Julian Assange – a creature of our own making

Meant to link to this last week and it slipped my mind, here’ s the NYTimes on Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder.  

I think every American understands that there’s a tension between the need for open information and the need to protect some state secrets from wider knowledge.  The most obvious example would be a list of names and locations of CIA spies in a hostile country.  Not even Mr. Assange would argue that this information should be available.   

It’s for this reason that we have a state secrets exemption to the Freedom of Information Act.  We just don’t think the Washington Post should be able to request the names of CIA spies stationed in the Russian embassy. 

The problem is on the margins: at what point does the restriction of access to information cause more harm than the release.  Of late, the Executive branch has sought to walk this line through the issuance of executive orders that define the types of information that the government can prevent from release. 

In his most recent release, Mr. Assange put out over 300K documents that were classified as “Secret”.  Under the most recent Executive Order setting out the guidelines for classifying national security information, the government defines “secret” as:

  •  “information, the unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause serious damage to the national security that the original classification authority is able to identify or describe.”  Executive Order 13526

So what types of documents could cause “serious damage” to national security.  With 300,000 documents, I’m not flipping through all of them, but let’s just hit four at random.  

  • COMPLEX ATTK ON -%%% IN MOSUL: %%% INJ/DAMAGE
    2005-08-16 07:30:00:  AT 1330D, SBCT -%%% IN WHILE SECURING AN UXO AT ( %%%) IN MOSUL. THE UNIT RECEIVED IDF AND SAF. NO INJURIES OR DAMAGE REPORTED. THE UNIT CONDUCTED A SEARCH FOR ANY SUSPECTED AIF IN THE AREA. REGION UPDATE NORTHWEST
  • IED ATTK ON IP IVO BAQUBAH: %%% IP WIA, %%% CIV INJ, %%% CF INJ/DAMAGE 2006-04-06 05:15:00:  AT 1115C, TF -%%% REPORTS AN IED DETONATION IN DIYALA PROVINCE, %%% OF BA’%%%, VIC. %%%. IP AT LOCATION REPORT 4X LN WIA (1X CHILD) AND 2X IP WIA. THE CASUALTIES WERE TRANSPORTED TO %%%. MTF.
  • IDF ATTK ON TF /%%% IVO TALL AFAR: %%% IA WIA, %%% CIV INJ, %%% CF WIA/DAMAGE 2006-04-09 11:19:00: AT 1719C, AN IDF ATTACK WAS INITIATED AGAINST A TF -%%% AR FOB IN %%% PROVINCE, IN THE CITY OF TALL AFAR, VICINITY %%%. AN 81MM ROCKET IMPACTED OUTSIDE THE ENTRANCE TO THE FOB CAUSING 1X US WIA, 1X IA WIA, AND 3X LN WIA. THE IA AND LN WIA WERE MEDEVACE%%% TO %%% CSH AT %%%. THE US WIA WAS MEDEVACE%%% TO FOB %%% FOR TREATMENT.
  • DRIVE BY SHOOTING %%% BY /-%%% IN () %%% INJ, %%% CF INJ/DAMAGE
    2006-05-27 06:17:00: AT 1217D IN %%% (ZONE %%%) IVO /-%%% REPORTS THAT %%% CP %%% RECEIVED DRIVE-BY SAF FROM A DARK BLUE %%% RESULTING IN NO INJ/DAM.: %%% ARRIVES LOCATION AND DETERMINES THE DISMOUNTED OP ON THE EAST SIDE OF %%% ROAD WAS ENGAGED WITH %%% X %%% WIA. THE WIA WAS %%% TO LOCAL HOSPITAL BY THE NATIONAL POLICE.
    THE LAST KNOWN DIRECTION OF TRAVEL FOR THE VEHICLE WAS SOUTH ON %%% ROAD.
    UNKNOWN NUMBER OF OCCUPANTS POSSIBLY USED %%% TO ENGAGE THE OP.
    SUMMARY:
    %%% X DRIVE-BY
    %%% X %%% WIA (GSW TO CHEST

What type of serious damage could have been caused by the release of the information contained therein?  WikiLeaks redacted the names of soldiers and certain location information.  Would there have been serious harm to the national interest of the US to find out that a rocket attack was launched against American troops or that soldiers were injured in an IED attack?  Clearly no.  

So why is this information marked secret?  Self-protection.  The military wants to control information about the war zone so that it can publicize its view of the war as much as possible.  Thousands of documents outlining daily attacks on US troops, the number of wounded soldiers, and the extent of the insurgency would have hurt their campaign to convince the American public that it was worth continuing. 

Whatever you think of the reasons, the government’s gross overprotection of information is the reason that Assange exists at all.  His crusade to “free information” stems from a belief that the government is hiding information that it shouldn’t be.  And his supporters are those that believe that the government is misleading and illegally hiding information from the public.  The Iraq document release shows that they’re both right.  The government is abusing the accepted idea of a “state secret” and I’ll support the mission of WikiLeaks until that stops.

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About Connie Stinson

Connie Stinson is a lawyer/talk show host who dabbles in the arts of strained analogies, forced humor, and poor spelling. In his spare time Mr. Stinson enjoys charcoal BBQ, as well as any and all things related to humor. He is currently working on his second book, "Look at You, You're a Mountain: A Retrospective On Hogs and the Men Who Love Them."
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