Should WikiLeaks Have Leaked Information?

L. Stewart

Michael Roe and John Coupin

In 2006, Julian Assange launch WikiLeaks under the Sunshine Press. It is an international non-profit organization that publishes private, secret, and classified media from anonymous news sources. WikiLeaks’ recent leaks of U.S. diplomatic cables has been a controversial topic in America.

PRO:

Somewhat ironically, “watchdog” media outlets, like CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, the sources trusted to expose corruption within the inner workings of our government, are the same organizations that report incorrect information about WikiLeaks and exaggerate claims of WikiLeaks’ threats to national security. NPR for example, mistakenly cited the number of leaked U.S. embassy cables to be around 250,000 when WikiLeaks in fact has only released 1,942 of those cables.

Given WikiLeaks’ biased portrayal in the media, for most Americans, it seems like no surprise that our government, specifically President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, have called for the organization’s destruction. What people fail to recognize is that WikiLeaks is an important journalistic tool, and the concept of publishing classified information is something to be praised, not scorned.

In order to consider WikiLeaks as an important journalistic organization, we must first understand how WikiLeaks operates and why exposing classified government information is a necessary tool to promote transparency and democratic values. WikiLeaks does not steal nor hack for the information it releases. Rather, it publishes information received from anonymous sources.

Seemingly contrary to popular belief, the act of publishing private, classified or secret information is not illegal; it’s what newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post did for example when they published the Pentagon Papers in 1971, which was the Department of Defense’s top secret history of the United States’ political and military involvement in Vietnam.

As an organization, WikiLeaks believes that an extreme amount of government secrecy leads to misuse of power and corruption, and that it’s necessary to make secret information available to the public in order to avoid misuse of government power. For example, throughout the past decade, the Bush Administration used secrecy to accuse Saddam Hussein of possessing weapons of mass destruction that he didn’t have.

Consistent with the principles of our Founding Fathers, allowing governments to operate in the dark is poisonous to the concept of democracy, and it is the responsibility of the people, whether it is Fox News, the New York Times or WikiLeaks, to illuminate our government’s activity.

Some criticize WikiLeaks, citing the publishing of U.S. embassy cables as a threat to national security. A former Bush administration official was featured on CNN stating that “WikiLeaks indiscriminately dumps cables” without considering the threat it could pose to national security. This is untrue, and it’s a shame that Americans are deceived on national television.

WikiLeaks, in fact, has published around 1% of the United States diplomatic cables it possesses; Wikileaks purposefully withholds information that could harm, or even possibly kill, innocent individuals. So far, the Wikileaks’ published cables have resulted in the death of zero individuals.

CON:

Our unfortunate hunger for scandalous information has fueled the WikiLeaks phenomenon. Despite the organization describing itself as “an uncensorable system for untraceable mass document leaking,” not much substance has actually been released.

The majority of WikiLeaks’ staggering number of leaks are classified diplomatic cables from 274 U.S. embassies located around the world. After receiving the leaked information, WikiLeaks journalists made inappropriate decisions without proper journalistic techniques or necessary research to validate their publication. Without fundamental facts and concepts necessary to verify the information they gathered, WikiLeaks carelessly published information that should have remain private for very good reasons.

WikiLeaks lack of knowledge to understand the true meaning of their classified information gives proof that they should be in no position to spew out unverified claims about whatever government they please.  Yes, they have the ability to snoop on diplomats near and far speaking about their personal opinions. But releasing these dinnertime talks between diplomats only hurts friendships and instigates foreign problems.

An example of WikiLeaks misinterpreting information became evident during the war in Iraq. WikiLeaks made public thousands of reports by American military personnel suggesting that Iran was supplying arms to Iraqi insurgents. For a short time this information was trusted, based only on the premise that the information was in fact “leaked.” Finally the only truth derived from this apparent “leak” was that the American military had reported to their seniors that Iran was involved.

Recently companies such as VISA, Mastercard, Amazon and PayPal have suspended online users from supporting WikiLeaks. VISA has said that they’ve suspended payments while they “investigate” the organization, while Mastercard’s rules prohibit their customers from “directly or indirectly engaging in or facilitating any action that is illegal.”
These decisions to cut funding, should be detrimental to the corporation. Without sufficient funding from its users, WikiLeaks will continue to suffer from too little money to cover its standard operating costs.

Supporting WikiLeaks clearly falls within the parameters of facilitating an illegal action, since those who leaked the documents are offenders of the U.S. Espionage Act. As of now, publishing these documents isn’t illegal, but that could soon change.

Under the SHIELD law proposed by Senator Joe Lieberman, it would be a crime to publish leaked classified information if doing so endangered U.S. agents or was otherwise not in the national interest.

Not only would sensoring help America’s diplomatic relations but it would also help preserve the Worlds tarnished view of America. In surveys and studies conducted by The Washington Post and The

Asia Times, the U.S. is considered to be the third least liked country in the world preceeded by Israel and Iran.