Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, is neither a journalist nor a source. He is a cut-out, a middle man, a channel for people who have grievances and access to secrets. Wikileaks is not the future of journalism. WikiLeaks will be one of the ways that citizens can hold governments accountable. It will be used responsibly and irresponsibly and the value will be in the eye of the reader.
Assange is more up on the intrinsic value of Army intelligence officer Bradley Manning's SIPR cables than most of his consumers, even those who believe that Assange is heroic. It seems as if a lot of liberals who oppose the war in Afghanistan are disturbed by Assange's lack of filtering. One can be a stolid opponent of war, of imperialism, or of a war, and still understand why every effort should be made to avoid identifying sources of information in a combat zone.
Let's set aside cases of misconduct or civilian casualties or blue deaths. This is comfortable whistle-blower territory. Assange's data makes no distinction between people who enabled the cover-up of U.S., French, or Polish complicity in killing innocents and people who are trying to help relieve suffering or prevent soldiers from being killed in IED attacks -- the good guys in any universal moral scheme. It's not just names: it's dates and places, data points that allow very bad people to figure out who from a village might be snitching to the CIA or NATO troops about a corrupt provincial leader. Why this data was left intact is not entirely clear.
As of Day Three, there has been no appreciable change in the country's relationship with its allies. As the White House has made clear, the details about Pakistani involvement with the Taliban speak for themselves and put pressure on the government. So far, there's nothing in the cables that has taken Congress by surprise ... nothing that has directly implicated the current administration in a prevarication ... nothing about the strategy, really, that hasn't already been shared with the American people through reporting (Dexter Filikins's ouvre, Lara Logan's pieces) or even through official channels. Assange seems largely motivated by the civilian casualty angle, overseas newspapers seem to be fascinated by U.S. counterterrorism squads, and the war supplemental is going to pass Congress.
The cables have significant value for historians, for people who want to understand the hell of war, for people who want to see how tough fighting in Afghanistan really is. To hazard a guess about the impact of the war diaries is to prejudge history. When President Obama begins his policy review in a few months, we may know more. In some ways, the media's navel-gazing, its fascination with Assange -- the meta-coverage -- is attenuating the content of the cables themselves.
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