Julian Assange
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange (photo by New Media Days on Flickr)

A Congressional official said publicly that the Wikileaks revelations had seriously damaged American interests in order to bolster legal efforts to shut down the WikiLeaks website and bring charges against the leakers.   On condition of anonymity, Reuters was told that State Department officials have privately said to Congress they expect overall damage to U.S. foreign policy to be containable.

“We were told (the impact of WikiLeaks revelations) was embarrassing but not damaging,” said the official, who attended a briefing given in late 2010 by State Department officials.

Previously, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley had said, “From our standpoint, there has been substantial damage. We believe that hundreds of people have been put at potential risk because their names have been compromised in the release of these cables.”  But it turns out those assertions were overblown in an effort to stoke the firestorm of backlash against Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange, a claim Wikileaks defenders have been making for months.  Still, the U.S. government will continue to investigate whether criminal charges can be brought against Assange.  This admission by no means lets him off the hook.

This also does not mean the released information is inconsequential.  Damage assessments by the State Department, Pentagon and U.S. intelligence community are still continuing.  Meanwhile, the current view of many officials that damage has been limited could change if WikiLeaks releases additional material from its trove of unpublished documents.

9 thoughts on “State Dept. admits Wikileaks was embarrassing but not damaging

  1. I’m okay with what Assange and Wikileaks did. They seemed to act fairly responsibly with regard to making a good faith effort to redact damaging info. I think they conducted themselves as journalists of sorts and should be afforded that same protection.

    However, Bradly Manning appears to have violated his security agreement with the government, and as such is certainly subject to prosecution. I’ve seen no persuasive evidence so far that Wikileaks in any way abetted Manning.

    I’ve written about this a few times already. You may find some of that interesting: https://timscogitorium.com/tinblog/?s=wikileaks

  2. Yep – I searched before posting. Gimme a little credit…. 🙂

    I couldn’t really decipher what your take on it was before I posted. I don’t see it as journalism at all, and I just can’t bring myself to use the word responsible anywhere near this. Guess we’ll have to disagree on this one.

    One benefit though – lots of pretty right wing folks I know now have a newfound respect Hillary Clinton.

  3. I do understand the question over whether or not this is “journalism.” I’m sure Woodward and Bernstein wouldn’t consider Assange a journalist in their league. But this is more a legal definition of what constitutes a journalist under the 1st Amendment, and I think we need a fairly broad interpretation there. If the Internet had existed in the 70s, what if Deep Throat had released his story to the DailyKOS? Is the Enquirer journalism? (It broke the John Edwards scandal). How about Matt Drudge, Glenn Beck, a volunteer reporter for the Westside News or a school newspaper, me?

    The reality seems to be that in the age of the Internet, most anyone can be a journalist. Sure, you can argue there are those paid to do that job by traditional news organizations that are lousy at it, and there are also volunteers running their own blogs who do it better than many so-called professionals. At least at this point we don’t have any legal definition of “journalist,” and I don’t think it’s a line we want to draw arbitrarily.

    Back to Wikileaks, Assange worked with the NYTimes and the London Times to vet and redact the info prior to publishing. And both those papers also published leaked info. Yet their are no threats to prosecute those newspapers. No one investigated whether or not Robert Novak should have been prosecuted for outing Valerie Plame and he explicitly put a specific person in danger with his leak.

    Would there be any talk of prosecution if Manning had leaked his data to the Washington Post? I don’t think so. However, I think if Manning had sent the data to me and I had published it here, that Darrell Issa would be investigating Tim’s Cogitorium.

    There remains this notion there is something special about traditional news organizations. But I have trouble with the notion that no one can define what it is and isn’t, but they know it when they see it. To my mind, it’s foolish to waste time trying to decide is Assange a journalist or not. The easier question to answer is whether or not anyone else would be in trouble for publishing what he did. I think the answer is clearly, no. Especially since others have, and no one is looking at them.

  4. I need a “quote” button!

    Tim> “I do understand the question over whether or not this is “journalism.” I’m sure Woodward and Bernstein wouldn’t consider Assange a journalist in their league. But this is more a legal definition of what constitutes a journalist under the 1st Amendment, and I think we need a fairly broad interpretation there.”

    Free speech !- journalism. The former is everyman. The latter used to be an art, a profession, something that required a skill and a talent and conviction, and a bottle of bourbon in the lower desk drawer, and not just a source with a thumb drive and a perl script. And, you know the tired trotting out of the 1st amendment to justify shit that it was never meant for (political donations for attack ads, the f’ed up Westboro Baptist crap, porn, etc etc) is just wrong. I’m not one to claim the founding fathers had perfect vision into the future, but I’m pretty sure they’d be damned pissed that this, and calling a timeout on saying this is what they created the 1st amendment for. Bet you an order of wings that they’d be calling for this guys head, and using the word treason.

    Tim> “…what if Deep Throat had released his story to the DailyKOS?…”

    I’m just not buying the analogy to Deep Throat and Dustin Hofmann & Robert Redford. Or any other leak to the press for that matter. They’re not interchangeable.

    Tim> “Is the Enquirer journalism? (It broke the John Edwards scandal). ”

    You can’t be serious with this question.

    Tim> “How about Matt Drudge”

    Okay I’ll play: NO.

    Tim> “Glenn Beck”

    NO.

    Tim> “a volunteer reporter for the Westside News or a school newspaper, me?”

    Yes, yes, and yes.

    Tim> “At least at this point we don’t have any legal definition of “journalist,” and I don’t think it’s a line we want to draw arbitrarily.

    A legal definition? C’mon. There are things that clearly fit the definition, or if you want, what is generally accepted as journalism. There are things that clearly don’t. There are grey areas. This one is not a grey area, and to say since we don’t have a definition or anything that isn’t black or white means anything goes is goofy.

    Tim> “Back to Wikileaks, Assange worked with the NYTimes and the London Times to vet and redact the info prior to publishing.”

    I’m sure you have some references of this activity. I’d love to see something meaty (i.e., other than them declaring “we worked with they nytimes to redact…”). Email it to me if that’s easier.

    Tim> “And both those papers also published leaked info. Yet their are no threats to prosecute those newspapers.”

    But you have to not let the source off the hook. I’m not willing to say that because they’re not after everyone that they shouldn’t be after anyone. That logic is flawed. What the downstream news agencies did was wrong, but what he did was an order of magnitude more wrong.

    Tim> No one investigated whether or not Robert Novak should have been prosecuted for outing Valerie Plame and he explicitly put a specific person in danger with his leak.

    I’m not sure that’s true. Folks did ask that question. I am still amazed, pissed, and sad at that. Not to sidetrack this, but what good did that do? Where was the newsworthiness of that? If you or he had a list of 1000 spies, what does it benefit by publishing it just cause you have it? Joe Voyeur doesn’t have some god given right to know. There’s a shitload of negatives (including lost lives) and no positives.

    Tim> “Would there be any talk of prosecution if Manning had leaked his data to the Washington Post? I don’t think so.

    I do. I don’t thing this is some “Hey, Assange finally went to far now let’s get him”, kind of thing.

    Tim> However, I think if Manning had sent the data to me and I had published it here, that Darrell Issa would be investigating Tim’s Cogitorium.”

    I’d bail you out of jail man. You can count on me.

    Tim> There remains this notion there is something special about traditional news organizations. But I have trouble with the notion that no one can define what it is and isn’t, but they know it when they see it.

    Our lives are full of “I know it when I see it”. If only as a parent you know that. There are all kinds of rules and guidelines and expectations and precedent and history. But your gut and your brain and your heart kick in to tell you – “wait a sec – this doesn’t fit my checklist, but I know what is right and what is wrong”. Yep, lots of bad stuff has happened when this goes awry by someone who’s gone off the deep end. But it goes right about 99% of the time.

    Tim> To my mind, it’s foolish to waste time trying to decide is Assange a journalist or not.

    Now ya tell me.

    Tim> The easier question to answer is whether or not anyone else would be in trouble for publishing what he did. I think the answer is clearly, no. Especially since others have, and no one is looking at them.

    I think the answer is yes. The others regurgitated it so their competitors wouldn’t get there before them. He threw the brick through the window.

  5. We can agree Assange is fugly. It seems we can also agree that Citizens United and the move to declare corporations “people” is insane, and should be reversed. And I certainly despise Westboro Baptist’s behavior. But I have to stop short of thinking the church’s actions should be illegal.

    I think we’re getting hung up on the word “journalist” (which I brought up), when in fact, the 1st Amendment says nothing about that. The freedom of the press clause is generally understood as prohibiting the government from interfering with the printing and distribution of information or opinions. No skill, talent, or bourbon required.

    While at the founding of the country the restrictions on the press were stricter (they probably would have considered Assange a traitor—if he were American), through most of the 19th and 20th centuries the interpretation has been pretty liberal and unrestricted.

    As for Wikileaks limiting publication to redactions recommended by the Times, look here on page 2:

    The Times, after consultations with the State Department, has withheld from articles and removed from documents it is posting online the names of some people who spoke privately to diplomats and might be at risk if they were publicly identified. The Times is also withholding some passages or entire cables whose disclosure could compromise American intelligence efforts. While the White House said it anticipated WikiLeaks would make public “several hundred thousand” cables Sunday night, the organization posted only 220 released and redacted by The Times and several European publications.

    As to Novak, I agree that what he did was reprehensible. As a journalist, it was beyond irresponsible. But it wasn’t illegal.

    The Pentagon Papers is maybe the closest analogy to this situation. The material released in 1971 was extremely embarrassing to the government. Nixon tried to shut the newspapers down, but the SCOTUS quickly ruled to uphold their right to publish.

    The point of this article was that the Wikileaks cables were embarrassing, but not more than that. No one has died. No military operations were endangered. No treaties were broken, wars started, or anything else. This is well within the interpretation of the freedom of the press clause which has been around for the last century.

    And you never know… I may have to collect on that offer to bail me out someday.

    BTW, you can embed html tags in the text

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