Tuesday, 7 August 2012


There have been interesting developments lately involving secrecy.  I give some of my time to the local District Council, by chairing a committee which examines complaints against Councillors.  Of course, I start from the position that the Councillor is not guilty unless proven otherwise.  But it wouldn’t occur to me to look critically at the complainant for revealing sensitive information about the activities of the Council or the proceedings of the committee on which he sits.  In fact, when we wrote our Code of Conduct some while ago, we inserted a clause which says that we will respect and not punish whistleblowers, or something along those lines.
The situation in America seems to be becoming less tolerant than that.  Of course, terrorism has become the new neurosis.  But there have been a number of cases recently of investigation of citizens for espionage or inappropriate use of position or ‘exceeding authority’, etc, when what they have actually done is shed some light on the hidden activities of the administration.  This smacks a little of authoritarianism, if not guilt.  I do believe that there should be some limits on such revelations, but I also think we should know what our democratically elected representatives are actually doing.  This illiberal trend certainly won’t help the case of Bradley Manning.  I don’t expect him to be given the death sentence, but I don’t suppose the ‘no criminal intent’ defence will get him off either.
In this country, at another level, we had the fascinating period of the super-injunction, when celebs (mostly footballers it seemed) would obtain a court order preventing anyone (usually the press and a woman they’d shagged) from saying anything in public about their nefarious activities.  The justification was that disclosure would harm their family life, as though it was the whistleblower that caused the harm, rather than the shagger himself.  What was really interesting was that the press were not even permitted to reveal that a super-injunction had been granted.  That too was secret.  I think all that has stopped now.  But, who knows?  I haven’t been told.
One of these cases sort of came to court the other day, when the subject of a super-injunction had to apologise for words spoken about the object of a super-injunction.  We’re not allowed to know that there was a super-injunction of course.  Isn’t the law wonderful?!  So we’re not to know the name of the footballer (or it might have been a film star or a politician) who was granted the super-injunction, but because he said some disparaging words about the alleged object of the super-injunction, he was taken to court and had to apologise publicly, even though there might not have been a super-injunction.  Are you with me so far?  In court, the shaggee was known as ‘CTB’ to protect her identity and the shagger was known as ‘RJG’ to protect his family.  After the case, Imogen Thomas made a public statement outside the court saying that she was relieved (which was probably the point of the alleged incident in the first place) and vindicated, but of course couldn’t say who she was or what she was relieved about.  The press then reported the whole story with the real names of those involved (since there is no injunction on this subsequent case).  Well, at least secrecy was maintained, the super-injunction wasn’t broken and Ryan Giggs name didn’t come out as the shagger in the woodpile.
We have also seen the US military withdraw from Iraq.  No secrecy was involved here of course, but one interesting outcome of all the secrecy that had gone before was that the military had signally failed to win over hearts and minds, which, as we all know, is the second most important role of the military overseas.  The debate about whether we should have invaded Iraq or whether the cost was worthwhile I leave to history.  But, since they have been in Iraq, the US has improved electricity generation and transmission, improved irrigation and drainage and increased the amount of land under agriculture, created a new sewage collection and treatment system, increased civil aviation capacity and upgraded airports, repaired the fibre-optic network and built a new telephone exchange, increased oil production and reduced import dependence, built prisons, barracks, entry points, and equipped and trained the military, security forces and police, not to mention establishing local administrative committees and democratic elections.  It’s not perfect, but it’s not a bad state to leave the country in. 
But somehow this information has not permeated down to the Iraqi population.  If there’s one thing that needed not to be kept secret, surely it was this.  Now's the chance to get Wikileaks to leaflet the population.  Ask any Iraqi what they think about the US withdrawing and they will say ‘good riddance’, ‘they didn’t do anything for us, except maybe kill my brother’, ‘things were better under Saddam’, etc.  What a waste.  All that expense and cost and all that has been created is resentment and maybe hatred.  If ever there was a need for whistleblowers!  Or at least blowing one’s own trumpet.  Or is it tooting one’s own horn?

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