Wikileaks: friend of the truth, enemy of the troops?
There’s a tendency in some circles to see disclosures like the Wikileaks publishing of 90,000 documents about the war in Afghanistan as an inherently good thing.
Many people – from all parts of the political spectrum – see the release of secret government information as desirable as a rule because it allows people to look into the inner workings of the state apparatus and its agents. This makes governments accountable. Others, more insidiously – especially in technology and new media circles – welcome events like this mainly because they involve the internet.
The Afghanistan war logs are a watershed moment in government control over intelligence data. It’s not that battlefield information was published – that’s nothing especially new – but that the release of the information was so huge and co-ordinated between three countries and on the web simultaneously.
The Guardian, The New York Times, and Germany’s Der Spiegel were given access to the documents and agreed they would all publish at the same time. They have each tried to redact the information so they do not compromise operational safety.
But the White House has accused Wikileaks of compromising national security and the Australian Defence Department has announced an investigation into possible risks to its operations in Afghanistan.
With publication happening worldwide and in three different countries there is no way to define of national security interests, because there is no one nation involved.
The news organisations in three countries may have to answer to the laws in their jurisdictions. But Wikileaks answers to nobody, including community opinion of whether it should be publishing details on the operations of American, British, and Australian troops in Afghanistan.
Britain and Australia share a system of D-Notices, a non-binding and unenforceable agreement between the press and the government on the types of information that shouldn’t be published on national security grounds.
Call it a gentlemen’s agreement about not releasing information that could get troops from your own country - or those of strategic allies - captured, tortured or killed.
But Wikileaks isn’t based in any country. It doesn’t have a national interest to protect. It doesn’t claim a home in any community whose young men and women are going overseas to fight and sometimes killed.
Its Australian founder, Julian Assange, is clear that he gets off on this.
“This is something that I find meaningful and satisfying,” Assange said. “That is my temperament. I enjoy creating systems on a grand scale, and I enjoy helping people who are vulnerable. And I enjoy crushing bastards.”
The implications of Wikileaks’ latest coup are only starting to become clear.
Most of the 90,000 documents are mundane accounts of battlefield activity. And even some of the more controversial aspects are really just the reality of war, like a special operations unit being charged with hunting down and killing Taliban the leadership. There is a full version here and a quick summary here.
Assange claims there is evidence of war crimes committed by the allied troops, and there is also the claim that Pakistani intelligence services have been supporting the Taliban, which has drawn rapid denials from both US and Pakistani governments.
Making this information public is in the best traditions of pressuring governments through disclosure.
But the threat of Wikileaks will need constant assessment. Arrangements for military security, communications, and tactics will be adapted to avoid further damage. What information does it have? When will it act? Where will it act? How can it be contained?
These are all questions which in war are asked about an enemy.
Don’t miss: Get The Punch in your inbox every day
Get The Punch on Facebook
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…