the self-anointed “star” of the Wiki Leaks saga, has declared, among other things, that his release of State Department cables will forever change the global landscape of geopolitics. Mr. Assange, the quintessential narcissist, has credited himself far too much. His self-indulgent and self-serving opinion of himself is consistent with those who rationalize their acts in spite of their criminal and unethical basis. I’ve talked to hundreds of these personalities through the bars of prison lock-ups throughout the world. In Mr. Assange’s case, his rationalized and self-righteous behavior has put U.S. soldiers in harm’s way, short-circuited diplomacy, damaged life-long careers, and dampened intelligence sharing.
What will be released in the coming days and the ensuing consequences remains to be seen. Rumor has it that the next wave of “leaks” will involve the Russians and will provide documentary evidence of repression and human rights violations under the current and former Russian regimes. If that is the case, Mr. Assange may want to navigate carefully. The risk of civil and criminal charges may not faze Mr. Assange with his legion of leftist financial and moral supporters but those who criticize the Russian bear have been known to mysteriously turn up dead.
Mr. Assange views himself a global “game-changer”, but let’s take a macro-look at his releases. The first two releases consisted of battlefield reports from Afghanistan and Iraq. Although the leaks did provide some interesting details, but for those who have paid attention, it didn’t reveal any information beyond what has already been known or published. Similarly, in the “cable gate” release of State Department cables, nothing of a Secret or Top Secret level was released. Nonetheless, compromises were realized in that secret matters or operations were often mentioned or alluded to in those cables. However, the bulk of the media reporting and talk around the world focused on the chatter amongst diplomats citing personal opinions based on observations of foreign leaders personal habits, weaknesses or proclivities. All of which, undoubtedly, caused some “red faces” in Embassy communities, a few mea culpa’s and unquestionably more than a few unexpected but necessary transfers to other posts, but it won’t change the geo-political landscape. It was revealed, for example, that Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi is buddies with the Russians and likes to party with blonde 23 year olds. Well, the Italian press has been reporting this and memorializing his dalliances for years.
How did this happen and how did Mr. Assange come into possession of sensitive government documents through Army Pfc. Bradley Manning and other surrogates, yet to be identified, is the salient issue. It goes back in part to that fateful event that changed the course of Western civilization in modern times, 9/11. In the wake of fear, the unknown and the protracted attempts to understand why and how this happened to us, one common denominator surfaced from the ashes of the hearings, analyses and 9/11 Commission findings: government agencies and the intelligence community had failed to properly share critical information and thus, did not “connect the dots”. The resulting mantra mandated that agencies had to break down those walls, cease the compartmentalization and “stove piping” of vast amounts of information and intelligence and open up the Intel flow between all agencies directly or indirectly involved in the “fight against terrorism”. Intel professionals heard the cry and, to a certain extent, understood the need for increased sharing but those in the business also recognized the inherent dangers of sensitive, lives-in- the-balance-dependent information getting into the wrong hands. There is a natural tension regarding sensitive information sharing and security and, as is evidenced in the Wiki Leaks matter, some folks and agencies that end up in the information loop, probably don’t need to be or, at a minimum, are not properly protecting it. Consider this, does a lower level enlisted analyst like Pfc. Bradley Manning sitting in a backwater base in Afghanistan really have a need to have access to State Department diplomatic maneuvers along with everything else that he is alleged to have downloaded?
Assange and his liberal supporters, like Michael Moore and other anti-government “intellectuals”, want it both ways. Openness and transparency are paramount virtues in their world and believed to expose the “sins” of government throughout the world. Secrecy is a “bad word” in their world. The naiveté of this premise is beyond all logic. The reality is that all societies and civilizations have survived and protected themselves by collecting intelligence and knowing who, what, when, where and how “bad guys” were out to hurt them. From the tribes of Babylon, through the empires of the Inca, to the Patriots of the American Revolution, collecting intelligence against those who may do you harm has clearly established this business as the world’s “oldest profession”. And secrecy is an integral part of that process. If we as a nation and as a society cannot effectively maintain secrets we will be seriously handicapped. How will military collectors ever get anyone behind enemy lines to cooperate with us; how will CIA officers develop assets within terrorist cells overseas that are targeting American citizens if they can’t be assured that their identity and information is protected? How will FBI agents get confidential informants to provide key information against global organized crime groups victimizing U.S. businesses or terror cells inside the United States targeting transportation targets and Christmas lighting ceremonies if secrecy and their confidentiality are not preserved? Beyond government and the maintenance of public safety, national security and the preservation of peace, how could a business or a university or a church operate without secrecy and confidentiality?
Assange asserts the Wiki Leaks project is his affirmation that he is an opponent of the war and a supporter of peace. Clearly, the case of the war and its strategies has and will be debated for generations to come, but Assange’s simplistic position contradicts the larger issue. Diplomacy and the ability of governments to conduct successful international relations is a precursor to avoiding global conflict and maintaining peace in the world. Why would Assange want to undermine and damage the State Department, our global arm of diplomacy, the beacon for peace and justice to all western democracies of the world, and negate that critical element in the maintenance of peace between governments?
It is clear though that Assange speaks out of both sides of his mouth and believes that the concept of “no secrets” applies to everyone else but him and his organization. He is committed to transparency and exposing the truth as long as it serves his purpose and herein lays the contradiction of his hypocrisy. Julian Assange is taking every step possible to protect his sources, funding, contacts, surrogates and his full repertoire of secrets. He has even made the oblique threat that if he is “harmed”, massive files will be released while implying that if not, they will not be revealed.
The other lingering issue is can Assange be arrested and prosecuted in the United States for his leaks of classified material. Inasmuch as he is not an American citizen, he cannot be charged with treason, but he could be charged with espionage. The key issue regarding prosecution, the details of which will be secured through the ongoing investigation by FBI and Army investigators, is did Pfc. Manning act alone or were Assange and other confederates complicit in the securing of the sensitive documents from government computers. Daniel Ellsberg, who gave the Pentagon papers to a New York Times reporter, is the precedent case and has established the standard which the courts have followed in these cases. It is a crime for someone with a security clearance to secure and provide classified documents to a publisher, but, although it may be unethical, it is not a crime for a publisher to publish them. If the investigation reveals, and prosecutors can prove that Assange encouraged or was complicit with Pfc. Manning or others, Assange could be charged.
In conclusion, a number of issues remain unclear at this time including the ultimate cause, effect and outcome of the Wiki Leaks release and the man at the epicenter of this matter, Julian Assange. Nonetheless, a few fundamental issues are already clear: national security, diplomacy and, ultimately, peace is dependent on secrecy; who obtains, handles and has access to classified materials will be reviewed and hardened and, finally, without a doubt, Julian Assange and his revelations have not changed the landscape of geopolitics.
Beyond the sexual assault allegations and other potential civil and criminal issues confronting him, Julian Assange, a man with a huge ego and driven by his own narcissism, faces a future of uncertainty. Ultimately and ironically, transparency and openness will emerge, this time to the chagrin of Assange, secrets will evaporate as the global investigation comes to fruition, players and relationships are exposed and the civil or criminal consequences of his reckless actions are delivered by a court of law.