H. Brandt Ayers: Stolen secrets, wrecked lives
Jun 23, 2013 | 3682 views |  0 comments | 162 162 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Edging carefully into the shadow world of stolen government “secrets,” trying to avoid hero worship, hysterical patriotism or knee-jerk forgiveness, I find myself pondering these issues:

One, how big a deal is it for their spies to find out our spies are spying on them? In a world where one company, Amazon, knows more about you than the local police and security cameras take your picture every time you go to the bank, how concerned should we be that the government is intercepting calls with suspicious foreigners?

Two, leaks that cause momentary embarrassment among diplomats or that disclose wrongdoing by U.S. troops should be allowed, but do we want a rather strange individual, Julian Assange, deciding alone which secrets are harmless and which ones may cause loss of a few or many lives?

Three, when attempting to answer what motivates the central players in a serious drama, how much emphasis should be put on the tangled, rootless or bruised and confused lives that made them the persons they are?

Take the early life of the most famous security thief, Assange. He moved 50 times, attending 37 schools, never establishing a relationship with his biological father, whom he didn’t know, or any of his step-fathers. One of the peripatetic moves with his mother was fleeing one of her boyfriends.

A kindly Australian judge reduced a 10-year sentence to probation for an early Assange cybertheft out of sympathy for his swirling, rootless childhood. His relationship with women has resulted in several charges of assault up to and including rape.

A significant but detached and joyless life of pursuit by at least three governments now finds the white-haired master thief in a virtual prison, a single room in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The government of Ecuador granted Assange political asylum with a pompous statement asserting it had regained its “dignity” by acting contrary to U. S. wishes.

In my opinion, it is a good thing that WikiLeaks is shut down. I am one of many who feels uncomfortable with a single person deciding issues of great moment, much less a person who has never established normal relationships and loyalties that build a caring conscience above the animal level.

Of all the Assange sources the most pitiable is Pvt. Bradley Manning. He was an effeminate 5-feet-2 inches tall, weighing 105 pounds, a target of endless bullying and humiliation in school.

His mother had a drinking problem and his father was a traveling IT expert, which left little Bradley on his own. The strained, unhappy family life dissolved in divorce; Bradley was another detached person with no strong loyalties to people or institutions. A lonely life was exacerbated by confusion about his sexual identity.

Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, as sympathetic as one may be about their early lives, are not the stable, tested, philosophically moored personalities to decide which of a nation’s secrets should be exposed.

They made no judgments — did not have the knowledge with which to make judgments — they just released hours and hours of the nation’s secrets.

Of course, it goes without saying that governments are all too eager to stamp “Secret” on facts that might be personally or politically embarrassing.

One of the so-called secrets that the Manning/Assange conspirators released is one that the public should know about. It is a video of a helicopter crew in Iraq firing on civilians, two of whom had cameras that the crew took for weapons.

There is a pause before the 40-millimeter shells hit the clump of civilians, the powerful shells sending clouds of dust in the air. The crew correctly asked for permission to fire and asked again when a van appeared to pick up the bodies.

In the background you can hear an impatient young soldier say, “Let’s shoot,” while my mind was screaming, “For God’s sake, let them pick up the dead and wounded.” They trained their weapons on the van and fired continuously.

Only later did they learn they had wounded children in the van and that the men were unarmed.

Scenes such as those shock the conscience of Americans but it is good for us who do not wear the uniform or face the danger to know what can happen in the fog of war. If we did, we may not be so eager to start wars like Iraq.

If there is such a thing as degrees of responsible behavior among leakers, the prize should go to Edward Snowden, who had the good sense to leak to reporters for solid newspapers, The Guardian and The Washington Post.

Reporters have experienced editors capable of making good judgments and checking their conclusions with informed sources within the government.

Pondering the world of willy-nilly leaks with accountability to no one, I come down on the side of critical government documents being strained through human sieves who are responsible, informed and conscientious.

H. Brandt Ayers is the publisher of The Star and chairman of Consolidated Publishing Co.
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