Daniel Ellsberg, left, at a news conference in 1973 in Los Angeles. In 1971, Mr. Ellsberg passed to a reporter for The New York Times a copy of a secret report casting doubt on the war in Vietnam. Associated Press

Based upon Cablegate commentary and mutterings thus far, it is reasonable to describe an opponents’ “Hierarchy of Targets”.

At the top of the pyramid is Julian Assange, second is the suspect (possibly Bradley Manning?), then come the collective of highly-skilled professionals working for Wikileaks, next are the supporters of Wikileaks (journalists, liberals, conspiracy nuts, libertarians, hackivists, net-neutrality fans, free-speech advocates, Bush-haters, China-haters, Gaddafi haters … lots of haters, you get the point). And finally – as I said, based upon commentary – toward the bottom of the pile would be Wikileaks’ major media partners, The New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel and Le Monde.*

The leading newspapers of these four major powers should be and are beyond reproach. The absence of criticism toward these newspapers is telling.

Given the impossibility of controlling this outflux of data, the US Government is relying on tactics of distraction – and retribution – to elevate Assange and then take him down.

The US Government is probably well aware of the information yet to be leaked. Remember, while the cables number 251,287, of which 15,652 are “Top Secret”, only 1,344 have been published thus far.

NEWSPAPERS THEN, THE INTERNET NOW

The Nixon Whitehouse tried to smear the reputation of Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers. Nixon’s painting him as a loose-nut, breaking into his psychotherapists surgery and stealing private health files to later sling shit. The thing is, before Nixon got to that he was trying to take down the media too. First he got an injunction on The New York Times. Next Ellsberg went to The Washington Post so they were next to be silenced. Through remarkable networks Ellsberg got copies of the Pentagon Papers out to 17 papers and the deluge was impossible to control.

For the Pentagon Papers leak, Ellsberg photocopied 7,000 papers himself, then photocopied those again. He delivered boxes of files by hand. 1971 was a pre-computer age; it’s easy to forget.

It is also easy to forget that Nixon administration shut down the New York Times’ publication of the Pentagon Papers for four whole days. Ellsberg’s leak brought about The New York Times vs. The United States of America, and ever since the separation between government and free press has been constitutional protected (if not always used to advantage by partisan “news” networks.)

Because of that court case – as much as the unlimited distribution possibilities of the internet – Assange and Wikileaks didn’t have to worry about any government closing down the four newspapers it had chosen as allies and partners.

As newspapers had gone before, so internet server companies followed; Assange predicted both the pressure from the government and the capitulation from Amazon and other server companies.

AREN’T WIKILEAKS AND NEWS ONE AND THE SAME?

Given that Wikileaks is only releasing individual cables after a partner has researched, redacted and discussed editorial ethics and responsibility, and given that in that light there is no difference in substance of Wikileaks’ publishing and that of its partners, why is Wikileaks singled out?

Assange claims to be a journalist. Given his blatant care (partnering with thousands of professional journalists) thus far in protecting the safety and identity of people mentioned in the cables, it seems like a fair claim.

I agree with the point of view that the Afghan or Iraq War Logs were not the equivalent to the Pentagon Papers; they told us only what we knew. We knew war was violent, we knew nasty alliances existed, we knew civilians were slaughtered, we knew no-one was in control as they claimed, we knew Iraqi’s carried out sectarian killings on one another and we could guess the allied forces turned a blind eye. Alternatively, in the way that the U.S. Embassy Cables are challenging a super power with legitimate accusations of Imperialism against it, the Embassy Cables leak could be an equivalent.

Interestingly, Ellsberg is in no doubt. If he was leaking the Pentagon Papers today, he’d be using the internet.

*Somewhere in the hierarchy of targets, there’s an argument to include Wikileaks’ methods and technologies (encryption, mirror sites, Wikileaks’ documents-cache poised for release should things not go Assange’s way). However, to keep it neat, I prefer the hierarchy of targets be made of people, not tactics.
Advertisements