The controversial whistle blowing website Wikileaks recently released over 400,000 classified documents on the war in Iraq, detailing missteps, mistakes and abuses that government officials in the U.S., Iraq and elsewhere are worried could stir up fresh trouble as tensions are beginning to re-emerge in the war-torn country. Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange has been on a tour of sorts hyping the disclosed information, giving an online chat on The Washington Post, while deflecting renewed criticism about the site’s purpose, reports of internal turmoil and his own personal challenges.
Reports Melissa Bell in The Washington Post’s BlogPost:
However, his international moment in the spotlight has been tarnished by reports from former WikiLeaks activists. A Post story says that the activists are painting WikiLeaks as “an organization that is out of control, still too driven by the personality and ego of its mercurial founder, Julian Assange.”
He has also been dogged by allegations of rape and sexual assault in Sweden. Assange denies the charges and says it is part of an American-led campaign to ruin his reputation.
Assange’s own personal problems and run-ins with the law may be seriously dogging the credibility of WikiLeaks. A New York Times profile on Assange is even more damaging, as some observers begin questioning his mental stability and whether it’s overshadowing the work of the organization in shedding light on critical information and government abuses:
Now it is not just governments that denounce him: some of his own comrades are abandoning him for what they see as erratic and imperious behavior, and a nearly delusional grandeur unmatched by an awareness that the digital secrets he reveals can have a price in flesh and blood.
Several WikiLeaks colleagues say he alone decided to release the Afghan documents without removing the names of Afghan intelligence sources for NATO troops. “We were very, very upset with that, and with the way he spoke about it afterwards,” said Birgitta Jonsdottir, a core WikiLeaks volunteer and a member of Iceland’s Parliament. “If he could just focus on the important things he does, it would be better.”
Check out this recent CNN interview where Assange walks out on reporter Atika Shubert after she asks questions about internal disputes, his personal like and the allegations.
The Wikileaks saga continues being a cautionary tale on the role of online-based media organizations in disclosing sensitive government information. What is the role of independent media outlets as greater reliance is placed on the Internet as a central news source? And how do governments cope with the porous nature of the web as confidential data are much more exposed than ever before?
The latest Wikileaks disclosure is actually the largest of its kind in U.S. military history. It contains actual reports from the field otherwise known in Pentagon circles as SIGACTs or “Significant Actions” detailing prisoner abuses, civilian deaths (Assange was pointed in the CNN interview about the 109,000 deaths in the Iraq war), the role of clandestine contractor Blackwater and information on Iranian influence in Iraq.