Wikileaks Plunges Political World Into Turmoil
Wikileaks has opened the spigot on what appears to be the biggest intelligence leak in history, but opinions are sharply divided as to whether it constitutes a courageous act of patriotism or an irresponsible act of treason. One thing that seems certain, though, is that the days when the government could exercise tight control over dissemination of information are gone.
07/26/10 12:18 PM PT
In what's been called the "biggest leak in intelligence history," more than 90,000 classified military documents about the war in Afghanistan came to light on Sunday and are wreaking havoc in political circles around the globe.
Covering the period from January 2004 to December 2009, the reports were published Sunday by whistle-blowing site Wikileaks while analyses of the included material appeared simultaneously in The New York Times, The Guardian and German outlet Der Speigel.
The documents reportedly include compelling evidence of widespread yet unreported abuses during the war.
'Evidence of War Crimes'
Also suggested in the material is that Pakistan has been helping the Afghan insurgency even as it receives funds from Washington for help combating the militants.
While the documents "do not contradict official accounts of the war," The New York Times reported, they do in some cases "show that the American military made misleading public statements -- attributing the downing of a helicopter to conventional weapons instead of heat-seeking missiles or giving Afghans credit for missions carried out by Special Operations commandos," for example.
Assange said that there is still much more material to come.
'Giving Aid and Comfort to the Enemy'
"The Wikileaks release is The Pentagon Papers on steroids," wrote Rutgers University political scientist Ross Baker, for example. "This information is giving aid and comfort to the enemy and begins to look like WikiTreason."
Similarly, "the United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security," National Security Advisor Gen. James Jones said in a statement.
The Pentagon has reportedly said it will take days or weeks to assess any damage caused by the leaks.
'How Many Millions of Lives May Be Protected?'
"People also said the Pentagon Papers were going to endanger soldiers," Andrew Rasiej, cofounder of the Personal Democracy Forum, told TechNewsWorld.
"There are tradeoffs," Rasiej added. "Maybe some soldiers' lives are endangered, but how many millions of peoples' lives may be protected?"
The real issue, however, "is that the Internet plays a role in collecting the information, distributing the information, and allowing the millions, if not billions, of eyeballs to check the information's veracity," Rasiej pointed out. "Wikileaks has expanded the idea of the town square to an exponential level."
The system governments have relied on to control information "is now irrevocably broken," added Micah Sifry, the Personal Democracy Forum's editor. "Now they have to renegotiate -- they have to deal with a new factor."
It used to be that governments could rely on direct control, stipulating that "these bits of information are not allowed to be published," for example, depending on the laws in different countries, Sifry explained. "Then they would also negotiate with the press in their own country in a sort of complicated ballet what the terms of that relationship were."
Now, however, "you have a new player that essentially doesn't need access," he told TechNewsWorld. "Now we have a website that does not need access as long as it can demonstrate to potential leakers that they're safe, and that the information they leak will generate an impact.
"They seem to be succeeding on both those counts right now," Sifry added.
'The Most Edited Page'
"At the moment, it's the most edited page in the last day," he pointed out.
"What could happen there, along with the rest of the blogosphere, is the game of checking and double-checking the assertions around these documents," Sifry said. "In the best-case scenario, we'll see a lot of additional work done to figure out what the documents mean. In the worst case, we'll drown in the firehose" of information.