“The impact of Wikileaks will be perceived in a couple of years”

27.07.2011 – By Clarinha Glock – Translation: Blanca Garcìa

  • Interview with Icelandic journalist Kristinn Hrafnsson, Wikileaks spokesman
  • “[From Wikileaks] we are demystifying diplomatic procedures. And we are giving details about a war that is carried out secretly”

Even before being hired as Wikileaks spokesman in July 2010, journalist Kristinn Hrafnsson, 49, sensed that the new emerging network had the power to cause changes with the simple act of informing society, starting with his own country, Iceland.

It was in 2009, while Hrafnsson and other Icelandic journalists felt the blocking of their attempt to obtain and spread news about the “banksters” (bank gangsters) and the economic collapse caused in the sector, when he received the first news of this transnational, nonprofit media organization, whose purpose is to make confidential documents from governments and companies, public.

Wikileaks and its main figure and founder, Australian native Julian Assange, released then a list of all those involved in the Icelandic bank scandal, “a tremendous fraud scheme”, remembers Hrafnsson.

“There was an awakening of the journalists in Iceland, and no one doubted the importance of what Wikileaks was doing”, he says.

This certainty keeps him to this day leading the task of publicizing the “Wikileaks phenomenon” in different countries in which the organization forges partnerships, while Assange remains under house arrest in Great Britain, waiting for the result of an extradition process requested by Sweden to judge him for sexual aggression and rape.

For Hrafnsson, beyond the initial impact of some revelations, the real effects of Wikileaks will only be able to be evaluated in a couple of years. That is what he said in Brazil, where he took part in the Sixth International investigative journalism Congress, held from June 30th to July 2nd in the southern city of São Paulo, by the Brazilian Investigative Journalism Association.

There Hrafnsson announced the disclosure of almost 3,000 US diplomatic documents referring to this country. Among them, 63 dispatches from the State Department to their diplomats posted in Brazil and 2,919 telegrams sent to Washington between 2002 and 2010 from the embassy in Brasilia and the consulates in São Paulo, southeastern Rio de Janeiro and northeastern Recife.

Published on Monday July 11th on the Wikileaks site and since June on the site of its associate in Brazil, investigative journalism agency Pública, these documents are part of the pack of 251,287 leaked US cables Wikileaks started disclosing last November.

Wikileaks “defied traditional media and made journalists bolder, who started asking hard questions again”, said Hrafnsson in his speech. For the first time in many years different media worked collaboratively, receiving and broadcasting the news. There are already more than 70 media outlets analyzing these documents”, he said.

After his presentation, Hrafnsson answered the following questions:

How can we measure the impact of the disclosure of confidential documents in different countries?

KRISTINN HRAFNSSON: I always knew the material we had in our hands would cause great effect. It was hard to say which kind, how it would materialize, but it was extremely important to see that the information we put out had a dramatic impact on what was happening in the Middle East with the Arab Spring.

When the material became visible in Tunisia in the beginning of December, the president of this country (Zine El Abidine Ben Ali) commanded (since 1987) a very corrupt regime. That did not surprise anyone in Tunisia, they were outraged with the lack of freedom and the economic problems, while the corrupt regime lived surrounded by luxury.

But the extent of that corruption and the nepotism exposed in the cables fed up the public even more and gave it the courage to get out on the streets. And it also had an impact, in my opinion, because (the citizens) saw it in the others’ perspective, in a detailed report sent by the State Department. “Then they know what kind of a dictator we have! And even then they finance him!”, they thought.

The same applies to Hosni Mubarak (1981-2011) in Egypt, accused of ordering tortures in his country’s prisons.

It is not that Wikileaks sparked the Tunisian revolution, far from that. What sparked it was the act of a college student who set himself on fire to protest and died on January 4th. Ten days later, the government fell.

But there is another fact: when these people became united, they stopped being afraid. They got organized on social networks, it was the first Internet revolution. And that spread to Egypt, Yemen and Syria. Therefore, we see results in all those places. It is common to underestimate them, in spite of being as important as the fall of the Berlin Wall. We are witnessing a fundamental change in the Arab world.

And it is not the Islamic fundamentalists instigating them, nor the communists. It has nothing to do with the ideologies they all feared. It has to do with basic fundamental rights of freedom, that is what people are fighting for. They want economic welfare, part of the country’s wealth, and freedom of expression, of gathering. They want democracy!


Did in any way Wikileaks provide them with support for their revolutions to succeed?

KH: Absolutely. We also saw it in Egypt when the United States tried to intervene in their inside affairs. Then-president Mubarak was in a very delicate situation and the United States pressed them to choose of a substitute. We put out a press release saying that it was the same control machinery of the country.

How does Wikileaks participate in this change process?

KH: Mostly through the general concept of giving people information they have a right to, historical registries, the essential things. We are demystifying diplomatic procedures. And we are giving details of a war that is carried out secretly.

Until now the only thing we managed to rip from these wars was lethargic journalism. Now it is different. We are encouraging a new ideal.

I hope that benefiting the people in that region, as well as in others, can generate changes. I cannot give individual examples, it is hard to establish a cause and effect relationship. I am not going that far.

But, in a general sense, the effects are visible: feelings change, the way things are perceived. And, in many ways, we will only have an idea of this impact in a couple of years, when we realize what Wikileaks gave us.

It is easier to feel it than to put it with exactitude in black and white.


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