By Brad Friedman on 12/10/2010, 8:13pm PT  

It's been quiet around here over the last 24 hours or so, largely because I've been absolutely fascinated following what is going on with WikiLeaks across the net, the nation and the world, despite the decidedly much-less-than-one-might-have-otherwise-expected coverage of the continuing fall out from new documents as they are released, the unprecedented cyber/info war for and against them which continues to rage, and the various whistleblowing heroes speaking up in defense of the "revolutionary" media organization.

For the record, to date, WikiLeaks has released just 1,295 out of the 251,287 leaked diplomatic cables they purportedly have so far. That's about "0.5% down, 99.5% to go" as they tweeted today. That, despite the inaccuracies you'll continue to hear and read in the media about the organization "causing havoc" and being "anarchists" by "indiscriminately dumping 250,000 classified documents!" It should be noted that almost all of the cable documents released to date have been published first by WikiLeaks' media partners such as the UK's Guardian, Germany's Der Spiegel, Spain's El Pais and the New York Times.

Never mind the very serious substance of the cables themselves --- it's not simply "embarrassing gossip" and "nothing new" as many in the media are shamefully downplaying it, perhaps because they didn't report it first! --- there is so much information and opinion flying out here about WikiLeaks and Assange themselves, it is difficult, if not impossible, to keep up with it all. In general, if you haven't noticed over the years, I only tend post when I feel I have something to contribute to any particular issue. So, of late, I've simply been trying to take much of it in, trying to make sense of it all in this extraordinary moment in history, and tweeting items of note (via @TheBradBlog) as I come across them in the bargain.

A few of those things, and a discussion --- at times, a somewhat contentious debate --- I had with someone on Twitter today in regard to WikiLeaks and Assange et al, are below, and I'd very much love to hear your thoughts on all of it. Read on...

Earlier this week, Daniel Ellsberg, the legendary whistleblower who leaked the Pentagon Papers to media outlets in 1971, (see my interview with him on this issue last week) responded directly to those in the media and the government who have said the release of documents by WikiLeaks cannot be compared to the release of the Pentagon Papers which revealed details on the Johnson Administration having lied the nation into the Vietnam War.

The "Pentagon Papers good; WikiLeaks material bad" mantra, is "just a cover for people who don't want to admit that they oppose any and all exposure of even the most misguided, secretive foreign policy," Ellsberg says in a statement. "The truth is that EVERY attack now made on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange was made against me and the release of the Pentagon Papers at the time."

His comments were included as part of a news release from the Institute for Public Accuracy signed by former Intelligence Officers and whistleblowers associated with the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence. Other signers of the very strong statement in support of WikiLeaks and Assange include Frank Grevil (Danish Army Intelligence), Katharine Gun (British government intelligence whistleblower), David MacMichael (former CIA analyst), Ray McGovern (27-year CIA analyst, used to give Presidential Daily Briefings to Bush Sr. & Clinton), Craig Murray (UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan, torture whistleblower), Coleen Rowley (FBI's 9/11 whistleblower, TIME Person of the Year), and Larry Wilkerson (retired U.S. Army Col., Chief of Staff to Sec. of State Colin Powell.)

Here's more from their statement:

WikiLeaks has teased the genie of transparency out of a very opaque bottle, and powerful forces in America, who thrive on secrecy, are trying desperately to stuff the genie back in. The people listed below this release would be pleased to shed light on these exciting new developments.

How far down the U.S. has slid can be seen, ironically enough, in a recent commentary in Pravda (that's right, Russia's Pravda): "What WikiLeaks has done is make people understand why so many Americans are politically apathetic ... After all, the evils committed by those in power can be suffocating, and the sense of powerlessness that erupts can be paralyzing, especially when ... government evildoers almost always get away with their crimes. ..."

So shame on Barack Obama, Eric Holder, and all those who spew platitudes about integrity, justice and accountability while allowing war criminals and torturers to walk freely upon the earth. ... the American people should be outraged that their government has transformed a nation with a reputation for freedom, justice, tolerance and respect for human rights into a backwater that revels in its criminality, cover-ups, injustices and hypocrisies.
The media: again, the media is key. No one has said it better than Monseñor Romero of El Salvador, who just before he was assassinated 25 years ago warned, "The corruption of the press is part of our sad reality, and it reveals the complicity of the oligarchy." Sadly, that is also true of the media situation in America today.

The big question is not whether Americans can "handle the truth." We believe they can. The challenge is to make the truth available to them in a straightforward way so they can draw their own conclusions --- an uphill battle given the dominance of the mainstream media, most of which have mounted a hateful campaign to discredit Assange and WikiLeaks.

So far, the question of whether Americans can "handle the truth" has been an academic rather than an experience-based one, because Americans have had very little access to the truth. Now, however, with the WikiLeaks disclosures, they do. Indeed, the classified messages from the Army and the State Department released by WikiLeaks are, quite literally, "ground truth."

Ellsberg also appeared last night on the Colbert Report:

From the appearance above...

ELLSBERG: Julian Assange is not a criminal under the laws of the United States. I was the first one prosecuted for the charges that would be brought against him. I was the first person ever prosecuted for a leak in this country—although there had been a lot of leaks before me. That’s because the First Amendment kept us from having an Official Secrets Act. . . . The founding of this country was based on the principle that the government should not have a say as to what we hear, what we think, and what we read. . . .

If Bradley Manning [the U.S. Army Private believed to have copied the cables from a computer he had access to] did what he’s accused of, then he’s a hero if mine and I think he did a great service to this country. We’re not in the mess we’re in, in the world, because of too many leaks. . . . I say there should be some secrets. But I also say we invaded Iraq illegally because of a lack of a Bradley Manning at that time.

FBI whistleblower Rowley, one of the signers of the statement with Ellsberg, as quoted above, echoed his thoughts in an interview by Nathan Diebenow posted at RAW STORY yesterday, in which she says not only might have the Iraq War had been avoided, but also, "If there had been a mechanism like Wikileaks, 9/11 could have been prevented."

Rowley (who we've interviewed in the past and who has even guest blogged here), was TIME's person of the year in 2002 as an FBI special agent in the Minneapolis field office who had tried to warn higher ups about Zacarias Moussaoui weeks prior to 9/11, but was, essentially, ignored. As she explains to Diebenow (and in an October op-ed in the Los Angeles Times), it was the official 9/11 Commission itself which recommended the establishment of a pro-whistleblower infrastructure to help ferret out important information to the public which was being ignored by the public officials.

RAW STORY also highlights the thoughts of another whistleblower, Wendell Potter, formerly the communications officer for health insurer Cigna, who recently apologized to Michael Moore for his, and the industry's, attacks on him over the documentary Sicko!. Potter tells RAW's Brad Jacobson that the attacks on WikiLeaks and Assange by both the U.S. Government and corporations such as Amazon, PayPal, MasterCard and Visa --- who all cut off services to the organization despite their having been charged with no criminal wrong doing as we detailed earlier this week --- sets a "very scary precedent" for the future of the Internet and for free speech.

"Well, it takes me back," he told Jacobson. “The Nixon Administration came after Ellsberg and tried to shut it all down and tried to intimidate the news media. There are a lot of parallels here."

Attacks on WikiLeaks and Assange, referring to them as "terrorists" and/or calling for their imprisonment or even assassination, are hardly surprising coming from the far-Right likes of Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Sen. Mitch McConnell, etc., or even from embarrassing Democrats like Senators like Joe Lieberman or Diane Feinstein.

It has been a bit more of a surprise that we've not heard more from those on the Right who claim to be "conservative" supporters of freedom of speech and media, and foes of "Big Government". Yes, we know phonies like Andrew Breitbart and James O'Keefe only act like they give a damn about such things (when it serves them to do so), so we can't be too surprised they've said nary a peep in defense of WikiLeaks. But until today, it was largely only Rep. Ron Paul who had spoken up to say "we need more WikiLeaks", as he did again this afternoon, persuasively, on the floor of the U.S. House.

So it was nice to see Jack Hunter, at The American Conservative magazine yesterday, offer "The Conservative Case for WikiLeaks" where he asked, "How often does our government use 'national security' simply as an excuse to cover up questionable dealings?"

It's too bad more of those who believe they are "conservatives" (where are ya, "Tea Party"?!) have yet to speak out similarly.

"Decentralizing government power, limiting it, and challenging it was the Founders’ intent and these have always been core conservative principles," Hunter writes. "Conservatives should prefer an explosion of whistleblower groups like WikiLeaks to a federal government powerful enough to take them down."

Hunter goes on to win a far-too-rarely-bestowed BRAD BLOG "Intellectually Honest Conservative" award for noting:

It should also be remembered that the same conservatives now calling for Assange’s head either ignored or were sympathetic to Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame allegedly at the Bush administration’s behest — a revelation arguably far riskier to our national security than anything ever released by WikiLeaks.

To quote Annie from It's a Wonderful Life: "About time one of you lunkheads said it!"

So it was with all of the above and more on my mind when I began tweeting the following this morning:

TheBradBlog: #WikiLeaks reveals international diplomacy 'deeply soaked in oil'. Listen to today's 'Green News Report':
TheBradBlog: FBI's 9/11 whistleblower Coleen Rowley speaks up in strong support of Wikileaks, joining @DanielEllsberg
TheBradBlog: Insurance industry whistleblower Wendell Potter joins @DanielEllsberg, Colleen Rowley in support of WikiLeaks.
TheBradBlog: FINALLY another *actual* conservative (unlike fakes Beck, Breitbart etc) joins Ron Paul in defense of WikiLeaks:
TheBradBlog: Any so-called "conservative" calling for attacks on @WikiLeaks/Assange is a phony "conservative". Go read the Constitution, losers.
TheBradBlog: Wow. MUCH irony, eh? Thx 4 the link! RT @_tophe @TheBradBlog has Clinton already forgotten her Speech 4 Int'net Freedom?
TheBradBlog:Same #TeaParty hoaxsters who supported ntl. sec threat by outing classified CIA agent now attack #WikiLeaks as ntl. sec threat.

And to that last tweet, I received a direct reply from a woman who tweets as @billiegirltoo, who also writes under the same moniker at "Tommy Christopher's Daily Dose", a group blog describing itself as "a daily dose of politics, and anything else that can be viewed from the left."

In her profile at Twitter, she says she's "mostly into politics, foreign policy, cooking, and books," and from what I can tell, she appears to be genuinely coming from what she must believe to be a Progressive perspective. Disturbingly, she also, during the course of our (at times contentious) conversation, said she regards herself as a "journalist" or, at least, a "reporter".

So when she seemed to be challenging my tweets in support of WikiLeaks, I thought I'd try to find out why. The resultant conversation --- as imperfectly re-constructed from Twitter as best as I could --- follows below. Hopefully you'll be able to make sense of the truncated 'tweet speak', since I think the conversation was illuminating as it, unfortunately, is too representative of where the misinformed (thanks, corporate media!) public is right now, even on the theoretically-Progressive side of the blogopshere --- at least if McClatchy's new poll out today, showing some "70 percent of Americans think the leaks are doing more harm than good", is anywhere near accurate.

Please forgive both her and I as we occasionally tweeted in response to one thing, while another comment came in and as we both did our best to make sense of it all, as confusing as such conversations can be at times. As mentioned, I'd love to hear your thoughts on all of the above and all of the below (if you're able to make sense of it) in comments...

TheBradBlog:Same #TeaParty hoaxsters who supported ntl. sec threat by outing classified CIA agent now attack #WikiLeaks as ntl. sec threat.

billiegirltoo: and vice versa.

TheBradBlog: How so?

billiegirltoo: oh. the same folks who are mad about the outing of plame are more than happy to let wikileaks on similar details.

TheBradBlog: Plame illegally outed to purposely harm. What NatSec has been threatened by #WikiLeaks (who has committed no crime)?

billiegirltoo: i think that's still to be determined. too early yet to know what consequences. the docs also leaked purposly to harm.

TheBradBlog: NO evdnce #WikiLeaks means 2 harm anybody. Evdnce shows contrary in fact & DoD/Gates confirm no harm so far. Not so re Plame.

billiegirltoo: usually when i'm talking about ill intent, i'm talking about julian, not wikileaks. even his own people think he's unethical

TheBradBlog: Not intrstd in whether ppl who say they know him like him or not. Interested in Freedom of Press/Exprsn, US Const, Secrecy

billiegirltoo: so, what i'm hearing you say is that information illegally leaked in plame case was wrong, but in manning case was okay?

TheBradBlog: U weren't talking abt Manning. U were talking abt @WikiLeaks/Assange. Ur now moving goal posts.

billiegirltoo: releasing info about plame=bad, releasing info abt. diplomacy=good, releasing potential rape victim info=bad?

billiegirltoo: assange asks the question himself: who should be in charge of keeping secrets? well, i guess only him.

TheBradBlog: When BigGov abuses secrecy 2 go to/wage war, target US ctzns w/o due process for assntn etc is journos rspnsblty 2 report it.

billiegirltoo: when did we shift to talking about journalism?

TheBradBlog: Is also responsibility of ALL citizens to oversee OUR govt & expose wrong doing/lies (as Manning has, btw).

billiegirltoo: illegally. and, wikileaks is not journalism.

TheBradBlog: #WikiLeaks IS journalism.

billiegirltoo: if wikileaks was journalism it wouldn't have needed the help of all the journalists it enlisted.

TheBradBlog: Nonsense. What diff btwn what WikiLeaks does and any other journalists do??

billiegirltoo: disseminate information. wikileaks was unable to interpret, and still are unable to interpret, all the info they have.

TheBradBlog: U've been conned by the *bad* journalists who resent their own failures & that @WikiLeaks beat 'em to real journalism.

billiegirltoo: i've been conned by nothing. however, i do have a differing opinion which to you means i've been hoodwinked. silliness.

TheBradBlog: Huh? @WikiLeaks gets info (like journalists), writes abt it (like journalists), shares it (like journalists). What's diff???

billiegirltoo: actually they don't.

TheBradBlog: They don't what??

billiegirltoo: get info the same way as journalists, nor do they share it in the same way.

TheBradBlog: You're wrong. But do explain.

billiegirltoo: why? you clearly know best.

TheBradBlog: Am seriously interested in ur POV. Otherwise, I wouldn't be asking, having this convo w/ u.

billiegirltoo: wikileaks is essentially a whistleblower org. that gathers information indiscriminately, without fact checking, and dumps it

billiegirltoo: while there may be journalists among them, the site itself does not interpret information. jounalists do.

billiegirltoo: this is why you have so many diplomatic professionals saying much of the info is not new. private convos maybe


TheBradBlog: "is y so many diplmtic pros say info not new" They r wrong and/or lying. See #1-#9: & thats 9 days ago!

billiegirltoo: journalists also likely would not leak exact locations of sensitive sites crucial to nat. security. you may want to know...

billiegirltoo: ... but there are diff. ethical standards.

TheBradBlog: "the site does not interpret information. journalists do." Again, ur wrong. Just one example:

billiegirltoo: that would be a good example. this latest tear would be not. this is what i'm saying - assange is not good for wikileaks.

billiegirltoo: he is ruining their reputation and capacity to do good.

billiegirltoo: my point is that when you have to CALL JOURNALISTS in, you don't know what you're looking at. period.

TheBradBlog: Are u a journalist, btw?

billiegirltoo: yes.

billiegirltoo: more specifically, reporter. so my 'opinions' are all my own :)

TheBradBlog: "wikileaks essntly gathers info indiscriminately, w/o fact checking & dumps it" Funny. That's what NYT did on WMD/Plame, no?

billiegirltoo: in what sense?

TheBradBlog: So are NYTimes journalists?

billiegirltoo: yes. what has that to do with wikileaks?

TheBradBlog: They gathered information, dumped it w/out fact checking. They still do, btw. Every day. Almost all DC journos do. Every day.

TheBradBlog: U said WL not "journos", just gather info, dump it w/out factcheck. That's not true. But NYT, ABC, WaPo etc do same every day

billiegirltoo: then they would be unethical and irresponsible journalists wouldn't they?

TheBradBlog: Yes, if passing on lies, as they have. WikiLeaks has not done that.

billiegirltoo: actually, it's not clear that they haven't. we don't yet have all the information.

billiegirltoo: i think you misunderstand me if you think i believe journalists are not above reproach.

billiegirltoo: i also think you misunderstand me if you think wikileaks - as a responsible org. - is not good for democracy. it can be.

TheBradBlog: But we *know* NYT indiscriminately passes on lies. By ur def, NYT not journalism. All u've said abt WL meantime is untrue.

billiegirltoo: and, journalists who lie should be fired.

billiegirltoo: but that doesn't mean i think all of the NYT is bad anymore than i think all the ppl who work at wikileaks is bad.

billiegirltoo: are bad

TheBradBlog: "u misunderstand if u think i believe journos not above reproach". Fine. But ur not reproaching WL, ur condemning entire org.

TheBradBlog: "journalists who lie should be fired." Have any WL journos lied?

billiegirltoo: nope. i've been saying all along it's ASSANGE i'm condemning.

billiegirltoo: please tell me who their journalists are by name

TheBradBlog: "i've been saying all along it's ASSANGE i'm condemning." That's completely untrue. Go back & read ur tweets.

billiegirltoo: i know what i've been saying. what i've been saying is wikileaks - as an org. - is not journalism. it's data dumping.

TheBradBlog: "tell me who their journalists are by name"? Huh? What does that have 2 do w/ it? Goal posts moved yet again!

billiegirltoo: how can i research if anyone has lied unless i've seen something they've written. i'm not into blind char. assassination

TheBradBlog: I showed u just one of their stories. Agn: What's prob w/ it? How is that not journalism?

billiegirltoo: like i said. there may be journalists working there. but the ORGANIZATION is not the same.

TheBradBlog: BTW, U said u are a journalist, but u seem to write as just "billiegirltoo" at ur site:

billiegirltoo: if wikileaks is journalism, why did the organization not just research it themselves and write stuff on their own?

TheBradBlog: If YOU received 250,000 docs & shared them w/ other journo orgs, that means YOU'RE not a journalist???

billiegirltoo: didn't say that in the least. but, likely if i'm a journalist who obtained that amount of info, why WOULD i share the scoop?

[I didn't notice that question at the time, during the flurry of tweets and cross-talk, but my answer would have been something like: "Because journalists are *supposed* to be about sharing information with the public that they need to know, not about getting 'scoops'. Also because it's impossible for any one person, or even a small group to review and report on 250,000 documents by themselves!]

billiegirltoo: like i said. there may be journalists working there. but the ORGANIZATION is not the same.

TheBradBlog: Ur arguments are now becoming incoherent, as opposed to just wrong. W/ all due respect. Seriously.

TheBradBlog: At this point, better response might be: "U've given me much to think abt. Maybe I was wrong in condemning WL."

billiegirltoo: i've remained consistent the entire time.

billiegirltoo: i've said: assange does wikileaks a disservice, wikileaks needed journalists, illegal activity is just that, lying is bad

TheBradBlog: WL charged w/ no crimes, or with lying. Period. What are u talking abt???

billiegirltoo: never condemned wikileaks. at no point.

billiegirltoo: when have i brought up any crimes with wikileaks?

billiegirltoo: i have said lying is bad in journalism, i have said that breaking united states law is bad-libby and manning.

billiegirltoo: i don't quite know what you are reading into my tweets. i think i'm being quite straightforward.

TheBradBlog: U equated WL w Plame outing; Sed "not jrnalsm"; Maybe lied; Offered nthng new; Don't intrprt info. But u didn't condemn them??

billiegirltoo: nope. i equated illegal activity with illegal activity.

TheBradBlog: Please don't "never condemn" me that way, okay?! :-)

billiegirltoo: huh?
billiegirltoo: also, calling me dear is a smidge condescending

TheBradBlog: "also, calling me dear is a smidge condescending" When did I call u "dear"???

billiegirltoo: oh. heh. i blended tweets while reading. my apologies.

TheBradBlog: Accepted. Dear. ;-)