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WikiLeaks Organization Sparks Controversy

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WikiLeaks is a website that posts formerly secret documents online in what its members say is the pursuit of transparency and accountability.  Its release of more than 75,000 U.S. Army and Marine Corps documents chronicling six years of events in Afghanistan has angered officials in Washington, Britain and Pakistan.

The WikiLeaks website says the organization began as a dialogue between activists who wanted to alleviate suffering.  It says the organization champions "principled leaking." 

Since 2007 WikiLeaks has posted thousands of documents on the internet.  Founder Julian Assange sees himself as an information activist whose main goal is to get information into the public domain.  He says he has a small, overworked staff, about 800 part time workers and thousands of supporters.  

"I suppose our greatest fear is we will be too successful too fast, and we will not be able to do justice to the material we are getting in fast enough," said Assange.  "That is our greatest problem at the moment."

WikiLeaks is non-profit and Assange says during the past few months there has been tremendous financial support.

"We have raised a million dollars from the general public.  As a result we are enabled to have a sort of fierce independence that larger organizations find more difficult.  That said, of course, we are also immediately accountable to the public because that is where our money comes from, directly from the public, not from advertisers or foundations," said Assange.

Simon Schneider, who runs a competition to find new internet technology to improve global security, says WikiLeaks main strength is protecting its sources.

"The fact that it is so controversial and the fact that so many people talk about it tells me that WikiLeaks touches on a very, very important point," said Schneider.  "And I think that this discussion between what should be private and what should be public touches a lot of peoples nerves, and I think it is important that we talk about it."

But former intelligence analyst Bob Ayers is not convinced WikiLeaks is a force for good.

"The fact that we have a bunch of liberal amateurs trying to do intelligence assessments of material does not give me a strong feeling of confidence," said Ayers.

Ayers cites WikiLeaks most recent revelations, the release of more than 75,000 U.S. military documents relating to Afghanistan.

"The information that was released is not a threat to the United States per se," said Ayers.  "It has the potential to be a threat to combatants that are fighting in the area, it has the potential to destabilize the trilateral relationships between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the U.S.  And it has the potential to place the intelligence community at some level of risk if their sources are being compromised publicly."

WikiLeaks founder Assange says his organization has a harm-minimization process to identify, redact or withhold anything that might hurt a source or anyone involved in the documents.  Assange says for that reason, they did not release more than 15,000 Afghanistan-related documents, and he says because what they did make public was seven months old, he believed it contained no information that could harm NATO troops.  

Ayers disagrees.  "The fact it is seven months old is immaterial.  It is irrelevant.  They are not going to change their patrolling patterns in seven months, they are still going to patrol the same way.  So now what you have done is you have informed the enemy of information that can assist them in planning how to attack NATO forces in Afghanistan when they are on patrol," said Ayers.

Ayers believes the American government will have to do something about WikiLeaks.  Under U.S. law it is illegal to disclose classified information.  

"There is a real dilemma here as to how to deal with a site like WikiLeaks," said Ayers.  "Are they acting in the public good?  Are they acting sensationally? Are they endangering the public good?  Are they endangering lives by their actions?  And those are things that I think we will still see addressed and sorted out over the next six months or so."

To thwart censorship, WikiLeaks released the leaked documents in three jurisdictions, the United States, Germany and Great Britain.

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