Our government secrecy fetishists invest their security clearances (held by an elite coterie of 4.8 million people) and the information security (InfoSec) regime they continue to elaborate with all sorts of protective powers over life and limb. But what gets people killed, no matter how much our pols and pundits strain to deny it, aren’t InfoSec breaches or media leaks, but foolish and clueless strategic choices. Putting the blame on leaks is a nice way to pass the buck, but at the risk of stating the obvious, what has killed 1,605 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan since 2009 is the war in Afghanistan — not Bradley Manning or any of the other five leakers whom Obama has prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917. Leaks and whistleblowers should not be made scapegoats for bad strategic choices, which would have been a whole lot less bad had they been informed by all the relevant facts.
Pardon my utopian extremism, but knowing what your government is doing really isn’t such a bad thing and it has to do with aiding the (American) public, not the enemy. Knowing what your government is doing is not some special privilege that the government generously bestows on us when we’re good and obedient citizens, it’s an obligation that goes to the heart of the matter in a free country. After all, it should be ordinary citizens like us who make the ultimate decision about whether war X is worth fighting or not, worth escalating or not, worth ending or not.
When such momentous public decisions are made and the public doesn’t have — isn’t allowed to have — a clue, you end up in a fantasy land of aggressive actions that, over the past dozen years, have gotten hundreds of thousands killed and left us in a far more dangerous world. These are the wages of dystopian government secrecy.
Despite endless panic and hysteria on the subject from both major parties, the White House, and Congress, leaks have been good for us. They’re how we came to learn much about the Vietnam War, much about the Watergate scandal, and most recently, far more about state surveillance of our phone calls and email. Bradley Manning’s leaks in particular have already yielded real, tangible benefits, most vividly their small but significant role in sparking the rebellion that ejected a dictator in Tunisia and the way they indirectly expedited our military exit from Iraq. Manning’s leaked reports of U.S. atrocities in Iraq, displayed in newspapers globally, made it politically impossible for the Iraqi authorities to perpetuate domestic legal immunity for America troops, Washington’s bedrock condition for a much-desired continuing presence there. If it weren’t for Manning’s leaks, the U.S. might still be in Iraq, killing and being killed for no legitimate reason, and that is the very opposite of national security.
Knowledge is Not Evil
Thanks to Bradley Manning, our disaster-prone elites have gotten a dose of the adult supervision they so clearly require. Instead of charging him with aiding the enemy, the Obama administration ought to send him a get-out-of-jail-free card and a basket of fruit. If we’re going to stop the self-inflicted wars that continue to hemorrhage blood and money, we need to get a clue, fast. Should we ever bother to learn from the uncensored truth of our foreign policy failures, which have destroyed so many more lives than the late bin Laden could ever have hoped, we at least stand a chance of not repeating them.
I am not trying to soft-pedal or sanitize Manning’s magnificent act of civil disobedience. The young private humiliated the U.S. Army by displaying for all to see their complete lack of real information security. Manning has revealed the diplomatic corps to be hard at work shilling for garment manufacturers in Haiti, for Big Pharma in Europe, and under signed orders from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to collect biometric data and credit card numbers from their foreign counterparts. Most important, Manning brought us face to face with two disastrous wars, forcing Americans to share a burden of knowledge previously shouldered only by our soldiers, whom we love to call heroes from a very safe distance.
Did Manning violate provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice? He certainly did, and a crushing sentence of possibly decades in military prison is surely on its way. Military law is marvelously elastic when it comes to rape and sexual assault and perfectly easygoing about the slaughter of foreign civilians, but it puts on a stern face for the unspeakable act of declassifying documents. But the young private’s act of civil defiance was in fact a first step in reversing the pathologies that have made our foreign policy a string of self-inflicted homicidal disasters. By letting us in on more than a half million “secrets,” Bradley Manning has done far more for American national security than SEAL Team 6 ever did.