Down the Rabbit Hole: Finding ‘Evidence’ of WikiLeaks’ Crime—Part I of II

Today and tomorrow I’ll hopefully make peace with my curiosity about WikiLeaks and the accusation that it disclosed the names and locations of Afghan informants serving the U.S. and coalition forces. Evidence supporting the accusation has been scant while the accusation itself has been repeated so often it now has the force of truth. Where does the accusation come from? What implications does the evidence entail? I will answer these questions today and tomorrow.

Raffi Khatchadourian of the New Yorker may be the world’s foremost authority on WikiLeaks seeing as he conducted extensive interviews with its leader, Julian Assange, and other members of the group shortly before its now infamous release of six years worth of secret on-the-ground reporting from Afghanistan. Khatchadourian’s summary of WikiLeaks as an Internet startup in this podcast better explains its actions than those who conversely call it a defender of truth or a terrorist organization. Assange acts to a high degree on principle, but seeing WikiLeaks as a startup explains why it threw caution to the wind, admitting that it did not examine the released documents thoroughly enough to rule out the possibility of releasing personal information that could be used against Americans and their allies in the war effort. As a startup, they are tuning their operation, which is young and by no means perfect.

To be sure, this is more ‘with us or against us’ criticism. Neither Assange nor WikiLeaks are wedded to the achievement of that nebulous, ever changing justification for military action: securing the interests of the United States. In as much as the U.S. would punish one of its citizens for treason should it inform an enemy about U.S. war strategy or personnel, the American military and intelligence apparatus pay cash for Afghans to turn coat.

But more to the point: did WikiLeaks release information that put America and its allies in harm’s way? Every major American news organization has operated on that very assumption in its condemnation of the leak. After my post suggesting there was no concrete evidence of such a crime, I nervously checked WikiPedia’s page on ‘The Afghan War Diary’ thinking I had missed something obvious. The first thing you see when you scroll down to ‘Informants Named’ is ‘This section’s citation style may be unclear.’ The section’s citations are very unclear and quotations in the entry are rarely present in the citation referred to, though the accusation is repeated several times in the entry as fact. Oh well. Maybe my college professors weren’t just justifying their paycheck when they warned against citing WikiPedia.

Finally, all the ‘proof’ that WikiLeaks has blood on its hands, such as that presented by NBC, refers to two articles written in The Times of London:

Afghan leaks expose the identities of informants

Man named by WikiLeaks ‘war logs’ already dead

If you’ve got a subscription to The Times of London, which has recently put all its content behind a paywall, you’ll see that it claims that after only two hours of examining the Afghan war logs the newspaper found multiple cases where informant names had been disclosed. If you haven’t got a subscription, sorry, but you’re not privy to review the information that everyone else is claiming as proof positive of wrong doing. The culture of free that now exists around news and news producers poses a serious, albeit principled, democratic problem. If everyone expects news to be free, what happens when a news organization releases exclusive news from behind a paywall? I’m sure the news producer, The Times of London in this case, would like you to pay to read the story. But what about the millions that aren’t going to do that? After The Times put up its paywall, it lost 90% of its traffic. This allows exclusive information to selectively enter the mainstream news cycle, repeated by sources like NBC, but remain immune to democratic criticism. I think people should buy a subscription (I did), but the culture of free has, to an extent, restricted the flow of certain information in a dangerous way. For all our talk of citizen journalism, we are no longer accustomed to reviewing sources that we have to pay for. Journalism isn’t just recording events, after all. It’s getting the events right.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

The dos and don’ts of helping a drug-addicted person recover

How you talk to people with drug addiction might save their life.

  • Addiction is a learning disorder; it's not a sign that someone is a bad person.
  • Tough love doesn't help drug-addicted people. Research shows that the best way to get people help is through compassion, empathy and support. Approach them as an equal human being deserving of respect.
  • As a first step to recovery, Maia Szalavitz recommends the family or friends of people with addiction get them a complete psychiatric evaluation by somebody who is not affiliated with any treatment organization. Unfortunately, warns Szalavitz, some people will try to make a profit off of an addicted person without informing them of their full options.
Keep reading Show less

10 science photos that made history and changed minds

These photos of scientific heroes and accomplishments inspire awe and curiosity.

Surprising Science
  • Science has given humanity an incalculable boost over the recent centuries, changing our lives in ways both awe-inspiring and humbling.
  • Fortunately, photography, a scientific feat in and of itself, has recorded some of the most important events, people and discoveries in science, allowing us unprecedented insight and expanding our view of the world.
  • Here are some of the most important scientific photos of history:
Keep reading Show less

In a first for humankind, China successfully sprouts a seed on the Moon

China's Chang'e 4 biosphere experiment marks a first for humankind.

Image source: CNSA
Surprising Science
  • China's Chang'e 4 lunar lander touched down on the far side of the moon on January 3.
  • In addition to a lunar rover, the lander carried a biosphere experiment that contains five sets of plants and some insects.
  • The experiment is designed to test how astronauts might someday grow plants in space to sustain long-term settlements.
Keep reading Show less