2010-12-04 Debunked: "WikiLeaks is Anti-American"

The Falsehood:

While claiming to be an organization interested in global justice, Wikileaks is really a virulently anti-American organization.

The Explanation:

This falsehood is quite straightforward. Its propagation in the media, especially the U.S. media, has vastly increased since Sunday 29 November, on which date Wikileaks began its Cablegate releases. The falsehood normally relies on a group of subsidiary falsehoods, such as the idea that "Wikileaks won't release information on China or Russia."

The Source:

This falsehood is hard to trace to an original source, since its use has been so frequent. One can only point to prominent sources, and look at these as representative of, or causative of, the falsehood's popularity. In a now very famous post on her Facebook page, former governor of Alaska, and former vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, wrote a single short sentence which managed to include two frequent falsehoods in only ten words:

He is an anti-American operative with blood on his hands.

The substance of the allegation, though, consists in the belief that Wikileaks publishes no material on other entities. This argument has been made in the Telegraph, by George Grant.

If Assange is genuinely committed to shining light into the darkness, and exposing real corruption and human rights abuse, we must ask ourselves, where are the ‘Chinese Embassy Cables’? What has become of the ‘Iran Files’? Whither the ‘Chechnya War Logs’?...

The ... answer to this question could just as easily be, however, that Assange is not really all that interested in exposing corruption and human rights abuse at all, rather his objective is to embarrass and weaken the US and its Western allies because he hates them for what they are and what they stand for.

Following on from arguments like this, one finds the question "Why doesn't Wikileaks focus on other countries?" repeated all over the internet, with little concern over the falsehood of its premise, and little worry that it funds an inference to a new falsehood.

The Truth:

There are many ways to approach debunking this falsehood. One thing it is important to say from the outset: there is little reason to rely on allegation and rumour from American punditry, when there is already a thorough and articulate defense of Wikileaks' activities by its various spokespersons. We advise that even a cursory attempt to engage with Wikileaks' now plentiful literature on its own activities will comprehensively answer many of the worries raised by media personalities with a proven history of rhetorical mendacity. At the very least, criticisms of Wikileaks ought to address Wikileaks strong and intellectually penetrating arguments, and there has been very little attempt to do that by American news networks and mainstream publications.

  • 1. How material finds its way to Wikileaks

A prominent misconception about Wikileaks is that it proactively acquires its material, and therefore must have deliberately sought material on the United States. This is false. The first thing that must be understood is that Wikileaks does not proactively acquire its leaks. Assange on the matter:

We’re totally source dependent. We get what we get. As our profile rises in a certain area, we get more in a particular area. People say, why don’t you release more leaks from the Taliban. So I say hey, help us, tell more Taliban dissidents about us.

All of Wikileaks' material has been sent to it, by insider whistleblowers, who felt that it was necessary to disclose something. Wikileaks can therefore only choose what to publish from what has already been submitted to it.

Before its old website was taken down, (a newer version can be consulted here) Wikileaks publicly stated it would only accept leaks of the following sort:

  1. Classified, censored, or otherwise restricted material of political, diplomatic, historical or ethical significance.
  2. WikiLeaks does not accept rumour, opinion, or other kinds of first hand reporting or material that is already publicly available.
  3. Areas of documents leaked thus far have covered government, trade, corporate, war, killings, torture, detention, suppression of free speech and free press, diplomacy, spying, counter-intelligence, ecology, climate, nature, sciences, corruption, finances, taxes, trading, censorship and internet filtering, cults, religious organizations, abuse, violence, violations.

Wikileaks agrees, therefore, to accept material that concerns more than just the United States. The organization concerns itself with a broad range of materials.

On this point, it is also worth observing that though it may have changed policy as it grew, in the past, Wikileaks proclaimed a predominant interest in 'Third World' leaks.

Our primary interest is in exposing oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we also expect to be of assistance to people of all regions who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their governments and corporations. We aim for maximum political impact.

  • 2. What Wikileaks has published in the past.

Another common assumption is that Wikileaks has only published material on the United States. Given the availability of Wikileaks' previous publications, this is perhaps understandable. Nevertheless, it is false. Wikileaks' publishing history in fact bears out its stated remit of pursuing materials of signifiance to the historical record. Because of DDOS attacks and corporate webhost divestment from Wikileaks, the original MediaWiki site from which Wikileaks draws its name is no longer available (originally at wikileaks.org). A copy of that site still exists in Google Cache. There, a vast number of leaks is visible, relevant to a wide variety of corporate and national entities. A selection includes:

  • CIA Red Cell Memorandum on United States "exporting terrorism", 2 Feb 2010
  • ABC Foreign Correspondent video report on Thailand, 13 April 2010
  • Loveparade 2010 Duisburg planning documents, 2007-2010
  • WikiLeaks reveals Pentagon journalist murder-coverup in Iraq / army airstrike video, 5 Apr 2010
  • U.S. Embassy profiles on Icelandic PM, Foreign Minister, Ambassador, 29 Mar 2010
  • CIA report into shoring up Afghan war support in Western Europe, 11 Mar 2010
  • U.S. Intelligence planned to destroy WikiLeaks, 18 Mar 2008
  • Over 40 billion euro in 28167 claims made aganst the Kaupthing Bank, 23 Jan 2010
  • BBC High Court Defence against Trafigura libel suit, 11 Sep 2009
  • Icelandic Icesave offer to UK-NL, 25 Feb 2010
  • Cryptome.org takedown: Microsoft Global Criminal Compliance Handbook, 24 Feb 2010
  • Classified cable from US Embassy Reykjavik on Icesave dated 13 Jan 2010
    Tiger Woods UK media gag order, 10 Dec 2009
  • Big Pharma inside the WHO: confidential analysis of unreleased WHO Expert Working Group draft reports, 8 Dec 2009
  • Draft Copenhagen climate change agreement, 8 Dec 2009
  • US Transportation Security Administration: Screening Procedures Standard Operating Procedures, 1 May 2008
  • Yahoo compliance guide for law enforcement, 23 Dec 2008
  • Microsoft COFEE (Computer Online Forensics Evidence Extractor) tool and documentation, Sep 2009
  • Rechtsanwalt Solmecke unzensierter Blogeintrag zu Abmahnanwaelten und deren Geschaeftspraktiken, 25 Nov 2009
  • WikiLeaks to release over half a million 9/11 text pager intercepts
  • Toll Collect Betreibervertrag, 5 Jun 2002
  • Toll Collect AGES International Kooperationsvertrag, 20 Sep 2002
  • Toll Collect Sachverstaendigenvertrag Dr.-Ing. Schwerhoff, 23 May 2003
  • Rechtsanwalt Seibert droht WikiLeaks mit Strafverfolgung wegen Ratiopharm Ermittlungsakte, 20 Nov 2009
  • Climatic Research Unit emails, data, models, 1996-2009
  • Davenport Lyons and DigiProtect Actionpoints for filesharers, 14 Jan 2009
  • Davenport Lyons and Kornmeier Monetary and Working Correspondence, 19 Mar 2008
  • Ermittlungsakte Landespolizeidirektion Tuebingen gegen die Ratiopharm GmbH wegen Untreue und Bestechung, 12 Mar 2008
  • Controversial holocaust historian David Irving emails, Nov 2009
  • EU draft council decision on sharing of banking data with the US and restructuring of SWIFT, 10 Nov 2009
  • Suppressed video of Thai Crown Prince and Princess at decadent dog party
  • Spring Design Inc lawsuit against Barnes and Nobles, Nov 2009
  • Removed paper on Internet censorship trails in Australia, NZ, UK with NetClean Whitebox, 2009
  • British National Party membership list and other information, 15 Apr 2009
  • UK MoD Manual of Security Volumes 1, 2 and 3 Issue 2, JSP-440, RESTRICTED, 2389 pages, 2001
  • Times TOP50 work places for women, due to appear on 7 Oct 2009, looks like a fraud, internal docs, Aurora, 2007-2009
  • UK Ministry of Defence continually monitors WikiLeaks: eight reports into classified UK leaks, 29 Sep 2009
  • Corruption in Norway, Ghana or both? Statoil v. BioFuel and the Kroll Inc. private intelligence report, Feb 2009
  • FDP Arguliner zu Aenderungen beim Kuendigungsschutz, 8 Sep 2009
    Lycos Deutschland Suchmaschinen Zensurliste
  • Product placement hell: Cisco "bribes" 24, CSI, House, Heroes, the Office, and more
  • Yale pharmacology chair Joseph Schlessinger suppressed site exposing sexual, financial misconduct, 14 Sep 2009

Further confirmation of this publishing history is available on the Wikileaks Official Twitter feed, which records the history of Wikileaks as it developed since February 2009. An archive of this twitter feed is available here on WLcentral, which may be easier to peruse. The Twitter feed is invaluable for exploring the history of each of these leaks in great detail, as well as the fuller history of the Wikileaks organization.

  • 3. How Wikileaks prioritizes its publications

The third point to consider is that 2010 has been a year of "megaleaks" with an emphasis on the United States. Why is this, if Wikileaks is not deliberately targeting the United States?

In an interview with Andy Greenberg, for Forbes, Julian Assange explains this quite reasonably.

Greenberg:To start, is it true you’re sitting on trove of unpublished documents?

Assange:Sure. That’s usually the case. As we’ve gotten more successful, there’s a gap between the speed of our publishing pipeline and the speed of our receiving submissions pipeline. Our pipeline of leaks has been increasing exponentially as our profile rises, and our ability to publish is increasing linearly...

Greenberg:You’ve been focused on the U.S. military mostly in the last year. Does that mean you have private sector-focused leaks in the works?

Assange:Yes. If you think about it, we have a publishing pipeline that’s increasing linearly, and an exponential number of leaks, so we’re in a position where we have to prioritize our resources so that the biggest impact stuff gets released first.

Greenberg:When will WikiLeaks return to its older model of more frequent leaks of smaller amounts of material?

Assange:If you look at the average number of documents we’re releasing, we’re vastly exceeding what we did last year. These are huge datasets. So it’s actually very efficient for us to do that. If you look at the number of packages, the number of packages has decreased. But if you look at the average number of documents, that’s tremendously increased.

Greenberg:So will you return to the model of higher number of targets and sources?

Assange:Yes. Though I do actually think…[pauses] These big package releases. There should be a cute name for them.


Assange:Megaleaks. That’s good. These megaleaks…They’re an important phenomenon, and they’re only going to increase. When there’s a tremendous dataset, covering a whole period of history or affecting a whole group of people, that’s worth specializing on and doing a unique production for each one, which is what we’ve done.

We can therefore understand that the dominant leaks of 2010, Collateral Murder, the Afghanistan and Iraq War Logs and Cablegate, were larger and of more urgency than other material in Wikileaks' possession, such that it was necessary to prioritize these leaks. This has been a consistent message throughout 2010. Assange made a similar statement during the press conference for the Afghanistan War Logs in July.

Wikileaks is on a bit of publishing hiatus in order to do significant reengineering to cope with the level of submissions we are receiving and the level of public interest in our site. It's actually a very hard engineering task to supply 2-5% of the entire world internet connected population at a single moment with material. And so we are a small organization trying to understand how to do that an do that in a secure way. As a result we have built up during that period an enormous backlog of whistleblower disclosures. Additionally after the Collateral Murder tape came out which revealed how two Reuters journalists were killed in Baghdad, along with 16-26 other people, we received a substantial increase in the number of submissions. Now we have an enormous range of material we are trying to get through and keep our promise to our sources in achieving the maximum political impact for that material. This is one of those cases. This is one of the cases of us getting through our backlog. So we have released to the public some 76000 reports from this set of material. The set itself comprises over 91000 reports. We have held back about 15000 reports of a particular type to undergo a further harm minimization review. and some of those reports will be redacted and released as soon as we are able to get through them and others will be withheld until the security situation in Afghanistan means that it is safe to release them. And by safe, I do not mean safe for military forces, I mean safe for the local population of Afghanistan.

Another important thing to note from the above quote is that Wikileaks' limited resources have been entirely occupied with the task of preparing 2010's United States leaks for publication, and that leaks with more diverse subject matter will necessarily have been postponed until these leaks have been fully published.

  • 4. Wikileaks' Publicly-stated Intentions

The final point to consider is Wikileaks' spokespeople's explicit statements about the purpose of the United States releases, and their attitude towards the United States. Wikileaks upholds founding values of the United States as inspirational to its own project, and celebrates the freedom of speech tradition consistently defended by the United States Supreme Court:

Publishing improves transparency, and this transparency creates a better society for all people. Better scrutiny leads to reduced corruption and stronger democracies in all society's institutions, including government, corporations and other organisations. A healthy, vibrant and inquisitive journalistic media plays a vital role in achieving these goals. We are part of that media.

Scrutiny requires information. Historically, information has been costly in terms of human life, human rights and economics. As a result of technical advances particularly the internet and cryptography - the risks of conveying important information can be lowered. In its landmark ruling on the Pentagon Papers, the US Supreme Court ruled that "only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government." We agree.

Julian Assange is known to have a sophisticated view of the United States, illustrated clearly in this interview in TIME Magazine:

The United States has some immutable traditions, which, to be fair, are based on the French Revolution and the European Enlightenment. The United States' Founding Fathers took those further, and the federalism of the United States also, of relatively powerful states trying to constrain federal government from becoming too centralized. Also added some important democratic controls and understandings. So there is a lot of good that has historically come from the United States. But after World War II, during World War II, the federal government of the United States started sucking the resources to the center, and the power of states started to diminish. Interestingly, the First Amendment started overriding states' laws around that time, which I see as a function of increasing central power in the United States. I think the problems with the United States as a foreign power stem from, simply, its economic success, whereby it's, historically at least, a very rich country with a number of people and the desire left over as a result of ... Let me explain this a bit better. The U.S. saw the French Revolution and it also saw the behavior of the U.K. and the other kings and dictatorships, so it intentionally produced a very weak President. The President was, however, given a lot of power for external relations, so as time has gone by, the presidency has managed to exercise its power through its foreign affairs function. ... But as the United States has grown economically, that has led to a situation where the foreign affairs power is latched on to by central government to increase the power of the government, as opposed to state government. The U.S. is, I don't think by world standards, an exception, rather it is a very interesting case both for its abuses and for some of its founding principles.

Wikileaks consistent mission, throughout its 4 year existence, has been to promote justice through transparency and the advocacy of a strong press. These principles are consonant with founding values of Western democracy, in particular, those of the United States. Where Wikileaks has been in conflict with United States authorities over the last year, Wikileaks has advocated the values of the United States Constitution against those in the U.S. Government who would erode those values. This analysis is borne out for anyone who cares to examine the events of 2010.


In conclusion, while it is a fair observation that the predominant focus of Wikileaks' public activity in 2010 has been the United States, it is roundly untrue that this represents an anti-American agenda on the part of the organization. The idea that Wikileaks is anti-American is straightforwardly false, with reference to the fact that:

  1. Wikileaks does not choose its sources. Its sources choose Wikileaks.
  2. Wikileaks has a long publishing history on countries other than the United States, and on companies outside of the United States.
  3. Wikileaks must prioritise its publications by criteria of urgency and significance, and apply its limited resources to efforts towards speedy publication.
  4. Wikileaks openly and verbally defends the values of the United States Constitution against those within the United States and elsewhere who would erode them.

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