Wikileaks continues to stir a lot of discussion. It seems to me that the US government’s reaction has so far been entirely counter-productive. The heavy-handed efforts to destroy the site’s ability to function has only fed the image that Wikileaks is the victim here. It seems pretty clear from past experience that it is pretty much impossible to prevent information hosted on one site from being replicated elsewhere on the internet if the original site is taken down. After it was taken down in the US, it has relocated its primary site to Europe, while dozens, if not hundreds, of mirror sites have sprung up all over the world. It seems clear that it will not be possible for the US government, even with the cooperation of other governments, to take down all these sites. And even if they did, new ones will just appear. All Wikileaks has to do is maintain its ability to upload new cables once in a while, and the mirrors will continue. Plus, the traditional newspapers that have collaborated with Wikileaks on releasing the materials will continue to publish the stories and the cables that accompany them.
If the US government can’t actually stop the release of the cables at this point, then what is the purpose of its attacks on Wikileaks and its founder? It seems to me that the goal is to punish Assange and his organization. As I’ve written before, I think publishing the cables is reprehensible. But at the same time, it seems to me that the way the government has chosen to go after Assange has only made it look like a bully, throwing its weight around, while Assange and Wikileaks have taken up the role of David courageously fighting off Goliath with whatever minimal resources it can find at hand. In this situation, world opinion will rapidly swing (if it hasn’t already) toward the underdog. Wikileaks will find much more support than it would have otherwise. And the US government’s standing in the world will be damaged more from its reaction than from the revelations in the cables themselves.
Domestic reaction within the US is also in flux. The policy of preventing government employees from viewing the cables, which I mentioned in my previous post on this subject, has now gotten widespread attention, especially because of ham-handed efforts to warn students at various universities that sharing information about the content of the cables may negatively impact their ability to get government jobs in the future. Again, the US government seems to be on the side of censorship and acting like “big brother.” Everyone on some level understands that getting a government job requires background checks, which involve doing things like checking people’s facebook accounts. But it really doesn’t help the government’s image to rub this fact in people’s faces, especially in the immediate aftermath of last month’s flap about overly intrusive airport screenings.
This is not to say that there should be no consequences for the leaks. If laws were broken by Wikileaks and/or Julian Assange, either those of the US or of another country, then the legal system should be used to prosecute the violator(s). And if Wikileaks’ actions aren’t actually illegal, then efforts to go after Assange and his organization seem even less appropriate.
The US government should stop its efforts to shut down Wikileaks, end its idiotic policy that prevents government employees and contractors from viewing the publicly available cables, and focus on changing its security procedures so that this type of leak can never happen again.