Monday, October 18, 2010

Wikileaks a Revolution in Journalism? I'd Call it Vigilantism.

Wikileaks, a website founded by Julian Assange, is an "international organization that publishes anonymous submissions and leaks of otherwise unavailable documents while preserving the anonymity of sources" (Here's where i got that definition). Making world headlines with the posting of a graphic video of a helicopter gunman shooting down innocent Iraqi civilians, but at the time thought to be terrorists. Over the summer, Assange's website again made headlines with the posting of more than 77,000 U.S. war documents from Afghanistan. Now, Wikileaks announced it will be releasing around 400,000 Iraqi War documents. 400,000! Where does Mr. Assange get the mandate that allows him to do this?

In Jonathan Stray's Foreign Policy article, Is this the Future of Journalism?, he ends with saying that "no journalist I've spoken to will speak ill of Wikileaks in private: Every reporter understands that Wikileaks is the thin end of the wedge. If they can't run a dangerous story, no one can." Stray makes a good point here. Wikileaks is the embodiment of the freedom of the press. Freedom of the press is important for society and does indeed hold government accountable.

 However, posting classified war documents endangering the safety of U.S. forces and damaging U.S. foreign policy is, I believe, over the line of journalism to vigilantism.

Though Wikileaks has held the release of some important documents and blotched out names, that doesnt change the fact they obtained the documents without permission of their owner; the U.S. government. If one were to publish something you wrote without your permission, would that be fair and legal? I think not.

What gives Mr. Assange the legal right to publish documents that aren't his? Not only is he violating the concept of sovereignty, he is also putting lives in danger. No longer is this journalism, it is vigilantism. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, a vigilante is: a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily (as when the processes of law are viewed as inadequate); broadly : a self-appointed doer of justice. When does Mr. Assange have the international power and legitimacy to declare U.S. sovereignty of documents illegal? To answer the question, he does not.

Wikileaks brings up an important trend in international politics: the rise of non-state actors due to the internet and technology. In one of my past blog posts, I asserted that terrorist organizations are aided by technology in recruiting, communicating, and funded operatives around the world. Just as the internet has aided non-state terrorist organizations, it is also aiding the development of websites which some states cannot hold their owner accountable. The prime example is Wikileaks. There is no state which published this material. It was the website of one man, Mr. Assange, who committed the crime (yes, I do view this as a crime). The U.S. has no jurisdiction to arrest him in another country, and has no means to shut down the website. Thus, the rise of internet related non-state actor/individuals are new to the international security scene.

I am all for free speech, but Mr. Assange and Wikileaks crosses a fine line. This is not heroic journalism, it is one man taking the law into his own hands; a vigilante. If Mr. Assange thinks he is a real-life Batman, well, he is far from it.


  1. If you haven't seen it yet, you may find this Al Jazeera piece of interest: It says some hope for greater accountability to come from Wikileaks' activities. I remain skeptical.

  2. The wiki links are out!!! From what I have read so far, the media sources that obtained them have kept them private so far. And I read somewhere ( I think CNN) that wiki links did not release the names of Iraqi residents that helped the US, in order to not compromise their security -- so that is a good sign.

    Interesting facts have been enlightened to the public. Ex. innocent people killed at boarder crossing.

  3. Assange is kind of a strange guy, he was a hacker in the early 90s according to the telegraph he has no address and travels between Sweden and Iceland. The Taliban has announced that they would use wikileak documents to track down "U.S. spies."