Why WikiLeaks Hasn’t Led to a “Golden Age” for Whistleblowers


December 15, 2011

A year ago, following the leak of a quarter of a million classified State Department cables, pundits proclaimed that journalism would never be the same. In a post-WikiLeaks era, tyrants would shudder, because this was the beginning of a golden age for whistleblowers.

But as FRONTLINE’s Arun Rath reported today on PRI’s The World, the sea changes many were expecting have yet to occur. Instead, attempts to recreate WikiLeaks-like systems for whistleblowing have largely failed, with WikiLeaks itself unable to reproduce its early success. Though Julian Assange claims this is largely because banking blockades have impeded donations, there are likely several other factors in this post-“Cablegate” world.

One is the reluctance of potential whistleblowers and leakers to come forward after seeing the fallout from the Bradley Manning case. Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy, which promotes public access to government information explains:

They’re either thinking twice or they’re taking more sophisticated measures to protect themselves or in some cases less sophisticated measures in the sense of not dealing with e-mail or any kind of Internet-based communication and simply sharing information in much more old-fashioned ways.

These ways, says Washington Post investigative reporter Dana Priest, include how national security journalists have obtained scoops for years: “People might think that [information] comes in a package anonymously. It doesn’t really — it’s the relationship-building.”

And while some, like President George W. Bush’s “classification czar” J. William Leonard, hoped the leaks would push the U.S. to rethink how it classifies documents, the opposite has occurred. Despite a 2009 executive order signed by President Obama to stop overclassification, Rath reports that the government classified 40 percent more documents this year than in 2010.

For more, listen to the full story from The World:


Stay tuned for more from Arun Rath in the coming days; he’ll be reporting for FRONTLINE at Bradley Manning’s pretrial hearing tomorrow.

In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.

blog comments powered by Disqus

More Stories

Wisconsin Recount Targets 2 Democratic Strongholds, Home to Black and Hispanic Voters
Unlike other places, where the Trump campaign has pursued statewide recounts, the Wisconsin request was limited to Dane and Milwaukee Counties, where Biden held solid leads.
November 25, 2020
7 New Documentaries to Watch over Thanksgiving Break in 2020
Plus, one new podcast to listen to.
November 25, 2020
‘I'm Not A Monster’: Who's Who from the Podcast
Meet the key players in 'I Am Not A Monster,' a special podcast series on how an American mother ended up in the heart of ISIS' self-declared caliphate.
November 24, 2020
On Night of Ginsburg’s Death, McConnell Pushed Trump to Nominate Amy Coney Barrett
An excerpt from FRONTLINE’s ‘Supreme Revenge: Battle for the Court’ goes inside Sen. McConnell’s swift maneuvering to achieve a 6-3 conservative majority.
November 24, 2020