Wikileaks and secret intelligence on Afghanistan

The massive release by Wikileaks of 90,000 pages of classified material on the war in Afghanistan has once again raised the question not only of how that war is prosecuted–and the details fill in a picture that will need an equally massive effort of discussion–but also of the way in which governments routinely classify and restrict intelligence to cover up mistakes and prevent information from circulating that would cast them in a bad light. Rather than for protecting security as is often proclaimed.

Wikileaks has now had two critical releases of information this year–the collateral murder video which I discussed on a panel on geographers’ role in forming foreign policy at the AAG meetings in Washington DC in April–and this newest release which they made available to the New York Times, Der Spiegel and the Guardian a few weeks early on the grounds that they wouldn’t discuss it until today.

Glenn Greenwald has a typically trenchant analysis of the situation here. I’ve been reading Greenwald’s blog for nearly five years now, since he came on the scene with commentary about the famous piece in the New York Times about warrantless wiretapping in late 2005, and he is simply compulsory reading on government intelligence, war, and the shape of democracy:

Whatever else is true, WikiLeaks has yet again proven itself to be one of the most valuable and important organizations in the world.  Just as was true for the video of the Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad, there is no valid justification for having kept most of these documents a secret.  But that’s what our National Security State does reflexively:  it hides itself behind an essentially absolute wall of secrecy to ensure that the citizenry remains largely ignorant of what it is really doing.  WikiLeaks is one of the few entities successfully blowing holes in at least parts of that wall, enabling modest glimpses into what The Washington Post spent last week describing as Top Secret America.  The war on WikiLeaks — which was already in full swing, including, strangely, from some who claim a commitment to transparency — will only intensify now.  Anyone who believes that the Government abuses its secrecy powers in order to keep the citizenry in the dark and manipulate public opinion — and who, at this point, doesn’t believe that? — should be squarely on the side of the greater transparency which Wikileaks and its sources, sometimes single-handedly, are providing.

Despite the distractions you’ll hear this week–that the material contains nothing new, that it only covers through December 2009 (the Pentagon Papers were three years out of date when they were released but still highly relevant), Greenwald’s point must be kept front and center: how does secret intelligence (knowledge if you prefer) and its correlates such as surveillance and “security” get used by government to pursue its own ends? This is if you like a version of the old question of power/knowledge (see my Foucault book co-author Stuart Elden commenting on Wikileaks here).

New York Univ. professor of journalism Jay Rosen has some critical discussion here. He says Wikileaks is the world’s first stateless news organization. Who are the Jay Rosen’s and Glenn Greenwald’s of geography I wonder. Certainly Trevor Paglen comes to mind–see his op ed here which examines how Obama is continuing Bush-era programs of secrecy and surveillance. Derek Gregory. There are a number of political geographers as well. Who else?