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Why Can't Wikileaks and the U.S. Federal Gov't Get Their Acts Together?

Why Can't Wikileaks and the U.S. Federal Gov't Get Their Acts Together?

WikiLeaks's Julian Assange

Jason Mick

August 04, 2010

Our coverage of Wikileaks’ landmark release of 90k U.S. military documents, many of them classifed, drew strong reactions — some supportive, some very critical.  Some could not understand — how could I criticize Wikileaks, when I had worked so hard to reveal the government’s lack of transparency with its ACTA piracy treaty and other issues?  Here’s why.

Today we live in an era of cell phones, digital cameras, and internet (and the wonderful smart phone, a device which combines all three).  While expectations of personal privacy remain strong, the explosion of information access has created an atmosphere in which no business or organization can expect to cover up its actions.

That’s precisely what both Wikileaks and the U.S. federal government are trying to do, and both need to wake up to reality.

On the one hand you have the U.S. government, who’s played the unsavory role of the deceiver.

For all his talk of transparency, President Barack Obama hasn’t pushed hard enough for it.  If the U.S. government had published the reports of civilian casualties, problematic allies, and more, Wikileaks would have been out of luck.  It would have had nothing to publish.

The information was going to get out there.  President George W. Bush, President Obama, and their military officials should have realized that.  That much is common sense.  But somehow common sense seemed to be lacking.

The U.S. government can take this as a wakeup call.  If the U.S. is truly to be a “free” nation, it needs to publish full information of its government’s activities in all their gory details (no pun intended) to the public.  Otherwise, someone else will.  And that will be pretty embarrassing. 

Granted, there is a clear limit to this.  The U.S. must be careful in what it chooses to release, so as not to release documents that endanger lives of the U.S. or its allies — such as names of supporters, informants, local contacts, troop numbers, or other dangerous details.  The key here is common sense.  Releasing the names of your supporters in a hostile atmosphere is obviously a bad idea.  Releasing reports on civilian casualties (perhaps with the soldiers’ names redacted) is merely taking responsibility for your own actions — a good idea. Spending money on transparency is common sense.  Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, or something else, you should be able to get behind the government spending taxpayer money on informing citizens of what exactly it’s doing at home and abroad.

If there’s one thing worse than a deceiver, it’s a hypocritical deceiver.  And that’s an apt way to describe Wikileaks.

Site founder and ex-computer criminal Julian Assange has created a news organization the has engaged in a crusade against the U.S., with over 90 percent of its posts being leaked U.S. documents.  For a standard wiki, such bias could be excused as the will of the masses.  However, for a donor-financed private news organization like Wikileaks, that level of bias is unacceptable and utterly destroys the site’s credibility.

People asked — do I believe Wikleaks should go out of the way to get leaks from China, Russia, the EU and other GDP powers other than the U.S.?  I say absolutely, yes!  A legitimate news organization must show a lack of bias, particularly one playing such a sensitive role as Wikileaks.

But aside from the question of bias, there’s the even more glaring issue that a site that prides itself on exposing others’ secrets tries to operate in complete secrecy.  That’s more than a little hypocritic, no?

Wikileaks won’t release its donors’ identities.  It won’t release its detailed spending records.  It won’t say whether the “Wikileaks” Twitter and Facebook are official or imposters.  It won’t allow public feedback on leaks.  It won’t publish explicit details on how its command decisions are made.

Wikileaks needs to adopt a policy of internal transparency immediately.  And it needs to work to remove the bias in its publications.

To summarize, Wikileaks and the U.S. federal government, in the wake of Bradley Manning’s arrest have played the role of bickering siblings, flinging mud at each other.  And they don’t seem to realize they’re both embarassing themselves.  And like most siblings, they’re much more alike than they realize.

The U.S. federal government deserves criticism — not for its Afghanistan operations (which are of debatable merit), but for its lack of transparency.  And Wikileaks deserves criticism for this as well.  Both parties need to wake up and realize that when they condemn each other, they’re really looking in the mirror at themselves.

It’s the twenty-first century.  You’re not fooling anyone.  The public is connected and informed.  Try to conduct yourselves in a manner that respects yourself and others.

© Daily Tech 2010

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