Steven Aftergood is director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, and is an advocate for improving but not abolishing of the U.S. government classification system. He has obtained and published many government policies through the Freedom of Information Act process, and has testified before Congress and executive agencies such as the Information Security Oversight Office. Aftergood is a member of the advisory board of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
He has received the James Madison Award from the American Library Association (2006), the Public Access to Government Information Award from the American Association of Law Libraries (2006), and the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award from the Playboy Foundation (2004).
He declined to join Wikileaks. Aftergood, who has chosen to withhold or redact certain documents based on what he considers legitimate reasons of public safety, told Wikileaks "we do not favor automated or indiscriminate publication of confidential records. In the absence of accountable editorial oversight, publication can more easily become an act of aggression or an incitement to violence, not to mention an invasion of privacy or an offense against good taste." They replied, "So we disagree on first principles? No problem, replied Wikileaks: “Advisory positions are just that — advisory! If you want to advise us to censor, then by all means do so.”
Jay Lim of Wikileaks sent an email of complaint to Aftergood, which Aftergood published on his blog.
Who’s side are you on here Stephen? It is time this constant harping stopped.
You know full well if you make comments about us and negative ones about us it’ll only be the negative comment that is reported — since everyone else has only positive things to say and by your position at FAS there is an expectation of positive comment. You are not a child. As a result of your previous criticism it seem you are becoming the ‘go to’ man for negative comments on Wikileaks. Over the last year, our most quoted critic has not been a right wing radio host, it has not been the Chinese ambassador, it has not been Pentagon bureaucrats, it has been you Stephen. You are the number one public enemy of this project. On top of everything else, your quote is the only critical entry on our Wikipedia page. Some friend of openness!
We are very disappointed in your lack of support and suggest you cool it. If you don’t, we will, with great reluctance, be forced to respond.”
After the large disclosures in 2010, Aftergood questioned the purpose of Wikileaks. He describes Wikleaks actions as symptomatic of problems with the U.S. classification system, but unfocused as far as real policy objectives. Aftergood does suggest, however, that Wikileaks grew in part from a reaction to a dysfunctional security classification system.
The Wikileaks project seems to be, more than anything else, an assault on secrecy. If Wikileaks were most concerned about whistleblowing, it would focus on revealing corruption. If it were concerned with historical truth, it would emphasize the discovery of verifiably true facts. If it were anti-war, it would safeguard, not disrupt, the conduct of diplomatic communications. But instead, what Wikileaks has done is to publish a vast potpourri of records — dazzling, revelatory, true, questionable, embarrassing, or routine — whose only common feature is that they are classified or otherwise restricted.
This may be understood as a reaction to a real problem, namely the fact that by all accounts, the scope of government secrecy in the U.S. (not to mention other countries) has exceeded rational boundaries. Disabling secrecy in the name of transparency would be a sensible goal — if it were true that all secrecy is wrong. But if there is a legitimate role for secrecy in military operations, in intelligence gathering or in diplomatic negotiations, as seems self-evident, then a different approach is called for.
B.Sc., electrical engineering, UCLA, 1977
- Steven Aftergood (3 January 2007), Wikileaks and Untraceable Document Disclosure, Secrecy News, Federation of American Scientists
- Steven Aftergood (22 February 2008), A Word from Wikileaks, Secrecy News, Federation of American Scientists
- Steven Aftergood (29 November 2010), The Race to Fix the Classification System