Obsessive government secrecy serves itself, not you, and still endangers lives

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There are a lot of interesting things to be learned indirectly from all of these Wikileaks document dumps. The most visible lesson, of course, is that governments regularly lie to their citizens to further unpopular agendas, hiding evidence of unspeakable war crimes and attrocities by the military and intelligence agencies without any meaningful accountability from Congress or the public.

Less visible is the irony that while the U.S. government consistently cries wolf over the potential danger to informants and the like from these document dumps -- and while no person has even gotten so much as a nosebleed as a result contrary to these exaggerated complaints -- the act of obsessive government secrecy itself is actually and truly putting lives in danger.

One important finding in the 9/11 commission report was the lack of information sharing between America's various intelligence agencies (over 15 in total) that prevented any one agency from putting the whole picture together to prevent the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. These barriers were erected after President Nixon abused those intelligence agencies to spy on his personal political enemies as safeguards to protect the privacy and safety of the American people.

Many of these artificial barriers were eliminated during the Bush administration and a Congress so terrified of its own shadow that they probably would have repealed the entire bill of rights of George Bush had asked them to.

It's debatable whether removing those barriers was necessary, or even if they would have enabled the prevention of 9/11 and if they now have made the country any more safe. No evidence has ever been provided by the government proving -- or even claiming -- that greater information sharing has stopped new attacks. And given the government's propensity for obsessive secrecy, the public in any normal situation would have no way of knowing whether or not this has led to new privacy violations or renewed illegal behavior:

An internal audit found the FBI broke the law thousands of times when requesting Americans’ phone records using fake emergency letters that were never followed up on with true subpoenas — even though top officials knew the practice was illegal, according to The Washington Post.

This revelation was the result of government leaks to the media, the exact same thing that Wikileaks is doing today.

Wikileaks threatens any government's ability to keep such lawbreaking a secret (as the press used to do before it became propagandists and loyal servants to the royal court), making it difficult or impossible to hold the high government officials responsible even in the court of public opinion, to say nothing of the court of law.

The inherent contradiction in the government's actions in the early 2000s and what they are doing now also makes either decision difficult to defend or justify as necessary.

If the safety barriers between intelligence agencies were removed because they were making us "less safe", then by definition, the Obama administration is putting lives in danger by putting those barriers back in place. And it is doing that in order to protect what amount to little more than embarrassing text messages, or in the case of the "collateral murder" video, evidence of flagrant atrocities against civilians.

If putting those barriers back up are what will make this country safer (along with re-empowering the government to keep petty, embarrassing secrets safely hidden away thereby denying the public the power and right of accountability) then the Bush administration, by definition, made this country less safe when it took them down.

There are probably good arguments for having or not having those safety barriers that are not mutually exclusive. But claims to their necessity/hindrance cannot simultaneously be true, and the motives behind the changes honest.

The cynical way of seeing these two events is that the Bush administration was willing to (and did) sacrifice the public's privacy and endanger their freedom by allowing the CIA and NSA to gather information on them and then share it with the FBI, which actually has the authority to prosecute. And the Obama administration is equally as willing to allow another 9/11-style information sharing disaster just to prevent the public from reading the government's petty and utterly irrelevant comments about other country's diplomats and foreign leaders that amount to little more than royal court gossip.

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This page contains a single entry by Paul William Tenny published on November 30, 2010 3:27 PM.

What Julian Assange/Wikileaks does is not illegal was the previous entry in this blog.

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