We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks



“If we are to produce more of a civilized society, it has to be based upon the truth…Every week, we achieve major victories in bringing the unjust to account and helping the just.” – Julian Assange, Founder of WikiLeaks. This documentary outlines the fundamental conflict between freedom of speech and the power and control that political forces have over the public. In the years after the 9/11 terrorist attack, the U.S. government started sharing information between different agencies, meaning that the government was keeping even more secrets from its citizens. The U.S. government expanded its operations to gather secrets on a massive scale, increasing the number of classified documents from 8 million to 76 million. The government also began to intercept phone calls and emails at a rate of 60,000 per second. “Nobody knows how much money is involved, it’s a secret. Not even Congress knows the entire budget.” J. William Leonard, U.S. Govt. “Classification Czar” for the Bush Administration, 200-2008 states: “The whole information environment has radically changed. Just like we produced more information than we ever produced in the history of mankind, we produce more secrets than we’ve ever produced in the history of mankind, and yet we never fundamentally reassessed our ability to control secrets.” This change in behaviour by the U.S. government is what allowed an Army intelligence analyst deployed to eastern Bagdad to steal over 500,000 classified documents on the Iraq war, the Afghan war, as well as State Department documents, exposing corruption, lies, and crimes committed by the U.S and leaking them to the organisation, WikiLeaks. “Exfiltrating possibly the “largest data pillage in American history” was carried out by a man called Bradley Manning, however he now goes by Chelsea Manning. In chat records, Manning states that, “i just… couldn’t let these things stay inside of my head… im just, weird i guess… i … care?” showcasing that he struggled with this decision to leak these government secrets, but felt that the public needed to know the truth and that this deserves to be public information, “information should be free”. Whilst Manning was carrying out the scary and dangerous act of leaking government secrets, he was also struggling with his identity stating, “I don’t know what to call myself”, sexual orientation was easy, he knew he was attracted to men, but he ultimately wanted to live life as a woman. He suffered from several mental breakdowns and had suicidal thoughts. Manning was turned in to the authorities by a known hacker Adrian Lamo, who Manning had reached out to during the time he was downloading the documents and built a relationship with him, he trusted him, but Lamo felt that what he was doing would endanger lives of those on the ground in the war. This resulted in Manning being charged with espionage. However, this didn’t stop the leak from happening. WikiLeaks teamed up with The Guardian, The New York Times and Domscheit- Berg in Berlin to publish the documents with The Guardian journalist who worked on the leaks with Assange, Nick Davies saying: “This was the biggest leak of secret material in the history of this particular planet.” Although these organizations and people published the documents, redaction had to be made in order to conceal identities of people involved in these sorts of criminal and unjust activates, as revealing their names could endanger their lives whilst on the ground in the war. This decision on redactions being made raised the conflict in Assange’s radical approach and the ultimate goal of transparency and accountability, and the ethics of journalism. The Swedish government’s rape allegations against Assange were considered a “smear campaign” and it was alleged that the Swedish government had conspired with the U.S. government in order to charge Assange. With Assange being the primary face of WikiLeaks, thus the primary face responsible for these leaks (as well as Manning when he was turned in) making him a prime target for both the media and also politically. These leaks uncovered frightening and shocking criminal acts committed by people as high up as the President of the United States, Barack Obama, as it revealed that he sanctioned the handing over of prisoners of war, Iraqi detainees, to the Iraqi authorities who the U.S. government knew to torture their detainees. This went against the Geneva Convention, meaning that the President of the United States had committed war crimes. After the State Department documents were leaked, which impacted every relationship the U.S. has with other countries around the world, the U.S. essentially declared war on Julian Assange and Julian Assange alone, labelling him a “blackmail extortionist terrorist”. Although I ultimately agree with the actions of WikiLeaks and their mission to allow all information to be public, the motives that guide Assange’s quest for the supposed “truth”, with a goal of “transparency” and creating a “just” world can be called into question as I often realised whilst watching this documentary that he thrived from the celebrity this gave him, the power, the prestige. He was seen as a God, a hero, powerful by millions of people – and he loved it. Therefore, I wonder if Assange’s ego has become to inflated to the detriment that his initial goal is now void, in his quest for more power, hiding behind WikiLeaks. Journalist James Ball who worked for a time as a spokesperson for WikiLeaks when Assange was underground puts it best by saying: The internet in a digital era lets governments get more information ad more power and more communication than they’ve ever had before. But, it lets citizens do the same. Governments are more powerful and more vulnerable at exactly the same time. The fight on our hands is: Who gets to control the internet? Who gets to control information.” Overall, the limitations that we as the public experience every second of the day from the media and the government is staggering and it is the internet that has allowed these lines to be cleared and for us to be able to see the truth – to have the information that they don’t want us to have.  

Natasha Perkin

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