Defenders of WikiLeaks have portrayed Bradley Manning and Julian Assange as heroes who only want transparency, and who did no real harm.
In fact, WikiLeaks has put lives at risk and damaged international attempts to rid Zimbabwe of the Mugabe regime. And beyond that, Wikileaks has damaged our ability to conduct diplomacy, where off-the-record frank conversations are critical.
Defenders of WikiLeaks have constructed a justification that Manning is just another Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame someone who sought to bring truth to the historical account of major events, and Assange as merely a conduit. Since Ellsberg is something of a folk hero to the left, the comparison has a superficial appeal.
Thanks go out to Floyd Abrams, one of the premier First Amendment lawyers in the country (and a Senior Partner at the law firm I worked at right out of law school) who represented The NY Times in the Pentagon Papers case, for destroying the Ellsberg analogy.
In an Op-Ed in The Wall Street Journal, Abrams explains that unlike Manning and Assange, Ellsberg specifically held back a large stash of diplomatic documents:
In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg decided to make available to the New York Times (and then to other newspapers) 43 volumes of the Pentagon Papers, the top- secret study prepared for the Department of Defense examining how and why the United States had become embroiled in the Vietnam conflict. But he made another critical decision as well. That was to keep confidential the remaining four volumes of the study describing the diplomatic efforts of the United States to resolve the war.
Not at all coincidentally, those were the volumes that the government most feared would be disclosed. In a secret brief filed with the Supreme Court, the U.S. government described the diplomatic volumes as including information about negotiations secretly conducted on its behalf by foreign nations including Canada, Poland, Italy and Norway. Included as well, according to the government, were “derogatory comments about the perfidiousness of specific persons involved, and statements which might be offensive to nations or governments.”
The diplomatic volumes were not published, even in part, for another dozen years. Mr. Ellsberg later explained his decision to keep them secret, according to Sanford Ungar’s 1972 book “The Papers & The Papers,” by saying, “I didn’t want to get in the way of the diplomacy.”
Julian Assange sure does. Can anyone doubt that he would have made those four volumes public on WikiLeaks regardless of their sensitivity? Or that he would have paid not even the slightest heed to the possibility that they might seriously compromise efforts to bring a speedier end to the war?
Abrams goes on to point out the there are valid grounds for an indictment of WikiLeaks under the 1917 Espionage Act and that “if Mr. Assange were found to have communicated and retained the secret information with the intent to harm the United States—some of his statements can be so read—a conviction might be obtained.”
Thank you Mr. Abrams, for scraping off the gloss people like Glenn Greenwald are putting on the whole WikiLeaks affair.
Manning, Assange and the others involved in WikiLeaks should be prosecuted. The real wonder is why this wasn’t done months ago.