Wikileaks is a website that was set up in 2006 by The Sunshine Press, a not-for-profit organization whose aim is to publish, anonymously, "non-politically correct" material, in other words sensitive information, State secrets and so on – hence the name. Julian Assange has become the face of Wikileaks. This Australian computer specialist is one of the most active contributors and spokespersons of the website, and he sits on the board of the organisation. Wikileaks started out in English, but is aiming at 12 language versions. Wikileaks hit the headlines when it posted a video called "Collateral Murder”, denouncing an episode of excess by the United States army in Iraq. Soldiers shot civilians including two photographers from the Reuters press agency, then destroyed the vehicle that had come to their aid.
This is a collaborative website, run on the same lines as Wikipedia. Numerous Chinese and Iranian dissidents, mathematicians, journalists and IT specialists from the United States, Taiwan and Europe have between them published over 1 million documents on this site to blow the whistle on situations they consider unjust, inhuman or unacceptable. Some of the most compromising leaks have concerned United States spending on equipment in Iraq, violations of the international Chemical Weapons Convention committed in Iraq by the United States, human rights violations at Guantanamo Bay, or money-laundering in the Cayman Islands. The revelations of Wikileaks at the end of 2010 sent shock waves through the world of diplomacy. The website managed to obtain 250 000 cables from United States embassy sources, and had the idea of sending them to 5 partners in the media, including the New York Times, the Guardian in the UK and le Monde in France, to make sure they were given broad public circulation. It worked. The practices of US diplomacy, and, indirectly, those of other states, are no longer a secret. It’s not clear, though, whether this sort of information is as valuable as knowing about excesses by the military or corruption among African or Russian dictators. And is it really a matter of "transnational" interest to know what US diplomats think about various heads of state? Is it such a revelation that Sarkozy is viewed as “thin-skinned and authoritarian”? Or that Gordon Brown’s government was written off early on as a “sinking ship”, or that Russian President Medvedev “plays Robin to Putin’s Batman”? Either way, with these American diplomatic leaks, Wikileaks has scooped a lot of much-needed publicity. In fact, The website is financed exclusively by donations from defenders of human rights, investigative journalists, internet lovers and the general public. It has to stay independent to be credible, after all. That’s the price it has to pay, and it clearly isn’t easy, as the website is regularly appealing for funds, and it can’t publish documents of interest in Chinese or Persian if it doesn’t have the money.
Just for the record, if you were considering using Wikileaks to publicize your complaint about the quality of the food in the school canteen, or blow the whistle on your boss’s harassment or the company’s dismal record on health and safety, forget it. Leaks like that are of no interest to Wikileaks, which sets its sights much higher.