Secrecy and What Daniel Ellsberg Has Taught the Government

With the 40-year-late full release of the Pentagon Papers, CNN conducted an interview with the famous whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg. To me, this was the central question:

On June 23, 1971, in an interview with CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite, you said,  “I think the lesson is that the people of this country can’t afford to let the President run the country by himself, even foreign affairs, without the help of Congress, without the help of the public. I think we cannot let the officials of the Executive Branch determine for us what it is that the public needs to know about how well and how they are discharging their functions.” How concerned are you that elected officials haven’t learned those lessons?

The implication behind the question is obvious to antiwar readers. Our current political leaders and national security state are acting out secretive, unaccountable, unconstitutional, and dangerous political careers and the Imperial Presidency has garnered so much concentrated power and become so natural a characteristic of our system that few question its authority or prerogative. They have learned absolutely nothing from the lessons of 40 years ago.

So it makes sense that Obama is implementing a war on whistle-blowers from Julian Assange to Bradley Manning to Thomas Drake. It’s obvious though, that this war is not being waged for the stated reasons.

What is clear is that major leaks of secret government behavior or operations – while extremely important for the public to know – almost never threaten the so called national security or the safety of American citizens. It wasn’t long ago at all that crazed establishment types were hysterically calling Assange a terrorist for having released the diplomatic cables. Funny that they seemed to have quieted. Could it be that the transparency-terrorism they accused Assange of actually didn’t put any U.S. officials or citizens in danger, despite their initial claims and reactions?

The primary reason for government secrecy is to protect the government from their own populations, not monsters abroad. To classify in modern American government means essentially to hide government missteps, crimes, and wrongdoing and avoid the accountability that the public may demand if they were made aware of such activity.

There are too many examples to point to, but take just the last one I’ve read about. In one of the cables obtained by Wikileaks, and just reported on by the Nation among other publications, it was shown that the U.S. supported a fraudulent election in Haiti.

The United States, the European Union and the United Nations decided to support Haiti’s recent presidential and parliamentary elections despite believing that the country’s electoral body, “almost certainly in conjunction with President Preval,” had “emasculated the opposition” by unwisely and unjustly excluding the country’s largest party, according to a secret US Embassy cable.

…Haiti’s electoral body, the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), banned the Fanmi Lavalas (FL) from participating in the polls on a technicality. The FL is the party of then-exiled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was overthrown on February 29, 2004, and flown to Africa as part of a coup d’état that was supported by France, Canada, and the United States.

…Less than 23 percent of Haiti’s registered voters had their vote counted in either of the two presidential rounds, the lowest electoral participation rate in the hemisphere since 1945, according to the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Now, it’s not that the U.S. government keeps this secret because of sensitive war policy that if made public might induce an invasion or leave U.S. troops vulnerable. It’s because the U.S. wants to hold a reputation (based on pure myth) that it stands for freedom, democracy, and peace. This latest piece of undemocratic imperialism the U.S. has imposed on Haiti is barely a fraction of the whole: there is a very long U.S. history of secret coups, support for butchers and terrorists, invasions, and general savagery toward Haiti. But Haiti doesn’t represent any sort of threat to America. The classification of U.S. policy in this regard is to prevent the U.S. population from knowing about it. When people know about the criminal and murderous nature of U.S. imperialism, it’s harder to get away with it. Therefore, classify it.

One of the amazing things to me is that Dan Ellsberg is widely considered a hero nowadays. Even political leaders will laud and praise him. I’m sure it will only be a matter of time before accusations of terrorism recede into the ashamed dustbin of history, and Assange and Manning are equally thought of as heros. But I’m sure the political class will still condemn whatever contemporary is leaking their crimes.

Update: See here for how absurd government secrecy attempts have become post-Wikileaks:

In spite of the cables’ widespread availability, the government has continued to maintain that documents released by WikiLeaks and published by national and international newspapers are classified. The government’s decision to cling to a legal fiction rather than conform its secrecy regime to reality has led to absurd consequences. Congressional Research Service (CRS) analysts are blocked by the Library of Congress from using these widely available documents, even as Congress relies on CRS reports to inform new legislation. The Air Force blocked the entire websites of the New York Times and other major media outlets that posted the leaked cables. Perhaps the most troubling consequence of the government’s adamant refusal to incorporate common sense into its secrecy regime is that lawyers for Guantánamo detainees have been barred from reading or discussing leaked documents concerning their clients, even though these documents are posted on the websites of major national and internationalnewspapers and available to anyone in the world. The government has gone so far as to claim it is unable to comply with a court order that it provide guidance to lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees regarding how the lawyers may use those documents that are already publicly available.

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