The Wikileaks Case

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April 24

In this class, we will address many of the issues surrounding the Wikileaks case. We will explore the technical, legal, regulatory, ethical and normative elements of the events leading up to and following the massive leak of US government documents made available via Wikileaks. The case touches upon and exemplifies many of the concepts and questions that are presented in the course and will offers us the opportunity to reflect, refine and consolidate the changes and challenges of digital media.


Additional Resources

Class Discussion

April 24: The Wikileaks Case

Invariably when we speak about the Internet and we speak about globalization then we should also speak about freedom of the press – and, in this instance WikiLeaks.

So, how should we view WikiLeaks? Is it a benefit, or a detriment to democratic societies around the globe?

When I think about the world we live in today, everything started from an idea. The United States, for example, started from an idea. That idea grew into what we now see as modern day America.

So, can WikiLeaks change the world? Perhaps it can. Everything has to start from an idea.

Yet, it is globalization already in motion.

So, there are many things that we have covered in this course that apply towards WikiLeaks. Freedom of the press is one of them. Although, WikiLeaks has certainly raised the bar for whistler blower organizations beyond anything before or since it was introduced.

While WikiLeaks may be rather harsh in revealing data about the wild west, readers should also keep in mind the notion of freedom of the press. With this we should mention that the press has a responsibility of keeping governments in line. Part of this is helping to make governments to become more accountable as well as open in free societies. It is kind of an archaic concept to consider the thought that anything would have to be made private or confidential in a governmental organization. Otherwise, what are they doing that they must hide?

We must also include the notion of globalization in recent world history. While corporations are becoming more powerful, they are increasingly sidestepping governments in this move towards a more global marketplace.

One of the arguments is that the U.S. data is private and confidential. Whereas, an argument would state that governments not only need to be more transparent but that they should also be more accountable. So, WikiLeaks is a step forward in terms of worldwide progress.

Is WikiLeaks anti-American, or will it take down the United States? Probably not. Nor do I think it is meant to, more so than to add to the general climate of globalization already in progress.

If people were telepathic, then they would not need the press. However, empathy for one another is something which allows people to feel more connected.

So, it should also be noted that whistle blower organizations are there as an important part of any democratic society to keep governments in check.

Although they do need better protection.

So, there is this question of government trustworthiness. We see an almost too obvious framing of Julian Assange. I will not delve into the complexity of misinformation surrounding WikiLeaks. However, the magic of this technique is that it works 100% of the time, every time. Call it operation “you might as well face it you're addicted to love.” So, does this make us trust government less or more? Let's also remember DSK at the IMF was also used very close to this. So it's a technique that works, but shouldn't be overused because the public may catch on.

What is perhaps interesting of all is that right after WikiLeaks released the data, the end of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars followed within months.

Just Johnny 17:13, 15 February 2012 (UTC)

I have enjoyed reading this case. I did not know about the all thing,letters,etc. It is interesting to queston abouut which model is the best perfect free information or controlled or totally kept secret. For Assange, the only limit seems to be the life of people involved. However, the question further : in what are they involved. Is the cause fair? And then comes a moral judgement, non objective and maybe dangerous.

The other question is: Is the disclosure very interesting for most of the human being on earth? Does that really matter?

--Sab 15:38, 24 April 2012 (EDT)

@Sab: I would have to say that Mr. Assange is a rather perfect candidate to be a front man for WikiLeaks. He has everything one would need for the aesthetic. He is the front man for a reason. Just as Mark Zuckerberg is the front man for Facebook. I do not think it would work with anyone of another temperament. The very success of the project depends largely on the face of the project. So, Assange fits the part. Aside from this, the personal letters are a nice touch which adds to the dimension of the character that is Julian Assange. He is very much on par with a presidential candidate in a United States election. Or, a Knight at a round table maintaining composure amidst a crowd of hecklers. Just Johnny 23:18, 27 April 2012 (EDT)

Fascinating reading, really looking forward to our discussion in class. Also great to see a step-by-step description of the chain of events that took place and tying in Anonymous' efforts of pro-wikileaks internet activism especially in the case of Aaron Barr/HB Gary Federal. Brutal! On a side note, noticed Anonymous publicly posting a decompiled research copy of the Stuxnet virus was discussed. I'm sure many of you might have already seen/heard of the following story on 60 Minutes however, thought it was quite intriguing and will post here for you all to review [Stuxnet: Computer Worm Opens New Era of Warfare]JennLopez 12:19, 24 April 2012 (EDT)

@JennLopez: The interesting thing about Anonymous is that it is just that. Whereas, WikiLeaks has a face and a name that can be attacked. Very brave of Mr. Assange. Although, as I stated earlier I am not going to get into decompiling the mass of disinformation that surrounds WikiLeaks. Needless to say, it is brutal – whatever is going on behind the scenes. Again, we are seeing the convergence of on-line and off-line worlds. Just Johnny 23:28, 27 April 2012 (EDT)

The WikiLeaks case gained my immediate attention the day it started publishing secret material and therefore reading about it again is still fascinating in my opinion. I choose to look at the WIkiLeaks case in two different ways: on one side it is amazing how so much top secret information concerning the entire world was able to be publicly shared, and the entire legal process with its jurisdictional problems following the release of such information, and on the other side the incompetence on America’s part in giving access to top secret information to a clearly mentally ill soldier and then not being able to track the source until a convicted hacker in touch with Manning reported the information to the FBI. What I found to be really interesting and positive of the whole scandal was the part concerning the democratic rebellions following the leak of sensitive information concerning Arab countries. Its only thanks to public information that citizens of Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Libya etc. were able to understand that it was time to change the way they were ruled and overturn the tyrannical regimes. Information is indeed the future and the same Assange stated that the reason for releasing the information on his part was because “a race commenced between the governments who need to be reformed and the people who can reform them using the material.” Emanuele 12:10, 24 April 2012 (EDT)

@ Emanuele: I really think the interesting question about protection of information – especially when concerning governments – is whether or not this is absolutely necessary. As WikiLeaks has demonstrated, there are easier ways towards peacemaking. I think we need to step back and really take a look at the impact and scope of what WikiLeaks has accomplished. Just Johnny 23:28, 27 April 2012 (EDT)

@JennLopez I completely agree, I thought the organization and explanation of the Wikileaks case was great. I particularly enjoyed the letters between Julian Assange and the Department of State. @Emanuele I also agree that the section about the Arab countries was interesting- to think that Assange in some way helped start the Arab Spring is incredible. Looking forward listening to the class discussion as well.--Szakuto 12:39, 24 April 2012 (EDT)

The Wikileaks case poses the interesting question of reporting versus national security, a question that I doubt would have been nearly as incendiary prior to 9/11. While reporters of the past have committed themselves to providing the public with all information they learn of (and therefore it is no mystery that Assange likens himself as a reporter), the turbulent nature of foreign policy (particularly in the Middle East) does raise ethical questions on what content should be published, and whether the consequences of publishing such information will lead to innocents or government officials being harmed. What was particularly problematic is that there was anecdotal evidence that Assange had originally decided on publishing the Manning files without redactions, and that his co-workers had to convince him otherwise. For a single man to have that much power to affect the lives of many agents in the field is disconcerting.

Furthermore, the “insurance file” that Assange had, and which he would publish if he was the subject of an investigation, added a new wrinkle to the concept of reporters relying on the dissemination of information rather than using information as legal protection that could jeopardize national security.

In terms of moral responsibility and security implications, Wikileaks reminds me of the photos that were taken a couple years ago of American soldiers photographing the body parts of dead Afghan soldiers. Given the hostile reaction to the Koran book-burning scandal, the news outlet who released these pictures almost certainly would have expected that additional American soldiers would be killed from outrage and reprisal and that those soldiers may otherwise have been spared had those photos not been released. These ethical problems are why wikileaks and Assange continue to be controversial.--Jimmyh 12:44, 24 April 2012 (EDT)

@Jimmyh: You know I can't help but go back to my first post about the importance of protection for whistle-blowers. Assange is quite literally putting his neck out on the line for other people, and is taking the heat for it. Whereas, many bloggers and reporters do not even think of taking half that risk. Now you have to ask yourself: What is a free and democratic society when the media is afraid to report on something? It is no longer a democracy. When corporations and government control the media, as well as everything that is put on it, then we are taking a step backwards in terms of progress. So, I see WikiLeaks as an enforcer of responsibility just as any other media should be. However, WikiLeaks is a real wake up call to other media institutions. No doubt we are beginning to see progress sweep across these developing regions that otherwise conventional means would not ever consider as possible until something like this came into play. So it is quite controversial. Is this the operation of simply a few people? We may probably never know. However, we do see the real world implications. Just Johnny 23:40, 27 April 2012 (EDT)

What a great summary of the Wikileaks events, really interesting. Assange's devotion to his own personal power/personality definitely made the supposedly altruistic nature of his releases a lot more suspect and worrisome. Reading through these events again I was reminded how impressed I was with the NYTimes, the Guardian, and the other major papers in how they handled this. They really seem to have done the best they could at thinking through an extremely difficult situation and attempting to both honor their responsibilities as journalists and maintain a sense of responsibility for the results of their actions. This is definitely something we lose when the anonymous internet becomes the method of disseminating controversial information or news; no specially trained journalists are thinking through the implications of releasing each part of a story. That lack of filter can have serious consequences. AlexLE 13:05, 24 April 2012 (EDT)

@AlexLE: This certainly is an interesting recounting of the events that led up to the WikiLeaks incident. Interesting how the New York Times and the Guardian come into play – almost as WikiLeaks dangling that the truth is superior to either British imperialism or Western capitalism. Also, interesting how you note about the anonymity of the Internet and the repercussions it is beginning to demonstrate. I think that this is interesting because this not only just applies to citizens, but to government as well. If governments are expecting us to open up and just give every piece of information about ourselves and our lives, then the government also has to follow this idea. As is clearly stated in the reading: “Step by gradual step, the diplomatic cables have slipped from secrecy into the public sphere. Every attempt to control or redact them, regardless whether by the US government, WikiLeaks, corporations, or the mainstream media, ultimately failed. ” So, once the information is out there, it is out there. Now I don't believe that this should apply to everything. Corporations should shred digital/information on a regular rolling schedule in accordance with laws. However, in this instance, we see what is happening with this awakening of the convergence of power play and the public. It is very much the ruler on the high horse being thrown off of it by the people. In a sense, it is democratic in idea. Just Johnny 23:56, 27 April 2012 (EDT)

Interesting study on the Wikileaks events. I wonder what Assange's intent truly was with the letter to the State Department? Would he really remove per their request? Was it maneuvering for the U.S. to mistakenly give up the rest of the information. I'm guessing Saudi intentions to bomb Iran put people in harm's way on a more national scale --- more than just individual people. Brendanlong 13:33, 24 April 2012 (EDT)

@Brendanlong: His character is very much reminiscent of the commonwealth. Outwardly, there is an air of engagement, openness, and old world class regalement. In terms of appearances, it seems as though there is a sense that nations must do more to become better than what they are doing. I really think we need to look at the bigger picture, though. Especially when we are discussing 9/11 and the Iraq/Afghanistan wars. Just Johnny 00:09, 28 April 2012 (EDT)

It just amazes me how vulnerable and insecure data can be, as evidenced by Anonymous’s hacking and humiliation of HBGary Federal and Aaron Barr. The incident also proved to be embarrassing to the US government as well, as it was clearly ill-equipped to stop WikiLeaks, hacktivists, and jounals from publicizing sensitive data. Is this the way it must be to have open information and transparent government? @ Emanuele I also find it interesting that WikiLeaks allowed for revolutions to occur in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Qdang 14:01, 24 April 2012 (EDT)

@Qdang: Good question. You know, I am not going to delve too much into this, because I could probably end up writing a book at this point about it. However, I will state that there is a lot of misinformation out there. I am not completely sold on all of it either. I am a bit skeptical. Usually when I see something, my first response is always: why is this here, or why am I seeing this? So, I have to get past that initial question first. Usually, I am quite skeptical of the media. Everything I see on television, for instance, I see as placed there for a specific purpose that sometimes I am not always aware of at that point in time. However, later on I begin to piece things together. So, we shall probably see in this instance regarding WikiLeaks. As is stated in the reading, the information was released to the public by anonymous leaks. So, I don't necessarily think that WikiLeaks is responsible for the information necessarily. At least no more so than the New York Times or the Guardian would be for not revealing its sources. Just Johnny 00:09, 28 April 2012 (EDT)

Great article summarizing the WikiLeaks timeline of events. As someone with a Top Secret clearance I found the information on Manning’s background really disturbing. The military has an obligation to monitor those with access to classified material. The reading also magnified the discontent between an editor-in-chief for a newspaper vs. online journalism in regards to releasing sensitive information that could potentially cause harm to individuals. Do online journalists have less of an obligation to protect sources? Looking forward to our discussion in class tonight. I also saw this article on CNN: Manning switches lawyers --Hds5 14:04, 24 April 2012 (EDT)

@Hds5: You know, this is very interesting to think that this could be a Hollywood movie. However, how much damage was actually done by the information revealed? Sure, soldiers could have been put in danger. But, let's be realistic for a moment. Really? Come on. Do you really expect anyone to believe this? We are talking about a well funded, and well organized military force. It is somewhat similar to letting everyone know that there is a guard standing on the street with a gun. If the patrol man is armed and is doing his/her job, then who cares if everyone knows that they are standing there in public. But, this is really just silly. Now, lets talk about the end of two wars. Just keep that number in mind. Just Johnny 00:14, 28 April 2012 (EDT)

@Qdang I agree, data is extremely vulnerable. The Government has to take into account retaliation from hackers when trying to impose rules and regulations.--Hds5 14:34, 24 April 2012 (EDT)

Great "step-by-step" breakdown of events. I found the part on the use of ECPA important, and wonder if the law will be changed. The power struggles surrounding Assange, as well as his personality in general, helped to cast doubt on his intentions (as @AlexLE mentioned).

@Hds5 -- I think that online journalists don't necessarily hold themselves to the same "rules" as print journalists. Perhaps it's something to do with legal ambiguity of the web. Aberg 16:02, 24 April 2012 (EDT)

Very interesting case study. It is great to have the players, timeline and full summary of events in one place to truly see the imapact of this event. Of greatest interest to me (like Qdang mentioned above) is the fact that WikiLeaks appears to have helped set the stage for revolutions to occur in northern Africa and the Middle East. I look forward to the discussion. Cfleming27 14:45, 24 April 2012 (EDT)

@Cfleming27: This is also part of the reason why I am skeptical about this case. The impact is far reaching and much too fast to have been orchestrated by merely five individuals. Although revolutionary, I think there is something more behind this. It is just far too large. However, as I stated before, I am not even going to bother decompressing the misinformation that is out there. Just Johnny 00:28, 28 April 2012 (EDT)

Great article and great summary of events as they occurred. While I was aware of many things that occurred that time, I wasn't aware of few aspects on Wiki until now. Also, I am surprised how easy Top Secret information like that can be leaked and hacked into, which raises questions of how secure data like that is. I was also surprised that that out of all these websites including government ones, Amazon was the only one that could not be hacked. This also raises questions why US government websites can be so easily hacked when compared to Amazon. Shouldn't it be the other way round? While the material did spread, I think US government did a decent job at suppressing that information from going all out. The article also showed great difference between paper journalism and internet journalism. Given that many Wikileaks employees didn't like Assange's stand of releasing such information, it seems that Assange was doing everything possible to get as much media attention as possible even if it meant his own downfall. Great article, and looking forward to class discussions. Erzhik 15:23, 24 April 2012 (EDT)

@Erzhik: No data is ever secure. Interesting that you bring up this question of corporate versus government. Whereas Amazon is more secure, government websites are seemingly easier to break into. And yes I also believe that it should be the other way around. Although, I am a bit skeptical of the whole thing altogether. Just Johnny 00:28, 28 April 2012 (EDT)

Besides the very good explanation of the facts in a brief and concise way in this article, what I most like from the Wikileaks case is that it covers many topics we have been discussing in class. We saw the importance of redacting online when we addressed regulation speech online. I agree when the article explains that The New York Times and The Guardian newspapers blamed Wikileaks for releasing the cables without revising how they should be written, putting at risk several people, including the US forces. This was the reason Jester did hacktivism for good, in order to support the privacy of the people. Also we can see how important normativity is on the Internet, and in this case we see another example of these regulations: the ECPA Subpoenas the government has used to access the accounts of important implicated persons in the Wikileaks problem. Finally, we covered collective decision and democracy in past classes, and what more impressed me from the case was that the Tunisia protests began due to some of the Wikileaks’ cables about the Tunisian government. Therefore, as it is stated in the article, part of the Arab Spring was triggered by the information spread through the cables of Wikileaks. Unbelievable! Looking forward to discussing this caseFabiancelisj 15:58, 24 April 2012 (EDT)

@Fabiancelisj: This is interesting that you mention social norms on the Internet. And I think that this is a really important point. When it comes to the on-line world, do we really see the same kind of norms applying as we see in the real world? Maybe not so much. At least not in as relatively as a consistent way as we see in the real world. However, also interesting is the real world implications and realizations of these data streams. WikiLeaks spawned the Arab Spring? Maybe. Maybe not. Did it spawn Occupy Wall Street? Maybe. Maybe not. However, what we are witnessing is a definite shift in collective decision making. What does concern me is this ECPA nonsense. Now if the FBI wants into your account, perhaps it should also be the other way around. The public should have access to those FBI files as well. So, I too am looking forward to the lectures. Just Johnny 00:49, 28 April 2012 (EDT)

I'm really looking forward to discussing the issues raised by the readings this week, particularly the different strategies for attacking online foes. I'd also love to hear more about how these tactics are used by other governments (e.g. Russia) to respond to hackers/journalists who publish critical opinions and private documents. Aditkowsky 17:27, 24 April 2012 (EDT)

@Aditkowsky: I'm sure it is different around the globe. However, in the case of WikiLeaks we see that there are ways around things. For instance, even though Julian Assange was in Europe his Swiss bank account was revoked. I'm sure that had something to do with international pressure. Again, we are seeing the convergence between on-line and off-line worlds. So, I really think that this is interesting. I remember a few years ago there was an American journalist in North Korea who was detained who was eventually released. So, I agree that journalists do need to be protected. Just Johnny 00:52, 28 April 2012 (EDT)

The case brings up some deeper and broader questions, I feel, yet nothing we don’t know. Real life has no 100% “saints” most of the time, most situations are not all black and white, but rather several shades of gray, and we can please some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but we cannot please all of the people all of the time. A government is supposed to protect people, but then comes the question, which people? Whose interests are being protected? Who is actually behind the government? News agencies are run and own by human people and economic interests, and some of these care more about ideals and humanity than others. Some care, as long as it doesn’t cost them anything. Well intentioned crusaders also have to watch out for pride and ambition, and some succumb to those faults. The truth can and does set us free, yet some things spoken to the wrong people at the wrong time can bring hurtful results to innocent people, so much discretion and objective responsibility must be applied. All sides claim to be trying to use those attributes, of course. Maybe the best we can hope for, when dealing with humanity, is a balance of power, a check and balance system, which doesn’t always get everything right, but helps to keep things in general from going too wrong. Too much control can easily be misused, and no control invites misuse of freedom. Even though Wiki-links seems to have helped to bring about a change, for example, in Egypt, some feel that the outcome has simply been to exchange an old evil for a new one. I include myself in the “sinning-saint” category, meaning that sometimes even when I’m well intentioned, I don’t end up performing the right thing, like most of us, I suppose. It seems humans and human organizations need some external help and auditing when it comes to moral guidelines and freedoms, some sort of absolute “Golden rule for dummies” which is easy enough to follow and persuasive enough to help at least most of us to want to follow it.Mike 21:08, 24 April 2012 (EDT)

@Mike: These are some interesting questions. When I can't sleep, here's what I usually do: I turn the pillow over. It's a winner every time. I am looking forward to class to see what Saint Rob has to say about the WikiLeaks case. Just Johnny 00:57, 28 April 2012 (EDT)

I forget which class we brought up the discussion on Anonymity and having multiple accounts on Facebook (one for work and one for personal). I remember my initial response was perplexity over the duality. But I am growing in appreciation of the anonymity because the net is so accessible, and not out of wanting disguise rather, a necessity to work in solitude and quiet without too many prejudgment (or even input). Because some thoughts and things working it's way through its embryonic stage needs to be honored with that space and calm in order for necessary improvements and input to actually sink in (with meaning). It seems like much of what we have been grappling together as a class and in our discussion are philosophically rooted on how we perceive a quality state of mind/life on and off cyber space. Harvard212 15:46, 8 May 2012 EST