The Biggest Leak of All: Daniel Ellsberg, Julian Assange, The Simple Truth & Wikileaks

Ellesberg quotes Dickens in the latest post on his blog, saying: “there is nothing quite so simple as the truth.”

What has always made me wary of the likes of Ellsberg and Julian Assange is that they really do believe this. Although I admire both of them in relation to their dedication to the cause of freedom of information, they are both – in some ways – as absolutist as many of the people they see as enemies.

I think the truth is that there is nothing simple about the truth, and that explains why so many people are intent on hiding it. Truth is almost always relative. If one were to take any of the U.S. diplomatic cables recently released by Wikileaks what you get is a single person’s take of a single event or an isolated subject, out of context of time, place or relation to other events. Even the context you read it in – the courier type on a blank white screen – resonates with the reader and colours their perceptions of what is being read. Visually, it smacks of spy thrillers and old copies of the Kubark Manual.

The truth is that, for the most part, the truth is relative. It’s seldom truly objective. Both the sender and the receiver slant ‘facts’ with their subjectivities.

That doesn’t mean I think it is pointless to try and bring it to light. Or that whistleblowers or investigative journalism don’t have an important part to play in any vibrant democracy. But it bothers me when the people who are doing the exposing have no investment in that democracy. I think it’s pretty clear from a number of interviews and articles, that Julian Assange doesn’t feel himself to be invested in that way. I think he sees himself as a citizen of the world, a David warrior against the Goliath states who indulge in Empire building and trade in ugly secrets. I see him as dangerously naive, a zealot with somewhat anarchistic tendencies, and a bit of a shit, frankly.

More than anything Wikileaks has brought to light in terms of classified documents, I think the largest secret that was exposed in the past few months was that the U.S., vocal defender of a free press and the free movement of information, is a hypocrite. The reactions generated by the Wikileaks phenomenon, from government officials, large corporate entities and the press itself is the REAL leak.

What it has exposed is the following:

1. the U.S. government, whether Republican or Democrat is no true defender of the free flow of information.

2. the free market is not free. Huge corporate concerns have been influenced by and acted in accordance with governmental desires, abetting the suppression of the free flow of information.

3. the ‘watchdog’ press is, for the most part, only interested in their own power – only acting as a fourth estate when it is financially feasible for the media concerns that own them, and only when they get to nominate who the watchdogs are.

In the era when Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, there was still a relatively free press willing to accord him kudos for doing so. Now we have Lara Logan, the chief foreign correspondent for CBS news, publicly criticizing Michael Hastings for his lack of journalistic integrity for his article on Gen. McChrystal, “The Runaway General” in Rolling Stone Magazine.

In 2005, NYT journalist Jennifer Miller was jailed on contempt of court charges for not divulging her source in her reporting of the Valerie Plame affair. And a report on illegal governmental wiretapping that was voluntarily suppressed for a year and a half at the behest of the government.

What we now have is a mainstream press that has drifted so far from understanding the function as a bastion against the abuse of power that a tremendous vacuum has emerged. What we have are governments who fear loss of power more than they fear the erosion of a functioning democracy. What we have now is a judiciary who interpret the Constitution in whatever way suits their own political leanings. What we have are large corporations like Amazon, Mastercard and eBay who function as extensions of state policy when it seems expedient to do so.

That’s the most shocking leak of all. That the reaction against Wikileaks has exposed serious cracks in the foundations of your political systems.

People of Western democracies, you have some soul-searching to do. Is this really how you want your political systems to evolve? Because I think we are at the dawn of a new era, and without your very strong and active engagement,  you might be the last generation to live in truly democratic societies.