12.6.10 Wikileaks: US Does China One Better

Very few things in this world are black and white.  I was as joyful as the next dyed-in-the-wool anti-war activist when Wikileaks published a trove of secret documents about the Afghanistan War a few months ago.  A la Daniel Ginsberg (of Pentagon Papers fame), here was a tiny crusader revealing the dark secrets of the aggressive, imperialist power.  The Question Authority button glued to my psyche (if not my lapel) was shimmering with delight.

My gut reacted less favorably to the dump of diplomatic cables that came out last week.  It’s one thing, I thought, to help end fruitless (if not unjustified) wars.  It’s quite another to break down the secrecy essential to diplomacy.  I’m a graduate of a leading US school of international relations.  It’s in my blood to respect statecraft and its tools. After all, isn’t diplomacy the opposite of war?

So I was already primed to be distressed by this latest Wikileaks case, even before 24/7 mainstream media coverage of Wikileaks’ malfeasance kicked in.  I was also disturbed about Wikileaks founder Julian Assange: stories of disgruntled former compatriots leaving the fold with tales of megalomania and arrogance, not to mention sexual assault charges from Sweden.  (Something nagged at me about whether these stories represented balance or selective support for establishment the world view, but I wasn’t ready to embrace that interpretation.)

I was formulating my reaction, pondering a blog post about how just because something is secret doesn’t mean it ought to be revealed.  (Do your in-laws benefit – or do you? – if they find out you don’t think highly of them, after all?  Won’t that simply mean future Thanksgivings will be less manageable?)  I was prepared to jump on the bandwagon and toss Wikileaks under it.

Then I started reading the tech media’s response to the mainstream media.   (See, particularly TechDirt and ReadWriteWeb.)  Rather than the popular story about Wikileaks’ threat to Life As We Know It, what shows up there is a clear-eyed portrayal of the establishment fighting back:

  • The State Department has warned US students that so much as mentioning Wikileaks in their on-line writing could permanently bar them from the Foreign Service.
  • Federal workers are being forbidden by their employer from reading anything Wikileaks publishes.
  • Amazon.com declared that it would no longer host Wikileaks data.
  • PayPal announced that it would no longer process donations to Wikileaks.
  • EveryDNS.net revoked Wikileaks domain registration (wikileaks.org), making it impossible for law-abiding US citizens (or anyone else) to access it.

What we have here, folks, is a full-throttle attempt by the US government to censor the internet (not to mention free speech), exactly what it accuses China of.  What we also have is another chilling example of US corporations doing the bidding of the US national security state.  (Remember the cell companies’ eagerness to turn over customer records to the government in the 2000s?)

“Wait,” you say!  “You usually accuse corporate America of owning the government.  Now you’re calling them its stooges.”

It’s all the same thing, you see.  The mega-wealthy owners of our economy have a giant stake in the economic and political status quo.  Their relationship with the government is hand-in-glove.  Sometimes one suggests courses of action to the other. Sometimes, it’s the other’s turn to take the lead. For both parties, “democracy” is a useful marketing slogan, as long as it poses no threat to powers that be.

I remain unconvinced that the unveiling of diplomatic cables is a good thing, per se, nor am I unconcerned about Assange’s character and actions.  (I certainly don’t take accusations of sexual assault lightly.)  But whatever might be wrong with Assange and Wikileaks, the spectacle of US government and business collaborating to shut down free speech and access to information, aided and abetted by the mainstream media, is the most significant part of this sordid affair.

©2010 Keith Berner

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