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Why can’t they plug the (Wiki)Leaks?

Dr. J.P. London

"National security of the United States has been put at risk. The lives of people who work for the American people have been put at risk. The American people themselves have been put at risk by these actions that I believe are arrogant, misguided and ultimately not helpful in any way,” said U.S Attorney General Eric Holder, while announcing that “significant” actions related to the criminal investigation of WikiLeaks had been authorized.

The WikiLeaks saga continued this month with disclosures that included a list of facilities around the world considered to be vital to U.S national security. Jihadists have already begun online discussions on how to exploit that list to their advantage. Prior to that, many governments were sent scrambling because of diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. The cables ranged from the widely suspected (Russia’s corruption and mafia ties, China’s hacking of Google) to the rather surprising (China’s concerns over North Korea, embarrassing comments about world leaders).

In the meantime, WikiLeaks and its rogue founder, Julian Assange, have had their own problems. The Web site suffered a series of cyber attacks and the organization was forced to move operations to Switzerland. Amazon.com, Visa and secure payment Web site PayPal also severed ties to WikiLeaks, dealing a blow to the organization’s fundraising abilities. Soon after, the Swiss post office’s bank froze Assange’s accounts for providing false residency information. Assange also faces extradition to Sweden for unrelated sexual assault charges and is currently being held without bail in Britain while awaiting his next hearing. Meanwhile, American officials are still investigating whether they can charge Assange, an Australian national, and others for compromising U.S. national security.

Lost in the WikiLeaks madness, however, are several critical questions. First and foremost, who is behind the leaking? To date, Pfc. Bradley Manning has been the only person charged and held for leaking classified information. Yet the quality and quantity of information coming out of WikiLeaks seems to indicate the complicity of many and more highly-positioned individuals.

Then there is also an access issue. Despite the Obama administration’s push for transparency, there is an unprecedented number of government classified secrets and documents, and individuals with security clearances. Technology itself has also made it easier to handle information, for better or worse. Flash drives and the Internet have replaced marked documents and safes, making classified information more vulnerable. The question of “who” gets to see “what” (and “how”) must be readdressed.

Finally, there is the debate between free speech and national security. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotamayor said that the balance between the two is "a constant struggle in this society, between our security needs and our first amendment rights, and one that has existed throughout our history.”

Many defend Wikileaks’ actions as asserting free speech and the public’s right to know. Yet, it is not WikiLeaks’ own speech that is in question. The New York Times, for example, defended publishing the leaked diplomatic cables as serving “an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match.” Yet, in doing so, the Times and others have actually hurt American diplomacy -- and public safety.

Former CIA director, Michael Hayden, stressed that the leaks will cost the U.S. sources, and that the lives of former sources will be jeopardized. Also at risk is cooperation with potential partners and U.S. national security. “It will set back the kind of information sharing that has actually made us safer since 9/11,” he said. In the meantime, representatives from both sides of the aisle in Congress, like Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), have defined the leaks as espionage and called for further investigations and prosecutions.

The calls and outcries are not enough. Leaving these questions unanswered will only allow for more illegal leaks and damage to U.S. national security in the near future. It will also delay the development of a comprehensive framework to deal with such challenges in a way that appropriately takes issues, such as individual rights and foreign nationals, into account. And these challenges are far from over.

In an op-ed in an Australian newspaper, Assange defended WikiLeaks by calling it a part of a strong media that is necessary to keep governments honest and strengthen democracy. “The swirling storm around WikiLeaks today reinforces the need to defend the right of all media to reveal the truth.” WikiLeaks volunteers have vowed to continue with scheduled releases of more illegally obtained documents, despite Assange’s detainment.

Furthermore, Assange has threatened to “unleash a thermonuclear device” of completely unexpurgated government files, which he calls his “insurance policy.” While Assange believes he needs protection, he ironically claims that no one has been harmed by WikiLeaks’ actions.

Despite Assange’s delusions of grandeur, one thing is clear: national security leaks are dangerous. So why can’t we plug the leaks? We need an answer now.

Dr. J. P. London is Executive Chairman and Chairman of the Board of CACI International Inc. Further information is available at www.caci.com

 

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