As soon as someone heard that I was blogging my opinions on issues in international affairs, they sent me this article, apparently in a bid to have me die from apoplexy.
Let me start by saying that even though I spent 5 years working for the Defense Department, I am not an apologist for the organization. It has a lot of institutional and institutionalized flaws and has its fair share of assholes in important positions that could be better utilized in a place where their idiocy couldn’t damage anyone – pumping gas, perhaps. These flaws were bad enough that after five years I couldn’t take it any more and left – first for the private sector, and then left the entire industry all together. Second, this article does outline a very real problem in our society – as the internet continues to democratize access to information, even classified or privileged information, where do we as a society draw the line between transparency and secrecy? If classified information makes its way to the internet, you can guarantee that enemies of the United States will have it – case in point, many of the classified documents from the Wikileaks cache was found on Usama Bin Laden’s computers when we raided his compound. But critics are right to point out that secrecy is the soil in which sins thrive. Do I have an opinion about where the line should be drawn? No, not really. It is entirely too complex of an issue and honestly must be dealt with on a case by case basis – because it seems to me that critics don’t realize that revealing secrets can be harmful, too.
Bradley Manning is being held up as a hero in many areas for his “courage” in releasing the DoD and State Department cables to the public domain. People are calling him a “whistleblower” and decrying efforts of the US government to prosecute him for his actions. Manning is not a whistleblower, he is a traitor. First of all, if bringing to light the sins of the DoD was his goal as a “whistleblower,” why did he release hundreds of thousands of documents? To this day no one has been able to go through all of them to find out a systematic pattern of abuses by US forces. Surely as a whistleblower he would have specific misdeeds that he wanted to bring to light. Why release State Department cables? Is the US ambassador’s comments on the personality of Iraq’s vice presidents apropos to Manning’s cause? Taibbi is right to call in an “act of institutional vengeance” – which is why Manning didn’t want money, as the author points out but does not elaborate on. He was not “obviously” (where is he getting this “obvious” information from?) moved by moral horror. Manning is not a tragic hero, he is the same kind of spiteful individual that would spray-paint an ex-girlfriend’s car. And for the record, people did die because of these leaks – individuals in Iraq and Afghanistan who had put their lives on the line acting as informers to the United States, trusting that we would be able to protect their identity. Actions have consequences, Manning – whatever sins you feel like the US did in Iraq, their blood, at least, is on YOUR hands.
But even putting that motive aside, as a soldier that received a security clearance, Manning signed a contract that clearly outlined the consequences of revealing classified information. Don’t be taken in by his crocodile tears, he knew what he was in for when he did it. Do you really think that he should be able to violate this agreement because of his own moral principles? Here’s a thought question for you – if a defendent confesses to his lawyer that he is guilty, but intends to plead innocent, is the lawyer morally obligated to reveal his defendant’s guilt? Even though he is contractually obligated to honor client confidentiality? The US government did not force Manning to sign that paperwork. It didn’t force him to join the military. If he felt at any time that his work for the Army would compromise his personal principles, he could have left or requested reassignment.
As for poor Sergey Aleynikov, Taibbi presents the claim that the HFT program he attempted to steal from Goldman Sachs could be used to manipulate the stock market as if this were a specious claim. Does anyone remember the 2010 Flash Crash that caused the stock market to plummet 1000 points in only a few minutes? That was an accident caused by HFT programs. Can you imagine what would happen if someone was to use that power on purpose? Also, the charges against Aleynikov was that the HFT program was proprietary intellectual property, and if we aren’t going to respect property rights then our whole economic system will collapse. The article writer completely misrepresents that entire trial.
As for this paragraph:
“We already know that our armies mass-murder women and children in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, that our soldiers joke about smoldering bodies from the safety of gunships, that some of our closest diplomatic allies starve and repress their own citizens, and we may even have gotten a glimpse or two of a banking system that uses computerized insider trading programs to steal from everyone who has an IRA or a mutual fund or any stock at all by manipulating markets like the NYSE.”
First: there is no evidence that the US army “mass murdered” women and children in Iraq and Afghanistan. The article in the link comments on innocent Iraqis being killed at checkpoints – because they failed to stop when approaching the checkpoint. I have been through those checkpoints – they have signs in English AND Arabic directing them to come to a stop when approaching the checkpoint. Soldiers usually have loudspeakers telling them to come to a stop or they will be shot at. In each incident mentioned in the article, the soldiers trying to get the vehicles to stop by every means at their disposal, and when the car didn’t stop, they fired on it. You know why? Because that’s one of many ways that IEDs target soldiers – they load the car with explosives and drive it at checkpoints. How are the soldiers to know that the car was full of innocents and not a suicide bomber with a trunkload of improvised explosives? If you can tell me that, you will make millions by telling the Defense Department. But what makes it even more tragic is that throughout the war terrorists/insurgents/militia would set up false checkpoints and randomly kill Iraqi civilians. The poor people in these cars couldn’t know that this was a legitimate checkpoint and not a false one. You should fervently pray that you are never put in such a situation, either as the driver or the soldier.
Jokes about the smoldering bodies? I’m sorry, people are tasteless and make tasteless jokes. I didn’t realize that this was a crime. As for the US’s “closest diplomatic allies,” the link references the former regime of Tunisia – which has never been a close ally of the United States. In any case, the cables they are referencing in the link are full of criticism about the regime, so it’s not as if the US government were condoning its activity. If the US only had diplomatic relations with nations that act completely without reproach, we would only be on speaking terms with about 15% of the world. If that much. The link about the “computerized insider trading programs [that] steal from everyone” references BACK TO THE GOLDMAN SACHS/ALEYNIKOV issue that he denigrates earlier in his article! In one paragraph, he claims that Aleynikov is being needlessly targeted, and later he admits that the program that Aleynikov stole is dangerous! Journalism fail, Taibbi.
So I can’t really comment on the parts about the “kill list” – beyond saying that every part of the government infrastructure that is tasked with finding “bad guys,” from the DoD to every police station in the nation, has a list of targets that it would like to find/kill/capture. Calling such a thing a “kill list” just seems like a bad PR move on the part of whatever agency owns that list. I don’t know much about the “drone strikes on US soil” issue, but I can look into it if anyone really cares about my opinion on the issue. So for now I am going to skip down to the next piece of shoddy journalism – the accusation that “American troops murdered four women and five children in Iraq in 2006.” I followed all the links on that particular issue right down to the original UN cable that prompted the allegation, and frankly, the whole damn thing is flimsy. The article the author references itself misrepresents the information provided in the cable by divorcing it of context. The UN cable is a request for information from the US government regarding the issue, not any sort of indictment. Somehow in the game of journalistic telephone it went from a “give us information about these accusations” to “the US murdered women and children and covered it up.” You know how this happened? Two facts: the US raided the location and engaged in a firefight with someone inside, and later, 10 Iraqi civilians affiliated with the owner of the property were found to have been handcuffed and shot in the head. If you go through the actual facts of the case, every bit of the information is circumstantial. I have already spent almost 2 hours on this rant, I can’t spend any more going through each fact in the case to demonstrate my point unless someone specifically asks.
In total, my overall point is that though the writer has a legitimate topic, what evidence for his point that I can critique is weak and his presentation of the information is so misrepresented that I can only imagine that his purpose was to manipulate the reader. Which makes me severely doubt the value of what information I can’t comment on. All in all it is the type of sloppy, biased journalism that gives the entire industry a bad name.