Yesterday I was invited to participate in a discussion forum on “Wikileaks and Naitonal Security” organized by the Thai Netizen Group. It was a memorable experience and I’d like to share with you here my thoughts about the topic.
Wikileaks has been very much under intense scrutiny now after they have released a number of cables submitted by American embassies worldwide back to Washington. A lot of embarrassing information can be found there, but more interesting are those pieces that expose wrong doings of people who are in power. This is the very powerful and disruptive aspect of Wikileaks. Used in the right way, it has a way of keeping governments in check, curbing their power since they know that there is now no secret in the world and what they do can be leaked anytime.
At least that is the theory, and there many dedicated people at Wikileaks and their allies who are intent on keeping it that way. However, governments have other ideas. They resent being watched all the time and the troubles that Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange has been through is a clear indication that governments will not stand still and let Wikileaks do anything they want on them.
So the talk yesterday focused mostly on the US and its behavior, which is appropriate at the moment because much of the discussion on Wikileaks has been focused on the US. But since the forum was organized in Bangkok, there was the natural interest in linking up the Wikileaks situation to the Thai context. The main question is: Does Wikileaks pose a threat to national security or is it an opportunity for the people themselves to gain more power and control over their government?
Many of the participants were optimistic that Wikileaks would do more good than harm, but perhaps that depends on what kind of information being leaked and how Wikileaks itself operates. There have been news reports saying that Wikileaks might inadvertently become an ally of terrorist groups who might use the information there to pose security threats to American interests. That accusation was denied by the member of Wikileaks in the audience yesterday, and to date no such damaging information has been leaked to aid the work of terrorists. So it looks like the accusations were unfounded. Another thing is that the power of Wikileaks depends on what kind of information being leaked. If the accusation of Wikileaks aiding terrorists were to materialize, this would mean they would have released information containing names of secret agents or places which were sensitive to American interests so that they would aid terrorists in finding suitable targets. At least that is a possibility, and the fact that it has not materialize (even though the people at Wikileaks might in fact possess those damaging pieces of information – perhaps – I don’t really know) shows that the people there possess enough integrity not to let that happen.
So we come to the old question regarding use of power. Wikileaks has a lot of power, and it can potentially control the behavior of governments. But who controls Wikileaks? This is the classic question of finding check and balance to power. What will prevent Wikileaks from becoming an extortionist group searching for their own personal, immediate gains, at least according to the views of some who are really critical of it? Now those working at Wikileaks are idealistic types who care much more for the benefit of the whole than for themselves. We should have more of these people, but what would assure those who are afraid that Wikileaks itself, having so much power in their hands, might not become a monster themselves?
So we might have “meta-Wikileaks” to watch over the workings of Wikileaks? But that is a no starter because it invites infinite regress. In the end there is no alternative for the people to become ever vigilant and they have to become the ultimate arbiter as to the integrity and balanced use of power of any political and public organizations. This is a tall order, but one which any democracy cannot live without. Nobody says that being a democracy is easy. Thailand is undergoing very painful experiences just on this point.