Secrecy, like openness, remains an essential prerequisite of American self-governance. To be effective, even many of the most mundane aspects of democratic rule, from the development of policy alternatives to the selection of personnel, must often take place behind closed doors. To proceed always under the glare of the public would cripple deliberation and render government impotent. Yet leaks of even the most sensitive national security secrets have been a perennial problem, one with many undesirable effects, especially when our plans and capabilities are telegraphed to mortal adversaries like al Qaeda.
Technology is now compounding our difficulties. An outfit called wikileaks.org has developed what it calls “an uncensorable version of Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking.” The website promises leakers complete confidentiality using “cutting-edge cryptographic technologies with the transparency and simplicity of a wiki interface.” Most recently it published a classified Pentagon video of an airstrike in Afghanistan that caused civilian casualties.
Glenn Greenwald has now marshaled the evidence that the U.S. government is hitting back: “That WikiLeaks is being targeted by the U.S. Government for surveillance and disruption is beyond doubt," he writes at Salon.
In today’s edition of the invaluable Secrecy News, published by the Federation of American Scientists, Steven Aftergood scrutinizes Greenwald’s contention:
In support of this conclusion [Greenwald] cited the detention of a minor in Iceland last week who was supposedly questioned about an incriminating WikiLeaks video. But there is no independent corroboration of this incident. And WikiLeaks' account of what transpired, though recounted by Salon as fact, is disputed by Iceland's police:
"Chief of police in Reykjavik, Fridrik Smari Bjorgvinsson, said the only link he has been able to establish between the allegations and his force was the arrest of a 17 year-old in Kopavogur on Monday for breaking into a business premises. Bjorgvinsson emphasised that Icelandic police have not been working with the American secret services on the matter, as Wikileaks spokesmen allege."
Perhaps the Reykjavik police chief is also part of a global campaign to destroy WikiLeaks. Or perhaps the whole story is one of mystification and error.
Secrecy, necessary though it often is, can be a high-octane fuel for rumors and conspiracy theorizing. In this instance, one of the ironies is that Salon’s anti-secrecy campaigner has been inhaling its fumes.