Monday, December 6, 2010

Hysterical Nonsense About Wikileaks

Josh Marshall asked this presumably rhetorical question over at Talking Points Memo:
Let's say that the Wikileaks cables hadn't been State Department cables but rather the final tracks of Lady Gaga's next album or perhaps each episode of next season's Mad Men? How long do you think they would have stayed online?

Food For Thought
Do you ever get the feeling that Mr. Marshall's lack of curiosity about things he isn't supposed to know is one of the reasons he was so enamored of the Iraq War, when anyone with the least bit of sense would have realized that the Bush Administration's case for Iraqi WMDs was a sham?

Tell you what, let's turn this bit of crust into a real meal:

Suppose you're the president of the publishing company that has the rights to Lady Gaga's songs and Mad Men. Let's further suppose that you have been embezzling funds from that company, and that you've been keeping that and other losses a secret from your stock holders and the board of directors of your company. Let's further suppose that the true situation is hidden somehow in the digital files of Lady Gaga's songs and the director's commentaries on the Mad Men DVDs. You meant to get around to scrubbing them, but some whistleblower stole them and published them on the Internet first.

Now, just for the sake of argument, do you think that when these things are released, your primary concern is:
  1. The loss of profit due to intellectual property theft, or
  2. Being arrested?
For extra points, here's another question, do you think that there would be lots of conveniently incurious people in the press who'd focus on the theft of intellectual property from your seemingly fabulously profitable corporation, and ignore the felonies that "intellectual property" revealed?

Sadly, in today's America, the answers would be (1) and "yes".

Afterword: Let's just remind ourselves of this bit of the executive order covering handling of classified information:
Sec. 1.7. Classification Prohibitions and Limitations.
(a)   In no case shall information be classified, continue to be maintained as classified, or fail to be declassified in order to:

(1)   conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error;
(2)   prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency;
(3)   restrain competition; or
(4)   prevent or delay the release of information that does not require protection in the interest of the national security.
(b)   Basic scientific research information not clearly related to the national security shall not be classified.

Executive Order 13526
Note particularly that information may not be classified to cover up a crime. That is one of the problems with classified information - releasing it without it being declassified is a crime, but so is classifying it to cover up a crime or to prevent personal embarrassment. Without whistleblowers willing to release such information to the public, there is no way, independent of the federal government, of determining whether it was classified illegally or not.

I have yet to see any critics of the Wikileaks site note this conundrum. If you happen to know of one, please leave it in the comments. I'd love to see what they have to say about it.

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