The New X-Files

The X-Files is back for a brief run on prime time television.  I’m glad it’s here, because once I watched a new episode I realized that I had really missed my heady, weekly dose of sprawling, remotely plausible governmental conspiracy theories.

They’ve consciously set up the new X-Files episodes to connect as much as possible to the old series.  So we’ve got the same famously eerie whistling opening, with Mulder’s and Scully’s old ID badges, and the old characters like by-the-book-except-when-he-isn’t Skinner and, at the end of the premier episode . . . the Cigarette Smoking Man, who now needs to puff on those cancer sticks through a disgusting hole his esophagus.

xf_sc7_0067rjw_hires2And Mulder and Scully really haven’t changed much, either.  They still call each other “Mulder” and “Scully,” for one, even though they’ve had a romance and had a child they put up for adoption and wistfully dream about.  (There’s a plot line for you!)  Mulder still is willing to check out just about any speculation about any far-fetched plot, and for all of her doctor-trained skepticism and demands for proof, Scully will inevitably be drawn into Mulder’s weird, dark, but ultimately hopeful world.

The first episode allowed us to catch up on our two heroes, learn that they’ve lost touch and gone their separate ways, and see how the ever-present UFO conspiracy can bring them back together and return them to their highest and best use of investigating the X-files.  And as Mulder rattled off some rapid-fire conspiracy theory about how the Roswell crash is still being kept secret after all these years by shadowy government figures and greedy corporate types who want to hide the news that there is free energy for all, you couldn’t help but be struck about how our current world — with its drones and ever-present surveillance cameras, routine monitoring of everyday activities, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, government bailouts of huge corporations, secret collection of data about world leader cell phones, and allegations of conspiracies and cover ups about virtually everything — fits neatly and seamlessly into the paranoid X-Files world view.

By the time of the second episode, with Mulder and Scully investigating a creepy doctor who experimented on his own kids and used alien DNA to give them supernatural powers, the show was back in full stride, as if it never left.  (I haven’t watched the third episode yet, so don’t spoil it for me.)  These days, who doesn’t want watch to a suspenseful TV show that features soulless evildoers dying horrible deaths because sound vibrations caused by their own kids have caused them to bleed out from their ears and their eyes?

Welcome back, guys!  Now, get to work, will you?

 

Why The Wikileaks Incident Matters

I haven’t read all of the cables and reports that were part of the Wikileaks disclosures — has anyone? — but I don’t think you need to do so to recognize that the disclosures could easily have a devastating impact on the United States and its interests and actions abroad.

Secrecy and discretion are crucial to successful diplomacy.  The United States is a global citizen that has relations with virtually every country in the world, and it needs to have candid and accurate information on which to define and structure those relations.  It’s much easier to negotiate if you know what the other side is really after, and it’s impossible to negotiate if the other side knows your cards.  Furthermore, once confidentiality is breached and confidential sources are revealed it is extraordinarily difficult to rebuild the trust needed to get candid information.  Reporters understand this.  They will go to jail before revealing information about confidential sources because they know that if they disclose a source’s identity they probably won’t have any more confidential sources.

Thanks to the Wikileaks disclosures, the foreign sources who previously provided us with frank assessments of their leaders on promise of confidentiality are not likely to be so frank going forward, if they even talk to us at all.  As a result, in the future the United States probably will be acting on less information than it has had in the past — and in the world of diplomacy, knowledge is power.

Although a lot of attention has been focused on Julian Assange, the creepy Wikileaks founder, I think the real focus should be on how so many confidential diplomatic cables have been compromised.  The United States can’t control the actions of wild cards like Assange, but it can control who gets access to secret communications and therefore is in a position to leak them.  If, as some suspect, a low-level employee is responsible for most or all of the latest leaks, that indicates that the system needs to be radically changed.  Although 9/11 taught us that a free exchange of information among government agencies may be essential to connecting the dots and foiling terrorist plots, that does not mean that every flunky with access to a secure system should be able to read and download every cable being sent using that system.

The State Department security people dropped the ball in this instance, and their failure poses an additional danger.  The Wikileaks incident makes our security seem inept, ineptitude suggests weakness, and weakness invites attack.