“There’s something happenin’ here. What it is ain’t exactly clear. There’s a man with a gun over there, tellin’ me I got to beware.”
So begins the Buffalo Springfield song, “For What It’s Worth,” written by Stephen Stills. It’s a song that’s remained popular through the decades since the ‘60s, and is timeless in the feelings of suspicion and unease it evokes.
So maybe that’s why it popped into my mind as the Wikileaks saga began to unfold. Once again, there’s something happening — and there seems to be someone with a “gun” telling me I have to beware. But most of all, it sure as heck isn’t clear to me what’s happening, who I should be rooting for and against, or what exactly I should be concerned about. But it seems very clear to me that I should be concerned about something.
As someone who was at least somewhat aware in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, at first glance there seem to be many parallels between the Wikileaks saga and what happened then, especially relating to the Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. For those playing at home, back then there was “The Establishment” (bad), its insidious leader, Richard Nixon (badder), “the counter-culture” (good), and Daniel Ellsberg (good), who leaked (good) top-secret government documents about the Vietnam War (bad) showing that the U.S. government was lying to U.S. citizens (very, very bad) about how it was conducting the war. The infamous White House Plumbers (actually named the White House Special Investigations Unit) were a covert group tasked with “stopping the leaks,” and their illegal break-in of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist kicked off the activities that led to the Watergate break-ins and the ensuing scandal, culminating with Nixon’s resignation — and good triumphing over evil.
So, now we have Wikileaks, led by Julian Assange, leaking government secrets (not just U.S. this time) and the U.S. government vociferously protesting. Must be the same thing, right? Which means Wikileaks is good, Assange is good, etc., etc.
But as the story unfolds, drawing simple conclusions becomes increasingly difficult. For one thing, Ellsberg didn’t release secret documents indiscriminately. He released only those documents showing that the government was lying. Wikileaks releases documents simply because they are secret. So is that a good thing or a bad thing? How should we feel about the implication that any secret is a bad secret?
Another jarring element is the James Bond-esque bunker where Wikileaks’ data center is stored. Who can view pictures of the retro-fitted former Cold War bunker in Sweden without imagining it as a suitable home for a Bond-ian villain? Dr. No, anyone?
And finally, there’s Assange himself. Is he a selfless crusader for freedom of information and speech being smeared for alleged sex crimes? Or a megalomaniac with an agenda?
In the ‘70s, the truth was ultimately revealed. No doubt it will be this time as well. But when? And what will the truth ultimately be?