Saturday, July 23, 2011

Jesuit/Rabbinical advice to Anonymous/LulzSec

I'm neither Catholic nor Jewish, but the most relevant advice I've ever received that might apply to the discussions taking place amongst the Anonymous/LulzSec crowd came from a Jesuit and a Jewish intellectual. I think it was back when Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, which proved the Johnson administration systematically lied to congress and to the American people. Given that my conversations took place over 40 years ago (gosh, about the same number of years Moses had to tromp around in the wilderness, waiting for a generation of idol worshipers to die), I'm probably taking significant liberties with what really occurred in my conversations. I am pretty sure the conversations took place, but you'll have to attribute the terseness and cogent logic more to the fact that I've internalized these ideas than to my perfect memory. I will therefore create a conversation between myself, a Rabbi and a Jesuit, that may or may not have taken place on a transcontinental airline flight between Boston and Seattle. I do remember sitting between these two gentleman.

Me:  "I think Daniel Ellsberg should be shot for treason."

Rabbi: "That's a very strong opinion. What part of his transgression would warrant death?"

Me:  "He leaked top-secret information in a time of war!"

Rabbi:  "And what were these secrets? Who was injured by their revelation?"

Me: "It doesn't matter, does it?"

The Jesuit jumped in: "Actually, it does matter. Who were we trying to keep these secrets from?"

Me:  "Our enemies, of course!"

Jesuit:  "Actually, our enemies knew these facts. Our military knew these facts."

Me:  "Huh? Then who were we trying to keep in the dark?"

The Rabbi and the Jesuit together: "The American people. Period."

Now let's jump to WikiLeaks, Anonymous/LulzSec hacking of NATO and various other email repositories (like H.B. Gary, etc.). What would my long-ago-internalized Jesuit and Rabbi say about these hacks? Full disclosure demands that I confess my own bias, first. I long ago made the decision that my personal moral compass demands obedience to the law. Hence my desire to legalize cyber privateering. That being said, my composite Jesuit/Rabbi would ask, "From whom are the secrets being kept?"

If the answer is, "From our enemies," then the recent Anonymous claim that they would be irresponsible if they leaked their full treasure trove of NATO documents is a good decision. Bravo, guys.

On the other side of the coin, if our enemies know the details, and if our only reason for keeping things secret is to avoid public knowledge of a situation—like the WikiLeaks disclosure of diplomatic cables proving that the Russians are selling shoulder-mounted ground-to-air missiles to third-world rebels—then to hell with that secret. Somehow, that leak should be retroactively protected by some kind of whistle-blower law (again, my bias toward the rule of law). This may indeed be your defense if you find yourself in the slammer.

[As a side note, I never miss the opportunity to "mix it up" with Jesuits on long airplane flights. Those self-proclaimed "God's own storm troopers" can take either side of an argument and do it justice. Ditto for Rabbis. Or the head of my Cyber Privateer Fantasy League team, Larry Ellison. In fact, Larry Ellison routinely picks religious fights with Rabbis and wins them. One of my Rabbi friends once walked out of such a confrontation with Ellison and said, "Damn, I know I was right. But Larry still won the argument!"]

So my idealistic young friends—who remind me of myself in 1965—I won't talk risk/reward equations. We've had that discussion. You know where I stand. You have my advice. I do however urge you to use my Jesuit/Rabbi filter as you decide which dirty laundry to publicize. If the secrets just keep inflammatory truth from the public, if they're just covering up venal corruption, then they don't pass the test of worthiness and shouldn't be kept secret. To be sure, we disagree on the whistle-blowing process. I dare not continue to beat that drum. But do consider my Jesuit/Rabbi filter. You don't want innocent blood on your hands.

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Implementation suggestions for THE MORGAN DOCTRINE are most welcome. What are the "Got'chas!"? What questions would some future Cyber Privateering Czar have to answer about this in a Senate confirmation hearing?