On Wednesday, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona renewed his push for the creation of a temporary Senate committee to investigate WikiLeaks and the hacktivist group Anonymous that would be called the Committee on Cyber Security and Electronic Intelligence Leaks.
In a letter to Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, he urges the creation of a committee to get around the issue of “competing committees of jurisdiction.” (Essentially, establishing the committee means no discussion over who has the right to develop legislation to take down WikiLeaks or Anonymous once and for all. Every senator will have an opportunity for glory now, however, only a few will be chosen.)
McCain opens by suggesting a committee must be developed to address “the continuing risk of insider threats that caused thousands of documents to be posted on the website WikiLeaks.” The alleged whistleblower to WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning may have been on the inside, however, as far as one can tell, he does not fit the classic definition of an insider. His story is different from Aldrich Ames, an insider who did commit real espionage against the United States, at all. Manning did not do what he is alleged to have done for money. He did not allegedly give secrets to another country like Russia, China or Iran but WikiLeaks.
The White House and several committees in Congress have been deliberating over the development of national cybersecurity proposals that can be implemented. As McCain notes, “The White House put forward a legislative proposal in May and the Department of Energy put forth requirements and responsibilities for a cyber security program that same month. Earlier this month, the Department of Commerce sought comment on its proposal to establish voluntary codes of behavior to improve cyber security and the Department of Defense issued its strategy for operating in cyberspace.”
McCain argues the development of cybersecurity policy and legislation would benefit from using a model recommended by the 9/11 Commission Report for the organization of a committee that a small group of members could be a part of to conduct oversight of the intelligence establishment. He says it would help the creation of “adequate safeguards to detect and defeat any insider threat of disclosure of classified documents such as we experienced with the Wikileaks fiasco that endangered the security of many of our nation’s diplomats and soldiers serving abroad.”
That diplomats or soldiers serving abroad have been endangered is phony and speculative in the same way that former Vice President Dick Cheney or Karl Rove’s suggestion voting John Kerry in 2004 could’ve meant US had another 9/11 was phony and speculative.
There is significant doubt as to whether soldiers or diplomats have been harmed.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said on October 17, 2010 “the review to date has not revealed any sensitive intelligence sources and methods compromised by the disclosure.” A senior NATO official on that same day said, “There has not been a single case of Afghans needing protection.” The Associated Press has reported, “There is no evidence that any Afghans named in the leaked documents as defectors or informants from the Taliban insurgency have been harmed in retaliation.” And Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said on August 11, 2010, “We have yet to see any harm come to anyone in Afghanistan that we can directly tie to exposure in the WikiLeaks documents.”
There is no concrete conclusion that people have suffered or died as a result of the releases.
McCain closes his letter saying:
Just this month former CIA Chief and current Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee and said, “The next Pearl Harbor we confront could very well be a cyber attack …” We must act now and quickly develop and pass comprehensive legislation to protect our electric grid, air traffic control system, water supply, financial networks and defense systems and much more from a cyber attack.
When it comes to WikiLeaks, McCain has raised the issue of WikiLeaks in Senate Armed Services hearings. In a hearing to consider the nomination of General Martin E. Dempsey for appointment to chief of staff of the US Army in March, McCain said, “I’m very concerned about WikiLeaks. Almost daily, we see some additional revelation of the WikiLeaks situation. First of all, how did this happen? And second of all, who has been held responsible for this greatest disclosures, frankly, of classified information in the history of this country?”
During a hearing on defense budget requests for 2012 and future years, McCain asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates, “Mr. Chairman, just briefly, anything more on the WikiLeaks investigation?” Gates said:
Well, sir, after our last hearing, I went back and — and I had been told that I had to keep my hands off of it because of the criminal investigation, but I have been able to narrow an area of where I have asked the secretary of the army to investigate in terms of procedures and — and the command climate and — and so on that has nothing to do with the individual, the accused individual. But — but to see what lapses there were where somebody perhaps should be held accountable.
McCain considers the release of WikiLeaks cables to be “America’s worst security breach in the history of the country.” That’s quite reactionary when you consider the fact that, in 1942, in the aftermath of the Battle of Midway, the Chicago Tribune published a story strongly suggesting that the decisive American naval victory at Midway owed to the fact that the United States had been successfully reading Japanese codes.” No information has been revealed like that at all. Nothing has been published that could give any “enemies” information on the location of US troops, which could help them launch successful attacks.
In November 2010, McCain told the National Review, the WikiLeaks “scandal” will have consequences “far beyond the cables. ” He predicted it would have a “devastating and chilling effect on our ability to carry on relationships with foreign leaders, harming our ability to fight this war against radical Islamic extremism.”
Yes, it would have profound implications on Sen. McCain’s ability to meet Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and discuss terms of for providing US military aid again. It would limit the chances of him ever having another “interesting meeting with an interesting man” at his “ranch” in Libya. It would put limits on all leaders meeting with despots of the world, as there is now a trove of information to question the US’ diplomatic relationships with countries all over the world.
This committee would likely be building off of procedures that have already begun to be implemented to “create ‘insider threat’ programs to ferret out disgruntled workers who may leak state secrets.” It would likely reinforce plans among agencies to look for “behavioral changes” among employees with access to secret documents.
There is a federal grand jury based in Alexandria, Virginia, empanelled to investigate WikiLeaks for crimes of espionage that is currently issuing subpoenas to those the government thinks are connected to or have information on WikiLeaks. David House, Bradley Manning Support Network co-founder, has gone before the grand jury already and pled the fifth.
Would this committee be something that could complement the grand jury’s fishing expedition by developing law that can turn what was done into a crime that could lead to indictments?
The pursuit of mechanisms to clampdown on who the government presumes is responsible for the release of material to WikiLeaks and the increased regulation of access to secret documents within government agencies will not address the problem. It won’t because the problem is overclassification, something the Department of Defense, with a new rule to safeguard unclassified information, simply are making worse.
The government has told a court that there should be no such thing as “good leaks.” This virtually ensures that individuals, instead of going through proper channels to blow the whistle on government waste or criminal wrongdoing in government, will turn to organizations like WikiLeaks and create further problems for the government in the future.
The public is growing to understand that overclassification is rampant. Nick Davies of The Guardian illuminates the situation:
…If you look for example at the Afghan war logs what you see is a military which routinely classified every single instance in which they were involved as secret. Why should we respect that kind of mechanical routine classification. Just pull back and look at what’s going on here and ask yourself, is the attempt to prosecute Bradley Manning something to do with the judicious application of the law or a really rather vile piece of political persecution?…
If a committee is established, it won’t prevent future acts of whistleblowing by individuals and guarantee information doesn’t get released to WikiLeaks. A press that tolerates overclassification of information and only asks for selective leaking of materials on secret government operations every now and then, a press that does not ask more questions about the operations of power domestically and internationally will inevitably lead to, in this age of widespread corruption, individuals in government, who have not lost their conscience, finding a way to share the truth.
If a committee is established, it won’t ensure that the world never learns what is really going on behind closed doors in America again because the people of this country are living in a very broken democracy. Many of its citizens know government officials are outright lying when they stand before them and speak. They suspect government officials and whole entire agencies are serving powerful corporate and special interests instead of them. They know coverups of mass misconduct and criminal wrongdoing are being carried out. And so, information will continue to be released to WikiLeaks and there’s nothing Sen. John McCain or any senator can do to stop it so long as they defend the system that created the symptom that is the release of information to WikiLeaks.