Bank of America to stop processing transactions for WikiLeaks
Bank of America has now joined the ranks of Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, and a Swiss (Swiss!) bank in refusing to process payments to WikiLeaks. These organizations have yielded to pressure by the U.S. government. The government denies it has applied pressure, but of course that is exactly what they have done. PayPal admitted to getting a letter from the State Department, which denies it sent one. In a sense, that is what WikiLeaks is all about, the need for transparency in government.
Some of the leaked documents have been a bit embarrassing, but even Gates, the Secretary of Defense, has admitted the damage done by the leaked diplomatic cables is “modest”. The earlier documents, from Iraq and Afghanistan, have made the Pentagon very angry. They have kept the private who provided the documents in solitary confinement for seven months, and treated him in a way that would be considered torture in many nations. They do this to try to get him to testify against Asange, the founder of WikiLeaks. They are not angry at the soldiers who are shown on video gunning down reporters and civilians. They are angry at the man who let the world know what had been done.
When someone provides the public with evidence of previously concealed government mismanagement and dishonesty, the government takes steps to deal with the problem. From their perspective, the problem is not the mismanagement and dishonesty. The problem is the person who revealed the facts to the public. The same is true in the situation with WikiLeaks. Amazon removed access to its cloud servers, citing a “violation of policy”. Other companies that lease server space have also denied access to their services. Banks and other financial organizations have refused to process funds.
In this case, however, the government response is futile. The original site has had to bounce from one group of servers to another and has sometimes been difficult or impossible to access. That makes no difference in availability, however, because there are more than 1300 mirror sites. It is just not possible to shut them all down. The technology has trumped government attempts at suppression.
The founder of WikiLeaks has many friends and allies, and some of them rank among the most skillful hackers anywhere. They have vowed that any attack will be met with a counterattack. When MasterCard and Visa announced they would no longer process payments to WikiLeaks, both sites were attacked and shut down for a day. That was done as a demonstration that the supporters of WikiLeaks are neither unskilled nor complacent. There are now so many sites that display the released documents that it is physically impossible to block them all.
Some of the operations of government probably should be secret. Some conversations should not be available to the public. But what our government has done is to classify way too much. Innocuous documents dealing with mundane operations of a government agency are routinely classified. There is so much information that has been classified, and so many people who have been granted access to it, that leaks are inevitable. The best way to avoid public knowledge of things that should be secret is to limit the quantity of information that is classified and limit access to that information. The best way to avoid embarrassing leaks that show the government has been lying to the public is to not lie to the public in the first place.
In the run-up to the war in Iraq, the Bush administration made public information that they claimed justified going to war, even when that information was ambiguous. Some of what they told us was just false. When Joe Wilson reported that the claim that Iraq was trying to obtain uranium from Niger was false, the response was to smear him. Then the government committed a crime by making public the identity of a covert CIA operative, who is Wilson’s wife.
Avoiding mismanagement and duplicity, correcting problems when they are identified, and classifying only things that should be kept secret are much better methods for managing government operations than simply lashing out at anyone who points out problems.