Of course empire spokesmen hate Wikileaks

Jeffrey Bleich, US ambassador in Australia, writes an embarrassing defence of secrecy post-Wikileaks, claims lives have been lost (with no evidence) and wishes for the good old days of governments sharing secrets because they know what’s best:

Before I became an ambassador, I worked for many years as a lawyer advocating for freedom of expression and for public access to information in the United States. Today, confronted by WikiLeaks, both roles lead me to the same conclusion – the disclosure of purported classified government information, including as advocated by WikiLeaks, is bad for free expression.

Even as a civil rights lawyer, I understood that protecting the confidentiality of sensitive government communications was vital to maintaining a free society, and confidentiality is entirely consistent with America’s and Australia’s bedrock commitment to freedom of expression.

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And today, as a US diplomat, I’ve been impressed that this commitment is shared throughout our diplomatic corps, which work around the world to promote both free expression and effective government.

As a lawyer, I handled many ”free expression” cases over two decades. These included representing media organisations demanding that the government unseal records or remove gag orders. I remain passionately committed to freedom of expression, and – like WikiLeaks – I have quoted president John F. Kennedy’s observation that as a free nation, ”we decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it”.

But, unlike WikiLeaks, I have not blinked away the other part of the president’s admonition: that a free society also depends upon the moral duty of its people to protect the confidence of truly sensitive materials.

Even the most ardent ”free expression” supporter recognises that some information is best kept confidential. This applies to many aspects of our private lives. We know it is better to handle problems with family members by offering candid advice behind closed doors, not by blurting the same thing out over Christmas dinner. We expect this discretion from professionals, too.

Text and images ©2023 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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