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Why Is WikiLeaks So Focused On The United States?

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange
WikiLeaks has just released its latest leak, this one a CIA memorandum hypothesizing on the potential damage to the U.S. public image if Washington was ever deemed an exporter of terrorism. But is WikiLeaks being mindful enough of its own public image? With yet another U.S.-centered leak, is the organization delivering on its goal of being a global whistle-blower?

WikiLeaks has been derided by conservative U.S. media as “an unabashed foe of US policy,” whose “goal is to ‘expose’ only the people they hate -- meaning the US military -- and get famous for it."

WikiLeaks received a milder reception from liberal U.S. media -- for example, the "Los Angeles Times" wrote “the germane question is whether the United States and its allies are best served by secrecy or debate.”

Both sides, though, seem to share the view that WikiLeaks is only meaningful vis-a-vis the United States. Consider the same "Los Angeles Times" editorial, which goes so far as to dub WikiLeaks’ motivations as “barely interesting” in light of their potential impact upon American policy.

However, for journalists and human rights activists outside the United States, particularly in Asia and the former Soviet Union, WikiLeaks’ motivations are interesting, indeed, they are key. Democracy activists outside the United States see WikiLeaks as a potential ally in their fight to bring reform to some of the world’s most repressive governments.

WikiLeaks has previously described its real goal thus: “Our primary interests are oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we also expect to be of assistance to those in the West who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their own governments and corporations.”

Additionally, an anonymous 9 June 2007 e-mail from WikiLeaks to their volunteers casts important light on its strategy regarding the West: “Apart from the beneficial effect on Western democracies, we believe this will provide a strong, consistent base where we can operate efficiently and freely, permitting us to concentrate our efforts on the most repressive regimes.”

Indeed, WikiLeaks debuted with an expose of Somalia’s Union of Islamic Courts, and one of its richest treasure troves concerns Thailand, where censorship is common and criticism of the king is a major crime. But until WikiLeaks began butting heads with the United States, this material remained largely obscure.

Now Julian Assange and his crew are getting noticed. Chinese bloggers take WikiLeaks very seriously (and so does their government). They’d love its hacking fingers to pry open the Communist Party’s archives -- and bank accounts. Precisely the same sentiments have been voiced in Central Asia.

Yet one of Turkmenistan’s most prominent dissident voices, the blogger Annasoltan, worries that it might get too caught up in its publicity battle with the United States: “The West is already awash in information; Turkmenistan is dying of data thirst. Right now it seems WikiLeaks is engaged in some kind of tit-for-tat with the United States. I just hope they don’t get distracted from their real mission, because we need their help.”

-- Christopher Schwartz

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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