A PhD student in the US has revealed that she had to remove all references to WikiLeaks in her dissertation due to fears that she would be prosecuted and imprisoned for including them. Cynthia McKinney, who has since earned her PhD from Antioch University on the subject of leadership, warns that it could set a dangerous precedent.

McKinney, a former US Representative and Green Party politician, had originally used many of the same WikiLeaks documents in her dissertation that US journalist Barrett Brown had allegedly shared on his site Project PM. Brown, who was sentenced this year to 63 months in federal prison in relation to the 2012 Stratfor email leak, faced up to 45 years in prison for linking to the WikiLeaks data.

According to McKinney, the WikiLeaks references in her dissertation caused the librarian at Antioch University to "completely, totally freak". In a recent video posted to YouTube, McKinney recalled: "She said, 'they're going to subpoena me and it's just going to be a world of problems. I'm going to have to turn over all of my documents.'

"So basically I ended up eliminating all of my WikiLeaks references from my dissertation. This was something I had to do in order to get through my program. It was either that or shut the dissertation – not make it public – but making it public is part of the requirement of Antioch, so I was sort of stuck."

McKinney was forced to rewrite large parts of her dissertation and once the WikiLeaks references were removed she was awarded her PhD. In the preface to the dissertation, McKinney included a statement of protest titled "Barrett Brown, Barack Obama, and Hugo Chavez: When Telling the Truth Becomes a Crime". In it she questioned the prosecution of Brown and the subsequent removal of all WikiLeaks information from her paper.

"What that tells us is that the information that's used in WikiLeaks is not going to be researched properly," McKinney said. "There's not been sufficient research into the violations of the constitution.

"WikiLeaks is a valuable service whose contents deserve to be explored and published in the academic arena. [WikiLeaks provides] an insight into US government behaviour that they, the writers, never thought that we'd be able to see in our lifetime."