when does espionage become terrorism?

Julian Assange has made waves in the international community by releasing 251,287 US embassy cables via his whistleblower website WikiLeaks.

The revelations resulting from the leak will continue for months, even years, as the information contained in the documents is processed.

In this post I am not so much interested in Assange and the landmark event he has orchestrated. Rather I am interested in some of the questions, not least those of a political nature, which are raised.

At this point it is worth noting the reactions by certain political figures at the historic leak:

  • Mike Huckabee, a former Republican presidential hopeful, has been reported as saying those responsible should be charged with treason and executed
  • Sarah Palin (no introduction needed) has compared Assange with al-Qaeda and claimed he is “an anti-American operative with blood on his hands”
  • Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, accused WikiLeaks of an “attack on the international community”
  • An advisor to the Canadian PM, Tom Flanagan, has claimed in a television interview that Assange “should be assassinated” and that Barack Obama “should put out a contract and maybe use a drone”

The assumption here, of course, is that America and its allies are the guardians of order in our world, and that any attack on them is unjustified and deserves to be punished (by death, according to some).

Palin has asked, “What, if any, diplomatic pressure was brought to bear on NATO, EU, and other allies to disrupt WikiLeaks’ technical infrastructure?” Again what is taken for granted is that US intelligence information is beyond culpability. This is despite the fact that many of the cables leaked reveal the extent of the US’s espionage in other nations, including its own allies.

How have we gotten to the point where the US thinks that it has the right to gather information on other nations by espionage, but when its own information is released this is called terrorism?

Of course the US government argues that the leaking of such information has put the lives of countless people (not least those in the military) at risk. But there is no evidence of this whatsoever. Caveats of this kind are ruses, says John Kampfner (Chief Executive of Index on Censorship) – the powerful preventing information from reaching the public domain. Assange himself has rightly pointed out that “US officials have for 50 years trotted out this line when they are afraid the public is going to see how they really behave.”

This is in addition to the fact that US patriots who are insisting that the leaks will cost American lives are the same ones who vocally support wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and attacks in Pakistan (over 100,000 civilians have died in Iraq alone).

At the end of the day the attitude of the US and some of its allies is disgusting, though I suppose this is how empires behave. From Egypt to Assyria to Babylon to Greece to Rome all the way up to the US, the same tactics have been applied. When someone does something to reveal the dirty tricks actually being used by the empire the only response it can produce is to silence the voice, by violence or murder if necessary (thank you Mr. Flanagan).

I encourage people to rethink how we perceive global politics, and the role of some of Western nations involved. What right exactly do nations like ours have to assume we can police the rest of the world? And even if this role was justified (which it isn’t), what excludes us from playing by the rules we set? Why is it in the best interests of the international community when America do something secretive to acquire information, but terrorism when China or Iran or al-Qaeda do it?

(I am definitely not supporting the actions of such parties, I am just pointing out the contradiction).

If you come from the same faith tradition as I do, let’s rethink our allegiances as kingdom people. We should, of course, be loyal to the kingdom of God, which is in essence an anti-kingdom/empire. Nationalistic attitudes were condemned in Scripture when Israel held them, so why should we think any differently about how we feel regarding the US or Australia? Sure, our countries are good to live in, but that doesn’t mean we are inherently good or right or true…

…let’s be careful we don’t confuse the will of the West for the will of God.


Posted on December 2, 2010, in Culture & Art, Current Events, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. A sobering thought well put. however, ia am not convinced that the leaks are that damaging at all. It all merely amounts to a justification of US foreign policy:


  2. I have grave fears for Assange. And I wonder, if some of the extreme responses were to come true (as is too often the case in US history), then would the Wikileaks phenomena only get stronger?

    I have to say, I think it would.

    Great thoughtful piece!

  3. Information is power – governments know it. Wether it be true or untrue, they use it, control it, manipulate it, massage it, spin it, colour it, blur it…..and leak it or retract to suit.

    This sort of behaviour (government, masses) is not new, but the power of the internet to spread the information is what governments are afraid of,….just ask China. Everyone can have a voice, Wikileaks and Bloggers alike. Just be careful what you say – (see Sokratis Giolias)

    Unfortunately for Assange he’s in the deep-end now, although technically & personally he has probably broken no laws.

  4. He is truly in the deep end now…

    And as of today WikiLeaks has been taken down worldwide. Interesting how empire functions…

  5. Matt, I may be on the outer, and I am no defender of the US, however I remain umconvinced that through wikileaks that the world becomes a freer / better place. If it does not add to the betterment of the globe is it not just mischievious and in some regards a danger for those involved in counter intelligence?

  6. Brewster,

    I have two things to say.

    1) I’m not sure that WikiLeaks was aiming to make the world freer/better. Even if it wanted to it probably couldn’t. But of course not everything can be judged by whether it makes things better or worse, because not everything fits into those categories.
    In the case of of WikiLeaks I think the aim was to destabilise the myth that American imperialism is both right and just. It shows to the world that the American military breeds just as much (if not more) terror than anyone else in the world. If there ever was a rogue state, it is probably the American military. I think this was the point of the leaks.

    2) When am I coming over to your place for dinner and discussion of Colbert and Fry?


  7. By the way everyone, if you had not seen yet, WikiLeaks was put back up about 6 hours after it was taken down, this time on a new server.


  8. Matt, you have my number, you know I drink Monteiths Golden Lager or a few selected reds, ring, invite yourself and i’ll hopefully not be working.

  9. on a serious note, please remove those tacky falling snow flakes before your site is taken down too

  10. Haha, I found your comment in my Spam box Howie.

    Tis the season! Get into the spirit! Or some other throw away line like that!

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