This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.
Julian Assange, the chief of WikiLeaks, is a pirate willing to endanger people’s lives with mass releases of secret U.S. military, intelligence and diplomatic documents.
But he’s no worse than whoever stole those documents in the first place. Suspicion has settled on Pfc. Bradley Manning, an unhappy 22-year-old Army intelligence analyst, who’s been arrested and charged with downloading thousands of highly sensitive and classified messages while deployed in Iraq.
Does the U.S. Army really give low-ranking soldiers in their early 20s access to secret communiqués whose exposure could threaten American foreign policy? The Defense Department now promises to track users of its information systems the same way credit card companies track card-users to detect fraud. It seems that MasterCard has a better handle on computer security than the Pentagon.
So far, news accounts of the leaked diplomatic messages suggest there are no outright bombshells among them. Like previously leaked dispatches and reports from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they mostly filled in the details of a larger picture already known to the public.
It comes as no surprise, for example, that Hamid Karzai’s brother is corrupt, Arab leaders are terrified of Iran’s nuclear program, America has been unable to keep Iranian weapons from reaching Hezbollah in Lebanan and al-Qaida continues to receive enormous funds from Saudi donors.
Some of the messages are downright comical. The Obama administration is depicted as begging and bribing foreign countries to take Guantanamo detainees of its hands. Slovenia was offered a visit with Obama. Belgium was told that taking more prisoners would be “a low-cost way for Belgium to attain prominence in Europe.”
The surprises in the leaks had to do with Iran, whose nuclear program has set off global alarm bells.
North Korea – that great force for good in the world – has supplied Iran with sophisticated long-range rockets capable of dropping nuclear warheads on Moscow or Western Europe.
Barack Obama seems to have taken a harder line against Iran, behind the scenes, than his talk of “engagement” suggests. His administration looks resigned to continued fanaticism from the Iranian dictatorship.
U.S. diplomacy has had some modest successes countering the Iranian threat. China – which has used its U.S. Security Council veto to thwart sanctions against Iraq – appears to have been bought off with a guaranteed Saudi oil supply.
Russia – another abettor of Iran – seems to have gotten more interested in missile defenses after the Obama canceled Bush-era plans to build fixed anti-missile sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. The Russians now seem to be edging toward cooperating in a joint defensive system targeting Iranian missiles.
These disclosures point to some genuine competence in the State Department. If only the same could be said for the geniuses responsible for cyber-security in the U.S.