WikiLeaks has been in the news regularly with controversial documents that critics claim had a strong influence on the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election. Research suggests that WikiLeaks is necessary because it provides a safe and public outlet for whistleblowers, promotes government transparency, and encourages the average citizen to inform themselves on important topics that impact their lives. The recent election brought a lot of attention to WikiLeaks and opened a glimpse into the inner workings of the political process. WikiLeaks claims that documents published throughout the 2016 presidential election were not intended to influence the outcome of the election. Julian Assange, the founder, has stated that “irrespective of the outcome of the 2016 US Presidential election, the real victor is the US public which is better informed as a result of our work” (Assange, 2016). Regardless of the intentions, Julian Assange’s work caused American voters to question the intentions of the Democrat National Committee and the Clinton campaign.
WikiLeaks provides a safe and public outlet for whistleblowers
Over the past few decades, government surveillance has been a hot topic. Films such as “1984” and “Minority Report” painted a picture of a government that is always watching. Many assumed this to be purely fiction until whistleblowers uncovered mass surveillance that has been ongoing for years. A year after the September 11th attacks, President George W. Bush signed a secret order authorizing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on U.S. citizen and foreign national’s phone calls within the United States. Americans were more accepting of increased monitoring in the interest of national security, but, most were not expecting the levels that were soon to be revealed by Edward Snowden.
George H.W. Bush signed into law the 1989 Whistleblower Protection Act. The intention of the law was to protect employees from retaliation for disclosing information. The definition of a whistleblower is “a person who informs on another or makes public disclosure of corruption or wrongdoing” (dictionary.com, n.d.). If a whistleblower files a complaint alleging mistreatment, the instance will be investigated by the Office of Special Counsel which then becomes an advocate for the whistleblower. This counsel reports annually to congress regarding its activities in order to inform congress of cases of possible mistreatment. The 1989 Whistleblower Protection Act states that “protecting employees who disclose Government illegality, waste, and corruption is a major step toward a more effective civil service” (Levin, 1989).
As recorded by the U.S. Government Printing Office, Title 18 of the U.S. Criminal Code, Section 798 prohibits willful transmission of U.S. intelligence related classified information to an unauthorized person. This statute defines classified information as “information which, at the time of a violation of this section, is, for reasons of national security, specifically designated by a United States Government Agency for limited or restricted dissemination or distribution” (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1951). The statute makes it clear that, when legally requested, it in no way restricts furnishing information to the Senate or House of Representatives. U.S. Code Title 18, chapter 37, section 798 states “Whoever knowingly and willfully communicates, furnishes, transmits, or otherwise makes available to an unauthorized person, or publishes, or uses in any manner prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States” (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1951). This indicates that anyone submitting documents to WikiLeaks is in violation of this law.
According to the ACLU, “Current protections for national security whistleblowers are inadequate. FBI whistleblowers do not have the same rights given to other federal employees by the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989” (ACLU, 2015). According to the American Civil Liberties Union’s website they were founded in 1920 and they are primarily a civil liberties advocacy group. The ACLU condemns government use of spying and government surveillance. The ACLU also points out that even with government protections in place, whistleblowers are still retaliated against. The ACLU is able to cite multiple examples of federal employees that have been fired for exposing government corruption and abuse. The ACLU claims that the government excessively invokes the ‘State Secrets’ privilege in order to cover up government misconduct. Legislation was proposed, but not passed, in the last Congress that would have made the revocation of a security clearance in retaliation for whistleblowing a “prohibited personnel practice” and forbade the president from using his power to exempt an agency from whistleblower protection laws retroactively. The ACLU strongly supports the Free Flow of Information Act and have defended whistleblowers’ rights throughout the country.
Bradley Manning wrote in a statement to the court “It seemed that as I tried harder to ‘fit in’ at work, the more I seemed to alienate my peers, and lose respect, trust and the support I needed.” (archive.org, 2013). Research suggests that a person may suffer from side effects such as depression and post-traumatic stress as consequences of workplace bullying due to their act of whistleblowing. Brita Bjørkelo, an Associate Professor at the Norwegian Police University College, is able to provide clear examples of unwanted workplace behavior as a result of whistleblowing. The journal suggests a balance when requesting the whistleblower to retell their experience and the possible side effects they may incur.
In 2012 Edward Snowden, in violation of Title 18, released documents he had obtained as a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA.) He disclosed thousands of classified NSA documents that revealed a global surveillance network run by the NSA. This network was also in collaboration with Australia, the United Kingdom, and Canada. He helped reveal to the public that the government was allowed court-approved direct access to Google and Yahoo accounts. There was also a secret court order requiring Verizon to hand over millions of American phone records on a daily basis. This single whistleblower revealed that the NSA was secretly collecting millions of email and instant messaging contact lists, indexing e-mail content, monitoring cell phone communications, and collecting cellphone location information.
WikiLeaks promotes government transparency
According to The Washington Post, Edward Snowden stated in an e-mail that “Whistleblowers before him, he said, had been destroyed by the experience. Snowden wanted ‘to embolden others to step forward,’ he wrote, by showing that ‘they can win’” (The Washington Post, 2013). This statement demonstrates that even though the United States government has outlets for whistleblowers, many of those that step forward are demonized, their concerns are ignored, and usually their information never reaches the public. The Washington Post also stated that Edward Snowden “had fled to Hong Kong, where he revealed two weeks ago that he was the source of leaked National Security Agency documents” (The Washington Post, 2013). 18 days after publishing the NSA documents the U.S. government revoked his passport. The next day, Edward Snowden boarded a commercial flight to Moscow, Russia. He was accompanied on this trip by Sarah Harrison of WikiLeaks. For the last 3 years, Edward Snowden has been granted temporary asylum in Russia. Edward Snowden was not protected by Presidential Policy Directive/PPD-19 due to the fact that he was a contractor and not an actual governmental employee when he released confidential information.
When elected for his first term, President Obama promised the “most transparent” administration in U.S. history. The Whitehouse itself stated that Government should be open and transparent. In a memorandum for the heads of executive departments and agencies, President Obama said “Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing” (Obama, 2009). With this public engagement, he also states that it improves the quality of its own decisions. During the first year of Obama’s presidency, the White House issued the “Open Government Directive” memorandum. This document encouraged agencies to publish data online and allowed the public to give feedback on the published information.
In 2012, President Obama issued Presidential Policy Directive/PPD-19 which states that “It prohibits retaliation against employees for reporting waste, fraud, and abuse” (Obama, 2012). This directive takes steps to prohibit retaliation against any officer or employee in a covered agency within the Intelligence Community. Employees that allege retaliation can request an external review, however, the three-person panel can only provide a recommended action to the agency and cannot require specific actions to correct retaliation.
Many claims have been made as to who is responsible for transmitting documents to WikiLeaks. These claims range from the Russian government to moles inside of various political organizations. WikiLeaks claims to have never revealed any of their sources and according to them provide “maximum protection to our sources” (WikiLeaks, 2011). One source, Bradley Manning, was discovered due to him confiding in an online acquaintance that then informed Army Counterintelligence. Manning was charged with 22 offenses and will serve up to 35 years in prison. If documents being transmitted to WikiLeaks are from a government source, it is likely due to the treatment fellow whistleblowers have received in recent years.
WikiLeaks encourages the average citizen to inform themselves
According to WikiLeaks it describes itself “provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for sources to leak information to our journalists” (WikiLeaks, 2011). It justifies itself under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights where it claims to fall under freedom of expression. WikiLeaks has managed to maintain credibility by analyzing the material they receive and verifying the information before releasing it to the public. Unlike most news organizations WikiLeaks will publish a news story about the material along with the original material to allow the reader to come to their own conclusions about what it contains.
Since 2006 WikiLeaks has published over 10 million documents that would most likely never had been made public. WikiLeaks states that its purpose is “to bring important news and information to the public” (WikiLeaks, 2011). Over the past 10 years, documents released by WikiLeaks were not aimed at one particular political affiliation. These releases range from classified military documents to the over 50,000 e-mails belonging to Clinton campaign manager John Podesta.
Available on the WikiLeaks.org website are almost 20,000 emails from the Democrat National Committee. The information contained in these emails led to the resignation of Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, CEO Amy Dacey, Communication Director Luis Miranda, and CFO Brad Marshall. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to step down the first day of the Democrat National Convention. Donna Brazile was appointed as interim chair for the remainder of the campaign. Interestingly enough, Donna Brazile would be implicated in scandal during the John Podesta e-mail dump on WikiLeaks.
In an interview with Fox News, Donna Brazile made claims that an e-mail posted on WikiLeaks was doctored by Russian sources. This e-mail shows her receiving questions in advance of the CNN debate and forwarding them to the Clinton campaign. This claim can be disproved do to DKIM verification that is included in the e-mail as an anti-spam mechanism. With this technology, the e-mail server cryptographically signs e-mails before relaying them to the recipients. This allows the recipient’s server to verify that the e-mail came from the originator’s e-mail server. Though not the original intent, this technology leaves a signature in the source of all emails and ensures that the e-mails were not changed or tampered with. There are have been no credible disputes as to the authenticity of documents available on WikiLeaks.
Thomas Jefferson was one of the founding fathers of America. He is the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and was elected the second Vice President of the United States and the third President of the United States. Thomas Jefferson stated that “experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms, those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” Jefferson also encourages citizens to “illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts” (Jefferson, 1779). It could be argued that the information provided by WikiLeaks falls under Jefferson’s description of illuminating the public with knowledge.
Ron Paul, a former Senator of Texas, publicly defended WikiLeaks in a speech on the House Floor. He stated that “the information that has been so far released, though classified, has caused no known harm to any individual, but it has caused plenty of embarrassment to our government” (Paul, 2010). Ron Paul cites an example of The New York Times being found not guilty in 1971 for publishing the Pentagon Papers, even though these were secret government documents. Ron Paul defines himself as a “defender of liberty” and has publicly defended WikiLeaks’ right to publish documents.
Research suggests that WikiLeaks is necessary because it provides a safe and public outlet for whistleblowers, promotes government transparency, and encourages the average citizen to inform themselves on important topics that impact their lives.
To avoid these “1984” and “Minority Report” scenarios, our forefathers and some recent political figures have encouraged openness and transparency in government. The current dangers posed to whistleblowers and possible retaliation are daunting enough to justify a truly confidential method of providing incriminating information to the public. It is a legitimate argument that WikiLeaks is not the ideal method of informing the public on the internal working of the United States government, but, it has been the most effective method thus far. WikiLeaks is a necessary avenue for whistleblowers in a world where communication and travel can be easily tracked. This monitoring may prevent delivery of confidential materials to an outside organization or immediately expose the whistleblower. WikiLeaks support the whistleblowers by providing secure communication and untracked methods of delivering documents. WikiLeaks also provides legitimacy by only publishing documents that have been verified, therefore giving comfort to the whistleblower that their risk of speaking out will be taken seriously. When not handled properly, whistleblowers information can be accused as false or doctored. A competent organization like WikiLeaks is able to use current technology to maintain a reputation that helps legitimize whistleblower claims.
As stated by Thomas Jefferson, Ron Paul, and President Obama, it is important that our government remain transparent and open. It is important that the citizens hold governments accountable. Thomas Jefferson also stated that, even under the best forms a government will be perverted into tyranny. Having an active and informed public is the first step toward ensuring a government that is non-oppressive. WikiLeaks provides this information in a non-biased form that allows our citizens to make their own conclusions. It is important that each individual comes to his/her own conclusion of the necessity of WikiLeaks. The documents that one might today view as damaging to his/her personal political cause or world view may be delivered in the same manner as the ones that help to confirm it tomorrow.
American Civil Liberties Union. (2015). Government engaging in pattern of cover-up; Whistleblowers silenced at the expense of our safety. Retrieved from https://www.aclu.org/other/government-engaging-pattern-cover-whistleblowers-silenced-expense-our-safety
Archive.org (2013). Full text of “United States v. Manning Appellate (Pre-trial) Exhibits 400-499.” Retrieved from https://archive.org/stream/usa-v-manning-appellate-exhibits-400-499/AE%20496%20Government%20Response%20to%20Accused%20Statement_djvu.txt
Assange, J. (2016, November 8). Assange statement on the US election. Retrieved from https://wikileaks.org/Assange-Statement-on-the-US-Election.html
Bjørkelo, B. (2013). Workplace bullying after whistleblowing: Future research and implications. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 28(3), P306-323
Dictionary.com. (2016). Whistle-blower. Retrieved from http://www.dictionary.com/browse/whistleblower
Jefferson, T. (1779, June 18). 79. A bill for the more general diffusion of knowledge, 18 June 1779. Retrieved from http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-02-02-0132-0004-0079
Levin, C. (1989, January 25). S.20 – Whistleblower protection act of 1989. Retrieved from https://www.congress.gov/bill/101st-congress/senate-bill/20
Obama, B. (2009, January). Transparency and open government. Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/TransparencyandOpenGovernment
Obama, B. (2012, October 10). Protecting whistleblowers with access to classified information. Retrieved from http://fas.org/irp/offdocs/ppd/ppd-19.pdf
Paul, R. (2010, December 9). Ron Paul defends WikiLeaks: Don’t kill the messenger – Stop lying to the people!. Retrieved from http://www.ronpaul.com/2010-12-10/ron-paul-defends-wikileaks-dont-kill-the-messenger-change-our-foreign-policy/
The Washington Post. (2013, June 9). Code name ‘Verax’: Snowden, in exchanges with Post reporter, made clear he knew risks. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/code-name-verax-snowden-in-exchanges-with-post-reporter-made-clear-he-knew-risks/2013/06/09/c9a25b54-d14c-11e2-9f1a-1a7cdee20287_story.html
The Washington Post. (2013, June 24). Edward Snowden flees Hong Kong for Moscow, asks Ecuador to grant him asylum. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/snowden-departs-hong-kong-for-a-third-country-government-says/2013/06/23/08e9eff2-dbde-11e2-a9f2-42ee3912ae0e_story.html
U.S. Government Printing Office. (1951, Oct 31). 18 U.S. Code § 798 – Disclosure of classified information. Retrieved from https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2011-title18/html/USCODE-2011-title18-partI-chap37-sec798.htm
WikiLeaks. (2011, May 7). What is WikiLeaks?. Retrieved from https://wikileaks.org/About.html