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Guest Thinkers

Essential Holiday Reading on National Security

Happy holidays! Every year as I range across the web in search of news and ideas I come across a few articles that stand out as exceptionally worth reading. Today I want to share—as I did already once here earlier in the year—some of the articles on national security issues I personally found most interesting.

Secrecy was at the forefront most discussions of national security this year. In “Top Secret America”  (The Washington Post, July 19), Dana Priest and William Arkin meticulously expose an enormous, sprawling national security state that exists outside of public view. They report that some 854,000 people—nearly 1.5 times as many as live in all of Washington, D.C.—hold “Top Secret” security clearances. And in the Washington, D.C. area alone construction has started on 33 complexes to house intelligence work, which together will occupy about three Pentagons worth of space. The intelligence bureaucracy has grown so large that no one person can really keep track of everything it’s doing.

“I’m not going to live long enough to be briefed on everything” was how one Super User put it. The other recounted that for his initial briefing, he was escorted into a tiny, dark room, seated at a small table and told he couldn’t take notes. Program after program began flashing on a screen, he said, until he yelled ”Stop!” in frustration.

Of course, the debate over the importance of secrecy intensified as Wikileaks published several large sets of leaked classified documents. While much of what was in the leaks was not terribly surprising—which is not to say that none of it is evidence of wrongdoing—it did force the public to confront important issues about our military and foreign policy. As Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was accused of espionage, treason, and terrorism—in spite of it not being clear that he has committed any crime in publishing the leaked documents—Aaron Bady actually takes the time to look at how Assange justifies what Wikileaks does in “Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy” (Zunguzungu, November 29). Bady finds that Assange is not—as most people assume—simply trying to expose government secrets in the name of greater transparency. Rather Assange’s goal is to make it impossible for officials to conspire against us in secret, to destroy what Theodore Roosevelt called “an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people.”

Most of the news media seems to be losing their minds over Wikileaks without actually reading these essays, even though he describes the function and aims of an organization like Wikileaks in pretty straightforward terms. But, to summarize, he begins by describing a state like the US as essentially an authoritarian conspiracy, and then reasons that the practical strategy for combating that conspiracy is to degrade its ability to conspire, to hinder its ability to “think” as a conspiratorial mind. The metaphor of a computing network is mostly implicit, but utterly crucial: he seeks to oppose the power of the state by treating it like a computer and tossing sand in its diodes.

It is in any case worth looking at “What Wikileaks Revealed to the World in 2010” (Salon, December 24), Glenn Greenwald’s round up of the most significant revelations to come out of the leaks—including that the U.S. wasn’t reporting the number of civilian deaths in Iraq, spied on U.N. officials, suppressed international investigations into its torture and rendition programs, and lied about conducting military strikes in Yemen.


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