November 29, 2010 | Commentary on National Security and Defense, Intelligence

The damage Done & What to Do

Should we crush WikiLeaks? You bet.

Originally, the muckraking Web site claimed its "primary interest is in exposing oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East." But clearly its mission has changed to one of embarrassing and weakening America.

Dropping any pretense of trying to "expose" truly oppressive regimes such as Iran or North Korea, it now casts itself as a champion of "freedom of speech and expression." But by publicly "expressing" a quarter-million confidential documents, WikiLeaks willfully puts at risk the lives of people working to undermine the world's repressive regimes.

Thus WikiLeaks tortures the virtue of free speech into a frontal assault on what the Founding Fathers called "ordered liberty."

This is far worse than the cyber version of falsely yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater. Lacking the resources and knowledge necessary to vet these documents, the anonymous "editors" at WikiLeaks can't possibly ensure that their disclosures will keep innocents from harm's way. Even Amnesty International has raised red flags over this cavalier disregard for human life.

Consider the leaked revelation of a State Department directive calling for embassy staff to collect personal identifying information on foreign diplomats. That's catnip to any dictator wishing to declare all US embassy officials to be spies and start tossing them in prison.

In the very real, very dangerous world inhabited by all of us except the smug and sanctimonious WikiLeaks "editors," releasing hundreds of thousands of classified documents is like strewing the meanest streets with loaded guns. Yet the WikiLeakers will doubtless be "shocked" when those revealed to be working against tyrannical regimes are later shot or "disappeared."

The issue is not if these leaks should be punished, but how. For starters, we have treason laws. Let's use 'em. Against anyone subject to US law who aided in this assault on America. And let's use 'em to the max, seeking the death penalty for those convicted. We must send the message that America takes betrayal seriously.

There are things we should not do. Considering whom they're aiding and abetting, it's tempting to call the WikiLeakers terrorists, but we should not put WikiLeaks on the list of terrorist organizations. It hasn't engaged in the use or threat of violence for political purposes -- a defining hallmark of true terrorists. Rather than cheapen the term "terrorist," let's reserve it for deserving groups like al Qaeda rather than preening, self-important "editors."

Cyber attacks to shut down the Web site make no sense, either. The stuff has already gone global; if WikiLeaks vanished tomorrow, it'd still be too late to close the cyber barn door.

That doesn't mean giving it a free pass. WikiLeaks has, after all, assaulted the freedoms of every free nation and violated the confidences of many. America should press every friend and ally to do whatever its jurisdiction allows in terms of putting the legal screws to WikiLeaks.

Wherever a cyber bit touches ground, it lands under the jurisdiction of somebody. Many nations may have a chance to take a judicial shot at some aspect of WikiLeaks -- and they ought to. The more people connected to WikiLeaks who do jail time, the better.

Further, Washington should launch a public diplomacy offensive. WikiLeaks, after all, offers a teachable moment. The United States has long championed global Internet freedom -- and we know that the irresponsible, life-threatening shenanigans of Julian Assange & Co. are not legitimate exercises in cyberspace freedom.

Washington needs to explain the difference between "ordered freedom" and anarchic libertinism. The cyberworld often relies on the "wisdom of crowds" to distinguish the good stuff online from the bad. Washington must convince the crowd to turn its back on WikiLeaks.

Finally, Washington must get its act together and quit getting "cyberscrewed" at every turn. The truth is, China has probably stolen way more harmful information than WikiLeaks has scored. Until Washington beefs up its cybersecurity muscle, we'll keep hemorrhaging leaks -- Wiki and otherwise -- to the detriment of our national security and the safety of freedom-loving peoples everywhere.

The Heritage Foundation's James Jay Carafano is author of the forthcoming book, "The Art of Wiki War."

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow

First appeared in The New York Post