The WikiLeaks impact: don’t shoot the messenger
American documentary filmmaker Michael Moore believes WikiLeaks has “turned on the spotlight” toward government corruption.
Consider this a case study—whether WikiLeaks is an act of patriotism or sensationalism.
Julian Assange, a 39-year-old Australian “Internet activist”, founded WikiLeaks in October 2006, with the goal to create more open governments, and purpose to “reveal unethical behaviour in governments and corporations, finding evidence of abuses and failed policies,” acts as an international public service of free press activists.
Assange had written several essays on WikiLeaks’ philosophy, stating, “To radically shift regime behaviour we must think clearly and boldly for if we have learned anything. The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.”
In 2007, WikiLeaks defamed then-President of Kenya, Daniel arap Moi, with corruption charges amassing to more than $3 billion, ultimately throwing an upcoming election in favor of the opposition, followed by governmental overhaul leading to more open political policies.
According to Assange, the world needs WikiLeaks. In its most simple form, these news leaks, otherwise unexposed, pressurizes government to be more of an open source. A not-for-profit organization, WikiLeaks was little known prior to its Afghanistan and Iraq leaks, and most notably the Baghdad Airstrike video, which showed the killing of two Reuters reporters by American troops, released in July 2010.
The big breakthrough, the big headlines, was the release of classified documents pertaining to the War in Afghanistan, and the War in Iraq, leaked in October 2010, particularly relating to the American government’s involvement. The Afghan War Diary was the “disclosure of internal U.S. military logs”, in which more than 90,000 war logs were published, while more than 400,000 documents regarding the War in Iraq were released.
“I think these leaks will save lives,” Moore told CNN. “[The U.S. government is] a war machine that was built on lies, costing thousands of lives and millions of dollars. Leaks don’t kill people…secrets do.”
Hero vs. troublemaker
“Authoritarian governments, oppressive institutions and corrupt corporations should be subject to the pressure, not merely of international diplomacy, freedom of information laws or even periodic elections, but of something far stronger–the consciences of the people within them,” states the WikiLeaks official website.
Assange is often fleet-of-foot in his offerings of investigative journalism at its finest. WikiLeaks has no permanent address, but rather is headquartered wherever Assange happens to be, although currently, that location is his house arrest in England, following accusations from Sweden of sexual assault.
Assange’s lifestyle documents as unusual, reckless, and nomadic. He has been described as a political “hactivist”. Assange has always felt like an outsider, possibly linked to his childhood, when frequent moving saw him attend 37 different schools. Now, Assange’s work is receiving praise from some (WikiLeaks has since been nominated for a Noble Peace Prize), lawsuits from others. “WikiLeaks rattled the world of journalism,” said one report, to which Assange replied, “If journalism is good, it’s controversial by its nature.”
Assange has made “some of the most powerful people in the world his enemies”, according to another report. But is this push toward transparency in government going too far? Should the public be all powerful, all knowing?
United States government officials want to charge Assange with espionage for releasing confidential Pentagon documents, ultimately believing that releasing these classified documents disrupts national security. Diplomatic cable releases, as one example, published in November 2010, revealed controversial issues relating to foreign affairs, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of released documents relating to the War in Afghanistan and the War in Iraq.
Subsequently, in an agreement to increase high profile exposure, these leaks were printed by major news outlets like The New York Times and The Guardian.
“What conscience cannot contain, and institutional secrecy unjustly conceals, WikiLeaks can broadcast to the world. It is telling that a number of government agencies in different countries have tried to ban access to WikiLeaks,” states the organization’s website. “This is of course a silly response, akin to the ostrich burying its head in the sand. A far better response would be to behave in more ethical ways.”
Meanwhile, Assange has been referred to as a “high-tech terrorist” by U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden. Many pundits have called for his assassination.
“He is an anti-American operative with blood on his hands. His past posting of classified documents revealed the identity of more than 100 Afghan sources to the Taliban,” said former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin. “Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaida and Taliban leaders?”
Planning another “mega leak” inside the private sector, some pundits suspect big name American banks as hosting “ecosystems of corruption.” Following that report, Bank of America’s stock fell by three percent.
“How is it that a team of five people has managed to release to the public more suppressed information, at that level, than the rest of the world press combined?” Assange said in a report. “It’s disgraceful.”
Ultimately, such an impact by WikiLeaks could perhaps one day eliminate government corruption, ensuring transparency and accountability.
“WikiLeaks has done an important job to get the truth out,” Moore said, encouraging whistleblowers to continue coming forward, disgusted by “what is being done in our [American] name with our [American] money,” adding, “It’s real investigative journalism…that’s what we’re missing these days.”