What happens when your data is leaked online? What happens when that data contradicts the official reports of a powerful government? What happens if that data is about a war, and the war is currently being fought?
Welcome to Wikileaks — an online site used by journalists and whistleblowers that provides public access to very private government, military, and corporate documents via an ISP in Sweden. WikiLeaks has no official headquarters, five full-time staff, about 800 occasional contributors, keeps no records, and uses military grade encryption to protect its sources and files.
Why does this organization matter? Because Wikileaks has just released new documents about the war in Iraq.
At 5pm EST Friday 22nd October 2010 WikiLeaks released the largest classified military leak in history. The 391,832 reports (‘The Iraq War Logs’), document the war and occupation in Iraq, from 1st January 2004 to 31st December 2009 (except for the months of May 2004 and March 2009) as told by soldiers in the United States Army. Each is a ‘SIGACT’ or Significant Action in the war. They detail events as seen and heard by the US military troops on the ground in Iraq and are the first real glimpse into the secret history of the war that the United States government has been privy to throughout.
The reports detail 109,032 deaths in Iraq, comprised of 66,081 ‘civilians’; 23,984 ‘enemy’ (those labeled as insurgents); 15,196 ‘host nation’ (Iraqi government forces) and 3,771 ‘friendly’ (coalition forces). The majority of the deaths (66,000, over 60%) of these are civilian deaths.That is 31 civilians dying every day during the six year period. For comparison, the ‘Afghan War Diaries’, previously released by WikiLeaks, covering the same period, detail the deaths of some 20,000 people. Iraq during the same period, was five times as lethal with equivallent population size.
The New York Times posted, analyzed and summarized some of the documents released by Wikileaks, although the reporter noted that they did so with Pentagon knowledge, and only after redacting names and any other information that might jeopardize military operations.
As it did with the Afghan war logs, The Times has redacted or withheld any documents that would put lives in danger or jeopardize continuing military operations. Names of Iraqi informants, for example, have not been disclosed. WikiLeaks said that it has also employed teams of editors to scrub the material for posting on its Web site.
The New York Times told the Pentagon which specific documents it planned to post and showed how they had been redacted. The Pentagon said it would have preferred that The Times not publish any classified materials but did not propose any cuts. Geoff Morrell, the Defense Department press secretary, strongly condemned both WikiLeaks and the release of the Iraq documents.
What is your opinion of Wikileaks? Is it a bastion for government, corporate, and military transparency, or does the organization provide too much information at the expense of military operations, including the lives of troops and informants?
Added: 28 October 2010
I’ve included some links below to the controversy over the names and information released in the WikiLeaks documents. Some of the controversies are internal to WikiLeaks itself.