Commentary Magazine


Topic: WikiLeaks

Nixon’s Ghost and the Specter of Hypocrisy

In August 2008, the New York Times checked in on the celebrities expected to attend the Democratic and Republican presidential nominating conventions, and came to an unsurprising tally: “When it comes to big name entertainment and partying, it looks like the Democratic National Convention in Denver later this month might have an edge over the Republican gathering in St. Paul in early September.”

One of the many stars lining up on the Democratic side to spread the gospel of Barack was the actor Maggie Gyllenhaal, who continued to support President Obama in his bid for reelection again four years later. But Gyllenhaal is suddenly not so enthusiastic about the government. She is unnerved by the revelations about the NSA, and has joined an organization to rally this weekend called Stop Watching Us. She and other Hollywood celebrities, such as John Cusack, released a promotional video, which the ACLU is enthusiastically sharing. There’s one curious element to the video, however: it targets, repeatedly, one president: Richard Nixon.

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In August 2008, the New York Times checked in on the celebrities expected to attend the Democratic and Republican presidential nominating conventions, and came to an unsurprising tally: “When it comes to big name entertainment and partying, it looks like the Democratic National Convention in Denver later this month might have an edge over the Republican gathering in St. Paul in early September.”

One of the many stars lining up on the Democratic side to spread the gospel of Barack was the actor Maggie Gyllenhaal, who continued to support President Obama in his bid for reelection again four years later. But Gyllenhaal is suddenly not so enthusiastic about the government. She is unnerved by the revelations about the NSA, and has joined an organization to rally this weekend called Stop Watching Us. She and other Hollywood celebrities, such as John Cusack, released a promotional video, which the ACLU is enthusiastically sharing. There’s one curious element to the video, however: it targets, repeatedly, one president: Richard Nixon.

Now in fairness, the video also includes appearances and commentary by Oliver Stone, so perhaps it’s not meant to be taken seriously anyway. But it’s a good example of the cognitive dissonance this president has inspired in his followers. Nixon, who takes a starring role in the video, remains the mascot for government intrusion and overreach.

At the rally, Michigan Republican Congressman Justin Amash will join such luminaries as Noami Wolf and Dennis Kucinich to speak about the dangers of, presumably, the Nixon administration’s crackdown on domestic liberty, his failing strategy in Vietnam, his belligerence toward Cuba, and his outdated anti-Communism. Oliver Stone does not appear slated to speak at the rally, so Harry Truman will be spared the Nixon treatment.

But at least Cusack and Co.’s outrage seems genuine. While the ACLU rallies against Nixon, our allies abroad are complaining about more phone-tapping allegations, specifically against France and Germany. Marc Ambinder throws some cold water on the outrage there too:

Of course, Brazil, France, Germany, and Mexico do exactly the same thing. They want their leaders to gain a decision advantage in the give and take between countries. They want to know what U.S. policymakers will do before the Americans do it. And in the case of Brazil and France, they aggressively spy on the United States, on U.S. citizens and politicians, in order to collect that information. The difference lies in the scale of intelligence collection: The U.S. has the most effective, most distributed, most sophisticated intelligence community in the West. It is Goliath. And other countries, rightly in their mind, are envious.

“The magnitude of the eavesdropping is what shocked us,” former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told France Info radio. “Let’s be honest, we eavesdrop too. Everyone is listening to everyone else.”

The difference, he added, is that “we don’t have the same means as the United States — which makes us jealous.”

But there’s a limit to the utility of pointing out others’ hypocrisy. A Foreign Affairs essay making the rounds today is from Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore, arguing that the real damage from the WikiLeaks and Snowden revelations is that they will expose America’s hypocrisy. And acting hypocritically, they write, is a crucial and underappreciated strategic necessity:

Of course, the United States is far from the only hypocrite in international politics. But the United States’ hypocrisy matters more than that of other countries. That’s because most of the world today lives within an order that the United States built, one that is both underwritten by U.S. power and legitimated by liberal ideas. American commitments to the rule of law, democracy, and free trade are embedded in the multilateral institutions that the country helped establish after World War II, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, and later the World Trade Organization. Despite recent challenges to U.S. preeminence, from the Iraq war to the financial crisis, the international order remains an American one.

This system needs the lubricating oil of hypocrisy to keep its gears turning. To ensure that the world order continues to be seen as legitimate, U.S. officials must regularly promote and claim fealty to its core liberal principles; the United States cannot impose its hegemony through force alone. But as the recent leaks have shown, Washington is also unable to consistently abide by the values that it trumpets. This disconnect creates the risk that other states might decide that the U.S.-led order is fundamentally illegitimate.

I remain skeptical, however. It’s not just that our allies act hypocritically; it’s that they want us to act hypocritically. If nations cater first and foremost to their interests, then they care about the policies of the United States, not the gap between public rhetoric and action. The same is true for the domestic audience: most Americans were happy that President Obama continued many of the anti-terrorism methods used by the Bush administration, because they are vital to national security.

Obama’s hypocrisy was and continues to be noted by conservatives. But conservatives don’t oppose the policies that result from that hypocrisy, because the policies matter more than campaign promises. That is not to say that the public approves of politicians being dishonest to gain office: Obama may have genuinely thought what Bush was doing was wrong and unnecessary until he began getting intelligence briefings. Politicians who don’t have access to all the information are not liars just because they later discovered that their initial instincts were wrong.

Likewise, our allies abroad benefit tremendously from the American national-security infrastructure. They might be angered by the Snowden leaks, but that’s because they’re hypocrites too, and the leaks open them up to domestic criticism for their own hypocrisy. The leaks are plenty damaging to national security, but it’s unlikely they’re going to lose the U.S. the cooperation and support of allies who rely on American power projection and won’t presume to pretend otherwise.

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Snowden’s Crusade Takes Delusional Turn

Edward Snowden’s public statement about his case, released by WikiLeaks, left journalists scratching their heads. As Max Fisher noted, the assumption seemed to be that Snowden didn’t write the statement, and that perhaps WikiLeaks’s own Julian Assange had written it, both because of its defiant tone and its (since corrected) clumsy English.

But more puzzling than the statement’s authorship was that Snowden let such a statement (if indeed he had a say in it) be released in his name. Quite apart from the obvious language barrier was the fact that the author of the statement seemed to be either delusional or possessing only a passing familiarity with the details of Snowden’s case. After criticizing President Obama for seeking to protect national security secrets, “Snowden” writes:

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Edward Snowden’s public statement about his case, released by WikiLeaks, left journalists scratching their heads. As Max Fisher noted, the assumption seemed to be that Snowden didn’t write the statement, and that perhaps WikiLeaks’s own Julian Assange had written it, both because of its defiant tone and its (since corrected) clumsy English.

But more puzzling than the statement’s authorship was that Snowden let such a statement (if indeed he had a say in it) be released in his name. Quite apart from the obvious language barrier was the fact that the author of the statement seemed to be either delusional or possessing only a passing familiarity with the details of Snowden’s case. After criticizing President Obama for seeking to protect national security secrets, “Snowden” writes:

This kind of deception from a world leader is not justice, and neither is the extralegal penalty of exile. These are the old, bad tools of political aggression. Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who would come after me.

For decades the United States of America has been one of the strongest defenders of the human right to seek asylum. Sadly, this right, laid out and voted for by the U.S. in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is now being rejected by the current government of my country. The Obama administration has now adopted the strategy of using citizenship as a weapon. Although I am convicted of nothing, it has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person. Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right. A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum.

In point of fact, this doesn’t seem to be describing Snowden’s ordeal. Though it’s unlikely Snowden came up with the phrase “extralegal penalty of exile,” it not only reads like it was put through a computer-generated translation tool but is also not relevant to Snowden. He wasn’t exiled; the United States has very publicly been asking for him back. It was his choice to run away rather than accept the legal consequences of his actions.

Additionally, revoking Snowden’s passport does not leave him a “stateless person.” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that “Such a revocation does not affect citizenship status.” He is not a man without a country but a man whose country would very much like to arrange a reunion with him. Snowden may not like the fact that he would be brought up on felony charges if he returns. But that is different from saying he is unwanted here in the States when the truth is precisely the opposite.

He is also not a stateless person for another reason: his current host, Russian President Vladimir Putin, suggested that Snowden is welcome to stay in Russia if he would just keep his mouth shut and stop making trouble. Snowden has responded by apparently rejecting those terms, and searching for asylum in a different country that won’t require him to stop taunting and threatening his country of origin whose security he is working to undermine.

If Snowden does manage to find himself without asylum, he will have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, since the Obama administration is about ready to run up the white flag on his pursuit. As I wrote last week, Secretary of State John Kerry started out taking a tough line with Russia before he was promptly and publicly rebuked by his Russian counterpart, after which Kerry backed off. Kerry has now followed that same path with China:

The White House last week described the development as a “serious setback” to American-Chinese relations, while Mr. Kerry himself warned that it would have “consequences” for ties with Beijing.

But after a meeting with his Chinese counterpart at a conference hosted by Southeast Asian nations here, Mr. Kerry struck a conciliatory note, casting the Snowden affair as one issue among many.

And here is how he’s spinning it:

“Life in international relationships is often complicated by the fact that you have many things you have to work on simultaneously, and so we will continue to do that even as we are obviously concerned about what happened with Mr. Snowden,” he said.

The comments appear to reflect a new phase in the Obama administration’s handling of the Snowden affair. Instead of casting its request for the detention of Mr. Snowden as urgent business, administration officials now appear to be trying to play down the episode, perhaps recognizing that the United States’ ability to force a resolution is limited.

Life may be complicated and all that, but this case really isn’t. The Obama administration cannot force Snowden’s extradition; they can ask. They have done so, and their request has been denied by both China and Russia. Kerry’s statement suggests that now that Snowden is out of China’s reach, there’s no need to further ruffle feathers because China’s cooperation on other issues is needed, and he’s not through having his requests summarily rejected by them.

The Times article also notes that Kerry was asked how he can convincingly lead a rebalancing toward Asia when he spends so much time traipsing around the Middle East. “I’m here,” Kerry responded. Yet as the Snowden case and Kerry’s recent trip to the Middle East demonstrate, it doesn’t seem to matter where Kerry goes, since the administration’s foreign policies are still going nowhere.

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The Decline of Julian Assange

Spare a thought for Julian Assange. Having been holed up inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for nearly a year, the lonely WikiLeaks founder appears worried that Edward Snowden, the former NSA consultant who was described by the Guardian as the “individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history,” is going to bounce him from his current perch as king of the whistleblowers.

Interviewed by the ABC broadcaster from his native Australia, Assange was keen to insert himself into the NSA story, claiming that his organization had engaged in “indirect communication” with individuals connected to Snowden. Quite what this means isn’t clear, since Assange has never applied the exacting transparency standards he demands from governments and intelligence agencies to the activities of WikiLeaks. But it’s not unreasonable to speculate that one of these individuals might be Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian writer who broke the Snowden story. After all, it was Greenwald who breathlessly described Assange as “one of the very few individuals over the past decade to risk his welfare, liberty and even life to meaningfully challenge the secrecy regime on which the American national security state (and those of its obedient allies) depends.”    

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Spare a thought for Julian Assange. Having been holed up inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for nearly a year, the lonely WikiLeaks founder appears worried that Edward Snowden, the former NSA consultant who was described by the Guardian as the “individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history,” is going to bounce him from his current perch as king of the whistleblowers.

Interviewed by the ABC broadcaster from his native Australia, Assange was keen to insert himself into the NSA story, claiming that his organization had engaged in “indirect communication” with individuals connected to Snowden. Quite what this means isn’t clear, since Assange has never applied the exacting transparency standards he demands from governments and intelligence agencies to the activities of WikiLeaks. But it’s not unreasonable to speculate that one of these individuals might be Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian writer who broke the Snowden story. After all, it was Greenwald who breathlessly described Assange as “one of the very few individuals over the past decade to risk his welfare, liberty and even life to meaningfully challenge the secrecy regime on which the American national security state (and those of its obedient allies) depends.”    

Yesterday, Assange repaid Greenwald’s encomium by inadvertently strengthening the hand of those observers who insist that the import of Snowden’s claims has been vastly exaggerated. As he told ABC, “What [Mr Snowden] has revealed is what I have been speaking about for years, that their National Security Agency and its allies have been involved in a mass interception program of Google, Facebook, the various telecommunications data.” Speaking to CBS about the trial of Bradley Manning, the U.S. army private who supplied WikiLeaks with thousands of classified intelligence documents and diplomatic cables, Assange again conjured up the specter of an all-powerful surveillance state: “People have a right to understand what the government is doing in their name…There’s no way that the American or international public was aware, in detail, of these mass spying programs.”

Legitimate concerns about privacy and civil liberties are one thing; assertions that data collection programs like PRISM amount to “mass spying” are something else entirely. Over the last couple of days, a number of commentators like Ed Bott and Marc Ambinder have scrutinized the hyperbolic claims of the Guardian and the Washington Post and found them seriously wanting. Assange pushes them regardless because his agenda has always been driven by the sole desire to present the U.S. as the most roguish of rogue states.

Assange’s devotion has not gone unappreciated by those countries that really do spy on their citizens without accountability, and who do restrict Internet access and muzzle press freedoms. Russia’s official international broadcaster, RT, rewarded Assange with his own television show. Press TV, the English-language mouthpiece of the Iranian regime, bemoaned the “deafening global silence” over the plight of a man who “stood for the oppressed, the usurped.” And Ecuador, under the leadership of the leftist autocrat Rafael Correa, dived in to save Assange from the prospect of deportation from the UK to Sweden, where he faces criminal charges of a sexual nature, by offering him asylum in his country’s London embassy.

However, as Edward Snowden’s star rises, Assange’s appears to be falling. Over the weekend, Britain’s Independent newspaper revealed that Ana Alban, Ecuador’s Ambassador to the UK, was being recalled to Quito because of growing anguish that Assange’s status remains unresolved:

Ecuador is understood to be desperate to negotiate a way for Mr Assange to quit its embassy amicably and is growing frustrated with the lack of progress. Quito sources said they believe Britain is happy to leave Mr Assange marooned.

At a meeting last Tuesday between Ms Alban and Hugo Swire, the Foreign Office minister responsible for Latin America, Ms Alban is said to have asked: “What are we going to do about the stone in the shoe?”

Mr Swire’s response, according to a source who was in the room, was: “Not my stone, not my shoe.”

Correa determined that sheltering Assange would give his government some defense from accusations over its woeful record on free speech. Those concerns remain in the frame–in the last few weeks, Freedom House has called out Correa over is use of lawsuits against government critics, while Ecuadorean journalists have petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on documented examples of state intimidation–but Assange has clearly outlived his usefulness. Edward Snowden (who, as Max Boot pointed out yesterday, has also taken refuge in an authoritarian state which “has far more intrusive electronic surveillance than anything the NSA could possibly dream up”) might want to take note.

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When Israel and the Arab States Agree

The New York Times’s regular feature “Room for Debate” often brings together a fairly diverse and interesting group of commenters on the chosen topic, and today’s is no different. The topic this time is about American support for Israel, and whether that hampers American influence in the Middle East. The debate group features Aaron David Miller, Rashid Khalidi, Daniel Gordis, Daoud Kuttab, and others.

But the strangest part of the debate is not what any of the contributors said, but how the topic is introduced. Here’s the Times’s opening explanation for the debate:

The president of Israel is resisting calls for a unilateral strike against Iran, but it’s just the “unilateral” part that he finds troubling: “It is clear to us that we have to proceed together with America.” Even if this is just posturing, the statement shows one reason the U.S. struggles to make allies in the Arab world: Israelis and Arabs alike assume that the U.S. will take a side in Mideast conflicts, and that the U.S. will side with Israel. Are they right?

In light of the long history of lobbying (and junkets for members of Congress), is support for Israel so entrenched in American politics that the U.S. can no longer exert influence and broker peace?

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The New York Times’s regular feature “Room for Debate” often brings together a fairly diverse and interesting group of commenters on the chosen topic, and today’s is no different. The topic this time is about American support for Israel, and whether that hampers American influence in the Middle East. The debate group features Aaron David Miller, Rashid Khalidi, Daniel Gordis, Daoud Kuttab, and others.

But the strangest part of the debate is not what any of the contributors said, but how the topic is introduced. Here’s the Times’s opening explanation for the debate:

The president of Israel is resisting calls for a unilateral strike against Iran, but it’s just the “unilateral” part that he finds troubling: “It is clear to us that we have to proceed together with America.” Even if this is just posturing, the statement shows one reason the U.S. struggles to make allies in the Arab world: Israelis and Arabs alike assume that the U.S. will take a side in Mideast conflicts, and that the U.S. will side with Israel. Are they right?

In light of the long history of lobbying (and junkets for members of Congress), is support for Israel so entrenched in American politics that the U.S. can no longer exert influence and broker peace?

Using the Iran example to touch off this debate is nonsensical. First of all, including Iran in the “Arab world” usually leads to a misunderstanding of the Islamic Republic, since it is not an Arab state (though that doesn’t mean it has nothing in common with its Arab neighbors). But even more bizarre is the fact that the Times thinks Israel and the Arab states are on opposing sides on the issue. They are not. Last year, as Oren Kessler reported, the WikiLeaks cables proved what anyone with any experience with the region’s politics and history already expected: there was “unanimous” support for taking out Iran’s nuclear facilities. Kessler wrote:

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah urged Washington to “cut off the head of the snake,” and both he and then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak described the Islamic Republic as “evil” and untrustworthy.

An Iranian nuclear weapon, Mubarak warned, was liable to set off a region-wide arms race.

“Bomb Iran, or live with an Iranian bomb,” added Zeid Rifai, then president of the Jordanian senate. “Sanctions, carrots, incentives won’t matter.”

In the Persian Gulf, the rulers of Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were all reportedly in favor of a strike.

So too was the king of Bahrain, where a Sunni elite rules over a large Shi’ite majority and which officials in Iran have described as the country’s “fifteenth province.”

Mubarak may be gone, but there seems to be no other outdated exception to the story. This wasn’t the only such report, however. Saudi Arabia appears to be making preparations for any oil disruption caused by an attack on Iran. That is in their interest whether they support an attack or not, since they would still need to get their product to market safely, but it would also keep the price of their oil from skyrocketing, which dramatically reduces the harm to the West in the event of an attack or disruption.

And as Shai Feldman wrote with regard to the region’s Sunni Arab states, “None of these countries uttered a word when in 2007 Israel destroyed the nuclear reactor of Sunni-Arab Syria.”

So contra the New York Times, the Arab states are not only assuming the U.S. would support Israel on the Iran issue, but hoping and lobbying for such support.

As for the Times’s discredited and debunked suggestion that strong support for Israel works against American diplomacy, I suppose it’s worth repeating that Israel has proven time and again to be far more willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the peace process when U.S. support is strong and “daylight” between the two is minimized. But that’s the obvious part of this that everyone knows. The Iran aspect of the debate introduction, however, shows the Times to be strikingly unaware of what the Arab states actually want from the United States.

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Assange Tests the Limits to Leftist Paranoia

Nice try, Julian. The creepy Julian Assange, mastermind of the WikiLeaks site, would love to pretend he is a victim of an American “witch hunt.” Indeed that was the very term he used in his address today from the Ecuador Embassy in London where he has holed up. He also referred to Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier who was said to have leaked confidential State Department cables to WikiLeaks, as a “political prisoner” and compared himself to Pussy Riot, the Russian band sentenced to prison for mocking Vladimir Putin.

Problem is, Assange isn’t being stalked by legions of CIA assassins a la Jason Bourne. Nor even by CIA Predators a la Al Qaeda. He is facing extradition to Sweden to face charges that he committed sex crimes against two women. His legal appeals exhausted in the UK, Assange forfeited the substantial bail ($376,000) raised by radical chic supporters such as Michael Moore and hightailed it to the Ecuador Embassy—so desperate is Assange to avoid a trial in a defendant-friendly jurisdiction such as Sweden. The only wonder is that he has any friends left at this point.

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Nice try, Julian. The creepy Julian Assange, mastermind of the WikiLeaks site, would love to pretend he is a victim of an American “witch hunt.” Indeed that was the very term he used in his address today from the Ecuador Embassy in London where he has holed up. He also referred to Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier who was said to have leaked confidential State Department cables to WikiLeaks, as a “political prisoner” and compared himself to Pussy Riot, the Russian band sentenced to prison for mocking Vladimir Putin.

Problem is, Assange isn’t being stalked by legions of CIA assassins a la Jason Bourne. Nor even by CIA Predators a la Al Qaeda. He is facing extradition to Sweden to face charges that he committed sex crimes against two women. His legal appeals exhausted in the UK, Assange forfeited the substantial bail ($376,000) raised by radical chic supporters such as Michael Moore and hightailed it to the Ecuador Embassy—so desperate is Assange to avoid a trial in a defendant-friendly jurisdiction such as Sweden. The only wonder is that he has any friends left at this point.


But there will always be corners of “progressive” opinion that will cheer anyone who is ant-American no matter what else he is. I can’t help thinking, however, that if the same accusations had been made against a conservative, rather than a leftist, icon, Assange would get labeled as “anti-woman.”

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Julian Assange and Ecuador’s Gesture Politics

Ecuador’s decision to grant political asylum to Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, is a spectacular example of the gesture politics beloved by the far left. It is gesture politics because Assange, an Australian citizen who has spent the last two months camping in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, will have to smuggle himself past a phalanx of armed police officers if he is to make it to Quito in one piece.

While Assange and his supporters are portraying his current status as the consequence of politically motivated persecution, the truth is considerably more sordid. Assange fled to the Ecuadorean embassy after the British government decided to extradite him to Sweden, where he is wanted on sexual assault charges. To go by a recent op-ed penned for the Guardian by the dreadful Glenn Greenwald, you’d think that Sweden was a slightly milder version of North Korea, where prisoners are held in “oppressive pre-trial conditions,” and where someone like Assange could quickly find himself in American custody in order to face trial for espionage, given the release by Wikileaks of several thousand confidential American diplomatic and military cables.

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Ecuador’s decision to grant political asylum to Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, is a spectacular example of the gesture politics beloved by the far left. It is gesture politics because Assange, an Australian citizen who has spent the last two months camping in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, will have to smuggle himself past a phalanx of armed police officers if he is to make it to Quito in one piece.

While Assange and his supporters are portraying his current status as the consequence of politically motivated persecution, the truth is considerably more sordid. Assange fled to the Ecuadorean embassy after the British government decided to extradite him to Sweden, where he is wanted on sexual assault charges. To go by a recent op-ed penned for the Guardian by the dreadful Glenn Greenwald, you’d think that Sweden was a slightly milder version of North Korea, where prisoners are held in “oppressive pre-trial conditions,” and where someone like Assange could quickly find himself in American custody in order to face trial for espionage, given the release by Wikileaks of several thousand confidential American diplomatic and military cables.

It’s worth remembering that before hiding out in the Ecuadorean embassy, Assange acquired celebrity status in Britain, trading on his self-image as a courageous whistle-blower being hunted down by the vengeful Americans. (To amplify that point, pro-Assange demonstrators have taken to brandishing placards, lifted from a cover of Time magazine, that show Assange’s mouth gagged by an American flag.) For over a year, Assange very publicly lived in the enormous (and luxurious) country manor belonging to Vaughn Smith, a wealthy left-wing journalist and socialite, and the founder of The Frontline Club, a journalistic watering hole in central London. In January of this year, RT, a satellite news network controlled and financed by the Russian government, gave Assange his own show with the curious title The World Tomorrow, in which he interviewed the sorts of people known in marketing-speak as “high profile individuals.”

Those individuals included Hezbollah’s chieftain Hassan Nasrallah, whom Assange excitedly described as “one of the most extraordinary figures in the Middle East.” Another guest was ­– coincidence? – the left-wing President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, who joked with his host, “Are you having a lot of fun with the interview, Julian? I am glad to hear that. Me too.”

Being a journalist in Correa’s Ecuador is, however, considerably less enjoyable. Since Correa’s election in 2007, which brought Ecuador into the “Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas,” a body controlled by Venezuelan tyrant Hugo Chavez, media freedom in the country has been the subject of a sustained attack. A recent report by Freedom House noted that the closure, on June 6, of the independent station Radio Net was the fifth example of the shuttering of a media outlet within a fortnight. And a January item in the Washington Post about media censorship in Ecuador contained the following observation by a media freedom advocate:

“Ecuador is moving faster than anywhere else to restrict free expression,” said Cesar Ricaurte, director of the Andean Foundation for Media Study and Observation in Quito, Ecuador’s capital. “There is the discourse that leads to aggression, there are the lawsuits, there are laws to muzzle. And you also have a powerful propaganda system.”

The fact that Assange, depicted by much of the Western left as a poster child for the battle against government secrecy and censorship, can cozy up to a leader like Correa is only baffling if you believe that Wikileaks was promoting universal standards on the freedom of expression. The reality is that Wikileaks was, and remains, a project to present the U.S. as the ultimate rogue state, crushing press freedom in the name of imperial power. By contrast, those populist, “anti-imperialist” regimes who do actually censor the press are engaging in “resistance.” What we have here is not so much  a doctrine of moral equivalence between the United States and assorted autocracies, but a doctrine of moral superiority on the part of the latter.

Like the tyrants with whom he holds court, Assange is also a conspiracy theorist. And like all conspiracy theorists, he knows who really pulls the strings. A January 2011 telephone conversation between Assange and Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye, a British satirical magazine, went like this:

Assange claimed that Private Eye was ‘part of a conspiracy led by the Guardian which included journalist David Leigh, editor Alan Rusbridger and John Kampfner from Index on Censorship – all of whom “are Jewish”.’

‘I pointed out that Rusbridger is not actually Jewish, but Assange insisted that he was “sort of Jewish” because he was related to David Leigh (they are brothers-in-law),’ wrote Hislop.

‘When I doubted whether his Jewish conspiracy would stand up against the facts, Assange suddenly conceded the point. “Forget the Jewish thing”.’

It is doubtful that Assange has forgotten the “Jewish thing,” particularly as one of his closest associates is Israel Shamir, a sinister formerly Jewish anti-Semite who used Wikileaks data in defense of Alexander Lukashenko’s regime in Belarus. Should the stand-off at the London embassy end badly – and it may well do, given that Ecuador is clearly breaking British law – rest assured that we’ll be hearing dark mutterings involving the J word from Assange and his acolytes.

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WikiLeaks Founder Gets a Talk Show…On “Russia Today”

When you’re a self-proclaimed government transparency crusader and whistleblower advocate, there’s obviously no better news outlet to air your talk show than the official Kremlin propaganda organ, “Russia Today“:

[WikiLeaks founder] Julian Assange, self-styled foe of government secrets and conspiracies of the powerful, is going to be a star on a TV network backed by the Kremlin. The same Kremlin that has done suspiciously little to investigate or prevent the killings and beatings of journalists that have plagued Russia for more than a decade. The same Kremlin accused of blatant fraud in December’s parliamentary elections. The same Kremlin whose control of the country’s broadcast media allowed it to suppress coverage of the massive protests mounted in response to that fraud. The same Kremlin whose embrace of corruption led to Russia being named “the world’s most corrupt major economy” by Transparency International in 2011.

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When you’re a self-proclaimed government transparency crusader and whistleblower advocate, there’s obviously no better news outlet to air your talk show than the official Kremlin propaganda organ, “Russia Today“:

[WikiLeaks founder] Julian Assange, self-styled foe of government secrets and conspiracies of the powerful, is going to be a star on a TV network backed by the Kremlin. The same Kremlin that has done suspiciously little to investigate or prevent the killings and beatings of journalists that have plagued Russia for more than a decade. The same Kremlin accused of blatant fraud in December’s parliamentary elections. The same Kremlin whose control of the country’s broadcast media allowed it to suppress coverage of the massive protests mounted in response to that fraud. The same Kremlin whose embrace of corruption led to Russia being named “the world’s most corrupt major economy” by Transparency International in 2011.

Assange has railed against the U.S. government’s prosecution of accused WikiLeaks leaker Bradley Manning, who he’s praised as an “unparalleled hero.”

Apparently, Assange isn’t bothered by the fact that anti-government whistleblowers and journalists he claims to support routinely turn up dead (or brutally assaulted) under mysterious circumstances in Russia. While Assange has railed against the U.S. government’s prosecution of accused WikiLeaks traitor Bradley Manning, how many in Russia have been denied the right to a fair trial that Manning’s receiving?

As ironic as this is, it’s not surprising. Assange was only interested in truth and transparency to the extent that it could be used to attack the United States, its military and its allies. And for that matter, so is “Russia Today,” which makes this new partnership particularly fitting.

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Witness: WikiLeaks May Have Paid Manning for Documents

Politico reports that this claim is coming from one of the defense witnesses who spoke with Bradley Manning in a pretrial holding area at the Joint Regional Correction Facility. How reliable that is remains to be seen, and the defense filing is short on details. But needless to say, if this can be substantiated it would be a bombshell development:

[redacted] will testify that he was taken to the pretrial section at the JRCF and met PFC Manning. He will testify that he explained the purpose of his visit and asked PFC Manning who he was and why he was at the JRCF. PFC Manning allegedly responded with, ‘I sold information to Wikileaks.’

Shortly after this alleged statement, the guards realized that [redacted] should not have been in the pretrial area.

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Politico reports that this claim is coming from one of the defense witnesses who spoke with Bradley Manning in a pretrial holding area at the Joint Regional Correction Facility. How reliable that is remains to be seen, and the defense filing is short on details. But needless to say, if this can be substantiated it would be a bombshell development:

[redacted] will testify that he was taken to the pretrial section at the JRCF and met PFC Manning. He will testify that he explained the purpose of his visit and asked PFC Manning who he was and why he was at the JRCF. PFC Manning allegedly responded with, ‘I sold information to Wikileaks.’

Shortly after this alleged statement, the guards realized that [redacted] should not have been in the pretrial area.

This allegation contradicts Manning’s own words from an online chat he had with former hacker Adrian Lamo last May, shortly before his arrest:

Manning: i could’ve sold to russia or china, and made bank?

[Ex-hacker Adrian] Lamo: why didn’t you?

Manning: because it’s public data

Lamo: i mean, the cables

Manning: it belongs in the public domain

Manning: information should be free

The defense recently backed away from the narrative that Manning was a courageous whistleblower, but that’s still the way Manning’s supporters (including Ron Paul, apparently) characterize him. David Coombs, the defense attorney, has been playing up Manning’s “gender confusion” and the stress he was allegedly under at the time of the leak.

At HotAir, Jazz Shaw reported on the defense’s strategy shift last weekend:

I’ve been following this story for a long time and have sat through numerous conference calls put on by his supporters and his defense team. This seems to represent a dramatic shift from what we’ve been hearing all along. Daniel Ellsberg (of Pentagon Papers fame) has become Manning’s biggest cheerleader and has been positing all along that Manning was some sort of hero, blowing the whistle on alleged wrongdoing and serving a “higher cause” than following his orders. Now, however, it seems more like they’re going with some sort of insanity defense.

If there’s also credible evidence that Manning was paid for the documents it would obviously discredit his reputation as a civil libertarian cult hero and make any sympathy defense much more difficult.

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The Price of Defense Cutbacks Can Be Greater Than We Think

Despite the fact that we are still fighting two wars, even many Republicans (especially some of the new Tea Party members) in Congress seem ready to contemplate serious cuts to the defense budget. That means the armed services are almost certainly going to have to make do in the future with even fewer resources than they have in the past few years. And that is going to put even more of a burden on our solders, sailors, airmen, and marines, who have already been pressed to the breaking point by the need to have so many of them deployed overseas.

While the media generally approaches this problem from the standpoint of a human-interest story and the terrible problems of service personnel and their families, there is another angle to this dilemma that may have an even worse impact on national security: the deployment of individuals to war zones who have no business being anywhere near the enemy or sensitive information and equipment. That appears to be the case with the infamous Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier believed to be responsible for the leak of hundreds of thousands of sensitive reports and diplomatic cables to the WikiLeaks organization.

According to a report in McClatchy newspapers, Manning’s supervisor warned higher-ups that the soldier had demonstrated unstable behavior and ought not to be sent to Iraq, where his job would put him in contact with classified material. While the ensuing screw-up saw a few different officers punt on the question because they thought someone else would address it, it appears that the main factor that lead Manning to be sent to Iraq where he would be in position to create the largest single security breach in American history was that the Army was short of qualified personnel. According to the McClatchy story:

The findings in the Manning investigation likely will renew concerns that commanders once again refused to address signs of a troubled soldier because they needed his skills to deploy a fully staffed unit to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Time magazine’s Swampland blog treats this as yet another example of how people who are potentially disturbed are being sent to war and speculates that it “kind of makes you wonder what other surprises await us, either overseas or when these folks return.”

But, as Swampland puts it, the need “for bodies on the front lines” is not just a matter of mean or stupid military officials exploiting or mistreating poor, downtrodden privates. Rather, it is a question of how the armed services have increasingly become starved for resources and personnel even as we ask them to fight the war on Islamist terror in two countries as well as to perform humanitarian, peacekeeping, and other non-military missions.

The price for budget cuts isn’t just paid in unneeded Army or Air Force bases or superfluous high-tech weapons that cost more than we ever thought they would (though we probably have more than a few of both of those kinds of boondoggles). Defense budget cuts primarily affect the ordinary Army, Navy, and Air Force members who are forced to do more for longer periods with even less help. And it also could sometime mean that unqualified people or those who ought never to be put in harm’s way or near an important document are going to get shuffled into those posts. Bradley Manning’s personnel file isn’t just a scandal that will probably get some middle-level officer cashiered. It’s a standing argument against draconian defense cuts.

Despite the fact that we are still fighting two wars, even many Republicans (especially some of the new Tea Party members) in Congress seem ready to contemplate serious cuts to the defense budget. That means the armed services are almost certainly going to have to make do in the future with even fewer resources than they have in the past few years. And that is going to put even more of a burden on our solders, sailors, airmen, and marines, who have already been pressed to the breaking point by the need to have so many of them deployed overseas.

While the media generally approaches this problem from the standpoint of a human-interest story and the terrible problems of service personnel and their families, there is another angle to this dilemma that may have an even worse impact on national security: the deployment of individuals to war zones who have no business being anywhere near the enemy or sensitive information and equipment. That appears to be the case with the infamous Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier believed to be responsible for the leak of hundreds of thousands of sensitive reports and diplomatic cables to the WikiLeaks organization.

According to a report in McClatchy newspapers, Manning’s supervisor warned higher-ups that the soldier had demonstrated unstable behavior and ought not to be sent to Iraq, where his job would put him in contact with classified material. While the ensuing screw-up saw a few different officers punt on the question because they thought someone else would address it, it appears that the main factor that lead Manning to be sent to Iraq where he would be in position to create the largest single security breach in American history was that the Army was short of qualified personnel. According to the McClatchy story:

The findings in the Manning investigation likely will renew concerns that commanders once again refused to address signs of a troubled soldier because they needed his skills to deploy a fully staffed unit to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Time magazine’s Swampland blog treats this as yet another example of how people who are potentially disturbed are being sent to war and speculates that it “kind of makes you wonder what other surprises await us, either overseas or when these folks return.”

But, as Swampland puts it, the need “for bodies on the front lines” is not just a matter of mean or stupid military officials exploiting or mistreating poor, downtrodden privates. Rather, it is a question of how the armed services have increasingly become starved for resources and personnel even as we ask them to fight the war on Islamist terror in two countries as well as to perform humanitarian, peacekeeping, and other non-military missions.

The price for budget cuts isn’t just paid in unneeded Army or Air Force bases or superfluous high-tech weapons that cost more than we ever thought they would (though we probably have more than a few of both of those kinds of boondoggles). Defense budget cuts primarily affect the ordinary Army, Navy, and Air Force members who are forced to do more for longer periods with even less help. And it also could sometime mean that unqualified people or those who ought never to be put in harm’s way or near an important document are going to get shuffled into those posts. Bradley Manning’s personnel file isn’t just a scandal that will probably get some middle-level officer cashiered. It’s a standing argument against draconian defense cuts.

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Investing in Assange

Julian Assange, out of jail on bail in England and last seen, deliciously, complaining that someone was unfairly leaking details of his rape case in Sweden, has now made news for another reason: He has reportedly received $1.3 million from Random House and a British publishing company, Canongate, to write his memoirs. He has pledged to use the money “to keep Wikileaks afloat.” That means that Canongate (an independenet publisher) and Random House (a division of the German giant Bertelesmann) are helping to subsidize WikiLeaks, an organization that traffics in stolen documents designed to hurt American foreign policy and anyone who cooperates with American officials–including British and German officials.

Their actions stand in sharp distinction to more responsible corporations such as Visa, Mastercard, Paypal, Facebook and Twitter that have cut off WikiLeaks because they do not want to be associated with its irresponsible and possibly criminal activities.

Where is the outrage? These publishers deserve, at the very least, considerable opprobrium for throwing a lifeline to the odious Julian Assange, an Internet vandal pursuing, by his own admission, an anti-American agenda. They should certainly be in the sights of the Justice Department as it contemplates legal action against Assange. At the very least prosecutors should plan to freeze and seize any payments to him. I wonder if there might not be a civil suit possible by one of Assange’s victims–someone who has been hurt by the publication of these confidential communications–who might be able to go after the publishers for a substantial award? That may only be wishful thinking on my part but certainly it would be nice if these publishing houses did not get away with their amoral decision to try to make money out of this scandal and in the process to enrich one of the world’s most disgusting cyber-preeners and -saboteurs.

Julian Assange, out of jail on bail in England and last seen, deliciously, complaining that someone was unfairly leaking details of his rape case in Sweden, has now made news for another reason: He has reportedly received $1.3 million from Random House and a British publishing company, Canongate, to write his memoirs. He has pledged to use the money “to keep Wikileaks afloat.” That means that Canongate (an independenet publisher) and Random House (a division of the German giant Bertelesmann) are helping to subsidize WikiLeaks, an organization that traffics in stolen documents designed to hurt American foreign policy and anyone who cooperates with American officials–including British and German officials.

Their actions stand in sharp distinction to more responsible corporations such as Visa, Mastercard, Paypal, Facebook and Twitter that have cut off WikiLeaks because they do not want to be associated with its irresponsible and possibly criminal activities.

Where is the outrage? These publishers deserve, at the very least, considerable opprobrium for throwing a lifeline to the odious Julian Assange, an Internet vandal pursuing, by his own admission, an anti-American agenda. They should certainly be in the sights of the Justice Department as it contemplates legal action against Assange. At the very least prosecutors should plan to freeze and seize any payments to him. I wonder if there might not be a civil suit possible by one of Assange’s victims–someone who has been hurt by the publication of these confidential communications–who might be able to go after the publishers for a substantial award? That may only be wishful thinking on my part but certainly it would be nice if these publishing houses did not get away with their amoral decision to try to make money out of this scandal and in the process to enrich one of the world’s most disgusting cyber-preeners and -saboteurs.

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Morning Commentary

Can Michael Steele actually win re-election as RNC chair? Chris Cilliza crunches the numbers and finds that the unpopular GOP official just doesn’t have the support: “In the most optimistic assessments of his current strength among the 168 members of the RNC, Steele has 40 hard supporters. That’s a little less than half of the 85 people he would need to win a second term. A look back at the voting in the 2009 chairman’s race suggests that Steele’s initial base of support simply isn’t big enough.”

Kissinger defends his controversial comments about Soviet Jewry — and his explanation is less than convincing: “The quotations ascribed to me in the transcript of the conversation with President Nixon must be viewed in the context of the time,” wrote Kissinger in an e-mail to the JTA. “We disagreed with the Jackson Amendment, which made Jewish emigration a foreign policy issue. We feared that the amendment would reduce emigration, which is exactly what happened. Jewish emigration never reached the level of 40,000 again until the Soviet Union collapsed. The conversation between Nixon and me must be seen in the context of that dispute and of our distinction between a foreign policy and a humanitarian approach.”

Byron York points out seven signs that the “No Labels” campaign leans left. Reason #7: “The sandwiches. At No Labels, there were stacks of box lunches on tables outside the auditorium. Politico’s Ben Smith noted that, ‘The vegetarian and chicken sandwiches were rapidly devoured at lunch time, leaving only a giant pile of roast beef.’ That’s a sure sign: If there had been more Republicans there, there would have been fewer leftover roast beef sandwiches.”

Richard Holbrooke’s last words — “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan” — may actually have been a joke as opposed to a policy prescription. According to the Washington Post: “The aide said he could not be sure of Holbrooke’s exact words. He emphasized Tuesday that the comment was made in painful banter, rather than as a serious exhortation about policy. Holbrooke also spoke extensively about his family and friends as he awaited surgery by Farzad Najam, a thoracic surgeon of Pakistani descent.”

CounterPunch writer Israel Shamir, a Holocaust denier who claimed that Julian Assange’s rape accuser had ties to the CIA, has been revealed as an employee of WikiLeaks.

Douglas Murray discusses the growing trend of Christmas-season terrorists coming out of Britain and what it needs to do to combat the crisis of radicalization in its universities.

Can Michael Steele actually win re-election as RNC chair? Chris Cilliza crunches the numbers and finds that the unpopular GOP official just doesn’t have the support: “In the most optimistic assessments of his current strength among the 168 members of the RNC, Steele has 40 hard supporters. That’s a little less than half of the 85 people he would need to win a second term. A look back at the voting in the 2009 chairman’s race suggests that Steele’s initial base of support simply isn’t big enough.”

Kissinger defends his controversial comments about Soviet Jewry — and his explanation is less than convincing: “The quotations ascribed to me in the transcript of the conversation with President Nixon must be viewed in the context of the time,” wrote Kissinger in an e-mail to the JTA. “We disagreed with the Jackson Amendment, which made Jewish emigration a foreign policy issue. We feared that the amendment would reduce emigration, which is exactly what happened. Jewish emigration never reached the level of 40,000 again until the Soviet Union collapsed. The conversation between Nixon and me must be seen in the context of that dispute and of our distinction between a foreign policy and a humanitarian approach.”

Byron York points out seven signs that the “No Labels” campaign leans left. Reason #7: “The sandwiches. At No Labels, there were stacks of box lunches on tables outside the auditorium. Politico’s Ben Smith noted that, ‘The vegetarian and chicken sandwiches were rapidly devoured at lunch time, leaving only a giant pile of roast beef.’ That’s a sure sign: If there had been more Republicans there, there would have been fewer leftover roast beef sandwiches.”

Richard Holbrooke’s last words — “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan” — may actually have been a joke as opposed to a policy prescription. According to the Washington Post: “The aide said he could not be sure of Holbrooke’s exact words. He emphasized Tuesday that the comment was made in painful banter, rather than as a serious exhortation about policy. Holbrooke also spoke extensively about his family and friends as he awaited surgery by Farzad Najam, a thoracic surgeon of Pakistani descent.”

CounterPunch writer Israel Shamir, a Holocaust denier who claimed that Julian Assange’s rape accuser had ties to the CIA, has been revealed as an employee of WikiLeaks.

Douglas Murray discusses the growing trend of Christmas-season terrorists coming out of Britain and what it needs to do to combat the crisis of radicalization in its universities.

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Journalism That Knows No Shame

One can understand if the editors of the New York Times, Guardian, and Der Spiegel have no respect for the secrecy needed to wage war successfully — especially unpopular wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq. These are, after all, the sorts of people who, over a few drinks, would no doubt tell you that diplomacy is far preferable to war-making. But it seems that they have no respect for the secrecy that must accompany successful diplomacy either. That, at least, is the only conclusion I can draw from their decision to once again collaborate with an accused rapist to publicize a giant batch of stolen State Department cables gathered by his disreputable organization, WikiLeaks.

I risk sounding like a stuffy, striped-pants diplomat myself if I say that the conduct of all concerned is reprehensible and beneath contempt. But that’s what it is, especially because the news value of the leaks is once again negligible. As with the previous releases of military reports, the WikiLeaks files only fill in details about what has generally already been known. Those details have the potential to cause acute embarrassment — or even end the lives of — those who have communicated with American soldiers or officials, but they do little to help the general public to understand what’s going on.

Only someone who has spent the past few years on the moon can be surprised to discover that countries such as Israel and Saudi Arabia are extremely alarmed about the Iranian nuclear program and want the U.S. to stop it, by military action if need be. Yet this is the thrust of one of the main New York Times articles about the leaks. Other non-revelations include reports by American diplomats — which are only one degree removed from newspaper articles and hardly constitute proof of anything — that corruption is widespread in Afghanistan, that North Korea may have transferred missile technology to Iran, that the Chinese Politburo authorized the hacking of Google’s website, that Syria supplies Hezbollah with weapons, or that the U.S. offered various countries a host of incentives to take Guantanamo inmates off our hands.

OK, that’s not quite fair. There are some genuine revelations in all these documents. I, for one, didn’t realize that Libya’s head kook, Muammar Qaddafi, spends a lot of his time with a “voluptuous blonde” nurse from Ukraine or that he uses Botox. Of course, just because information is new doesn’t make it consequential, and this type of information is of interest primarily to editors and readers of Gawker, the gossip site (where I ran across it).

There was a time when editors and reporters thought of themselves as citizens first and journalists second. There were damaging leaks even during World War II, but when they occurred they were generally denounced by the rest of the press. We now seem to have reached a moment when the West’s major news organizations, working hand in glove with a sleazy website, feel free to throw spitballs at those who make policy and those who execute it. This is journalism as pure vandalism. If I were responsible, I would feel shame and embarrassment. But apparently, those healthy emotions are in short supply these days.

One can understand if the editors of the New York Times, Guardian, and Der Spiegel have no respect for the secrecy needed to wage war successfully — especially unpopular wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq. These are, after all, the sorts of people who, over a few drinks, would no doubt tell you that diplomacy is far preferable to war-making. But it seems that they have no respect for the secrecy that must accompany successful diplomacy either. That, at least, is the only conclusion I can draw from their decision to once again collaborate with an accused rapist to publicize a giant batch of stolen State Department cables gathered by his disreputable organization, WikiLeaks.

I risk sounding like a stuffy, striped-pants diplomat myself if I say that the conduct of all concerned is reprehensible and beneath contempt. But that’s what it is, especially because the news value of the leaks is once again negligible. As with the previous releases of military reports, the WikiLeaks files only fill in details about what has generally already been known. Those details have the potential to cause acute embarrassment — or even end the lives of — those who have communicated with American soldiers or officials, but they do little to help the general public to understand what’s going on.

Only someone who has spent the past few years on the moon can be surprised to discover that countries such as Israel and Saudi Arabia are extremely alarmed about the Iranian nuclear program and want the U.S. to stop it, by military action if need be. Yet this is the thrust of one of the main New York Times articles about the leaks. Other non-revelations include reports by American diplomats — which are only one degree removed from newspaper articles and hardly constitute proof of anything — that corruption is widespread in Afghanistan, that North Korea may have transferred missile technology to Iran, that the Chinese Politburo authorized the hacking of Google’s website, that Syria supplies Hezbollah with weapons, or that the U.S. offered various countries a host of incentives to take Guantanamo inmates off our hands.

OK, that’s not quite fair. There are some genuine revelations in all these documents. I, for one, didn’t realize that Libya’s head kook, Muammar Qaddafi, spends a lot of his time with a “voluptuous blonde” nurse from Ukraine or that he uses Botox. Of course, just because information is new doesn’t make it consequential, and this type of information is of interest primarily to editors and readers of Gawker, the gossip site (where I ran across it).

There was a time when editors and reporters thought of themselves as citizens first and journalists second. There were damaging leaks even during World War II, but when they occurred they were generally denounced by the rest of the press. We now seem to have reached a moment when the West’s major news organizations, working hand in glove with a sleazy website, feel free to throw spitballs at those who make policy and those who execute it. This is journalism as pure vandalism. If I were responsible, I would feel shame and embarrassment. But apparently, those healthy emotions are in short supply these days.

Read Less




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