Leaked documents goldmine for politics students


Tommy Collison, Opinion Editor

WikiLeaks announced Monday a new feature on their site which would allow users to search Cryptome.org, an online archive of documents. The new search function joins the several hundred thousand documents available to view on Wikileaks.org, including logs detailing U.S. field reports from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Cryptome, well-known in intelligence circles, hosts documents relating to national security and international relations. These online repositories were joined last week by a long report from The Intercept detailing the U.S. government’s use of drones in targeted assassinations, based on a large leak from a whistleblower. These documents, compiled largely from a series of leaks from whistleblowers both known and anonymous, give us an unparalleled look at U.S. foreign policy since the turn of the century. Students of international relations, politics and the Middle Eastern studies would do well to include these document collections in their studies.

One of the first major leaks regarding U.S. foreign policy impacted the course of the Vietnam War. In 1971, The New York Times reported on the Pentagon Papers, which revealed that the Johnson administration had “systematically lied” to both Congress and the U.S. public about the scale of U.S. war efforts in Vietnam. Daniel Ellsberg spent months preparing the documents, but the cost and time required to leak documents of such national interest has decreased dramatically since then. The Afghan war logs, which consisted of 91,000 documents, were leaked by Chelsea Manning on one CD. In decades past, it was possible to track down each copy of a stolen document and destroy it. Now, there are innumerable perfect copies. Pandora’s Box has been opened — it is no longer logistically prohibitive to leak huge amounts of documents, and as Cryptome, WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden show, the numbers of leaks are only increasing. First-hand evidence of contemporary foreign policy can be hard to come by, and students can benefit from these leaks and disclosures. From this academic study, the general public can better understand the actions of its government.

The question of responsible disclosure arises when documents relating to national security are made public. The White House condemned the release of the Afghan war logs, calling them a “very real and potential threat” to U.S. operatives abroad. Hillary Clinton called the document release “an attack on the international community, the alliances and partnerships, the conventions and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity.” But while some U.S. officials clamored to condemn WikiLeaks and go so far as to call for the assassination of WikiLeaks’ founder, numerous others have pointed out there is no proof WikiLeaks cost the lives of servicemen here or abroad. Long after Pentagon spokespeople have staked a claim for or against WikiLeaks, though, students of U.S. foreign policy will be able to enjoy an unprecedented look at how the U.S. conducted international relations at the beginning of the 21st century.

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Email Tommy Collison at [email protected].