The day Wikileaks changed the rules of the game
With Wikileaks and the case of the leaked documents from the war in Afghanistan, we are experiencing a transformative momentnot only in the history of modern journalism, but also in the debate about privacy and transparency, security and control, in business, political and even circles of the White House and the Pentagon. Until now, leaks were something known that from time to time caused internal debates in the newsrooms, but Julian Assange aboard his Wikileaks ship with transparency as a flag, has taken the media out of the way (pun intended) and exclaimed: here we are to show what has to be revealed.
Wikileaks is a website and an organization whose main mission is publish anonymous leaks of documents that would otherwise be hidden from the public eye, and preserve the anonymity of your sources. It has more than a million reports and does not have advertising, nor does it receive aid from any state; It survives thanks to donations. Wikileaks has been bringing to light reports that have compromised the credibility of governments, companies and religious organizations, such as Scientology, since December 2006. On that occasion they posted a document that would have been an assassination order for Somali government officials signed by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys. Although the authenticity of that particular document could never be fully verified, the following leaks were, which according to its founder, Julian Assange, are reviewed by a group of 5 full-time analystsspecialized in linguistic or programming areas, which also examine the identity and background of the source.
After several leaks, among which there were some that could have been described, in addition to being invasive, as unnecessary, such as those 500,000 mobile messages sent during the 9/11 attacks, wikileaks it was back on everyone’s lips, and after several days the debate continues.
On July 25, three of the most important international newspapers (The Guardian, Der Spiegel and The New York Times) published about the leak of 92 thousand secret documents on the war in Afghanistan. These records expose a much more devastating picture of the situation than was supposed: deaths of about 2,000 civilians until now not publicly known, US actions outside the law -such as secret units of military forces to hunt down or kill Taliban without trial– and the Pakistani involvement in the Taliban resistance. The documentation on the leak, considered one of the largest in history and compared to the Pentagon Papers, had been provided to these newspapers by Wikileaks, a few months before publishing it on its own page to make it available to those who wanted to review it.
And here comes what I find most interesting about the case and what is causing journalists, politicians and analysts to continue debating. Wikileaks could have posted the information as usual on its site, leaving it for the public to find later – which it did – but first made it available to these journalistic giants to contextualize it, to check the information and contact the parties. And on top of that, then he posted it on his site, becoming a decisive actor in guaranteeing two things: That data will be available to the public, and that the source is still protected by it.
Wikileaks decision it is historical and generous, and it changed the rules of the game. It is historic because we have long since reached a technological moment in which you no longer have to go to a large media outlet to publish somethingbut we have also reached a point where we do not want to miss out on all the experience and analysis that journalists can contribute of three prestigious media such as The Guardian, The New York Times and Der Spiegel. Wikileaks didn’t need to do it, but they chose to do it because of the value this could add to the information, and that’s why it’s generous. The fact that Assange has decided to give it to the media first, moreover, demonstrates her knowledge of it in the way the traditional media operates: in a New Yorker profile, lamented the general disinterest among journalists in covering big issues. “When everyone has access to the data, they don’t care about it,” she acknowledged.
The reactions by the Pentagon were typical of these cases, accusing Wikileaks of threatening national security and focusing, like much of the press, on the physical security of the names of informants that appeared in those records. It is hypocritical that some of those who support an operation in which thousands have died and probably will continue to die, worry about a few Afghan informants who could be implicated. (By the way, Assange said that, on the recommendation of the White House, he had asked the Pentagon for assistance in redacting the documents and removing the names of informants who might be at risk, but received no response, so they did what they could with their own resources).
In Kuwait he is detained Bradley Manningfor exposing the images where US troops shoot and kill several people, including a Reuters photographer. Although it is not yet proven if he was the one who leaked the documents, there is already a congressman asking for the death penalty for him. After a series of rumors launched to discredit Wikileaks, there are already those who ask for Assange’s head, even if this means going against international law.
Nick Davies, a journalist for The Guardian, singled out three things that could never have happened before the internet age: one, the US military building a huge database of sensitive military intelligence material from the last six years. Two, that many thousands of American soldiers had access to that electronic archive and that they could download copies. And three, that Wikileaks now has a copy that it publishes immediately on the Internet, through a series of global servers impossible to censor.
Four, I am going to add, that the Pentagon is beginning to be questioned not only by some crazy nomads who post something on the Internet (the first news organization without a country, as Jay Rosen has called them), but by three large media outlets such as The Guardian, Der Spiegel and the New York Times, while they in turn have in front of them an immense mass of readers who can go at any time to complete information. People begin to talk about the right to transparency and the actual information of all citizens as a public service, and this is now possible thanks to the Internet, to the large information distribution network that it has achieved, and to the people who, working in new or traditional media, seek above all things to tell the truth .