Why we should celebrate WikiLeaks
[By Verashni Pillay]
Robert Mugabe is “the crazy old man” — as branded by international relations and cooperation minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane — ANC members gave confidential information about the inner workings of the party to the US government before the 1994 elections, and ANC stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela seemingly helped US officials gain access to Madiba.
And to think that the SA government is probably among the least embarrassed by the hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic briefings leaked by WikiLeaks on Sunday.
Chief among the diplomatic disclosures are astounding revelations of how Hillary Clinton instructed diplomats to seemingly spy on the United Nations, including obtaining passwords, personal encryption keys, as well as credit card numbers, contact details and, bizarrely, “biographic and biometric information on UN Security Council permanent representatives”.
Then there are the various confidences about other governments, such as how Arab leaders were secretly lobbying the US to take out Iran.
In the fallout, some critics are taking issue with WikiLeaks’s actions.
What was their motive in publishing? What’s so amazing about the disclosures? And who funds them anyway?
The US itself is all sturm und drang at the leaks — which, if you think about it, they really have to answer for themselves. What kind of superpower makes this kind of information available to 3m people, including lowly soldiers, like the one who is thought to have leaked it? I like my superpowers slightly more paranoid, thank you very much.
Senator Joseph Lieberman has been a leader of the pack of US outrage, tweeting on Sunday: “WikiLeaks’s deliberate disclosure of these diplomatic cables is nothing less than an attack on our national security”, going on to ask for the shutdown of the site “by any legal means necessary”.
Or illegal — a malicious attack on the site shut it down for hours on Sunday before it was due to publish.
My tweets on the matter have been met with the idea that the US is allowed to spy on whoever they want if they need to.
Then surely we the public are allowed to know exactly what our governments are getting up to? Lord knows we’ve all been subjected to enough political doublespeak to turn us into an apathetic and politically weakened majority. We don’t care to listen to the news because it’s just so darn boring and clearly hypocritical.
That is why a glimpse into the real world of international relations is so invaluable. It innervates our deadened sense of curiosity, and more importantly, self-preservation. What are our governments up to? Do we care? For most of us the answer would normally be: no, we don’t — but we can tell you what Lady Gaga wore this weekend.
A great example is the revelation about our government’s representative to the world, the delightful Nkoana-Mashabane to whom I am even more endeared after the leak. How truly wonderful to hear what someone really thinks about, indeed, the crazy old man up north after the years of stupefying “quiet diplomacy” and inaction from our government.
I really, really hope she doesn’t get reshuffled after this.
More importantly, however, is the fascinating clash of ideologies we’re being caught up in here. The pre open-source crowd believe that the US is allowed to spy on whoever they want but heavens forbid we have that same privilege. Citizens don’t get those kinds of rights.
“The average citizen does not need access/exposure to intelligence gathering by individual nations,” tweeted one person who disagreed with my contention. “These matters do not fall under the ‘transparency’ label.”
Do they not? I think it should — as do those on the other side of the open-source divide.
The world is changing dramatically thanks to the digital revolution and a new kind of savvy citizen. We won’t wait to be told what we should think. We’ll find out the truth for ourselves. Access to information is no longer controlled by those with the biggest guns. That’s the reason I’m celebrating WikiLeaks’s latest disclosure.
As English political writer and historian Timothy Garton-Ash put it: “It’s a historian’s dream. It’s a diplomat’s nightmare.”
I know whose cause I’m more sympathetic to.
- Verashni Pillay is deputy editor of the Mail & Guardian Online
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