Monday, July 26, 2010

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Wikileaks dumped some 90,000 classified documents that it obtained however it obtains these things. The New York Times and The Guardian from across the pond were given early access. Now I'm all for increased transparency, and there are certainly plenty of these documents that I don't have a problem with them publishing. But Wikileaks (or Julian Assange, to be more precise) doesn't seem to have any sense of responsibility.

First, the main things we learned from the leaks aren't really news to anyone who's been following the war in Afghanistan. Yes, civilians have died, sometimes killed by coalition forces. Yes, the Pakistani ISI is working with insurgents. No, Predator drones are not infallible. There are some nice tidbits about handheld SAMs and updates on Bin Laden. But that's about it.

The problem is the way Assange and the Wikileaks team went about releasing the info. I am not at all confident that these documents were carefully combed over for things like the names of informants or interpreters who could be targeted for retribution if their identities became known. Such things could be redacted without affecting the bottom-line mission of Wikileaks: transparency. Transparency is something we certainly could use more of. There's no real reason for many of these documents to be classified, so Wikileaks is doing the public a service in that way.

To their credit, the NYT is redacting names in the documents they publish. But it took me about 3 minutes to find the same document on Wikileaks and view the original. As expected, names were not redacted.

On a larger point, Assange and his organization claim to be about transparency, but they also have a very clear agenda. There's nothing wrong with having an agenda, but I think it clashes with the stated goal of transparency. "Collateral Murder" was a disturbing video when viewed in full, but Assange felt the need to edit it down and give it that provocative title when he released it. They blur the line between advocating transparency and advocating for policies. I think their mission would be better served by just leaking, and doing it responsibly.

EDIT: Andrew Exum's Op-Ed in today's NYT says what I was trying to, but more eloquently.

1 comment:

  1. Definitely agree with you. More transparency is generally more to the good, but there are reasons to keep some information back. I'm troubled by the idea that the Wikileaks report will become an execution list in Afghanistan for the Taliban -- and also by whether we'll ever know if that's how it's used.