No Comment — March 19, 2010, 10:47 am

The Pentagon Loses a Skirmish with WikiLeaks

What does the Pentagon have in common with North Korea, China, Zimbabwe, and a number of private Swiss banks? They all feel threatened by WikiLeaks, the Internet service that offers whistleblowers an opportunity to publish documents that expose corruption and wrongdoing by state and private actors. This week, WikiLeaks published a 32-page secret Defense Department counterintelligence study of WikiLeaks, which suggests that the American military was preparing to (or perhaps even did) attempt to hack into and shut down the site:

(S//NF) The obscurification technology[9] used by Wikileaks.org has exploitable vulnerabilities. Organizations with properly trained cyber technicians, the proper equipment, and the proper technical software could most likely conduct computer network exploitation (CNE) operations or use cyber tradecraft to obtain access to Wikileaks.org’s Web site, information systems, or networks that may assist in identifying those persons supplying the data and the means by which they transmitted the data to Wikileaks.org.

The report expressly cites China, Israel, North Korea, Russia, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe as nations that have taken steps against WikiLeaks, and it suggests other actions that could be taken by the United States. Noting that WikiLeaks relies upon “trust as a center of gravity by protecting the anonymity and identity of the insiders, leakers or whisteblowers,” it proposes that

The identification, exposure, termination of employment, criminal prosecution, legal action against current or former insiders, leakers, or whistleblowers could potentially damage or destroy this center of gravity and deter others considering similar actions from using the Wikileaks.org Web site.

What has the Pentagon so riled up? WikiLeaks published documents about U.S. equipment deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, materials on the use of certain gas agents in Iraq, and the Standard Operating Procedures for Guantánamo (SOP), which established in the minds of many critics (and legal authorities around the world) that the Bush Administration had in fact embraced practices designed to abuse or mistreat prisoners there and conceal the details of their treatment from the public and from the Red Cross. Cross-referencing the SOP against conduct reported in the NCIS investigation into the three alleged “suicides” of June 9, 2006, was, for instance, a principal tool used by researchers at Seton Hall Law School to discredit the NCIS conclusions. If those conclusions were accurate, then prison guards were engaged in systematic violation of fundamental provisions of the SOP with no disciplinary consequences.

Each of these disclosures was intensely embarrassing to the United States, leading to press coverage that tended to show that the United States was acting in conscious disregard of its legal obligations. But the Pentagon study turns this around:

Wikileaks.org is knowingly encouraging criminal activities such as the theft of data, documents, proprietary information, and intellectual property, possible violation of national security laws regarding sedition and espionage, and possible violation of civil laws. Within the United States and foreign countries the alleged ?whistleblowers? are, in effect, wittingly violating laws and conditions of employment and thus may not qualify as ?whistleblowers protected from disciplinary action or retaliation for reporting wrongdoing in countries that have such laws. Also, the encouragement and receipt of stolen information or data is not considered to be an ethical journalistic practice.

By this reasoning, every time a newspaper encourages a whistleblower to recount his experiences or to share a document that confirms them, the journalists are engaging in a criminal act. This suggests that the Pentagon’s copy of the U.S. Constitution is missing the First Amendment, or perhaps that the Defense Department has secured another one of those dodgy OLC memos stating that the First Amendment no longer applies to it.

The Pentagon study, which is classified “secret/noforn” is also revealing of the current Pentagon practice of classifying documents as “secret” because they would be embarrassing if published. The report draws entirely on public documents and public source materials, so nothing contained in it is in fact “secret.” In an ironic twist, the memo itself helps provide a justification for the existence of websites like WikiLeaks.

In 1960, a congressional committee, recognizing the need to rein in the extravagant claims of secrecy that were thriving in the Department of Defense and intelligence community, observed that

Secrecy—the first refuge of incompetents—must be at a bare minimum in a democratic society, for a fully informed public is the basis of self-government. Those elected or appointed to positions of executive authority must recognize that government, in a democracy, cannot be wiser than the people.

A young congressman from Illinois who supported the legislation put it just as sharply, saying that the forced disclosure of government information

will make it considerably more difficult for secrecy-minded bureaucrats to decide arbitrarily that people should be denied access to information on the conduct of government or to how a …. government official is handling his job. Public records, which are the evidence of official government action, are public property, and there should be a positive obligation to disclose this information upon request.

His name was Donald Rumsfeld.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

No Comment March 28, 2014, 12:32 pm

Scott Horton Debates John Rizzo on Democracy Now!

On CIA secrecy, torture, and war-making powers

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

August 2014

The End of Retirement

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Octopus and Its Grandchildren

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Francis and the Nuns

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Return of the Strongman

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
“From the nerd squabbles of Internet discussion threads rose an urban legend that culminated in a film that hinges on digging through my town’s trash.”
Illustration (detail) by Timothy Taranto
Article
Return of the Strongman·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If Tunisia is where the Arab Spring began, Egypt seems poised to become its burial ground.”
Photograph (detail) © Ahmed Ismail / Getty Images
Article
The Seductive Catastrophe·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The world’s leaders were moved by a populace fused into a forward phalanx, were shaken by a tidal wave of militancy jubilantly united.”
Photograph courtesy Mary Evans Picture Library
Article
Me, Myself, and Id·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The one defining trait of the narcissist is that it’s always someone else.
Painting (detail) by Gianni Dagli Orti
Post
The Many Faces of Boko·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“People want education. Open a school and they will rush.”
Photograph © The author

Average number of sitcom laughs an American hears during a prime-time season:

12,000

Czech and German deer still do not cross the Iron Curtain.

British economists correlated the happiness of a country’s population with its genetic resemblance to Danes.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today