Vietnamistan

Today's major news story about the Wikileaks release of thousands of documents concerning the war in Afghanistan is digging up the wounds of another major case. In 1971 a guy named Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers, outlining the day to day operations of the war in Vietnam.

There was a documentary made about him entitled, “The Most Dangerous Man In America”. To some he was a hero; to others he was a villain who was putting the lives of the troops in Vietnam in danger. It's the same words we are hearing now from the Obama White House.

Ellsberg was a researcher for the Rand Corporation. He was trusted with top secret access to the secrets that held a war effort and a country together and, right or wrong, he betrayed that trust. He revealed the secrets at a time when the U.S. was on its way out of Vietnam but just needed one more push. Today, he's 79 years old and still an anti-war activist. He calls the current war in Afghanistan, “Vietnamistan.

Now, some might consider Julian Assange the most dangerous man in the cyber world. He's the founder of Wikileaks. He is no Daniel Ellsberg. Assange did not work for the intelligence community. He is just a conduit for the information. In the Wall Street Journal today, Daniel Ellsberg is quoted as saying, “He's a guy who's in the same state of mind I was in”. But it is different. Ellsberg had a caution today no matter how much an activist wants to expose the truth. He says it's dangerous to release so much information without reading it all. In the Pentagon Papers case, the information seared like a laser. Ellsberg had done his homework and everything he released was meant to change minds.

In 1971, Ellsberg had to steal the paper copies of the each file, read them, decide if he wanted the world to know it and then copy each one and put the originals back. Assange received the digital documents from someone, probably in an email, read enough of them to know it supported his anti-war position and dumped it all to his on his website. A few calls to several newspapers to tip them off and the world is talking about it…

I think it's interesting to discuss whether, in this case, the instantaneous nature of our technology really waters-down the power of the information. It's still illegal and potentially dangerous, but just dumping thousands of documents to a website is much easier than painstakingly making the decision to steal, copy, digest and release information that you believe is something the world needs to know. In the Wall Street Journal article today Ellsberg said, “I had to read all of it and made a judgment about the 7,000 papers….it took months to do it, night after night,” he said. Things are different now.

It's takes just the click of a mouse.

Categories: Becker’s Digital Notebook