WikiLeaks: The Touchstone Your reaction speaks volumes


WikiLeaks is a touchstone. Amid all the brouhaha and legal shenanigans engaged in by various governments — the Brits, the Swedes, the Americans — the prospect of having a web site devoted to spilling the secrets of the elites has brought out everyone’s true colors. To those truly devoted to liberty, it has evoked cheers; for those with other agendas, it has provided a target for their polemical arrows.

The cheers, sad to say, have been few and far between: the jeers, however, have been deafening. The legacy media, which has led the pack in denouncing WikiLeaks, is intent on keeping its gatekeeper role, no matter what price is to be paid. Our "journalists" are even ready to sacrifice the First Amendment, just as long as they’re assured the Information Police won’t be coming for them anytime soon.

Aside from the few cheers, the WikiLeaks case has inspired three responses from its critics: hypocrisy, vitriol, and outright weirdness.

None are more hypocritical than former New York Sun chess-columned turned "national security expert" Gabriel Schoenfeld, a neocon who spent a great many months some years ago defending Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman from accusations of having committed espionage on behalf of Israel.

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Charged with violating the Espionage Act — the same legal weapon the administration is said to be preparing to prosecute Julian Assange — Rosen and Weissman engaged in a two-year-long effort to procure highly classified US secrets from Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin. Successful in their quest, they summarily handed over the stolen information to top officials at the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., with whom they regularly met. Unbeknownst to them, the FBI was on their trail, and they were arrested and prosecuted.

The AIPAC defendants had no more energetic defender than Mr. Schoenfeld: if the two traitors were convicted, he averred, then every journalist in Washington, whose job it is to collect information, would be imperiled. In high dudgeon, he wrote:

"The Justice Department has irresponsibly confused the distinction between spying and lobbying. Keith Weissman and Steven J. Rosen, two former employees of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying organization, are charged with unlawfully receiving and transmitting classified national-defense information. The stakes are high."

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He then approvingly noted the judge in the case had "decided a pivotal preliminary issue in the Weissman-Rosen case. The defense has subpoenaed 20 present and former administration officials to appear as witnesses for its side, including Elliott Abrams, Richard Armitage, Douglas Feith, Dennis Ross, Paul Wolfowitz, Stephen Hadley and Condoleezza Rice. The idea is to use their testimony to demonstrate that their clients had every reason to believe that what Mr. Franklin told them in conversation — no classified documents ever changed hands in this case — was part and parcel of the normal back-channel method by which the U.S. government sometimes conveys information to the media and/or to allied countries, in this case, to Israel."

Move along, nothing to see here…

In spite of the fact that Rosen and Weissman had been caught red-handed turning over highly classified information regarding al-Qaeda, nuclear secrets, and Iran to Israeli government officials — and thus were clearly acting as agents of a foreign power — Schoenfeld demanded their release and cried "Persecution!":

"Under the circumstances, this is a case that should never have been brought. No fair-minded jury could conclude that Mr. Weissman and Mr. Rosen acted with criminal intent. Jurors will see only two lobbyists going about their jobs, interacting with government officials in an ordinary fashion as other lobbyists do all the time. Yes, protecting classified information is crucial to our national defense. But the law is narrowly and properly tailored to protect innocent people from becoming ensnared by it."

Ah, but WikiLeaks is a horse of a different color, according to Schoenfeld. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, he avers:

"WikiLeaks is something else. It is not informing our democracy but waging war on its ability to conduct diplomacy and defend itself. If Mr. Assange were tried before a jury and sent to jail, our security would be enhanced and our cherished freedoms not abridged one whit."

According to Schoenfeld and the War Street Journal, if WikiLeaks had obtained those classified documents and then duly turned them over to the Israeli government, Assange would be one of the Good Guys, a mere "lobbyist" on behalf of transparency, and engaged in doing what journalists in Washington do "all the time." Unfortunately, he took those classified cables and put them on the web, for all to see: therefore, he is "waging war" on the US government and ought to be prosecuted.

How’s that for hypocrisy?

Turning to vitriol, we have the example of Michael Moynihan, and Reason magazine: both have taken the lead, among ostensibly "libertarian" publications, in going after WikiLeaks and Assange, hammer and tongs. Moynihan, a senior editor at Reason, has written a number of pieces for the magazine smearing WikiLeaks. In one article, he avers that Assange is not a journalist but a "political activist" — precisely the formulation used by the Obama administration to lay the groundwork for prosecuting WikiLeaks under the Espionage Act.

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December 20, 2010