May 1, 2010

Secrecy: What Iceland learned from the financial meltdown that the USA did not

Filed under: politics, public geographies, Surveillance — ubikcan @ 9:07 am

Update May 7, 2010. The FT is now reporting that the CEO of one of Iceland’s banks, (who had threatened Wikileaks with prison) has been arrested for embezzlement and other offenses:

Hreidar Mar Sigurdsson was detained in Reykjavik yesterday on suspicion of offences including embezzlement, falsifying documents and stock and bond trading violations, according to people close to the case.

Looks like Iceland is still drawing good lessons from the financial crisis.

Iceland’s terrible financial crisis (debt, bankruptcy and unemployment) has yielded at least one positive. As Birgitta Jónsdóttir, Member of Parliament explains in this video (about 5 mins, part of a longer symposium at Berkeley’s School of Journalism), the secrecy and back-room bank dealings which helped exacerbate Iceland’s crisis have generated an all-party agreement to provide a safe haven for reporting and information. She is leading the way to pass new laws in Iceland that would potentially protect not just Icelandic people, but also others who wished to seek a safe haven for their information. As she explains, its kind of like a reverse tax haven.

The initiative is called IMMI (Icelandic Modern Media Initiative). Already her association with Wikileaks, which released the notorious video last month of a US helicopter gunship firing into a crowd of people in Baghdad, killing two Reuters journalists, among others, has become very well known. Wikileaks received the video from a whistleblower, which the Pentagon confirms is genuine, only after years of FOIA requests by Reuters failed (the incident took place in 2007).

Although the United States also experienced, and continues to experience, the effects of the financial crisis, we have not learned the same lesson at all, and indeed just this week the Obama administration, which was elected on the promise of open government, has revived a Bush-era subpoena for a NYT journalist’s sources. The fact that Obama is continuing these Bush-era attacks on journalism should figure very prominently in how unserious Obama is about a free press. Glenn Greenwald’s analysis is exactly correct that the Obama administration wishes:

to send a signal that the Greatest Crime one can commit is allowing breaches in the Absolute Wall of Secrecy that surrounds the public/private Surveillance and National Security State.  If Obama has definitively demonstrated anything, it’s his commitment to preserving and even fortifying this wall (that’s what the promiscuous assertions of the State Secret privilege are about).  One of the very few ways we learn about anything that happens in that realm is through conscientious whistle-blowers leaking what they know to journalists and others.  Hence, the Obama DOJ wants to snuff out the possibility that any light will be shined on what is done through this method.

And it is not just the USA that is pursuing these policies. Australia has added Wikileaks to its Nixonian “media blacklist” (Julian Assange, the Wikileaks director is Australian), China blocks any URL with wikileaks in it, wikileaks.de has been raided, and so on. We need to credit and support Iceland and wikileaks, and learn the same lesson from the financial crisis. Government secrecy is undemocratic and destructive.

Mayday 2010.


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