WikiLeaks: For public good or Assange’s ego?

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By Rear Admiral (Retd) K Raja Menon
Fellow, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies

Assange’s journey does not seem inspired by ideals, but by a desire to be admired by many
Assange’s journey does not seem inspired by ideals, but by a desire to be admired by many
Illustration: Anand Naorem

REAR ADMIRAL (RETD) K RAJA MENONTHE SECOND tranche of WikiLeaks of around 4 lakh messages seems divided 2:1 between US internal and external sources. The average foreign capital contributes between 2,000 and 3,000 messages each, including Islamabad and New Delhi. Bracing for the fallout, Hillary Clinton has made a persuasive and articulate defence of the right of every country to conduct ‘candid’ and ‘intimate’ negotiations as a part of foreign policy planning. Much of the salacious output from the leaks describe heads of state in pithy one-liners, no different from the ones used in bars. So the greater number of messages that grab public attention are in no way more dangerous than government origin gossip, competing with hundreds of gossip columns that spice up the morning newspaper.

Some messages are on the borderline, like the ‘candid’ US descriptions of Hamid Karzai’s personality or that of his brother, which were well known even earlier. Moving up the scale, there are valuable inputs on Indian policy making, including the admission that Turkey didn’t exclude India from the Afghanistan conference out of absentmindedness, but because it succumbed to Islamabad’s pressure. What exactly was the pressure that Islamabad brought to bear? That is worth finding out. Another interesting bit is the inexplicable stand of the UAE wanting a ‘strong’ Pakistan to countervail India. For what purpose was Pakistan’s countervailing presence considered a necessity by the otherwise friendly UAE? Particularly when the UAE actually prefers Indians to Pakistanis in its workforce.

Beyond the leaks lurks the issue of Julian Assange and the bigger question of what a mediaperson should do when leaks of this magnitude fall in his lap. We have already seen how the American General Stanley McChrystal was booted out, severely damaging the American war effort, to bolster the career of a magazine reporter pursuing what he believed was his ‘right’. In contrast, in India, we have no archives worth referring to because our bureaucrats will permit limited access to government files — not to save the country, but to save themselves. Every government has the right to conduct some of its business in secret. When governments abuse that right, as the Indian government regularly does, journalists have every right to publish what they ferret out and conceal their sources. In the West, where press and Internet freedom have taken root, and the rights of man are taken seriously, a man like Assange has abused the freedom given to him — a freedom earned by the lives of soldiers whose safety he now threatens with his leaks. The buck for the Afghan war stops with David Petraeus and the burden on his shoulders are weighty. Assange has burdened Petraeus even more.

There is no definition of a good or bad Internet hacker. In our country, an Assange who can throw light on the alleged Rs. 2,000 crore illegal foreign exchange accumulated by a few would do a great deal of public good. In the West, embroiled in a war with the al Qaeda and Islamic fundamentalists, Assange and his WikiLeaks have stepped across the border into dangerous territory. His journey into no-man’s land does not seem inspired by ideals, or a desire to provide public service, but by a monstrous ego and an ambition to be admired by millions, who are not really familiar with the issues that are at stake for western civilisation.

In the final analysis, Assange is a jackal, certainly the most feral and fierce of all jackals, but nevertheless a jackal, who eats after the lion has killed and eaten.

The views expressed by the author are personal

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