Wikileaks Afghan War Document Leak Again Raises Questions: Treason Or Whistleblowing?

from the depends-on-who-you-ask dept

A few weeks back, as part of our discussion on the arrest of Bradley Manning for handing over classified documents to Wikileaks, we questioned where to draw the line between "whistleblowing" and "criminal" leaking of military secrets. At the time, we compared the situation to Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. With the the new leak of nearly 100,000 documents about the war in Afghanistan, that same question is getting a lot more attention.

Ellsberg says that the leak is no different than the Pentagon Papers. Both involved massive leaks that showed a government was not being entirely forthright with the public about the status of a war. Others in that article suggest there are some key differences, in the lack of any smoking gun of direct lying by the government (in the latest case, it was more about just not telling the full truth), as well as the scattershot nature of the content. But that's no matter to some grandstanding politicians, like Rep. Pete King who were quick to call the leak treasonous and demand prosecution of those involved (he seems to imply that he believes Manning leaked these documents, though no one has said that conclusively yet).

Of course, that was the strategy taken by the Nixon White House in response to the Pentagon Papers -- to attack the messenger. It looks like the Obama White House is taking a rather different response. While worrying about how the leaks could "jeopardize" people or operations on the ground, the White House is actually trying to turn the few revelations into an advantage, by claiming that the information revealed support the strategy the military has taken under his watch. Whether that's true or not, this actually does seem like the type of response that could diffuse the criticism much faster than simply screaming "traitor!"

Of course, some of the revelations, such as the news that the US was paying Afghani press people to run positive stories about the US don't look good at all, no matter how you spin them.

On the whole, it seems like the debate about whether this is "whistleblowing" or "traitorous" behavior misses the point. The fact is, information like this is going to get out -- probably at an increasing rate. The real question is how does the government and the military learn to function in a society where information is a lot more open and free.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2010 @ 4:12pm

    I see this as an opportunity to be more transparent, people do understand that wars cause pain and suffering and they have a high threshold for it if necessary, but they will not be as forgiving for people who hide things and lie to them.

    This was not a leak of tactical positions, technical realities or other kind of stuff that could cause real damage.

    Decision making people should know by now that they need the little guy's to be on-board all the way, because it is them who have to do all the work.

    The way to accomplish that is being transparent and honest with the people.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2010 @ 4:14pm

    BTW I don't think Obama is a great leader, he is more of a follower.

     

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    out_of_the_blue, Jul 28th, 2010 @ 4:22pm

    That's not the question raised.

    Whether the criminals in gov't get away with war crimes is the question. The initial, enabling war crime was of course the illegal invasions based on a pack of lies, and all since are crimes.

     

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      Bubba Gump (profile), Jul 28th, 2010 @ 4:28pm

      Re: That's not the question raised.

      Illegal invasions? Pack of lies? I'm sorry, what planet do you live on?

      Sorry to flame you like this, but your incendiary statements are way out of line.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2010 @ 4:31pm

      Re: That's not the question raised.

      Afghanistan != Iraq.

      Afghanistan actually was harbouring a hostile force and they found a lot of proof for that.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2010 @ 4:42pm

        Re: Re: That's not the question raised.

        Give them enough time and Wikileaks will prove they didn't find anything.

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2010 @ 6:30pm

        Re: Re: That's not the question raised.

        What hostile force? A couple of deranged rebels with AKs? In case you haven't realized, the USA has bigger problems coming in DAILY from it's southern borders. And, in case you haven't noticed, there is a drug war going on in that same neighbor country, a war that could easily spread to the US.

         

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          Eugene (profile), Jul 28th, 2010 @ 8:24pm

          Re: Re: Re: That's not the question raised.

          The Taliban is hardly a couple of deranged rebels with AKs. Aside from the massive scale difference, one of the major differences is that drug lords - no matter how successful - are doomed to work outside the government (in the rare instances where they get in, the government in question is so weak as to be irrelevant, when they're not, they find a way to quickly remove said individual). The Taliban, on the other hand, have the benefit of a heavily revised form of Islam to back them up morally, and a government that's just barely strong enough to be effective. If the UN wasn't there helping Afghanistan remove the Taliban, they'd be in charge. The Taliban are just REALLY convincing (and REALLY violent if you aren't convinced). The danger here is we could end up with an entire country that openly supports terrorists. Not covertly, not half-heartedly, and not just under certain narrow definitions (like how Hamas gets away with existing), but completely. The evidence that this could happen is incredibly strong, and it's kinda hard to argue that it's anything but a horrible outcome.

          The problem of Mexican drug lords is a major one, but it's a different problem.

          You should keep in mind that when comparing two problems, if one is much worse than another...that doesn't mean we should ignore the lesser to fix the larger. That's just irresponsible. We should fix both. We're a collective, not a single person.

           

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2010 @ 4:38pm

    Treason.

     

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    Trails (profile), Jul 28th, 2010 @ 4:49pm

    Mike, gotta disagree with you..

    "Of course, some of the revelations, such as the news that the US was paying Afghani press people to run positive stories about the US don't look good at all, no matter how you spin them. "

    Really? Strikes me as kinda smart. I wonder if the stories they ran were true with embellishments or pure fabrication, but it's not a bad idea. It's propaganda, for sure, but the NATO effort in Afghanistan needs propaganda.

     

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      nonanonymous, Jul 28th, 2010 @ 5:04pm

      Re: Mike, gotta disagree with you..

      Say what? Explain how it's a good idea for Afghanis to find out that the "good" stories they have been reading in their local papers are embellished or outright lies?

       

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        cc (profile), Jul 28th, 2010 @ 5:55pm

        Re: Re: Mike, gotta disagree with you..

        It's good in the same way as it's good when our governments spread lies through the media and some brave soul blows the whistle.

         

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2010 @ 6:23pm

      Re: Mike, gotta disagree with you..

      That kind of propaganda and psychological warfare can backfire badly once people find out that they were lied to.

      Imagine yourself in that position. Your supposed "saviors" LIED to you. Who can you trust?

       

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      David (profile), Jul 29th, 2010 @ 9:01am

      Re: Mike, gotta disagree with you..

      There will be a time in this country when the majority will know a propagandist is worse than a terrorist. And you should already know the ends don't justify the means.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2010 @ 5:14pm

    Personally, as I see it whistleblow companies or govt run domestic stuff, never seems to me to be a good idea to reveal anything even remotely related to foreign conflict. Then again nationalism is decaying

     

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      TtfnJohn (profile), Jul 28th, 2010 @ 7:01pm

      Re:

      "Then again nationalism is decaying"

      Damn good thing that.

      I assume that you never heard the truism that the "shortest kept secrets are military ones" and that they're even shorter in areas of active conflict. Reality not some nationalist illusion.

      I'm not about to excuse poor decision making by government and outright lying by the same on the fact that my country is fighting a war. Nor should I nor should I be expected to shield said government should I find the evidence.

      Believe me, AC, it's not like the enemy doesn't already know. They do. Long before this leak, the insurgents, Taliban and others knew.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2010 @ 5:16pm

    IMO opinion the revelations are suggesting that most of these documents shouldn't have been classified to begin with and that the US government continues to keep too much secret. Not buying into the whole treason/whistleblowing thing so much. See it as an argument to scale back on the whole classify everything mentality.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2010 @ 6:45pm

    I don't understand what is the American government so freaked about. Would revealing the content of the "secret documents" expose any sort of vulnerability? If that is true, maybe your government should focus on fixing those vulnerabilities, instead of going around shouting "Traitor!".

    The biggest traitors are in the government itself.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2010 @ 6:45pm

    I don't understand what is the American government so freaked about. Would revealing the content of the "secret documents" expose any sort of vulnerability? If that is true, maybe your government should focus on fixing those vulnerabilities, instead of going around shouting "Traitor!".

    The biggest traitors are in the government itself.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2010 @ 7:07pm

    I think the govt is making a big issue out of nothing. These days the mailman is a top secret employee possessing highly classified military information that could be a threat to national security. It's become a whole bureaucracy of secretiveness over nothing. The reports didn't really tell us anything we don't already know, the war in Afghanistan is a failure, etc... all stuff we already knew. Boring boring boring. Now lets classify these discussions on techdirt because they are top secret and we don't want terrorists to read them. You know, they could use it for something.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2010 @ 7:36pm

      Re:

      and even back in the days when the Japanese-Americans were put in containment camps they used to have these entire cartoons against giving away state secrets (I believe Warner Brothers worked with the govt to create them). They were afraid that anyone around a military base can magically know military secrets and accidentally leak them to Hitler or something and cartoons used to depict characters, including Donald Duck, being tempted to give a state secret to some gorgeous female duck who was secretly working for Hitler and it would depict the unpatriotic nature of giving away these secrets. I remember seeing one where one cartoon duck was given a mickey by this female duck figure and, with Hitler listening in. After the duck realizing what he had done, he shot himself (the first shot somehow missed, lol), portraying the message that giving away a state secret should make you ashamed enough to kill yourself and should be punishable by death. As if normal citizens could magically figure out these secrets and accidentally give them away. Normal Japanese Americans had letters written to family members in Japanese taken away from them and burned during the time of the confinement camps under the threat that they could somehow posses state secrets (not to mention the confiscation of Japanese assets), as if by virtue of living in America you somehow could magically know secrets despite having no military association. It's all a bunch of overly exaggerated government hysteria as usual.

       

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    ofb2632 (profile), Jul 28th, 2010 @ 8:14pm

    I think that if the person that submitted all the documents listened to his conscience, then it is a whistle-blower. Sometimes you have to do the right thing even if/when you know it will change your life for the worst. He had a very hard decision to make. People go thru life with blinders on, letting others make all the very hard decisions. Before you label him/her as a traitor, ask yourself this... Did he uncover mass illegal acts? If that answer is yes, stop labeling him a traitor. Don't say 'well, its the government', or anything like that. The government should be held just as accountable as they try and hold other governments. IF the proverbial shoe fits.

    If you can turn a blind eye on what the military and the 'contractors' are doing over there, then i feel very sorry for you. Every person knows right from wrong.. Just because the government does something, it does not mean it is always right. As people and citizens of this great country, we are required by the constitution and our forefathers to question everything. We deserve real answers and should not settle for less.

     

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    Sully, Jul 28th, 2010 @ 8:15pm

    Treason - period

    Looking at the word treason, I see the following definition:
    - a crime that undermines the offender's government
    - disloyalty by virtue of subversive behavior
    - treachery: an act of deliberate betrayal

    This is cut and dry treason. Somebody leaked these classified documents. Regardless of what the documents say or indicate, they were classified. By their classified nature, I believe that anybody who then provided these documents to anybody without clearance to view these docs is guilty of treason.

    The content of these classified documents doesn't even come into the argument of whether the act of providing these classified documents is an act of treason.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2010 @ 9:41pm

      Re: Treason - period

      Whatever it is it shouldn't be illegal.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 29th, 2010 @ 3:44pm

      Re: Treason - period

      Looking at the word treason, I see the following definition:
      - a crime that undermines the offender's government
      - disloyalty by virtue of subversive behavior
      - treachery: an act of deliberate betrayal


      By that definition, Congress is treasonous.

       

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    Troll, Jul 28th, 2010 @ 10:50pm

    Don't understand what the fuss is all about. But I guess I will say something about Obama sucking cocks. Simply not true. Not true at aall. He just sucks balls and his response proved it. Trying to put a positive twist to a story where people know he is totally lying.

     

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    okwhen, Jul 28th, 2010 @ 11:14pm

    Wikileaks Afghan War Document Leak Again Raises Questions: Treason Or Whistleblowing?

    Twenty eight comments and I thought the majority of people would simply bypass this article all together. We have hero’s risking their livelihood and lives to reveal the truth and so far only twenty nine people commented. This is precisely why the two ridiculous war started and continue to this day. People have their heads up their asses and only worried about their next purchase from WalMart a.k.a. China a communist country, God bless the USA.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 28th, 2010 @ 11:17pm

    lol, you have no clue how any piece of information can be used by the enemy to stir up more ammo to bolster their position, its not a whole report, its every tiny piece, when put together, gives you the big picture, this is treason, arrest them all

     

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    NAMELESS.ONE, Jul 29th, 2010 @ 3:43am

    is htis manning realted to preston maning?

    ya know up in canada, by any chance

     

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    Matt Polmanteer (profile), Jul 29th, 2010 @ 7:20am

    When Good Men Do Nothing

    "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing"

    He didn't give away troop positions, he didn't give them military technology, he wasn't trying to aid an opposing force. He was simply bringing truth to the situation, which obviously nobody really wanted to hear especially our gov't. I know this is a tricky situation because we are at war, but I can't see this treasonous. If the gov't head been doing its job properly and in a transparent manner he wouldn't have needed to do this. Sometimes the truth hurts but it's time for the American people to start taking responsibility for what our gov't does in our name.

     

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    A, Jul 29th, 2010 @ 8:01am

    All of us want a more transparent society.

    Citzens say Government is not transparent. How many of us can claim they really know how Wikileaks function?

    People say they want Obama to account for every dollar. Till today, Wikileaks has not published any broad accounts of the money donated to it.

    The anti war movement says the military is callous towards human lives. Today, BBC published an article which shows that Wikileaks put the names of Aghan informers on their site. If caught, these guys will be killed and their families ostracized.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-10800136

    Wikileaks is an idea whose time has come. But to me it seems that this ideal has been hijacked by few men who are not that different to some of our elected representatives.

    We can vote out Obama. But like many old media houses, the Wikileaks founder will stay because he controls all the power in that organization.

    Before I am accused of cynicism, I think our society is much better than it was 20 years ago. And will be much better 10 years down the track. But we have to keep both our Government and Wikilekas accountable for their actions.

     

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      Montezuma (profile), Jul 29th, 2010 @ 2:23pm

      Re:

      How is our society better now than it was 20 years ago? Point to something that even hints to such a fact. How will it get any better in 10 years? It seems that voters, and the public in general, are masochistic...at best. How do you plan to hold sites like Wikileaks "accountable"?

      It is good to talk about these issues, but there has to be clear and concise options for fixing these issues. We cannot just say, "oh, we need to fix this and that", yet never arrive a any good options. This is why the United States is quickly failing and it is a sad that this is happening to such a great country.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 5th, 2010 @ 8:11pm

      Re:

      "Till today, Wikileaks has not published any broad accounts of the money donated to it."

      There is a difference between a private site that takes voluntary donations and doesn't demand laws that affect everyone and doesn't demand money (taxes) from everyone that it uses to go to war with and a government that does. A tax demanding government requires more transparency than a private entity/business that does not demand money from us.

       

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    Montezuma (profile), Jul 29th, 2010 @ 2:14pm

    This is a violation of the law: So, Treason

    Classified information, no matter how trivial or unimportant, cannot be released to those without the proper clearance and reason to know, unless it is first declassified by the proper authorities. There are proper channels for those that see illegal actions in classified material, and Wikileaks is not one of them. The fact is that this is treason by definition, but I doubt the solider involved will be charged with treason.

    While some of the released information might not hurt U.S. troops or the U.S. in general, there might be some information that will harm the U.S. and/or our troops by giving away locations, troop movements, or any number of things the U.S. does not need the enemy knowing. I believe that the solider that released this information should be hung for this and that Julian Assange should be arrested and held until all information is turned back to the U.S. He should be tried and convicted for crimes against the U.S.

    If you are in a position to handle classified information, keep it to yourself. If you see something illegal, then you contact the proper authorities. If they fail to act, then you check for the other option available to you. There is always someone you can go to that will properly deal with any problems a person might observe. The fact is that this solider was probably trying to act all cool and failed miserably.

    Wikileaks only interest is to bash governments and promote the organizations flat-out anti-war policy. If Russia were to directly invade the United States, Wikileaks would be bashing Russia for the invasion(well, maybe) and the United States for protecting itself. People disagree, people hate, war is inevitable and Julian Assange needs to deal with it. As long as humans live on this planet, wars will occur.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 29th, 2010 @ 3:48pm

      Re: This is a violation of the law: So, Treason

      There are proper channels for those that see illegal actions in classified material, and Wikileaks is not one of them.

      Yeah, I think the name for the usual "proper channel" is "cover-up".

       

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    Gene Cavanaugh, Jul 29th, 2010 @ 3:44pm

    The wikileaks

    Right on!

    I have held virtually every security clearance we offer; "Q"
    (never heard of it? Nuclear), "top secret", "secret". No, I never held a White House clearance, but .....

    The primary purpose of secrecy laws are to protect the guilty. I could give concrete examples, but in our paranoid society, who would listen?

    Manning, et al, are heroes to me.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 29th, 2010 @ 4:29pm

      Re: The wikileaks

      The primary purpose of secrecy laws are to protect the guilty. I could give concrete examples, but in our paranoid society, who would listen?

      I could too, but if I did I might be charged with treason.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 29th, 2010 @ 4:24pm

    Hit List

    What do you want to bet that the name "Julian Assange" has now been added to that special forces hit list?

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2010 @ 3:17pm

      Re: Hit List

      "What do you want to bet that the name "Julian Assange" has now been added to that special forces hit list?"

      I've read that he has indeed received information that he is on a government assassination hit list and that as a result he never sleeps in the same place two nights in a row.

       

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    Cody, Jul 30th, 2010 @ 2:16pm

    Anonymous coward you are an idiot

    Obviously you are not military Anonymous Coward. Yet our brave soldiers fight in the trenches of hell so you may naively run your mouth on your macbook and drink your latte. Every piece of information, even unclassified information is to be protected form our enemies or you endanger lives. Loose lips really do sink ships. You are ignorant and I wish we could bring one soldier home and send your retarded ass, but you'd only endanger more lives. Keep your mouth shut and go rally somewhere with the dixie chicks and sean penn. TRAITOR!

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 30th, 2010 @ 3:33pm

      Re: Anonymous coward you are an idiot

      Obviously you are not military Anonymous Coward.

      OK, anonymous Cody, what is your evidence for that conclusion? If you have none, then that is evidence that you are the ignorant one for it is ignorant to form conclusions without evidence. You see, not all soldiers are neo-fascists that only joined the military for the benefits and because they like killing. Some actually care about democracy, truth and freedom.

      TRAITOR!

      Maybe democracy, truth and freedom are traitorous goals in your country, but not in the USA (yet).

       

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    elizabeth allen, Aug 9th, 2010 @ 7:54am

    Wikileaks should be heros

    If not for Wikileaks we the people wouldnt know that our military is killing innocent people. Slaughtering them without trial, without out civil rights. If not for Wikileaks the major corporate news networks who NEVER did their job in informing the public about any of this knowledge.

     

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