When Sweden-based web site WikiLeaks released long-sought video
of a 2007 Baghdad incident that ended in the deaths of several Iraqi
civilians and two Reuters journalists, it provoked a firestorm of coverage
. But beyond the coverage of the U.S. military's controversial actions and
cover-up, much attention has fallen on the group that started this in the first place.
What is WikiLeaks, exactly? How did they get this video, what did they hope to accomplish, and what role are they playing in the global
conversation into which they've just injected themselves?
WikiLeaks Publishes The BBC reports, "Anyone can submit to
WikiLeaks anonymously, but a team of reviewers - volunteers from the
mainstream press, journalists and WikiLeaks staff - decides what is
published." It claims to host over a million documents. WikiLeaks
Director Julian Assange tells them, "We use advanced cryptographic
techniques and legal techniques to protect sources." BBC reports that
WikiLeaks relies on permissive web hosting laws in Sweden and Iceland to
Repository, Independent Journalism, or Open-Source Spies? The New
York Times' Noam Cohen and Brian Stelter evaluate, "With the Iraq attack video, the clearinghouse for sensitive
documents is edging closer toward a form of investigative journalism and
to advocacy." However, WikiLeaks' Assange tells them, "That’s arguably
what spy agencies do — high-tech investigative journalism. ... It’s time
that the media upgraded its capabilities along those lines." As for the
group's size, "Today there is a core group of five full-time
volunteers, according to
Daniel Schmitt, a site spokesman, and there are 800 to 1,000 people whom
the group can call on for expertise in areas like encryption,
programming and writing news releases."
- WikiLeaks' Potent Combination Wired's Nathan Hodge sees that the
"website dedicated to anonymous leaks has become a venue for a more
traditional model of investigative reporting. 'In terms of journalism
efficiency, I think we discovered a lot with a small amount of
resources,' Assange said. Combining leaked material and sending
reporters into the field, he added, was a 'powerful combination.'"
Future of Journalism Foreign Policy's Jonathan Stray explains
why. "No traditional journalism organization was able to bring it to
the public, as these tapes are normally classified; Reuters filed an
FOIA request but never received a response." But WikiLeaks is not just a
"passive" repository for leaks. "They cultivate and protect anonymous
sources, verify submitted materials, add context, and promote important
leaks. ... It prints no paper, but instead stores its articles online in
Sweden, where journalists are required by law not to reveal sources. ...
Wikileaks, however, makes no bones about its desire to advance a
political message, promising sources that their material will be used
for 'maximal political impact.'"
- Can Challenge Governments That
Reporters Can't TechPresident's Nancy Scola notes, "Wikileaks
reach, amorphousness, and willingness to protect its sources come what
may has raised the ire of some governments; it was recently revealed --
on Wikileaks, naturally -- that the government of Australia had included the clearinghouse
on a blacklist of websites that it was considering banning in the
- Proves Newspapers Are Irrelevant TechDirt's Mike Masnick scoffs, "there's no doubt
that the release of the video is a journalistic scoop. And yet, we keep
being told that if newspapers fail, no one will be left to do
investigative journalism? So what were the traditional journalists doing
to get this story?"
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