The next batch of files released by WikiLeaks promise to be very interesting indeed, if the reaction of governments to them is anything to go by.
The UK government issued a D-Notice to the British media on Friday, warning them over the forthcoming leak. Essentially, a D-Notice is a warning issued to the media over reporting things that might compromise national security – they are not legally binding, but in practice news editors tend to avoid covering anything with a D-Notice imposed on it.
The effectiveness of D-Notices in this online age is questionable – if we can’t read things in the mainstream media, many of us will pick it up on the blogosphere anyway. Bloggers are much less likely to acknowledge a D-Notice than a newspaper, for instance.
Now the US government has written to WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange asking him not to release the files, reminding him that such an act would be illegal under US law and could put lives at risk.
We don’t know the content of the files earmarked for release just yet, but rumours suggest that they include the private views of US diplomats on foreign powers. It’s hard to see how this could be a threat to national security – a little embarrassing, perhaps, but they are unlikely to damage any relations sufficiently to lead to some kind of security crisis.
It’s perfectly possible, of course, that some of the information contained within the leaked files could be compromising to national or individual security, but the Liberal Conspiracy article linked above quotes a Guardian journalist who reports that the “overwhelming majority” of the information has nothing to do with national security.
In any case, Assange has already indicated that he will negotiate with the US government to limit what information will be made public, but this possibility has already been ruled out by the US State Department, who stated in a letter: “We will not engage in a negotiation regarding the further release or dissemination of illegally obtained US government classified materials.” This seems like an outstandingly stupid thing to do, if lives really are at risk as they claim.
The actions of the US and UK governments, though, seem to be counterproductive in terms of keeping this information quiet. Now this episode has been blown into a story worth putting on the BBC News homepage, among other places. The public and the media will be on high alert for when this information is finally released, which might not have happened without the intervention and posturing of the authorities. If they wanted to suppress this information, they are going to fail. Badly.
As an aside, the BBC article makes this claim about the contents of the leak:
A journalist with Britain’s Guardian newspaper, which has been working with Wikileaks on publishing the files, said they would include an unflattering US assessment of UK PM David Cameron.
God Bless America.