The Dangers of Classified Documents When Released

By Nikki Broderick ‘14Staff Writer

When WikiLeaks representative Julian Assange agreed to post confidential diplomatic cables over the Internet, did he realize exactly what he was doing? Last week, WikiLeaks.org posted over 250,000 documents—some good, some ugly and some potentially harmful to many people.

The United States government plans to charge Assange with criminal charges under the Espionage Act, a move that is likely to be unsuccessful. Assange is already wanted in relation to sex crimes in Sweden, and is now wanted by Interpol in addition to United States authorities. On Dec. 7 Assange turned himself in to British authorities and was denied bail. Sweden plans to arrange an extradition from the United Kingdom.

Some say that a lack of United States security caused the WikiLeaks problem, and one soldier, Private Bradley Manning, was responsible for the leak of confidential documents. Manning will be tried for treason.

WikiLeaks.org surfaced on the Internet in December 2006 and has suffered some setback due to a lack of funding. Created by unsatisfied journalists and Chinese dissidents, among others, WikiLeaks states that its main goal as “exposing oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East,” although that certainly hasn’t stopped the flood of private United States documents that have been posted on the site over the past year.

On March 15, 2010, WikiLeaks released a 32-page document from the United States Department of Defense describing new security suggestions to combat WikiLeaks. The organization also released the Afghan War Diary in July of 2010: 92,000 documents detailing the war in Afghanistan between 2004 and 2009, including reports of friendly fire and civilian casualties. The final United States leak preceding the diplomatic cables were the Iraq War Logs on Oct. 22 2010—this time upgrading to a larger scale with 400,000 documents, a leak classified as the largest of its kind.

The latest leak includes information of the United States opinion of many foreign governments—corruption exists in all levels of government in Afghanistan and Russia, Afghanistan’s president; Hamid Karzai, is weak and ineffective, among others. The documents also suggest that some Middle Eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia, have urged the United States to attack Iran in order to prevent the already unstable country from getting nuclear weapons. There are some interesting leaks—supposedly the Chinese aided in the computer hacking of Google in China—but also many potentially harmful ones, such as the names of Afghan informants, humans rights activists and journalists.

I’m all for freedom of speech and information. But did Julian Assange ever think past the release of the hundreds of thousands of documents that could harm United States security and seriously damage our already shaky diplomacy? Some of this information needs to be exposed. But with 250,000 tedious, long, documents posted on a website, it is up to other news journalists to sift through the havoc and find what really matters. WikiLeaks claims to be a legitimate media outlet, but leaves the work up to all other news companies.

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, and I’m not suggesting any sort of government sanctioned censorship—but it needs to be used wisely. WikiLeaks former goal of exposing oppressive governments has turned into embarrassing the United States on a diplomatic level. Instead of a blind release of all documents, maybe next time WikiLeaks should try true journalism: sift through the facts and protect potentially harmful information about civilians.

Related: The Release of U.S. Documents via WikiLeaks: A Preservation of Democracy