“War Diaries 2.0”: Is Wikileaks Moving Down the Learning Curve?

24 October 2010, 0043 EDT

In a number of respects the Iraq War Diaries constitute a repeat of the Afghan War Diaries – a massive data dump bringing to light few unknowns but admittedly casting those knowns in much sharper relief, an act for which Julian Assange is being hailed or harangued by those of different persuasions, for different reasons. At Lawyers, Guns and Money, I’ve pointed out a couple of things that are different this time ‘round:

Assange was previously criticized, including by me, for protecting his sources but exposing the names of vulnerable individuals named in the documents themselves. In his newest public statements, Assange has bent over backward to insist he did a more careful redaction this time. My cursory examination of some random documents suggests it may be true. (I withhold judgment until either I or someone else has looked through a larger number of them, but I do feel generally a bit less uncomfortable than I was last time he unleashed a dump like this – if only because he acknowledges the norm of limiting collateral damage by war reporters as well as war fighters.)

That said, DOD and members of military families have legitimate concerns about the security of troops on the basis of this information. This is a different concern than the one I’ve written about previously, which is the security of local civilians, but it’s also not to be taken lightly. I continue to think there is a middle ground between staying silent and dumping massive amounts of data on the public.

Assange’s newfound powers of redaction do also, of course, raise a question as to how Assange possibly managed to redact such a large number of documents, given his claim that it would require $700 million and Pentagon help to redact the AWD. I guess miracles never cease in this technological age.

My post goes on to argue:

Wikileaks’ mode of information dissemination is also quite different this time around. The Afghan War Diaries site was fairly rudimentary, a simple portal through which individuals could download the entire set of files. Warlogs.Wikileaks.org includes a search engine with a topic model, and in the absence of a search presents documents from the files seemingly at random. (I like the tool that automatically expands acronyms.)Most interestingly is the separate page where individuals can comment on bits of the logs without downloading the whole, flagging specific documents and providing commentary. Truly, “War Diaries 2.0″.

Not sure as yet how precisely the topics are generated, whether through searches or some sort of coding scheme developed in advance by Assange and team. Oh that Wikileaks were as transparent about its decision-making as it asks governments to be.

Finally, the answer to the question in the title may ultimately be based on internal dynamics within the organization itself – which are also in constant motion. An excellent source to follow on what Wikileaks is, as opposed to what it does, is here.