WikiLeaks, the Swedish website that publishes sensitive government and corporate information while preserving the anonymity of its sources, has come under serious criticism in recent days. Last week, authorities arrested Bradley Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst suspected of supplying WikiLeaks with 260,000 secret cables between U.S. diplomats and their contacts around the world. In addition, Mr. Manning is suspected of leaking footage of a U.S. helicopter gunning down a crowd of men in Iraq that included two journalists from Reuters. Most commentators find that WikiLeaks will drastically alter the government's ability to protect classified information. Whether or not that is a good thing is a more divisive question.
A Threat to Our Safety
The Wall Street Journal finds that the existence of WikiLeaks and other outlets for classified information is something we must "learn to live with" that will make us "less safe." The Weekly Standard objects to WikiLeaks because informing the public necessarily leads to informing "our mortal adversaries." The Weekly Standard contrasted the present situation and the Supreme Court case of New York Times Co. v. United States, in which the court permitted the publication of the infamous Pentagon Papers, a 7,000-page history of America's involvement in Viet Nam. Because the Pentagon Papers were a historical narrative that referred to events at least three years old, the Standard argues that it was appropriate for them to be released. In contrast, the video and diplomatic cables supplied by Mr. Manning should not be released because "intelligence sources and methods are likely to be revealed" and "American soldiers and intelligence agents may die."
Parroting a Tired Line
The Weekly Standard is, in fact, echoing the same draconian arguments made by the United States during the Pentagon Papers case. In 1971, Michael Hess, chief of the Civil Division of the United States Attorneys Office, argued that "serious injuries are being inflicted on our foreign relations, to the benefit of other nations opposed to our foreign relations, to the benefit of other nations opposed to our form of government." The U.S. Supreme Court rebuffed the government's arguments, stating "security is a broad, vague generality whose contours should not be invoked to abrogate the fundamental law embodied in the First Amendment." Instead, "the press must be left free to publish news, whatever, the source, without censorship, injunctions or prior restraints." In an era where the mainstream media is struggling to find the resources to carry out investigative work, WikiLeaks is filling the critically important role played by the New York Times 40 years ago. In addition, the video depicting the murder of the Reuters journalists is, like the Pentagon Papers at the time of their publication, over three years old. For three years, Reuters has been demanding to know what happened to its journalists. Thanks to WikiLeaks, Reuters now knows the answer and the public is better off for it.