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The Strange Career of WikiLeaks

Twists and turns.

12:00 AM, Apr 29, 2010 • By JOHN ROSENTHAL
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“Courage is contagious.” So runs the pithy motto adorning the bottom of the upload page of the currently minimalist WikiLeaks website. The original site is no longer online. It disappeared from the web shortly before the new year, allegedly to make way for a necessary fundraising drive. “We protect the world – but will you protect us?” WikiLeaks asked in shilling for donations from visitors.

The Strange Career of WikiLeaks

According to the WikiLeaks organization itself, the old site’s database contained some 1.2 million documents. The current site features exactly twelve. The limited assortment appears to be little more than window-dressing, posted in order to create the appearance of continuity and to provide an appropriate setting for what is the real and virtually exclusive focus of the current site: WikiLeaks’s now famous “Collateral Murder” video and the “Collateral Murder” campaign of which it forms part.

I use the word “campaign” in the sense, more exactly, of a propaganda campaign. For WikiLeaks’s “Collateral Murder” bears all the markings of precisely that. Consider, to start with, just the title, which has clearly been chosen not to describe the events depicted in the video, but rather to influence the audience’s perception of them. This is also the obvious purpose of the nearly three minute introduction that WikiLeaks has added to the video proper. From the downright Orwellian use of the Orwell quotation with which it begins to the narrative text shots that linger on the screen far longer than is necessary to read them to the spooky electrical static effects and beeps on the soundtrack that interrupt the silence at irregular intervals, the introduction to “Collateral Murder” is highly sophisticated and very highly produced cinema. But a leak it is not.

Similarly, the WikiLeaks “Collateral Murder” dedicated website features photos not only of the two Reuters employees killed in the American Apache helicopter attack, but also of the two unfortunate children who were wounded in the unmarked van that the American troops fired on in the aftermath of the initial attack. Such photos of children who are bandaged or even displaying their scars are anything but “leaks.” They are classics of war propaganda, which a given party in an armed conflict has every interest in disseminating as widely as possible in order to delegitimize the efforts of its enemy, also in the eyes of the latter’s own public.

In this case, the photos in question permit the WikiLeaks “producers” to tell a story that is unfavorable to the efforts of the American military in Iraq and favorable to the anti-American, anti-Iraq-government insurgency. Photos of the thousands of Iraqi children who have been killed or maimed in terror attacks that intentionally target civilians would tell a different story. But WikiLeaks is apparently not interested in that story.

In short, WikiLeaks is not the website – and perhaps not the organization – that it once was. If we are to judge by its “Collateral Murder” campaign, the very nature of the WikiLeaks project has changed dramatically. Once upon a time, WikiLeaks did exactly what its name implies. It provided a seemingly equal opportunity platform for leaks of classified materials of all sorts and from a variety of sources.

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