Call me arrogant, but I rarely find myself confused over issues. (Chicken first or egg first? Seriously? I’ve been saying it was a no-brainer since I first heard this “riddle.”) Many reports on the WikiLeaks issue try to make it sound like people are confused over the whole thing. Did I miss something? Since when is it OK to release Classified information to the enemy?
Now, before you go accusing me of over simplifying the issue, or only grappling with the moral side of things, allow me to explain a little. I understand that WikiLeaks has no specific national affiliation, and that they are not siding with anyone in particular – they are completely indiscriminate. This is their primary strength, but also their essential problem. WikiLeaks has shown absolutely no restraint in releasing documents.
While I feel it is important for WikiLeaks, as an organization, to exist and do their job of providing transparency, I fear that they have a huge responsibility and are failing to shoulder its weight. Just as journalists have a responsibility to inform the public and report the facts, not every detail of every story need be published right away and in one big story. News media have struggled with this responsibility for centuries, so it’s not like I expected WikiLeaks to get it right (besides which, I’m sure “restraint” doesn’t really fit into the picture of what they do, from their perspective).
For a decade my father was the publisher of a local newspaper in a small town. Many evenings over dinner I heard his discussions about different sensitive issues happening in town, and the decisions he made on what to release and when. For example, one night the mayor went out drinking and displayed lewd behavior, unbecoming of an elected official. I don’t remember all the details, but there was a story in there, and a decision had to be made on when and how to run it. Having sensitive information that the public should know does not mean you go throwing it out there right away. Restraint and tact should be employed.
News media are the most powerful, influential organizations in the world. Running a story incorrectly or imprudently can change history, literally. Likewise, every time WikiLeaks posts or releases information, the course of world history is changed. Some of those changes are minor, many of those changes are good, but there is great potential for devastatingly destructive changes that could change life as we know it forever. With classified information in their hands, I would like to think that they would exercise caution and consider the ramifications of releasing it. I would like to think that they would time the release in such a way as to minimize damage. However, I do not think this will be the case.
All US government classified information is released eventually or declassified after a set number of years. In other countries where this does not occur, WikiLeaks plays an important role. Releasing that information irresponsibly can have a negative effect on a worldwide scale.
Ultimately, I wish WikiLeaks had never been created. If it hadn’t been WikiLeaks though, it would have been somebody else. So, since there is no going back, my wish becomes this: I hope the business of collecting and releasing “leaks” such as classified documents can find a way to exercise restraint and control their power. These organizations could cause the downfall of entire nations and they could indirectly cause many deaths, and some of them may be my wingmen down range. As a member of the armed services, I hope every day that none of my deployed friends find themselves being attacked by an enemy armed with classified documents they downloaded from WikiLeaks.
So WikiLeaks – at least wait to divulge my brother’s whereabouts in the Middle East until he’s home safe.