Something very interesting happened today, which is that former ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray enlisted the help of the blogosphere to publish several classified letters the British Government has placed under a gag order.
The specific contents of the letters, and Mr. Murray's personal and political motivations, which I'll get to in a bit, aren't what really interest me here. What I find momentous is the gesture--mark my words: there is no longer any such thing as "secrecy" in the world.
There is a good analogy in commerce: prior to the founding of the United States, most businesses operated on the basis of trade secrets. Few people (even patent holders) realize today that Thomas Jefferson was in the habit of taking patent applications home at night while he served as President Washington's Secretary of State. That's how important the founding fathers considered patents to be. Why? Because patents, by granting protection under the rule of law to innovation and ideas, allowed businesses to profit while sharing their intellectual capital--the patent library is where the real intellectual history of America resides, far more so than the library of congress. By shifting from secrecy to transparency, "publishing" our technology, we jump-started the engine that became the United States economy.
So, watching the "Berlin Wall" of government secrecy fall today, I have to wonder how this will play out. Will governments figure out better ways to manage information in a transparent world? Or will they respond the way the music industry did to filesharing (ie, irrational Ludditism), or the way IBM did to the PC Clone (i.e., frozen terror and denial)? And who, out there in the world of government, will "get it" first?
As for Craig Murray, his effort to promulgate information across the web, thus making it permanently "public," is inherently entrepreneurial. And not just because he is doing it to promote his forthcoming book on his tenure as Ambassador (I have no doubts whatsoever that he is doing just that, because these supposedly "secret" letters were actually written about in the Times back in March). The use of a distributed network like the blogosphere to leverage ideas is itself an act of intellectual entrepreneurship. I personally find it distasteful, as I think Murray has a shrill, anti-US, leftist agenda. The memos state his concern over Britain's receipt of intelligence gathered by the Uzbeks via torture. His most compelling argument is this: "It obviates my efforts to get the Uzbek government to stop torture they are fully aware our intelligence community laps up the results."
Fair enough. However, just yesterday I was reading about the "reverse McCarthyism fallacy" on the Volokh Conspiracy (there is a problem with their server so the link to the story is down, but I'll paraphrase): A belief that McCarthy prosecuted Communism through ill means does not imply that Communism isn't immoral. One can be wronged and still be evil. That's just common sense. And, I believe, by the same token, one can commit actual evil through the blind adherence to a position of clinical "virtue." Willful ignorance seems to fall under that heading. Ergo, sticking one's fingers in one's ears and singing "lalalalalal" so as not to sully oneself by "hearing" information gathered through torture that one did not oneself commit could possibly be construed as being itself immoral.
Above all, I find it extremely fascinating that Murray is arguing against the sharing of information--by advocating the unfettered sharing of information. That contradiction, too, makes his gesture morally suspect. Maybe the truth is that we should all know what the Uzbeks did, and what their victims said, and what Tony Blair thinks about all of it. (The only real point of contention, as my friend the Barcepundit pointed out to me while we were chatting about the affair this a.m., is that Blair lied about having received the information.)