December 3, 2010
by David Satter
The latest massive leak of classified documents by Wikileaks demonstrates not only the innocence but also the superficiality of the West.
People in the U.S. don’t know what it means to live under a terrorist dictatorship. The idea that they could be dragged out of their homes by the secret police in the middle of the night is foreign to them. Their notion of evil is restricted to persons who disagree with their political preferences. When they break the laws of their democratically elected government, they imagine that they are fighting evil.
At the same time, we do not want to know the long term consequences of revealing classified information. It is true that governments hide much that should be revealed. But the issue is not the wisdom of American bureaucrats. They reflect the prejudices, automatism and programmed behavior that comes with work in any large organization.
The issue is something different. It is the safety of people who would seek to help the U.S. No potential informant can be sanguine about his security give the exposure of government secrets by wikileaks. Faced with the risks of detection by the security police or terrorist colleagues, he now must consider the possibility that someone in the U.S. government with computer savvy will become a hero in his own eyes by publishing documents that could cost him his life.
The U.S. needs informants. In 1962, Oleg Penkovsky, a colonel in Soviet military intelligence working for the CIA tipped off the U.S. to the fact that the Soviets were placing missiles in Cuba. More recently, it was an anonymous Moslem informant who foiled the terrorist plot to blow up ten airliners over the Atlantic using liquids brought aboard planes in carry on luggage.
The persons who run wikileaks think that their political objections give them the right to ignore the laws that protect democratic citizens and their governments. In fact, they are the ultimate products of intellectual laziness and bourgeois comfort. They think they know the truth about the world but they know only part of the truth – and not the important part.
David Satter, a Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute and a visting scholar at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), is the author of It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past (Yale). Age of Delirium, a documentary film about the fall of the Soviet Union based on his book of the same name, was recently released.
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