Not so surprisingly, the Columbia Journalism Review has weighed in on the WikiLeaks controversy. Somewhat surprisingly, the article that the magazine published by the Journalism School at Columbia University ran on WikiLeaks is a bit more nuanced than its full-throated endorsement of Al-Jazeera.
Perhaps that is because an outside contributor—Goucher College President Sanford J. Ungar—penned the analysis of WikiLeaks that appeared in the March/April 2011 issue of the CJR while its editorial boosting Al-Jazeera was an inside job.
“As it happens, the WikiLeaks drama unfolds as we approach the fortieth anniversary of the publication of the Pentagon Papers, and it is useful to think about secrets through that prism,” Ungar claims. No less a personage than Vice-President Joe Biden took issue with the WikiLeaks-Pentagon Papers comparison, in an appearance on Meet the Press late last year.
Ungar simultaneously downplays the renegade site’s accomplishments and minimizes its dangers. “On the substance of the diplomatic cables that were distributed, it was difficult to claim damage to American national security,” Ungar argued. “It may be awkward, say, for Saudi Arabia and certain other Middle Eastern states to have it known that they are every bit as worried about Iran as are Israel and the United States, if not more so, as revealed through WikiLeaks, but hardly a threat to anyone’s well-being.”
“And for the Chinese to be identified as complaining that North Korea was behaving like a ‘spoiled child’ is not terribly surprising.” Actually, the vice president himself pointed out that foreign dignitaries have been requesting more one-on-one meetings with no aides present since WikiLeaks disseminated the cables. Similarly, others have also downplayed the possibility of harm that could result from the war plan disclosures but the soft-pedaling is not all that convincing.
“News organizations around the world have published or broadcast stories based on WikiLeaks selections from classified documents and cables that reveal the inside and underside of current American foreign and defense policy, including some especially sensitive revelations about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Ungar writes.
“A dump did begin of the Iraq and Afghan war logs, but once reporters pointed out the danger to local cooperators from being named in the logs, WikiLeaks halted the dump and withheld some 15,000 items out of 91,000 Afghan records,” Thomas Blanton, the director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University stated before the U. S. House Judiciary Committee last December.
Nevertheless, any dump of classified information will provide enough leads to endanger troops on the ground. This is why family members of those serving there try to be reasonably tight-lipped.
Ultimately, while WikiLeaks has done admirable work exposing corrupt governments in Kenya and China, its exposure of American allies abroad has recklessly endangered not only their lives but those of the American troops who try to work with them.
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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