George Packer on Wikileaks and Julian Assange

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

George Packer, staff writer for The New Yorker, discusses what we've learned about U.S. foreign policy from WikiLeaks and this morning's arrest of Julian Assange.


George Packer

Comments [44]

oscar from ny

its disgusting and scary to me how now judges judge according to their political agendas, would've been easier if those British retrogrades would've just shot Julian Assange and spare the man humiliation and injustice,...this freaking world offends

Dec. 07 2010 10:42 PM
sir edmund from accord ny

Assange Accuser Worked with US-Funded, CIA-Tied Anti-Castro Group
By: Kirk James Murphy, M.D. Saturday December 4, 2010 9:20 pm

Yesterday Alexander Cockburn reminded us of the news Israel Shamir and Paul Bennett broke at Counterpunch in September. Julian Assange’s chief accuser in Sweden has a significant history of work with anti-Castro groups, at least one of which is US funded and openly supported by a former CIA agent convicted in the mass murder of seventy three Cubans on an airliner he was involved in blowing up.

Anna Ardin (the official complainant) is often described by the media as a “leftist”. She has ties to the US-financed anti-Castro and anti-communist groups. She published her anti-Castro diatribes (see here and here) in the Swedish-language publication Revista de Asignaturas Cubanas put out by Misceláneas de Cuba. From Oslo, Professor Michael Seltzer points out that this periodical is the product of a well-financed anti-Castro organization in Sweden. He further notes that the group is connected with Union Liberal Cubana led by Carlos Alberto Montaner whose CIA ties were exposed here.

Quelle surprise, no? Shamir and Bennett went on to write about Ardin’s history in Cuba with a US funded group openly supported by a real terrorist: Luis Posada Carriles.

In Cuba she interacted with the feminist anti-Castro group Las damas de blanco (the Ladies in White). This group receives US government funds and the convicted anti-communist terrorist Luis Posada Carriles is a friend and supporter. Wikipedia quotes Hebe de Bonafini, president of the Argentine Madres de Plaza de Mayo as saying that “the so-called Ladies in White defend the terrorism of the United States.”

Who is Luis Posada Carriles? He’s a mass murderer, and former CIA agent. . . .

Luis Clemente Faustino Posada Carriles (born February 15, 1928) (nicknamed Bambi by some Cuban exiles)[1] is a Cuban-born Venezuelan anti-communist extremist. A former Central Intelligence Agency agent,[2] Posada has been convicted in absentia of involvement in various terrorist attacks and plots in the Americas, including: involvement in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed seventy-three people;[3][4] admitted involvement in a string of bombings in 1997 targeting fashionable Cuban hotels and nightspots;[5][6][7] involvement in the Bay of Pigs invasion; [and] involvement in the Iran-Contra affair…

Dec. 07 2010 10:35 PM

Again, why don't you or your guest talk about some of the very serious revelations that Wikileaks has made? Your slant is very clear, Brian.

And, Mr. Packer, do you think the corporate media is really a Fourth Estate anymore? A quick perusal of the Times shows writing that is poorly sourced, opinions passing as objective reporting, and demonstrates an appalling lack of number sense.

Dec. 07 2010 06:31 PM

Again, why don't you or your guest talk about some of the very serious revelations that Wikileaks has made? Your slant is very clear, Brian.

Dec. 07 2010 06:29 PM

Brian Lehrer’s coverage of WikiLeaks continues to be slanted, in this discussion clearly trying to drum up support for the position that WL has gone over the line in publishing a cable listing infrastructure around the world that is crucial to American interests. Isn’t that slanted from the start by concealing the key facts that the relevant info would not be difficult for any malefactor to ferret out regardless of WikiLeaks, or that foreign spy services (many of whom are known to be working with terrorists) do not already all this info, and much much more, at their fingertips. So why prevent ordinary American citizens from having it?

American citizens need the info about critical infrastructure in order to make informed political decisions, which is contingent upon our having all the info underlying our government’s dealings with various foreign governments and agencies. Trust, but verify.

And our government needs to know that we have the info so that it doesn’t think it can excuse any harm by pretending that it was unaware that all such infrastructure needs to be properly protected.

The concluding remarks that Brian deliberately fished for about how hard it is for US to get its way with, or even cooperation from, other countries, conceal improperly the crucial, widely acknowledged key factor undermining and invalidating our calls for beneficial action by other countries, namely, that the US Govt has been continuing for decades to stand against the world in supporting the state terrorism and defiance of international law by Israel, which could not continue its crimes against humanity without US support.

Does anyone doubt that if the US would just start to act morally by withdrawing our support for Israel, we would well get much more support from countries like Syria, Iran, and Pakistan, thereby enabling us to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan much more quickly and with fewer deaths and injuries to our young people over there, and saving us hundreds of billions of dollars?

It appears that the people attacking WikiLeaks most vehemently are those who want the US Govt to continue doing things in secret that violate the will and morality of most Americans.

Dec. 07 2010 12:43 PM

Compare what Assange is doing to what DICK Cheney did in outing an active intelligence agent and who should be realistically judged a traitor? Most of the leaks are more a source of embarrassment than threat to " national security". How about the lack of tact exhibited by our so-called diplomats?

Dec. 07 2010 12:41 PM
jawbone from Parsippany

Glenn Greenwald has been covering the Assange and Wikileaks news closely:

Greg Mitchell has been running a chronological blogging of al Wikileaks news-Up to Day Ten:

The Guardian has been doing something similar (and has the nature of the charges in an article on refusal of bail -- which, btw, do not correlate with tweets and emails from Ms. A the days after the alleged rapes).

Dec. 07 2010 12:15 PM
sebastian from brooklyn

just listened to the interview. re: George's characterization of the 'poison pill' comment -- here is JA's verbiage from the Guardian's Q&A is as follows:

"The Cable Gate archive has been spread, along with significant material from the US and other countries to over 100,000 people in encrypted form. If something happens to us, the key parts will be released automatically. Further, the Cable Gate archives is in the hands of multiple news organisations. History will win. The world will be elevated to a better place. Will we survive? That depends on you."

Nowhere in that quote are the words "poison pill", so George is using a subjective label to summarize the quote. This is obviously his right to do so.

However, later on in the interview, George criticizes JA in titling the Iraqi video "Collateral Murder" by saying that this crosses the line beyond responsible 'objective' journalism into the realm of propaganda.

Perhaps I'm mistaken but is this not the same exact subjective use of language that George employs 5 minutes before in labeling the encrypted file a 'poison pill'?

Ever hear of the phrase, "people in glass houses should not throw stones", George?

The "truth" of this entire saga is not contained in the information that is being "leaked", but in the mass hypocrisy that is being exposed as a result.

Dec. 07 2010 12:08 PM
jawbone from Parsippany

Glenn Greenwald has been covering the US MCMers' (members of the Mainstream Corporate Media) reaction to these latest documents from Wikileaks, and uses Wolf Blitzer as a prime example:

"Then, with some exceptions, we have the group which -- so very revealingly -- is the angriest and most offended about the WikiLeaks disclosures: the American media, Our Watchdogs over the Powerful and Crusaders for Transparency. On CNN last night, Wolf Blitzer was beside himself with rage over the fact that the U.S. Government had failed to keep all these things secret from him:

(quote within quote begins here)
Are they doing anything at all to make sure if some 23-year-old guy, allegedly, starts downloading hundreds of thousands of cables, hundreds of thousands of copies of sensitive information, that no one pays attention to that, no one in the security system of the United States government bothers to see someone is downloading all these millions -- literally millions of documents? . . . at this point, you know, it -- it's amazing to me that the U.S. government security system is so lax that someone could allegedly do this kind of damage just by simply pretending to be listening to a Lady Gaga C.D. and at the same time downloading all these kinds of documents.(quote within quote ends here)

Then -- like the Good Journalist he is -- Blitzer demanded assurances that the Government has taken the necessary steps to prevent him, the media generally and the citizenry from finding out any more secrets: "Do we know yet if they've [done] that fix? In other words, somebody right now who has top secret or secret security clearance can no longer download information onto a C.D. or a thumb drive? Has that been fixed already?" The central concern of Blitzer -- one of our nation's most honored "journalists" -- is making sure that nobody learns what the U.S. Government is up to."

There's much more (Greenwald is a prolific writer...).

Dec. 07 2010 12:01 PM
jawbone from Parsippany

Once upon a time I trusted the NYTimes explicitly. I recall someone rushing up to me saying Clinton as going to be impeached (this was in the first two years of his administration). I didn't know what this person was talking about, but trusted that if it was important and true I would read about the actual situation in the NYTimes.

At that time, I didn't know that the Times had embargoed, for nearly half a century, the on the ground reporting of its reporter in Japan after its surrender. At that time I didn't know about Judith Miller....

So, today, when you were asking listeners to judge whether Wikileaks had stepped over a line when it posted the cable listing sites important to US security, I was surprised that you had not done some due diligence to learn more about the actual state of knowledge about said sites. A caller stated these locations were available by googling -- why didn't you ask how and where he found them? You and your guest seemed to ignore that part of his call in favor of asking for informed --from most of us-- uninformed judgements.

I was disappointed in how you handled that whole issue.

Also,I do understand that news people feel they must maintain their access to powers that be...even on public broadcasting.

Dec. 07 2010 11:46 AM
JohnnJersey from NJ

Brian, your show is turning into all Wikileaks all the time. I am sick of it. At least you covered some important stuff the first hour this morning. I view most of the info as gossip. Diplomats saying unsavory things about foreign officials. Big deal.

Dec. 07 2010 11:40 AM
licnyc from queens

I just can't understand how so many people can be this painfully naive. Its impossible to negotiate for anything without having some confidential information. Its just not possible. The country that can keep secrets will always have an advantage over other countries that can't. Its like saying we shouldn't have war, regardless there will still be an aggressor. I just don't understand how people can be this beyond common sense and still feed themselves. Its really bizarre.

Dec. 07 2010 11:39 AM
jawbone from Parsippany

Comment continued with link and info on Honduran coup:

"In a July 2009 cable, U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens wrote Undersecretary of State Tom Shannon and Obama's Latin America Advisor Dan Restrepo an analysis on the coup in Honduras. The cable was titled "Open and Shut: The Case of the Honduran Coup", it was sent at midnight on the night of July 23rd. The assessment was that "there is no doubt" that the events of June 28th "constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup." He went on to say that every one of the arguments being put forward by those defending the kidnapping and deportation of President Zelaya, and the ensuing militarization of Honduran society were without any "substantive validity". But, just twelve hours after her office received the cable; Secretary Clinton called President Zelaya "reckless" for trying to return to Honduras via the border with Nicaragua. She went so far as to suggest that he would be held responsible for any violence the military would be forced to inflict to maintain control should he enter the country.

From that point on, the U.S. government actions revealed an ever-growing support for the forces behind the coup. Disregarding Llorens' cable, the State Department never officially declared it a military coup. Such a declaration would have activated a U.S. domestic law banning aid payments to coup governments, which would have cut off a vital lifeline to the fledgling regime. Months later, the Honduran coup resistance's worst suspicions came true when the U.S. announced its last-second support for ill-conceived elections under the coup government.

To this day, Clinton and the State Department continue to pressure other Latin American governments to recognize the Honduran government, something that the majority of South American governments have shown no willingness to do. In fact, of all those who voiced opposition to the coup, including governments, organizations, and commentators both inside Honduras and outside, the U.S. government and its allies are largely alone in advocating that the fraudulent elections-which no credible international observers attended. No other person, organization, or government has done more to further consolidate the ongoing coup against the Honduran people. The U.S. has even increased aid to the same military that both overthrew the president and continues to kill opponents of the coup.'

We are often told only what the power that be want us to learn. Is it so bad that Wikileaks tries to balance that amazing power to misinform?

Dec. 07 2010 11:38 AM
jawbone from Parsippany

Assange has described his work as "scientific journalism, " which he explained as allowing MCM (Mainstream Corporate Media) to read and report on documents, but also having the documents available for the public to read in their entirety so readers can try to judge whether the reporting is accurate.

I second you caller who said Assange is trying to hold the press accountable. On many issues, our vaunted free press is more a lapdog and stenographer of the government and other powers that be than searchers and documenters of truth. The exceptions to not get the general coverage the lapdogs do.

For example, I was very interested to learn about the cables pertaining to the coup in Honduras, which the WH and State refused to refer to as a "coup" for political reasons.

Reporting from on the ground in Honduras at the time seemed to make clear it was indeed a coup, but the US government did not want to recognized it as a coup and worked to ensconce the coup leaders as replacements for the legally elected Honduran president.

I think that's kind of important. As I thought the Supreme Court overturning the election of 2000 as pretty important....

Link follows.

Dec. 07 2010 11:37 AM
Chris Garvey from Amityville

If there were meaningful whistleblower protections, WikiLeaks might not be needed.
But there are not meaningful whistleblower protections. Not in the US, nor in China, nor in Iran, nor in most countries or democratic organizations.
WikiLeaks is an avenue to inform the voters of the evils our government does.

Dec. 07 2010 11:30 AM
Left of Dem from New York

I have a major disagreement with George Packer about the principle of "innocent until proven guilty." Packer does not appear to accept it, I regard it as the foundation of justice.

But I'm sure that if he were charged with similar offenses as Assange, he would agree with my contention that justice is impossible without it.

Dec. 07 2010 11:29 AM
Robert from RBC

Ellsberg supports this. Have you heard? Stop justifying the Pentagon Papers and condemning this. It's based on the fact of what you yourself just stated a few minutes ago, you just don't like Assange--You Don't Like Him-- got it. You're a professional?
Hey, let's hang someone because I don't like them!

Dec. 07 2010 11:28 AM

maybe our government should be more careful with it's secrets

Dec. 07 2010 11:28 AM
amalgam from Manhattan by day, NJ by night

Assange, as a contemporary figure, can be both a malicious bastard AND a member of the media - the NEW media, whose terms are yet to be defined.

Assange being prosecuted is absolutely ridiculous. Whoever leaked the documents, especially as an American citizen, might face the consequences, but no one

The real onus to keep secrets secret is on governments. If they can't do it in today's age of digital media, they are in trouble.

Dec. 07 2010 11:28 AM
The Truth from Becky

Ridiculous how people always seem to weave the President into the mix of anything negative! Nice George.

Dec. 07 2010 11:27 AM

It is not "truth" that is "outing" but a stream of raw data that, as Packer implies, borders on meaninglessness because of its rawness and massiveness. A constant stream is not necessarily knowledge or information.

Dec. 07 2010 11:27 AM

I am surprised there has been so little focus on how these documents were obtained. Somebody has done something criminal by providing them to WikiLeaks or by hacking govt computers

Dec. 07 2010 11:26 AM

if not even Fox News purports that Assange tried to blackmail the justice system, WNYC does??

The insurance file exists specifically to ensure that Assange won't get "suicided".

Such a file would have been useful for David Kelly as well.

Dec. 07 2010 11:26 AM
oil monkey

The dishonesty of our leaders in the reasoning for engaging in (bankrupting) military adventurism around the world and the fraud and criminality of the heads of our financial institutions (both public and private, though the distinction is increasingly meaningless) is far, far more damaging to the country than revealing the truth about how we operate will ever be.

Dec. 07 2010 11:25 AM
Simeon from Park Slope

That Miller guy should move to China. Or Belarus. It sounds like he'd be a much better fit there.

Dec. 07 2010 11:25 AM
Left of Dem from New York

Wow, George Packer never heard of the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" when he attacked the caller who questioned the charges against Assange.
Packer sounds like he's steaming mad at Assange- probably because many of the cables refute Packer's own hack journalism.

Dec. 07 2010 11:24 AM

"He may not know what he is, and we may not know what he is." Very helpful line of inquiry. Insightful. Thanks.

Dec. 07 2010 11:24 AM
Ron Ostertag from manhattan

What are the chances that "the bad guys" haven't already gotten all 250,000 or more obviously easily stealable documents long ago ?

Dec. 07 2010 11:23 AM
Robert from RBC

Well at least your last statements are honest and more fair.

Dec. 07 2010 11:23 AM
Sunshine Hernandez from Bushwick

I think prosecuting Julien would be a 3rd world country move for freedom of speech.

Dec. 07 2010 11:23 AM

George Packer, thank you for your clear thinking about the absurd claims made by the caller who presumed to assert that the charges against Assange do not concern "bona fide" rape. As Packer notes, that caller quite probably "has an agenda of offending Assange without really knowing all that much about where the charges lie." Assange's plants (if that's what this caller was) should do a better job. The absence of actual thinking in that phone call is to me symptomatic of the problem Packer is noting about the Wikileaks/Assange end: there is not clear thinking or a clear agenda here. Very troubling.

Dec. 07 2010 11:23 AM

i'm still looking forward his bank industy info email dump

Dec. 07 2010 11:22 AM
Robert from RBC

Oh what a bunch of garbage. This whole segment is a witch hunt against this man. None of you has a "direct quote" as to what he said and you're ready to hang him. For media you guys really stink working and judging on hearsay and guessing, basically. If you want to do a segment on this get the facts straight. I think he's ok in my book, frankly!

Dec. 07 2010 11:21 AM

So what if he is arrested? He is just the face of Wikileaks. Their team is spread throughout the world.

Dec. 07 2010 11:21 AM
Drew from Brooklyn

As much as I like George Packer, I have to disagree with him on this matter. The press fell asleep for 8 years while the Bush administration ran roughshod, withheld information and manipulated both the press and the public to ruinous consequence. Now the Republicans are blackmailing the President and the consequences aren't being fully investigated. We need someone to hold gov't accountable for their actions, and it's not the Tea Party.

If the press won't do their job to hold the flame to the feet of the gov't, someone else needs to. Right now it's Wikileaks and Assange.

Dec. 07 2010 11:20 AM

In my opinion, something like wikileaks was necessitated by the lack of bite in the press during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. To put it bluntly, truth will out. What's going on now is a witch hunt, a diplomatic solution to divert the international conversation away what came of the leaks.

Dec. 07 2010 11:19 AM

Hm, I smell a government apologist on the air.

First caller was right; anybody with half a brain could find out a lot of this stuff through his own initiative.

And I agree with john from office - this does call for the use of force - against him, because he is a true "enemy of the state."

Dec. 07 2010 11:18 AM

if these were secrets why did so many people have access to the info

Dec. 07 2010 11:18 AM
John from office

The Apache attack was news only because newsmen were killed. If it only involved soldiers the press and Brian would not have cared.

Dec. 07 2010 11:17 AM
oil monkey

Assange is a distraction- he's the messenger, NOT the message. The message is the details of what our 'leaders' engage in around the world, ostensibly in our name. The blood (of peoples all around the world) is on their hands, and ours as they are our representatives, not on Assange's hands. I want to know what our leaders are engaged in in my name.

Dec. 07 2010 11:16 AM

George Packer, thank you for your clear thinking about the absurd claims made by the caller who presumed to assert that the charges against Assange do not concern "bona fide" rape. As Packer notes, that caller quite probably "has an agenda of offending Assange without really knowing all that much about where the charges lie." Assange's plants (if that's what this caller was) should do a better job. The absence of actual thinking in that phone call is to me symptomatic of the problem Packer is noting about the Wikileaks/Assange end: there is not clear thinking or a clear agenda here. Very troubling.

Dec. 07 2010 11:16 AM
Phil from Brooklyn

The larger issues of net neutrality, national sovereignty, free speech, and network security are more interesting than the cable contents.

The idea of Open Source is that revealing weaknesses makes things stronger. The argument could be made that the list of potential terror targets will make them harder, not more vulnerable. This is why Linux is more robust than Windows.

If Wikileaks has the resources to obtain this information with a budget of a few hundred thousand euros, what about China, Russia, or any number of other potential cyber foes who have real resources?

Dec. 07 2010 11:12 AM
john from office

Brian, I called for direct action against this man a while ago and you censored me. He is an enemy of the USA and deserves no trial, he should be treated as an enemy of the state. That calls for the use of force.

Dec. 07 2010 11:12 AM

Is there anything in Wikileaks that suggest that the US opposed or supported Brazil and Argentina's and now possibly South Africa's recognition of Palestine as an independent state within its 1967 borders?

Dec. 07 2010 09:52 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.