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WikiLeaks

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Overview Edit

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WikiLeaks.org (also spelled Wikileaks) describes itself as a "public service designed to protect whistle-blowers, journalists and activists who have sensitive materials to communicate to the public."[1] Arguing that "[p]rincipled leaking has changed the course of history for the better," it states that its purpose is to promote transparency in government and fight corporate fraud by publishing information governments or corporations would prefer to keep secret, obtained from sources in person, by means of postal drops, and by using "cutting-edge cryptographic technologies" to receive material electronically.[2] The organization promises contributors that their anonymity will be protected.

Disclosure of U.S. government documents Edit

According to press reports, WikiLeaks obtained more than 91,000 secret U.S. military reports related to the war in Afghanistan and posted the majority of them, unredacted, on its website in late July 2010, after first alerting the New York Times and two foreign newspapers, the Guardian (London) and Der Spiegel (Germany), about the pending disclosure.[3] Military officials have reportedly said they suspect an Army private, Bradley Manning, of having leaked the documents to WikiLeaks.[4] Private Manning, a U.S. citizen, was already in military custody under suspicion of having provided WikiLeaks with video footage of an airstrike that resulted in the deaths of civilians.[5]

U.S. officials have condemned the leaks, predicting that the information disclosed could lead to the loss of lives of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and Afghan citizens who have provided them assistance.[6] Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates informed Members of Congress that a preliminary review of the disclosed information by the Defense Department found that no sensitive information related to intelligence sources or methods was made public, but reiterated that the release of Afghan informants' names could have "potentially dramatic and grievously harmful consequences."[7] WikiLeaks subsequently released some 400,000 documents related to the war in Iraq,[8] this time with names of informants apparently redacted.[9]

In late November, 2010, WikiLeaks began publishing what the New York Times calls a "mammoth cache of a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables," dated for the most part within the last three years.[10] Wikileaks.org posted 220 cables on November 28, 2010, as a first installment, some of which documents were redacted to protect diplomatic sources. The most recent documents in the collection are reportedly dated February 2010.[11]

The U.S. government was aware of the impending disclosure, although not apparently directly informed by the web-based, anti-secrecy organization (or given access to the documents to be released), although WikiLeaks Editor-in- Chief Julian Assange offered in a letter sent to the U.S. ambassador to the U.K., Louis Susman, to consider any U.S. requests to protect specific information that the government believes could, if published, put any individuals at significant risk of harm.[12] The State Department's Legal Adviser responded in a letter to Mr. Assange's attorney that the publication of classified materials violates U.S. law, that the United States will not negotiate with WikiLeaks with respect to the publication of illegally obtained classified documents, and that WikiLeaks should cease these activities and return all documents, as well as delete any classified U.S. government material in its possession from its databases.[13] Mr. Assange responded by accusing the United States of adopting a confrontational stance and indicating an intent to continue publishing the materials, subject to the checks WikiLeaks and its media partners planned to implement to reduce any risk to individuals.[14]

After learning the classified cables were to be published, the Defense Department notified the U.S. Senate and House Armed Services Committees in general terms about what to expect.[15] Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Elizabeth King explained that “State Department cables by their nature contain everyday analysis and candid assessments that any government engages in as part of effective foreign relations," and predicted that the publication of the classified cables, which she described as intended to "wreak havoc and destabilize global security," could potentially jeopardize lives.[16] State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley told Bloomberg that the State Department is "assessing the possible impact on our on-going diplomatic activity and notifying both Congress and other governments what may occur."[17] The White House issued a statement condemning the activities of WikiLeaks[18] and ordered all agencies to conduct reviews of their information security policies and programs.[19]

The publication of the leaked documents by WikiLeaks and the subsequent reporting of information contained therein raise questions with respect to the possibility of bringing criminal charges for the dissemination of materials by media organizations following an unauthorized disclosure, in particular when done by non-U.S. nationals overseas.

References Edit

  1. WikiLeaks: About.
  2. Id.
  3. The New York Times published a series of articles under the headline The War Logs. The Times describes the leaked material as an archive covering six years of incident reports and intelligence documents — "usually spare summaries but sometimes detailed narratives" — that "illustrate[s] in mosaic detail why" the military effort in Afghanistan has not weakened the Taliban. C.J. Chivers et al., "The Afghan Struggle: A Secret Archive," N.Y. Times, July 26, 2010, at 1. The German periodical Der Spiegel published a series of articles under the topic "Afghanistan Protocol" (full-text). The Guardian (UK) published a series entitled "Afghanistan: The War Logs" (full-text).
  4. "Military Airstrike Video Leak Suspect in Solitary Confinement," CNN.com (Aug. 1, 2010) (full-text).
  5. Id.
  6. Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Meet the Press, Aug. 1, 2010 (full-text).
  7. See Elisabeth Bumiller, "Gates Found Cost of Leaks Was Limited," N.Y. Times, Oct. 17, 2010 (quoting letter to Senator Levin from Secretary Gates).
  8. See The Iraq Archive: The Strands of a War, N.Y. Times (Oct. 23, 2010) (full-text).
  9. See Anna Mulrine, "Wikileaks Iraq Documents not as Damaging as Pentagon Feared—Yet," Christian Sci. Monitor, Oct. 25, 2010. The New York Times has stated it redacted names prior to publishing the leaked materials. See The Iraq Archive, supra.
  10. "State’s Secrets," NYTimes (online edition), Nov. 29, 2010 (full-text).
  11. Scott Shane & Andrew W. Lehren, "Cables Obtained by WikiLeaks Shine Light Into Secret Diplomatic Channels," NYTimes.
  12. Letter to Ambassador Susman (Nov. 26, 2010) (full-text).
  13. Letter from State Department Legal Adviser Harold Hongju Koh to Jennifer Robinson (Nov. 27, 2010) (full-text).
  14. Letter to Ambassador Susman (Nov. 28, 2010) (full-text).
  15. Tony Capaccio, "Pentagon Alerts House, Senate Panels to New Classified WikiLeaks Release," Bloomberg (Nov. 24, 2010) (full-text).
  16. Id.
  17. Id.
  18. White House, Statement of the Press Secretary (Nov. 28, 2010) (full-text)..
  19. Memorandum from Jacob J. Lew, Director, Office of Management and Budget to Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies (Nov. 28, 2010) (full-text) For other White House responses to the WikiLeaks disclosures. See Fact Sheet: U.S. Government Mitigation Efforts in Light of the Recent Unlawful Disclosure of Classified Information (Dec. 1, 2010) (full-text).

Source Edit

External reading Edit

  • Grand jury subpoena (full-text).
  • Letter accompanying subpoena (full-text).
  • White House, Statement of the Press Secretary on Wikileaks Disclosures (Nov. 28, 2010) (full-text).

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