I feel like I'm still sorting through my thoughts about WikiLeaks. So if this seems a bit contradictory, that may very well be because I'm of (at least) two minds about the whole thing. But it seems to me like the issue lacks balance.
My pre-WikiLeaks initial thoughts on such issues were something like: the government overclassifies information that shouldn't be secret, it often uses the power to make something secret to avoid accountability for its misdeeds, and we can't often trust the government to police itself. So when I first heard about WikiLeaks, I was relatively open to the idea.
As things have evolved, I find myself in a weird position. I still feel WikiLeaks is on to something with their critique of over-secrecy, but their approach to their mission is getting vexing. I think the problem for me boils down to a distinction I didn't know I made until today: the distinction between whistleblowing and other non-whistleblowing leaks.
Whistleblowing is the revelation of communications or actions that the society has already decided are wrong/immoral/evil/illegal. When soldiers leaked about US authorized torture, that was whistleblowing. We have laws against torture. We have culture norms against torture. Our operatives are not supposed to be torturing. When they are torturing, it serves the accountability process for a whistleblower to deny them the ability to hide behind the government's powers of secrecy. This kind of leaking allows the government to have appropriate methods of operational secrecy without always letting them get away with misconduct by hiding behind the secrecy. These leaks may or may not be illegal, but I can see the need for them to counterbalance against the government's very strong temptation to inappropriately hide its misdeeds under the veil of secrecy.
So at the time of the WikiLeaks Afghanistan data dump, I felt that the organization was insufficiently careful about protecting relatively innocent third parties, BUT it seemed as if they were largely operating from a whistleblowing approach. They showed many situations where the rules of engagement were being ignored, and how this put the lives of many people in danger. They revealed more about the torture situation.
Whistleblowing is about letting the other existing norms, laws and rules of our society be enforced even when the government or other entities would prefer to hide violations of these norms, laws and rules behind a veil of secrecy. It provides a balance against the very strong temptation to misuse secrecy.
But that isn't the same as saying that secrecy cannot be appropriate. Nor is it the same as saying that all leaks are whistleblowing.
This most recent document dump, doesn't seem to share much from a whistleblowing point of view. I'm sure there are SOME things that point to violations of norms/laws/rules that we as a society have decided to hold as important, but for the most part the document dump doesn't show that. I'd like to say that this dump is fundamentally different from the previous one, but after reading interviews with Assange I see that he has a much more broad assault against secrecy in mind than mere whistleblowing. So it may very well be that what I interpreted as something like whistleblowing gone too far, was actually something fundamentally different with whistleblowing elements.
The problem I have with Assange and Wikileaks from my current point of view is that he wants to rob the rest of society of the chance to negotiate the norms. He isn't merely providing facilitation for whistleblowing. He wants to take out the balance part of balancing secrecy against other norms. That doesn't strike me as a sound approach to dealing with the very real problems of government secrecy.