The Now: What is WikiLeaks?

Lesson 15: What is WikiLeaks?


What is WikiLeaks?

The logo of Wikileaks: An hourglass containing a globe dripping down onto another globe.

WikiLeaks is an online library of secret government documents, news leaks, and classified media, all collected from anonymous sources. Founded by Julian Assange, Wikileaks publishes this information to give whistleblowers a platform to expose hidden truths about various governments and institutions around the world.

Since it came to global attention in 2010, WikiLeaks has attracted a great deal of controversy from leaders and news organizations around the globe because the information it publishes usually creates a great deal of embarrassment and difficulty for international relations.

Despite the similar names, WikiLeaks is NOT related to Wikipedia in any way.

What are some of its notable publications?

On multiple occasions, WikiLeaks has published information that disrupted the U.S. government and international relations in general. Here are a handful of its most powerful leaks:

  • U.S. diplomatic cables leak: In 2010, WikiLeaks began leaking hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, which are classified electronic government documents used by the U.S. State Department. These leaked documents revealed a wealth of global analysis and assessment from diplomats around the world.
  • Afghan War & Iraq War documents: Also in 2010, WikiLeaks released evidence suggesting U.S. forces committed violations of international law during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • The Ergodan emails: In 2016, WikiLeaks released almost 300,000 emails from the administration of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. However, these documents also contained sensitive, personal information on almost every adult female living in Turkey.
  • The Podesta emails: These leaked emails revealed campaign strategies and internal memos within Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. There is ongoing debate over the impact these leaks had on the results of the 2016 election.

Is WikiLeaks legal?

It was not legal for WikiLeaks sources to steal secret documents and submit classified documents to the site. However, thanks to the freedom of the press protections granted by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, it is legal for WikiLeaks to publish these documents and share them with the public.

Complicating things is the fact that neither WikiLeaks nor its servers are based in the United States. Due to numerous international laws, the United States is essentially unable to shut down WikiLeaks.

And yes, it is perfectly legal for you to read information found on WikiLeaks. Just keep in mind that its contents are incredibly controversial. To visit WikiLeaks, click here.

An illustration of Julian Assange receiving a confidential document from a raven.

Where does the info come from?

Most sources are anonymous for fear of retaliation or legal prosecution, but most of the identified sources have typically been government officials, journalists, or members of the military.

One of the few known WikiLeaks sources is Chelsea Manning, a former soldier in the U.S. Army. Manning submitted hundreds of thousands of secret military and diplomatic documents in November 2010, and was eventually pardoned after serving part of her sentence in a U.S. military prison.

Is the info trustworthy?

Anyone can submit information to the site. WikiLeaks has its small fact-checking team look into every document and claim, and if the team confirms that it’s true, the information is published. Thus far, nothing published on the site has been proven to be false. However, some security experts believe it’s possible that altered or fake documents are hidden within large batches of leaked documents, which could compromise the integrity of WikiLeaks’ publications.

Although it aims to expose problems within governments and powerful institutions, WikiLeaks itself has been accused of a lack of transparency because it does not reveal how it is funded, its use of nondisclosure agreements within its own organization, and the amount of control Julian Assange has over what’s published.

There’s no doubt that WikiLeaks raises important questions and exposes crucial information about our world’s governments and leaders, but remember that WikiLeaks must also be held to the same high level of scrutiny to ensure it is also telling the truth.