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WikiLeaks Debate: Publication of Classified Information Dangerous or Valuable?

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(Wolff v. Lucas)

By CESRAN | 21 December 2010


 

Scott-Lucas_stefan_wolff1 The University of Birmingham, as part of a new series in which academics comment on contemporary issues, brought Professor Stefan Wolff and Professor Scott Lucas together to debate the merits and dangers of the WikiLeaks documents.
Do We Allow the Government to Re-Assert Unchecked and Unquestioned Control?
By Prof. Scott Lucas | 21 December 2010
 
“In the Category of Irony….
The US State Department announced on Tuesday that it will host UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day event in 2011, “to champion the free flow of information on the Internet”. On the same day, the US Government was pressing companies including Amazon, PayPal, MasterCard and a major Swiss bank, to withdraw technical, communications and financial services from WikiLeaks in the hope that it would knock the website out of existence.
The immediate “crisis” is WikiLeaks’ possible release of more than 250,000 cables from US Embassy. Less than 1000 have been published so far, but already there is a wealth of material about the day-to-day realities and complications of US foreign policy in the public domain. These are the documents that expose the deals, deceptions and diplomatic manoeuvres that are made.

There are three snap responses from those criticising the release of the information.T he first is that the publication of the cables jeopardises “national security”. The second objection is the more substantive one – that the cables will complicate the practice of diplomacy.
The third, and most serious, is that sources will be endangered by the release, with their governments discovering their identities and exacting retribution – although this claim is usually made by a critic who has not yet read the documents.
 

What makes WikiLeaks so dangerous?
By Prof. Stefan Wolff | 21 December 2010
 
Misguided, irresponsible, reprehensible—these are just some of the ways in which the latest set of releases on WikiLeaks has been described by its critics. But is this more than hurt pride and should we really care one way or another?
At some level, probably not: thus far, for anyone following international affairs, there is very little surprising or new material beyond what most of us either already knew or suspected. There is a problem with organised crime in Russia? The Chinese are fed up with North Korea? The Saudis are opposed to an Iranian bomb? The Iraqi government are more scared of the Saudis than the Iranians? The US is too laissez-faire about the crisis in Georgia in the run-up to the 2008 war? Chris Patten is sceptical about the EU ever becoming a real power? It does not take a genius to figure any of this out.
But publicly confirmed knowledge of these issues is only half the story, for putting this knowledge in the public domain has consequences. On the one hand, it makes the stand of those who go against the grain much harder, including in their own societies or cultures. How is exposing leading Arab politicians for taking a rather grim view on the Iranian nuclear programme going to help to prevent a very dangerous escalation in the Middle East and beyond? Will North Korea now suddenly play nice knowing that its only real supposed ally has had about enough?

Perhaps more importantly, and contrary to all WikiLeaks assurances, the release of confidential diplomatic cables puts at risk the lives of people who are the source of the information that is being released.

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