The More Things Change
The United States continues to deal with leaks in its midst. On one hand, attempting to stand for values such as freedom of speech and transparency in government, while on the other the government attempts to censor what it can when it is caught in outright deception. Despite President Obama's promise of transparent governance, the amount of effort his administration has expended in attempting to prosecute whistleblowers is unnerving. According to Glenn Greenwald,
“In 2008, candidate Obama hailed whistleblowing as 'acts of courage and patriotism', which 'should be encouraged rather than stifled as they have been during the Bush administration.' President Obama, however, has waged the most aggressive and vindictive assault on whistleblowers of any president in American history.”(Greenwald, “Whistleblower Pesecutions”)
The most recent incident pertains to PFC. Bradley Manning and Julian Assange's Wikileaks network, who released classified documents and videos that provided evidence of tactics, atrocities, and deception with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. (Davis) It is not the first time the United States has had such a crisis of conscience. Decades earlier, in the heat of the Vietnam War, Daniel Ellsberg released a study known as “The Pentagon Papers” that detailed continuous deception with the Vietnam War. (Davis) In order to understand the parallels between these two events, their history must be dissected. Secondly, what were and are the continued consequences? Lastly, what does the public think of these incidents?
The United States loves its secrets. Many people were shocked upon the release of “the Pentagon papers” – officially titled “United States – Vietnam Relations, 1945—1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense.” Composed by the Vietnam Study Task Force under orders of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, the record was meant as a historical study for later (US National Archives). However, it proved that the American people, and Congress, had been mislead not only by the Johnson administration, but other presidential administrations as well (Rockford). His story is not unique. One would be hard pressed to find someone who has not, at least in passing, heard of Wikileaks. The organization headed by Julian Assange, an Australian hacker and political activist, has hosted numerous leaks of diplomatic cables and sensitive internal documents with regards to businesses. These documents' origins tend to be from internal sources, or leaked as a result of “hacktivism” – hacking for a political cause. The site's infamy skyrocketed, however, with the release of the “Collateral Murder” video, featuring an attack on unarmed civilians in Iraq. Further leaks included thousands of top secret diplomatic cables and war documents (Fildes). The United States government accuses PFC. Bradley Manning, an intelligence analyst with the United States Army, of being responsible for most of the leaks. Manning was turned in by a would-be cohort, Adrian Lamo, after his attempt to provide access to the former hacker turned journalist, and to date he is the only individual currently being prosecuted for involvement in the United States (Poulsen and Zetter). Both Ellsberg and Manning had been severely disillusioned with their tasks at hand. Ellsberg managed to avoid prison due to a gross miscarriage of justice resulting in a mistrial, whereas Manning is a soldier and therefore subject to the much more authoritarian Uniform Code of Military Justice (Rockford). Manning's pretrial is ongoing at the time of this writing. He faces the death penalty, though prosecutors have stated they will not seek it (Zetter).
The impact of the Pentagon Papers showed that the Vietnam War was not merely relegated to fighting the Communists attempting to overtake South Vietnam. In fact, the war had moved on to the bombing of Cambodia and Laos, along with coastal raids in North Vietnam. President Johnson had said “we seek no wider war” while simultaneously planning for exactly that – a wider war. A memo revealed the biggest motivation for continuing the war was merely to avoid a humiliating defeat by U.S. Forces (Corell, Swaine). The biggest response, however, was an immense effect on the cynicism of the public. H.R. Haldeman, an aide to President Nixon, summarized it as such during a secretly recorded Oval Office meeting,
“Out of the gobbledegook comes a very clear thing... you can't trust the government, you can't believe what they say, and you can't rely on their judgment... The implicit infallibility of presidents, which has been an accepted thing in America, is badly hurt by this.” (Ellsberg, Swaine)
The response to Bradley Manning's leaks was much less pronounced outside of the intelligentsia and anti-war movement of the United States, but was immense internationally. One of his alleged leaks was the “Collateral Murder” video, showing a mostly unarmed group of civilians, including two Reuters journalists, being gunned down by two attack helicopters (Greenwald).Another involved the leak of tens of thousands of diplomatic cables, and some, including Denver Nicks, theorize it may have been a catalyst for the “Arab Spring,” particularly with regards to the Tunisian Revolution (Watts). He is also alleged to be responsible for the Afghan War documents leak, according to The New York Times, “a six-year archive of classified military documents [that] offers an unvarnished and grim picture of the Afghan war.” (Chivers, et al.) The Guardian called the material “one of the biggest leaks in U.S. military history... a devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents, Taliban attacks have soared and NATO commanders fear neighbouring Pakistan and Iran are fuelling the insurgency.” (Davies and Leigh) Both Ellsberg and Manning have been called traitors who put Americans in harms way. The public discourse by the Obama administration is that Wikileaks has caused “substantial damage,” but privately there is a confession that there is no evidence that their releases are more embarrassing than damaging (Hosenball).
Both Manning and Ellsberg's leaks have revealed deception on the part of the United States Government, but the knowledge of this has been more ammunition for those opposing US interests rather than any immense change in how government is viewed by the masses. As previously mentioned, Ellsberg's leak was the first of its kind, but it did not mark some sort of revolutionary change to an honest government – as Watergate would show soon thereafter. While time seems to have allowed Ellsberg to be forgotten by most, Manning's leaks are relatively fresh. Public opinion is highly divided on them – on one hand, there have been talks of him being nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize (“Manning for Nobel Peace Prize?”). On the other, President Obama, the former constitutional scholar, essentially declared him guilty without trial and reasoned behind his treatment as the documents that he leaked “not being classified in the same way.”
OBAMA: So people can have philosophical views [about Bradley Manning] but I can’t conduct diplomacy on an open source [basis]… That’s not how the world works.
And if you’re in the military… And I have to abide by certain rules of classified information. If I were to release material I weren’t allowed to, I’d be breaking the law.
We’re a nation of laws! We don’t let individuals make their own decisions about how the laws operate. He broke the law.
[Q: Didn't he release evidence of war crimes?]
OBAMA: What he did was he dumped…
[Q: Isn't that just the same thing as what Daniel Ellsberg did?]
OBAMA: No it wasn’t the same thing. Ellsberg’s material wasn’t classified in the same way. (Whitney)
It is a sad state of affairs that, despite these leaks, there seems to be no change. Americans keep believing in American exceptionalism, while the rest of the world looks on, flabbergasted, that a whistleblower like Manning would endure what Amnesty International called a violation of human rights, and that the majority of Americans would simply stand by and tolerate it (Morgan). Ellsberg himself has protested in support of Manning, saying that he was the “Manning of his day.” Ellsberg was even arrested during one such protest (Epstein). When it comes to Assange, who published Manning's leaks, the vast majority of Americans go as far as saying that the exposure harmed the public interest, and wish to see Assange – who is not an American citizen – arrested and charged for the release. Doubtlessly, many involved in foreign policy breathe a sigh of relief at this. Nevertheless, Americans seem divided by age, with the internet-raised youth being far more forgiving and understanding of the leaks than the older populace (Pew Research Center). In spite of the fact that the only real harm that came from the leaks is the embarrassment of the U.S., and revelations of deceit, the forecast looks dark and grim for transparency. For now, it seems, the American public has spoken: ignorance is bliss.
“Bradley Manning for Nobel Peace Prize?” RT – Russia Today. 6 Feb. 2012. Web. <http://rt.com/news/manning-nobel-peace-prize-631/>. Accessed 9 September 2012.
Chivers, C.J., et al. “View Is Bleaker Than Official Portrayal of War In Afghanistan.”The New York Times. 25 July 2010. Web. <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/26/world/asia/26warlogs.html?pagewanted=all>. Accessed 9 Sep. 2012.
Corell, John. “The Pentagon Papers.” Airforce-Magazine. Feb. 2007. Web <http://www.airforce-magazine.com/MagazineArchive/Pages/2007/February%202007/0207pentagon.aspx>. Accessed 9 Sep. 2012.
Davies, Nick and David Leigh. “Afghansitan War Logs: Massive Leak of Secret Files Exposes Truth of Occupation.” The Guardian. 25 July 2010. Web. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jul/25/afghanistan-war-logs-military-leaks>. Accessed 9 Sep. 2012.
Davis, Charles. “The Liberal Betrayal of Bradley Manning.” Salon.com. 10 Apr. 2012. Web. <http://www.salon.com/2012/04/10/the_liberal_betrayal_of_bradley_manning/>. Accessed 9 Sep. 2012.
Ellsberg, Daniel. “There Are Times To Spill The Secrets.” The New York Times. 28 Sep. 2004. Web. <http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/28/opinion/28iht-edellsberg.html?_r=1> Accessed 9 Sep. 2012.
Epstein, Jennifer. “Pentagon Papers Source Arrested At Protests.” Politico. 21 Mar. 2011. Web. <http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0311/51643.html>. Accessed 9 Sep. 2012.
Fildes, Jonathan. “What Is Wikileaks?” BBC. 7 Dec. 2010. Web. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-10757263> Accessed 9 Sep. 2012.
Greenwald, Glenn. “Obama Campaign Brags About Its Whistleblower Persecutions.” The Guardian. 5 Sep. 2012. Web <http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/05/obama-campaign-brags-about-whistleblower-persecutions?newsfeed=true> Accessed 9 Sep. 2012.
Hosenball, Mark. “Obama Administration Says WikiLeaks' Damage 'Substantial.'” Reuters. 18 Jan. 2011. Web. <http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/01/18/wikileaks-damage-idUSN1816319120110118>. Accessed 9 Sep. 2012.
Morgan, Sion. “Amnesty International Highlights Plight Of WikiLeaks Suspect Bradley Manning.” WalesOnline. 26 May 2012. Web. <http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2012/05/26/amnesty-international-highlights-plight-of-wikileaks-suspect-bradley-manning-91466-31046931/>. Accessed 9 Sep. 2012.
“Pentagon Papers.” The United States National Archives. Web. <http://www.archives.gov/research/pentagon-papers/>. Accessed 9 Sep. 2012.
Pew Research Center. “Most Say WikiLeaks Relase Harms Public Interest.” 8 Dec. 2012. Web. <http://www.people-press.org/2010/12/08/most-say-wikileaks-release-harms-public-interest/>. Accessed 9 Sep. 2012.
Rockford, Steven. “Dan Ellsberg and Bradley Manning.” Open Salon. 22 Aug. 2012. Web. <http://open.salon.com/blog/steven_rockford/2012/08/21/dan_ellsberg_bradley_manning>. Accessed 9 Sep. 2012.
Poulsen, Kevin and Kim Zetter. “U.S. Intelligence Analyst Arrested In Wikileaks Video Probe.” Wired. 6. Jun 2010. Web. <http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/06/leak/>. Accessed 9 Sep. 2012.
Swaine, Jon. “The Impact of the Pentagon Papers 40 Years On.” The Telegraph. 13 Jun. 2011. Web. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/8573899/The-impact-of-The-Pentagon-Papers-40-years-on.html> Accessed 9 Sep. 2012.
Watts, James D. “Private: Bradley Manning, Wikileaks, and the Biggest Exposure of Official Secrets in American History.” Tulsa World. 1 July 2012. Web. <http://www.tulsaworld.com/site/printerfriendlystory.aspx?articleid=20120701_67_G4_CUTLIN864690&PrintComments=1> Accessed 9 Sep. 2012.
Whitney, Michael. “Obama on Manning: 'He Broke The Law.' So Much For That Trial?” FDL. 22 Apr. 2012. Web. <http://fdlaction.firedoglake.com/2011/04/22/obama-on-manning-he-broke-the-law-so-much-for-that-trial/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A%20CampaignSilo%20%28Jane%20Hamsher%20Campaign%20Silo%29>. Accessed 9 Sep. 2012.
Zetter, Kim. “Bradley Manning To Face All Charges In Court-Martial.” Wired. 3 Feb. 2012. Web. <http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/02/manning-to-be-court-martialed/> Accessed 9 Sep. 2012.