Finally the true intentions behind the draconian British law, the Official Secrets Act, and similar espionage-related laws in other countries such as the USA, have been laid bare. All is revealed – these laws apparently have nothing whatsoever to do with protecting national security and countering espionage – their primary purpose is to stifle dissent and legitimate criticism of the state.
How can I tell? Well, look at the reaction to the ongoing Wikileaks revelations, as opposed to today's UK spy scandal involving the parliamentary assistant of a hitherto unremarkable MP.
The now-notorious Wikileaks site has been going since 2007 and, in this brief time, has shone a bright light on such nasties as Trafigura, the BNP, Scientology, Climategate, Guantanamo, the Australian internet blacklist, Sarah Palin, and much more.
The site achieved world-wide notoriety this year with four big stories – starting with the harrowing film "Collateral Murder", which demonstrated clearly that the Pentagon had been lying to the distraught families of the victims of this video-game nasty for years.
Since then Wikileaks has cleverly worked with selected media oulets such as The Guardian, The New York Times and Der Spiegel in Germany to give us the Afghan War logs and Iraq war files, which exposed endemic brutality, torture and war crimes (all in the name of spreading democracy, of course), and culminating over the last week with the ongoing Cablegate expose.
The response? Well the majority of the old media, particularly those that didn't share in the juicy scoops, has been in attack mode: condemning whistleblowing; vilifying the character of Wikileaks spokesperson, Julian Assange; and gleefully reporting the widespread cyberspace crackdown (Amazon pulling the site, Paypal stopping contributions, the ongoing hack attacks).
But this is just so much hot air – what about the real substance of the disclosures? The violent horror, war crimes, and government lies? Why is our so-called Fourth Estate not demanding a response to all this terrible evidence?
However, it is the reaction of the US political class that is most gob-smackingly shocking. The half-wits call for Assange's prosecution under the US Espionage Act (even though he's an Australian); to have him executed, assassinated by drone attack, or unlawfully disappeared as an "unlawful combatant"; and make hysterical calls for Wikileaks to be placed on the US list of proscribed foreign terrorist organisations. Daniel Ellsberg, the famous Pentagon Papers whistleblower, fears for Assange's life.
Well, you can always tell how effective a whistleblower is by the response you engender when telling truth to power, and this is a pretty striking vindication.
Of course, Julian Assange is not strictly speaking a whistleblower per se. He is the next generation – a highly-capable, high-tech conduit, using his "hackivist" skills to out-pace and out-smart those who seek to conceal vital information.
As he said during a TED.com interview last summer, he strives to live by the ideal that to be a man is to be "capable and generous, not to create victims, but to nurture them…". And this is indeed the protection Wikileaks offers, an avenue of secure disclosure for people of conscience on the inside, without their having to go public to establish the bona fides of what they are saying, with the resulting victimisation, loss of career, liberty, and possibly life.
Still, politicians seem unable to make the distinction – they are solely focused on loss of face, embarrassment, and shoring up the wall of secrecy that allows them to get away with lies, torture and war crimes. I hope that common sense will prevail and Assange will not become another sacrificial victim on the altar of "national security".
So why did I say at the start that the secrecy laws have come out of the closet? Well, in the wake of all this recent media and political hysteria about Wikileaks, this little espionage gem appeared in the UK media today. Essentially, the UK Home Secretary is booting out an alleged Russian spy, Ms Katia Zatuliveter who, despite getting through security vetting (MI5, anyone?), was really an SVR agent working as the Parliamentary assistant to Mike Hancock MP – a man who happens to have a special interest in Russia and who serves on the UK's Parliamentary Defence Select Committee.
Now, in the old days such alleged activity would mean an automatic arrest and probable prosecution for espionage under the Official Secrets Acts (1911 and 1989). If we go with what the old media has reported, this would seem to be a clear-cut case. During the Cold War foreign spies working under diplomatic cover could be discreetly PNGed (the jargon for declaring a diplomat persona non grata). However, this young woman was working in Parliament, therefore can have no such diplomatic cover. But deportation and the avoidance of embarrassment seems to be the order of the day – as we saw also with the explusion of the Russian spy ring from the US last summer).
Which demonstrates with a startling clarity the real intentions behind the British OSA and the American Espionage Act. The full force of these laws will automatically be brought to bear against those exposing crime in high and secret places, pour enourager les autres, but will rarely be used against real spies.
Proof positive, I would suggest, that these laws were drafted to prevent criticism, dissent and whistleblowing, as I've written before, but not meaningfully to protect our national security. One can but hope that the Wikileaks debacle acts as the long-overdue final nail in the OSA coffin.
Would it not be wonderful if our "esteemed" legislators could learn from recent events, draw a collective deep breath, and finally get to grips with those who pose a real threat to our nations – the people who lie to take us into illegal wars, and intelligence officers involved in torture, assassination and espionage?