Congressional Hearing On Wikileaks Surprisingly Focuses More On Gov't Overly Secretive Actions

from the good-for-them dept

Earlier today, Congress held hearings about Wikileaks and, given how the government has been reacting so far, I fully expected pure grandstanding about how "evil" Wikileaks is and how Julian Assange must be brought to justice. There was some of that, but it appears much more of it was focused on how the US government was abusing the classification system to make things secret that never should have been secret -- and how that was the real problem. Panel chair John Conyers apparently kicked off the hearing by saying that criminal charges against Assange would be "extreme" and saying that "caution is needed" before anything is done:
"Prosecuting WikiLeaks would raise the most fundamental questions about free speech, about who is a journalist and what citizens can know about their government," Conyers said. "The problem today is not too little secrecy but too much secrecy."
He also noted -- in contrast to much of the hysteria we've heard -- that while the releases have been embarassing "the real-world consequences have been fairly modest." Rep. William Delahunt appeared to echo these sentiments and again noted that secrecy by the government has been the real issue:
"Secrecy is the trademark of totalitarianism. In contrast, transparency and openness is why democracy is all about," Delahunt said.

"There is far too much secrecy and overclassification in the executive branch, and I think it puts American democracy at risk."
Rep. Bob Goodlatte also noted that expansion of government secrecy was "out of control" and "illegitimate," while Rep. Bobby Scott noted that we need to remember the 1st Amendment. Rep. Hank Johnson warned of the "chilling effects" of prosecuting Wikileaks.

Many panelists appeared to make similar points as well. Thomas Blanton, the director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, told the panel that the government always overreacts to leaks and that "more openness makes us more secure." He also urged the government to "use a little restraint" and to avoid rushing into charging Julian Assange with violating the Espionage Act.

Of course, not everyone argued this way. Many of the Congressional Reps still seemed pretty bloodthirsty to charge Assange. And some of the panelists seemed to agree. Kenneth Wainstein, a lawyer from O'Melveny and Myers, warned the panel that any lawsuit against Wikileaks would raise serious First Amendment issues but then argued that the government could easily distinguish Wikileaks from the media though he did so by misstating that Wikileaks was "indiscriminately" dumping documents -- a point that has been debunked already. Gabriel Shoenfeld, who is a big supporter of government secrecy, spent a lot of time talking about how there's too much secrecy and that the government leaks info to the press all the time but ended his talk by saying that doesn't apply to Wikileaks.

However, even those who seemed to think that the government should still seek to prosecute Assange, they all seemed to admit that the government is way too secretive and abuses its classification privileges.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
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    Steven (profile), Dec 16th, 2010 @ 2:52pm

    yay

    I'm glad, but not convinced this will actually produce anything other than a 'stay the course' outcome.

     

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    TeleTips Network (profile), Dec 16th, 2010 @ 3:06pm

    Finally! US Government officials speaking sensibly about the reaction to these leaks.

    Slightly off topic, now that Mr. Assange has been released on bail, is his life in greater peril then when he was incarcerated? Wait, wait, hear me out.

    Follow, if you will, the plot of a movie like Conspiracy Theory or Enemy of the State or others of this genre. Government spokespersons wrap themselves in the flag and bemoan the insecurity of the times in which we live. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, a black ops team has been dispatched by a secretive government agency to eliminate the troublesome whistle-blower.

    Being out on bail makes Mr. Assange much more vulnerable to this scenario. Would-be assassins no longer have to penetrate the security of Wandsworth prison. Many more plausible "accidents" might befall him whilst free on his own recognizance. Sure, it's totally unlikely and it never happens. Let us hope an antidote to Polonium has been developed

     

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      Mark (profile), Dec 16th, 2010 @ 3:40pm

      Re:

      >Follow, if you will, the plot of a movie

      I found a problem. You're basing your theoretical on a movie, not actual incidents that have happened in real life.

       

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        lux (profile), Dec 16th, 2010 @ 5:10pm

        Re: Re:

        I found a problem. You're basing your theoretical on a movie, not actual incidents that have happened in real life.

        I found a problem. You're forgetting the US has a history of state sponsored assassinations.

         

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2010 @ 3:24pm

    First comes the political grand standing, then comes the partisan bickering and attempts to nail this one on Obama or Bush, depending on who you hate more.

    Finally, it peters out and Assange dies in a car crash.

    How hard is this to understand?

     

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    •  
      identicon
      Alex Bowles, Dec 16th, 2010 @ 5:27pm

      Re:

      At which point the 256bit key for 'Insurance' suddenly becomes very public.

       

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      •  
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2010 @ 5:30pm

        Re: Re:

        except of course that the only guy with it is lying under the bumper of a black taxi in Manchester.

         

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          lostalaska (profile), Dec 16th, 2010 @ 5:45pm

          Every 108 minutes...

          I like to think Assange has a small device on his persons and he has to enter a code every 108 minutes or a script is run that dumps the "insurance" file's contents onto wikileaks and other random sites.

           

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            identicon
            Anonymous Coward, Dec 17th, 2010 @ 5:00am

            Re: Every 108 minutes...

            If he is at that level, then he has certainly graduated to the level of "terrorist", even if it is just as an information terrorist.

             

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    Pixelation, Dec 16th, 2010 @ 5:11pm

    Transparency

    Well, Obama has the governmental transparency he was promising when he was campaigning.

    Manifest destiny?

    Let's hope saner minds such as conyers prevail.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2010 @ 5:22pm

    And here I was thinking people wasn't paying attention.

    To much secret and abuse of mechanism that let people get away with bad things are the real problema.

    This leak is even good for the government as it shows that diplomats where doing a fine job, with a handful of cases that are troublesome, but for the must part they were on top of things.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2010 @ 5:30pm

    Chairman Conyer's opening statement

    Someone has posted the text of Chairman Conyers' opening statement at the hearing today.

    I just finished watching the video. Overall, this seemed to be one of the more thoughtful and thought-provoking Congressional hearings.

     

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    Anonymous Howard, Dec 16th, 2010 @ 9:13pm

    Note to editor: it is customary to indicate the political party of representatives and senators with a small "r", "d", of "i".

    thank you

     

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      Rose M. Welch (profile), Dec 17th, 2010 @ 12:43am

      Re:

      I don't ever recall seeing a party designation on this site, probably because their party affiliation isn't pertinent to the discussion.

      Also, this isn't a customary news source. You might have noticed that we employ logic here. :)

       

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Dec 17th, 2010 @ 2:06am

      Re:

      Note to editor: it is customary to indicate the political party of representatives and senators with a small "r", "d", of "i".

      We have stated multiple times that we do not do this. Doing so only encourages people to focus on the political party of the representatives, and not what is being said. We have found that not designating the political party leads to more intelligent discussions.

       

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        Ed C., Dec 17th, 2010 @ 3:34am

        Re: Re:

        Thank you!

         

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        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Dec 17th, 2010 @ 5:03am

        Re: Re:

        Most of us with a brain just take the name and run it through Google, and find the party affiliation. In this case, the affiliation is interesting, because it is a democrat.

        Trying to stay away from mentioning it often takes away from the story.

         

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          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, Dec 17th, 2010 @ 12:07pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Most of us with a brain just take the name and run it through Google, and find the party affiliation. In this case, the affiliation is interesting, because it is a democrat.

          "It is a democrat"? I see the names of multiple Reps. above from both parties.

          Trying to stay away from mentioning it often takes away from the story.


          How?

           

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          Rose M. Welch (profile), Dec 17th, 2010 @ 12:46pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Trying to stay away from mentioning it often takes away from the story.

          Really? Then I'm sure that you wouldn't mind linking to the numerous Techdirt stories that you think would have been enhanced by party affiliation notes. Thanks!

           

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      The eejit (profile), Dec 17th, 2010 @ 3:43am

      Re:

      Gogogo Partisanship!

      ...You must be new here. Welcome to Techdirt. :D

       

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      identicon
      PRMan, Dec 17th, 2010 @ 5:08am

      Re:

      It might do our country a lot of good if we stopped being reminded of partisanship every 5 minutes...

       

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 17th, 2010 @ 2:49am

    As Robert Gates has noted the American service leaks like a sieve and has done for a long time. Obviously any foreign secret service who wanted this info' probably already has the unredacted versions. If a foreign service leaked like that and the CIA failed to take advantage we would call them incompetent.

    The only difference arising from the Wikileaks scenario is that the public in the "democracy" in who's name all this crap takes place get to know about it.

     

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    Jeremy Lyman (profile), Dec 17th, 2010 @ 4:57am

    Lowered Expectations

    Is it sad I'm surprised to hear such reasonable statements made in Congress?

     

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    Gabriel Tane (profile), Dec 17th, 2010 @ 6:09am

    Good start, but...

    where does it go from here. Many times we've seen our elected representatives make some noble statements then do absolutely nothing on them. Don't get me wrong; I think this is a WONDERFUL sign... but I'm not popping the champagne until something is actually done to reduce the secrecy.

     

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    identicon
    Matthew Schafer, Dec 17th, 2010 @ 12:14pm

    Don't Overreact to Wikileaks

    When all was said and done, the witnesses seemed to agree, in part, that the government is overclassifying information, the Espionage Act of 1917 is likely unconstitutional, the SHIELD Act, proposed recently by Sen. Joe Lieberman [I-CT], rests on a shaky constitutional footing also, and it is important that the legislature not overreact to the WikiLeaks cables. Read more: http://bit.ly/fS2oyf

     

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