Wikileaks has hit the headlines again this month. Among thousands of other leaks, the “whistle-blower” website claims that US diplomats referred to Russia as a “mafia state” ridden with pervasive corruption, bribery and protection scams. One leak claimed that in Russia, Belarus and Chechnya, “one cannot differentiate between the activities of the Government and OC [organized crime] groups.” Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir Putin, told CNN that there may be “political purposes” behind the leaks but they were not a catastrophic disaster.
But what exactly is Wikileaks? The controversial non-for-profit website first appeared online in December 2006. It says that it aims to bring the truth to the public and to create a more transparent society. It offers individuals and journalists an opportunity to submit sensitive – even classified or illegally gained – data safely and anonymously, so that the organization can make the material public. Wikileaks is funded by “human rights campaigners, investigative journalists, technologists and the general public.” The site now hosts more than one million documents. Anyone can submit information to Wikileaks. It asserts that a team of researchers analyzes each submission to gauge its authenticity before publishing it online.
In November, Wikileaks published approximately 400,000 documents concerning events in Iraq after the 2003 invasion. Earlier this year, the website posted 90,000 US military intelligence records about the war in Afghanistan. In perhaps one of the most shocking revelations, in April 2010, Wikileaks released a video that depicted a US Apache helicopter opening fire on a group of people, killing at least 12 – including two Reuters journalists – during an attack in Baghdad in 2007. Official reactions in the US include anger over the threats these leaks pose to national security and concerns that the revelations gravely endanger the lives of people who confidentially assisted in the fight against terrorism.
In a lighter moment, when asked about the reaction of foreign leaders to Wikileaks’ revelations of US diplomats unflattering reports about them, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “In my conversations, at least one of my counterparts said to me, ‘Well, don’t worry about it, you should see what we say about you’.”
What is your opinion of Wikileaks? Does it enable transparency, promulgate human rights and aid investigative journalism? Or does it present a grave security risk to individuals and nations?
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