My goodness, things certainly have changed. There is no doubt that those who promote globalisation have their own logic, including the fact that a networked community of global benevolence helps bring humanity closer together. It does this by bridging the geographic expanses that separate us, by way of increased communication, movement of labor, capital and commodities, which in turn lead to economic growth and pluralism. Greater cultural understanding is also a significant consequence of globalisation, as is the spreading of peace, security, and democracy, where democratic nations do not raise arms against others—or so it is said.
Such a model is of course as splendid as it is idealistic; human development does not suddenly change course. We should keep in mind that economic globalization also led to the world financial crisis, that globalization at the political level was an indirect factor in the September 11 attacks as well as the wars that followed them, and that cultural globalization is part and parcel of the clash of civilizations.
Most recently, informational globalization has brought to our door the “Wikileaks” scandal, in which an unprecedented number of classified government documents were made public, thus betraying the most sacred of our international relations—the movement of confidential information between nations and their leaders.
In truth, Wikileaks has become our most current international media source, publishing more than 250,000 US State Department documents, of which more than 15,000 were classified as secret, and more than 4,000 others were considered confidential. The documents span from 1996 to 2010, and include diplomatic correspondence from 274 US embassies across the world.
The force behind this impressive feat is a single website whose main purpose is the propagation of classified material from various institutions and government bodies across the globe. Founded in 2006 by Australian Julian Assange, Wikileaks first allowed viewers access to its contents in January of the following year. Assange was later nominated for Times magazine's “Man of the Year,” and designated by others “one of the most likely to transform world news.” However, recognising the potential repercussions of leaking high-profile information, Wikileaks was armed itself with countless lawyers to defend its enterprise and to protect those who acquired the information it produced.
Meanwhile, a number of media sources surmise that the source of the documents is the US Department of Defense electronic communications network, SIPRnet (Secret Internet Protocol Router Network), employed by some 2.5 million US government personnel. Other documents have been attributed to US army private, Bradley Manning, who provided Wikileaks with highly sensitive material he acquired about the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while serving as an army translator. He became particularly well-known in 2010 when he released to Wikileaks footage of the killing of unarmed Iraqi civilians by the US military. The international police agency Interpol consequently released an arrest warrant for Assange in November for releasing Manning’s documents to the public. Ironically, the warrant did not relate to information published on the site but rather to his alleged sexual assault of two Swedish women last August.
Despite significant pressure on Wikileaks by the US administration to cease its activities, intelligence leaks have continued. The US has since called on the cooperation of its allies, including Turkey, Australia, Israel and Britain to curb fallout from future leaks and prevent new ones from occurring. The US also launched a larger program aimed at improving its international public image, and initiated an investigation into whether Assange could be tried on charges of espionage. Doing so would be no easy feat, considering that is would require proof that Assange acted outside the constitutional limits of freedom of expression on one hand, and that the leaks pose a serious threat to US national security on the other.
By July 2010, however, only one month prior to Assange’s arrest warrant, Wikileaks had already made public some 77,000 documents regarding the American war in Afghanistan, pointing to violations committed by U.S. forces which resulted in the death of innocent Afghani civilians. Furthermore, the site published in October nearly 400,000 documents relating to America’s military presence in Iraq, indicating that the US army had no interest in investigating violations against Iraqi civilians from 2003 until 2009. In that time, the deaths of some 15,000 Iraqi civilians had been confirmed (thousands others still await confirmation), the so-called “death squads” had been deployed under Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri el-Maliki, and arms smuggling to Shiite militias in Iraq continued. Wikileaks also succeeded in making public classified details on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, as well as memos from the controversial British National Party (BNP), revealing a complete list of names and addresses of its members. Included in the list were names of BNP security officers, armed forces and attorneys.
The issue at hand, however, is not the leakage of national secrets by Wikileaks or any other group. Rather, what we must presently examine is the emergence of a “dialectics” of the most important elements of globalisation, capable of turning the concepts of national security on their heads. For the first time in history, it will be up to the international community to play the game of transparency. It remains to be seen whether doing so will ultimately lead to more conflict or to greater peace.
But perhaps the most profound matter at hand regards individuals like ourselves and our personal lives: our daily activities, relationships, bank accounts, and details of our personal affairs—now vulnerable to exposure and even extortion. This often fails to be included in discussions about the Wikileaks scandal and the likes of it, where national security and personal freedoms, at the forefront of which stand freedom of expression, comprise our concern.
Situating the topic within such limited boundaries obscures other important issues related to the protection of our individual privacy, upon which no one should impinge without permission of public authorities under law. This is where the real danger lies.