WikiLeaks Ethics


LUCKY SEVERSON, correspondent: It was the disclosure of this classified video in 2010 of a US military helicopter shooting civilians and journalists in Baghdad that drew the world’s attention to the anti-secrecy organization called WikiLeaks. It was an embarrassment for the Pentagon, followed by the leak of thousand of cables about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then there was the release of US diplomatic cables amounting to 250,000 documents containing 240 million words. The reaction in Washington echoed the view of former Ambassador Ed Rowell.

AMBASSADOR EDWARD ROWELL: Horror, horror, and I can tell you a lot of my colleagues—I’m retired, but currently colleagues in the State Department felt the same sense of horror, and it was a feeling that was shared from the top to the bottom.

SEVERSON: The general feeling was that national security interests outweighed the public’s right to know and that what WikiLeaks did was morally and ethically wrong and maybe illegal. The attorney general launched an investigation, one that deeply troubles Stephen Kohn, executive director of the National Whistleblowers Center.

post02-wikileaksSTEPHEN KOHN: I think the prosecution of WikiLeaks under the Espionage Act would be completely irresponsible and a violation of First Amendment rights.

SEVERSON: Kohn says it would be unethical for government employees to keep some things secret—that it’s their duty to report wrong-doing.

KOHN: If you’re looking at, say, the name of a confidential informant, there’s really no public need to know that. If you’re looking at, say, the military’s shooting down a journalist, well, there’s tremendous public need to know about that.

ROWELL: One of the questions is who is going to decide what ought to be released? Is it somebody who is familiar with all the arguments back and forth about how this relationship is going to play out, or is it somebody who is a self-appointed observer sitting in some remote place?

SEVERSON: Steven Aftergood heads the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.

STEVEN AFTERGOOD: If there is a problem with WikiLeaks, in my mind, it’s that they are not sufficiently responsible in what they put out, and they do not distinguish between what serves the public interest and what does not.

post03-wikileaksSEVERSON: New York Times officials say they felt an enormous ethical obligation to report the WikiLeaks cables responsibly. David Sanger is the chief Washington correspondent for the paper. He was one of as many as 30 staffers who sifted through the WikiLeaks documents before the Times published excerpts.

DAVID SANGER: We made judgments about which ones of those we thought were legitimate and which ones were not. For example, we were perfectly willing and thought it was very important that we remove from the cables the name of dissidents, the name of sources, the name of mid-level officials who had talked to the United States and who might suffer some punishment in their home countries for that.

SEVERSON: Steven Aftergood says even though his mission is to promote transparency in government, he thinks WikiLeaks has gone too far.

AFTERGOOD: There is no certain knowledge that anyone has been physically harmed by the leaks. At the same time, if you or I were one of those individuals named in the documents, I think we would be looking over our shoulder for many years to come.

post04-wikileaksROWELL: The issue is: Are there things which are justifiably secret and ought to be kept secret? And there are.

SEVERSON: Rowell has served as ambassador to Bolivia, Portugal, and Luxembourg. He says one danger is that the consequences of leaks are often difficult to predict.

ROWELL: In South Africa, when F.W. deKlerk declared the end of apartheid, Mandela was released and everything changed. The preamble to that was more than two years of negotiations between the ANC [African National Congress] and representatives of the president’s office, and if those negotiations had ever become known publicly the whole thing would have collapsed.

SEVERSON: But Times correspondent Sanger says some leaks may have beneficial results.

SANGER: The publication of those cables, not largely in the Times but elsewhere, helped—by the accounting of some American diplomats—spark the uprisings in Tunisia, which have then led to others around the Middle East.

SEVERSON: He says WikiLeaks disclosures have shed light on China’s attitude toward the US, on North Korea’s secret exportation of missile technology, and on Arab leaders’ views of Iran.

post07-wikileaksSANGER: In our coverage you read about the king of Saudi Arabia telling the United States to cut off the head of the snake when it came to dealing with Iran and its nuclear program. By getting that information out about Iran, you’ve now seen the Arab press become more willing to write about the Iranian nuclear program, which previously they wouldn’t do.

AFTERGOOD: I think leaks in general and WikiLeaks in particular are a response to a real problem. The problem is that the government keeps too much information secret without a valid reason.

KOHN: Since 9/11 and even before, they have grossly abused secrecy, first off by making many employees and contractors have clearances when they really don’t need it, and second, by stamping anything and everything classified, secret, top secret, whatever. It’s very simple for any agency just to stamp something confidential or secret and prevent public disclosure.

SEVERSON: Not only is there all that classified information, there are now approximately two-and-a-half-million people who have security clearances to access to those secret documents, including thousands of new private contractors hired by the government. Add it all together and it is very difficult to keep a secret in Washington.

post06-wikileaksAFTERGOOD: The policy lesson I would like to see drawn from the whole episode is that we need to be more much discriminating. Only those things that are genuinely sensitive ought to be protected as such, and everything else should more or less be out there.

SEVERSON: Stephen Kohn says there is no protection for national security whistle blowers, and there needs to be. He questions the morality of the government’s focus on the messenger while seemingly ignoring the message.

KOHN: There were no prosecutions for the people who lied about the intelligence that caused the war in Iraq. They just gave them a pass. The people who did torture they gave a pass. But people who want to blow the whistle on those incidents—they’re coming down hard on and throwing the book.

SEVERSON: The individual suspected of pilfering classified information and passing it on to WikiLeaks is Private First Class Bradley Manning who has been held apparently in solitary confinement for several months in pretrial detention.

KOHN: At the end of the day, when the hysteria calms down, they must apply the First Amendment to their investigation or prosecution of Mr. Manning or their investigation and prosecution of WikiLeaks itself.

SEVERSON: Many agree it will be very difficult to prosecute WikiLeaks if it acted only as a publisher. Few expect that organizations like WikiLeaks are going away.

AFTERGOOD: There is a void that has formed as a result of the downsizing, so to speak, of journalism. Where there were relationships between government officials and beat reporters, there is now a vacuum. Wikileaks is one of the things that has stepped in to fill that vacuum.

SEVERSON: The person who founded Wikileaks, Julian Assange, says his goal is to expose unethical behavior by governments and organizations. Others question his motives.

SANGER: He believed that the publication of this material would embarrass the United States and make public a huge gap between what America says it is doing and what it is doing around the world. In fact, I think it had the opposite effect. I think that we learned from this that American diplomats by and large are doing what they say they are doing.

SEVERSON: For now the investigation of WikiLeaks continues, and so do the leaks.

  • From abroad

    ” I think that we learned from this that American diplomats by and large are doing what they say they are doing.”

    I could not disagree more with this. How do you explain the American campaign to punish the European states for not adopting Genetically Modified food?! And this is just one example of the Imperial arrogance tranpired from the Cables. Shame!

  • Ron Willison

    Those of you that get your news from other sources than mainstream will probably have seen the reports of “FBI raids over 40 college dorms and seizes computers and all electronic devices they could find. Nobody was
    charged or arrested” The next paragraph should show you why the Patriot act has got to go.

    The vote was to reauthorize three controversial parts of the bill: the “lone wolf” section, empowering the government to keep surveillance on suspects unconnected to any foreign government or group; roving wiretaps, the power to tap any phone authorities suspect a subject might use; and a section that lets government seize anything that it thinks might have a connection to an investigation, even if the holder of the property isn’t suspected of anything.

    That is just plain wrong. The laptops, Cell phones, flash drives etc. Were taken from OUR children. It does not matter that many or all had nothing to do with the ANON” operation payback DDOS attacks leveled at Paypal and so on. Those kids had their school homework, projects, notes, calenders, and etc. Just taken away by the “OUR” US GOVERNMENT.And now you can see Your Patriot Act in action. God help us.

    Below is a letter I have sent to my Reps. Here in Cali.

    Dear Congressman.
    Being an American citizen for 62 years I’ve witnessed and in some cases, have been an active participant in our country’s worldly activities beginning with our involvement in Viet Nam. Five of eleven of my high school buddy’s didn’t come home alive from there.

    I was in Dupont Circle Wash.DC when Nixon felt the need to surround the WhiteHouse with the city’s buses. Many of us knew in our hearts that we didn’t belong in Viet Name, and at the time felt strongly enough about the
    mayhem taking place overseas to take to the streets to make our voices heard. Body Bag counts..sigh

    History has now proven we were justified. And I for one, have only one regret. I wish I had been even more militant at that time. Had I been. I believe it quite possible that maybe we could have shaved off a few more
    days of our involvement in that war. The benefit could have caused one less Land Mine to be placed in the ground, that to this very day are killing and maiming the men,women and children of Viet Nam and Cambodia. I, with my daughter recently traveled there for some ancient temple touring and came face to face with the ongoing after effects of our involvement there. It hurt us both deeply. Children missing legs, arms, and hands on carts pushing or pulling themselves around the streets selling trinkets in order to eat. Fathers missing limbs with children to feed doing the same.

    The same kind of mayhem is now taking place in Iraq and Afganistan? Since we now know that the “Gulf/Bay of Tonkin” never happened. And we also now know that Saddam’s dead incubator baby’s was staged media event. And no WMD’s have turned up. At what point does enough, become enough?

    Because of 911 and this nations historical knee jerk reactionary way of doing business we are once again exporting death and destruction to foreign lands and at the same time disrespecting all those that in the past and to this day have defended our Constitution. The “Patriot Act” and the pending “Cyber Security Act” are abominations and must be defeated. I would rather take my chances with the terrorist Boogieman.

    America has now become what our solders fought and died to protect us from. And that fact has not gone un-noticed by the world at large. The wikileaks organization and the traction it has received is symptomatic of our national disorder, and points out where we, as a once beacon of hope for the world went astray. Secrets and making policy behind closed doors is what fosters self serving agenda’s and other such stupidity. And that is
    exactly what keeps America in the crosshairs.

    Frankly speaking. I would rather turn my car into a yard planter, than have one person injured or killed because the powers that be there in DC, think I’m ok with carrying around the guilt brought about by the damages and destruction of trumped up wars invented to procure the petro chemicals needed to keep it running.

    You who are sworn to defend our Constitution. That abomination called the “Patriot Act” Guts our Constitution. It
    nullify’s “Habeas Corpus”, Unlawful and and unwarranted searches and seizures, and if Liebermans “Kill The Internet Button” Cyber security Act passes. Will put a bullet thru the very heart of Freedom of Speech and Press.
    So what does that leave?

    Not much. If you consider that a treasonous congress along with a stupid president sold out our country back in 1913 to a bunch of thieving international thugs with the passage of the “FEDERAL RESERVE ACT. The Constitution said the minting and setting of value for our republics money was Congresses job. The framers were also very precise in the wording pertaining to taxation.. In particular. They authorized Congress to collect enough taxes to maintain a robust NAVY for the protection of our borders. And during times of war pay for a standing Army. As I recall it was the same congress and president that spit on those two very well worded concepts to make debtors out of every American citizen and their future offspring forever.

    Nowhere in our Constitution does it say that it’s ok to pass into law a bill that would give the president the right to give himself more power. The most important thing you who represents WE THE PEOPLE need to understand is. If you people do not take action and destroy The Patriot Act forever, along with the pending CYBER security bill, and keep extending it. At some point it will get GRANDFATHERED in. Probably during the run up to the Christmas Holidays like happened in 1913. When Americans are focused on something else. If that happens. It will not matter if was done intentionally or just negligence on the part of Congress. You also will go down in history as traitors. Our precious Constitution because of its current status has more value as toilet paper. Fix it.

  • Ron Willison

    I have spent many hours composing two comments and neither have been posted. They were on topic. Had no cuss words. So why have a comments box and waste peoples time If your not going to post them? Send me an email please if your not going to post them.

  • sig arnesen

    “Whatever is now covered up will be uncovered, and every secret will be made known. What I am telling you in the dark you must repeat in broad daylight, and what you have heard in private you must announce from the housetops.” (Matthew 10:26-27)
    Transparency! Right on! Thank you, Mr. Assange!

  • humanbee

    I also think wikileaks is a response to a real problem. Ethical hackers are an important part of society’s immune system.

  • james fingleton wild

    To ask an unethical man about ethics or an amoral man about morals is futile.
    American Exceptionalism is the State religion. The god in , ‘in god we trust’ is mammon. The god in ‘god bless America’ is Mars.
    Money war and control is the trinity of the USA.
    America has become the great satan spoken of by the Muslim world.