WikiLeaks and the Damage Done

Critics of WikiLeaks have no affirmative proof that the release of tens of thousands of classified documents has gotten anyone killed. The truth is that we'll likely never know.

Glenn Greenwald argues, correctly, that critics of WikiLeaks have no affirmative proof that the release of tens of thousands of classified documents has gotten anyone killed.

Even the Pentagon admits that there is no evidence whatsoever to support Carroll’s factual claims.  From The Washington Post, August 11:  “‘We have yet to see any harm come to anyone in Afghanistan that we can directly tie to exposure in the WikiLeaks documents,’ [Pentagon spokesman Geoff] Morrell said.”  It’s plausible to speculate that WikiLeaks’ disclosure creates some risk of future harm, but to assert that “American and Afghani people” have been killed by such disclosures is just a total fabrication.

Even though I vehemently disagree with Glenn about the propriety of Julian Assange’s project, this is exactly right.

My argument, which I made less effectively than I’d have liked on a joint al Jazeera appearance with Greenwald on the subject, is that the risk is quite palpable and amounts to reckless endangerment.   The fact of the matter that neither Assange nor Greenwald nor myself have the slightest idea what the consequences of releasing the documents are or will be; we simply lack access to the necessary information.   And, even if we had it — which is, after all, Assange’s averred goal — we don’t have the training and experience to know what to do with it.

Given that a very real risk exists, I prefer people who have the most information and training in weighing the consequences — our military and intelligence community professionals, under direction of elected policymakers — make the call rather than untrained activists with an axe to grind.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Brummagem Joe says:

    On the morning when the NYT’s lead story is about the CIA’s relationship (they are on the payroll apparently) with some of the most corrupt figures in the Karzai administration while the administration and the Pentagon are claiming that the elimination of corruption is central to our success in Afghanistan, it’s hard to take the leaking of these docs very seriously. In fact I go as far as to say they are performing a public service. One or two publications have fairly lengthy abstracts of these docs which have only been reviewed soundbite fashion by the mainstream media and contrary to the ho hum reaction that we know all about this the contents are fairly appalling. The similarity to what happened in Vietnam is uncanny. Incompetence, abuses of civilians condoned or covered up the US, conflicting strategies, misapplied resources, widespread corruption, it’s deja vu all over again. It’s quite possible these leaks will have some negative impact on our efforts in Afghanistan but in the general scheme of things it’s fairly trivial by comparison with our own contribution to this shambles.   

  2. Eric Florack says:

    it strikes me that the only risk here is to someone’s political future.  The volume with which these leaks get protested is apparently a product of whose political future we’re talking about.
     
    To wit: It strikes me as nothing short of amazing that the ones that are screaming the loudest about these leaks right now, are the ones who in a historical perspective have no problems whatsoever with the pentagon papers for example.
     
     

  3. James Joyner says:

    It strikes me as nothing short of amazing that the ones that are screaming the loudest about these leaks right now, are the ones who in a historical perspective have no problems whatsoever with the pentagon papers for example.

    I don’t think that’s right. Most of the critics of Wikileaks, myself included, are from the right.  The left seems much more enthusiastic for throwing our classified documents into the open, for our enemies to see.

  4. Eric Florack says:

    Unless, per chance, there’s a leftist running things. I suspect the screaming in support of Wikileaks to be a lot louder but for the Dim Won being in the WH.