Army Pfc. Bradley Manning has confessed to providing military and diplomatic secrets to WikiLeaks, pleading guilty to 10 criminal counts for what he once braggingly—and erroneously—called “the largest data spillage in American history.” In fact, what Manning perpetrated was the purposeful, premeditated and arguably treasonous publication of stolen national-security secrets. This was not a leak or a spill.
It pays to recall that this poster-child hero of the anti-war left gave U.S. military and diplomatic secrets to an anarchist group. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange openly admits that he wants to “bring down many administrations that rely on concealing reality—including the U.S. administration.” Likewise, Manning once boasted about “worldwide anarchy in CSV format,” a reference to the kind of files he surrendered to Assange.
Over the years, Assange and his anarchists have published operations manuals for the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay; classified reports on the Battle of Fallujah; detailed information on U.S. military equipment, by unit, in Iraq; gun-camera footage of a U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad; a U.S. Special Forces manual for bolstering allied governments; CIA strategies to shore up public support among allied populations for the war in Afghanistan; Social Security numbers of U.S. military personnel; and private diplomatic exchanges.
In addition, as USAToday reports, WikiLeaks has exposed U.S. efforts to remove nuclear materials from Pakistan, State Department plans to use diplomatic personnel as spies, quid-pro-quos offered by the Obama administration to persuade foreign governments to take on Gitmo detainees, cover-ups of missile attacks in Yemen, and support among Arab leaders to strike Iran.
While serving in Iraq, Manning downloaded classified videos, thousands of battlefield reports and 251,287 diplomatic cables. “I listened and lip-synched to Lady Gaga,” he bragged in a text exchange, “while exfiltrating possibly the largest data spillage in American history.”
Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called WikiLeaks’ publication of secret diplomatic cables “an attack on America’s foreign policy interests.” According to Clinton, Manning’s WikiLeaks time bomb “puts people’s lives in danger, threatens our national security and undermines our efforts to work with other countries to solve shared problems.”
Manning says he stole and transferred the data to illustrate “how the world would be a better place if states would not make secret deals with each other.”
What a silly, childish notion.
In fact, we all know from personal experience that secrecy often serves an important purpose. For instance, if Assange and Manning—both in serious legal trouble—really believed secrecy was so bad, why wouldn’t they post their consultations with counsel on YouTube or share their defense strategies with the world on WikiLeaks?
The answer is the very same reason why nation-states keep some things secret. Indeed, it is often secrecy—not transparency—that keeps the world from spinning out of control.
The Assanges and Mannings of the world will never accept it, but shadows and secrets are necessary to conduct diplomacy and carry out the sort of national-security strategy that deters and ends wars.
That’s one of the sad ironies of Assange’s WikiLeaks. By exposing secret decisions and actions that relate to foreign policy and national security, he thinks he is promoting peace. But in truth, his handiwork is doing the very opposite: It has a chilling effect on the very sorts of exchanges that avert war or limit its effects, thus increasing isolation—and decreasing understanding—between governments.
History shows us the benefit of shadows.
Working in the shadows, TR prevented a war over Venezuela and ended a war between Russia and Japan.
The Allies used shadows to orchestrate their deception before D Day.
Thanks to the shadow of secrecy, FDR launched the Manhattan Project, and Truman used its fruits to end World War II.
Quoting Gen. Stonewall Jackson, Ike once advised, “Always surprise, mystify and mislead the enemy.” He employed this formula to end the Korean War and prevent a war over Taiwan.
JFK and Khrushchev negotiated a way around World War III, thanks to shadows and back-channel diplomacy.
Reagan won the Cold War by waging an economic, intelligence, technological and propaganda war against the Soviet state—largely in the shadows.
To be sure, we know about these episodes today—and can learn from them—because secret records, cables and diaries have been declassified. But if they had been revealed in real-time—or if the principals thought what they were saying, doing and promising would be exposed in short order—history would be very different.
In short, some things need to be classified. And it’s not Bradley Manning’s or Julian Assange’s responsibility or right to determine what to declassify.
Tellingly, this war on secrecy waged by Manning, Assange and WikiLeaks is one-sided. They’ve aired the military strategy, diplomatic planning and dirty laundry of America and its allies—but not that of America’s enemies. There is no Iranian, North Korean, Taliban or al Qaeda equivalent to WikiLeaks. And whereas much of the Western world tolerates and some even applaud people like Assange and Manning, the Russian and Chinese governments simply erase people who expose their secrets.
In other words, WikiLeaks, whether unintentionally or purposely, puts the United States and its allies at a disadvantage. Some will say this has always been true of democratic governments vis-à-vis their dictatorial foes. But timing is everything. And WikiLeaks is shrinking the amount of time between policy formation, policy execution and public airing—and thus shrinking the shadows where American foreign and defense policy can work.
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