What is WikiLeaks?

March 4, 2011

WikiLeaks is an anti-secrecy website launched in 2006 that has released thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables revealing secrets about U.S. and international governments. The organization first gained widespread attention after making public a video showing U.S. Apache helicopters killing Iraqi citizens in Baghdad. The military strike also killed two Reuters reporters.

The U.S. government has worked to shut down WikiLeaks for revealing classified information. Bradley Manning, a U.S. intelligence analyst who was deployed to Iraq in 2009, remains the only person charged with a crime for leaking official documents. For the last eight months, Manning has been held in solitary confinement by the U.S. government. On Wednesday, the U.S. Army charged him with 22 additional counts, including aiding the enemy. He could face the death penalty for the latter charge, although Army prosecutors said they do not intend to seek capital punishment.

Who is Julian Assange?

Julian Assange is the head of WikiLeaks. He has all but humiliated the U.S. government by masterminding the release of the diplomatic cables. Initially, Assange contacted five major news publications: The New York Times (U.S.), El País (Spain), The Guardian (U.K.), Le Monde (France) and Der Spiegel (Germany), for wider dissemination of 250,000 cables with sensitive diplomatic information, written by U.S. embassy officials.

Later, WikiLeaks also partnered with the following Latin American publications: El Comercio from Perú, La Jornada from México, El Espectador from Colombia and Página 12 from Argentina. This week, Costa Rica’s daily La Nación became the first Central American publication to partner with the organization.

Assange is mired in a legal battle unrelated to his company. A British court ruled last week that Assange, who is Australian, should be extradited to Sweden to face sex crime allegations. His lawyers fear that Assange’s return to Sweden could lead to him being extradited to the United States, although the U.S. has not yet charged him with a crime. At the same time, Assange has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

What information will the cables reveal?

La Nación has hinted that the 827 cables pertaining to Costa Rica, written between December 2004 and February 2010, will reveal information on topics ranging from:

The Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Central America and Dominican Republic (CAFTA).

–The distrust and concern about the establishment of diplomatic relations between Costa Rica and China (June 2007) after President Oscar Arias severed relations with Taiwan.

–The presidential elections in 2006 and 2010.

-Cooperation between the United States and Costa Rica on security and drug trafficking.

–An investigation by the U.S. Embassy prior to Arias’ decision to restore ties with Cuba (2008).

–Cables concerning U.S. diplomats’ opinions on President Abel Pacheco (2002-2006), Arias (2006-2010) and Laura Chinchilla before she became president.

–U.S. cables that refer to Costa Rica as a “dysfunctional democracy,” which allows the U.S. to use “soft power” (influence that is exercised without force) to steer the country on issues such as security and drug trafficking.

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