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FireMadeFlesh's avatar

What is wrong with what Wikileaks did/is doing?

Asked by FireMadeFlesh (16558points) December 4th, 2010

So far as I understand it, Wikileaks has published hundreds of thousands of classified documents, but the maintenance of confidentiality is the burden of the department(s) in question. Shouldn’t the efforts of the US government be focussed at plugging the leaks in their own departments rather than gagging Wikileaks?

I have always operated by the principle that if you have nothing to hide, the spread of truthful information cannot harm you. Is this just another case of revenge, because the playground bully got a little bruised? Democracy is supposed to be based on the wishes of the people – so why is the US government so scared of the people finding out how they have governed?

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33 Answers

Carly's avatar

My dad was ranting about this the other night. From what I could understand it seems that these wikileaks could possibly create an edge for other countries (in whatever way) to use against the U.S.

I think the government isn’t worried as much about what our citizens think than how other governments will react in response.

It could be more though.

ParanoidAndroid's avatar

In a nutshell, WikiLeaks is exposing American misdeeds. However, it’s not so much the information (as the site was constantly ignored by the feds for quite a while) , but rather their methods in obtaining such information. It’s been found that the site has been hacking into government computers and whatnot to fuel their site with new posts. And the scary thing is, the vast majority of stories found on WikiLeaks can be claimed as the truth.

the100thmonkey's avatar

@ParanoidAndroid – until you can provide a source for what is a very bold claim, I shall just say “my arse”.

I’ll happily retract if you provide a source that demonstrates that WikiLeaks has been actively involved in espionage by compromising government systems and extracting then publishing classified information.

I believe that’s pretty much comparable to treason.

marinelife's avatar

@ParanoidAndroid I can find no evidence accusing wikileaks of hacking into government computers. Where is your source for that assertion?

What Wikileaks did wrong is publish classified documents.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@ParanoidAndroid If Wikileaks had hacked into government servers to obtain their information, why would they need sexual allegations to arrest Assange? Wouldn’t they have Interpol on alert for treason or cyber-terrorism?

Linda_Owl's avatar

Exposure is always resisted by individuals / countries who have misdeeds that they do not want others to know about. Fortunately, there also seems to be people who are willing to take chances to cast light on the things that people want hidden. Governments should live like everything that they do will be on the news, but they chose not to – & it drives them bananas to discover that they cannot keep their secrets hidden.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@Carly If it gives other countries an edge over the US, whose fault is that? The people who made the damaging comments, or the medium that brought them to light?

@Linda_Owl It reminds me of V for Vendetta – “People should not be scared of their government, governments should be scared of their people”.

Qingu's avatar

“I have always operated by the principle that if you have nothing to hide, the spread of truthful information cannot harm you.”

Here is my philosophical problem with this position, and in turn, with Wikileaks: how far are you willing to take this principle? Does “nothing to hide” mean that government employees should all operate under constant surveillance, made available to the public on Youtube? (And not just the government, either—Wikileaks also goes after private corps and banks.)

If so, who do you expect to work under such conditions, and how? This is actually Assange’s stated goal: he wants to make it impossible to work as a government employee.

Now, in a few cases Wikileaks has published cover-ups and revealed useful information about the wars and public figures. In most of the cases, though, Wikileaks is basically functioning as a hidden camera. Transparency is important, revealing cover-ups is important, but at a certain point “transparency” becomes a kind of Panopticon.

Qingu's avatar

Also, I think a lot of people are jumping to the wrong conclusions about what “misdeeds” were uncovered by Wikileaks.

The only major US misdeed that I can think of is our underestimation of civilian deaths in Iraq. The most damning aspect of the Iraq Wikileaks, I think, was the state of Iraqi prisons. So in that case, it was Iraq’s misdeeds, not America’s. (Maybe America can be blamed for so readily transfering prisoners to prisons we knew were run by torturous savages, but I’m not really sure if there were any better options).

The Afghanistan leaks didn’t really reveal any misdeeds at all. I can’t think of anything from that cache that changed my view of the war beyond what I already knew. What they did reveal, though, were the names of Afghan informants and collaborators who might now be targeted for assassination by the Taliban—which is why Amnesty International has spoken out against Wikileaks.

As for the diplomatic cables, again, I don’t remember reading anything exposing US misdeeds. I saw cables exposing Arab leaders’ hypocrisy over Iran and various reports from sources critical of the governments in Russia and Afghanistan, but I don’t really understand how anything reflects poorly on the US, or is evidence of a “cover-up” on the US’s part.

ParanoidAndroid's avatar

@the100thmonkey it’s called sarcasm my dear friend.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@ParanoidAndroid what, if anything, was sarcastic about your first post. I keep looking at it but appear to be missing said joke…..

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@Qingu Fair enough. I did not know Assange’s stated goal was quite that extreme. What would reason could Wikileaks have for posting information that is not of public interest? I also do not know of any misdeeds on the part of the US being revealed, but their comments in the diplomatic cables are far from positive.

To be honest I think Wikileaks’ earlier post of the Collateral Murder footage is more damning of the US than the diplomatic cables or the Iraq/Afghanistan leaks.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

It also seems the US isn’t the only one suffering from the leaks: Chinese government ordered Google hacks.

Mikewlf337's avatar

When you publish classified information you are committing treason against your country. It is classified for a reason. I don’t care what any idiots have to say about it. Every country has classified information. Every country has “misdeeds” as STUPID as the word sounds. If you are not American and judge this countries classified information then you are an idiot and you are ignorant because your country has them as well.

gondwanalon's avatar

How would you like it if some crazy SOB hacked into your e-mail and bank accounts and then put all of your information onto the internet for all to see? Bradley Manning will likely be going to jail for a very long time for jeopardizing U.S.A. security. But the little creep should be taken out back and shot.

Qingu's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh, here is Assange’s manifesto, which is what I was referring to.

He characterizes the US government as a “conspiracy”—not necessarily in the nefarious, evil sense (though clearly he wouldn’t object to this characterization), but rather in terms of a network structure, where you have people connected to each other through secure channels of communication and so on.

Then he says his goal is to essentially make this network structure impossible to function.

It’s not completely insane, but it’s also very abstract, and it strikes me as very ignorant of the social good that a functioning state (with its secrets) accomplishes alongside the inevitable atrocities.

And I agree that the ‘07 helicopter attack footage was much more damaging—and also much more newsworthy—than any of the three massive leaks this year. Even then, though, it wasn’t a clear-cut atrocity, especially when viewing the whole video. It wasn’t the Pentagon papers.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@Mikewlf337 So you have total trust in your government, and believe they should have the discretion to decide what details of their actions are released?

@gondwanalon I never asked about Bradley Manning’s actions, and I agree that he should be charged and gaoled for potentially compromising the security of the country he swore to protect. However, this question relates specifically to the actions of Wikileaks.

@Qingu Thanks for the link. I find it worrying that Assange wants to break down the system of government, although I agree that the US governmental system needs major reforms. Wikileaks has done a lot of good, and although some of it is harmful as well I don’t think it is right for the US to ‘round up the boys’ to go after him. Whether or not his motives are questionable, I still cannot see if/how he has done anything wrong.

gondwanalon's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh – Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, stated that if indeed it is the case, as alleged by the Pentagon, that Bradley Manning is behind some of the recent disclosures, then he is without doubt an “unparalleled hero”. Mr. ASSange seems like a real nice guy huh?

Are you pulling my leg? Why can’t you see that stealing and posting classified information on the internet is wrong?

Mikewlf337's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh stealing a posting classified information can put an entire country at risk. Wether you like it or not isn’t important. Governments classify information for various reasons. Some of that information is classified to keep it out of enemy hands which in turns keeps you safe.

Qingu's avatar

@Mikewlf337, let’s be honest, the information classified isn’t keeping you safe, unless perhaps you’re a soldier in Afghanistan, or an Afghan citizen with internet access who has cooperated with US soldiers there.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@gondwanalon It depends on what the information is. Information is classified for different reasons. Some is to protect informants and troops, which is a legitimate reason to classify information, and I do not believe Wikileaks should publish that information until it was no longer operationally significant. However some information is classified to protect politicians so the people never know how badly they have screwed up. That is the information that should be free to all, because it affects the safety of us all. For example, Kevin Rudd advised the US to be prepared to use force with China – I believe we have a right to that information, because it puts us all in danger if/when China retaliates.

That is all a sidetrack to the discussion though. As a matter of principle, stealing information is wrong, but Wikileaks never stole it. They simply published material that came into their possession. Under freedom of speech, they are entitled to do so. Apart from moralising over who it puts in danger, what is wrong with their actions?

@Mikewlf337 It would have been better if Wikileaks had used some discretion in deciding what to publish, but to my knowledge what they have published is more political than operational. Whether the people like it or not is extremely important. We the people elect the government, and have the right to dictate how they operate – therefore we are entitled to know how they operate so we can use the political process to force change where necessary.

gondwanalon's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh Don’t you think that it is wrong for a web-site to encourage, promote, facilitate, or instruct others to engage in illegal activity? That is what Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks is all about. That is why PayPal won’t have anything to do with WikiLeaks. I’m no law expert and I only know a tiny bit of the information in this matter but what I do know really stinks.

Mikewlf337's avatar

@Qingu How can you be so sure of that? Being classified information means you know nothing about it. How can you be smug and just sit their and come up with such a conclusion. Wether what he leaked was damaging or not is unimportant. The fact is wikileaks completely ignored the classified status of the information.

Qingu's avatar

@Mikewlf337, um, because I read the classified information in question?

And now you’re saying, “whether what he leaked was damaging or not is unimportant” ... well, earlier you seemed to think it was important because it damaged the safety of Americans. I haven’t seen a single thing that damages your safety sitting at home in front of your computer. I have, however, seen many things that could make it easier for the Taliban to plan attacks or to identify collaborators.

Mikewlf337's avatar

@Qingu If it is putting American soldiers lives at risk then it is harmful to leak it and I think that wikileaks did a horrible thing for my country. That is not harmless and you act like what he did is not a big deal. It is a big deal to me and my country.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@gondwanalon That is their right under the provisions of free speech. People can say whatever they like, but it is only when acted upon that it becomes illegal. PayPal won’t have anything to do with Wikileaks because they are pandering to the US government like every other organisation and government involved in this fiasco. Why do you think Sweden issued an international arrest warrant for a rarely enforced crime with a maximum penalty of ~$750? I’m no expert either, and I only know a small proportion of what was released, but what I do know shows how much our officials stink.

Qingu's avatar

@Mikewlf337, actually I’ve taken a pretty measured approach to Wikileaks, unlike a lot of other people on Fluther. I think Wikileaks is potentially very harmful.

And it’s not just your country. I think the most likely people to be harmed from Wikileaks are Afghans.

gondwanalon's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh We most likely agree on more aspects of this than we disagree on. Maybe WikiLeaks should have a name change to “StinkiLeaks”? HA! Anyway I’m just watching the news and waiting for more information with my nose held closed so I can stand the stench!

Mikewlf337's avatar

@Qingu I didn’t say it was just my country. Don’t take what I say out of context.

jakky's avatar

I don’t see any problem with wikileaks publishing information simply because its classified. That is basically saying, “the government knows best, we should allow them to operate however they want.” Wikileaks should not publish any information that puts current troops in danger, but as far as I’ve seen there hasn’t been any of this kind information (please let me know if I’m wrong about this, along with the source). Wikileaks should absolutely publish any information about the wrongdoings of government officials and corporations, and we should thank them for doing so.

Qingu's avatar

@jakky, the government may not know best, but at least it is democratically elected and is therefore somewhat accountable.

Wikileaks also may not know best. And Wikileaks is not accountable to anyone.

Wikileaks has published info that may help insurgents better gauge the type of tech and capabilities used by NATO forces. I’m not sure if that counts as “putting troops in danger.” But Wikileaks has also published information that the Taliban can use to identify Afghans who collaborate with NATO. The Taliban routinely assassinates such people. That is my biggest problem with Wikileaks (and also Amnesty International’s problem with them).

Wikileaks has not actually published any secret “wrongdoings” of the US government as far as I know. The closest might be the military’s hands-off approach to widespread torture in Iraqi prisons, and that we’ve killed more civilians there (by accident) than officially recognized. The diplomatic cables also reveal that we apparently have troops in combat roles in Pakistan, though this is about as shocking as saying we have CIA-controlled robotic airplanes attacking Pakistani targets.

I don’t even think Assange’s intent with Wikileaks is to hold the government accountable; I think his intent is pretty clearly sabotage. I linked to his manifesto earlier; he sees Wikileaks as a means to make it impossible for the state to function. One’s support of such sabotage probably depends on to what extent you support the foreign policy functions of the US government.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@gondwanalon Maybe.

@Qingu “at least it is democratically elected and is therefore somewhat accountable.”
How is it supposed to be accountable if we don’t know what their operations entail? Kevin Rudd, while in office, continually pushed his credentials with China, because he could speak Mandarin and therefore could negotiate trade agreements with the Chinese than other ministers. Now we find out he advised the US to “be prepared to use force” with China if necessary. How can we hold a government, even a democratically elected one, accountable when we have no idea what they are really saying to world leaders? Whatever Assange’s intent, his work has led to greater transparency and accountability, and it seems the politicians don’t like it.

Qingu's avatar

It’s held accountable because the officials who appoint such people are elected, and presumably if such people do a shitty job then we’ll elect better people and get better appointments. (Note that this rarely happens because Americans are idiots. But at least the system is there.)

Do government workers in sensitive foreign policy positions have a right to privacy in their work? Or is everything they do, every communication they make, supposed to be monitored by the public? I think there is obviously a need for transparency (and more importantly, in the service of accountability) ... but if the camera is always on then I think the inevitable result is government workers behaving like they are on C-SPAN when they should be doing real work.

To say nothing of the pointless but potentially dangerous (for Afghans, especially) leaks involving the Afghan war. I do not trust our military establishment very much at all when it comes to determining what should be kept secret, but the pompous ambivalence Assange has shown on this issue makes me trust him even less, and lives are at stake.

I think everyone, including government workers, has a right to a certain level of privacy. Transparency, taken to its logical conclusion, is a panopticon

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