By Nathan Diebenow
Thursday, December 9th, 2010
A Time Magazine ‘Person of the Year’ argues WikiLeaks serves the public good
A member of a group of former intelligence professionals that has rallied behind WikiLeaks suggested in a recent interview with Raw Story that the world would be a different and better place had the online secrets outlet come into existence years sooner.
“If there had been a mechanism like Wikileaks, 9/11 could have been prevented,” Coleen Rowley, a former special agent/legal counsel at the FBI’s Minneapolis division, told Raw Story in an exclusive interview.
Rowley and her colleague Bogdan Dzakovic, a special agent for the FAA’s security division, explained this position in an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times in October. However, they admit no claim to the original idea of an established pro-whistle-blower infrastructure. It’s purely the US government’s, she said.
“That’s not even us,” she told Raw Story. “That’s not our personal opinion. We’re really reciting the conclusions of the 9/11 Commission
that attributed the failures of 9/11 to a failure to share information not only inside agencies, not only between agencies, but with the public and the media.”
“People have forgotten that that was the main conclusion of the 9/11 Commission,” Rowley added.
“The 9/11 Commission was based on four other major investigation inquiries,” she continued “One was called the Joint Intelligence Committee Inquiry. That started in Jan. 2002. It went on for well over a year. Then I testified to the Judiciary Committee, and they came out with a big long report. That JICI had two reports. It had an early one and a second one. Then, my memo led to an Inspector General which is about a 400-page investigation that Glenn Find did.”
WikiLeaks, Rowley argued, is merely implementing that underlying suggestion: to share information for the public good.
Rowley worked closely with those who arrested would-be terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui on an immigration violation weeks before 9/11. She was one of three whistleblowers chosen as “Person of the Year” by TIME magazine.
“One of the reasons why the [website] existed with the 2.5 million documents shared at fairly low levels to even include privates was that was the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission — that 9/11 occurred due to a failure to share this information. So they were trying to share things as much as possible,” she said.
Rowley continued, “The 9/11 Commission went so far as to say that even little tidbits, even some little things had been made public, like the arrest of Moussaoui had been made public in August, that would have probably served to avert 9/11.”
“Even the agents in the Minnesota office were unaware of what was going on. They weren’t told,” she noted.
Rowley said she now fears that the federal government will return to its pre-9/11 days of over-compartmentalization of information. She doesn’t blame WikiLeaks, though.
Rowley is a member of the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, an organization made up of former intelligence professionals. They recently signed a joint statement condemning the media attacks against WiikiLeaks, site founder Julian Assange, and their alleged source Pfc. Bradley Manning.
Rowley’s support for WikiLeaks stems from its function as an outlet for potential whistle-blowers in the national intelligence section of the federal government who have no avenue to share information without fear of reprisal. Currently, there is no federal law protecting those who would reveal illegalities like fraud, waste, abuse or threats to public safety.
On the point as to whether WikiLeaks has saved lives, Rowley said that it was too early to tell either way. But, she said the site has still filled a necessary role at a time where traditional lines of communication have fallen into disrepair.
“The media used to perform that function 40 years ago when [Daniel] Ellsberg took his Pentagon Papers not only to the New York Times, but 18 other newspapers defied Nixon’s orders and published those Pentagon Papers,” she continued. “At about the same time, within a year or two, Woodward and Bernstein were actually investigating the president, and actually got enough evidence amassed to force the president to say that he was not above the law.”
While temporary secrecy is necessary and helpful during criminal investigations, Rowley argued, too much secrecy can do much more harm. Dzakovic, for example, found that during an investigation of airport security, his “Red Team” was able to smuggle weapons onto airplanes on 90 percent of their attempts.
“Red Team’s” report was ignored and suppressed, Rowley said, ultimately leading airlines to dismiss as too expensive the bolts that could have prevented would-be terrorists from opening a cockpit door.
“You can just see the short term thinking, Rowley said. “If we had more sharing of information — if the public had known about the fact that the airport security was that bad, they would have demanded this to be done. Customers would have demanded it if they had been told the risks they had been facing.”
“Of course had [Dzakovic] gotten the information out through a Wikileaks mechanism, the public would have known,” she said.
With editing by Stephen C. Webster.