Assange: US Academia Helps the State Department

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange condemned US academia in an interview with leading German news publication Spiegel Online on 20 July. The whistleblower-publisher argued that universities and academic research in the US help the State Department (emphasis mine):

Assange: Generally there is not enough systematic understanding. This has to do with media economics, the short-term news cycles, but actually I don’t blame the media for that failure. There is a terrible failing in academia in understanding current geopolitical and technical developments and the intersection between these two areas. WikiLeaks has a very public conflict with the United States, which is still ongoing and in which many young people have gotten involved. They suddenly saw the Internet as a place where politics and geopolitics happen. It’s not just a place where you gossip about what happened at school. But where were the young professors stepping forward trying to make sense of it all? Where is the new Michel Foucault who tries to explain how modern power is exercised? Absurdly, Noam Chomsky was making some of the best comments and he is now 86.

SPIEGEL: Maybe young professors presume it might not be very helpful for their careers to address this subject because it is highly controversial.

Assange: Exactly. It is inherently controversial. At the same time, the relationships of the major intelligence agencies is one of the great structuring factors of the modern world. It is the core of non-economic relationships between states. I worry most about academia and the particular part of academia that is dealing with international relations. WikiLeaks has published over 2 million diplomatic cables. It is the single largest repository for international relations of primary source materials, all searchable. It is the cannon for international relations. It is the biggest dog in the room. There has been some research published in Spanish and in Asian languages. But where are the American and English journals? There is a concrete explanation: They act as feeder schools for the US State Department. The US association that controls the big five international relations journals, the ISA, has a quiet, official policy of not accepting any paper that is derived from WikiLeaks’ materials.

The ISA of which Assange speaks is the International Studies Association. The five leading scholarly journals it publishes are

  • Foreign Policy Analysis (FPA),
  • International Political Sociology (IPS),
  • International Studies Perspectives (ISP),
  • International Studies Quarterly (ISQ), and
  • International Studies Review (ISR).

I contacted the ISA, inquiring about its WikiLeaks policy. Its office denied the allegation that it does not accept papers derived from WikiLeaks materials.

Executive Director Mark Boyer explained that, to “date, no policy has been established by ISA on this issue.”

“It has been discussed among the ISA journal editors in the context of any legal issues related to materials used from WikiLeaks.  That discussion centered on the implications of publishing material that is legally prohibited by the US government,” Boyer said. “But no policy has been made and the issue has not been widespread in journal submissions.”

A search for “WikiLeaks” on the ISA website garners only one result, a 2012 call for papers asking “How has information impacted the relationship between private and public actors? What about national security in an era of Wikileaks?”

The ISA was founded in 1959. It has approximately $4.5 million in assets, according to its most recent tax records, and generates most of its revenue through its convention, dues, and investments. It receives little grant money or donations, and appears to engage in no suspicious financial activity.

Very Few Citations

A look through the five scholarly journals the organization oversees indicates that, although Assange may have a point about bias in US Academe, he is not entirely correct. The ISA clearly does not outright ban scholars from citing WikiLeaks records. This said, however, it is striking how rarely cables released by WikiLeaks are cited.

WikiLeaks as an organization is mentioned in roughly a score of articles—often in a negative light that echoes State Department portrayal of the whistleblowing group as a potential compromiser of national security—but these examples are not included below, as they do not constitute citations of documents released by WikiLeaks.


Not a single WikiLeaks cable has been cited in Foreign Policy Analysis, according to a search in the Wiley Online Database.


WikiLeaks documents have only been cited in International Political Sociology two times since 2007. Both of these citations were secondary; the authors linked not to the original WikiLeaks document, but rather to news articles that are based on WikiLeaks cables.


Since 2008, International Studies Perspectives has published just three scholarly articles that employ WikiLeaks records for research purposes.

The 2014 article “Lost and Found: The WikiLeaks of De Facto State–Great Power Relations” employs the leaked cables extensively, creating what it describes as “a novel data set comprising 448 ‘WikiLeaks’ US diplomatic cables from 2003 to 2010.”

Another 2008 article in the same journal cites the “2005 Rules of engagement for Multi-National Division Baghdad, classified Secret” document leaked to WikiLeaks.

A minor WikiLeaks cable is also used in a 2012 ISP article.


WikiLeaks is directly cited just once in International Studies Quarterly, in a 2012 article.

A 2012 ISQ article cites “US diplomatic cables made available by WikiLeaks to several news organizations,” but links to the New York Times, not WikiLeaks itself.

Another 2012 article mentions WikiLeaks documents, but, once more, cites a newspaper (the Guardian), not WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks is again only directly cited through the Guardian in a 2013 ISQ article.


WikiLeaks is directly cited just once in International Studies Review, in a 2015 article.

A 2013 article mentioned but did not cite WikiLeaks, writing its “public exposure of secret dispatches constituted for US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, a gross violation of the foundational norms of diplomacy, and nothing less than ‘an attack on the international community, the alliances and partnerships, the conventions and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity.'”

Another 2013 article mentioned WikiLeaks, but did not cite the organization. Rather, the article compared Assange to Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky:

The final weeks of 2010 underlined the power of the new media. Julian Assange of WikiLeaks created a diplomatic furor of the kind not seen since Leon Trotsky published the secret agreements he found in the Tsar’s archive in November 1917. Trotsky needed all the upheaval of the Russian Revolution to get access to these treaties; all Assange needed was a single source with a thumb drive and a few strokes of the keypad.

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WikiLeaks was formed almost a decade ago, in 2006. In all five of these leading academic journals, diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks have been cited just nine times, only four of which were directly attributed to WikiLeaks (the other five articles cited newspaper articles that were based on WikiLeaks records).

In short, there may not be an explicit rule against the citation of WikiLeaks cables in ISA-run journals, but, although slightly incorrect in his insistence that the ISA “officially” bans the use of WikiLeaks records, Assange does has a point: It is indeed striking how few articles in these major US academic journals have cited any of the over two million diplomatic cables in “the single largest repository for international relations of primary source materials, all searchable.”

Is this evidence that the ISA unofficially censors some scholarly articles that rely on documents released by WikiLeaks, even if it sometimes lets a few get by? This is hard to say; there is not enough evidence to know. The paucity of citations could simply be a reflection of the state of US academia itself. Perhaps many scholars do not consider looking through WikiLeaks’ database; perhaps they even self-censor.