July 26, 2010— -- It may be remembered as one of the largest intelligence leaks in U.S. history. But for WikiLeaks, the whistleblower website that just released 90,000 classified Pentagon documents, this is just business as usual.
Founded in 2007 by Julian Assange, an Australian Internet activist, the site has made a reputation for itself as a safe haven for whistleblowers interested in anonymously spilling government and corporate secrets.
"This is something that I find meaningful and satisfying," Assange told the German newspaper Der Spiegel before publishing the Afghanistan war logs. "That is my temperament. I enjoy creating systems on a grand scale, and I enjoy helping people who are vulnerable. And I enjoy crushing bastards."
When Assange first launched WikiLeaks three years ago, few knew who - if anyone - he might crush.
In March 2007, the site leaked a manual describing the day-to-day operations of the U.S. military's Guantanamo Bay detention facility. In 2008, it published a classified Pentagon "Rules of Engagement for Iraq."
WikiLeaks has also made headlines for releasing secret banking documents, controversial correspondence between climate scientists, and the contents of former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's email account.
The massive dump of Pentagon documents on the Afghan war is by far the site's largest and most controversial secret revealed so far.
"I think this may be the most important in terms of its effect on U.S. policy," said David Ardia, a fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society and the director of the Citizen Media Law Project. "This is a very rich vein of information available to inform what is a critically important debate about the U.S. role and the potential for success in Afghanistan. And I think this release of information can have a profound effect on that debate."
Ardia said the WikiLeaks Afghanistan documents could be remembered as a kind of modern-day Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War.
"I think when the Pentagon Papers were released they had a profound impact on the debate around the U.S. role in Vietnam," he said, adding that they served as a "shining" indication" that speech should not be constrained.
"Whether this will stand for something similar, or perhaps be an indication of that principle in the 21st century, is very possible," Ardia said.
The man behind the massive leak has made it very clear that he believes the documents will spark a sea change in public opinion.