Wikileaks, the controversial website that on Sunday published more than 91,000 U.S. military documents related to the war in Afghanistan, has come under fire for its methods, its obvious agenda, and its willingness to publish seemingly anything it can get its digital paws on.
But one prominent advocate of government openness who has previously been critical of Wikileaks sees the organization as behaving more responsibly with its latest document dump. This time, Wikileaks gave three reputable news outlets weeks to review, verify, and contextualize the documents, and says it is withholding (for now) about 15,000 reports "as part of a harm minimization process demanded by our source."
"After further review, these reports will be released, with occasional redactions, and eventually, in full, as the security situation in Afghanistan permits," the site says.
Steven Aftergood, who publishes the blog Secrecy News for the Federation of American Scientists, ripped the organization last month, writing, "In fact, WikiLeaks must be counted among the enemies of open society because it does not respect the rule of law nor does it honor the rights of individuals."
I asked him tonight if he'd like to extend those remarks, and he declined. He did say that he thought the organization has changed, however.
"I think I detect some wholesome changes in the way Wikileaks does business," Aftergood emailed. "My concerns about the project have revolved mainly around the fact that it allowed itself to be used for what seemed to be vendettas against private groups (Mormons, Scientologists, Masons, etc), and that it was indifferent to competing values such as privacy and security that would argue against disclosure."
"But the latest dump deals with a perfectly newsworthy topic and -- judging from my initial glances at the news coverage -- Wikileaks itself has acknowledged the necessity of withholding certain portions of the documents that might endanger individuals who are named in them. If so, that is commendable."
"I also appreciate the fact that Wikileaks has provided the documents to others for independent assessment and reporting and has mostly refrained from heavy-handed propagandizing about them (along the lines of 'collateral murder')." [Note: "Collateral Murder" was Wikileaks' name for a video it posted purporting to show U.S. airmen negligently killing Iraqi civilians.]
"Wikileaks is not the solution to our secrecy problem -- that requires a change in our own policy -- but I think it can serve a useful purpose as long as it exercises a modicum of editorial responsibility."