Wikileaks:Writer's Kit

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These guidelines are not hard and fast rules. They are not laws. These principles may evolve. Above all, common sense, honesty and integrity are more important than any specific rule.

These guidelines are in three parts:

  1. “General philosophy” – the broad overarching philosophy of participating in the Wikileaks community
  2. “The special nature of leaked documents” discusses considerations specific to our subject matter.
  3. “Analyzing a leaked document” offers specific suggestions on how to go about analysis in the particular case.


General philosophy

...newspaper headlines still display: "No right to interfere in our internal affairs!" Whereas there are no INTERNAL AFFAIRS left on our crowded Earth! And mankind's sole salvation lies in everyone making everything his business; in the people of the East being vitally concerned with what is thought in the West, the people of the West vitally concerned with what goes on in the East.
— Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Nobel prize address

Wikileaks is a wiki. All our writers can edit it, including you – and you shouldn't feel frightened of doing so. Be bold! Initial edits do not have to be perfect: all you need is your honesty, your interest and your wits. On the other hand, you should not be too precious! Wikileaks is a collaborative endeavor; your writing will be peer reviewed. And don't worry; your work is safe. Every revision remains available.

Wikileaks is democratic. We trust the people. We trust the collective intelligence of ordinary people who take an interest in acting as citizens – people who want to understand what is going on in the world. We trust that if people put their heads together over a document, they will come up with a reasonable analysis of it.

Wikileaks is tolerant. We may all have our own views but we respect the considered opinions of others. We aim to inform and educate each other as citizens while spurring reform by revealing injustice. There is a place for anyone who believes in democracy, freedom of speech and freedom of information. There is a place for anyone who looks at the state of humanity in the twenty-first century and sees a tragic shortcoming, sees perpetual and everyday outrages against life and liberty and happiness, and is prepared to do something about it. If we want to see a humane world based on truth, justice, peace, freedom and respect, then our first task is to treat each other that way here.

Wikileaks is welcoming. We respect specialist knowledge and learning; but everyone has common sense. We do not automatically put faith and credibility in people who have letters after their names; and we do not automatically disqualify those who do not. We respect knowledge and intellect on their own merits; we respect statements backed up by facts and evidence. True facts are true regardless of who states them. While it may sometimes assist, you do not need a PhD to understand world affairs or government or corporate behavior – indeed we believe everyone should take an interest in matters that affect them. A leaked document may initially seem opaque, but nobody should feel intimidated by obscure material on a first reading. This is not rocket science! Determination and perseverance will bring understanding.

Wikileaks aims for maximum political impact. It does not aim to be an exhaustive encyclopedia: it aims to disseminate, publish and analyze documents which the world needs to see. There are no obscure articles on Wikileaks. Every analysis is about a document that matters, that affects real people in the real world. Some analyses may have greater impact than others, but everything has an impact. Wikileaks has a special place. It is the first online repository for whistleblowing; the first wiki to have political power; the first intelligence agency of the people. We want to attract good editors, courageous whistleblowers and important information. We want to see a world of integrity, transparency and democracy; and we want to bring it about with integrity, transparency and democracy.

Who is a Wikileaks editor? A Wikileaks editor is something like a Wikipedia editor. Something like a journalist. Something like an intelligence analyst. Something like an academic. Something like a fact-checker. Something like a research assistant. Something like a human rights lawyer. Something like a political activist working towards a better world. But we push no agenda except that of truth and exposing corrupt power; and we do so on the basis of revealed fact. Call yourself what you like. Call yourself a journalist, citizen journalist, citizen intelligence analyst, citizen academic, scholar, activist, seeker after truth. Call yourself a revolutionary, call yourself a democrat, call yourself a pilgrim, call yourself a patriot, however you're inclined.

Above all, a Wikileaks editor is someone who stands for the ideals of democracy[1], someone who takes the challenges of creating and maintaining democracy seriously. Democracy is more than bringing about constitutional elections; democracy is the participation of people in matters which affect them. Democracy asks citizens to engage with the world, seek to understand it, and engage with their fellow citizens. Democracy abhors secrets. Democracy is a challenge. A Wikileaks editor rises to that challenge. A Wikileaks editor is a citizen of the world.

The special nature of leaked documents

A leaked document is not like other documents. It has several features distinguishing it from other documents. The unique features of leaked documents have far-reaching consequences for those who seek to analyze them.

A leaked document was secret. One should always ask why. It may be kept secret because it contains details of unjust policies, oppression or corruption. It may be kept secret because its publication would cause widespread public outrage. It may be kept secret because it undermines the party line or corporate spin; it may be kept secret because it exposes lies. It may be kept secret because it details abuses of power; it may be kept secret because it is, itself, the institutional machinery of oppression. A leaked document may be kept secret, more generally, because governments and corporations are by their nature secretive: they may be paranoid; they may be institutionally averse to transparency; they may prefer not to reveal plans to a world which may oppose them.

Secrecy is not always legitimate. Government by the people, of the people, for the people should be accessible to the people. Corporations often exist on a similar scale; legally they usually remain unaccountable private centrally planned empires, but the same principle applies. Every citizen has a right to know about activities, decisions and policies which affect them. Freedom of information is not a law, it is non-negotiable; it is a fundamental principle of democracy and good governance. We believe documents pertaining to large public institutions, such as governments and corporations, should presumptively be available to the public. The burden is on a government or corporation to argue that a document should be kept secret. And if someone leaks a document, at great personal risk, they probably have a good reason why they believe that secrecy is wrong.[2]

A leaked document was internal to an organization. It speaks the organization's language. It may be full of details. It may be bureaucratic. It may be full of jargon. Leaked individually, out of its context within an organization, it may at first sight seem incomprehensible. On the other hand, it may be as clear as day. But even in this case, a document comes in a context. It may come in a political context, a geographical context, an historical context. It was an internal document, but it needs to be viewed in the light of the external world. The context may not always be clear; but the context is important.

A leaked document was leaked for a reason. One should always ask why. A document may come from a more or less oppressive regime, expose greater or lesser wrongdoing, include more or less specific details of policy. It may be leaked at greater or lesser risk to the whistleblower. The whistleblower makes a calculation, weighing the benefits of leaking the document against the risks of backlash, ostracism, prosecution, persecution or worse. They calculate that the public benefits outweigh the personal risks – and they have the courage to assume those personal risks. There are, however, less admirable reasons for leaking documents. Leaking fake or forged documents to smear reputations, spread false information, sling mud, spread rumors, or to create confusion, is well known. Many intelligence agencies have commonly done so. Leaking may also be the result of internal squabbles; leaking may be vindictive. Consider these possibilities without becoming unduly distracted by them. Whatever a document's provenance, it has something to say.

Analyzing a leaked document

Understand the document. A leaked document may be easy to understand, or difficult. If it is technical, or uses jargon, analysis may require specialist knowledge. If it is long or complicated, this may take time. If it is decontextualized, you must place it in context. If the context is not clear, you may have to make best guesses. If there are history or politics involved, you should familiarize yourself with them. If you want to analyze a document, you must take the time required to understand the document and the surrounding circumstances. If you've made the effort, but you still don't understand something, or something still troubles you, say so: others may be able to assist. You don't need to be an expert, but you need to understand.

Summarize the document. An analysis must encapsulate the gist. All the more so if it is hard to understand the gist. Particularly if the document is long, obscure, or technical. How would you convey the meaning of the document to an average interested intelligent person? Wikileaks is about citizens explaining the truth – to other citizens.

Explain the document. What is the context? What are the surrounding factors? Does the reader need to be informed of the surrounding factors? What does the document mean? What are the relevant details? What is important about the document? What does it reveal that was not previously known? Does the reader need to be reminded of what was previously known? Analyses should be aimed not for an academic audience, or for the tabloid press, but at the level any interested, intelligent citizen can understand.

Question its veracity. How likely is the document to be genuine, and how likely to be fake? Does it sound like a lie? How could you prove it is genuine? Can you corroborate it? How could you prove it is false? Does it contradict other facts or statements? The question is not only whether the document is genuine or fake, but also whether it is verifiable or falsifiable. Treat the matter forensically, as best you can.

Examine motives. Can you understand why the document was leaked? Can you understand the whistleblower's motivations? Is there any potential motive which is less noble? Is anyone being smeared? Whose agenda does the document serve? Who has an interest in the issue? Do they have the means to fake documents like this?

More than one point of view? Do reasonable minds differ about the document's interpretation? Is it worth stating several possibilities, or sticking with the most likely story about the document's origin? Are there conflicting narratives of the document's context? Will including every point of view make the analysis long or unreadable? Should conclusions be forthright, or should they be hedged? The best conclusion is one arrived at by consensus, a neutral point of view. If no consensus can be found, should the editors come to a compromise, or give multiple interpretations?

Cite references. Wherever possible, information given in an analysis should be cited from an authoritative source. This includes contextual information, technical information, history, organizational or bureaucratic information, or anything else. References build up a base of supporting material, linking the leaked document to other existing documents. Other editors or analysts or interested readers can turn to that information. If the material is not well known, or surprising, or contradicts the conventional wisdom, readers rightly demand sources of information to support the new point of view. Providing references is good scholarship, good science, good analysis, good reporting, and good practice.

Conclusions must be supported by the facts. They should be backed up by reasoning and, wherever possible, other evidence. How certain are the conclusions? It may be tempting to conclude on a sensational, damning note – and it may often appropriate to do so, for there are many to be damned – but discretion is sometimes the better part of valor. An analysis that is not well argued and which turns out to be wrong may be embarrassing, and set back the goals Wikileaks aims to achieve. An analysis that is cogent, carefully argued, supported by evidence – and which states the awful truth – will be unassailable, inarguable, an invincible weapon, slashing through mists of lies, defeating injustice and oppression around the world.

Have fun! After all, everybody wants to be an intelligence analyst. What more could you want, but interesting, empowering, creative work to make the world a better place, all from the comfort of your own home?

Creating a new article

See Create article.

Additional information


  1. The use of 'democracy' here means far more than the right to vote and it certainly does not mean US foreign policy. It means people participating in matters which effect them. Democracy quite literally means rule of the people. The word derives from the Greek "demos" (people) and "kratos" (strength). Recent history in the Ukraine, Iraq (and elsewhere) painfully shows the difference between the ideals of democracy and their superficial emulation. The formality of elections suffices for superficial democracy, and can be enforced at the point of a gun. This is not lost on the detractors of democracy or those who fear its unscrupulous promotion. We thus encourage translators of these pages to use their own discretion in rendering the meaning of phrases featuring 'democracy'. Pro-actively standing for transparency, liberty and engagement by all stakeholders, Wikileaks can be described as democratically oriented, at least in circles where the overtones of 'democracy' resonate soundly with those predications. We think this is generally the case in the West - so much so that to avoid using the term 'democratic' and its variants would be markedly unnatural and impractical. Elsewhere, the long-hand characterization of the virtues of Wikileaks may be more appropriate. A superficial democracy has merely voting to show for itself. Even in the west, political obfuscation and taming of the press make superficial democracy a problem, and one that initiatives like Wikileaks may be necessary to solve.
  2. It is reasonable to ask to what extent secrecy is justified; reasonable minds may differ. For instance, few would want to leak the medical records of ordinary people. If such items are leaked then this exposes serious problems inside the relevant agency; that agency has breached its trust. But at least its breach is now publicly known. In this case, analysis attention should always focus on what is politically significant and may lead to reform. How did this breach of trust come to be possible? Why was private information collected, but not anonymized or otherwise secured? Who has been accessing the information prior to public revelation and for what purposes?
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