Information: The Currency of Democracy
Why America Needs Wikileaks
An unfortunate yet undeniable element of the modern world is that many governments which perpetuate a facade of integrity and claim to champion the common man are in reality exceedingly dishonest and corrupt. Contrary to popular belief, these attributes apply not only to third world bureaucrats in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, but also to seemingly transparent administrations in countries like The United States of America.
There have been many recorded cases of the abuse of power by politicians and federal organizations, especially in times of unstable national security. Unfortunately, unconstitutional actions that are perpetrated by government officials are carefully concealed and often go unnoticed by the media. Thus, democracies like ours have the potential to morph into tyrannical regimes whilst their citizens remain ignorant.
Unlike any other conventional media outlet, Wikileaks obtains and publishes highly classified documents and government held secrets. It operates on the principle that the transparency resulting from its publications establishes a healthy level of public scrutiny, thereby allowing democratic citizens to protect themselves from the threat of otherwise undetectable corruption. In its short lifespan of ten years, it has successfully released ‘more classified intelligence documents than the rest of the world press combined’, despite attacks from multiple countries and organizations, including the Pentagon itself.
In recent months, Wikileaks has published a plethora of invaluable information, revealing shocking corruption in various levels of the American government. For instance, a series of leaked emails from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign chairman, John Podesta, suggest that the campaign was colluding with the Democratic National Committee in order to essentially ensure the candidate’s victory before the ballots were cast. Many believe that the release of these emails had far-reaching effects, compounding the already widespread mistrust of establishment politicians like Clinton and ultimately leading to her loss in the general election.
Without Wikileaks, a very different individual may now be sitting in the oval office.
Even more recently, Wikileaks published over 8,000 documents under the file name ‘Vault 7’, detailing the activities and capabilities of the Central Intelligence Agency. These describe an alleged “global covert hacking program,” where company products including “Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android, Microsoft’s Windows, and Samsung TVs”, were converted into remotely operated microphones and cameras. It is deeply disturbing that an agency designed to protect the American people has now turned to developing technologies that give it the ability to effectively spy on private, law abiding citizens.
The realization that the government is not as honest as we are led to believe was only made possible because of Wikileaks’ dedication to truth and transparency. Only now can we have an accurate perspective about the CIA and the integrity of its actions. This will be a vital tool when making decisions about the future of this agency and determining if and how to limit its powers in the interest of privacy.
“The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it” ~ George Orwell
Many of Wikileaks’ detractors claim that it has no legal right to publish classified information that reveals such corruption in our nation’s government. They maintain that the ‘leaks’ serve only to widen the credibility gap between civilians and officials. This belief has some justification; it was proven when Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election due to a general distrust worsened after the release of her campaign manager’s emails. Similar effects can be noted now, as Americans grow increasingly suspicious of the CIA and its covert operations that threaten our Constitutional rights.
Indeed, the government must be able to function efficiently in order to prevent anarchy and maintain the stability of the nation, which necessitates a certain amount of civilian support. Though the credibility gap has the potential to grow to a level that hinders the management of the country, this is an inevitable side effect of uninhibited freedom of information.
“Information is the currency of democracy”
Though Thomas Jefferson allegedly said these historic words over two hundred years ago, their significance has transcended time. Without having access to knowledge regarding one’s leaders, citizens cannot make informed decisions to promote and protect their future prosperity and liberty. As seen in the extreme cases of North Korea and China, corrupt regimes can thrive when civilians are shrouded from the knowledge of their government’s true actions.
However, since the attacks on September 11, 2001, the American public has constantly been told that they will not be granted access to ‘state secrets’ — a purportedly crucial sacrifice to ensure national security. By labeling tens of millions of documents as secret, the United States Government has created a massive vacuum of information. Under the guise of security, it has the ability to commit crimes and infringe on constitutional rights without informing the public of its actions.
This behavior was exemplified in the Vietnam War, when President Lyndon B Johnson lied to Americans about the circumstances of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, a fabricated attack used by the administration as an excuse to enter the war. These unlawful actions were documented in what would be known as the Pentagon Papers. However, President Nixon, fearful of the expansion of same credibility gap that today’s Wikileaks opponents speak of, attempted to silence the reporter presenting them to the public. The case eventually progressed to the US Supreme Court, resulting in the landmark ruling which stated that, “only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government”.
Due to the mass of documents classified as secret, today’s press can by no means be called ‘free and unrestrained’. Wikileaks serves to uphold the court’s ruling, acting as a supplemental media source in order to expose and check the corruption that the US government attempts to shroud. Without it, citizens will remain unaware of their leader’s true actions and intentions, and abuses of power such as the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, Clinton Campaign Conspiracy, and the recent CIA operations will continue without any resistance or even any knowledge of their occurrence. It is true that the leaks have increased public mistrust of politicians and other authorities, but this is a small price to pay given the role that this valuable information plays in preventing corruption and maintaining democracy.
Though the accusations that Wikileaks’ sole accomplishment is the widening of the political credibility gap are largely unsubstantiated, others who claim that the leaks have the potential to endanger innocents have a valid argument.
In 2010, at the height of the US War in Afghanistan, Wikileaks published 77,000 classified war files which included the names of thousands of our Afghan informants. On the surface, it would seem that these files were intended to expose corruption in the US military, characteristic of Wikileaks’ mission statement. However, evidence later surfaced that the documents led to the unnecessary deaths of a number of informants.
It has become clear that this specific leak provided little valuable insight into the actions of our military and only served to endanger our troops and allies. Therefore, as demonstrated in this case, Wikileaks is not justified in all of its publications. Realistically, not all information should be shared with the public, and the details of certain government actions must be withheld in order to protect the lives of innocents.
Though Wikileaks has the potential to endanger the stability and safety of countries and civilians, the majority of the information that it exposes is highly valuable as it checks the power of corrupt governments in the modern era. As the once cherished transparency of the American government is steadily declining, the role that Wikileaks plays in the maintenance of democracy is becoming all the more important.
Throughout the history of the world, civilizations have witnessed the rise of far too many absolute monarchies, oligarchies, and other oppressive regimes. It has been made painfully clear that the few in power often fail to keep the best interest of their people in mind.
Without freedom of information, the democracy of the United States is on the brink of unprecedented corruption, from which there is little hope of return. However, this path can be reversed if the government is held accountable for its actions and if citizens have the necessary knowledge to make informed decisions that limit its power.
Tyranny can be prevented. Wikileaks is what makes that possible.