Last month, I noted that Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Jim Webb of Virginia had written to national archivist David S. Ferriero on Nov. 7, asking him to open the records of the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, which Ferriero has summarily sealed for 20 years. Guess what? Webb’s office tells me it still hasn’t received a reply. Where’s Wikileaks when you need it?
It’s been about a year since the furor crescendoed over Wikileaks. Actually, “furor” is too mild a term. This was baying for blood. (Charles Krauthammer and Mike Huckabee talked about “execution,” while Sarah Palin practically called in a drone strike herself.) Then and now, I consider the revelations of lying, incompetence and betrayal of foundational principle, as revealed by the Wikileaks organization’s massive dumps of classified documents, to be a public service.
We heard an awful lot about “blood” being on Wikileaks’ hands, but it all seemed to come down to egg on officials’ faces. The fact is, a government of the people, by the people and for the people – whose officials, as information security experts Elizabeth Goitein and William Leonard recently wrote in the New York Times, “made 77 million decisions to classify information” in 2010 alone – should have the shutters yanked off so the sun can shine in.
Unfortunately, we just get more shutters. For example, the Obama administration just sealed the court records on the murder of federal agent Brian Terry, whose killers, Mexican drug smugglers, used weapons from a failed federal program to smuggle arms into Mexico. As Judicial Watch noted: “No one will know the reason for the confiscation of public court records in this case because the judge’s decision to seal it was also sealed.”
That’s about as secret as it gets. What Wikileaks was dealing with was classified information the 4.2 million Americans with security clearances already could read.
Yes, you read that number right, but I’ll write it again to make sure it sticks. In its first public count ever, the intelligence community reported to Congress in September that 4.2 million Americans have security clearances, with nearly 1.2 million of those being “Top Secret.” Suddenly, the charges against Bradley Manning, the Army private who allegedly leaked tens of thousands of classified documents and whose pretrial hearings begin next week, fall into a new and quite sprawling context.
Manning faces life in prison for charges related to divulging national secrets. But literally millions of Americans have access to the same “secrets” Manning is alleged to have downloaded from a government server known as SIPRNet and passed to Wikileaks for publication on the Internet. And his civilian defense attorney, David E. Coombs, is arguing that the news those documents contained was not harmful to national security.
Maybe most of the documents shouldn’t have been classified in the first place. Maybe most of the information they contained shouldn’t have been denied to Us the People by our elected leaders.
Coombs also claims that the government is denying his client access to exculpatory evidence proving the leaks did no national harm, evidence to which Manning is entitled by law in order to mount his defense. So far, the government is – you guessed it – keeping that evidence a secret.
In a request filed in court last month (released in partly redacted form), Coombs asked for copies of several internal reviews of the Wikileaks material that he said were conducted by the White House, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the State Department. All of them, Coombs claims, conclude the leaks weren’t harmful to the nation because they conveyed dated information, low-level opinions or previously disclosed information. Quoting a published report, Coombs continued: “A congressional official briefed on the reviews stated that the administration felt compelled to say publicly that the revelations had seriously damaged American interests in order to bolster legal efforts to shut down the Wikileaks website and bring charges against the leakers.”
More lies? More hypocrisy? The government must release its reviews so we can begin to find out.
Come to think of it, lies and hypocrisy, along with incompetence, were the major revelations of Wikileaks – which tells us the real dangers to U.S. national security are our own foreign-policy makers who shield themselves from public scrutiny with too much secrecy. And no one should go to jail for life for telling us that.