WikiLeaks–The 21st Century Washington Post

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There is another round of outrage among businesses and banks because WikiLeaks has gotten hold of private documents from bank Julius Baer from one of its former executives. Reuters reports that the data was transferred digitally. “The two yellow and blue discs contain information on 2,000 banking clients who have parked money offshore.”

There is panic among some of these clients and the bank itself. The concern certainly spreads to other Swiss banks and perhaps their counterparts in other countries. Julius Baer accounts may have been used to cheat on taxes. Many wealthy people could face penalties or prosecution if that is so.

The U.S.  government has tried to shut down WikiLeaks or at least curtail its power to reveal confidential information about US foreign policy. Documents already released by the site have embarrassed the Administration because they cast some overseas leaders in a harsh light. The US has also argued that the safety or well-being of some of its allies overseas may have been damaged.

The light is about to turn to the financial community. There have been rumors for months that a number of Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) records will be released. Depending on the nature of these, the bank could be embarrassed or the information could be actionable. The confidential data may be damning to Bank of America and some of its business practices.

The leaking of documents has proved to be a boon for large newspapers around the world. Certainly The Washington Post (NYSE: WPO) and The New York Times (NYSE NYT) have gotten private government data and published it. The Pentagon Papers showed that Lyndon Johnson lied about American prospects in Vietnam. Whether the documents jeopardized the safety of any Americans overseas is uncertain. The Pentagon Papers certainly undermined the relationship between the US and some of its allies who where lied to by Washington systematically and over long periods.

WikiLeaks may take an unconventional approach to the release of information. Most of what it puts out is raw. That is not terribly different from releasing sensitive data with the analysis of one news organization.

Douglas A. McIntyre