Julian Assange – the WikiLeaks editor/founder who published a classified 2007 video of a U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed 12 people, including two Reuters reporters – is being internationally hunted by the U.S. government, according to a new report by Philip Shenon on The Daily Beast. Officials fear Assange may be on the verge of publishing more classified information, specifically, numerous secret cables from the State Department.
The cables are reportedly about Arab governments and their leaders, and date back several years. They were allegedly prepared by diplomats and State Department officials throughout the Middle East. The cables also concern U.S. diplomatic and intelligence efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to The Daily Beast.
Assange got himself into hot water with the U.S. government when he published the helicopter attack video. The video was illegally leaked to WikiLeaks by Bradley Manning of Potomac, Maryland, a 22-year-old Army intelligence specialist, who had access to classified information while in Iraq, according to Reuters. Manning is currently in custody in Kuwait.
The Australian-born Assange appears to be hiding out. It’s likely not in his best interest to be in the United States right now. Assange canceled a scheduled Friday appearance in Las Vegas at an International Reporters and Editors conference, The Daily Beast reports. Assange reportedly doesn’t have a permanent address and moves about from place to place, although he’s apparently been Tweeting publicly in a kind of cat-and-mouse game with U.S. authorities.
The Daily Beast quotes a number of anonymous U.S. officials in its story about the hunt for Assange, so it’s difficult to tell how much is credible and how much isn’t or how extensively the U.S. government is searching for the WikiLeaks founder. It’s also difficult to say how valuable or impactful any classified information Assange may or may not have actually is. If this information is so valuable (which it may not be), then why was a 22-year-old Army specialist allowed to have access to it? If this information is truly that valuable, then it seems like some folks in the government or military screwed up in how classified information is being handled. Who are the people in official positions responsible for this who screwed up? Are they being held accountable? Maybe that’s more important than finding Assange. It’s hard to believe that a young Army specialist, even if he did act alone, is the only person in the military responsible for this problem. There are many levels of responsibility and accountability for keeping secret information secret.
While investigators are spending all this time hunting down Assange, the military might also want to take a hard look at who should be held accountable for these leaks and for the handling of secret information. Perhaps there needs to be a serious shake up in the ranks. The handling of classified information in a time of war is very important, because the lives of American service men and women could be on the line.
The flip side, however, is that much of the information may only being kept secret out of politics, which has the effect of backfiring when you look at it long term, because no one is being held accountable. Such hidden information could actually hurt the United States because wrong-doers and incompetent people are being protected, and their misdeeds are being hidden. In that case, nothing changes, and the wrongful practices and problems continue, leading to more problems, blow-back and undermining of U.S. efforts across the world. Some of the Pentagon’s handling of information, some would say, manipulation, for political reasons, has come into question before. For example, many people believe the Pentagon hid, misrepresented or manipulated information following the 2004 accidental fratricide shooting death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan. There have also been recent reports that the Pentagon gave $1.4 billion in no-bid contracts to foreign companies with alleged ties to the Kyrgyzstan and their corrupt former president. (See this recent Indyposted post.)
U.S. officials quoted by The Daily Beast say no one wants to hurt Assange; they just want him to stop publishing any more classified information that could damage national security.
“We’d like to know where he is; we’d like his cooperation in this,”
an anonymous U.S. official reportedly told The Daily Beast.
Assange is an advocate for freedom of the press. Here he is speaking about censorship on a YouTube video just four weeks ago at the Oslo Freedom Forum 2010.
“When we see the path that countries like the United States, which once had a proud tradition of freedom of the press, is going down, we have to question whether it is really holding those values any more and what we should do about it, because if we don’t have Western countries as a beacon on the hill for enlightenment values, what countries are left to hold that value?”
Assange says during his Oslo Freedom Forum speech.