In a recent article for Slate, Farhad Manjoo offers a critical look at WikiLeaks through the lens of the release of Afghanistan war logs. Manjoo asks, “Is radical transparency compatible with total anonymity?”. With total anonymity of sources, which means that even WikiLeaks does not know and cannot know the sources of the leaks it provides, WikiLeaks has become “an opaque, insular organization” and has “shrouded itself in secrecy.” As if the pejorative ‘insular’ and ‘shrouded’ and ‘secrecy’ were not enough, this is “a problem” Manjoo informs us, since “most whistle-blowers” have “some sort of agenda” and this agenda is “part of the story” and “could provide valuable context.” Manjoo concludes, “would many leakers balk if WikiLeaks began asking them simple questions? Let me offer a few suggestions: Who are you, how did you find this document, and why are you leaking it now?”
As one who has been on the WikiLeak side of this kind of criticism (an experience originating a mild theme for my book in progress), I felt compelled to offer a reply. I have not in the past spent much time on the political. Perhaps I am finally getting drawn in, or perhaps it is not just politics at stake here. This issue regards our appreciation, or lack thereof, for the endearing role totalitarianism has played through human history, particularly with respect to the gruesomely attained discovery of that still globally rare and precious form of life we call freedom. Freedom to think, freedom to know, freedom to talk, freedom to act. Freedom from unknown microphones in one’s bedside phone and freedom from imprisonment and torture for failure to whoop it up for the local big-mouthed pathological monomaniac. I speak of a Freedom not only for the guru or the state sponsored saint or the patriarch or the dear leader or all those deluded murderous tyrants we apparently cannot live without. I speak of a Freedom of the human mammal, which, by categorical definition, possesses some extent of at least a rough similarity to my own consciousness, emotions, and nervous system.
In answer to Manjoo’s question then—and I am glad he asks it—‘NO’, I do not think many leakers would “balk.” (more…)