Top critical review
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on 29 September 2011
This is a self-congratulatory book by two Guardian journalists about the biggest leak of confidential government information in history brought about by two oddballs, an Australian called Julian Assange and an American serviceman called Bradley Manning.
These two characters managed to exploit the incompetence or complacency of the US military establishment by downloading hundreds of thousands of "secret" diplomatic messages onto pen drives and then publishing them on Assange's Wikileaks site and, in edited form, in some of the world's most famous publications, including the Guardian, NYT, Le Monde, Spiegel etc.
It certainly was an amazing feat and caused not only lots of problems for the American government but also for the journalists who found themselves confronted with the scoop of scoops.
There was so much information available that were they were not only unable to check its veracity but they did not have the resources to filter through it all and make sense of it for readers.
They also had to deal with Assange - who comes over as being a lot smarter than them - who has them dancing to his tune.
In the end, the Guardian - and the other papers - got their "scoops" and patted themselves on the back for exposing information that they, Assange and 22-year-old Manning (the "innocent" victim who is currently in prison unlike any of the others) felt the public should have.
The writers brush aside any idea that by publishing this information, they put anyone in danger. The Guardian editor claims that six months after the leaks "the sky has not fallen in".
I presume this means he believes no individuals in places like the Middle East have been identified and targeted as a result. That is something he and his conscience will have deal with.
His response to this criticism is so feeble as to be laughable, viz. that some entity should "fund some rigorous research by a serious academic institution about the balance between harms and benefits".
Will the Guardian be footing the bill for this "rigorous research"? I doubt it. Even if it did, no-one would take its findings seriously.
Maybe he is right and no-one was hurt but that sounds like wishful thinking.
Perhaps when the next megaleak of messages is published, we might learn that some people were identified and have suffered for speaking to US diplomats.
The book is marked by the anti-US sentiment one should expect from the Guardian. It is also spoiled by the fact that one of the writers - David Leigh - is presented in the third person as a character, as is the Guardian editor.
It must be great fun editing what you have written about yourself.
In conclusion, the very nature of the subject means that there are pages and pages of dull IT-type material on hackers and computer nerds that the general reader should skip. It is obvious that even the writers do not quite know what they are talking about.
The book is also spoiled by an appendix of almost 100 pages of selected leaks with headlines like "Maintaining P3 and P5 Unity" that are of no interest to the general reader and could have been presented as links if the writers thought they were so important.