Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Day 348- Secrets and Lies

Dear Mr. President,

I've never been a particularly good secret-keeper. My face gives away every emotion, every lie I try to tell. This might be why I've never had the stomach for any significant subterfuge. I've been another person's secret too many times and seen it end too badly for them and for me to have any illusion about the nobility of secrecy. If a decision cannot bear the scrutiny of others it is probably not a particularly good choice. Michael Moore recently posted bail for Julian Assange, and in his letter explaining his motivation for this decision he says
Openness, transparency — these are among the few weapons the citizenry has to protect itself from the powerful and the corrupt. What if within days of August 4th, 1964 — after the Pentagon had made up the lie that our ship was attacked by the North Vietnamese in the Gulf of Tonkin — there had been a WikiLeaks to tell the American people that the whole thing was made up? I guess 58,000 of our soldiers (and 2 million Vietnamese) might be alive today.

Instead, secrets killed them.

I think that what you once called the "deficit of trust" Americans have in our leaders is brought about by these lies we've been told throughout history. Wikileaks is not the answer to this; a government that doesn't hide behind lies is the answer. Instead of joining the chorus of voices from the right and left calling Wikileaks a terrorist organization, I think that you should take this opportunity to change some of the behaviors you've been so embarrassed to have the rest of the world discover. I think an important (though, for obvious reasons, unsavory) step toward this is to relinquish some of the sweeping expansions made under President Bush to executive powers. Aspects of the PATRIOT ACT, the power to assassinate suspected terrorists without a trial, even the new standards for screening by the TSA all contribute to the sense that the government does not trust the people. It can hardly be a surprise, then, that the people have developed our own system for dealing with a similar mistrust for our leaders. Some one has to blink first. Demonstrating a commitment to responsible, trustworthy leadership is the only way the government can regain our trust.

A friend, while commenting on a previous letter about Wikileaks, pointed out
most of the people whining are old politicians. Our generation has already seen these document releases happen with corporate and personal communication. We have an entire generation (the boomers) that have relied on "security through obscurity", and that doesn't fly in the technological world. This is a rude wake-up call for them.
Perhaps the endearing anecdotes about your addiction to your Blackberry deceived me into thinking you'd be on our side of a generational conflict. Surely the age issue is as false a dichotomy as race or religion or any other of the teams we're told to fight for in life, but I think that my friend is right in identifying an old world view of security and the conflict between those who cling to it and those of us willing to view security in a modern light. Secrets and lies may have worked (at least for a little while) for previous administrations, the unprecedented level of individual access to information simply will not allow it to continue. Secrets and lies have created the current state of international affairs, the mistrust of Americans for actions our government has taken on our behalf and often without our knowledge.

Michael Moore and Julian Assange certainly have their share of faults. They also don't have the complicated, difficult job of running a country or trying to keep the free world safe. But the burdens of your position don't justify the lying and they don't justify defending a system that is based on mistrust of Americans. Even if you can't publicly defend Wikileaks or Assange, you can take steps to change the way our government keeps its secrets and the way it spies on the American people. We can't trust a government that doesn't trust us, and it's up to you to change that.

Respectfully yours,


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