Self proclaimed anarchist Julian Assange allegedly fought to prevent redacting the names of U.S. informants in Iraq and Afghanistan from Wikileaks' publication of U.S. Military war memos, saying they deserved death.  (Source: Daily Mail)
New details about the Wikileaks story raise serious questions about site's journalistic legitimacy

In a special by the Public Broadcasting Service, entitled WikiSecrets, people close to the drama will open up about what happened in the months leading up to the arrest of Bradley Manning and in the months after.  The special offers a rich picture, with diverse commentary.  Among the recap of previous coverage there's some new developments -- serious questions about Wikileaks' behavior which the site's staunchest supporters will doubtless dismiss the claims as conspiracy.

In this first piece we offer comprehensive analysis of the new revelations.  

In a second, upcoming piece we share an interview with Adrian Lamo, the man who turned in Wikileak's hottest source and chronicle his recent discourse with a long time colleague over his actions.

I. Wikileaks -- Journalism or Espionage?

Wikileaks has long held itself up as a journalistic institution.  Founder Julian Assange preached that his site was launching a new breed of journalism.  He billed the site as a unmatched platform for whistleblowers.

In recent months, the site has certainly been busy.  In July 2010 it published a treasure trove of 92,000 U.S. Military field memos from Afghanistan.  That was followed by an October publication of over 400,000 Iraq field memos.  And in November it began to leak the first of over 250,000 diplomatic cables.  In April, the site leaked documents detailing detainees at Guantánamo Bay.

Throughout these publications, questions have been raised about whether Wikileaks is truly whistleblowing.  After all, some of the documents seemed to indicate wrongdoing or inappropriate behavior by American officials, but many seemed merely embarrassing or leaked secret details about U.S. domestic and foreign operations.  In that light some of the published materials seemed to fall under the umbrella of international espionage, rather than traditional whistleblowing.

Those questions will only get noisier in the face of accusations that Mr. Assange pushed for the publication of potentially deadly secrets.

II. Assange Wished Death Upon American Allies in Iraq, Afghanistan

Mr. Assange has publicly stated that the site was very careful in redacting details that might endanger lives and that it only published when it was sure no one would be endangered.  He dubbed this a "harm-minimization process"

But PBS cites "insiders within the organization" as accusing Mr. Assange of only considering redactions as an afterthought and performing them in haste before publication.  

The special contains an interview with Mr. Assange's former right-hand manand Wikileaks spokesperson, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who has called out his former ally claiming he behaved negligently.  Mr. Domscheit-Berg claims that Mr. Assange only agreed to redact parts of the 90k logs with four hours left before publication.  The results were sloppy redactions, that may have exposed and harmed U.S. allies.  Mr. Domscheit-Berg recalls being shocked and "horrified" by the media reporting that Wikileaks possibly endangered lives.

David Leigh of England's Guardian newspaper has leveled a shocking accusation against Mr. Assange in the special.

He recalls a meeting he was invited to about the publication of the war memos.  He remembers pleading with Assange to redact the names of tribal elders and U.S. informants who were exposed cooperating with the U.S. and could be the subject of deadly retribution.  He comments, "Julian was very reluctant to delete those names, to redact them. And we said: 'Julian, we’ve got to do something about these redactions. We really have got to.'"

"And he said: 'These people were collaborators, informants. They deserve to die.' And a silence fell around the table."

Mr. Assange seemingly denied the allegation calling it "absolutely false... completely false."

But he qualifies, "We don't want innocent people with a decent chance of being hurt to be hurt."

The possibility is left open that Mr. Assange views U.S. allies (such as cooperating tribal leaders) as culpable accomplices, and is obfuscating the fact that he indeed wishes them ill.

It is unknown whether the publications have caused any deaths, but Newsweek reported last year that the Taliban, a violent Jihadist fundamentalist insurgency in Afghanistan, were using the war memos as a rally cry.  Allegedly they brutally murdered a tribal elder, whom they claimed the leaked documents exposed, and promised more executions.

Documents leaked by Wikileaks also almost tipped off Osama bin Laden and his Pakistani Al Qaeda colleagues that the Americans were on to his whereabouts and were planning a strike.  Had he noted these details, the famed terrorist could have yet again eluded the grasp of America's military.

III. A Vendetta Against America?

The trouble with Mr. Assange's comments, if accurate, is that they raise serious questions about how much his efforts are a quest for the truth and how much they are the manifestation against a personal vendetta against government and its manifestation in the world's most power nation.

In the seminal 1990s book on hacking, Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier by Suelette Dreyfus, which Mr. Assange edited, researched, and contributed text to, an autobiographical passage by Assange describes:

As he quietly backed out of the system, wiping away his footprints as he tip-toed away, Mendax [Assange] thought about what he had seen. He was deeply disturbed that any hacker would work for the US military.

Hackers, he thought, should be anarchists, not hawks.

Such a statement could be construed as off-the-cuff, but at least one trusted source we've spoken to, who was a member of Mr. Assange's Australian hacking circle and wished not to be named, confirmed that Mr. Assange was extremely vocal in advocating such anarchic ideals.

DailyTech was the first major news publication to point to this passage after the Wikileaks story broke and also was among the first to point out that vast majority of Wikileaks documents -- greater than 95 percent of them -- focus on the U.S., a disproportionate scrutiny considering its population, GDP, military size, and government size.

When you add up these elements, serious questions emerge, questions the site's staunchest advocates may be too uncomfortable to directly answer.

IV. One Million Dollars

According to Mr. Domscheit-Berg, Mr. Assange initially tried to sell journalists the "Collateral Murder" footage, which showed a U.S. helicopter gunship gunning down innocent civilians in Iraq.  This surprised Mr. Domscheit-Berg as he had been told that the goal of Wikileaks was always "just publish".

But Mr. Assange didn't want to publish the information -- not until he received a small ransom.  He demanded a payment of $1M USD for exclusive access to the information.

In the end, nobody bit.  So Mr. Assange was forced to simply post the teaser to YouTube, eventually posting a longer, less edited clip to his website.  In an interview Mr. Assange sounded remorseful about "missed opportunities" financially in the site's early history -- likely alluding to his failure to draw the $1M USD.

V. Manning Before and After Imprisonment

In the special, PBS does a remarkable job in connecting the disconnected coverage with various details of Manning's life leading up to his arrest.  It covers how he was bullied in boot camp, and interviews his father about he was concerned about his son's pro-homosexuality posts to Facebook.  

It details how the young Army enlistee began frequent the Boston University hacking club of David House, and how the club first introduced Manning to Wikileaks.  It details how Manning began leaking materials, but went for much bigger leaks after being demoted and breaking up with his boyfriend Tylor Watkins.

The special then turns to ex-convicted hacker Adrian Lamo, the man who turned in Mr. Manning after the young man confided in him.  Mr. Lamo is quoted in the preview as saying, "I got the sense that Bradley was very depressed."

Still he recalls moments where the young man lit up with vengeance at what he felt was U.S. injustice.  In confirmed text logs Manning was shown to have written, "Hillary Clinton and several thousand diplomats around the world are going to have a heart attack when they wake up one morning and find an entire repository of classified foreign policy is available, in searchable format, to the public."

Convinced that Mr. Manning was too great a threat to U.S. safety, Mr. Lamo turned in the young man, as Mr. Lamo recalls in an exclusive interview with DailyTech from last year.

Mr. Manning current resides in an Army brig in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, awaiting his first pretrial hearing this summer.  The young man could face the death penalty for his crime, but sources close to the case have indicated to us that the death penalty will not be pursued, with the most likely outcome being life in prison.

VI. Assange and Others Speak Out

The special will also include diverse accounts analyzing the effects of the leaks.  On the one side, will be U.S. authorities like former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte.

Mr. Negroponte states, "9/11 surfaced the fact that there was less than adequate sharing of information across the government. We went from a need-to-know philosophy to a need-to-share."

Another U.S. government official, former State Department employee Larry Wilkerson comments, "Bradley Manning does not need to know what the secretary of defense said to his counterpart in Paris."

In the middle you have the journalists involved.  For example Wired’s Kim Zetter claims that Mr. Assange was desperate to get the logs of Mr. Lamo's communications with Mr. Manning.  She comments, "He contacted me, and he wanted the chat logs. He said that he needed it in order to prepare Manning’s defense. ... I can only speculate, but I think that he was concerned about what was in the chat logs about himself."

The special alludes that Mr. Assange may have had direct contact with Mr. Manning -- in complete violation with his site's policy not to identify sources.  Mr. Assange firmly denied this allegation.  And at least one person interviewed in the special suggested that Mr. Assange used a go between -- likely someone in David House's circle of friends -- to pass information and limit Wikileaks/Mr. Assange's legal liability.

The special also interviews Mr. Assange's former right-hand man and Wikileaks spokesperson, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who has called out his former ally claiming he behaved negligently.  Mr. Domscheit-Berg is currently crafting his own leaks site that aims for greater responsibility in publication.

And the special includes an interview with Mr. Assange himself, who currently is under house arrest in northeast London, awaiting extradition to Sweden to face sex crimes charge.  Mr. Assange is quoted as saying, "History is on our side. ... When you expose powerful organizations, there will be ad hominem attacks. Yes, in my personal case, they’ve been rather hard. But it’s not an unusual circumstance. ... WikiLeaks is continuing to step up its publishing speed, ... and it does good. We can see the effects all around us."

The WikiSecrets FRONTLINE special played Tuesday evening on PBS and is being rebroadcast online at:

"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." -- Michael Dell, after being asked what to do with Apple Computer in 1997

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