WikiLeaks has struck again, with the biggest intelligence leak in history. Several weeks ago, WikiLeaks received about 91,000 reports concerning raw information of the war in Afghanistan. In an unprecedented decision WikiLeaks decided not to immediately release the highly classified reports, but instead shared its findings first with the New York Times, The Guardian, and the Der Spiegel.
It can be speculated that these three newspapers where chosen as a prestigious validity check on the reports, as they are top media outlets in the US, the UK, and Germany respectively. Conversely The Telegraph criticizes WikiLeaks for its supposed stance on being politically neutral while only releasing the reports to left-wing newspapers.
WikiLeaks gained prominence back in April when it released a classified video of the war in Iraq. Since then, the website has earned somewhat of a Noam Chomsky-type of reputation, showing the world through a conspiracy theory lens. The recent leak is currently published on their website as "The Afghan War Diary." The website has temporarily withheld certain information for security purposes, however they claim all reports will eventually be released pending on the situation in Afghanistan. WikiLeaks agreed to share The Afghan War Diary with the newspapers on the condition that the stories would not be published until July 25th, the same day that WikiLeaks would release the documents. The chosen newspapers agreed to print their stories simultaneously, but each newspaper independently cross referenced information and prepared its articles.
The three newspapers spent the last month sifting through intelligence reports, which span from 2004 to 2009. They did not have access to the original sources of the data, as those names have remained anonymous. However, the newspapers were able to cross check references and establish the validity concerning the majority of the reports. It was difficult deciding what to publish, walking the fine line between national security interests and informing the public about the truth of the war. Information that could comprise lives or current missions were omitted, such as specific names of informants and intelligent gathering techniques. The New York Times noted that it did not link raw material to its website. Additionally, The White House has requested that the New York Times encourages WikiLeaks to use the same journalistic discretion in releasing sensitive information. The three newspapers did make the decision to print the "Afghan War Diary," as it depicts a unbridled story of Afghanistan straight from the soldiers who are in the mists of combat.
The implications of this new mode of transmitting security leaks are tremendous. Julian Assange, the editor of WikiLeaks, claimed that "This situation is different in that it's not just more material and being pushed to a bigger audience and much sooner - everyone has the book, the whole lot at once - but rather that people around the world who are reading this are able to comment on and put it in context and understand the full situation." In this new age of journalism, it is much easier for people to not just gain access to information, but to interact socially and comment on the situation. WikiLeaks has created a forum for the war, with the assistance of the top newspapers who act to check validity. After reviewing WikiLeaks and the newspapers, citizens are in a better position to create their own opinions on the war.
When Assange responded to his website causing the biggest leak in history, he exclaimed that "If journalism is good it is controversial by its nature." Yet how far to bring controversy remains a big question especially during an age where information can spread vastly in a short period of time. The US has responded that WikiLeaks could threaten national security, and then claimed that the reports were a mute point as most of the incidences in the report took place before Obama's new war plan. The other side of the coin argues that despite some inconstancies in the reports, people have a right to transparency.
In light that all three newspapers published articles pertaining to the Afghan War Diary, it makes a statement that much of the information is legitimate and that the people deserve to be informed. Unfortunately investigate journalism has taken a hit due to budget restrains, but WikiLeaks is doing its best to reverse this trend. Last month WikiLeaks assisted Iceland in creating legislation that makes the country a safe haven for investigative journalist. Sites such as WikiLeaks gives newsrooms a cost effect means to inform the public. It is possible there may be a symbiotic future for WikiLeaks and major newspapers; WikiLeaks gathers information, but the newspapers put their name and reputation behind the sources to create validity and analysis of ground breaking news.