Tuesday 7 December 2010

Knee-Jerk Reactions and WikiLeaks

Even if one doesn't follow the news in detail, the subject of the moment is the WikiLeaks/Julian Assange saga.

In my experience, in this kind of situations one can easily discern two diametrically opposite stances: the Right and the Left Wing.

Basically, whatever the lefties say (either praising or deploring, as the situation might be), the right-wingers oppose furiously (deploring, if the lefties praised it, praising, if the lefties did the opposite).

Surprisingly, thus, in this occasion the reaction has been much less clear: basically, most people commenting have given some support to both WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.

Here's a sample. I chose this example deliberately: apart from a considerable number of comments (which give an idea of what the posters think about the matter), its author is known for its centre-right opinions. And yet, he manages to sound rather reasonable on this matter.

All that is good and well, to be sure.

But if you stop and observe, you notice few people actually know what Assange and WikiLeaks have done. And here is an interesting detail: the Australian media coverage of this case has been spectacularly mediocre. Compare any local medium (let's say ABC, SBS, and SMH) with Der Spiegel International Online or The Guardian.

To be fair with the 3 media chosen as Australian examples: they did not get any special information release directly from WikiLeaks, as the foreign media did. And, if anything,  their local competitors' coverage is even worse.

So what have WikiLeaks and Assange actually done? Well, to a large extent the documents released are merely a source of unnecessary embarrassment for the US Government.

But there is more to it than that. The leaks reveal that Germany, for instance, has been object of espionage by the US Government. The information gathered by the US Government appears to be of little sensitivity and was offered spontaneously by the German source (a senior staffer from the business-friendly FDP party).

However, once a source has been compromised, it could become potentially susceptible to blackmail and could be forced to provide much more sensitive information. This would explain why the FDP has moved swiftly to relieve the source of its current duties.

More troubling is the role of some senior German politicians, like former Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. According to Der Spiegel:

"The Bush administration saw Schäuble as a sort of Trojan horse in Europe, a man who could help Washington achieve its goals."
It's understandable the parties affected are less than happy with the exposure given to them by the WikiLeaks leaks.

One could also understand that the US Government may feel outraged by these leaks.

It's quite possible that the German authorities might feel a little embarrassed by these leaks, too. This could be the case for other governments, explaining the knee-jerk reaction of condemnation to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.

But one thing seems quite certain: the national interest of the Federal Republic of Germany appears to have been served by the leaks.

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