Julian Assange

Disclosure

America has always been a libertarian country—and right now, the suspicion of authority that defines our culture and politics seems particularly strong. By huge margins, Americans say they do not trust the federal government. On both the left and the right, conspiracy theories abound regarding the nefarious designs of power-mad politicians, colluding with the rich and well-connected to steal the freedoms of ordinary individuals.

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This bumper-sticker headline, borrowed from the sociologist Pauline Bart, speaks beautifully to the latest Wikileaks outpour and the question of what it does and doesn’t mean.  The media theorist Lev Manovich has said that the definitive informational metaphor of our epoch is the database. The database is not just a metaphor, in fact—it’s a certification of what knowledge looks like and how it is to be gained. A metaphor is a carrier, a condensation of meaning. A database is a heap.

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One of the most interesting ways in which the latest Wikileaks release of State Department cables has shone light on American foreign policy today has been the way it has revealed the degree of consensus that exists among policy intellectuals in the United States, regardless of where they hail from along the (mainstream) political spectrum.

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The Irony of Wikileaks

There’s no question that many of the Wikileaks documents are a great read. These diplomatic conversations between American officials and leaders from the Arab world, China, and Europe provide important insights about the subtleties of U.S. policy and the complexities of dealing with different personalities and governments around the world. But the disclosures are not just interesting; they are also ironic. That’s because they undermine the very worldview that Julian Assange and his colleagues at Wikileaks almost certainly support.

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With Wikileaks's most recent release of official U.S. documents, I experienced again one of the best things about having left government service: I don’t have to read State Department “telegrams” anymore. This is not to say that such cables are of no value. Foggy Bottom traffic has its virtues.

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“The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only.

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I'm in Spain and my copy of the Daniel Ellsberg edition of the Pentagon Papers is in Cambridge. So I do not have access to what I recall as the five volume edition he gave us. He had inscribed in the first volume his "personal thanks for your help in ending the Vietnam War." Unlike Ellsberg, I never was for the Vietnam war. I was against it from the beginning...and worked (not so modestly) to end it. Still, I recognize the importance of Ellsberg's turning. After all, he had been in the small Washington entourage of Robert McNamara and later in the Vietnam circle of Edwin Landsdale.

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 Since the mega–leak of 90,000 classified intelligence documents to three news organizations, WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, has held a follow up press conference and several subsequent interviews, prompting a flurry of counter briefings and reaction from the White House, the Pakistani government, and others. Yet the public, seeking a better understanding of the Afghan situation, is feeling scarcely more enlightened or empowered than they did a week ago.

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The final scene of the 1975 movie Three Days of the Condor is enough to make any journalist nostalgic. After two hours of dodging assassins and exposing corruption at the heart of the American government, Robert Redford finds sanctuary by making his way to 229 West 43rd Street—the iconic old address of The New York Times. There he confronts his CIA tormentor (played by Cliff Robertson), announcing that he has told a Times reporter everything he knows.

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