This week Wikileaks has released approximately 90,000 classified documents garnered from sources within the massive US defence. Pentagon and the White House are consequently angered to the point of bursting like lemmings, and have naturally initiated a search for the "traitor" in their midst. However, it seems that several thousand employees had access to these particular documents, and the search for the culprit may not be as easy as it is to find the un-american in "24". It is going to take time, and it's going to involve quite a few people.
This of course leads my mind to american intelligence in general. Of course the expression itself became an oxymoron with the invasion of Iraq because of their quite laughable work, but organizations like CIA, NSA, SS (secret service in case you didn't know) and the FBI have a long history of fuck ups. During the cold war their ranks were so littered with sleepers and walk ins that it's not much of an oversight to say that they lost the intelligence war against the Soviet Union. This history of incompetence goes back even further, to the days of OSS (office of strategic services), who were so easily spotted while under cover that the joke was that OSS was an acronym for Oh, So Social. Despite their efforts to make you think otherwise, the american intelligence agencies really are laughable compared to their counterparts in other countries.
This history of incompetence makes me think of one of Sean Penn's early films, the Falcon and the Snowman. Usually on film the CIA and similar organizations are portrayed as labyrinthine conspiratorial agencies full of hardcore toughies with the latest in technology, death squads and intelligence gathering gadgets. Whether they are up against innocent civilians in the ridiculous Enemy of the State or even the slightly more realistic Three Days for Condor Condor, or they are defending freedom against horrible soviets in ... Errr... I don't think I've ever seen a film where the CIA are the good guys except for comedies or James Bond. Even good ol' boys in the US prefer to see their very own CIA as the enemy. And it's no wonder. You don't want these people on your side. Just look at their work in Chile back in 1973. In the real world espionage isn't quite so sci fi-ish or fancy, and their agents are hardly as kewl as in the movies. (True, the do have technological monsters like Echelon in their service, but the CIA still can't catch Bin Laden. Not that it would matter much if they did. People are pissed off at the US for a reason. Bin Laden isn't Cobra Commander you know...)
The Falcon and the Snowman is a film about a pair of walk in spies (played by Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton) and their follies as they hand over documents to the KGB in exchange for monetary attention. While most films involving espionage of some sort feel the urge to include gun fights and explosions, and the occasional cleavage, this film is quite realistic. Intelligence work is mostly analysis and catalogueing documents. Very few of the people involved with intelligence work go to embassies and sleep with beautiful russian women to whom they reveal their secrets. (Though the latest espionage debacle between the US and Russia may have you think otherwise...) It's a good film, despite David Suchett's appearance as the russian spy master. You really get a feeling for how difficult it is to discover a leak, catch the perpetrator or get the needed evidence to prosecute. The two spies live the good life for quite a while there, despite being flamboyant and complete amateurs.
The Falcon and the Snowman is based on the real life story of Christopher Boyce, a former student turned spy. As I said the various intelligence agencies were riddled with operatives handing over information to the Soviets. Some of them were never caught, but some were. In the end Boyce is found out and has to go to jail for what he's done, and I am quite certain Pentagon will go to great lengths to have their man in the Wikileaks case as well. How many people's feet they will step on during the investigation is a matter of some concern. We also know that they won't exactly shy away from disregarding the persons rights once he has been arrested, as they have done with Bradley Manning, supposedly responsible for blowing the whistle on the Collateral Murder episode. But chances are it's going to take quite some time, and it's going to be very embarrassing to the investigators. As if the leak itself wasn't enough.
There is one fatal difference between Boyce and the sources in this case though: that of motivation. Boyce was supposedly motivated by greed the wikileaks sources are motivated by their justified outrage over US behaviour in Afghanistan and Iraq. I say fatal bacause it's a hard blow to the legitimacy of american war efforts. It's not OK for the US defence to keep their oversights secret, and it's not OK to portray the whistleblowers as traitors. The US was once founded by people who wouldn't stand for unjust treatment of civilians by imperialists, and those values seem to have been forgotten since.
The US authorities claim that Wikileaks is a threat to national security, but we all know what they're really threatening: national secrecy. If the government is really founded on the people its legitmacy wouldn't suffer from openness around the methods they use in war, or the consequences thereof. It is founded on military might, threats and violence however, Obamas response is all the more logical. The campaign in Afghanistan and Iraq was never justified, nor were the methods employed and the continued secrecy surrounding these issues add insult to injury. Obama should worry more about the casualties his soldiers are piling up, and less about saving face over leaks of documents pertaining to his predecessor.
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