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What Is WikiLeaks?

The military trial of U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning began Monday. He is charged with violating the Espionage Act by knowingly leaking thousands of classified documents to the Wikileaks whistleblower website.

The documents, including sensitive State Department cables and classified military logs from Iraq and Afghanistan, comprised one of the largest breaches of security in U.S. history.

Shortly after Wikileaks began posting the material online in May 2010, Manning, an intelligence analyst serving in Iraq, was detained by military authorities and has been held in solitary confinement since. Although he has already admitted leaking the documents and pleaded guilty to some of the charges, his closely watched trial is expected to last the summer.

What Is Wikileaks?
  • International not-for-profit group that publishes anonymously-submitted material online.
  • Published leaks includes internal documents from the Church of Scientology, secret memos targeting corruption in the Kenyan government, Icelandic documents that contributed to that nation's banking collapse, and what appears to be a U.S. military video of a deadly Apache helicopter raid in Iraq in 2007.
  • Founder Julian Assange told VOA Wikileaks "aims to achieve just political reforms by getting out information that has been suppressed to the public.”

Is What Wikileaks Does Legal?
  • Many governments around the world, including the United States, have stated or suggested that Wikileaks has violated numerous security and espionage laws by publicly posting classified, in some case highly sensitive material.
  • Transparency advocates, such as Daniel Ellsberg and others, counter that citizens have a right to know about the activities of their governments, and that leaks are "extra-legal", or beyond the realm of law.
  • At the urging of the U.S. government, major credit card companies Visa and Mastercard and the PayPal service banned any contributions to Wikileaks.
"Free speech is what regulates government and what regulates law." - Julian Assange
Who Is Julian Assange?
  • Generally credited as the lead founder of the Wikileaks website, Julian Assange usually describes himself as merely editor-in-chief.
  • Was a hacker (under the pseudonyn MENDAX) and Internet freedom activist in his native Australia while young and authored several successful computer security protocols.
  • Left Australia when Wikileaks launched, travelling to a wide variety of nations in a secretive fashion until landing in England.
  • Sought and was granted asylum in the Ecuadoran embassy in London while facing extradiction to Sweden on charges there of sexual assault.

Who Is Bradley Manning?
  • Private in the U.S. Army, stationed in Iraq as an intelligence analyst before he was detained by authorities.
  • First alluded to stealing classified documents in online chats with hacker and journalist Adrian Lamo in 2010, telling Lamo "lets just say *someone* i know intimately well, has been penetrating US classified networks, mining data like the ones described … sorting the data, compressing it, encrypting it, and uploading it to a crazy white haired Aussie who can’t seem to stay in one country very long."
  • Since his detention in solitary confinement in Spring 2010, Manning has admitted to leaking thousands of diplomatic cables and military logs to Wikileaks.
  • Is currently facing 22 charges in court martial, including aiding the enemy. Manning has already pleaded guilty to 10 of those counts.

For more of VOA's extensive coverage of Wikileaks, including an interview with founder Julian Assange and the case for and against Private Bradley Manning, visit our Digital Frontiers blog.
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    Doug Bernard

    Doug Bernard covers cyber-issues for VOA, focusing on Internet privacy, security and censorship circumvention. Previously he edited VOA’s “Digital Frontiers” blog, produced the “Daily Download” webcast and hosted “Talk to America”, for which he won the International Presenter of the Year award from the Association for International Broadcasting. He began his career at Michigan Public Radio, and has contributed to "The New York Times," the "Christian Science Monitor," SPIN and NPR, among others. You can follow him @dfrontiers.