My friend Cliff Kincaid of AIM wrote in to take strong exception to my last column on the Bradley Manning pre-trial hearings, calling my attention to a report by Trevor Loudon titled "Julian Assange: Whistleblower or Spy for Moscow? (read it here), He also updated me on his own coverage of the case here, here and here, which includes coverage of a Manning hearing in April of this year here.
To be sure, questions about Wikileaks, about its founder Julian Assange, remain -- his sources of support, his apparent decision not to proceed with large-scale Russian releases and -- instead? -- take a job with Russia TV, Putin's state-controlled media organization. Rather surreally, Assange performs this job from his state of asylum inside the Embassy of Ecuador in London. (For example, see this interview Assange conducted with ex-Gitmo "Cage Prisoners" Begg and Qureshi, an almost dilatory conversation which begins with some taqiyya runaround on jihad but nonetheless gets to a conversation about the Muslims' desire for sharia, including the hudud punishments -- stoning for adultery, etc. -- and the caliphate. One wonders what Assange, whose Wikileaks are sometimes "credited" with having helped kick off "Arab Spring," and who sought diplomatic asylum ostensibly to avoid extradition to Sweden on rape charges, possibly made of it.) Other unanswered questions I've come across include one asked by FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, who pointed out here that the Turkey cache of leaks, the largest of the country-blocs, is inexplicably stripped of cables from 1996-2001, the years that include cables from her case. Why that happened, who made that happen are just two more unanswered questions about one small facet of Wikileaks.
Cliff Kincaid calls Assange "an anti-American activist willing to act on behalf of the Russian regime." Or is Assange a "useful fool"? Or "tool"? I would say Assange and Wikileaks seem both useful and a tool to Americans whose "right to know" the deceptions and fecklessness of the US government bureacracy has increasingly been usurped by fiat, not to mention by the secret classification complex that last year alone swallowed up 92 million "government" documents.
Don't we want to know, just to take one Wikileaks example, that the US Ambassador to Pakistan argued that no amount of money would convince Pakistan to stop supporting anti-American forces fighting Americans in Afghanistan even as we -- Congress -- continues to vote for dumping billions of dollars into Pakistan to convince Pakistan to stop supporting anti-American forces fighting Americans in Afghanistan? I do.
Then again, the vast majority of Wikileaks were not secret (and to my knowledge nothing "top secret" came out). By Wikileaks' tally (see graphic below), slightly over half of the the diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks were "unclassified" (133,887); another chunk was "confidential" (101,748). There were 15,652 "secret" cables leaked as well.
A question of salient concern to Americans, particularly concerning the Manning trial, is whether the release of these hundreds of thousands of government documents has undermined US national security. In making the national security case against Wikileaks, Kincaid points to two Wikileaks disclosures that "clearly assisted the enemies of the United States, an official charge being leveled against Manning.”
The first leaked document Kincaid noted is a study, in the words of Keith Yost, a columnist for an MIT paper, that "detailed technical vulnerabilities in actively employed U.S. Army countermeasures against improvised explosive devices. There was no conceivable benefit to publishing the information," Yost wrote. "The Army needed no extra pressure to address the vulnerabilities — it was already desperately searching for new countermeasures to protect its soldiers. The only beneficiaries were insurgents, who, using Assange’s gift, could better murder U.S. servicemen.”
A potentially lethal leak, indeed. I believe this particular leak is the same one Noah Shactman also discussed at the time of its release on the Wikileaks site in 2008. In a Wired piece wondering whether Wikileaks had gone too far, Shachtman pointed out that the IED-jamming technology described in the 2004 leaked document had already been largely (if not completely) superceded. This is not to say whether technical obsolescence played a role in the document's release, or how the law might weigh the matter in terms of "assisting the enemies" of the U.S. Nevertheless, if Schactman and Kincaid are talking about one and the same leak, this item would not enter the government's case against Bradley Manning anyway, since his activities are alleged to have begun in early 2010.
The second piece of information Kincaid cites is a document leaked in 2010 which he describes as containing "details on top-secret facilities, making them vulnerable to terrorist attack." In fact, some large number (if not all) of the faciltiies on this leaked list are not "top secret" or even "secret"; it is the list itself, an annual compilation from US embassies around the world of hundreds of critical infrastructure sites, that was designated "secret" by the State Department.
The Christian Science Monitor explains:
In all, the list includes well over 200 energy pipelines, undersea cables, strategic metal mines, vaccine suppliers, dams, ports, and power generators along with the names of 35 companies spread across 59 nations. The cable sought to identify "critical US foreign dependencies" that "if destroyed, disrupted or exploited, would likely have an immediate and deleterious effect on the United States."
Just how much damage will this list do to infrastructure security or US relations with the countries where these sites reside? Will terrorists benefit a lot – or not much at all – from knowing what the US considers critical, a list some say could be pulled together by just about anyone using Google, or even an almanac and an atlas?
For instance, Saudi Arabia’s Ras Tanura port, which processes more than 4 million barrels of oil each day, the biggest oil-exporting port in the world, made the list. So did the Abqaiq Processing Center, considered the biggest crude oil processing plant in the world. Yet anyone could have found this out years earlier just by reading "Sleeping with the Devil," a bestseller by former CIA operative Robert Baer.
"Much information today that is classified as 'secret' is often available publicly (online or otherwise), even without WikiLeaks," writes Terry O'Sullivan, a University of Akron researcher who has analyzed global critical infrastructure for the Department of Homeland Security. "It's not the items on that list that are secret, per se. It's the fact that someone in the State Dept. thinks they are worthy” of that designation.
The State Department called the list akin to an Al Qaeda targeting list -- athough presumably some of the sites on the secret list, such as the Panama Canal, the Straits of Hormuz, the Straits of Malacca, etc., were already on the jihadists' radar.
I am struck by a diverging historical parrallel, if there is such a thing. During the Truman administration, the White House hoped to prove that the secrets the great ex-Communist witness Elizabeth Bentley passed along to the Soviets in her years as a Soviet courier were, in fact, publicly available pieces of information and thus no big deal -- all in the mendacious effort, as I argue in my forthcoming book American Betrayal, to deny that a massive Soviet penetration of the US government had taken place. Soon, the US government -- military prosecutors -- will presumably try to prove that leaked documents like the one above, perhaps passed by Bradley Manning to the Wikileaks site, contained all highly secret information and was thus a very big deal.
Both strategies are driven by government efforts to retain powers that might be undermined by ... exposure.