In his NYT column today, Bill Keller argues that Wikileaks “was a hell of a story and a wild collaboration, but it did not herald, as the documentarians yearn to believe, some new digital age of transparency. In fact, if there is a larger point, it is quite the contrary.” After bemoaning the Obama administration’s clampdown on digital information and its relatively aggressive pursuit of government leakers, he states the larger point: “The most palpable legacy of the WikiLeaks campaign for transparency is that the U.S. government is more secretive than ever.”
Keller is right that the Wikileaks phenomenon was overblown. Bradley’s Manning’s leaks of hundreds of thousands of classified documents and related information were the result of the government’s unbelievably lax digital security system. Assange’s enterprise for receiving and distributing the information depended on this “push” model of leaking that the government has moved aggressively to prevent.
But it does not follow that the government is more secretive than ever. Yes, the government is bigger than ever. Yes, it classifies more information than ever. And yes, it is pursuing leakers more aggressively than ever. But the government by many other measures is losing the war against leaks. The size of the secrecy bureaucracy makes secrets harder than ever to keep. So too do modern information technologies, which enables journalists and non-journalists around the globe to watch, collaborate, and report on “secret” USG activity like never before. They can also use massive databases and search capabilities to uncover government action, as they did, for example, in uncovering the CIA’s “secret” prisons. We read about intimate details of covert actions and other classified programs on the front pages of newspapers so often that we have become inured to the fact that this information is not supposed to be in the public realm.
(photo credit: Ben Bryant)