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Wikileaks, which began operations in December 2006, is a website devoted to making information that would otherwise be restricted available to the public. It has both been praised for breaking information on scandals, but also for revealing information that is personal or otherwise of questionable public value. It describes itself as a production of Sunshine Press, "an non-profit organization funded by human rights campaigners, investigative journalists, technologists and the general public. ... Although our work produces reforms daily and is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including the 2008 Index on Censorship-Economist Freedom of Expression Award as well as the 2009 Amnesty International New Media Award, these accolades do not pay the bills. Nor can we accept government or corporate funding and maintain our absolute integrity."[1]

While the majority of releases have involved U.S. government documents, Julian Assange, the leader of Wikileaks, told a Forbes magazine interviewer that they will soon release corporate documents. "It will give a true and representative insight into how banks behave at the executive level in a way that will stimulate investigations and reforms, I presume...“For this, there’s only one similar example. It’s like the Enron emails.”[2]

A blog, wikileak.org (i.e., less the "S" in Wikileaks) has been created to report on Wikileaks.

Origins

The founder is Julian Assange, about whom little is known, except that he appears to be an Australian in his thirties. He is known to have been raised in Melbourne, and was convicted, as a teenager, of hacking into websites as a member of a hacker collective called the International Subversives. "He eventually pled guilty to 24 counts of breaking into Australian government and commercial websites to test their security gaps, but was released on bond for good behavior. His official bio describes him as "Australia's most famous ethical hacker.""[3] Assange assisted in writing the book, Underground: Tales of hacking, madness and obsession on the electronic frontier.[4]

The founders were described as mostly Chinese dissidents, hackers, computer programmers and journalists. Early in the formation, the founders wrote to Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, saying, in an email released by John Young,
We believe that injustice is answered by good governance and for there to be good governance there must be open governance," the email said. "New technology and cryptographic ideas permit us to not only encourage document leaking, but to facilitate it directly on a mass scale. We intend to place a new star in the political firmament of man." The email appealed to Ellsberg to be part of the "political-legal defences" the organisers recognised they would need once they started to get under the skin of governments, militaries and corporations: "We'd like … you to form part of our political armour. The more armour we have, particularly in the form of men and women sanctified by age, history and class, the more we can act like brazen young men and get away with it." [5]
Chris McGreal, of the The Guardian, wrote
Assange, who describes what he does as a mix of hi-tech investigative journalism and advocacy, foresees a day when any confidential document, from secret orders that allow our own governments to spy on us down to the bossy letters from your children's school, will be posted on WikiLeaks for the whole world to see. And that, Assange believes, will change everything.
But there are those who fear that WikiLeaks is more like an intelligence service than it would care to admit – a shadowy, unaccountable organisation that tramples on individual privacy and other rights. And like so many others who have claimed to be acting in the name of the people, there are those who fear it risks oppressing them.[5]

Cryptome and John Young

McGreal reported that the organisers approached John Young, owner of the long-established leaked document site, Cryptome.org, and asked him to register the WikiLeaks website in his name. According to McGreal, "Young obliged and was initially an enthusiastic supporter but when the organisers announced their intention to try and raise $5m he questioned their motives, saying that kind of money could only come from the CIA or George Soros. Then he walked away. 'WikiLeaks is a fraud,' he wrote in an email when he quit. 'Fuck your cute hustle and disinformation campaign against legitimate dissent. Same old shit, working for the enemy.' Young then leaked all of his email correspondence with WikiLeak's founders, including the messages to Ellsberg."

Messages in the correspondence leaked by Young are headed,

This is a restricted internal development mailinglist for w-i-k-i-l-e-a-k-s-.-o-r-g. Please do not mention that word directly in these discussions; refer instead to 'WL'. This list is housed at riseup.net, an activist collective in Seattle with an established lawyer

and plenty of backbone.[6]

Secrecy News and Steven Aftergood

Steven Aftergood, who publishes Secrecy News for the Federation of American Scientists, declined to join Wikileaks. Aftergood, who has chosen to withhold or redact certain documents based on what he considers legitimate reasons of public safety, told Wikileaks "we do not favor automated or indiscriminate publication of confidential records. In the absence of accountable editorial oversight, publication can more easily become an act of aggression or an incitement to violence, not to mention an invasion of privacy or an offense against good taste." They replied, "So we disagree on first principles? No problem, replied Wikileaks: “Advisory positions are just that — advisory! If you want to advise us to censor, then by all means do so.”[7]

Jay Lim of Wikileaks sent an email of complaint to Aftergood, which he published on his blog.
Who’s side are you on here Stephen? It is time this constant harping stopped.
You know full well if you make n comments about us and m negative ones about us it’ll only be the negative comment that is reported — since everyone else has only positive things to say and by your position at FAS there is an expectation of positive comment. You are not a child. As a result of your previous criticism it seem you are becoming the ‘go to’ man for negative comments on Wikileaks. Over the last year, our most quoted critic has not been a right wing radio host, it has not been the Chinese ambassador, it has not been Pentagon bureaucrats, it has been you Stephen. You are the number one public enemy of this project. On top of everything else, your quote is the only critical entry on our Wikipedia page. Some friend of openness!
We are very disappointed in your lack of support and suggest you cool it. If you don’t, we will, with great reluctance, be forced to respond.”[8]
After the large disclosures in 2010, Aftergood questioned the purpose of Wikileaks. He describes Wikleaks actions as symptomatic of problems with the U.S. classification system, but unfocused as far as real policy objectives. Aftergood does suggest, however, that Wikileaks grew in part from a reaction to a dysfunctional security classification system.
The Wikileaks project seems to be, more than anything else, an assault on secrecy. If Wikileaks were most concerned about whistleblowing, it would focus on revealing corruption. If it were concerned with historical truth, it would emphasize the discovery of verifiably true facts. If it were anti-war, it would safeguard, not disrupt, the conduct of diplomatic communications. But instead, what Wikileaks has done is to publish a vast potpourri of records — dazzling, revelatory, true, questionable, embarrassing, or routine — whose only common feature is that they are classified or otherwise restricted.
This may be understood as a reaction to a real problem, namely the fact that by all accounts, the scope of government secrecy in the U.S. (not to mention other countries) has exceeded rational boundaries. Disabling secrecy in the name of transparency would be a sensible goal — if it were true that all secrecy is wrong. But if there is a legitimate role for secrecy in military operations, in intelligence gathering or in diplomatic negotiations, as seems self-evident, then a different approach is called for.[9]

Daniel Ellsberg

Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers, is supportive of Wikileaks, although he observes similarities and differences between the two releases. With respect to similarities, he said
To start is of course that they mostly deal --- not the latest ones, but the Afghan and the Iraq disclosures – deal with wars that are very similar to the war that was exposed in the Pentagon Papers. So many of the issues they reveal are very similar. And also they're both on a scale as to make the pursuit of the source of that very intense and probably successful. In my case I was sure they would know that I was the only, that I was the source of those, and so I expected to be put on trial. I expected, actually, to go to prison for the rest of my life. And the charges did add up to 115 years. I'm very impressed that Bradley Manning, the suspect in this, who has not been proven to be the source yet by the Army but if the Army's --I should say the Pentagon and Army's suspicions are correct then I admire what he did and I feel a great affinity for it, because he did say, allegedly, to the person who turned him in, Adrian Lamo, in a chatlog, that he was prepared, he was ready to go to prison for life or even be executed, he said, in order to share this information with the American people who needed to have it.

Ellsberg saw the situations different in that the Wikileaks releases deal with tactical or operational information, while "the Pentagon Papers were high level, top secret decision papers that showed a great warning, actually, about the escalations that lay ahead, as well as planning for escalations that was being concealed from the American public. Wrongly, I would say, leading them into very dangerous, reckless policies. So these are not the Pentagon Papers. Unfortunately. I wish they were. We need the Pentagon Papers, not only of Afghanistan and Iraq, but as I said, of Yemen, Pakistan and other wars that may lie, or actually covertly …"[10]

U.S. government response

The U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Army confirmed, to the New York Times, that Wikileaks was considered a security threat. [11] A classified report, "(U) Wikileaks.org—An Online Reference to Foreign Intelligence Services, Insurgents, or Terrorist Groups?" was produced by the Army Counterintelligence Center.[12]

At Salon.com, Glenn Greenwald wrote that Wikileaks was targeted by the U.S. government, citing actions taken by Icelandic police against a leaker. [13] The US Government does face hurdles in its prosecution of Wikileaks. Firstly, Wikileaks is rumored to be based in Sweden, which is outside of US jurisdiction. Additionally, the Supreme Court ruled in the Pentagon Papers case that the First Amendment protects publishing classified materials so long as the publisher did not steal the information. [14] Steven Aftergood, however, says that Icelandic police differ with the Salon account.[15] The Chief of Police in Reykjavik, Fridrik Smari Bjorgvinsson, Icelandic police have not been working with the American secret services on the matter, as Wikileaks spokesmen allege. The only connection he could find between the Wikileaks charges and his organization was the arrest of a 17 year-old in Kopavogur on Monday for breaking into a business premises. Wikileaks had called him an editor.[16]

Initial disclosures of U.S. information

It published, in 2007, the U.S. operating procedures manual for the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.[17]

Even more publicized was the 2010 release of video from a U.S. attack helicopter firing on people on the ground, an incident in which two journalists were killed. [18] Robert Gates, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, criticized Wikileaks for not providing context, saying "These people can put out anything they want, and they're never held accountable for it. There's no before and there's no after." Wikileaks countered his statement with an unsigned email saying "Classified records which we will shortly release show that there was a report of small arms fire at 9:50 a.m., somewhere in the suburb of New Baghdad, shooter and location UNIDENTIFIED. There is no reference to U.S. forces having been hit by the fire. The same records report that at 10:18, 28 minutes later, the crowd was seen and the killing commenced." [19]

Large releases of documents

The large number of documents released in 2010 were provided by a person or persons with access to the military SIPRNET network. All of those viewed are marked with the label SIPDIS (SIPRNET Distribution).[20]

Support

The strongly libertarian-Republican Rep. Ron Paul believes Assange should have at least the same protection as news media. [21] He criticized fellow Republicans for calling for treason action against Assange, an Australian; treason is narrowly and precisely defined in the U.S. Constitution. Mike Huckabee had called for a treason prosecution, with execution if convicted. Paul said, "“In a free society we're supposed to know the truth.In a society where truth becomes treason, then we're in big trouble. And now, people who are revealing the truth are getting into trouble for it. Assange, who's an Australian, that we want to prosecute him for treason. I mean, aren't they jumping to a wild conclusion? This is media, isn't it? I mean, why don't we prosecute The New York Times or anybody that releases this?”

Other responses

Washington Times columnist Jeffrey T. Kuhner called for Assange's assassination. He questioned the lack of strong response by the Obama Administration, and the failure to immediately court-martial Bradley Manning, implicated as Wikileaks' source from SIPRNET.[22]

Investigations of Wikileaks founder on personal issues

In December 2010, the Swedish Supreme Court ruled that Assange, must appear before a magistrate in Stockholm to answer accusations of rape and sexual harassment brought by two Swedish women. previously, Assange's offer to appear when in Sweden was not taken up, apparently waiting for him to leave the country before challenging him. Sweden also refused to grant him a residence permit, which had been sought in order to gain legal protection for the wikileaks website.

Following the court's refusal to hear an appeal of the warrant, Swedish authorities said they were fine-tuning a "red notice" for Assange's arrest that is being relayed to member countries by Interpol, the international anti-crime cooperative."[23] Police in Britain, where Assange is located, had "they could not act on the mandate without more specifics on the potential charges and the penalties Assange might face under Swedish law. " Sweden responded, on 3 December, with a new warrant. Assange's attorney, Mark Stephens, called the entire process irregular.[24]

Attack and counterattack on the Web

Wikileaks Domain Name Service provider, EveryDNS.net has pulled support, although reports that Wikileaks has lost the domain name itself is incorrect. EveryDNS complained the attacks against Wikileaks were disrupting their entire service. As of 3 December, servers could still be addressed directly as if their IP addresses were known, but delay grew increasingly worse. [25] Wikileaks, on December 2, appears to be hosted on Swedish ISP Bahnhof Internet and French ISP Ovh Systems.[26]

Measurements by Netcraft.com, copyright 2010 by Netcraft, used by Netcraft's terms allowing fair use when credit is given

While there have been reports of distributed denial of service attacks on Wikileaks' servers, technical details have not yet been available. [27] Netcraft, however, has published measurements of degraded performance in reaching Wikileaks.[28]

There had been an earlier denial of service attack, from an unconfirmed source possibly identified with a hacker's Twitter post. against Wikileaks' dedicated servers, and they had moved to the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) Infrastructure as a Service cloud computing environment. Amazon, however, dropped Wikileaks as a customer, saying
When companies or people go about securing and storing large quantities of data that isn’t rightfully theirs, and publishing this data without ensuring it won’t injure others, it’s a violation of our terms of service, and folks need to go operate elsewhere[29]

Amazon's decision led to questions on the pure business risk of putting applications on cloud computing, since a provider might abruptly terminate service for an acceptable use policy violation -- although this also can happen with hosted servers. [30] The Electronic Frontier Foundation observed that "online free speech is only as strong as the weakest intermediate"; First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution rights do not apply to private contracts. "...a web hosting company isn't the government. It's a private actor and it certainly can choose what to publish and what not to publish. Indeed, Amazon has its own First Amendment right to do so."[31] An online publisher or hosting service may yield to informal government pressure, or simply decide to sever a relationship that brings bad publicity.

Tableau Software, a free data visualization service, discontinued support of Wikileaks after an inquiry from U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, who called for organizations working with Wikilinks to sever relationships. Like Amazon, they based their decision on data ownership. "Our terms of service require that people using Tableau Public do not upload, post, email, transmit or otherwise make available any content that they do not have the right to make available. Furthermore, if we receive a complaint about a particular set of data, we retain the right to investigate the situation and remove any offending data, if necessary." [32]

China, and some Arab countries, have blocked access to Wikileaks.

Legal actions

The intensity of U.S. government response has increased with the most recent releases, although it varies considerably among different officials. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, for example, calls it serious but not an existential threat.
Let me just offer some perspective as somebody who’s been at this a long time. Every other government in the world knows the United States government leaks like a sieve, and it has for a long time. And I dragged this up the other day when I was looking at some of these prospective releases. And this is a quote from John Adams: “How can a government go on, publishing all of their negotiations with foreign nations, I know not. To me, it appears as dangerous and pernicious as it is novel."
Now, I’ve heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer, and so on. I think -- I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought. The fact is, governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets.
Many governments -- some governments deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us. We are still essentially, as has been said before, the indispensable nation. So other nations will continue to deal with us. They will continue to work with us. We will continue to share sensitive information with one another. Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest. [33]

In December 2010, the Swedish Supreme Court ruled that Assange, must appear before a magistrate in Stockholm to answer accusations of rape and sexual harassment brought by two Swedish women. Following the court's refusal to hear an appeal of the warrant, Swedish authorities said they were fine-tuning a "red notice" for Assange's arrest that is being relayed to member countries by Interpol, the international anti-crime cooperative."[34] Police in Britain, where Assange is located, had "they could not act on the mandate without more specifics on the potential charges and the penalties Assange might face under Swedish law. " Sweden responded, on 3 December, with a new warrant. Assange's attorney, Mark Stephens, called the entire process irregular.[35]

Disclosures of non-U.S. information

One area of concern, with the disclosures, is of U.S. reporting on the actions of third countries, actions they had thought would be secret.

Lebanon and Hezbollah

While not part of the main disclosures, but release of unconfirmed State Department cables from 2008, published by the Arabic-language Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar, a critic of U.S. influence in Lebanon, address tension between the U.S. backed government and the Hezbollah opposition. They show Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr promising "U.S. diplomats that the Lebanese army will not become involved in the event of an Israeli invasion of the country, because "this war is not with Lebanon, it is [with] Hezbollah." Murr, a Christian, also pleaded with U.S. diplomats to convince Israel to spare Christian areas of the country, limiting its attack to Shiite-majority regions." Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon's Druze community, has gone the farthest in publicly disavowing his former anti-Hezbollah positions -- but these documents show his highest lieutenants doing all they can to convince the United States to turn the screws on Hezbollah. In August 2008 -- notably, after the May violence and resulting power shift caused Jumblatt to disavow much of his anti-Syrian and anti-Hezbollah rhetoric -- one of his Druze allies, acting Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) commander Maj. Gen. Shawki al-Masri, made the case to U.S. officials that they should provide the LAF with attack helicopters. "We need this equipment to face this armed group Hizballah," he pleaded. "Else, we cannot face them." "[36]

Going corporate

Assange has said[37] That revealing various corporate secrets is next on the Wikileaks agenda. Some articles claim that Bank of America will be the next target.[38]

References

  1. Wikileaks
  2. Andy Greenberg (29 November 2010), "An Interview With WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange", Forbes
  3. David Kushner (6 April 2010), "Inside WikiLeaks’ Leak Factory", Mother Jones
  4. Suelette Dreyfus with research by Julian Assange (June 1997), Underground: Tales of hacking, madness and obsession on the electronic frontier, Random House Australia, ISBN 1863305955
  5. 5.0 5.1 Chris McGreal (9 April 2010), "Who Watches Wikilinks?", Guardian (UK)
  6. Wikileaks-leak, Cryptome.org
  7. Steven Aftergood (3 January 2007), Wikileaks and Untraceable Document Disclosure, Secrecy News, Federation of American Scientists
  8. Steven Aftergood (22 February 2008), A Word from Wikileaks, Secrecy News, Federation of American Scientists
  9. Steven Aftergood (29 November 2010), The Race to Fix the Classification System
  10. Brad Friedman (1 December 2010), Interview with "Pentagon Papers" Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg on WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, Hillary Clinton and more..., KPFK
  11. Stephanie Strom (17 March 2010), "Pentagon Sees a Threat From Online Muckrakers", New York Times
  12. Wikileaks.org—An Online Reference to Foreign Intelligence Services, Insurgents, or Terrorist Groups?, Army Counterintelligence Center, U.S. Army, 18 March 2008, MGIC-2381-0617-08
  13. Glenn Greenwald (27 March 2010), The war on WikiLeaks and why it matters
  14. Jessica E. Vascellaro (26 July 2010), Wikileaks Sought to Raise Its Profile
  15. Steven Aftergood (29 March 2010), Is There a War on Wikileaks?, Secrecy News blog, Federation of American Scientists
  16. "Icelandic authorities reject Wikileaks surveillance claims", Icenews, 26 March 2010
  17. Ryan Singel (14 November 2007), "Sensitive Guantánamo Bay Manual Leaked Through Wiki Site", Wired
  18. Dan Froomkin (5 April 2010), "Wikilinks VIDEO exposes collateral murder in Iraq", Huffington Post
  19. "Gates assails Internet group over attack video", Reuters, 13 April 2010
  20. WikiLeaks Documents Sent Via Siprnet, National Public Radio, 28 November 2010
  21. Andy Barr (3 December 2010), "Ron Paul stands up for Assange", Politico
  22. Jeffrey T. Kuhner (2 December 2010), "KUHNER: Assassinate Assange, Web provocateur undermines war on terror, threatens American lives", Washington Times
  23. Edward Cody (2 December 2010), "Swedish court upholds warrant for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange; amid furor, provocateur remains out of sight", Washington Post
  24. "Wikileaks warrant 'issued to UK'", BBC News, 3 December 2010
  25. Darren Pauli, "Wikileaks loses domain name after DoS attacks", ZDNet Australia
  26. Tom Espiner (2 December 2010), "Amazon pulls the plug on Wikileaks servers", ZDNet UK
  27. "WikiLeaks Under Denial of Service Attack (DDoS)", SecurityWeek News, 28 November 2010
  28. Paul Mutton (3 December 2010), WikiLeaks.org taken down by US DNS provider, Netcraft
  29. Ravi Somaiya and J. David Goodman (3 December 2010), "WikiLeaks Struggles to Stay Online After Attacks", New York Times
  30. Keir Thomas (2 December 2010), "Amazon's Wikileaks Rejection Raises Cloud Trust Concerns", PCWorld
  31. Rainey Reitman and Marcia Hofmann, Amazon and WikiLeaks - Online Speech is Only as Strong as the Weakest Intermediary, Electronic Frontier Foundation
  32. Elissa Fink (2 December 2010), Why we removed the WikiLeaks visualizations, Tableau Software
  33. Daniel Drezner (1 December 2010), "Robert Gates gets the last word on WikiLeaks", Foreign Policy
  34. Edward Cody (2 December 2010), "Swedish court upholds warrant for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange; amid furor, provocateur remains out of sight", Washington Post
  35. "Wikileaks warrant 'issued to UK'", BBC News, 3 December 2010
  36. David Kenner (3 December 2010), Wikileaks Blog, Foreign Policy (magazine)
  37. Andy Greenberg (Nov 29, 2010), "WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange Wants To Spill Your Corporate Secrets", Forbes
  38. Andy Greenberg (Nov 30, 2010), "Is Bank Of America WikiLeaks’ Next Target?", Forbes