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Open Secrets: WikiLeaks, War and American Diplomacy Kindle Edition
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Needless to say, Assange comes out looking like a pretty serious jerk (I originally was on his side and assumed the sex crime charges were a smear campaign, but even his defense lawyer admits his wrongdoing). Especially when he claims he didn't have time to delete names of sources who might be endangered, including US military personnel and Afghan citizens (as if there is no such thing as "Find and Replace" which you can get out of any Microsoft Word application and takes all of about 2 minutes to use. A superhacker like Assange surely would be aware of a tool that is used by the average data entry worker. I believe he willfully exposed people to danger out of some misguided sense of 'justice'. ) So he comes off as reckless, narcissistic and just vengeful in an indiscriminate way. My opinion of him was seriously changed by the short chapter on him.
Also, though I object to the treatment of Bradley Manning, he doesn't come off too well either; he comes off like an axegrinder who wanted to make a name for himself, in addition to having sincere objections to the Iraq war. I don't know if this characterization is fair or not, but it's not terribly flattering. Basically it also seems like he too wasn't too thorough on determining whether or not he'd be putting sources in harm's way, and indiscriminately dumping files -- as opposed to specifically revealing certain violations or war crimes-- doesn't exactly appear to be too heroic. Again, it just sounds random and reckless. I'd like to envision this all as being the Pentagon Papers of our times, but it doesn't come out looking that way.
Also, the intro neatly summarizes all the interesting, and still unfolding, issues surrounding this phenomenon- how much access to government documents should an informed citizen have? On what level? How will international diplomatic efforts be affected when less-than-diplomatic statements are revealed to the world to read?
This is great for those of us who were curious about this important phenomenon but only got the barest of details.
Added note: after consideration of the recent movie "We Steal Secrets" and the phenomenon of character assisination of leakers, I have to think twice about this approach of focussing on the personalities of the people involved and less on the act of trying to expose war crimes. I'm not sure I embrace Assange's overall philosphy (from the way they frame it here) but I think Manning may've really gotten a hatchet job. I'm having second thoughts here..
If you're looking for new insight into Wikileaks or its collaboration with The New York Times, you won't find it here. Bill Keller's introductory article "The Boy Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" (26 January 2011), which caused so much ire when it was published in the paper, appears in slightly longer form here, with no new information. It is well-written but sprinkled with personal attacks on Julian Assange that do more to embarrass Keller. Most of the article is spent reassuring readers of The Times' independence from the other news organizations involved and from the government, its sensitivity to potential harm and national security concerns, and defending its decision to use Wikileaks' material. Keller says exactly what one would expect of an editor caught in a political firestorm. There is nothing sinister about that -but nothing interesting either.
To give the reader some background on the sources of the material, the now-infamous Burns article on Assange (23 October 2010) and somewhat less notorious profile of Bradley Manning by Ginger Thompson (8 August 2010) are included. They are notorious for Julian Assange's objection to them, but Assange tends to be oversensitive in these matters. The portrait that John F. Burns and Ravi Somaiya paint of him is intermittently snide but not unsympathetic. The journalists seem to admire Assange on one level, but they portray his personality as deteriorating, and there are some errors in their discussion of the Swedish sex case, which they apparently got from The Guardian. Likewise, the article on Bradley Manning paints a picture of a bright but volatile young man but suffers for not having access to the man himself or to his close friends.
The value of "Open Secrets" is not in those articles but in the sections on the State Department cables (48 articles), war logs (18 articles), and the reaction. Many articles are introduced by excellent color photos (best enjoyed on a Mac or PC), and they give the ebook format opportunity to shine. Some articles link directly to the cables or war logs to which they refer. And military acronyms in the war logs link to a glossary. Very handy. Unfortunately, many critical cables on which the articles are based are not included, leaving me to go searching for them on Wikileaks' web site. There are also sections dedicated to the aftermath of these mass leaks (2 articles) and to opinion pieces (22 articles) about their content or about Wikileaks.
"Open Secrets" is a convenient collection of The New York Times' analysis and opinion of the leaked State Department cables and War Logs, and I rate it on that basis. If you've been following this story and would like a compact version, or if you haven't been following it and don't know where to start, this will work. The Wikileaks story is, in itself, huge, and "Open Secrets" contribution on that topic is limited. I have been unimpressed with The New York Times coverage of Wikileaks and information activism, but I am finding this a useful reference on the other topics. It would be a lot more useful, however, had it included all of the relevant primary source documents.
Then I found out that the article was only the first chapter of the NYT's new ebook. "Open Secrets" is a great read, and really gives an insight into how newspapers interact with shadowy sources like Julian Assange. As a journalism major in college, I was fascinated to read what the editors and reporters at the NYTimes thought when they were landed with the opportunity to print U.S. government secrets, what they did, and how they proceeded, given the extraordinary circumstances: two wars, an unstable (possibly unhinged) source, and the inflammatory nature of the documents themselves.
In addition, the appendix includes an astonishing wealth of information: there are hundreds of diplomatic cables, and also (at least) 2 leaked videos (one of a U.S. helicopter firing on a crowd and one of a helicopter firing on a building). I mostly read this ebook on my Nook, but it's worth watching the videos on your computer.
Engrossing commentary + a wealth of reference material = a winner.
Highly recommended to anyone who is interested in how transparency works in this day and age.