The Definition of danger: WiKileaks effect

Nayeem Hossain

Nayeem Hossain

Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the news media during the Vietnam War, recently praised heavily for the Wikileaks. He’s comments in a discussion meeting on the eve of the documentary; “The Most Dangerous Man in America” said he wished Wikileaks existed in his time. He wouldn’t have to take so much risk and so many people wouldn’t have to risk their careers and lives. But that was kinda different, a government official leaked information to the media to show the lies of the governing system to the public. Mr. Ellsberg said, he was disappointed with the impact of the papers though, he thought more should have happened. The government stopped publication of The New York Times for publishing the papers and newspapers all round the country started to publish it. They did this to uphold the first amendment of the constitution and to uphold the transparency of the government system. Those days are in the past, with the flourish of electronic media and internet, citizen correspondences are bring even the most tyrant and iron curtained regimes to their knees. The Tweet Revolution in Iran recently has opened a new dimension for activists. The question in the latest row is what is Wikileaks?

The whistle blowing website has put itself, the definition of media and the question of diplomatic transparency to question. A traditional whistle blower talks about issues that is on public or in someone’s interest but was kept hidden, either by lie and deception or by withholding information. Well that’s what Wikileaks started doing. It gave us insight on how the US military was operating in Iraq and Afghanistan. Everyone hailed the Wikileaks, and I think they got carried away from that point. The issue is not that they are leaking information to the public domain. Investigative journalists do it all the time. We just saw a phony journalist do it in case of Dr. Yunus of Bangladesh in Norway recently too. The issue is what and how the information was handled, who’s publishing it, with what intension and what’s the benefit to the people. In Wikileaks defend they tried to push for more information made public, but let’s be honest if we all really loved 100% transparency in everything they we wouldn’t have also fought for privacy acts all round the world. Wikileaks unveiled the nature of the war that we didn’t know about and they shared the information with credible print media also. The New York Times and The Guardian of England has published the Iraq information with Wikileaks but according to The New York Times editorial board’s press release there was a difference. The print media ensures with their security advisors that no sensitive information that can bring someone in harm’s way is revealed and also verifies with the government sources to take their reaction. Afterwards they clear the material with the editorial board to ensure the information is worth sharing with public. That was ok and expectable to most and the issue of harm to national security didn’t come in anyones mind. But the recent US State Department cables are what created the controversy.

I think people and especially the US legal system are still in dilemma if Wikileaks can be considered as a mainstream media or not. Also if Wikileaks is publishing these information, how are they getting the information is also a very important question. If they are acquiring them by paying informants then it’s not a voluntary reveal like the Pentagon Papers. This is the case for the State Department cables. Private First Class Bradley Manning is the accused leaker who stole thousands of cables. That’s stealing government property. The release of the State Department cables shows how the diplomatic world still rely on ground observation on different governments. The released cables show the observation of US diplomats in different regions on various governments. The cables are goldmines for any academic, but are highly sensitive to the present diplomatic community as many of the issues are still very much active. Some of the interesting ones are the observation of Hillary Clinton that most of the funding for the Sunni terrorist organizations come from the Saudi Arabia and Saudi wanted a joint force to take down the Hezbollah. Also they are worried that the heavily enriched uranium in Pakistan might fall to terrorist organizations and the US is trying to move them to a more secured location since 2007. About Iran the cables reveal that many Arab states wanted US to use force to stop their nuclear program and also that Hamid Karzai is a lame duck president in Afghanistan. All of these issues are known to the international community through commentaries from former diplomats but coming from government cables makes it difficult for the US to defend their position with allies and bring stability. The issue that China is getting impatient with North Korea and might look for a permanent solution with a unified Korea under Seoul is very sensitive for all parties involved. If that made the academics hail Wikileaks and the governments all round the world condemn, the leak of establishments that US think is strategically important to them nailed the last nail in its coffin.

If Wikileaks existed under the Cold War era it could’ve been said that one of the two super powers will be benefited. But in the world post 9/11 it’s hard to predict that which fanatic group will actually go after one of these establishments. None of these are military establishments. They are places US think is strategically important to them, say the fiber optic cable routes that connect them with the allies in the Pacific. Or the Baltic state oil pipe lines. How is these information in benefit to the global population I still don’t get. What Wikileak tried to achieve by releasing this and then threatening that trying to shut it down would make them release more sensitive State Department material actually took its credibility as a global whistle blower away. Just today a man in Maryland is charged in trying to blow up a military recruitment center and last November officers arrested Somali-born Mohammed Osman Mohamud, 19, after he reportedly made a telephone call he thought would set off the bomb in the centre of Portland. Both men were apprehended by authorities under a string operation for local slipper cells in the US. If the Wikileaks cables put any of the operations in harms way or give possible targets to a local fanatic sleeper cell then only Wikileaks would be blamed for the mess.

That’s where most credible mainstream media is saying Wikileaks is lacking. They don’t show the journalistic responsibility. The editorial oversea to ensure ethical ground is not ensured. Also paying informants means bribing people to break law to get sensational documents. For which the US is planning to put espionage charges against it’s founder Julian Assange. But will the 1917 pre First World War act have enough to hold him on espionage charges only or will they put stealing property charges also on him is something the government will have to see. Also extraditing him to US is a long process. In the mean time, his luck with allies seems to have becoming thinner. With his arrest and refusal of bail in London for sexual offense committed in Sweden, which has one of the toughest laws in Europe for rape, shows the level of public enemy he has created overnight.

That brings the dilemma and the question that will Julian be portray as one persons hero and another’s terrorist? Also the question comes of how mainstream journalism is challenged by the new age technologies. Anyone can take a video on their cellphone and start a revolution online. Iran and France has seen what internet can do in demonstrations. Jihadists and extremists of all form use internet to show their strength all the time. What about the bloggers? Now that many of them are as respected as mainstream news journalists for proving credibility they are all pointing finger to the anti US activism of Julian Assange for putting the new age internet journalism in jeopardy. Responsibility creates reputation and nobody wants to be in Julian’s sinking ship now. Amazon has stopped providing server renting service to Wikileaks. Mastercard, Visa and Paypal has stopped taking donation payments. Pro Wikileak hackers are attacking these company sites and took Mastercard website down for a day, whereas anti Wikileaks hackers are attacking the whistle blower site.

What needs to be seen is, will it be remembered in history as just a whistle blowing site, or will they come out of this mess to become a whistle blowing news organization. I doubt about the future of Wikileaks unless they make some compromises. But the way internet works, once something starts it never ends. Many sites will rise to take its place. The question is, will they be responsible as the mainstream media or will they cause more danger. Either for governments or for people.