WikiLeaks: Crusader for Justice or Criminal Enterprise?

January 20, 2011 06:30

To many, WikiLeaks is a new form of media and a crusader for justice and transparency. But their actions are those of a criminal enterprise that has damaged the U.S. and its allies during its epic struggle against radical Islam.

By Roger Aronoff

Following the initial shock of WikiLeaks dumping hundreds of thousands of documents on the Internet for all to see, many of them classified U.S. military files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the implications are only beginning to be understood. However, it is still way too early to comprehensively assess the actual damage, and the potential damage. But certain questions have been raised, realities confronted, and some 99% of the most recent batch—the State Department cables—are still to come.

Approximately 2,000 of the more than 250,000 cables are all that have been revealed as of late December—about a month into this third major release of documents this year—by the publications chosen by Julian Assange, the founder and head of WikiLeaks. The publications who have the documents are The New York Times, The Guardian, El Pais, Le Monde and Der Spiegel. It is estimated that there will only be daily releases through January, followed by periodic releases. They provide, according to the Times, “a chronicle of U.S. relations with the world.” Many of the 250,000 cables are actually open source material, e.g., copies of newspaper articles sent by an embassy back to the State Department.

When they were released in late November, first came the shock that somehow our classified documents were so vulnerable to exposure, and that they could be downloaded by a Private First Class with a troubled past. Then the shock that there was someone out there with the sense of self-importance and arrogance that they would release these documents for all the world to see. Next was the fact that as many as three million people in the U.S. government and military had clearances that would give them access to these files, and that alarm bells didn’t go off when someone, alleged to be Pfc. Bradley Manning, a 22-year-old former intelligence operative, loaded them onto his Lady GaGa disc.

The U.S. and its Western allies are engaged in a war with radical Islam, and the primary currency in that war is intelligence. The release of these documents has forced a re-evaluation of how this intelligence has been shared, should be shared, and will be shared, both among nations, and agencies within the U.S. government.

At this point it is easy to confuse the timeline of what has happened since last April, when many first became aware of something called WikiLeaks. We knew about Wikipedia. So what is a Wiki? According to, a wiki is “Any collaborative website that users can easily modify via the web, typically without restriction.” Thus, the idea is that anyone can post documents on the site, entrusting them in this case to Julian Assange, who recently described himself as “publisher of last resort for journalists as well as for society.” He says his goal is “justice…to have a just civilization.”

Assange was convicted on 25 charges of computer hacking in 1995.

Here is the basic timeline, according to Reuters, that shows what happened over the eight-month period since last April:

April 5, 2010 – Internet group WikiLeaks releases a video showing a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack that killed a dozen people in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, including two Reuters news staff.

June 7 – The U.S. military says that Army Specialist Bradley Manning, who was deployed to Baghdad, has been arrested in connection with the release of the classified video.

July 25 – More than 91,000 documents, most of which are secret U.S. military reports about the war in Afghanistan, are released by  The “Afghan War Diary” is a compilation of documents and reports, covering the war in Afghanistan back to 2004.

October 22 – WikiLeaks releases some 400,000 classified U.S. military files chronicling the Iraq war from 2004 through 2009, the largest leak of its kind in U.S. military history. They involve subjects including abuse of Iraqi prisoners in U.S. custody, Iraqi rights violations and civilian deaths.

November 18 – A Swedish court orders Assange’s detention as a result of an investigation begun in September by the prosecutor’s office into allegations of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion.

November 28 – WikiLeaks releases more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables that include candid views of foreign leaders and blunt assessments of security threats.

Before this, according to a New York Times profile of Assange by John Burns, “WikiLeaks had posted documents on the Guantánamo Bay detention operation, the contents of Sarah Palin’s personal Yahoo email account, reports of extrajudicial killings in Kenya and East Timor, the membership rolls of the neo-Nazi British National Party.” But it was this profile that also apparently resulted in the Times being cut out of the loop of those directly receiving the documents from WikiLeaks, and instead the Times got the most recent batch by arrangement with The Guardian in England. Apparently this unflattering profile, in which Burns says of Assange that “some of his own comrades are abandoning him for what they see as erratic and imperious behavior, and a nearly delusional grandeur unmatched by an awareness that the digital secrets he reveals can have a price in flesh and blood,” caused Assange to turn against the Times.

In late December, Assange also had a falling out with The Guardian over a story they wrote about the investigation of alleged sex crimes committed by Assange while in Sweden. They received a copy of a report that had not been made public.

Many of Assange’s defenders have claimed that there have been no casualties as a result of his release of documents on the Iraq and Afghan wars. But Newsweek stated that “After WikiLeaks published a trove of U.S. intelligence documents—some of which listed the names and villages of Afghans who had been secretly cooperating with the American military—it didn’t take long for the Taliban to react. A spokesman for the group quickly threatened to ‘punish’ any Afghan listed as having ‘collaborated’ with the U.S. and the Kabul authorities against the growing Taliban insurgency.” Four days after the documents were published, according to Newsweek, “one tribal elder, Khalifa Abdullah, who the Taliban believed had been in close contact with the Americans, was taken from his home in Monar village, in Kandahar province’s embattled Arghandab district, and executed by insurgent gunmen.”

I recently interviewed William McGowan, longtime journalist and author of the new book, Gray Lady Down: What the Decline and Fall of the New York Times Means for America. McGowan said that the Times is “the premier news organization in America, and they have a track record of dubious journalistic decisions on publicizing classified material during a time of war…I cite their so-called ‘scoop,’ their front-page exposé of the National Security Agency’s secret program to monitor the electronic communications of potential terrorists, both domestically and internationally. The New York Times also broke the story of the SWIFT banking program—SWIFT is an acronym for an international banking consortium based in Belgium—the CIA and the Treasury Department were monitoring electronic banking activity of suspected terrorists, both domestically and internationally, with strict Congressional oversight, but the Times chose to break that news, to breach that secret—again, during a time of war. I think WikiLeaks sees the Times as an organization that is ready to be its publicist.”

The Wall Street Journal and CNN both turned down the same offer that The New York Times accepted, citing the confidentiality agreement that Assange insisted they agree to.

McGowan described WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as “a cyber-warrior against the United States—I mean, he’s gone on the record in several interviews, saying that his intention is to pull down the information infrastructure of the United States government, military and diplomatic wings.  The guy is kind of a crazed, mad genius Doctor Evil type, a power-mad, grandiose narcissist.  As to whether he’s prosecutable, that’s a legal question that still needs to be answered.  Certainly he’s prosecutable on what he’s currently being charged in Sweden for, which is rape involving two women.  Interpol has issued an arrest warrant for him, but as to the question of whether he can be prosecuted under U.S. laws, anti-terrorism or espionage laws, that’s sort of a gray area.  He’s not a citizen of the United States, and he’s not operating in the United States.  So I don’t know if the law is set up to get him.”

According to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, in an article in The Wall Street Journal, Assange, with the release of the State Department documents, “damages our national interests and puts innocent lives at risk. He should be vigorously prosecuted for espionage.” Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and a member of the Judiciary Committee, said that “The law Mr. Assange continues to violate is the Espionage Act of 1917. That law makes it a felony for an unauthorized person to possess or transmit ‘information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or the advantage of any foreign nation.’” She says the courts have held that this applies to both classified and unclassified material, and that each violation is punishable by up to 10 years.

Former CIA Director, Michael Hayden, who served in that position until February of 2009, and was also head of the National Security Agency, wrote a piece for CNN’s website in which he parceled out the blame. “There is, of course, the original leaker of the data,” he wrote, referring presumably to Pfc. Manning. “Then there is Julian Assange, whom I have described previously as ‘a dangerous combination of arrogance and incompetence.’ Listing global infrastructure sites that are critical and vulnerable is not transparency; it is perfidy.”

Hayden includes on his list, “which appeared to have been quite content to host the Wiki data on its servers until its cooperation was outed by a staffer to Sen. Joe Lieberman. The earlier decision to facilitate public access to American secrets and stolen property does not strike me as a particularly ambiguous situation or a close ethical call.”

Hayden took the unusual step, for a former CIA Director, of criticizing a sitting President. “I would also include the Obama administration, at least partially and indirectly,” he wrote. “Although the actual response to the leak has been criticized as a bit tepid and tardy, the White House clearly understands the damage being done.

“But it was the Obama campaign that made a fetish of openness and transparency, and both the candidate and Harold Koh (then dean of the Yale Law School and now the top lawyer at the State Department) railed against the allegedly excessive secrecy of the Bush administration.

“When President Obama decided to make public the details of a covert action of his predecessor —the CIA interrogation program—his spokesman defended the move as part of the president’s standing commitment to transparency. Things may look different now, but actions and rhetoric have consequences.”

He named The New York Times, as the “one U.S. news organization that has aggressively maneuvered to have early access to the Wiki dumps…The Times could have said no to partnering with Assange. But the Times decided instead to attach what exists of its prestige to Assange’s piratical enterprise, even though it had to obtain this latest WikiLeaks dump through a third party.

“The newspaper highlighted the disclosures so that they got the widest possible global coverage and then attempted to legitimate the whole affair.”

There have been a lot of fascinating revelations, many that have been largely overlooked by the media. For example, Sarah Stern of the Endowment for Middle East Peace has thanked Assange, for letting us “now know with one hundred per cent certitude what our instincts have been telling us for years: The Sunni Arab world, and in particular Saudi Arabia, despises and fears Iran, and their concerns for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is exceedingly far down their list of priorities, and has been used as a smokescreen to avoid making changes within their own regimes towards democracy, towards human rights and towards giving their people an infrastructure in which they are educated to truly actualize their potential as human beings.”

Adds Stern, “We now can finally and conclusively put an end to the philosophy of linkage between progress in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and progress in totally stopping the most destabilizing factor on the global scene today: the prospect of a nuclear Iran.”

So what else have these latest cables revealed?

Mary Anastasia O’Grady of The Wall Street Journal discovered a cable that made it clear that the U.S. knew Manuel Zelaya, then-president of Honduras, was a threat to democracy in Honduras and getting increasingly close to Venezuela’s socialist and dictatorial president Hugo Chavez, who is close to Iran’s tyrannical regime.

Another cable indicated that Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega was being financed by drug money. Ortega is the former Sandinista who was backed by the Soviets, who claimed to have reinvented himself as a more moderate leader, but his increasing ties to Chavez, and his profiting from the drug trade, belie that notion.

Michael Moore’s film “Sicko” is mentioned in a cable that came from a Bush diplomat, which said that even the Cubans found the film absurd, and therefore didn’t release it there, because the Cubans knew that his film was false about health care in Cuba, namely that it isn’t available to average people there. This was picked up by a number of papers, and Moore was outraged. This was false, he said, Bush propaganda. He claims the film did play there and it even aired nationally on television. So his defense is that the Communist regime of the Castro brothers decided to use his film as state approved propaganda, and to Michael Moore, that is something to be proud of.

Investor’s Business Daily deserves special recognition for their continuing coverage of the story through their editorials. For example: “Cyberwar: If there was ever any doubt WikiLeaks is a criminal enterprise, it has vanished now that hackers have attacked MasterCard, Visa and This is the work of organized crime, not spontaneous dissent.”

Cyberwar: As the U.S. shows itself to be a pitiful, helpless giant against WikiLeaks’ dissemination of its stolen secrets, the private sector has dealt some of the best blows against these crooks. There’s a lesson somewhere.”

Diplomacy: The Obama administration is minimizing the impact that publication of 251,000 stolen U.S. embassy cables will have on America’s foreign relations. Funny, that’s not how our overseas partners see it.

Andrew McCarthy, who successfully prosecuted the Blind Sheikh in the first World Trade Center bombing, writes columns for National Review Online, and blogs at NRO’s The Corner. He wrote that “But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that the First Amendment insulates the press and that Assange is a journalist. Even then, the protections of our Constitution would be unavailing. In large measure, the Constitution was adopted to secure the United States from foreign threats. The rights vouchsafed by it protect members of our national community from arbitrary government action. They are not a safe harbor for aliens outside our country whose only connection to our body politic is hostile.”

McCarthy argues that Julian Assange “should be indicted for espionage, and every effort should be made to extradite him to the United States. We may never get him to an American courtroom. But if we do, he is likely to be convicted.

“In the interim, he will bear the taint of a wanted outlaw, drastically diminishing WikiLeaks’ ability to raise funds, conduct business and further harm the United States.”

If it can be shown that Assange worked with Pfc. Manning to download all of this material, whether by providing technology, software or know-how, then the ability to prosecute Assange on a conspiracy charge becomes a much clearer path.

This happened on President Obama’s watch, and until the documents began implicating and exposing members of his administration as opposed to members of the Bush administration, there was little sense of urgency to go after WikiLeaks and to make sure this can’t happen again. But the first wave of State Department cables revealed that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been ordering American officials to spy on high ranking UN diplomats, including to obtain DNA data, credit card and frequent flier numbers.

With Assange’s army of volunteers and a small, loyal staff, he has created a new type of challenge for world diplomats. To many, WikiLeaks is a new form of media and a crusader for justice and transparency. But their actions are those of a criminal enterprise that has damaged the U.S. and its allies during its epic struggle against radical Islam.

Roger Aronoff is the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and is the writer/director of the award-winning documentary, “Confronting Iraq: Conflict and Hope.” He can be contacted at

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