My column from this week’s issue of Ottawa Delivered addresses the WikiLeaks controversy:
As a veteran journalist, I normally am all for full disclosure.
As a conscientious citizen, however, I don’t agree with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s decision to post classified documents from the Secretary of State’s office.
Let me be clear: Sometimes classified information becoming public knowledge is OK, depending what it is. Many times classified information is leaked to the press with a greater good in mind (see the Pentagon Papers). Unfortunately, sometimes classified information is leaked for unsavory reasons, such as the outing of Valerie Plame as a covert CIA operative.
Many times when classified information is leaked for less-than-noble reasons, such as in the Plame case, the newly revealed information is embarrassing or career-ending for a small number of people and ultimately isn’t a big deal. Occasionally, though, leaks can be a lot worse and arguably be a serious breach of national security.
That’s what we have in the current WikiLeaks case, in my opinion. What exactly do we, the American people, gain by knowing that the German chancellor is “rarely creative” or that French President Nicholas Sarkozy is viewed as “thin-skinned and authoritarian”? Those tidbits seem like fodder for water-cooler discussion, on par with the latest celebrity rumor about Brad Pitt or Jennifer Aniston.
The really interesting stuff from the Secretary of State’s files, however, is the things we don’t need to know. Saudi Arabia wants the United States to bomb Iran off the map? Interesting to know, but probably not the best bit of information to leak out considering the strained relationship between Iran and the United States.
It’s equally interesting to know that the relationship between China and North Korea may not be as strong as it once was – but now that it’s out there in cyberspace, those two countries might try a little harder to patch things up just to spite us.
If there is a piece of classified information the Secretary of State needs to know as a way to get an upper hand in dealing with other countries, WikiLeaks shouldn’t be allowed to make that public.
This doesn’t mean I agree with former Arkansas Gov. (and probable GOP presidential candidate) Mike Huckabee about execution being the appropriate punishment for the leaker. But a harsh sentence is in order to dissuade others from leaking sensitive material that potentially affects our national security. And that punishment should be enforced against Assange, too. If not, who knows how WikiLeaks will try to up the attention ante next time.
Common sense needs to be applied to what is posted on the Internet. That applies to all of us individually – but especially to those who might threaten everyone’s security in the pursuit of their own interests.