Norm Coleman Sounds Off on Wikileaks

From former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman’s Facebook page:

In the ‘old days’ stealing internal state department documents would have been labeled espionage and deemed treason. Yet when Wikileaks does it, some hail it as ‘transparency.’ Attacking and undermining American security is called terrorism, not transparency. We live in a dangerous world-and this so called transparency has made it more dangerous.

So-called transparency?

Like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, I’ve got some serious issues with Wikileaks. I’m not sure how it is helpful publicizing diplomatic cables indicating that every one of its Arab neighbors wants the U.S. to attack Iran, to cite just one of the many revelations, unless the object is to make Iran paranoid and spur on a violent confrontation. It is interesting, yes, but do we need to know that? I’m not so sure. Is it beneficial to put that out to the public? On that, I’m even less sure.

This is a different beast than the Pentagon Papers case, to my way of thinking. That case informed the public of what it needed to know–that its government had been waging a war it knew it could not win and was keeping it going through sheer inertia.

But in this case, the object seems too often an effort to embarrass people. That may prove a false assumption as the hundreds of thousands of pages are parsed and more revelations come to light. But so far, I’ve found out that Libyan president Muammar al-Qaddafi has a fixation on a buxom nurse and that a British labor official is a horn dog with the ladies and might get divorced. Not the kind of stuff I need to know.

But also not the kind of stuff that necessarily needs to be classified from now to eternity.

On the other hand, we also now know that “Iran used the auspices of the Red Crescent to smuggle spies and weapons into war zones,” as Talking Points Memo reports. This seems the kind of thing that good reporting would reveal, if U.S. news agencies still had as many shoes on the ground in foreign countries as they once did.

Therein lies the rub. And therein lies my confusion about Wikileaks. Is it premised on the idea that all information must be free? If so, that’s just stupid. Is it premised on the idea that by spewing forth any embarrassing cable it can lay its hands on that its founder will become ever more famous? That’s just nefarious.

Or is it premised on the idea that more information needs to be brought forth without being needlessly hidden away under the rubic of “classified information,” in an age when the news media is shrinking both in size and influence? That position would have a little more of my sympathy. But I’ve never heard Wikileaks defenders make that case.

Which brings me back to Norm. We have a real problem with transparency in government, especially at the federal level. Virtually any piece of paper or digital communique can be needlessly classified by some nameless bureaucrat in some cubicle in some D.C. office, whether it’s a legitimately sensitive document relating to nuclear disarmament talks or whether its a quote for cleaning services.

“For example, U.S. embassies send classified cables that are nothing more than summaries of open media reports in the host country. In addition, some classified information is already known to foreign governments and is a secret only to the American people.” — Ivan Eland, Houston Chronicle, Nov. 14, 2000

And it’s as bad or worse at the state, county and local levels.

Here’s hoping that Norm doesn’t use his influence to leverage the irresponsibility of Wikileaks to further seal off information about our government that the public legitimately needs and deserves to have.

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