Sunday, December 5, 2010

Julian Assange and his dangerous baby

A new McCarthyism? - WikiLeaks v. the world

This one is huge, guys. There's really too much to write about concisely, and some of the best information has come from reading dramatically varied opinion pieces from all sides of the issue.

Some basic questions: is Julian Assange (WikiLeaks' founder and public face) a terrorist for publishing classified information he does not own, or is he a free speech hero?

Assange has been editorializing, intentionally 'stirring the pot' for political impact by adding titles to videos, teasing for upcoming releases, dropping huge amounts of data at critical times, and giving multiple global publications advance access to the documents (essentially forcing them to publish). Does this make him a journalist?

If the U.S. wanted to try Assange in court (assuming they can catch him), on what grounds could he be prosecuted? The Espionage Act of 1917? (Don't forget, he's Australian). Would 1st Amendment free speech or free press arguments protect him? What about the NYTimes? If a case was brought against WikiLeaks, shouldn't the other papers that published the information be brought to trial as well?

What should happen to people like Pfc. Bradley Manning, who has been accused of leaking classified information to the site?

Here's just a few of the sources I found useful:

Assange himself, hosted on “Why the world needs WikiLeaks.” July 2010.

The Stephen Colbert interview I showed in class. 13 April 2010.

Andy Greenberg, writing for Forbes Magazine. Here's the article, and the full interview.

An interview with Der Spiegel, the German publication given advance notice of the leaks this summer.

Fred Kaplan, writing for, has some pretty good insights.

Raffi Khatchadourian's New Yorker profile “No Secrets: Julian Assange’s mission for total transparency.”

Peter Ludlow's piece for the Nation, explaining Assange's behavior in light of hacker ethics.

Sarah Palin has some “Serious Questions About Team Obama’s Handling of the WikiLeaks Fiasco,” if anybody's still listening to her.

Another writer, Jack Shafer, says these most recent leaks “make it impossible for Hillary Clinton to continue to serve as secretary of state.

The ACLU says that "Prosecutiing WikiLeaks for publishing documents would raise serious Constiutional Concerns.

Moe Tkacik is all about government transparency.

And here's the "Collateral Murder" video we saw some of in class.

Let me know what you think. I'd love to see some serious questions in the comments


  1. Oh, and WikiLeaks' website is currently under attack, but is mirrored in more than 200 places. Check this list if you'd like to read the material directly.

  2. One aspect that we really didn't get to in class is the question about whether or not this is blackmail what with the secret poinson pill file that he was going to release.

    fox has the fear:

  3. The JSchool at Columbia wrote a letter to Obama about NOT prosecuting Assange here:

  4. Thanks Hollis. The file is called 'insurance.aes256,' and is available for download but is encrypted with a password to be released if anything were to happen to Assange. We briefly mentioned it in class, but we could have talked all day if we didn't stop somewhere.

    And Collette, that's really interesting. Check that ACLU link above; they warn almost the same thing. Prosecuting WikiLeaks under the Espionage Act would set a dangerous precedent for newspapers publishing the same information received secondhand.