Wikileaks and the Dark Alliance

Dec 7th, 2010 | By Michel Marizco | Category: General News, Politics
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Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is about to find out what a journalist, now dead, found out ten years ago. The system, once pushed, will respond. In Assange’s case, he and Wikileaks are finding themselves losing the resources for survival, one by one, more every day. First Amazon dumped Wikileaks, then PayPal, now Visa and Mastercard. Next up, the Justice Department with potential trafficking in stolen property charges, the New York Times reports.

I noticed the editors of the Washington Post, perhaps smarting over Wikileaks’ not sharing the cable-dump with them, started referring to Assange as pasty-faced in their news stories.

It all reminds me of the persecution of a nearly-forgotten journalist in the 1990s, Gary Webb. Working for the San Jose Mercury-News, Webb wrote a series of articles claiming that Nicaraguans working for the CIA-supported Contras were running coke up to Los Angeles. The coke was being pushed on the streets as crack cocaine and the proceeds returning to the Contras. In effect, Webb argued, the CIA knew who was fueling the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s. The series was later published in a book, Dark Alliance. (Minor but crucial point: Webb never argues the CIA was moving the coke, only that they stepped aside as their Contras did so).

It’s not one of my favorite books, let me be upfront about that now. I felt Webb lacked the proof throughout the book. I’ve read it a few times now and each time, I walk away unconvinced that he had the solid proof. I can almost feel the desperation that drove him to finish it. That’s not to say I disbelieve the idea, clearly he laid out the case for more work to be put forth on the matter. My problem with the book isn’t the question, or even the accusation he makes of the CIA. You can sense it’s there. But he didn’t prove it.

But my own dissatisfaction is irrelevant. Dark Alliance should have raised the curiosity of the press, particularly those charged with watchdogging the government, newspapers like the Washington Post, The Los Angeles and New York Times, hell, his own newspaper in San Jose (they retracted the story).

Instead the constructs of the machine surrounded Webb. It was embarrassing how the newspapers reacted.

Rather than take his story and press the Feds on the matter, the newspapers chose to vilify Webb. They attacked his reporting, his character and his news judgment. Not one of them, and mind you, one of those includes the Washington Post, the newspaper that helped bring down a president, invested the resources, time or the interest in following up on Webb’s reporting. Instead, they quoted government officials who condemned his reporting.

The newspapers chose not to listen because to do so would have required time and money – and ego. They would have had to acknowledge that they got smoked by a much smaller paper with far less resources than their own companies could muster. It raised uncomfortable truths about an austerity in genuine, critical and original reporting by the country’s greatest newspapers.

In the end, Webb was disgraced, his career finished. Never mind that even before he wrote his series, the Kerry Committee had already determined there were truths there that bore exploration. Those were ignored.

Webb died in 2004, the official cause: suicide, from two gunshot wounds to the head. Secretos, tragedy, quien sabe.

Now the machine closes on Assange. Here’s Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen charging Assange with recklessness: “but Assange launched them into cyberspace anyway, not caring if American interests were damaged. In fact, that might have been the whole point.”

Really, Cohen? Did you forget (or even stop to consider) that Assange is Australian and thusly, may not have American interests at heart because he’s not American? Madres.

Assange may have committed a crime in receiving these classified dispatches. But he’s not the problem. Clearly, someone within the U.S. government sees fit to purge government computers of thousands of megabytes of information and ship them to a meta-data website for mass publication. Clearly, someone isn’t vetting U.S. government employees or security measures are not being taken to prevent their being lifted. We have a problem.

But those are harder questions to have to answer, they are awkward and risk embarrassment and accountability – after the fact, after the information’s already been leaked. Apparently, those in the news business now criticizing Assange also feel they are harder questions to ask.

It’s far easier, and far cheaper, to kill the messenger. And in Assange’s case, the messengers are helping to kill.

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