WikiLeaks, famous for releasing information from around the world (not just the U.S. Military and Sarah Palin’s Yahoo email) is set to make another release. This time the suspicion is that State Department cables with assessments of world leaders are about to be released.

The potential for embarrassment is fairly high and so the question presents itself fairly clearly. Is what WikiLeaks does helpful or hurtful? Do they undermine governments (not just ours, by the way) or do they shine a light on governments doing what they ought not be doing? Or is it more gray than that.

Are the people who supply information to WikiLeaks patriots, whistle-blowers or traitors? Or is it more gray than that?

On one hand the government is supposed to work for the people so one could make an argument that the people have a certain right to know whatever they like.

On the other hand, governments’ ability to conduct sensitive negotiations, military operations and legitimate covert operations require secrecy.

For example, if the upcoming leak embarrasses the State Department because a cable says something negative about a leader chances are it’s only because the State Department is being two-faced to that leader. Telling a foreign leader that we support them while secretly undermining them behind their back is not very ethical. So the embarrassment is caused by our own duplicity. I’m not inclined to feel very sorry of the State Department in that particular scenario.

Naturally every government and department decries the publication of any information almost universally citing “National Security”, a somewhat catchall citation that requires no explanation…very convenient that.

One could liken this to the Valerie Plame situation in which her identity was released. However, the difference in the Plame case was that the release was (allegedly) done as retaliation and therefore was done with malice or malicious intent and the WikiLeaks publications are not done with malicious intent.

WikiLeaks says it simply “shines a light” and that, despite the fact it’s run by a computer hacker, it doesn’t actively hack any information or break any laws and isn’t doing anything worse than the New York Times did in 1971 with the Pentagon Papers.

Personally I think if governments are embarrassed by leaked information perhaps they shouldn’t be doing that which might embarrass them should it become known.

So where do you, our readers, believe WikiLeaks fall on the spectrum that runs from traitor to whistle-blower?


Wikileaks has released their data and the major points were immediately PUBLISHED by:

The New York Times

The Guardian (in the UK)

Le Monde (In France)

Der Speigel (in Germany)

Other less well known newspapers in other parts of the world.

The Obama administration condemned WikiLeaks for the release…they said nothing about the newspapers republishing the data.

I haven’t read the entire release yet but it’s all very interesting so far.

16 thoughts on “Wikileaks”

  1. Very interesting piece. Perhaps, however, there is an even more fundamental question than what WikiLeaks is doing.

    As you said, WikLeaks did not obtain its data illegally. It was leaked to Wiki. Isn’t leaking the very staple of governmental reporting of all types? Where is the line as to what leak is okay to report and what is not? Is there such a line?

    This begs the, possibly more, fundamental question: shouldn’t the attention be upon the original leaker? If anyone did something wrong, wasn’t it the one who leaked to Wiki? Is Wiki, or any media, responsible for filtering what someone else leaked to it?

    And why did the original leaker give the data to Wiki? Was it to make public something that the public should know? Who decides that? Once the leaker made his/her/their decision, should Wiki superimpose its judgment?

    I believe that there should be less scrutiny on the media which reports leaks than there is on the original leaker and the leaked information itself. In this case, the media is not the message. The message itself is the message.

  2. Julian Assange is not an American citizen. Wikileak’s servers sit on foreign soil. Many of their activists and volunteers are not Americans. And yet this foreign movement is doing more to bring down the American empire (and to restore the American republic) than anybody here in America has done. I find it ironic that the same elites in the federal government who tell us that the globalization of capital is good for America now are having a fit about the globalization of information. I’ll go on record as saying that I support Wikileaks and I hope they keep it up.  

  3. about the real actualities of war is always inconvenient.  Those supporting and promoting this conflict need to understand the reality of things on the ground and how they may effect our future security.  Wikileaks is doing a valuable public service.

  4. “Personally I think if governments are embarrassed by leaked information perhaps they shouldn’t be doing that which might embarrass them should it become known.”

  5. “Are the people who supply information to WikiLeaks patriots, whistle-blowers or traitors?”

    I feel those members of the Department of Defense or State Department who are feeding WikiLeaks are none of the above…they are simply ratting out their own country.

    I have seldom read such capricious and yes, asinine comments as those posted here that cheer on these same rats as well as Julian Assange and other WikiLeaks principals who have already leaked NATO covert reports that may have placed cooperating Afghans and their families in danger of assassination by the Taliban.

    Of even more concern to me are these further postings arguing that diplomacy should be entirely free of duplicity…that our dealings with foreign nations (both friend and foe) be carried on with  cold, explicit and undiluted blunt language.

    Interesting that this is now and has long been the position of America’s far right going back to the John Birchers of the 1950s…the “Lets tell ’em like it is” crowd…the same simplistic assholes who wanted our diplomats to “speak bluntly”…yes, the same jerks who would have had us in a nuclear war sixty years ago. We can expect to hear this same argument for honest and blunt talk from the Republican right visa the current crisis with North Korea.

    Anyone here game for pushing this nutcase into firing one of his nukes at Seoul?

    These comments are not only sophomoric…they are out-and-out harebrained, if not dangerous.

    Take to heart Carl von Clausewitz philosophy that “War is a mere continuation of politics by other means…”

    Is war then preferable to the duplicity of politics and diplomacy?

    Do you wish to suffer your nation’s diplomatic practices of charades and deception or do you prefer instead, a world war?

    Matt Thomas

  6. I agree completely with you. There are some things that need to remain covert and Assange is scum and I hope they do look into the rape accusations. That’s the only way to stop irresponsible scum like this!

    This isn’t just going to hurt the U.S. – it will hurt many other countries as well.

  7. Indeed, your question is thought-provoking and even challenging.

    Yes…for certain, such disclosers may actually impede, if not totally prevent, a government’s ill-considered policies from being implemented, thus potentially saving the nation both lives and treasure as may have been the case with Bush 2’s invasion of Iraq.

    At the same time, there is little evidence the raison d’ĂȘtre of WikiLeaks was anything but a delibrate and reckless effort to damage the foreign relations of the United States, even at the cost of destabilizing a delicate and potentially volatile global state of affairs.

    I seldom agree with Congressman Peter King (R-NY) but his call for Wikileaks to be declared a terrorist organization is not at all off the wall and even well documented:

    International terrorism as defined under Title 18,2331 of the United States Code:

    Section A “… activities that are “dangerous to human life”

    Section B (ii) “to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion”

    Section C  “occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”

    – Source: Legal information Institute, Cornell University

    As for those persons in the DOD/DOS responsible for passing information on to Wikileaks, they should be charged with espionage.

    Lee, occasionally one is forced to deal with an issue that must go ahead of politics, as well as one that transcends anyone’s particular ideology.

    I believe that this is one such case.

    Matt Thomas


  8. I am of conflicting opinions about the culpability of WikLeaks in this matter. No one has addressed the question of where the line is between what leak is okay to report and what is not? What, if any, journalistic ethics rules apply?

    As for the goring of oxen, would those who condemn Wiki be as vociferous if it had been leaked Russian documents which were published? How about leaked Iranian documents? Or North Korean?  What about al Qaeda docs?

  9. Though in revisiting the posting it is reasonable that you might think so…my apologies.

    Rather it was the precipitous responses by both John and Kirk cheering on this Wikileaks outrage which led me to conclude that such a failure to think this weighty issue through could only be driven by a knee-jerk belief that our government and its foreign policies are systemically dishonest and even criminal.

    That’s the way I read it Lee…and to paraphrase Kirk himself, they are both welcome to disagree.

    Matt Thomas    

  10. Not having journalism training myself, I asked someone who is in the print media business what journalistic ethics apply to a decision to publish sensitive leaked material. After noting that any such decision is a matter of opinion, he said that a common analysis would be whether the need to know is greater than the harm which would be caused by publishing it.

    He gave the real life example of leaked info which, if published, would damage a police investigation of a serious crime. His paper ordinarily would opt not to publish that info. In a WikiLeaks-like decision facing a US media outlet, he said, it would involve weighing whether the right to know trumps the resulting harm to national security/foreign relations.

    I’m not sure, however, whether the standard analysis is applicable to the current WikiLeaks situation. Here’s why I say that.

    First, isn’t a website leak a newly discovered type of entity with no true host country? Does it, then, become international (not national) security/foreign relations which are to be weighed against the right to know?

    If, on the other hand, the media outlet is hosted by a country other than the US, whose national security/foreign relations are to be weighed? Wouldn’t it be that of the host country and not that of the US?

    What weight should WikiLeaks, not being a US media entity, give to the national security/foreign relations of the US? Before you answer “none”, remember that the US, after all, is the country most affected by publication of the leaks.

    Will the leaking of information become a tactic by countries with adverse interests in the world of national security/foreign relations?

    I’m not sure that we have the answers to these questions in our brand new world of cyberspace.

    Postscript: None of this is to suggest that the original leakers should not be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law; nor is it to excuse the dereliction of duty by those who designed, operated or permitted the system which allowed the leaker to obtain this massive amount of documents.  

  11. Maybe if the Internet and Wikileaks had been around in the 1960s and the Pentagon Papers had been leaked in 1967, there wouldn’t be 58,000+ names on a certain black granite wall in DC. I agree that all governments need to have some secrets but much of what has been leaked isn’t secret for a legitimate reason but rather because it is embarrassing to the United States government. Sorry, but if the government doesn’t want to be embarrassed maybe they should engage in embarrassing activities. We the people have a right to know when our government is acting like an ass.  

  12. Lee, I would only add the following.

    Governments need to quickly establish a legal means for dealing with your issues.

    This cyber threat extends far beyond military or diplomatic considerations…with international financial institutions linked across a global economy web of trans-national corporate entities, many rivaling in size small nation states.

    Business operations across the planet could be made subject to serious disruption…possibly resulting in even wide spread financial panic.

    Further troubling is the use of cyber terrorism by rogue governments…in itself, a whole other major and quite serious issue.

    Makes one pine for those “old-times” of the 1980s.

    Matt Thomas  

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