Wikileaks: Freedom of the Press or National Security Threat?
During the past week, people who follow the news have been
hearing a lot about the whistleblower website Wikileaks and its decision to
release 250,000 diplomatic “cables,” or messages between diplomats, into the
public domain. These cables reveal damaging information regarding the
relationship of the
The US Government has criticized the website for releasing these classified documents and even threatened to investigate the military personnel responsible for the transfer of classified documents from military and diplomatic computers into the public domain. In spite of the threat of legal action, it appears that the Obama Administration does not have the power to prevent the release of such sensitive information. In 1971, the Supreme Court ruled in New York Times Co. vs US, also known as the Pentagon Papers case, that the United States Government must demonstrate that a “clear and present danger” exists in order to engage in prior restraint of a newspaper or other news outlet. In the case of the Pentagon Papers, the restraining order was lifted and the release of information about the Vietnam War was declared by the high court as having First Amendment protection of freedom of the press.
The Wikileaks dilemma brings this debate back to the
forefront of American diplomacy and statecraft. In the case of the Iraq War
logs, the release of sensitive military documents could endanger the lives of
American military and diplomatic personnel still in the Iraqi theater of war.
Moreover, documents that implicate American forces as having engaged in or
covered up crimes against humanity weaken American justification for the use of
force worldwide. Exposing the worst of
The release of a quarter-million diplomatic cables likewise
reveals the hypocrisy and duplicity of American operatives across the globe and
across the recent historical record. Nations that traditionally see themselves
as allies of the
There is a silver lining, though it may take many years and
even American lives to realize it. The level of transparency in which the US
Government must act may be increased. The sacrifice of operating in a world
where freedom of the press forces national and international actors to operate
in a way that allows for, as Woodrow Wilson called for in his Fourteen Points,
“open covenants openly arrived at.” The activities of the US Government, which
is seen as a vanguard of democracy and human rights around the world, must be
able to stand up to the scrutiny of an organization like Wikileaks, or else it
will continue to be exposed in bold-faced lies, backroom backstabbing, or in the
worst case, atrocities against innocent people.
George Cassutto's Cyberlearning World: