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Blogs

The truth about Wikileaks

30 November 2010

8:22 AM

30 November 2010

8:22 AM

Isn’t he a character that Julian Assange? With his shades, white hair and globe-trotting antics, the founder of Wikileaks is the perfect 21st century villain or hero depending on which side of the embassy cables debate you find yourself. 

I have met Julian a few times and worked with him on stories concerning the Iraqi billionaire Nadhmi Auchi. I can say no more than that because of the writs that fly from Mr Auchi’s lawyers, Carter-Ruck, when any journalist who tries to write about him. But I can say that I always found Julian professional and honest in all my dealings with him. But he is a freedom of information fundamentalist and anyone working with him should realise this. 

I sympathise with his approach.

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Governments and the intelligence services always argue that they are best qualified to judge what should remain secret. How can journalists tell if something they publish will damage national security or put agents or soldiers in danger, they say? Leave that to the grown-ups. This is an argument for never publishing anything and journalists should retire if they start to heed it. 

Recent experience should demonstrate that the sky rarely falls in when secrets are revealed. One lesson from the Hutton inquiry was that vast amounts of classified information can be made public without doing damage to the business of government. 

Disclosure can be fetishised just as much as secrecy. Sometimes confidentiality really is important. But in the case of the Wikileaks embassy cables it strikes me that the US government was not being serious about secrecy. Considering the scope of the circulation list, it is frankly amazing that this information stayed secret for so long.

I agree with the former secretary of the D-Notice Committee Nick Wilkinson, who said that all information collected in the name of the public should be made public. The only question is when.

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