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A Response to Glenn Greenwald

When I filed my piece called “Everything Is Data, but Data Isn’t Everything,” I didn’t know that Wikileaks, Le Monde, El Pais, Der Spiegel, The Guardian, and The New York Times had entered into what two AP reporters were to call “an extraordinary collaboration between some of the world’s most respected media outlets and Wikileaks.” Jamey Keaten and Brett J. Blackledge of the AP quote Sylvie Kauffmann, the executive editor of Le Monde, thus: “They [Wikileaks] are releasing the documents we selected.”

According to the AP, Kauffmann and editors of the other four papers helped vet Wikileaks’s complete cache of diplomatic cables, said by the Times to number neither more nor less than 251,287. Assange put it this way on the Guardian website on Dec. 5:

The cables we have release [sic] correspond to stories released by our main stream media partners and ourselves. They have been redacted by the journalists working on the stories, as these people must know the material well in order to write about it. The redactions are then reviewed by at least one other journalist or editor, and we review samples supplied by the other organisations to make sure the process is working.

Now, I didn’t know about this remarkable arrangement because the AP piece ran at 9:35 pm, Dec. 3, long after I filed. Nevertheless, the widely read blogger Glenn Greenwald posted a piece on Salon emblazoned with the headline words “lies” and “propaganda” and accusing me of writing “an entire anti-Wikileaks column that is based on an absolute factual falsehood,” namely (quoting me) that “Wikileaks’s huge data dump, including the names of agents and recent diplomatic cables, is indiscriminate" and that Assange is "fighting for a world of total transparency."

Greenwald is freer with invective than with the substance of my piece, for he adroitly skirts my central point about Assange, namely that he is acting in pursuit of a theory. He favors “system-wide cognitive decline” as a step toward global enlightenment. I do not.

I wrote: “Wikileaks’s huge data dump, including the names of agents and recent diplomatic cables, is indiscriminate.” The agents I referred to are Afghan. The BBC reported last August 10 that human rights groups including Amnesty International, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, the Open Society Institute, and the International Crisis Group were “putting pressure on the website Wikileaks to remove the names of Afghan civilians from leaked US military reports,” saying that “Afghans identified as suppliers of information to the US military could face reprisals. The Taliban has executed hundreds of Afghan civilians it accuses of collaborating with US-led forces." And then this:

There was no consideration about civilian lives,’ said Nader Nadery, of the [Afghan Independent Human Rights] commission.’”

My italics.

If civilians lose their lives as a result of Wikileaks disclosures, will Assange consider this to be mere collateral damage in his war on all state power?

As for Assange’s purported punctiliousness in releasing the State Department cables, while it’s been reported that only about 1,325 cables have been published thus far, Assange told his Guardian readers that:

"[T]he Cable Gate archive has been spread, along with significant material from the US and other countries to over 100,000 people in encrypted form. If something happens to us, the key parts will be released automatically."

Thus the master of global hacking assures us his secrets are safe with his more than 100,000 collaborators—because they’re encrypted. “If something happens” sounds like a Doomsday Machine. Talk about indiscriminate.

I would hope that Assange’s down-the-line defenders might reflect on their slash-and-burn tone, and on the imputation of “lies” and “propaganda” to those who dare disagree with Assange’s modus operandi, however instructive are some of the revelations Wikileaks has bestowed upon us.