WikiLeaks aftermath: What is unpublishable?

Floyd Abrams writes in the Wall Street Journal that Daniel Ellsberg recognized some volumes of the Pentagon Papers should not be released to the public, that they should remain secret.

This is a distinction that Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, does not seem to recognize, Abrams argues.

Abrams is the lawyer who represented the New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case. He writes that WikiLeaks cannot be compared to the Pentagon Papers.

In 1971, Ellsberg handed over 43 volumes of the papers to the Times. The Pentagon Papers detailed the Defense Department’s study of why the United States was involved in the Vietnam War. But there were four volumes that Ellsberg did not released that described diplomatic efforts, Abrams writes.


Ellberg didn’t want to get in the way of diplomacy — but Assange does, Abrams says.

Abrams writes, “[WikiLeaks] revels in the revelation of ‘secrets’ simply because they are secret. It assaults the very notion of diplomacy that is not presented live on C-Span. It has sometimes served the public by its revelations but it also offers, at considerable potential price, a vast amount of material that discloses no abuses of power at all.”

The aftermath of WikiLeaks could be interpreted as a lesson for governments to open up, Financial Times reports.

Not all state data should be public, but the leaks do suggest a debate needs to occur about what kind of government information should remain unpublished.

The reasons for keeping information secret “too often stem from fear of embarrassment, force of habit or politicians going cold on previous ideals – not the public interest,” Financial Times reports.

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