National security, public interest, Manning, Assange and Wikileaks

11 Dec

National security is usually an overriding reason given by governments to suppress information or persecute those who choose to release these information to the public. Yet, when it comes to defining national security, most officials would have a difficult time, trying to justify the need to classify these information as confidential.

For instance, this MSNBC report claims that the recent wikileaks cables endangered overseas American interests and security as the locations of factories, ports and fuel companies have been released and are now easy target by potential terrorists. This argument is fallacious for two main reasons. Firstly, various key U.S. facilities abroad are already searchable within the public domain. For instance, the locations of  US military bases overseas such as Pine Gap in Australia or Diego Garcia controlled by Great Britain. Moreover, the release of the list of these facilities raises another important question on the need for U.S to use ‘apparently innocuous’ places for its covert operations. This can be glimpsed from the identified critical infrastructure which include a Danish insulin plant, an Australian anti-snake venom company and a DRC cobalt mine. The public ought to know why and what these facilities are used by the U.S.

Other released cables reveals information that have significant public interest. For instance, it was disclosed that terrorist groups have managed to attack nuclear weapons sites in Pakistan. According to a Washington expert, this is counterproductive for the West to keep quiet about its fears. In another cable, the American and British government secretly created a loophole allowing the former to store cluster munitions in the Diego Garcia military base even though the latter is a signatory to the munitions treaty. In both examples, it becomes clear that these undisclosed information has less to do with national security than a need to cover up issues of public interest or secret dealings amongst governments.

In light of these revelations, the people behind Wikileaks including the whistleblowers ought to be protected rather than persecuted. The intimidation against Bradley Manning who was alleged to have leaked the Iraq War Logs, Afghanistan War Logs, and US embassy cables; and Julian Assange, the editor-in-chief of Wikileaks are the two most prominent cases to date. Manning, a US army intelligence analyst faces court martial and a jail term of up to 52 years if convicted while Assange faces a possible extradition to the U.S for Espionage.

The claim that national security can be protected by suppressing information amongst  member states needs to be challenged. Individuals such as Assange and Manning (if he is indeed the leaker) and organisations the likes of Wikileaks serve the essential role of ensuring that national security is prevented from becoming a convenient excuse into misleading the public to accept government propaganda.

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