Monday, November 29, 2010

Wikileaks vs. The Pentagon Papers

Who says investigative journalism is dead or that the blogosphere doesn't have journalistic clout ? Wikileaks has a reach that the New York Times could only dream of when it published the Pentagon Papers in 1971   Mountains of wiki- data  can circle the globe in minutes in a variety of languages with the potential of making very big worldwide waves.   Here's the announcement  that went up on the site yesterday:
 On Sunday 28th November 2010, Wikileaks began publishing 251,287 leaked United States embassy cables, the largest set of confidential documents ever to be released into the public domain. The documents will give people around the world an unprecedented insight into the US Government's foreign activities.
The cables, which date from 1966 to the end of February this year, contain confidential communications between 274 embassies in countries throughout the world and the State Department in Washington DC. 15,652 of the cables are classified Secret.
To access the Cable gate, go to
The numbers are huge-- the possible ramifications to both world politics and personal privacy are mind boggling. The world is already reeling, but only time will tell whether these diplomatic cables are simply an embarrassment to the international  establishment or will have the kind of far reaching, long lasting effect that the 1971 disclosures of the Pentagon Papers did.

Those 1971 leaks from the Pentagon, proving that the American government not only lied to the American people, but to the Congress as well about the war in Viet Nam  cast a long shadow that extended far beyond the war itself and well into the Nixon Administration.

A lot of the diplomatic cables published yesterday on the Wikileaks site amount to nothing more than juicy " court gossip" like the fact that Libyan leader Mumamar al-Qadhafi keeps a "voluptuous blonde" Ukranian nurse and won't stay in  hotel rooms above the first floor.  There are funny but snarky comments bandied about in diplomatic circles,  like the observation that Russian President, Dimitry Medvedev, " plays Robin to Vladimir Putin's Batman"

But there is also the serious stuff, like the cables from the Saudi Arabian King urging America to bomb Iran to " cut off the head of the snake before it is too late." Reading the  cables also makes it clear just how ill advised and reckless the Bush Administration's  Iraq adventure really was.  Saudi Arabia was always far more worried about Iran than Iraq.  We shall have to wait to see what the reprecussions of all this will be.

Julian Assange vs. Daniel Ellsberg

Julian Assange the founder of Wikileaks is a man on the run who has given up a lot for his principles.  Calls for his prosecution and howls of outrage are echoing around the world and God help him if he ever gets caught. .Daniel Ellsberg would know about that.  Here's a description of what he had to deal with. ( source:  U.S. )
On June 28, 1971, Ellsberg publicly surrendered at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston. He was taken into custody believing he would spend the rest of his life in prison; he was charged with theft, conspiracy, and espionage.
In one of Nixon's actions against Ellsberg, G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt broke into Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office in September 1971, hoping to find information they could use to discredit him. The revelation of the break-in became part of the Watergate scandal. On May 3, 1972, the White House secretly flew a dozen Cuban CIA "assets" (commandos), to Washington, D.C., with orders to assault or assassinate Ellsberg. They backed out because the crowd was too large.
Because of the gross governmental misconduct, all charges against Ellsberg were eventually dropped, a president eventually resigned, and a large segment of the American populace became disenfranchised and alienated from their government at all levels. 
Some things never change and actions very often have unintended consequences.  We know that Daniel Ellsberg's leak of the Pentagon Papers helped end a war, affected Presidential actions and reputations and created a climate of suspicion about government in the American people that has not gotten better over the years.

The only difference I can see between  The Pentagon Papers and Wikileaks is the speed with which the information can be communicated, the mass of the information itself, and, the fact that the reach of the information is global not just national. The consequences, whatever they are, will come fast and be global in nature too. I don't think we are going to have to wait too long for them either.

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