Follow-Up: Assange Shouldn’t Be Assassinated, but Info Terrorism is Real

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I think the nuance in my argument in yesterday’s post about assassinating the WikiLeaks founder wasn’t too clear. Here’s the short version:

Assange’s decision to publish a list of potential terrorist targets has made the world a little less safe and increased the threat of violence for many of these places (and our country as a whole). The US govt. kills dozens of would-be terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan every year for simply threatening these facilities. Since Assange’s work has lead to increased threat of violence for these facilities, it would seem that Assange meets most of the criteria used to condone a targeted killing.

For the record, I’m not saying Assange should be killed – I’m just saying that he could be under the current moral framework we use to justify targeted killings. Obviously, today’s news that Assange has been incarcerated makes this entire question irrelevant.

After thinking about my post yesterday, I’ve come to the following conclusion: There may be such a thing as “info terrorism.” Examples might be:

  • disclosing state secrets that could destabilize governments on the Internet
  • Writing nasty things about others with an intention to incite violence
  • Publishing the identity of undercover law enforcement personnel in Mexico in order to get them or their families killed
  • Publishing security plans, weapons plans, etc.

I’m not sure that people want to refer to these sorts of thing as “terrorism” – dangerous or defamatory speech might be a contemporary definition – but I ask you, why isn’t this sort of thing terrorism?

Terrorists use violence and the threat of violence to pursue their goals. If I publish the location and sensitive nature of a particular South American mine that’s vital to U.S. interests, I’ve (arguably) exposed that facility to a greater security risk. The possibility of violence is now higher as a result of my disclosure…which fits under “threat of violence.”

If a so-called “journalist” does something that increases the threat of violence for a particular facility, how is that any different than a crack-pot terrorist directly threatening this facility on his or her own? The net result is the same, is it not?

On a separate note: Some say that Assange is a journalist, but this is a logical fallacy of the highest order. The credo of a journalist is to serve the public good. What public good is served by publishing secret documents that list off important facilities? Publishing the substance of diplomatic communiques has caused wars in the history of our world – what public good is served if a WikiLeaks disclosure causes a conflict?

As a general rule, ethical journalists do not publish secret documents. While there have been situations where journalists have broken this rule and served the public good – Abu Ghraib, for example – this seems to be the exception. Says the New York Times:

As a general rule we withhold secret information that would expose confidential sources to reprisals or that would reveal operational intelligence that might be useful to adversaries in war. We excise material that might lead terrorists to unsecured weapons material, compromise intelligence-gathering programs aimed at hostile countries, or disclose information about the capabilities of American weapons that could be helpful to an enemy

Even the U.K.’s Guardian – an example of liberal-slant journalism that rivals the bias of Fox News – had this to say about publishing classified materials:

the Guardian…could not be party to putting the lives of individuals or sources at risk, nor reveal material that might compromise ongoing military operations or the location of special forces

By the standards of both of these news organizations, Assange’s decision to publish a list of sensitive facilities (potentially putting lives at risk) is indefensible.

4 Comments

  1. I think there is a huge difference between the use of violonce (actual terrorism) and the release of information that could potentially, if acted upon by a third party, be used to create violonce (so-called info terrorism). Who does the US government work for anyway? US! Your argument would very likely put Swingin’ Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby in the same cell as Assange for spilling the V.Plame info.

  2. Jason

    December 7, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    That is true…I was also reminded of the Chicago newspaper that published the home address of a fan who caught a fly ball in the World Series (I think it was a Chicago game).

    In any case, my definition of “terrorism” is probably too loose. If it were more strict, Assange wouldn’t be considered an “info terrorist.” Also, just as you say, there’s a difference between publishing info that is useful to a terrorist and actually trying to blow something up.

  3. Jason Lancaster
    President of Spork Marketing:
    Assange is not a political figure… He represents a danger to the USA and he should be killed ASAP.

    Is that true that this yours?

  4. Jason

    June 22, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    No – I was misquoted. See this article: http://jasonlancaster.com/34/usa-assassinate-wikileaks-founder/

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