Coffee House

WikiLeaks rightly suffers a backlash

29 July 2010

9:20 AM

29 July 2010

9:20 AM

Is it just me, or is there something deeply unsettling about Julian Assange’s comments in the Times today? After the paper revealed yesterday that the leaked Afghan War files could easily put informants’ lives at risk, the WikiLeaks founder sets about defending his decision to publish them – and he does so in dangerously complacent terms. Take his opening proclamation, where he says:

"No one has been harmed, but should anyone come to harm of course that would be a matter of deep regret — our goal is justice to innocents, not to harm them. That said, if we were forced into a position of publishing all of the archives or none of the archives we would publish all of the archives because it’s extremely important to the history of this war."

Or, even worse, the exchange noted in this passage:

"Mr Assange told The Times that many Afghan informants, including those whose details were potentially disclosed, were ‘telling soldiers false stories … creating victims themselves’. When asked if that justified releasing their identities, the former computer hacker replied: ‘It doesn’t mean it’s OK for their identities not to be revealed.’"


The more this story develops, the more hypocritical Assange’s words sound. Yes, free speech and public knowledge are worth fighting for – but at a time when Labour figures are complaining that Peter Mandelson’s memoirs have come "too soon," it seems fair to argue that the publication of these documents has come several years too soon as well. Not only could they put lives in immediate danger, but they could also mire the whole war effort. After all, who’d want to be an informant now?

The Times is doing important work in questioning these leaks. I know there’s the paywall now, but I’d recommend that you read their main leader article today as well as David Aaranovitch’s column for the arguments. But, sadly, for all that, and for all Assange’s counter-justifications, the damage has already been done.

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Show comments
  • Richard of Moscow

    Ronnie, the US funding of bin Laden and chums was done indirectly, via Pakistan’s ISI. Afghanistan was too dangerous for US intelligence personnel, so it was deemed safer for the poor little darlings to move to Pakistan and just give the money to Pakistani intelligence, and trust them to give it to the patriotic Afghan resistance. Of course, the ISI gave it instead to extremist mujahidin (seen multiple spellings, but I believe it just means ‘volunteer’)
    Thank God the US is not dumb enough to make the same mistake today, eh?

  • Jez

    What’s the beef?

    You lot thought WikiLeaks was the dogs bollocks when they published the BNP membership list.

    Or were those people thrown at the mercy of far-left and other assorted luatics a collateral damage worth accepting?

    As an opinion the mug that runs that paracitical entity aka ‘Wikileaks’ should be chloroformed and woken up in Helmand Province right now.

    Another self righteous, elitist f*ckwit the world has been blessed with.


  • Ronnie

    I’m sorry blip, I mean yank, you’ve lost me.

    If you read that back to yourself you’ll hear the rambling of Colonel Walter E Kurtz. And where did I say that we created tribes?

  • yank

    Nope, sorry Ronnie, but you just don’t get it.

    The assorted drug merchants, tribalists, religionists, ethnic groups… all basically illiterate… have been passing down their lore of beating off the invader for centuries. Your little blip of history is but a blip, and these types don’t make the fine distinctions you seem to cherish. They don’t know of what you speak… they only see another invader… one unproviding of personal benefit for them. So they take the warlords’ cash… and fight the invader… as did their fathers’ fathers’ fathers before them.

    They’d have to see a way through to the other side, which unlike the educated Iraqi people, will be far tougher in illiterate Afghanistan. I daresay it’s impossible. But, similar methods as were used in Iraq would have to be in the toolkit, if we choose to stick around there.

    You do make one small point, however. Yes, we did buy some of the tribes’ loyalties in fighting the Sovs. However, you degrade that point by claiming that we created those tribes. For that genesis, I’d suggest you expand the blip of time you’re reviewing, and get back… oh… a couple centuries. Probably more like a couple millenia.

    You don’t seem to understand or have much respect for time… and history. The Afghanians have plenty of time… and don’t even acknowledge the blips of it you fret over.

  • Ronnie


    See my response to yank and lets hope you can both remove your heads from your posteriors.

  • Ronnie

    It seems, yank, that you can only think about one short-term thing at a time. In that, you are not alone.

    We funded, trained and armed the Mujahadin (spelling), with Pakistan’s help on the ground during the Soviet occupation. From the Mujahadin came Al Q and the Taliban who, if you can focus and remember, had been funded, trained and armed by us. Other parts of the Mujahadin came from and returned to their villages and their assorted warlord masters. Warlord master who rented themselves and their followers to us from time to time.

    The point is yank, and this is where it might seem complicated and require joined-up longterm thinking, we have a history of funding, training and arming groups for short term advantage who then become well trained and well armed enemies.

    The more funding that we throw at these people that is unaccounted for, the more likely it will be that it keeps being fired back at our soldiers. I have no doubt that the same thing will happen in Iraq, funded by the 10 Billion dollars that you are so relaxed about.

    I really do hope that is clear enough for you and that you can now try to discuss this, quite large and grown up issue, with some seriousness.

  • Hysteria

    what Yank said

    and @ RiccardoD

    “Neither politicians nor the military seem to want to engage with the “why are we there?” question

    It is not the role of the military to (publicly) question the legitimacy etc. of the directions set by the duly elected politicians.

  • Baron

    where do they breed these useful idiots? Will the leaks truly achieve anything except for endangering the lives of our soldiers and Afghans alike?


    Have the publication of these leaks put informants’ lives at risk – very possibly. Have the the leaks made field operations rather more difficult for the allies – undoubtedly. Yet to Simon Mason “Julian Assange is a hero”

    Rather speaks volumes as to who and what Simon Mason is.


    Dead right yank, the 10bn is far better off in the hands of 22 year old lieutenants for walking around money than in the hands of the likes of DfID or your equivalent who would probably want to divert it to gender and diversity education or some such nonsense.

  • yank

    The Taliban and Al Qaeda did not even exist during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Ronnie.

    Doesn’t sound like you’re very serious about this discussion, however. My mistake… thinking you were.

  • Ronnie

    Dunno porkbelly. Self-righteous, name-calling, complacent right-wingers run them pretty close.

  • porkbelly

    Is there anyone as loathsome as a self-righteous left-wing Australian? This creature is trying to out-Pilger Pilger.

  • Ronnie

    Thanks again yank.

    Any idea how much we spent on training and arming the Taleban and Al Q during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan?

  • Dimoto

    After the press and courageous journos (eventually) played an important role in ending the Vietnam war, the enraged and rabid US defence establishment and their political allies, vowed never again.

    So we have the nasty little war in Afghanistan carefully sanitised for public consumption.

    Wasn’t it fairly predictable, in the internet age, that the detail would eventually out, and embarrass all involved ?
    Stop whining !

  • yank


    Call it wishful thinking or whatever else you’d like. The fact remains that our soldiers are no longer dying in droves, nor are the Iraqis, and political progress is being made.

    If it cost an extra 1% of military expenditures to help bring that all off, it was money well spent. And no, it will never be properly accounted for. For that, wait for McChrystal’s book.

    Heck, many of us (only half jokingly) were saying in 2003, long before the COIN business was sexy or ever heard of, that we should be placing cash into the hands of our 22-year old lieutenants, as walking around money, to get some things done over there. If you play ball, your lot will improve. If you don’t, you’ll die. Make your choice.

    It’s more than corruption. It physically puts the military right there on the front lines, where they are anyway. They have to seek out and talk to the right people, not just sit behind the wire and call in JDAMs, waiting for the seeting rage to mount and kill them eventually. It allows the military to interact, and gives them at least some control in the killing field. And if we’re not going to allow the military to properly flatten the enemy, we at least owe them the proper tools to work within that framework we DO allow.

    And after you’ve sought them out, these tribal leaders, and made contact, your message has to be more than just “surrender or else”. Those people you’re talking to are risking their lives talking to you. If you don’t build their power base, give them something to build upon, you give no incentive, other than a future promise. When the headcutters come and cut more heads, your promises mean nothing.

    I believe you’ll find that we are a bit more sophisticated than you’re making out, and most of us, the smarter ones anyways, see through this.

    We don’t do a proper accounting on blood… we don’t count the pints of blood our boys shed. We only count their corpses. Think about it.

  • Tim Hedges

    Of course it’s just you: nobody reads the Times any more since it started charging.

  • RMH

    Yeah wikilieaks is evil.

    It fabbricated the evidence so the US and UK could go to war.

    It also has profitted billions of dollars through the war.

    Down with wikileaks.

  • Ronnie

    Thanks yank.

    10 Billion dollars unaccounted for. I remember when US tax-payers used to care about that sort of thing but it’s a changed world. I’d like to know how you can know where the money went and what good it did if it wasn’t accounted for? Sounds to me like a mixture of fraud (big time) and wishful thinking.

    I’d like to know what ‘fold’ they were brought into. If you can buy good faith and if that faith remains once the money has been spent and the situation on the ground moves on.

    Speaking of wishful thinking, I look forward to the ‘future Iraq worthy of the cradle of civilisation’. I note they remain very far from having a government.

  • RiccardoD

    Someone needed to blow the lid of silence from this whole mess. Neither politicians nor the military seem to want to engage with the “why are we there?” question. The rest of us do, however.

    Three cheers for whoever leaked this, and three cheers for Cameron who is doing some (unpalatable) straight talking on the subject. Someone above made the point that Assange and his ilk would have leaked about SOE in World War II. Fair point. But also remember that if politicians like Lloyd George had not questioned and overruled the military men in WWI, the pointless killing would have carried on longer, and we wouldn’t have won. Military operations simply cannot go unquestioned. Even at a micro level, it seems the MOD have not asked themselves why after 8 years British troops are still fighting with inadequate rifles.

    Most people by now have heard the stories coming back from Afghanistan. These things are debated in pubs throughout the country. Why is it that government and the media should not debate them?

    Assange could have done this differently, simply by giving the files to the Guardian, Spiegel etc and asking them to edit and redact before publication. That would have worked. Nonetheless, articles such as this are essentially just shooting the messenger.

  • FreeMind

    Nothing is true until the corporate media have renounced it – the ugly truth is Wikileaks has exposed not governments but the complicity of the mainstream press in covering up the crimes of those governments, and now there’s a desperate scramble to shoot the messenger.
    You have 92,000 documents to sift through, I’d do your job first, and then criticise the source if you feel the need.

  • yank

    Ronnie: “I don’t suppose you are interested in the 9.6 billion dollars lost by the US military in Iraq either.”



    It wasn’t lost, Ronnie. I think we all know where it went. It’s what we here call “walking around money”. It bought good faith from those who were killing our soldiers. It brought them into the fold. It’s the financial manifestation of COIN, the costs of which are now surfacing as a proper accounting comes forth. I’ve been waiting for this for some time, and I give the Pentagon credit for the exercise. It’s a rare bit of refreshment and openness.

    Not to say that none of it was stolen or wasted, because it surely was. But unless you’re willing to flatten the enemy, this is what the end of conflict looks like. No longer “victory”… it’s “end of conflict”. And with great hope, we move forward into the next phase, less the $10B, but more the lives spared, and a chance for a future Iraq worthy of the cradle of civilization.

  • David Blackburn

    The Bellman,

    I didn’t write it…

  • Senor Frizby

    What’s Lord Mentalslime’s memoirs got to do with it?

  • Billy Jon

    At least there is now someone else for the americans to hate rather than BP, or would they rather just talk about oil instead of human rights.

    This guy is trying to justify his ego, who is he to play judge, jury and god with soldiers and civilians lives…….

  • The Bellman

    Mr Blackburn: You are correct to have a pop at this pretentious buffoon, but you cheapen national security by mentioning the Mandelson memoirs and the primary school lavatory hair-pulling they have inspired.

    Assange’s problem is common among a whole generation of breathless hacks raised on the gutter-bound star-gazing of the ‘speaking truth to power’ myth. In their world, ‘secrecy’ equals ‘cover up’, ‘exposure’ means ‘honesty’. It is small steps from that sort of delusion to arguing that the risks to the lives of our soldiers (they would of course bridle at the notion that US or UK servicemen are in any way ‘ours’, and at the idea that their liberty to abuse on the flimsiest of excuses their freedom of speech is guaranteed only by the strenuous efforts of our intelligence and security agencies and armed forces) is outweighed by their diligent service in pursuit of The Unvarnished Truth.

  • Ronnie

    Strange that a journalist doesn’t want to know more about a fiasco that’s costing billions of dollars and thousands of civilian lives. I don’t suppose you are interested in the 9.6 billion dollars lost by the US military in Iraq either.

    Strange that a Conservative journalist would use the squealing pigs of New Labour to justify the suppression of embarassing information.

  • In2minds

    One of the problems with Nulabour’s Stalinist style ID card scheme, now scrapped, was that eventually all this information would be hacked into. The manner in which information of this sort is collected and stored is the responsibility of the collector.

    It’s the same with this Afghan related information, it’s just too easy to blame WikiLeaks alone, but convenient. It’s also rather funny that an article on ‘free’ speech resides behind a pay wall.

  • Simon Mason

    You’re wrong about this, Julian Assange is a hero, read this brillant profile in New Yorker

    I don’t think he has any prejudices beyond free speech.. I would remind CH’s that the Climatgate E-mail first appeared on Wikileaks, I don’t remember the chorus of disapproval from CH’s then. And he doesn’t fly business class!

  • Nickle

    Come on.

    People are being killed and its being kept secret.

    Why shouldn’t that be revealed?

  • KB

    …It will happen this way. You may be walking. Maybe the first sunny day of the spring. And a car will slow beside you, and a door will open, and someone you know, maybe even trust, will get out of the car. And he will smile, a becoming smile. But he will leave open the door of the car and offer to give you a lift…

  • Frank P
  • sinosimon

    no doubt the same self righteous prig would have released details of SOE operations against the Nazis as they broke the geneva conventions. As more innocent afghans have their genitals sliced off and their heads cleaved from their shoulders i am sur he will swttle down into his business class seat on his way to his next self-serving press conference with a warm glow. british and american soldiers are dying to try and cut off at source a menace that threatens us all.
    never mind guantanamo for terrorists, we need to start prosecuting these people who seem determined to engineer failure of our efforts by any means. in the second world war he would at the very least have been interned for this. and quite rightly too.

  • TrevorsDen

    We can bet that any leaks on anything which intruded into this mans prejudice would stay uncovered – at least by him