WikiLeaks.org, a user-editable Web site that anonymously publishes sensitive documents, has obtained what seems to be the United States’ Iraq rules of engagement from late 2005. The document was released on the site this morning, and also written up in today’s New York Times. (“We aim for maximum political impact,” says a site FAQ. Not bad!)
This is the second time a WikiLeaks document has made the Times; the first was a Guantanamo operations manual, released in November 2007. And interestingly enough, WikiLeaks is saying both documents came from a single “courageous national security whistleblower” who goes by “Peryton.” (Is this how Deep Throat is born, Web 2.0 style?)
In March of 2007, CJR ran a short piece dinging the WikiLeaks project for its own lack of transparency. When dealing with mysterious sources, reportorial skepticism is always healthy. But no matter who, exactly, is behind the Web site, WikiLeaks is establishing something of a track record. If a whistleblower would rather give their smoking gun to WikiLeaks than to a newspaper or network, traditional journalists shouldn’t stigmatize the information. Just do as the Times did, and take the sensible precaution of checking in with independent experts before publishing. That’s not so hard, is it?