February Topic Overview

Resolved: Wikileaks is a threat to United States national security.


As with most public forum resolutions, the February topic is very timely. You will have no trouble finding plenty of articles online about Wikileaks.

There are several terms in the resolution to which you should pay attention. Because the resolution specifies Wikileaks, you are restricted to the leaks for which Wikileaks has been responsible. Other leaks are not relevant.

“National security” is a broad phrase that has many facets. This definition by Harold Brown, Carter’s secretary of defense, might be useful to you. He says:

“National security then is the ability to preserve the nation’s physical integrity and territory; to maintain its economic relations with the rest of the world on reasonable terms; to preserve its nature, institution, and governance from disruption from outside; and to control its borders.”

Also remember that public forum debate is meant to be a debate for lay people, not debate experts. Try not to resort to using critiques or extremely theoretical arguments. Many judges are beginning to vote against teams who use these techniques in public forum rounds.


There are many arguments available for affirmatives.

First, affirmatives can argue that Wikileaks harms U.S. diplomacy. After the recent leak, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton toured the Middle East and apologized to leaders of other countries for the way they were portrayed in the leaked documents. Not only can leaks undermine our relationships with allies it also makes it difficult for U.S. State Department employees to do their jobs and be candid in their reports when they fear it will be leaked and undermine U.S. relations. Moreover, leaks threaten the ability of our allies to freely share information with us for fear it will be leaked.

The Bankok Post reported that Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa pointed out the dangers of Wikileaks. He said, “if everything comes out into the light, if all forms of confidentiality, of privacy, disappear, I do not know how a state could function,” he added. “In simple terms, states would be placed in such a vulnerable position that institutions …, the very essence of democracy, would be in danger.”[i]

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed similar notions saying “…there needs to be a decent and reasonable way of respecting the privacy and confidential way of conducting business as secretary-general or any other senior positions.” “I think there needs to be a balance … between freedom of expression, right to know as well as to preserve the necessary and confidential conduct of diplomacy.”[ii]

Second, the affirmative can note that Wikileaks has exposed several secret strategic locations such as mines, the locations where vaccines are manufactured and satellite communication sites. According to the BBC, “If the US sees itself as waging a “global war on terror” then this represents a global directory of the key installations and facilities – many of them medical or industrial – that are seen as being of vital importance to Washington.” They continue, “In some cases, specific pharmaceutical plants or those making blood products are highlighted for their crucial importance to the global supply chain.” [iii]

Exposing these locations essentially leaves them open for attack by terrorists or other people with malicious intent.

Third, Wikileaks has exposed the location of several valuable informants. The summertime Wikileaks leak exposed the names of dozens of Afghan informants whose lives are now at risk. The documents makes it easy for them to be found, listing their villages and in many cases even their fathers’ names.

A senior official at the Afghan Foreign Ministry, who declined to be named, said: “The leaks certainly have put in real risk and danger the lives and integrity of many Afghans. The US is both morally and legally responsible for any harm that the leaks might cause to the individuals, particularly those who have been named. It will further limit the US/international access to the uncensored views of Afghans.”

According to The Australian, “Among the documents is a report from 2008 that includes a detailed interview with a Taliban fighter considering defection. He is named, with both his father’s name and village included. There is also detailed intelligence on other Taliban fighters and commanders in his area.”[iv]


Many arguments are also available to negative teams.

First, the negative can argue that the problem is not Wikileaks. The problem is that the information was not tightly controlled. Basically, negatives can say, “Don’t punish the messenger.” Media organizations should not be punished for publishing what is given to them.

Negatives can argue that blaming Wikileaks for publishing this material would be tantamount to blaming the New York Times for using a confidential source in the military. Glenn Greenwald says this: “To criminalize what WikiLeaks is doing is, by definition, to criminalize the defining attribute of investigative journalism… Just two days ago, The New York Times’ James Risen wrote a story disclosing substantial classified information about the CIA, the DEA and Afghanistan, revealing that a high-level Afghan drug trafficker being prosecuted by the U.S. was long on the payroll of the U.S.; should he be tried for espionage?”[v]

Likewise, two journalists who won Pulitzer Prizes for exposing classified programs of the Bush administration say that prosecuting Wikileaks would be a danger to investigative journalism. One of those reporters, Eric Lichtblau of the New York times said that if it is fair game to prosecute journalists, “there’s an awful lot of public information that’s going to be off limits.”[vi]

Second, the negative can argue that the recent Wikileaks leak is leading to improvements in our national security. The State Department is reviewing how many people have access to this type of information and making policy changes to tighten national security. Without a public leak, negatives can argue that it may have been possible for individuals to obtain this information quietly and cause much harm to the United States.

Consider the recent leak. The database many of the documents came from was called Net-Centric Diplomacy. The Washington Post reports that its design and the confusion among its users caused it to become “an inadvertent repository for a vast array of State Department cables, including records of the U.S. government’s most sensitive discussions with foreign leaders and diplomats.” But the system lacked features to detect downloading by Pentagon employees and others. “The result was a disastrous setback for U.S. diplomatic efforts around the globe.”[vii]

The leak highlighted other major flaws that the United States can now address. For instance, it exposed a government contractor that threw parties complete with trafficked boys as entertainment, all paid for by taxpayer dollars.[viii]

Third, the negative can point out no horrible events have occurred because of Wikileaks yet.

Writer for the American Conservative, Jack Hunter, says that the federal government can’t continue to call Wikileaks a threat without being able to point to something threatening it has done. He notes that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said there was no threat to our national security.

Hunter says “So there you have it. WikiLeaks’ mere existence represents a permanent threat to national security. As dictated and defined by whom? The federal government, which not-so-coincidentally continues to vaguely say that everything WikiLeaks does is a potential threat to national security, while never being able to cite anything specifically, per Gates’s admission.”[ix]

[i] “Too much Wikileaks ‘Dangerous.'” Bangkok Post, June 6, 2010. http://www.bangkokpost.com/breakingnews/209982/too-much-wikileaks-dangerous

[ii] “UN chief says WikiLeaks makes diplomacy difficult,” SFGate.com, Dec. 17, 2010. http://articles.sfgate.com/2010-12-17/world/25207782_1_wikileaks-diplomacy-document

[iii] “List of facilities ‘vital to U.S. security’ leaked,” BBC News, Dec. 6, 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-11923766

[iv] “Afghan informants’ lives at risk from documents posted on WikiLeaks,” The Australian, July 28, 2010.

[v] “Attempts to prosecute WikiLeaks endanger press freedoms,” Glenn Greenwald, TheSalon.com, Dec. 14, 2010. http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/12/14/wikileaks

[vi] “If Assange is charged with espionage, what about news orgs?” Yahoo News, Dec. 13, 2010. http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_thecutline/20101213/ts_yblog_thecutline/if-assange-is-charged-with-espionage-what-about-news-orgs

[vii] “WikiLeaks cable dump reveals flaws of State Department’s information-sharing tool,” Washington Post, Dec. 31, 2010. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/30/AR2010123004962.html

[viii] “Wikileaks Reveals U.S. Tax Dollars Fund Child Sex Slavery in Afghanistan,” Change.org, Dec. 8, 2010. http://humantrafficking.change.org/blog/view/wikileaks_reveals_us_tax_dollars_fund_child_sex_slavery_in_afghanistan

[ix] “National Security means tyranny,” The American Conservative, Dec. 29, 2010. http://www.amconmag.com/blog/2010/12/29/national-security-means-tyranny/

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