Normally, one might consider Steven Aftergood one of the good guys. He works for the Federation of American Scientists, where he directs the Project on Government Secrecy and runs Secrecy News, and yet, though I recognize his name going back to the 1990s, the sad fact is that for all his hard work, he has been losing the battle for transparency and openness for as long as he has been fighting it. He is not alone of course. Not alone in losing the battle for transparency and openness, certainly, but not alone in the larger range of battles for progressive values, many of which even conservatives used to support once upon a time.
The environment is one of those areas in which the entire Washington advocacy corps seems to have become entirely ineffective, for example, as no one at all is even noticing that the Cancun climate change summit is going on. And, of course, net neutrality is being gutted as well--also on the watch of Mr. Fierce Advocate. So I don't mean to pick on Steven Aftergood at all. I just want to be realistic about the box that virtually all advocates have slowly but surely allowed themselvs to captured within--as Glenn Greenwald pointed out on Democracy Now! this morning. First, the introduction, which begins with an overview of the intense government fight-back against WikiLeaks. Can anyone possibly imagine the government unleashing anything remotely like the following full-throttle attack against high-level elite actors who had done something like outing a CIA officer? Or fraudulently taking the American people to war? Or creating and running a torture program in violation of international law?:
JUAN GONZALEZ: WikiLeaks is under attack. The whistelblowing group's website has effectively been killed just days after Amazon pulled the site from its servers following political pressure. Wikileaks.org went offline this morning for the third time this week in what the Guardian newspaper is calling "the biggest threat to its online presence yet."
A California-based internet hosting provider called EveryDNS dropped WikiLeaks last night, late last night. The company says it did so to prevent its other 500,000 customers from being affected by the intense cyber attacks targeted at WikiLeaks.
This morning, WikiLeaks--and the massive trove of secret diplomatic cables it has been publishing since Sunday--was only accessible online through a string of digits known as a DNS address.
Earlier this week, Joe Lieberman, the chair of the Senate committee on Homeland Security, called for any organization helping to sustain WikiLeaks to immediately terminate its relationship with them.
Meanwhile, the State Department has blocked all its employees from accessing the site and is warning all government workers not to read the cables, even at home.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told The Guardian the developments are an example of the, quote, "privatization of state censorship." Assange said, quote, "These attacks will not stop our mission, but should be setting off alarm bells about the rule of law in the United States."
Sorry, Julian, but the rule of law alarm bells have been broken since at least the stealing of the presidency in late 2000. But we get your drift. Goodman concludes the introduction by shifting focus to the stated intention of WikiLeaks:
AMY GOODMAN: Just what is WikiLeaks' mission? On its website, the group says, quote, "WikiLeaks is a non-profit media organization dedicated to bringing important news and information to the public." The website goes on, "We publish material of ethical, political and historical significance while keeping the identity of our sources anonymous, thus providing a universal way for the revealing of suppressed and censored injustices," unquote.
But not all transparency advocates support what WikiLeaks is doing. Today we'll host a debate. Steven Aftergood is one of the most prominent critics of WikiLeaks and one of the most prominent transparency advocates. He's the director of the government secrecy project at the Federation of American Scientists. He runs the Secrecy News project, which routinely posts non-public documents. He is joining us from Washington, D.C. We're also joined by Glenn Greenwald. He's a constitutional law attorney and political and legal blogger for Salon.com who's supportive of WikiLeaks. He's joining us from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
The first main point that Aftergood argues is that "WikiLeaks has launched a sweeping attack not simply on corruption, but on secrecy itself," and that secrecy is not necessarily bad. That it can be very socially useful, particularly when the innocent are being protected by it. He also argued that the backlask against WikiLeaks will have harmful results for the more mild-mannered transparency activists as well:
AMY GOODMAN: We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Why don't we begin with Steven Aftergood? You have been a fierce proponent of transparency, yet you are a critic of WikiLeaks. Why?
STEVEN AFTERGOOD: I'm all for the exposure of corruption, including classified corruption. And to the extent that WikiLeaks has done that, I support its actions. The problem is, it has done a lot more than that, much of which is problematic. It has invaded personal privacy. It has published libelous material. It has violated intellectual property rights. And above all, it has launched a sweeping attack not simply on corruption, but on secrecy itself. And I think that's both a strategic and a tactical error. It's a strategic error because some secrecy is perfectly legitimate and desirable. It's a tactical error because it has unleashed a furious response from the U.S. government and other governments that I fear is likely to harm the interests of a lot of other people besides WikiLeaks who are concerned with open government.
Unfortunately, when asked for specifics, Aftergood points to less well-known past examples, which one can readily agree were early mistakes without having much relevance at all to what WikiLeaks is doing now:
JUAN GONZALEZ: And when you say-when you list some of the main errors that the organization has made, could you give some examples of what to you are most troubling, when you talk about the invasion of privacy rights and other-and the others that you've listed?
STEVEN AFTERGOOD: Last year, WikiLeaks published a thousand-page raw police investigative file from Belgium, investigating a case of child abuse and murder. And as one would expect, the police file included lots of unsubstantiated allegations that later turned out to be false. But by publishing the raw allegations in their original state, WikiLeaks brought embarrassment and disgrace to people who were in fact innocent. It got to the point where the Belgium government was looking into the possibility of blocking access to WikiLeaks, not as an act of censorship, but as an act of protection against libel.
WikiLeaks has also published what I think is probably the only actual blueprint of a nuclear fission device that has been made available online. It's not an artist's concept, but it's an actual blueprint of a real nuclear weapon that they posted online. I think from a proliferation point of view, that was a terrible mistake.
Of course, the Progressive magazine published similar material in hardcopy back in 1980. So it's not really as if this were a state secret of any sort. Next we hear Greenwald's response, which basically--and respectfully--asks what planet Aftergood is living on:
AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, we want to bring you in before the break with a response.
GLENN GREENWALD: Right. Well, it's interesting because we led off the segment with you, Amy, detailing a whole variety of repressive actions that are being taken against WikiLeaks. And one of the reasons for that is because people like Steven Aftergood have volunteered themselves and thrust themselves into the spotlight to stand up and say, "I'm a transparency advocate, but I think that what WikiLeaks is doing in so many instances is terrible."
If you look at the overall record of WikiLeaks-and let me just stipulate right upfront that WikiLeaks is a four-year-old organization, four years old. They're operating completely unchartered territory. Have they made some mistakes and taken some missteps? Absolutely. They're an imperfect organization. But on the whole, the amount of corruption and injustice in the world that WikiLeaks is exposing, not only in the United States, but around the world, in Peru, in Australia, in Kenya and in West Africa and in Iceland, much-incidents that are not very well known in the United States, but where WikiLeaks single-handedly uncovered very pervasive and systematic improprieties that would not have otherwise been uncovered, on top of all of the grave crimes committed by the United States. There is nobody close to that organization in terms of shining light of what the world's most powerful factions are doing and in subverting the secrecy regime that is used to spawn all sorts of evils.
And I think the big difference between myself and Steven Aftergood is it is true that WikiLeaks is somewhat of a severe response, but that's because the problem that we're confronting is quite severe, as well, this pervasive secrecy regime that the world's powerful factions use to perpetrate all kinds of wrongdoing. And the types of solutions that Mr. Aftergood has been pursuing in his career, while commendable and nice and achieving very isolated successes here and there, is basically the equivalent of putting little nicks and scratches on an enormous monster. And WikiLeaks is really one of the very few, if not the only group, effectively putting fear into the hearts of the world's most powerful and corrupt people, and that's why they deserve, I think, enthusiastic support from anyone who truly believes in transparency, notwithstanding what might be valid, though relatively trivial, criticisms that Mr. Aftergood and a couple of others have been voicing.
This is pretty much all of the interview up to the first break. You can read and/or hear the whole thing at the link above. But one more thing is worth highlighting--the degree of extreme over-reach that's being employed to try to keep people from reading the already-released cables. This is indicative of the authoritarian self-censoring mindset that the Obama Administration is diligently devoting itself to imposing. One cannot even imagine what it would be like if they were one tenth this zealous in doing anything good:
AMY GOODMAN: I'm going to interrupt, because I want to get to some memos that we've been getting from around the country that are very important and interesting. University students are being warned about WikiLeaks. An email from Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, that we read in headlines, reads-I want to do it again-quote, "Hi students,
"We received a call today from a SIPA alumnus who is working at the State Department. He asked us to pass along the following information to anyone who will be applying for jobs in the federal government, since all would require a background investigation and in some instances a security clearance.
"The documents released during the past few months through Wikileaks are still considered classified documents. He recommends that you DO NOT post links to these documents nor make comments on social media sites such as Facebook or through Twitter. Engaging in these activities would call into question your ability to deal with confidential information, which is part of most positions with the federal government.
"Regards, Office of Career Services."
That's the email to Columbia University students at the School of International and Public Affairs.
Now, I want to go on to another memo. Democracy Now! has obtained the text of a memo that's been sent to employees at USAID. This is to thousands of employees, about reading the recently released WikiLeaks documents, and it comes from the Department of State. They have also warned their own employees. This memo reads, quote, "Any classified information that may have been unlawfully disclosed and released on the Wikileaks web site was not 'declassified' by an appopriate authority and therefore requires continued classification and protection as such from government personnel... Accessing the Wikileaks web site from any computer may be viewed as a violation of the SF-312 agreement... Any discussions concerning the legitimacy of any documents or whether or not they are classified must be conducted within controlled access areas (overseas) or within restricted areas (USAID/Washington)... The documents should not be viewed, downloaded, or stored on your USAID unclassified network computer or home computer; they should not be printed or retransmitted in any fashion."
That was the memo that went out to thousands of employees at USAID. The State Department has warned all their employees, you are not to access WikiLeaks, not only at the State Department, which they've blocked, by the way, WikiLeaks, but even on your home computers. Even if you've written a cable yourself, one of these cables that are in the trove of the documents, you cannot put your name in to see if that is one of the cables that has been released. This warning is going out throughout not only the government, as we see, but to prospective employees all over the country, even on their home computers.
And we're supposed to believe it's Russia that's essentially a criminal state?