Sep 5, 2011

WikiLeaks and disclosing classified

Julian Assange may face prosecution for revealing the identity of an ASIO officer. But governments disclose secret things all the time.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

On Friday morning Australian time, WikiLeaks placed online the entire set of unredacted diplomatic cables. The full set was already available for anyone able to search for it, armed with the password provided by Guardian journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding. Since then, it’s become clear that some of the claims made by WikiLeaks critics, and The Guardian in its defence on the issue, are highly problematic from a cryptographic point of view.

Nonetheless, WikiLeaks’s decision to make the material available, while unlikely to do any further harm than had already been done in endangering individuals, correctly drew criticism from a wide range of sources, including its enemies in the mainstream media. Whatever the responsibility of others for the original release of the unencrypted version of the material, it was WikiLeaks’ decision to release it last week, and to the extent that it increases the risk of harm coming to those identified in the unredacted cables, WikiLeaks is culpable.

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29 thoughts on “WikiLeaks and disclosing classified

  1. guytaur

    A problem for any prosecution. They have to prove Wikileaks were first to reveal said information. Given that Wikileaks only released all of these cables due to a hack attack which revealed those files that is not a clear cut thing to prove.

  2. MLF

    Guytaur, wrong.

    Bernard, I think it may be time for a holiday, you’re far too close and seemingly warped by this thing.

    ASIO officers have more protection that M15? And that is a bad thing? What exactly is your problem here? They have it because not every Tom, Dick and Bernard should know who does and does not work for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. They have it because if it is known where you work, then you are suspecptible to inflitration, to being targeted, etc etc. They have it, it is the law. Full stop.

    And really, your last line is a cracker: “In short, when it comes to the rules about disclosing classified information, governments think the rules only apply to everyone else, not to them.”

    Replace “governments” with “Wikileaks” and that cracker still holds true.

  3. Policeman MacCruiskeen

    Quite right Bernard. I’m watin’ in drowsy and somnolent expectation of a predictable surge of moral outrage from the outlet pipes of Australian establishment mediocrity about the perfidy of young Julian. He outs US forces slaughtering Iraqui’s and journalists and there’s a modest tut-tutting. His cable release outs one ASIO agent and it’ll be the end of civilisation, for sure. I like your line, Bernard, about how ASIO sees itself as infallible. Who do these people think they are? DOCS?

  4. Suzanne Blake

    @ Guytaur,

    Agree and how could they prove Julian Assange was the one who did it.

  5. pk_x

    But how does revealing ASIO identities improve accountability? By their very nature these organisations are designed to avoid that. The public — even senators — barely seem able to protest against the powers they hold. Knowing the names of operatives does not change our awful terror laws.

  6. guytaur

    @ Suzanne Blake

    Wow something we do agree on. Yes you are right. To prosecute Assange as an individual they have to prove his culpability in either directly revealing the information or conspiring to do so.
    Given that Wikileaks have a record of redacting names to protect lives before the hack I think this would indeed be hard to prove.

    I do think Mr Keane raises very valid points about how far should we protect secret organizations like ASIO.
    The latest revelations revealed by Human Rights Watch on Western Intelligence agencies involvement with Libya against every human right our democracies are supposed to be means we know there is too much secrecy. Not enough accountability.

  7. Scott

    The issue is ownership of the information, BK.

    Information and data collected by government agencies, like ASIO, is the property of the Government. Therefore they can use it anyway they see fit (which includes making it public).

    Wikileaks, by contrast, does not own the government cables it is publishing on the web. As the distributor of this information, it should be held accountable if it has broken laws regarding disclosure of ASIO identities. (and so what if ASIO has better protections than equivalent spy agencies…if the law has been broken, the law has been broken)

  8. guytaur


    No you are wrong. This is why despite McClelland’s remarks the AG is not going to prosecute.

  9. MLF

    Guytaur, wrong again.

    Wikileaks has a history of redacting names?

    a – they also have a history of releasing unredacted cables as they did in 2010 when they named names of Afghans who were helping the US and therefore put them in grave danger, and

    b – Wikileaks is founded on the principle that all information should be freely available to everyone. They only starting redacting the cables in the first place under pressure from US and other governments to protect people who were named in them.

    Where does the “everyone has a right to see everything” fit within a now-redacting organisation? Its just as Bernard said at the end – “its only ok if we do it, not if the government or anyone else does it”.

    Hypocrisy of massive proportions.

    Which incidentally wouldn’t be hypocrisy if they just acknowledged the fact that this stuff aint easy and the most finely-tuned principles in the world get violently careened off course when you are dealing with real life and real death.

    Sadly, as their own release of their own cables shows – Wikileaks still hasn’t grown up.

  10. MLF

    No, I’m not wrong.

    If there is a law that has been broken (which there has) and a case to be had (which there is) – then if the AG doesn’t prosecute it will be for political rather than legal reasons.

    The AG has already been shown to be inept when it comes to Wikileaks. Why break the habit of a lifetime.

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