Assange, Manning, and the Rosenbergs: Is nothing secret anymore?
Yet another twist to the epic of Wikileaks aka Cablegate.
Robert Meeropol has posted a defense of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on the site of the Rosenberg Foundation for Children, the foundation of which he is executive director. The article can also be read on Alternet.
Meeropol’s views about the topic of espionage and treason carry more weight than those of many. His parents were Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed in 1953 on charges of conspiracy to commit espionage, for passing secrets about nuclear weapons to the Soviet Union. The Rosenbergs were American communists and were the first US citizens to be executed for espionage.
The modern version of that act states among many, many other things that: “Whoever, for the purpose of obtaining information respecting the national defense with intent or reason to believe that the information is to be used to the injury of the United States” causes the disclosure or publication of this material, could be subject to massive criminal penalties. It also states that: “If two or more persons conspire to violate any of the foregoing provisions … each of the parties to such conspiracy shall be subject to the punishment provided for the offense which is the object of such conspiracy.” (18 U.S. Code, Chapter 37, Section 793.)
Noting that he views the Espionage Act as a ‘lifelong nemesis’—it was under this law that his parents were charged and executed—Meeropol argues that the act is really a covert means to transform ‘dissent into treason.’ During World War I, he says, the act was used to ‘squelch opposition’ to dissenters by criminalizing any ‘criticism of the war effort,’ with the result that ‘hundreds of dissenters [were sent] to jail just for voicing their opinions.’ Meeropol argues for Ethel Rosenberg’s innocence, saying that:
the only evidence presented against my mother was David and Ruth Greenglasses’ testimony that she was present at a critical espionage meeting and typed up David’s handwritten description of a sketch. Although this testimony has since been shown to be false, even if it were true, it would mean that the government of the United States executed someone for typing.
Thus, anyone ‘anyone involved in the Wikileaks community’ could be accused of conspiring against the US. Once the US government has one member of Wikileaks in its custody, ‘the prosecutors could seek to bully some involved into ratting out others, in return for more favorable treatment.’
Of course, the US government has someone in custody who is directly involved in Cablegate, if not an actual (card-carrying?) member of Wikileaks. 23-year-old Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning is accused of passing thousands of secret government documents to WikiLeaks and is now being held in solitary confinement since May at Quantico, Va.
While the cases of the Rosenbergs and of Assange and Manning have many similarities, Wikileaks can be said to be far more complex and, ultimately, will be far more complicated to unravel. Every major news media outlet around the world has published commentary about the ethical, moral, political and even philosophical implications of Wikileaks regarding issues of state security, free speech, the Internet. In the case of Wikileaks, we know that top-secret documents were leaked not only to ‘the Russians,’ but to everybody and who can get online and access the files on the Guardian and the New York Times.
As computer scientist Jaron Lanier writes in the December 20th Atlantic:
The ideology that drives a lot of the online world – not just Wikileaks but also mainstream sites like Facebook – is the idea that information in sufficiently large quantity automatically becomes Truth. For extremists, this means that the Internet is coming alive as a new, singular, global, post-human, superior life form. For more moderate sympathizers, if information is truth, and the truth will set you free, then adding more information to the Internet automatically makes the world better and people freer.
But …….. the number of secrets falls with each passing minute and gradually approaches zero, what does that do to the world? Would a world without secrets be fairer, or more compassionate? More efficient? Does it matter if some secrets are revealed before others?
Does it matter if your credit card numbers, the PIN to your bank account, and your email, Facebook, and Twitter passwords are revealed before others?
Photo by dkalo.