WikiLeaks is already well-known, especially for its ability to get access mainly to information from no other than the U.S. government, and publish it. This has created controversy amongst both experts and non-experts – disputes about whether Julian Assange’s website takes democracy to the next level uncovering shocking secrets about the U.S. government such as the State Department’s turning U.S. diplomats into spies or the deployment of U.S. special forces in Pakistan, or whether it publishes intelligence that is supposed to remain secretive.
The latter is generally supported by Conservatives. They view WikiLeaks as anti-American, hypothesize about how cables end up being leaked to the public, and, like the government, are concerned about not only the country’s status relative to that of other countries but also about its means of communication.
The other side of the debate views WikiLeaks as bringing more transparency to the public about the government’s actions. It is supported by some Libertarians and mainly by people who are generally labelled as “anti-government.” In other words, supporters of this side of the debate are people who view government as intrusive in their lives. And what a great time to prove it to Liberals who approve of bigger government in general and to Conservatives who approve of bigger government in defense and intelligence?! Not only does the government not care about people, it also obtains intelligence in a way no different from that of repressive governments, they would tell Liberals and Conservatives respectively.
That transparency benefits people like me too – political scientists, policy analysts, even economists who, based on the information obtained from the cables, I am sure, are now writing, or have already written new journal (scholarly) articles – which might raise the demand for our work and consequently our pay in the near future, depending on the product that we offer: that is, whether an individual among us has a history of predicting trends correctly in society at international level.
Where I stand on the issue
Almost two and a half years ago I said that “it is better for certain things to be kept in secret” on the matter of the liberation of Ingrid Betancourt from the Marxist terrorist group FARC. Assuming that it was clear what I meant, I didn’t clarify what “certain things” should be kept in secret, but the WikiLeaks affair is by far the best example of it.
There are reasons why complete transparency of the government could be counterproductive, especially in the exposure of intelligence of mainly one source – the U.S. government. It creates difficulty in communication between the various government entities, especially the embassies, part of which communication is essential to maintaining high potential of preventing terrorist attacks or other evil plans. Imagine, for the sake of argument, that Reza Kahlili’s cables to the CIA were published back in the days. The Iranian government would undoubtedly have access to his cables, for they surf the internet, which would lead to an extremely thorough search and seizure of every member of the Revolutionary Guards, including their homes, and we would end up never having the chance to read his book, let alone know of his existence. While WikiLeaks has generally leaked information from embassies, and not intelligence agencies, its hands have allegedly reached to the CIA which suggests that they are capable of doing it. Similar case is the website’s leaks of Afghan War documents sent to the U.S. military from individual Afghan U.S. allies which was criticized by human rights groups among which Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflicts (CIVIC) and Open Society Institute (OSI) for not protecting these individuals’ identities when WikiLeaks published the cables.
A balance of the scale would be leaking more cables from all the other governments, especially the “big players” at the international level such as Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, India, Pakistan, Australia, Great Britain, France, Germany and others. Otherwise, WikiLeaks remains nothing beyond an anti-American, even anti-western, website. Almost four years ago, when Chinese cyber-dissidents launched it, they annouced their primary interests: “oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we also expect to be of assistance to those in the West who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their own governments and corporations.” In reality, it has had more about the U.S. government than about other governments and businesses, and the substantially greater media coverage of U.S. embassy cables all the more hurts the U.S. internationally.
The big questions unanswered so far
Who is leaking the diplomatic cables and who is sponsoring WikiLeaks are the unknowns. If they are American citizens, once they are exposed they are facing the death penalty for treason, the only violation that doesn’t necessarily include murder which is punishable by death, so I expect no cooperation, meaning confession, from suspected traitors if they are caught and interrogated, unless they are somehow forced to confess. Former WikiLeaks Board of Directors member John Young stated in an interview that WikiLeaks did not offer or guarantee anonymity. This suggests that possible targets by intelligence agencies against WikiLeaks will be the website’s employees – particularly the ones who have had contacts with whistleblowers in order to obtain the names of the exact whistleblowers. In regards to its sponsors, it remains more unclear since WikiLeaks is structured like a corporation, and it is possible that quite few people affiliated with WikiLeaks are aware of who its sponsors are.
What I am sure about is the website’s impact on high-level communications especially between U.S. government entities. Big businesses will looking for other means of communication too. WikiLeaks’ impact is the mirrored image of repressive governments’ acts toward their people violating their privacy. This time, however, the government’s unwritten “right” of privacy is violated by the same group that it has had history of violating – its people.