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OUT OF MIND » LEGAL DEFENDERS & FREEDOM FIGHTERS » JULIAN ASSANGE & WIKILEAKS » WikiLeaks Was Just a Preview – by Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

WikiLeaks Was Just a Preview – by Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

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WikiLeaks Was Just a Preview – by Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

Posted on March 23, 2013 by Jean

WikiLeaks Was Just a Preview – by Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone 9280-bradley-manning-032313
US Army Private Bradley Manning. (photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

WikiLeaks Was Just a Preview – by Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone Rsn_gotoarticle
Source: Reader Supported News

23 March 13

WikiLeaks Was Just a Preview – by Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone Rsn-I went
yesterday to a screening of We Steal Secrets, Oscar-winning director
Alex Gibney’s brilliant new documentary about Wikileaks. The movie is
beautiful and profound, an incredible story that’s about many things all
at once, including the incredible Shakespearean narrative that is the
life of Julian Assange, a free-information radical who has become an
uncompromising guarder of secrets.

I’ll do a full review in a few months, when We Steal Secrets comes
out, but I bring it up now because the whole issue of secrets and how
we keep them is increasingly in the news, to the point where I think
we’re headed for a major confrontation between the government and the
public over the issue, one bigger in scale than even the Wikileaks

We’ve seen the battle lines forming for years now. It’s increasingly
clear that governments, major corporations, banks, universities and
other such bodies view the defense of their secrets as a desperate
matter of institutional survival, so much so that the state has gone to
extraordinary lengths to punish and/or threaten to punish anyone who so
much as tiptoes across the informational line.

This is true not only in the case of Wikileaks – and especially the
real subject of Gibney’s film, Private Bradley Manning, who in an
incredible act of institutional vengeance is being charged with aiding
the enemy (among other crimes) and could, theoretically, receive a death sentence.

There’s also the horrific case of Aaron Swartz,
a genius who helped create the technology behind Reddit at the age of
14, who earlier this year hanged himself after the government threatened
him with 35 years in jail for downloading a bunch of academic documents
from an MIT server. Then there’s the case of Sergey Aleynikov,
the Russian computer programmer who allegedly stole the High-Frequency
Trading program belonging to Goldman, Sachs (Aleynikov worked at
Goldman), a program which prosecutors in open court admitted could, “in
the wrong hands,” be used to “manipulate markets.”

Aleynikov spent a year in jail awaiting trial, was convicted, had his
sentence overturned, was freed, and has since been re-arrested by a
government seemingly determined to make an example out of him.

And most recently, there’s the Matthew Keys case, in which a Reuters
social media editor was charged by the government with conspiring with
the hacker group Anonymous to alter a Los Angeles Times headline in
December 2010. The change in the headline? It ended up reading,
“Pressure Builds in House to Elect CHIPPY 1337,” Chippy being the name
of another hacker group accused of defacing a video game publisher’s

Keys is charged with crimes that carry up to 25 years in prison,
although the likelihood is that he’d face far less than that if
convicted. Still, it seems like an insane amount of pressure to apply,
given the other types of crimes (of, say, the HSBC variety) where stiff
sentences haven’t even been threatened, much less imposed.

A common thread runs through all of these cases. On the one hand, the
motivations for these information-stealers seem extremely diverse: You
have people who appear to be primarily motivated by traditional
whistleblower concerns (Manning, who never sought money and was
obviously initially moved by the moral horror aroused by the material he
was seeing, falls into that category for me), you have the merely
mischievous (the Keys case seems to fall in this area), there are those
who either claim to be or actually are free-information ideologues
(Assange and Swartz seem more in this realm), and then there are other
cases where the motive might have been money (Aleynikov, who was
allegedly leaving Goldman to join a rival trading startup, might be
among those).

But in all of these cases, the government pursued maximum punishments
and generally took zero-tolerance approaches to plea negotiations.
These prosecutions reflected an obvious institutional terror of letting
the public see the sausage-factory locked behind the closed doors not
only of the state, but of banks and universities and other such
institutional pillars of society. As Gibney pointed out in his movie,
this is a Wizard of Oz moment, where we are being warned not to look
behind the curtain.

What will we find out? We already know that our armies mass-murder women and children in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, that our soldiers joke about smoldering bodies from the safety of gunships, that some of our closest diplomatic allies starve and repress their own citizens, and we may even have gotten a glimpse or two of a banking system that uses computerized insider trading programs to steal from everyone who has an IRA or a mutual fund or any stock at all by manipulating markets like the NYSE.

These fervent, desperate prosecutions suggest that there’s more
awfulness under there, things that are worse, and there is a
determination to not let us see what those things are. Most recently,
we’ve seen that determination in the furor over Barack Obama’s drone
assassination program and the so-called “kill list” that is associated
with it.

Weeks ago, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul – whom I’ve previously railed
against as one of the biggest self-aggrandizing jackasses in politics –
pulled a widely-derided but, I think, absolutely righteous Frank Capra act on the Senate floor, executing a one-man filibuster of Obama’s CIA nominee, John Brennan.

Paul had been mortified when he received a letter from Eric Holder refusing to rule out drone strikes on American soil in
“extraordinary” circumstances like a 9/11 or a Pearl Harbor. Paul
refused to yield until he extracted a guarantee that no American could
be assassinated by a drone on American soil without first being charged
with a crime.

He got his guarantee, but the way the thing is written doesn’t fill one with anything like confidence. Eric Holder’s letter to Paul reads like the legal disclaimer on a pack of unfiltered cigarettes:

Dear Senator Paul,
It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional
question: “Does the president have the additional authority to use a
weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American
soil?” The answer is no.


Eric Holder
You could drive a convoy of tanker trucks through the loopholes in
that letter. Not to worry, though, this past week, word has come out via
Congress – the White House won’t tell us anything – that no Americans
are on its infamous kill list. The National Journal’s report on this
story offered a similarly comical sort of non-reassurance:

The White House has wrapped its kill list in secrecy and already the
United States has killed four Americans in drone strikes. Only one of
them, senior al-Qaida operative Anwar al-Awlaki, was the intended
target, according to U.S. officials. The others – including Awlaki’s
teenage son – were collateral damage, killed because they were too near a
person being targeted.

But no more Americans are in line for such killings – at least not
yet. “There is no list where Americans are on the list,” House
Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers told National Journal. Still, he
suggested, that could change.

“There is no list where Americans are on the list” – even the
language used here sounds like a cheap Orwell knockoff (although, to be
fair, so does V for Vendetta, which has unfortunately provided the model
for the modern protest aesthetic). It’s not an accident that so much of
this story is starting to sound like farce. The idea that we have to
beg and plead and pull Capra-esque stunts in the Senate just to find out
whether or not our government has “asserted the legal authority” (this
preposterous phrase is beginning to leak into news coverage with
alarming regularity) to kill U.S. citizens on U.S. soil without trial
would be laughable, were it not for the obvious fact that such lines are
in danger of really being crossed, if they haven’t been crossed

This morning, an Emory University law professor named Mary Dudziak
wrote an op-ed in the Times in which she pointed out several disturbing
aspects to the drone-attack policy. It’s bad enough, she writes, that
the Obama administration is considering moving the program from the CIA
to the Defense Department. (Which, Dudziak notes, “would do nothing to
confer legitimacy to the drone strikes. The legitimacy problem comes
from the secrecy itself – not which entity secretly does the killing.”)
It’s even worse that the administration is citing Nixon’s infamous
bombing of Cambodia as part of its legal precedent.

But beyond that, Obama’s lawyers used bad information in their white paper:

On Page 4 of the unclassified 16-page “white paper,” Justice
Department lawyers tried to refute the argument that international law
does not support extending armed conflict outside a battlefield. They
cited as historical authority a speech given May 28, 1970, by John R.
Stevenson, then the top lawyer for the State Department, following the
United States’ invasion of Cambodia.

Since 1965, “the territory of Cambodia has been used by North Vietnam
as a base of military operations,” he told the New York City Bar
Association. “It long ago reached a level that would have justified us
in taking appropriate measures of self-defense on the territory of
Cambodia. However, except for scattered instances of returning fire
across the border, we refrained until April from taking such action in

But, Dudziak notes, there is a catch:

In fact, Nixon had begun his secret bombing of Cambodia more than a
year earlier. (It is not clear whether Mr. Stevenson knew this.) So the
Obama administration’s lawyers have cited a statement that was patently

Now, this “white paper” of Obama’s is already of dubious legality at
best. The idea that the President can simply write a paper expanding
presidential power into extralegal assassination without asking the
explicit permission of, well, somebody, anyway, is absurd from the
start. Now you add to that the complication of the paper being based in
part on some half-assed, hastily-cobbled-together, factually lacking
precedent, and the Obama drone-attack rationale becomes like all
rationales of blunt-force, repressive power ever written – plainly
ridiculous, the stuff of bad comedy, like the Russian military
superpower invading tiny South Ossetia cloaked in hysterical claims of

Why Rand Paul’s Filibuster Matters

The Wikileaks episode was just an early preview of the inevitable
confrontation between the citizens of the industrialized world and the
giant, increasingly secretive bureaucracies that support them. As some
of Gibney’s interview subjects point out in his movie, the experts in
this field, the people who worked on information security in the
Pentagon and the CIA, have known for a long time that the day would come
when all of our digitized secrets would spill out somewhere.

But the secret-keepers got lucky with Wikileaks. They successfully
turned the story into one about Julian Assange and his personal
failings, and headed off the confrontation with the major news
organizations that were, for a time, his allies.

But that was just a temporary reprieve. The secrets are out there and
everyone from hackers to journalists to U.S. senators are digging in
search of them. Sooner or later, there’s going to be a pitched battle,
one where the state won’t be able to peel off one lone Julian Assange or
Bradley Manning and batter him into nothingness. Next time around,
it’ll be a Pentagon Papers-style constitutional crisis, where the
public’s legitimate right to know will be pitted head-to-head with
presidents, generals and CEOs.

My suspicion is that this story will turn out to be less of a
simplistic narrative about Orwellian repression than a mortifying
journey of self-discovery. There are all sorts of things we both know
and don’t know about the processes that keep our society running. We
know children in Asia are being beaten to keep our sneakers and
furniture cheap, we know our access to oil and other raw materials is
being secured only by the cooperation of corrupt and vicious dictators,
and we’ve also known for a while now that the anti-terror program they
say we need to keep our airports and reservoirs safe involves mass
campaigns of extralegal detention and assassination.

We haven’t had to openly ratify any of these policies because the
secret-keepers have done us the favor of making these awful moral
choices for us.

But the stink is rising to the surface. It’s all coming out. And when
it isn’t Julian Assange the next time but The New York Times, Der
Spiegel and The Guardian standing in the line of fire, the state will
probably lose, just as it lost in the Pentagon Papers case, because
those organizations will be careful to only publish materials clearly in
the public interest – there’s no conceivable legal justification for
keeping us from knowing the policies of our own country (although
stranger things have happened).

When that happens, we’ll be left standing face-to-face with the
reality of how our state functions. Do we want to do that? We still
haven’t taken a very close look at even the Bradley Manning material,
and my guess is because we just don’t want to. There were thousands of
outrages in those files, any one of which would have a caused a
My-Lai-style uproar decades ago.

Did you hear the one about how American troops murdered four women
and five children in Iraq in 2006, including a woman over 70 and an
infant under five months old, with all the kids under five? All of them
were handcuffed and shot in the head. We later called in an airstrike to
cover it up, apparently. But it barely registered a blip on the
American consciousness.

What if it we’re forced to look at all of this for real next time,
and what if it turns out we can’t accept it? What if murder and
corruption is what’s holding it all together? I personally don’t believe
that’s true – I believe it all needs to come out and we need to rethink
everything together, and we can find a less totally evil way of living –
but this is going to be the implicit argument from the secret-keeping
side when this inevitable confrontation comes. They will say to us, in
essence, “It’s the only way. And you don’t want to know.” And a lot of
us won’t.

It’s fascinating, profound stuff. We don’t want to know, but
increasingly it seems we can’t not know, either. Sooner or later,
something is going to have to give.

Thanks to:



Another great article by Taibbi. Here's where he is wrong: "They will say to us, in essence, 'It’s the only way. And you don’t want to know."” We will say, "We already know, there is a better way, and we know what it is."

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