Public Comment

In Defense of Wikileaks (from Baghdad to Berkeley)

By Nathan Pitts
Tuesday December 07, 2010 - 01:34:00 PM

Where would we be if RAND military analyst Daniel Ellsberg hadn't released the Pentagon Papers in 1971? What if in 1972 FBI Associate Director Mark Felt, aka Deep Throat, hadn't contacted Woodward and Bernstein? What would the current headlines be if, in 2009, US soldier Bradley Manning hadn't begun the process of downloading military and political secrets onto a re-writable cd marked “Lady Gaga”? Forty years past Nam and Nixon, we live in the Information Age. We can email, tweet, upload HD video, and collaborate on online databases using “cloud”-based platforms. As information become more easily distributed, those in positions of power want to tighten their control on public truth through secrecy, deception, and intimidation. According to the Information Security Oversight Office, the federal government suppresses over 100,000 newly classified secrets every year. In 2009, the federal government created over 183,000 new secrets. 

As monumental as the Iraq War logs and subsequent Cable-gate memos are, revealing more of the workings behind the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, Wikileaks is also an outlet for smaller, more regionalized political and corporate leaks. (Due to current events, the Wikileaks site no longer has a searchable database of older leaks.) UC Berkeley/LBNL was the subject of a leak in July 2009, when the Bevatron demolition plan was released via Wikileaks by an unknown source. The 42 page document, scanned as a pdf file, was marked as “proprietary information” and as a “controlled document” not to be distributed to the public. The documents release didn't get much attention, as Wikileaks had not yet gained notoriety, and few people realized the demolition plan was there. Now that Wikileaks is front page news, there is potential for a game changing leak to come out out from a UC or LBNL employee, or even a student with enough access to information. 

A leak of memos between UCB/LBNL and BP would have a massive effect, giving a clearer picture of the relationship between them. Given how incorrect the UC's initial assessment of the oil spill was (the UC's report claimed that a incredibly substantial amount of the spill had been eaten by bacteria), we are left to wonder if BP put pressure on the UC to create a positive report. LBNL also does research which is intended to have military applications; a possible leak could give a glimpse of what type of projects are being developed. The lab's campus itself is an ongoing environmental clean-up site, and a leak could better inform the public as to the state of the hillside. 

The UC Berkeley campus is not without its own intrigues. Memos regarding John Yoo, especially anything from or to the Department of Justice, could help explain why the university continues to defend the torture advocate. Documentation of animal research, could expose abuses in the testing labs. A leak might reveal the political deals and lobbying behind the $321,000,000 stadium renovation, or the $125,000,000+ gym. UC Berkeley's police have been in recent news for failing to investigate citizen allegations of police abuse; a leak could explain how the police force is allowed to operate sans oversight and regulation. A leak could help expose the police's pattern harassment of student protesters. A leak from the office of Alameda County DA Nancy O'Malley's office in regards to UC police abuse would be a real game changer. 

Those that leak secrets are often subject to retaliation. It takes courage to come forward and expose corruption. Bradley Manning sits in jail for releasing allegedly damaging information, even though the leakers of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity never faced appropriate scrutiny. Julian Assange finds himself accused of some nebulous sex crime, despite the vague charges having been previously dismissed as baseless. There are those calling for Assange's extradition to the US to face charges for his role in directing Wikileaks. 

For years, the UC system had fought against their employees' right to report abuse and fraud. In a 2008 court case, the UC argued and won against LBNL employee Leo Miklosy, who was trying to sue for damages due to retaliation after reporting safety violations at LBNL in 2003. Another employee, Luciana Messina, was forced into resignation after filing an accompanying complaint to Miklosy's. On July 16 of 2010, UC employees gained whistleblower protection, through SB 650 authored by Leland Yee. However the limits of that protection cannot be seen until someone steps forward with a new leak. 

The general public has its right to secrets: their medical history, sexual eccentricities, library history, et cetera. Corporations and Public agencies, and in certain instances individuals within them, do not have that same right to privacy. The organizations that provide the basics of our society must be open about the truth so the public can make informed decisions in our lives. Given the vast information gap between the public and those in power, whistleblowers provide an essential service by keeping public informed. There are a number of platforms a UC leaker could use: Wikileaks, Indybay or a number of social media sites. Rising tensions in the UC over layoffs, cuts and fees increase the chances of there being at least one major leak from within the university in the coming year.