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Opinion

Opinion

WikiLeaks have undeniable consequences

December 13, 2010

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WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange is under pressure from the U.S. and other governments he embarrassed with his leaks of American diplomatic cables, but at least his “hactivist” disciples are behind him.

With Assange in custody in Great Britain, facing possible sex-crime charges in Sweden, his hactivists have launched cyber counterattacks against his perceived enemies, including MasterCard and Amazon, and now even mama grizzly Sarah Palin is claiming she’s been hactivized.

It’s the most bizarre story of the year, with enough chatter about Assange to fill a cheap novel, which surely is being written.

To some, Assange is a champion of the anti-American left. Meanwhile, many conservatives want to see him convicted of espionage and sent to prison or worse.

Though I’m a First Amendment absolutist, I wouldn’t have published those stolen U.S. State Department cables. Still, he and others have the right to publish the news.

But Assange — or the newspapers that published the documents — don’t have the right to pretend there are no real consequences.

“WikiLeaks has a four-year publishing history. During that time we have changed whole governments, but not a single person, as far as anyone’s aware, has been harmed,” Assange wrote in a hubris-filled op-ed piece Wednesday published in The Australian. “But the U.S. with Australian government connivance has killed thousands in the past few months alone.”

It sounds very much like a big speech from a Hollywood movie. The big speech, usually delivered by some craggy-faced actor, involving the need for sunshine to illuminate government secrets otherwise hidden from a free people.

But once the big speech is over, and you’re driving home with popcorn on your breath, you might be tempted to think logically about what happens next.

Sure, WikiLeaks and the newspapers have redacted some details, but the clues are there. It’s safe to assume that all those documents on the website have been downloaded by the intelligence services of every country on Earth. Not just enemy or rogue states, but friendly nations as well.

That means Russia, China, France, Iran, Germany, Spain, South Africa, Israel and more — allies and antagonists — are studying the documents from WikiLeaks. Their analysts aren’t wringing their hands over whether they should be studying the secret cables. They’re just studying. They have computers. And their analysts do what analysts do best — connect the dots.

Analysts aren’t interested in the well-known names, the public names, the official names. They’re interested in the names hidden between the lines. And they’ll find them. These smaller dots aren’t famous. They’re foreign nationals. They could be clerks and janitors and such. They have names and friends and families. And soon, one dot is tied to another dot is tied to another dot.

Once they’re connected, a door is kicked in by the security forces. The dot is put into the back seat of the car, then driven to a place where sunshine does not illuminate anything. And nobody notifies Assange about what became of the dot or its family.

By then, they’re not dots anymore. They’re not abstractions. They’re real people. Or they were. And that’s something that Assange — who reasons like a child — pretends not to understand.

This debate isn’t new. Since I’m writing for the Chicago Tribune, I should tell you what happened on June 7, 1942, during one of the most important battles in all of World War II, the Battle of Midway in the Pacific.

The Tribune under Col. Robert McCormick published a front-page story under this headline: “Navy Had Word of Jap Plan to Strike at Sea.” It reported that the Navy had advance knowledge of the size and movement of the Japanese fleet. The implication was clear: The Navy had cracked the Japanese code.

President Franklin Roosevelt, who loathed McCormick, wanted to try him for treason. Some historians have written that Japanese intelligence did not fully comprehend the impact of the Tribune story. The Navy clearly did not want a trial, for fear of drawing more attention to the issue.

So after five days of secret hearings, a federal grand jury in Chicago refused to indict.

Did McCormick have the right to publish? Of course he did. The First Amendment is quite clear.

But as a retired Army officer, he surely knew that such published information could put lives in jeopardy. He had a choice. And as a grownup, he must have understood the consequences.

And that’s something Assange and his hactivists — prattling childishly about sunshine and how nobody’s been hurt “as far as anyone is aware” — pretend not to understand.

— John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His e-mail address is jskass@tribune.com.

Comments

uncleandyt 3 years, 4 months ago

There's a rumor going around that The United States invaded at least two countries, killing, maiming, injuring, displacing, and/or imprisoning Millions of People. I hope that no one is harmed by this rumor.

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Agnostick 3 years, 4 months ago

"Okay, here's the real deal - We can not attack Amazon, currently. The previous schedule was to do so, but we don't have enough forces."

--Twitter update from AnonOpsNet Anonymous Operations

http://money.cnn.com/2010/12/09/technology/amazon_wikileaks_attack/index.htm?hpt=T2

I can remember a joke about Blockbuster making the rounds back in 2002, 2003... the joke that Blockbuster kept track of people a lot better than the "professionals" at (what was then known as) Immigration and Naturalization Services.

Amazon and PayPal have proven themselves to be ironclad over the weekend--maybe the government should hire them for cyber security?

I'm not bothered by the hackers, so much as the fact that there are gaping holes in our system. There's a chain of indeterminable length that goes from the government databases to Assange--the links in that chain are both human and technical.

When do they start hacking Social Security? When does some "black hat" sell my number to one of Bo Pilgrim's stoolies, so (s)he can provide it to somebody who just stole their way across the border to pluck chickens for Bo at $1/hour?

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seriouscat 3 years, 4 months ago

Ron Paul on defending Wikileaks:

"When truth becomes treason we are all in trouble"

Truer words have yet to be spoken from any other politicians on this issue. I like this guy.

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mbulicz 3 years, 4 months ago

"WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange is under pressure from the U.S. and other governments he embarrassed with his leaks of American diplomatic cables, but at least his “hactivist” disciples are behind him... his hactivists have launched cyber counterattacks against his perceived enemies, including MasterCard and Amazon, and now even mama grizzly Sarah Palin is claiming she’s been hactivized."

The hackers are Anon, who have nothing to do with WikiLeaks. They're self-perceived internet vigilantes. They aren't Assanges, associates, minions, employees, or "hactivists". However, Anon outright denies the Amazon hack, as does Amazon. It's okay that you missed this; after all, you're just a lowly writer. How can you possibly be inconvenienced by researching your facts?

http://www.marketingweek.co.uk/disciplines/digital/amazon-denies-wikileaks-hack/3021572.article

WikiLeaks only publishes information it has received and reviewed, just as does the Chicago Tribune. Apparently the only difference is that only one of you can be bothered to Google something before publishing it.

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CorkyHundley 3 years, 4 months ago

The media is full of hype about Mr. Julian Assange, the man behind WikiLeaks. The story might be considered trivial at first. However, the hoopla is interesting to observe, highly intriguing and, in my view, well worth analyzing and second-guessing a bit.

The basic story is quickly told: WikiLeaks publishes confidential content (documents, videos, audio files), which is supplied by informants, whose identities are kept secret and protected. Based on this concept, information has reached the day of light which some believe should be public knowledge per default, since it regards the 'work´ of governments, those employed by the people and paid for by the taxpayer.

Governments, obviously, would have preferred to keep the information confidential. Some feel that divulging such information, which was obtained without permission, is criminal. In fact, Mr. Assange has been hunted down on criminal charges – albeit on charges of rape (!?!?).

The whole story is intriguing because it is so full of contradictions, double standards and a good portion of (potentially orchestrated) drama. And, it is worth taking a closer look at in order to raise questions in the context of highly important trends and issues of current times

http://www.thedailybell.com/1594/Frank-Suess-WikiLeaks-Hype-Propaganda-or-Revolution.html

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 4 months ago

"Analysts aren’t interested in the well-known names, the public names, the official names. They’re interested in the names hidden between the lines. And they’ll find them. These smaller dots aren’t famous. They’re foreign nationals. They could be clerks and janitors and such. They have names and friends and families. And soon, one dot is tied to another dot is tied to another dot."

The US govt already knows who these people are-- no connecting of the dots is necessary. If their actions on behalf of the US Govt has put them at risk (and that's what put them at risk, not Wikileaks) then the US Govt has a responsibility to protect them.

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Liberty_One 3 years, 4 months ago

"But Assange — or the newspapers that published the documents — don’t have the right to pretend there are no real consequences"

Wrong. His actions are meant to have real consequences. You missed them when you assumed that the US are the good guys.

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