Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I share in the mixed feelings about WikiLeaks. I always feel a bit guilty when I cannot quickly and efficiently make up my mind on big issues; like I should stop dragging my feet and throw my support (even if it is often a more-or-less silent supporting) behind the side I choose, my side. This time was no exception, at least at first. Then, as I looked at the sheer amount of information present, I realized that I hadn’t fully made up my mind because I, or anyone else, will never be able to fully take it all in. You can get bits and pieces here and there, watch interviews with Assange and get sound bites from the White House, but in the end it is just like everything else, a simplified version of a too-complex reality. It basically comes down to a certain level of blind faith in one side or another (I am, in this case, speaking of the normal everyday person, not the insiders, decision-makers and the zealously committed to the cause). I have never been big on blind faith, but here goes.
I do believe that WikiLeaks is handling some information of value to people that could and would use it for less than altruistic, information-wants-to-be-free purposes. Documents that can lead to the exposure and prosecution, persecution or execution of those in sensitive situations in a war zone are potentially very dangerous… but so are scissors if you don’t use them properly (and I am not about to get rid of my scissors… took me forever to find a left-handed pair big enough to fit my hand comfortably). That, I think, is the trick, knowing what you have and using it properly. By all indication WikiLeaks has done that so far. Despite all of the government’s doom-and-gloom about compromising security and safety in the field the pentagon reported that there were no issues created by any of the leaked information. It would seem that the WikiLeaks people take their redaction seriously. I can’t help but think that with that much info being processed for release by that many people that there is still a good chance of something being released accidentally that might cause issues down the road, maybe a very good chance, but so far it just makes Washington and the military look like they are upset because someone took the power out of their hands. Information is a commodity and they have lost control over a lot of it to a rival – they are afraid of losing face but clearly more concerned over the loss of control. As Assange points out, it is a disturbing and more than a little telling that government has gone after WikiLeaks sources but paid little to no attention to investigating some of the alleged abuses of power and war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. Washington is being a petulant child that is still angry about the other kid that got to go first on the slide so they won’t play at all. The pentagon stated that it expected that none of the leaks from the Iraq War Logs would be knew information trying to downplay the whole thing. WikiLeaks points out that it goes without saying that the information wouldn’t be new to them on the War Logs page of their website. In the face of the government’s response to this, with the only thing to counterbalance it being the leaks might potentially be dangerous if something isn’t edited properly, I am going to have to side with the WikiLeaks crew and Julian Assange. Side note: Did anyone else feel really bad for Mr. Assange during the Amy Goodman interview? The man looks haggard, and when she asked him at the end what gave him hope he looked on the verge of breaking down for a moment. I guess making an enemy of the governments and intelligence agencies of the world will do that to you.
I think if there is something that WikiLeaks could be faulted for (and I would not be the one to bring it up to them, given what they have accomplished/risked so far) it is the inaccessibility of this newly accessible information. Like most of you, I found the documents I looked through a confusing maze that had no real relevance for me. This is not even mentioning the massive amount of info. It is great that it is out there, but one has to question the effectiveness of it. All the hactivists and journalists and conspiracy theorists of the world could work on it for years and there could still be valuable things missed. It is almost misdirection through information overload. Again, not that I would bring it up. It is still impressive that it is out there to begin with and that so many people are laboring to do what they think is right by distributing this information.


  1. No author could create a more compelling work of fiction than that which we've read this week! I applaud Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks colleagues, whose goals seem to be to keep the government as transparent as possible. You weren't kidding, Zach, when you said Assange looked pretty haggard in the Goodman interview. I can't even imagine the pressure of being the "front man" for such a controversial project. But what an articulate, composed man ... despite the fear of traveling to the US, despite relying on other like-minded folks for protection!

    Although I will not be among those to invest the time necessary to unravel the unbelievable amount of information available on WikiLeaks, I support the contributors' motivation to assemble the information.

    Assange's comments and his rationale for what was released and what was held back, etc. were convincing to me. I think he stated very well the mission of journalists, and he seemed to frame/defend the delicate balance between transparent, authentic reporting and protection of lives/security.

    As one of the ... ahem ... more mature students in the class, I admit to remembering Vietnam and Watergate. How might government responsibility and accountability be different now if WikiLeaks had existed then?

  2. Zach, I thought your comment on the haggardness of Julian Assange was very observant....and no wonder. Here is a man who has the government of one of the world’s most powerful countries, and many others, breathing down his neck, hating his guts, and will promptly arrest him if he leaves the country. The toll on his psyche has to be unfathomably immense. Unfortunately, it is one of many expels of how difficult the “battle” for the freedom of accessible information is. I don’t think I could be in his shoes.

  3. Kathy, good point abou the Watergate/Pentagon Papers era. When I was in DC doing research on the journalism paper, I spoke to some veteran newspeople and asked them all the same theoretical question: "If Watergate were happening today, how likely do you think it would be for a major paper to break the story?" They all unequivocally said it would be pretty much a nil chance. Some pointed to other outlets, like ProPublica. This conversation predated WikiLeaks, but I imagine that that endeavor would have come into conversation. One person said to me, "If you think many, many Watergates aren't happening around us that are being missed all the time, think again." I'll probably never forget that sobering interaction.

  4. I, too, share your hesitation to jump on one side or another, Zach. One thing I found interesting in my experience going through the readings and such though was when I finally got to the WikiLeaks archive, I really had no idea what to do. I couldn't figure out at first how to navigate it - do you search by keyword, by date, by location? But even as I got into it more, I had a very distinct nagging feeling that I was looking at something that I shouldn't be. That I was somehow inviting a trace on my "possibly dangerous internet activity" because of a class assignment :) I haven't had any knocks at my door yet, but it's just crazy how guilty I feel!