Wikileaks needs to make a moral case

After a military faction recently sought to overthrow the Turkish government by a coup, Turkey’s President Erdogan launched a massive and extreme purge of the nation’s military, academia, and judiciary. Tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs, or been arrested. The government even created a separate cemetery for dead coup plotters. While the United States and European governments had condemned the coup, they were deeply disturbed by the extremism of Erdogan’s response. For European governments, the question was particularly difficult because they had relied on a deal with Turkey to end the flood of Middle Eastern migrants to Europe. The country is currently under a three month state of emergency. Amnesty International has denounced the climate of fear endured by journalists. The International Studies Association has denounced the attack on academic freedom in Turkey.

Immediately after the coup, Wikileaks released 300,000 emails that it said were related to the government party, AKP (the Justice and Development party). The site soon came under intense criticism, because the release also contained a database with information on millions of Turkish women; this information may have exposed them to the risk of identity theft. Other critics said that there was nothing terribly secret or exciting in the released emails.

Wikleaks then released emails and voicemails from the Democratic Party in the United States. Several experts then suggested that these materials may have been hacked and released by Russia, which sought to influence the U.S. election. Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, recently created a major political controversy by calling on Russia to find the 30,000 emails that he said Hillary Clinton had deleted from her private email server. For many conservatives, appealing to Putin for assistance -even if it was done sarcastically- was too much. Of course, whether Russia was truly behind the hacking of the DNC servers remains unknown.

Still, there are real questions about Wikileaks’ choices. In neither case did Wikileaks create a convincing argument for why this particular information should be in the public sphere. To date, there don’t be any revelations equivalent to the Pentagon papers in 1971, or Brasil Nunca Mais. It’s one thing to target the powerful, but political transparency shouldn’t expose ordinary Turkish women to identity theft. Neither should Wikileaks be a tool used by one nation-state to influence the politics of another. One hopes that time will show that Wikileaks verified the source of the U.S. information, and the motivation for its release. One also hopes that the organization was too sophisticated for a false flag operation. Assange and his associates have created a clear manifesto for their political goals in Cypherpunks. For that perspective to have legitimacy, leaks need to be justified and have a clear moral purpose.

Shawn Smallman, 2016

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