Aftergood goes after WikiLeaks

Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, one of the nation’s foremost experts on classified documents and secrecy policy, just put up a blog post taking WikiLeaks to task.

Aftergood’s distaste for the WikiLeaks project is long standing and well known. The post criticizes the site for indiscriminate posting—not only disseminating the secret documents of governments and corporations, but the membership rituals and rules of innocuous private membership groups, like sororities and the Masons. Aftergood also questions the impact the organization’s disclosures have had, criticizes the site’s decision to post the full text of a copyrighted contemporary book-length work of journalism, and wonders why the outfit fundraised around the release of the Iraq video rather than establish a support fund for the attack’s victims.

“WikiLeaks must be counted among the enemies of open society because it does not respect the rule of law nor does it honor the rights of individuals,” writes Aftergood.

In an indication of the respect with which WikiLeaks once viewed Aftergood, he was approached to serve on its advisory board in late December 2006. Emails between Aftergood and an unidentified WikiLeaks activist were later partially anonymized and posted on, another website that posts closely held documents, and whose proprietor, John Young, was copied on the emails. (At the time Young was aiding WikiLeaks, he later had a falling out with the group.)

At the time, WikiLeaks’ model was much more like its namesake Wikipedia—where anyone with an internet connection could post an entry with a suppressed or unpublished document.

While Aftergood wrote in the emails that “Wikileaks sounds like a very exciting and promising undertaking with great potential for good,” he passed on the invitation to serve on its advisory board after his correspondent failed to answer questions about the site’s editorial policies—especially its plan to automate disclosure—to his satisfaction. On January 4, 2007, Aftergood skeptically blogged about the invitation in a post that may have been the first public mention of the developing project.

The Guardian later published excerpts from an email to Aftergood written by Jay Lim, a WikiLeaks legal advisor.

“Who’s side are you on here Stephen? It is time this constant harping stopped… We are very disappointed in your lack of support and suggest you cool it. If you don’t, we will, with great reluctance, be forced to respond.”

It will be interesting, to say the least, to see the form of WikiLeaks’ response to Aftergood’s post in the coming days.

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Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.