The democracy of leaks


There was an amusing column in today’s New York Times about european reaction to the US comments about Wikileaks — in general they could be summarized as giving lie to statements about core American principles. TV watchers have already seen PBS interviewing two lawyers speculating on how the law could be tweaked to ‘bring the perpetrator to justice’.  And Sarah Palin has been calling for the US to hunt him down. I can hear the CIA kidnap team warming up already. Sieg Heil… you-all.

I have a couple of problems with the whole thing. One, it underscores just how sloppy US security really is — something I gather that China has been exploiting and probably other groups inimical to the US as well. And whistle-blowers generally bring the light of day to things that should be exposed — and is this really different? But the flow of outrage and extreme statements from the land of extraordinary rendition, Homeland Security and other aberrations suggests a refresher course on the difficulties of democracy and American history might be called for. We should remember ‘I do not agree with what you have said but I will defend to the death your right to say it’ and perhaps ‘when people give up freedom for security they soon find they have neither’. And of course the courtroom scene in ‘Man for All Seasons’ where the prospect of tearing down every law to get the devil is  ultimately fatal — as those inconvenient laws also provide our own protection.

But secrecy is unfortunately a necessary part of life — commercial negotiations are generally kept secret until the deal is done, brokerage houses have ‘chinese walls’ between the corporate finance people and the traders, military planners try to keep their ideas secret until needed, and so on. Once the deal is done it becomes history and should eventually become public. Otherwise how will future generations ever know the how and why of key decisions? But governments should have a public strategy for making all this information available once its time sensitivity is expired.

Personally, I have found the leaks refreshing. Its nice to know that our governments view some leaders as cynically as the rest of us. It is sometimes a pity that this level of openness would be destructive to the process of making changes. What other value this has I don’t know. I am more wishing that the US took security a little more seriously. All the blood lust and outrage being expressed will not undo any of it — and these expressions do nothing to improve the image of ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’. That is what sucks about principles — they are nothing if not followed.

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