David R. Henderson  

Miron and McArdle on WikiLeaks

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On his show this Sunday on Fox Business, John Stossel had as panelists David Boaz, Jeff Miron, Larry Elder, and Megan McArdle. They handled most of the issues beautifully.

But there was one clearcut exception: WikiLeaks. Jeff Miron said that Julian Assange "broke laws." In context, he was clearly talking about laws involving WikiLeaks, not about Sweden's sex laws. But Miron didn't specify what law Assange broke. I don't think Assange did break laws. The people who fed him the information may well have broken laws. But relaying the information to the public? If Assange broke laws, then so did the New York Times. And I don't think either did.

Megan McArdle then made a whopping claim. She asserted that the memos leaked had not shown "massive wrongdoing." Really? Here are some paragraphs from a recent story in the U.K.'s Daily Mail:

Hillary Clinton ordered American officials to spy on high ranking UN diplomats, including British representatives.
Top secret cables revealed that Mrs Clinton, the Secretary of State, even ordered diplomats to obtain DNA data - including iris scans and fingerprints - as well as credit card and frequent flier numbers.
All permanent members of the security council - including Russia, China, France and the UK - were targeted by the secret spying mission, as well as the Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon.

That's not massive wrongdoing? It's massive. It's wrongdoing. What's missing?


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COMMENTS (19 to date)
Hyena writes:

Prof. Henderson,

Correct, Assange has broken no laws.

McArdle probably means that it has revealed no wrongdoing. That we spy on the UN has been a known quantity at least since the run up to the war in Iraq, it was front page news. I don't recall ever having stopped.

Stephen Smith writes:

It's wrongdoing, but is that really massive? This is only really surprising to those outside of the diplomacy/intellgence communities...despite the platitudes about the separation between the two, everyone knows that most diplomats are actually spies. It's nice to have it in writing, but this isn't at all surprising.

Spotcash writes:

What law does it violate??

Prakhar Goel writes:

"What's missing?"

That we are not dealing with private individuals here. I know you don't like to hear this and that it goes against your political philosophies, etc... but here is the truth: governments are not private individuals and do not follow the same rules as private individuals. Indeed if governments are to perform their functions of enforcing contracts and protecting private property, etc... they must have powers beyond those given to a private individual.

When Clinton ordered spy missions against high ranking UN officials, it was the US government acting against other foreign governments and in this arena, anything goes. There is no wrongdoing here, just everyday life.

John Smith writes:

To David Henderson:

I am not sure if you have a agenda to push or you are just honestly mistaken.

Diplomats generally function as spies as well. Diplomatic cover is issued for the spies in the "open" to protect them in the event they get caught. This is standard practice.

Expanding the requirements to have normal diplomats take on some additional duties is by no means "wrong" or even that unusual.

Hyena writes:

Mr. Smith,

Prof. Henderson is a libertarian economist, he writes commentary on this blog and elsewhere under that premise.

While I disagree with him sometimes, he's not "pushing an agenda" any more than anyone else who states an opinion. Certainly not in a way that's somehow hidden or obscure.

If "information wants to be free," doesn't that include information on what out supposed allied have been up to?

Anonymous12 writes:

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Tim Worstall writes:

"That's not massive wrongdoing? It's massive. It's wrongdoing. What's missing? "

That it's normal? Usual? That that's what we have spy services for?

Hume writes:

"it was the US government acting against other foreign governments and in this arena, anything goes."

This is a questionable moral premise. Very Hobbesian. Also, notice the frequency of the response in the comments ("this is normal practice") to Henderson's claim of "massive wrongdoing." Something needs to justify the practice, provide reasons, moral reasons, for why it is morally permissible, in order to meet Henderson's assertions. Simply stating "this is what goes on" is not a justification. The Hobbesian claim "we're in a state of nature in the international domain" is a response, but I do not find it compelling.

Brian Clendinen writes:

So any and all spying is wrong? This is nonsense, other than I read we have a treating saying we would not use the UN for spying. So breaking any treaty is a massive wrong doing? If so, the U.S. has had many massive wrongs committed against us over the past few decades and that is just with the Geniva convention.

Please explain the rational because this seems like a ridicules comment to make based on how I read it now.

rapscallion writes:

We've learned about loads of wrongdoing from Wikileaks. Glenn Greenwald is the man to read:

http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/12/01/wikileaks

David N writes:

I guess it's not that massive, relative to snatching people off the street and torturing them in secret prisons.

Mo writes:

I thought we as a nation should assume ALL other countries are spying on us and they should assume we are spying on them. A government who does not do this is naive and irresponsible. It is failing in its duty to protect the nation.

It is similar to the MAD game. (You can draw up the simple game to see the equilibria.) It is fine if we make a bunch of nuke reduction treaties, but I would never want a president who actually believed the other country was truly reducing. There are two pure strategy equilibria in this game. It you are in the (don't attack, don't attack) equilibria everyone is fine. Right now we are in the (spy, spy) equilibria and it is dangerous for us to move to the (don't spy, spy) one...which isn't actually an equilibrium.

JPIrving writes:

Personally I want the U.S. to spy on China and Russia. I dont trust the U.S. government, but I trust China and Russia a lot less. Why they are at it they might as well spy on allies too.

Chris T writes:

"Countries don't have friends, they have interests."

Seth writes:

My guess is that she meant "massive wrongdoing" in the sense that we didn't discover that the gov't has been secretly supplying weapons to Iran or terrorists organizations or subverting the Constitution. Oh wait...that last one isn't a massive wrongdoing either.

CBBB writes:

It should also be added that the leaks revealed that the US has been interfering in the legal systems of Spain and Germany by bullying those nations with respect to the prosecution of American agents in regards to the torture scandals.

Just because "we expect this to happen" or "it happens all the time" doesn't make it not wrongdoing.

ER writes:

I wonder what "massive wrongdoing" on the part of other UN member countries are being lost in all the shiny lights on those highlighted by correspondence from the most open and transparent government on the planet. Have another in mind???

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