By: Chelsea Christensen, Yuna Park, Xuan Feng
“No Secrets: Julian Assange’s Mission for Total Transparency“ by Raffi Khatchadourian. The New Yorker, June 2010.
This reading gives some background on Julian Assange, the ideology and methodology behind Wikileaks, and a closer look at one particular Wikileaks project, called Project B.
Julian Assange’s entire life has been marked by secrecy, an inherent distrust of government and institutions, and a desire to make those things that are secret more widely available. In the article, it says that Assange had “come to understand the defining human struggle not as left versus right, or faith versus reason, but as individual versus institution. As a student of Kafka, Koestler, and Solzhenitsyn, he believed that truth, creativity, love and compassion are corrupted by institutional hierarchies, and by “patronage networks” (one of this favorite expressions) that contort the human spirit” (15).
Q1: To what extent do you agree or disagree with Assange’s understanding of the “human struggle?” Do you agree that the purity of expressions such as truth, creativity and love are corrupted by government and institutions? What can transparency and accountability do to preserve the integrity of these qualities?
Wikileaks was founded in 2006 and publishes various secret materials, such as documents from Guantanamo Bay to diplomatic cables. The format was originally like other “Wiki” sites that allowed for user comments and edits. Lately, the site has become more closed – probably due to the mounting attention and pressure Wikileaks experiences every day. The whole design of Wikileaks and the way it receives, sends and posts information is extremely secret. For this reason, the site is virtually impervious to lawsuits and government harassment, making it “an instrument for good in societies where the laws are unjust” (20).
Q2: However, one of the criticisms of Wikileaks’ extreme secrecy is that the site virtually cannot be contested – and in more liberal societies, fair modes of contestation are necessary in order to deter misinformation and abuse. How can Assange confront this paradox?
Lastly, in the article, Project B refers to a 38-minute video taken from the cockpit of an Apache military helicopter in Iraq in 2007. The article discusses the detailed ways in which Assange and his team analyzed the material, and how they chose to present and disseminate the final product.
Q3: Do you believe that Assange’s editing of the material affected it’s veracity? Were the journalists being provided a realistic account of what happened, or did Assange shape the story the way he wanted them to see it? How does such editing of material fit in to the motto and message of Wikileaks?
Video: “Why the World Needs Wikileaks” TED Talk
A group of activists, or the organization known as WikiLeaks has reportedly released more classified documents in the last few years than the rest of the world’s media combined. It uses sophisticated software to encrypt and protect its sources.
To put into perspective the power of these information leaks, in 2007, WikiLeaks managed to obtain information pivotal in the Kenyan elections. This information was released and directly affected the voting outcome in Kenya.
The interview also shows the video of US military killing at least 18 innocent lives, two of which were Reuters reporters. Assange says that the objective for leaking information is to achieve reform. But has reform been the result? Could the model that Rosen propose apply here?
In the second half of the video, Assange refutes the popular claim that Wikileaks is in fact being hypocritical against its mission of “shining light on dark secrets” by using high levels of secrecy to protect its sources. For the founder, Wikileaks is “acting in such a way in which people feel morally compelled to continue their mission, not screw it up.” Assange discussed the overwhelming growth of Wikileaks and its difficulties handling such growth due to its highly selective hiring process and the need for trusted employees. TED’s Chris Anderson also inquired about Assange’s core values and how those values translated into creating Wikileaks. Finally, Assange discussed his recent exploits in Iceland, and how Wikileaks led him to work with Icelandic and other international politicians to make Iceland an offshore haven for free press, of which the Icelandic Parliament passed unanimously.
The Wikileaks Paradox by Farhad Manjoo. Slate, July 28, 2010
Is the founding mission of Wikileaks paradoxical to how the company operates by shrouding its sources in secrecy? This is the topic that Manjoo focuses on in his article, by asking many thought-provoking questions regarding the leaker’s personal agenda and how this agenda is hidden with the leakers’ identity. Manjoo brings up the idea that part of the story behind a particular document and why it was leaked could provide valuable context for the data found in these sources.
Looking at a particular instance to prove his point, Manjoo discusses how Assange has reportedly claimed that Wikileaks withheld the publishing of particular Afghanistan war log documents as “part of a harm minimization process demanded by the source.” Given that Wikileaks protects the secrecy of its leakers, the author asks the question of who will actually be harmed in these instances? If it is regarding harm to the troops or politics, is this not hypocritical to decide not to publish such documents?
In the rest of the article, Manjoo discusses the Wikileaks authentication process. He feels that checks on a source’s veracity are impossible under the Wikileaks system are impossible. Specifically, looking at Assange’s statement that the staff examines documents based on “forensic analysis, means, motive, and opportunity, etc.” the author argues that if the source is unknown, how does Wikileaks determine the “means, motive, and opportunity?” Manjoo brings up many compelling arguments in this article, all of which need to be examined before making a stance on the controversial Wikileaks.
“The Afghanistan War Logs Released by WikiLeaks, the World’s First Stateless New Organization“ by Jay Rosen
Jay Rosen’s article on the Afghanistan war logs (documented accounts that offer the first real glimpse into the war from January 1, 2004 to December 31, 2009 by the United States Army) released by WikiLeaks uses one example of the multitude of published secret intelligence reports to make more general assertions on the entirety of the operation and what they means to our society at large.
He begins with the concept of supply and demand in journalism and how this relates to why the logs were given to only three newspapers rather than directly published online. And then, points out the ironies in how the White House has tried to avoid directly confronting the issue by diffusing the attention and focusing on the qualities of WikiLeaks’ reportage.
WikiLeaks exists everywhere. If one server is crashes, it can be switched on in another country. Thus, it is “beyond the reach of any government or legal system” and is free to release information without the restrictions of or partiality towards any nation because of the virtual space it exists in. In the case of the war logs (also applicable towards WikiLeak publications in general), a stateless news organization has created a particularly interesting paradigm in which the stateless organization has power over the confidential information belonging to states.
He also speculates the question if big revelations equate with big reactions? What if the story is too troubling and is viewed as “a mess we cannot fix and therefore prefer to forget?” Could cognitive dissonance be responsible for the reaction (or lack of) WikiLeaks has aroused? Where do we stand if “the job of fixing what is broken would break the system for such fixes?” Is there hope in WikiLeaks as a platform through which reform is catalyzed or in the concept of “transparency” if the nature of such reform is flawed and “if elites believe that reform is impossible because of the problems are too big, the sacrifices too great the public too distractible”?
“From Judith Miller to Julian Assange” Press Think, December 9, 2010.
This article discusses a 2002 New York Times article in which it was reported that Iraq was trying to buy the kind of aluminum tubes necessary to build a nuclear centrifuge. Over time, it was revealed that this information was misleading and ultimately inaccurate. Yet it was used by Bush administration to support their war views and the fact that it came from the New York Times gave it a certain credibility that resonated with the public opinion.
When asked about the veracity of the article, Miller said, “my job isn’t to assess the government’s information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of The New York Times what the government thought about Iraq’s arsenal.”
This approach seems to contradict everything that journalistic integrity is supposed to stand for: finding the truth, testing the evidence, and reporting objective facts. These are the tenets that Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks are supposed to stand for, in an era where even the “top pyramid” media seemingly cannot be held accountable.
Q1: One way that WikiLeaks seeks to be more accountable than traditional media is by presenting its evidence in its entirety, often with some commentary but little editorial changes. Do you think that this is an effective way of disseminating information to the public? Do people have the time, energy or concern to read long, technical and dense articles about government, politics and wars? To what extent is Assange’s model more or less effective than the traditional news model?