Tech Talk

Observations from Jamie DeLoma, journalist and computer nerd

Afghan War Diary: The 21st century’s Pentagon Papers?

|

A relatively unknown website has released what is comparable in size to the 1971 publication of the Pentagon Papers relating to the Vietnam War.

WikiLeaks, a three-year-old small nonprofit website, has posted more than 90,000 secret documents related to the American war in Afghanistan.

The documents include information about deals, armed conflicts, strategies, politics, intelligence operations and some casualties over the past six years, Mashable reports.

The Afghan War Diary, as the documents are collectively known, does not go into future military endeavors, Mashable reports — but rather contains old reports.

Not surprisingly, the White House, which reportedly learned of the postings from the news media, has condemned the release in a statement attributed to national security adviser James Jones:

“The United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security.”

While it remains uncertain how the leak might affect the future course of the war, benefit America’s enemies or influence the public’s opinion of the bloody conflict, one thing is certain: The site has demonstrated to the world’s governments that no information is safe from widespread dissemination. While in the past, government officials would simply have to convince a handful of news executives to hold a story, now anyone could post information for the masses — and encourage commenting.

“We believe that transparency in government activities leads to reduced corruption, better government and stronger democracies,” a statement on WikiLeaks asserts.

If transparency is what the site’s volunteer staff was hoping for, it appears to have received it. The site was slow and difficult to access — likely indicating a large influx in visitors as news of the documents raced around the world.

WikiLeaks made the news in the past for releasing videos of a helicopter attack called “Collateral Murder.” The site was criticized for not making clear that one of the men targeted was carrying a rocket-propelled grenade.

Tech Talk strongly supports protecting the public’s right to know, but only to the extent that the risk to human life is evaluated when weighing the decision to publish information. Sites like WikiLeaks have little incentive to do this — and are difficult to hold accountable.

While numerous media organizations have quoted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assage as saying that the documents’ “usefulness to NATO’s enemies in the battlefield should be limited” because of the documents’ age, only time will tell if his assertions are accurate.

Jamie DeLoma

Comments are closed.