YOU Decide: Should Classified Government Information Be Made Public?

A Web site known as WikiLeaks has been in the news a lot recently. Its founder, Australian Julian Assange, uses WikiLeaks to publish a wide variety of documents from the United States government. An unknown person (or employee) within the government makes the documents available to WikiLeaks. Some documents are “unclassified,” or suitable for anyone to read. Others are labeled “classified.” According to government regulations, classified documents can only be viewed by people who have been given clearance, or approval, to see them.

Earlier this fall, WikiLeaks published classified information on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It first made the documents available to three selected newspapers, including The New York Times.  Later, the documents were published on the WikiLeaks Web site.

WikiLeaks also gave thousands of documents from the U.S. State Department to four newspapers. Those newspapers are all overseas. They are The Guardian in the United Kingdom, Le Monde in France, Der Spiegel in Germany, and Le Pais in Spain. The New York Times got the cables from a different source. The Times went on to work with the other papers in order to review the documents for material that should not be published for security reasons. The Times also worked with the U.S. government to alert administration officials about what was being published.

Some people believe that citizens have a right to read all government documents. Other people think that government classification of documents is intended to protect sensitive areas related to U.S. foreign policy. Many leaders in the U.S. government have spoken strongly against the release of the documents. Secretary of State Clinton is the leader of the government Department of State.

The United States strongly condemns the illegal disclosure of classified information. It puts people’s lives in danger, threatens our national security, and undermines our efforts to work with other countries to solve shared problems.  . .

So let’s be clear: this disclosure is not just an attack on America’s foreign policy interests. It is an attack on the international community – the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations, that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity. . .

Relations between governments aren’t the only concern created by the publication of this material. U.S. diplomats meet with local human rights workers, journalists, religious leaders, and others outside of governments who offer their own candid insights. These conversations also depend on trust and confidence. For example, if an anti-corruption activist shares information about official misconduct, or a social worker passes along documentation of sexual violence, revealing that person’s identity could have serious repercussions: imprisonment, torture, even death. . .

. . .In almost every profession – whether it’s law or journalism, finance or medicine or academia or running a small business – people rely on confidential communications to do their jobs. We count on the space of trust that confidentiality provides. When someone breaches that trust, we are all worse off for it. And so despite some of the rhetoric [discussion] we’ve heard these past few days, confidential communications do not run counter to the public interest. They are fundamental to our ability to serve the public interest.

In America, we welcome genuine debates about pressing questions of public policy. We have elections about them. That is one of the greatest strengths of our democracy. It is part of who we are and it is a priority for this Administration. But stealing confidential documents and then releasing them without regard for the consequences does not serve the public good, and it is not the way to engage in a healthy debate. . .

—Remarks to the Press on the Release of Confidential Documents
Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State
Washington, DC
November 29, 2010

What Do YOU Think?

Use the Internet to research more about this issue. Find examples of:

  • an interview with Assange given between November 22, 2010 and December 3, 2010
  • an editorial from the editorial board of The New York Times or The Guardian.

Use what you have read to write an opposing viewpoint to the statement given by Secretary Clinton. Then, write a blog post that explains your reaction to the debate. What do you think? Should classified government documents be published by non-government groups? Why or why not?