Namir Noor-Eldeen
Khalid Mohammed/AP
Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen

What Is WikiLeaks?

April 07, 2010 05:15 PM
by Colleen Brondou
WikiLeaks is in the headlines for posting a video from the Iraq war that the U.S. government says is a threat to national security. What is the controversial site, and does it pose a threat?

Leaked Video Shows US Soldiers Firing on Iraqis

WikiLeaks is a wiki site that posts confidential documents exposing corporate and government corruption. According to its Web site, it’s a “non-profit organization funded by human rights campaigners, investigative journalists, technologists and the general public.” The site doesn’t accept government or corporate funding in order to “maintain our absolute integrity,” and relies on donations to operate.

On Monday, WikiLeaks posted a classified U.S. military video on a “special project website,” Collateral Murder. At the site, WikiLeaks explains how it “obtained this video as well as supporting documents from a number of military whistleblowers.” The video was taken “from an Apache helicopter gun-site, [and] clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers,” according to WikiLeaks. “Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.”

According to Anne Flaherty, writing for the Associated Press, the video shows U.S. troops firing “on a group of men—some of whom were unarmed—walking down a Baghdad street” on July 12, 2007. Namir Noor-Eldeen, a Reuters photographer, and his driver, Saeed Chmagh, are believed to be among those killed.

Though the video had not been previously released, and “provides a rare, disturbing close-up of modern urban warfare,” Flaherty writes, the incident had been reported before, and was the subject of a book, “The Good Soldiers,” by Washington Post reporter David Finkel.

Leaked Report Says WikiLeaks Could Threaten National Security

Just two weeks before the leak of the video, WikiLeaks posted a “classified U.S. counterintelligence report identifying WikiLeaks as a potential threat to national security,” Kenyon Wallace reported for National Post.

“The intentional or unintentional leaking and posting of U.S. Army sensitive or classified information to could result in increased threats to [Department of Defence] personnel, equipment, facilities, or installations,” Wallace quotes from the report, written in March 2008. “Such information could be of value to foreign intelligence and security services, foreign military forces, foreign insurgents, and foreign terrorist groups for collecting information or for planning attacks against U.S. forces, both within the United States and abroad.”

In a segment entitled “Wikileaks and Whistle-blowers,” Brian Lehrer of Brian Lehrer Live talked with Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald and founder John Young. 

“So what does it mean when anyone can post secret information online?” Lehrer asks his audience. “Is it a new wonderful era of openness and citizen journalism? Or an irresponsible age in which governments, corporations and individuals become embarrassed, ineffective, even in danger?”

When asked if he thinks WikiLeaks is a threat to national security, Greenwald answered, “No, I don’t think it’s a threat to national security at all. I think what’s a threat to national security … is the enormous amounts of secrecy that pervade what our government does, what private corporations do and the way in which they operate jointly.” Greenwald believes that sites like WikiLeaks “are really heroes, because without transparency, without knowing what it is that these powerful entities are doing, we don’t really have any meaningful form of accountability or democracy.”

WikiLeaks in the Headlines

This is hardly the first time that WikiLeaks has been in the headlines. In February 2008, San Francisco Judge Jeffrey S. White ruled in favor of Julius Baer Bank and Trust and ordered Internet domain name registrar Dynadot to disable the WikiLeaks site. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation argued on behalf of WikiLeaks during a court hearing.

In 2009, WikiLeaks was in the news again for revealing the existence of Australian authorities’ list of Web sites to be banned. The list included child pornography sites, sites depicting sexual violence and even a dental office Web site. Australian authorities refused to make the list public, leading to cries of censorship.

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