On The Importance of Whistleblowers

If one believes that the public and political interests are mutually exclusive, or just that political interests should be kept in check to as closely as possible align with those of the public, one ought to strongly support and cheer on the work of whistleblowers the world over. The purpose of this column is not to defend these premises, for I have already done that in-depth previously (see: here, here and here), but rather to emphasize their importance for those who already hold either of these positions.

To understand the value of whistleblowers is especially important now that Julian Assange, the co-founder of Wikileaks, has been arrested on an extradition warrant by the U.S., after almost seven years of asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy. Though originally targetted for sexual assault, he was still wanted after those charges were dropped for not surrendering to bail “without reasonable cause”.

After having leaked information about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Guantanamo Bay prison, and much more, it’s only natural that he’d end up with enemies in the United States “government”. Despite Donald Trump originally declaring that “I love Wikileaks” (for releasing Clinton’s campaign emails), he recently backtracked, claiming that “I know nothing about Wikileaks. It’s not my thing.” “Attorney General” Jeff Sessions stated last year that the imprisonment of Assange was a “priority”. CIA director Mike Pompeo asserted further that “It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”

But not only are State officials targetting him. Many journalists are also acting rather hostile towards him. Sean Davis, the co-founder of The Federalist, for instance, charged: “What do Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden have in common? They’re all biological men who should be in prison for espionage against the United States.” There is, however, no evidence that any of the information received and disseminated by Assange has put the American public in danger, as opposed to the political interests they defend under the euphemism of “national interests”. The right-leaning news site The Daily Caller mocked Assange on Twitter, captioning a picture of him being carried out of the embassy with “What year is it?” Many Clinton supporters and “NeverTrumpers” have also accused Assange of being a “Russian agent” for the release of Clinton’s campaign emails. A more comprehensive collection of such tweets can be found here.

Why do so many journalists have such an animosity towards him then? The most likely suggestion may be partisanship. Most journalists today appear to be more eager to be apologists for their parties, politicians, and policies rather than report objectively about them and may target those who do criticize them. As Wikileaks has released damaging information about both of the major political parties in the United States, it’s clear that supporters of either would either have negative impressions of him or have mixed feelings thereof. A clear illustration of this can be seen below:

Additionally, though related, is the track record, as well as the significance of the stories, of Wikileaks completely impeccable, which could certainly make most journalists envious. Important stories have been reported regardless of which party they’d harm or benefit, a tendency which has made Assange receive over a dozen honors and awards.

This leads us to the matter of why whistleblowers like Assange are so important. For what does it mean to be a whistleblower in the first place? It means someone releasing information to the public from inside the institution it concerns which those in a higher position in the institution don’t want to be disseminated. This information would most probably be shared due to a sense of justice in the (potential) whistleblowers that the public deserves to become conscious of such information. From this understanding of whistleblowers, most people likely wouldn’t cheer on all of them without questions, for such an intuition of justice in certain whistleblowers might be mistaken, i.e. with information like harmless business secrets that would provide competitors an advantage if released, or that which could make the country significantly more vulnerable militarily and thus put the public under direct danger. These exceptions, however, don’t mitigate the importance of the right whistleblowers in the least.

Though whistleblowers in corrupt businesses can also play an important role in bringing relevant information into public consciousness, I’ll contend that it’s even more so for those exposing the State, given that that is an entity whose influence is far more overreaching and significant than any one business. Corruption, surveillance, waste, war crimes, and other criminal activities done by State officials who are funded with stolen taxpayer money are all examples of important information that whistleblowers like Assange are bringing to light.

Not only small- or no-State libertarians, therefore, should strongly support whistleblowers, but also all those who proclaim to defend Democracy as the favorable political system (or a Republic at least partly based on the democratic principle of “the people” choosing the rulers). How can you favor such a system and yet oppose whistleblowers exposing State misdemeanors, which could impact the outcome of the next election (depending on the significance of the misdemeanor) as people would be further able to use the Democratic function to weed out such rulers acting in contrast to the public interests? If you only support whistleblowers harming “the other” party or politician, you’re no proponent of Democracy, fundamentally speaking, but rather an authoritarian partisan working in direct opposition to the “public interests” supposedly underbuilding the Democracy.

To conclude, I’ll leave Assange’s opponents with an ideological challenge: If you both want to be consistent, and find a democratic or small-State favorable to a one-party or dictatorial State, you must either (1) show how and why anything Assange has ever leaked would be unnecessary for the public to know about or whose importance wouldn’t outweigh the danger it would set them in to get it released, (2) oppose Assange and Wikileaks on principle, regardless of whether the information published benefits or damages your “side”, or (3) alter your position to favor Assange and Wikileaks publishing on principle. Though suggestion 2 would make you less of a partisan, however, it cannot be well aligned with the democratic principle. If you’re then left with (1), you owe an explanation as to why the public would not be entitled to information concerning

  1. CIA spying on American citizens through phones and smart-TVs even despite the devices being turned off (Vault-7);
  2. Details about civilian and insurgent deaths, as well as general military activity (and potential war crimes) in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars;
  3. CIA influencing foreign elections;
  4. NSA surveillance of foreign nations;
  5. Tactics used by the Department of Defense of detainees in military custody;
  6. Significant international trade agreements like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, Trade in Services Agreement and the Trans-Pacific-Partnership Agreement;
  7. Western and Chinese companies spending billions of dollars to acquire mining rights for uranium and other minerals in the Central African Republic without having to pay for potential environmental consequences;
  8. Classified UN investigative reports concerning European “peace-keepers” sexually abusing refugee girls;
  9. Details about the imprisonments of innocents to the Guantanamo Bay prison and the treatment of its prisoners;
  10. Sales of large military equipment between State-owned companies and foreign States (Dealmaker: Al Yousef);

And the list goes on: https://wikileaks.org/-Leaks-.html

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