The Backlash Against Wikileaks

Did the whistle-blowing site go too far?

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The 92,000 pieces of military intelligence on Afghanistan released by the website WikiLeaks have shaken up public perceptions of the Afghan war, the media, and the U.S. relationship with Pakistan. But now many are questioning Wikileaks' tactics, asking if the shadowy website went a step too far. This same pattern emerged in April, when Wikileaks released of a video showing Iraqi civilians killed by a U.S. helicopter, raising international fury against the military's attack and cover-up, but later spurring hard questions for Wikileaks itself. Here's what observers today are saying about the latest Wikileaks release and Wikileaks chief Julian Assange.

Just clicking at random in the Wikileaks War Diary reveals the names of Afghan sources you hope will not be targeted as a result of this leak: Simon Hermes, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan; Mohammed Moubin, who met with the Paktika Provincial Reconstruction team in 2006; Gul Said, who was assisting the PRT near the American Base at Bagram. On and on it goes, name after name of "collaborators" with the U.S. military, name after name of people whose lives are now in direct danger. ... Many of the operations he details through these leaks are still ongoing, and many of the people involved in them are still there, hoping these leaks don’t make them into targets for assassination. Indeed, Adam Serwer, a staff writer for The American Prospect, tweeted this morning, "Former Military Intelligence Officer sez of wikileaks, 'Its an AQ/Taliban execution team’s treasure trove.'"

In WikiLeaks’s world, though, that’s not their problem. They’re exposing secrets, consequences be damned. But there will be serious, and deadly, consequences from WikiLeaks’s War Diary archive.
  • 'Reckless and Destructive'  Afghanistan veteran Andrew Exum writes in the New York Times, "Mr. Assange says he is a journalist, but he is not. He is an activist, and to what end it is not clear. ... If his desire is to promote peace, Mr. Assange and his brand of activism are not as helpful as he imagines. By muddying the waters between journalism and activism, and by throwing his organization into the debate on Afghanistan with little apparent regard for the hard moral choices and dearth of good policy options facing decision-makers, he is being as reckless and destructive as the contemptible soldier or soldiers who leaked the documents in the first place."
  • Pentagon Papers? Not Even Close  Mother Jones' Adam Weinstein writes, "Here's a cliche for you: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. And here's a fact: A little knowledge is precisely what Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks cohorts have given us in the 'Afghan War Diary.' The intimation by Assange (and the media outlets he cherry-picked to preview the data) is that these are the Pentagon Papers of the Afghan war. Certainly there are a few eyebrow-raising details in the bunch, as Mark Mazzetti, Chris Chivers & Co. at the New York Times point out. But in truth, there's not much there. I know, because I've seen many of these reports before—at least, thousands of similar ones from Iraq, when I was a contractor there last year. ... Most of this information is tactical nuts and bolts, devoid of context, and largely useless."
  • Wikileaks Working to Improve Image  The Wall Street Journal's Jessica Vascellaro writes, "People familiar with the matter say Mr. Assange is frustrated that some of the site's other disclosures, such as a database of military procurements in Iraq and Afghanistan, didn't garner more attention. Some senior members of the group also want to combat the perception that the site is veering into the realm of opinion, one of the people said. The site took flak from some commentators for editing the 2007 Iraq video and for dubbing the video 'Collateral Murder.'"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.