Just before the convention last week, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) had to deal with the release of thousands of emails through Julian Assange and Wikileaks. According to most sources investigating this matter, it is likely the hack that led to the email release was conducted by Russian intelligence, which opens up the possibility that it was ordered by former KGB agent and current dictator Vladimir Putin.
Now, a lot of people have chimed in on the possibility that Putin and the Russians were trying to influence the election, and Trump himself has even gone on to ask the Russians to help him more, apparently believing that aligning himself with Russia is a political winner for him somehow. However, I want to talk about a different aspect of this, and that is the leaks themselves.
We really need to stop referring to people like Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden as “heroes.” They are nothing of the kind. I place Manning ahead of the other two because at least she had the courage to stand trial. While she’s just a naïve person being manipulated by others, the other two are rank cowards. Snowden is in Russia now, living in a villa, likely on Putin’s dime and is apparently being tended to by Putin minders. Think about that a second; a guy who supposedly fled the country to avoid the “tyranny” of the NSA collecting our meta data is not living in a crime-ridden country with a dictator who is apparently watching his every move. No irony there, huh? The key to civil disobedience is being arrested for the “unjust” law you break so that you can point out the lack of justice entailed in the law. Thousands of protesters over the years have spent a night or two in jail for their convictions and some, like Nelson Mandela, go through a lot more. True movement heroes don’t hightail it to a foreign country and live on the largesse of a dictator.
For his part, Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for about three years now, in an attempt to avoid extradition to Sweden for sexual assault charges. The second he leaves that building, London police will send him there to face justice. As of right now, that mens questioning on the sexual assault. Needless to say, we can’t really call him a hero, can we? I mean, despite his pleas that we see him that way. To avoid being questioned for their actions, both Snowden and Assange have essentially sentenced themselves to living in relative luxury in foreign countries in order to – what? Teach the United States a lesson?
What’s most bothersome about all of these incidents, however, is the characterization of this type of nonsense as “journalism.” It is most decidedly not journalism.
When it comes to most WikiLeaks “leaks,” they tend to be little more than document dumps. We’re all apparently supposed to be wowed by the mere existence of these documents, as well as their uncurated breadth and scope. Assange seems to think the sheer number of documents means he’s a “good boy” and we’re supposed to be impressed. He’s a size queen. The only thing he has going for him is the fact that he doesn’t steal the documents himself, but just acts as a repository.
For his part, Snowden stole a bunch of documents. According to him, he took millions of pages of documents, although we have only seen a scant few thousand. While Snowden took Assange and WikiLeaks to task on Twitter last week for their failure to properly curate their document dump, the Snowden approach is only marginally better. Eddie barely consulted with a handful of journalists and did nothing to ensure that reporters did their jobs with the documents he gave them.
And that’s the ultimate problem with all of these “leaks.” No one is doing their job. Apparently, we’re supposed to be so impressed with the size of their document caches, we aren’t supposed to notice that we don’t know anything about the emails or what they mean.
Here’s an experiment. Go to your email right now and pick a random email chain. Now, look at it as an outsider and ask yourself what it may look like to other people. We mostly email friends and business colleagues, which means we usually have inside information about each other that colors the conversation and alters the context to a certain degree. If you gave one of your emails to ten people, you may get at least 4-5 different interpretations of what it meant.
I once worked on a humongous legal case (the settlement was more than $20 billion, to give you an idea) involving a major corporation. Our team of paralegals had to keep track of and maintain more than two million documents. We scanned them electronically, but we also had to keep the paper copies, as well. In the room with the documents were two teams, one team of accountants and another of auditors, and when they had questions about any of the documents, we had to supply them with answers. That’s because the existence of a document is only part of the story. Where each document came from is vitally important, as is what may have been done with the document in question.
For example, of the thousands of DNC emails released by WikiLeaks, only a half dozen or so seemed to gain any sort of attention. For example, in one of them, a DNC staffer tossed up an idea that Sanders should be asked about his religious views. While some have suggested that this is anti-Semitic because Sanders is Jewish, there have been numerous rumors over the years that Sanders is actually atheist; rumors that persist, even though Sanders himself has said he isn’t. However, what if the email’s author thought he was an atheist? Doesn’t that change the argument in some ways? Also, what if the email actually came from someone’s draft folder and was never sent? What if there was a follow-up email condemning that idea as unfair and wrong? Does that not change the meaning?
In another email, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz called out someone in the Sanders campaign as a “damn liar” in response to criticism of her. Again, what if no one ever saw the email? What if she was right, and the Sanders official in question actually has a reputation for not telling the truth. Another email was pointed out because someone at the DNC said Sanders had “no understanding” of the Democratic Party. That’s not exactly a slanderous statement and, to be honest, there was a lot of evidence that he didn’t seem to understand the primary system very well and he has never actually been a member of the Democratic Party. But beyond that, what if they were just being colleagues venting their frustration to each other during what is essentially a workplace conversation. Imagine! Working in an office and talking shit in email! How horrible is that? If you have never done that, well, you’re probably lying. Everyone has said something in an email that they decided not to send and we have also said something in an email that we wished we could get back.
And isn’t that the problem, really? People like Assange and Snowden think they’re doing a great thing by dumping these documents, but are they? In Assange’s case, he is basically accepting stolen property and violating people’s privacy. If someone robbed a bank and stole a million dollars, but they gave you the money to give to an orphanage? Is the money less stolen? In Snowden’s case, he stole what he claims are millions of pages of documents and immediately absconded with them to China and then to Russia. Who knows what happened to those documents, really? What if part of the asylum deal with Russia includes helping them hack the DNC? And yes, he stole the documents. He took people’s usernames and passwords and used them to download the documents, thus violating their privacy under the pretense of protecting privacy. Nothing ironic about any of that, right? Then, he and a handful of “journalists” published some of them with their guesses as to what the documents may have meant.
We have to stop finding this acceptable. It’s time we started treating people like these as heroes and advocates. I’m won’t ever say that no one should ever steal documents, but such activity should be limited to uncovering actual wrongdoing and every effort should be made by journalists to provide context. The DNC emails contained absolutely no information that the public needed to know. Sure, some people may have felt vindicated by seeing them, but nothing illegal or immoral was really uncovered. The subsequent voicemail leaks were just as insipid. Even if there were one or two compelling voicemails out of thousands, what was gained by Wikileaks posting voicemails of children saying good night to their parents, former ambassadors making dinner reservations or a Sanders supporter leaving a profane voicemail about how much he hated Hillary Clinton? Is society better served by this information?
And Snowden has a point when he calls out Wikileaks for failing to curate the leaked documents and voicemails, and not just because there were many insipid ones, but also because many of the leaked documents included donor information that had not been redacted. Yeah, that’s right. Those Sanders supporters who are praising Wikileaks for their heroism might want to check their credit reports because the leak contained lots of Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, and passport information.
These people are not heroes and the people who praise them are not more moral than the rest of us. In fact, reality is just about the opposite.