The problem with working to change United States foreign policy is that you're never really sure what it's going on behind the curtain. By the time you have submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and the government deems the information you're asking for safe, the present has passed into history. Which raises the question, will WikiLeaks bring us the transparency we need to be able to understand the internal workings of U.S. covert operations?
The world of top-secret America has grown exponentially since 9/11, with over 263 organizations created or reorganized. Much is happening in this world that is not only hidden from us, but from itself. A dark and Kafkaesque bureaucracy devoted to protecting us lurks beneath our democratic process, and we need to know its shape in order to have an accurate understanding of domestic and international policy.
The ability to excavate the doings of the CIA and FBI comes years after the ability to do anything about it has long past. Internationally, history has revealed that the CIA has been involved in regime changes in many places, including Afghanistan. Domestically, the Church Committee exposed the workings of COINTELPRO, the FBI's domestic program to disrupt the civil rights movement, which included a massive plan to discredit and undermine Dr. Martin Luther King. But this was released in 1975 and King died in 1968. We now know that the FBI came down on the wrong side of history. Would radical governmental transparency have forced the FBI to respect MLK?
The CIA may or may not have looked the other way while their operatives, after delivering supplies and weapons to the Nicaraguan rightist rebels, flew cocaine back to the gangs in LA ghettos to be made into crack. (See also today's related post, "What Mark Zuckerberg Told Time About Wikileaks".) Whistleblower and Pulitzer Prize-awarded journalist Gary Webb (below) lost his job at the San Jose Mercury News and eventually committed suicide over his article "Dark Alliance," that reported on these connections. History is divided on the veracity of his claims (despite the firsthand testimony he collected into his book). It goes to show that being on the cutting edge of history can hurt. It's never easy to be a whistleblower like Assange.
What is certain is that the covert military's operations always operate under plausible deniability. For activists who see traces of the CIA's operations in international conflicts this can be frustrating. How, exactly, do the State Department and the CIA work together? Because we cannot know what is happening in the present, history is the study of the already obsolete. How can we affect change if we cannot see inside this dark machine?
It is the connection between history and the present moment that is so often lacking. We can all become scholars of the CIA's historic role in shaping world events, but the real question is the now. What is the CIA doing right now?
The federal Freedom of Information Act gives members of the public access to information created by any public agency. While there are rules dictating how much time a public agency can take to fulfill a request (as well as how much money they can charge to do so), it sometimes takes years, thousands of dollars and even lawsuits before that information is disclosed.
WikiLeaks provides us with the hope of a pre-FOIA FOIA. Information not requested and unexpected may continue to fall from the sky. Perhaps, from those pages, we will glean something of what the CIA and State Department are doing overseas.
If we are able to obtain this information through WikiLeaks, we may be able to interact with the covert military operations that the U.S. is undertaking as they are taking place. If so, we may be able to turn the tide of history.
Are we approaching an age where we can confront history as it is happening?
I ask, who watches the watchmen? In an age where an entire military-political machine is hidden below the surface, hidden from scrutiny, I hope that WikiLeaks will cause our society pause to reflect on this as a danger to liberty and open the front door. And a few windows while we're at it, because the house needs some fresh air.
Gary Webb screen grab from "Gary Webb: In his own words"