WikiLeaks: Hero or Villain?

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As of 17:26, 29th November 2010, WikiLeaks has released only a “handful” of the 250,000 strong cache of secret US embassy documents – a total of 243 at present. Yet already the international community has been set ablaze, with politicians condemning the release of the confidential reports – some labelled “Not for foreign eyes” (NOFORN).

Across the globe, governments and diplomats are taking action to limit the damage and to preserve foreign relations. Some are attempting to take action against WikiLeaks – Australia has launched a “whole-of-government” investigation into the website, perhaps partly due to the fact that the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, is an Australian citizen. Australia’s attorney general Robert McClelland said: “We’re waiting for advice from the agencies as to appropriate course of actions that may be taken in response”. Downing Street has condemned the release, stating that the leaks have damaged “national security”. Pakistan has also criticised the release; it’s foreign ministry spokesman, Abdul Basit, said today: “We condemn the irresponsible disclosure of sensitive official documents”. China has censored local media, banning any reporting on the subject. The French government has described the leaks as an attack on democracy, pledging their support to the American administration. Naturally, US politicians and diplomats are vehemently condemning WikiLeaks and Eric Holder, the US attorney-general, explained that “there is an active, ongoing criminal investigation” whilst threatening that some members of the media will face “real consequences”. One US official is even calling for WikiLeaks to be branded as a “terrorist organistion”, though it does not appear as if many support this reactionist statement.

But how “treasonous” is WikiLeaks act?  Despite the fact that many of the cables have been marked “secret”, there are approximately 3 million Americans with the clearance to read the documents. It is clear that “secret” is a relevant classification in this sense. And whilst the US administration is threatening “real consequences” against certain members of the media, it must be noted that news organisations have redacted some of the cables, to “protect named sources and so as not to disclose certain details of current special operations”, the Guardian writes. “There are some cables that the Guardian will not be releasing or reporting”.

And it can be argued that some of the information that is has already been released is far from “revelational”, though it does go some lengths to confirm what many already know, or to provide additional details or “evidence” of suspicions. For example, some of the cables already leaked reveal the US arming parts of the Middle East, whilst others describe international fears of a nuclear Iran, with some Arab states urging a pre-emptive strike on the country. For many, this will not be “new” information, though this does not negate any embarrassment for the US. One cable describes how Hillary Clinton ordered US diplomats to spy on members of the UN, to gather intel such as “biometric data”, passwords, credit card information, etc. Now whilst this may be in breach of some of the UN’s terms, it is hardly surprising that the US, with its ever-increasing intelligence-gathering and surveillance programmes, would miss a chance to spy on even its closest allies.

It is interesting to note the use of US embassies as methods of intelligence gathering, and many of the cables detailing opinions, “reviews” (if you like), and summaries of various political leaders across the globe will provide a greater insight into US foreign policy. Plus offer the chance to see what the US really thinks of certain leaders. It has been hinted that a cable yet to be released criticises UK prime minister David Cameron, sure to embarrass Downing Street despite the “stiff upper lip” that the UK government will no doubt outwardly show.

Other “interesting” yet inflammatory subject areas are the tensions in the Middle East, the calls by Arab leaders to attack Iran, the suspicions of corruption in the Afghanistan government. Also, attacks on Russian members of government with claims of mafia affiliations. To name but a few…

Despite the calls of “treason!” and the ongoing federal investigations into WikiLeaks, it is difficult to feel sorry for the US government. It is almost similar to going to a house party, getting really drunk and saying things you probably shouldn’t say about people that are supposed to be your mates. Then waking up the next day with a hangover, hoping nobody finds out what you said. Except they do, because some guy at the party was sober and wrote over 250,000 documents before posting them to the public domain. The lesson here: learn how to handle your drink.

But on a more serious note, this stuff is gold dust to the journalists, reporters, historians, and anybody else who actually gives a damn about what is going on in the world. Because the truth is, secrecy and propoganda leads to unease, tension, and eventually mistrust and hatred. A true democracy cannot function if the elected government operates in the shadows, hiding away secrets stamped “classified”. This is bigger than America. Whilst politicians are condemning the leaks as a breach of “national security”, the truth is that if it was that big of an issue then they shouldn’t have written them in the first place. Yes, this is me being flippant, but on some level it is true. The truth always comes out, as some wise individuals have stated in the past. And whilst the US may be stating that WikiLeaks is “endangering lives”, they do not at present have any conclusive evidence that any lives are or have been in danger.

The only problem now is that because of this leak, US officials and indeed, international officials, may be more careful about what they record or share from now on. But maybe a lesson has been learnt from this. After all, if you have over 3 million American citizens with access to classified/confidential files, how long did you really expect the information to stay secret?

If there were no lies in the world, no secrets and no propoganda, then maybe a better world could be borne. And if we truly are to live in a free, democratic state, then it can be argued that the right to equal information is part of that ideal. Obviously there must be some limits to this, perhaps when national security truly is threatened… because the ideal picture I just painted, of a world free from secrets, is far from realistic. But this is exactly why news organisations have censored some of the names, information, or content of the cables. And why they have redacted some of them altogether. Precisely to protect individuals, and national security. But to condemn the whole of WikiLeaks is unreasonable and unfair. Secrets are not meant to be kept by over 3 million individuals.

So, WikiLeaks. Hero, or villain? What are your thoughts?


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