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Wikileaks: A Neutral Watchdog or a Partisan Chaos Maker

By Shahidur Rashid Talukdar,

Are you a foreign affairs minister, a diplomat, an embassy employee, or an ex? Well, it hardly matters whether you are working or not! You might have to spend sleepless nights – watch for next series of the Wikileaks exposure. Until recently, external affairs officials were only directly accountable to the Governments of respective countries. However, the recent release of series of highly classified documents of various foreign embassies changes this perception. Every activity is being watched by someone called “Wikileaks” and hence, by everyone.

What is this “Wikileaks”? To sum up various observations, it can be said that WikiLeaks is a non-profit organisation, working across countries, which publishes submissions of private, secret, and classified media from different private sources, news leaks, and whistleblowers. Launched in 2006 under the Sunshine Press organization, its website claims that it had a database of over 1 million documents within a year of its launch. The website of Wikileaks keeps changing as it experiences attacks from different governments and other agencies. Although initially envisioned as an open source like Wikipedia, it has now, since 2010, become more like a traditional publisher of documents and does not allow editing on and withdrawing of documents from the site(s) by the public.

Since its initial leaks in 2006, the Wikileaks has created ripples in political and diplomatic circles. It came into prominence with the leaks release in The Guardian, The New York Times and Der Spiegel. The most recent releases are being published by the Indian leading daily The Hindu. The releases on topics ranging from War policies, to Foreign policies, to Financial policies have received a super high degree of curiosity from the general public while they have received scathing criticism and censorship from various governments. Some of the revelations have changed people’s perceptions towards their Governments while some others bear the potentials of changing the Governments themselves.

Now one of the basic questions is: What are the possible outcomes of the wiki leaks? While sources like the Time Magazine has been quoted as saying “(Wikileaks)… could become as important a journalistic tool as the Freedom of Information Act”, world reputed leaders like Dr Manmohan Singh has dumped the Wikileaks as non-reliable and unverifiable source of information, although the latter view has been challenged by Mr Julian Assange, one of the founders and members of the advisory board of the Wikileaks. Will the public, in general, and the Government agencies concerned take the leaks seriously enough to bring more transparency in their practices and higher ethical standards in their affairs? Or they will just tame the wiki leaks as mere whistle blowings?

Another possible repercussion of this entire development is that it may create a chaos and havoc among the officials, diplomats, and people. It may interfere or limit the decision making power of respective agencies. Is it a good enough development? In its website, the Wikileaks claims “we help you safely get the truth out.”How safe it is for a whistleblower or an official to work against its own government? Won’t it be promoting disloyalty among the workers and the organization? Won’t there be an eye of suspicion on every employee of the organization?

It has prompted formation of a number of other similar organizations such as Openleaks, Brusselsleaks, Indoleaks, to name only a few. Will these developments initiate a movement in undercover espionage? Will it not lead to breaking the very ethics ‘of transparency’ that these agencies are claiming to promote. Will people accept the legitimacy of “disloyalty” of officials like Bradley Manning to unravel the disloyalty of their Governments to the people themselves?

Yet another aspect of these developments is that whether or not these whistleblowers will remain politically neutral. Will they work impartially as mere watchdogs or will try to influence Governments to act according to their wishes for subversive gains? Can’t these organizations be employed for partisan political gains? Will they remain just as a political pressure group or will act as an encroachment on the independent functioning of the respective governments?

Such possibilities question the legitimacy of the existence of the Wikileaks and other similar organizations. Is it appropriate to have other watchdogs despite all the international bodies such as the UNSC, IMF, and the World Bank? Will the possible benefit of transparency bought by the Wikileaks and its sister organizations outweigh the cost in terms of loss of credibility of the Government machinery, mistrust between people and the Government bodies, and the misuse of possible partisanship?

(The author is a PhD student at Texas Tech University, TX, USA)