Secrecy laws come out of the closet

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

WikileaksThe 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?

Julian_AssangeHow­ever, 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”.

Katia_ZSo 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 débâcle 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?

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