Over the last few days, there’s been a lot of talk about the whole WikiLeaks release of over a quarter million diplomatic cables stolen from the US. The harm being caused is incalculable, and I’ve heard a lot of people using the term “treason” in relation to the whole mess.
Which is almost completely inaccurate, and a misuse of the term treason.
Oh, it’s fair to describe the alleged actions of PFC Bradley Manning, who has admitted to turning over a large amount of the documents WikiLeaks has released. (It’s questionable if he had access to all the ones he’s claimed to have taken.) But beyond that, it’s really not a matter of “treason.”
That’s because, beyond Manning, the principals behind the mess aren’t Americans. “Treason” only applies when one betrays one’s own nation.
No, what is going on here is espionage. Espionage during a time of war.
What we are seeing with WikiLeaks is very akin to what we are seeing with militant Islam and the War On Terror: a non-state entity taking on some of the powers and influence previously accorded only to nation states. WikiLeaks is acting like the intelligence agency of a nation hostile to (if not at war) with the United States. They, like the terrorists, have declared a modern form of war against us, and are waging it just like the KGB would. They are violating our secrets and publicizing them for their own ideological ends — which are inimical to our own national security.
In the old days, we had ways of dealing with that sort of thing. We could arrest, try, convict, and imprison them. We could swap them for our own intelligence agents. We could identify them and turn them to our own use, or feed them false information. We could even, in extreme circumstances, kill them. (Usually behind some euphemism like “sanction” or “terminate” or “vanish.”)
But all those options, save the first and last, were contingent on one element that we lack here: a nation-state behind the opposing intelligence agency that which we could deal with. A counterpart, with clearly identifiable leadership and goals.
Here, like in the War on Terror, we are seeing a group take on some of the aspects of a nation-state, but not enough to qualify as such. They still qualify, under the old and still existing rules, as “civilians” and have the protections accorded thereto.
Quite frankly, the world has outgrown the presumptions behind those principles. Civilians were protected because they were seen as largely helpless and harmless.
No longer. Groups like Al Qaeda and WikiLeaks can actually cause more harm, in different ways, than many actual nations.
What we are seeing very well could be the beginning of the end of the modern nation-state. Non-state actors are becoming more and more powerful, taking on many of the powers that have been traditionally been reserved for nation-states — but without the corresponding responsibilities and liabilities and weaknesses. They are, in their own way, waging war against the United States and other nations — and doing so in a way that our own laws and customs regarding warfare limit our ability to fight back.
We need to adapt to this new reality. We need to rework how we deal with these trans-national organizations, to come up with new rules that cover groups that wage war on the US while still pretending to be “civilians.”
In the case of WikiLeaks, my personal sentiment is to treat them precisely how they have become to be: a hostile foreign intelligence agency at war with the United States. Espionage charges, counterintelligence, information warfare, and even — if necessary, “wet work” — targeted assassinations.
That’s the game they have chosen to play. And by choosing to play in the big leagues, they have forfeited their right to the protections accorded civilians.
Welcome to The Show, WikiLeaks. You wanted in — you got it.
Update: Welcome, Instapundit readers! If you enjoyed this article, you might like the rather verbose followup posted here. Sorry for the lengths of both pieces, but I didn’t have time to write less.