Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, either a transparency hero or a Russian pawn who helped elected Donald Trump, depending on whom you ask, has been living inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London for the past six years. Assange has been afraid to leave the embassy; fearing authorities would arrest him and extradite him to the United States to face charges related to releasing a vast amount of US government documents in 2010. It turns out those fears were well founded.
Is he a bad guy or a good guy? Depends on who you ask. While I applaud what he did I understand that in any nation whose government is founded on the concept of a national-security state, what he did is a cardinal sin, one akin to treason and one that merits severe punishment.
Mind you, Assange isn’t being charged with lying or releasing false or fraudulent information about the U.S. national-security state. No one argues that the information he released wasn’t real. Assange’s “crime” was in disclosing to people the wrongdoing of the national-security establishment. No one is supposed to do that, even if the information is true and correct.
It’s the same with Edward Snowden, the American contractor with the CIA and the NSA who is now relegated to living in Russia. If Snowden returns home, he faces federal criminal prosecution, conviction, and incarceration for disclosing secrets of the U.S. national-security establishment. Again, his “crime” is disclosing the truth about the internal workings of the national-security establishment, not disseminating false information.
America was established as a limited government Republic under which the federal government’s powers were limited. As a matter of fact, the only powers that federal officials could lawfully exercise were those few enumerated in the Constitution itself. Under our Republic, there was no enormous permanent military establishment, no CIA, no NSA.
The last thing Americans wanted was the type of government they had escaped in England. As a matter of fact, if Americans had been told that the Constitution was going to bring into existence a national security state, they never would have approved the deal and would have continued operating under the Articles of confederation, a type of governmental system where the federal government’s powers were so few that it didn’t even have the power to tax.
Under the Republic, governmental operations were transparent. There was no such thing as “state secrets” or “national security.” Except for the periodic backroom deals in which politicians would make deals, things generally were open and above-board for people to see and make judgments on.
That all changed when the federal government was converted from a limited-government Republic to a national-security state after World War II. Suddenly, the federal government was vested with omnipotent powers, so long as they were being exercised by the Pentagon, the CIA, or the NSA in the name of “national security.”
Interestingly enough, the conversion of the federal government to a national-security state was not done through constitutional amendment. Nonetheless, the judiciary has long upheld or simply deferred to the exercise of omnipotent powers by the national-security establishment.
An implicit part of the conversion was that the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA would be free to exercise their omnipotent powers in secret. Secrecy has always been a core element in any government that is structured as a national-security state, especially when it involves dark, immoral, and nefarious powers that are being exercised for the sake of “national security.”
One action that does require the utmost in secrecy involves assassination, which is really nothing more than legalized murder. Not surprisingly, many national-security officials want to keep their role in state-sponsored murder secret. Another example is coups initiated in foreign countries. U.S. officials bend over backwards to hide their role in such regime-change operations. And then there is the surveillance schemes whereby citizens are treated as foreigners, spied upon and monitored. Kidnapping, indefinite detention, and torture are still more examples.
Of course, these are the types of things that we ordinarily identify with totalitarian regimes. The reason for that is that a national-security state governmental system is inherent to totalitarian regimes. For example, the Nazi government, which was a national-security state too, had an enormous permanent military establishment and a Gestapo, which wielded the powers of assassination, indefinite detention, torture, and secret surveillance. And not surprisingly, to disclose the secrets of German’s national-security state involved severe punishment.
But it’s not just Nazi Germany. There are many other examples of totalitarian regimes that are based on the concept of national security and structured as a national-security state. Chile under Pinochet, the Soviet Union, Communist China, North Korea, Vietnam, Egypt, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Myanmar, and unfortunately, the United States. The list goes on and on. And every one of those totalitarian regimes has a state-secrets doctrine, the same doctrine that the Pentagon, CIA, and NSA have.
Defenders of Assange and Snowden and other revealers of secrets of the U.S. national security state point to the principles of freedom of speech and freedom of the press to justify their disclosures.
I’ve got a better idea: Let’s just dismantle America’s decades-long, nightmarish Cold War-era experiment with the totalitarian structure known as a national-security state and restore a limited-government republic to our land.
Source: State Secrets and the National Security State by Jacob G. Hornberger, The Future of Freedom Foundation; Julian Assange: Bad guy, yes. Criminal? Not so fast, The Boston Globe