Business Ethos Blog

Pondering WikiLeaks – Dr. David Mielke, Dean of the College of Business at Eastern Michigan University

Wiki is a company that is based in Iceland and is owned by Australian citizen Julian Assange.  The company received a huge number of classified US government documents from suspected “leaker” Pfc. Bradley Manning.  Earlier this year, in July, Wiki released a number of documents that focused on classified information about informants and strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan.  There was a lot of concern about the possible ramifications for many of the Iraqis and Afghans—however, there were no consequences to date for Wiki.

The latest release of confidential State Department cables and other documents was forecasted by Wiki.  That is, they announced that information would be released.  Much of the information was very embarrassing to the US State Department and could cause concern with US allies.  Wiki specifically shared information with the New York Times, the Guardian in London and Der Spiegel in Germany.  These newspapers disclosed the information.  There are a number of issues for us to consider and to ask “Was this the Right Thing to do?”

1.  The primary issue, of course, concerns Wiki.  “Was it the Right Thing to do?” to release the classified information?  Despite freedom of the press, when news organizations receive classified documents—obviously obtained through illegal means, they should not release the information.  Some may look at the case of the Nixon administration Pentagon Paper disclosures as a precedent and justification for Wiki’s actions.  However, in the Nixon case, the administration went to court to fight the release and lost.  At least there was a judicial review prior to the release.

2. Should the newspapers have cooperated and participated in the release?  I am sure they looked at this issue from the perspective that a previous Wiki leak went on without any review and without consequences, so what is wrong with the publication of the documents.  My thought is the same as above, it was not the right thing to do.

3. What about the role of the US Justice Department?  Since Wiki announced the release prior to the actual publication, why didn’t they take action to stop it?  There may be an excuse that Wiki is not located in the US, but why wasn’t action taken with the Icelandic government or the Australian government to assist?  Again, lack of apparent action by the US Department of Justice was not the right thing to do.

4. What will the US do now, will there be consequences for Wiki and Mr. Assange?  It does not appear that the US will pursue any consequences for the release of the information.  Last week, State Department legal adviser Harold Koh sent a stern warning to Mr. Assange that there would be “grave consequences” for any publication, but since then there have been vague references for what those “grave consequences” might be.  To me, it is the right thing to do to pursue “grave consequences”.

5.  What about Pfc. Manning?  Why has it taken so long to pursue action against him as the apparent “leaker” of the information?  The first Wiki leaks occurred in July.  Certainly, there has been ample time to proceed with the case.  It is not the right thing to do to delay and not demeonstrate that there are “grave consequences” for anyone who leaks classified US documents.  Harse cosequences may show that the US will not tolerate this type of behavior.

6. Finally, what about the military?  How could a Pfc. have access to all of this sensitive information and copy it?  We have heard nothing as to the consequences for those who set up a security system or lack of a security system to allow access to this information.  What steps are being taken to assure us that this will not happen again?  It is the right thing to do to have consequences for poor controls and to immediately announce how this security system will be changed.  How long will we have to wait—if ever?