From Citizendium
(Redirected from Wikileaks)
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This article is developing and not approved.
Main Article
Related Articles  [?]
Bibliography  [?]
External Links  [?]
Citable Version  [?]
This editable Main Article is under development and subject to a disclaimer.

WikiLeaks is a website devoted to the publication of documents that are otherwise not available because of access restrictions. The stated aim is to expose the official corruption in repressive governments, but their door is open to almost any kind of leaked documents. It began operation in December 2006, and its best known representative is Julian Assange.

The project has been praised for revealing information on scandals, and more generally as defenders of freedom of speech and government transparency. They have also been very sharply criticised; the issues include revealing information that is personal and of questionable public value, revealing military information which critics say risk lives, and revealing diplomatic material which critics say needs to be private for diplomats to function. More generally, critics contend that not all secrets should be revealed, that WikiLeaks encourages theft of confidential material, and then disseminates it irresponsibly, taking little account of risks or consequences. To the project's defenders, however, the need for openness in government trumps all those concerns.

The activities of WikiLeaks raise a number of issues, often questions for which there is no simple clear-cut answer. Is Freedom of the Press an absolute, or should there be some restrictions on it? Does WikiLeaks count as press? What about "freedom of information" or "national security"? Are those absolutes, and if not, what are the exceptions? More generally, how should individual rights to privacy and corporate or government needs for secrecy be balanced against the public interest? How can we hold Governments accountable for their actions? If things are kept secret in the name of "National Security", how are the people to know if that is legitimate? If too much is revealed, how are the military or diplomats to function?

An article in The Guardian raises other questions:

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.[1]

Overall, the organisation is extremely controversial. Are they heroic pioneers of openness? Criminals? Defenders of free speech? Spies? Protectors of those abused by governments? Enemies of the state? Investigative journalists? A shadowy conspiracy with too much influence? There are arguments for all of those characterisations and more.

Goals and methods

WikiLeaks stated goals are:

Wikileaks is developing an uncensorable Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis. Our primary interest is in exposing oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we also expect to be of assistance to people of all regions who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their governments and corporations. We aim for maximum political impact. Our interface is identical to Wikipedia and usable by all types of people. We have received over 1.2 million documents so far from dissident communities and anonymous sources.

We believe that transparency in government activities leads to reduced corruption, better government and stronger democracies. All governments can benefit from increased scrutiny by the world community, as well as their own people. We believe this scrutiny requires information. Historically that information has been costly — in terms of human life and human rights. But with technological advances — the internet, and cryptography — the risks of conveying important information can be lowered.[2]

The sentence "We aim for maximum political impact." is critical; it defines much of WikiLeaks' style. Other sites, such as Cryptome, had been posting leaked documents for years before WikiLeaks appeared, but without the publicity or impact of WikiLeaks.

The role of Assange

The best-known staff member, and the organisation's main spokesperson, is an Australian, Julian Assange. He is often described as the "founder" or "director" of WikiLeaks, though he does not use those terms, instead calling himself "editor-in-chief".[3] Assange 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'."[4] Assange assisted in writing the book, Underground: Tales of hacking, madness and obsession on the electronic frontier.[5]

Assange wrote some theoretical papers which are in effect a manifesto for WikiLeaks. They are archived at Cryptome[6] and at least one blog has a detailed analysis[7] of them.

For his work with WikiLeaks, Assange received the 2008 Economist Freedom of Expression Award, the 2009 Amnesty International International Media Award, and the 2010 Sam Adams Award.

Utne Reader named Assange as one of the "25 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World".[8] In 2010, New Statesman ranked Assange number 23 among the "The World's 50 Most Influential Figures".

The cypherpunk influence

Assange was a participant on the cypherpunks mailing list — a group interested in using cryptography for social change, with quite a high technical level and a pronounced libertarian tendency. WikiLeaks can be seen as arising directly from cypherpunk ideas; as one commentator put it:

At last — at long last — the homemade nitroglycerin in the old cypherpunks blast shack has gone off.[9]

Another wrote:

ALTHOUGH there are tens of thousands of articles on Julian Assange in the world's newspapers and magazines, no mainstream journalist so far has grasped the critical significance of the cypherpunks movement to Assange's intellectual development and the origin of WikiLeaks. ...

At the core of the cypherpunk philosophy was the belief that the great question of politics in the age of the internet was whether the state would strangle individual freedom and privacy through its capacity for electronic surveillance or whether autonomous individuals would eventually undermine and even destroy the state through their deployment of electronic weapons newly at hand. ...

While commentators have comprehensively failed to see the significance of the cypherpunks in shaping the thought of Assange, this is something insiders to the movement understand.[10]

John Young, who was also on the cypherpunks list, has been running the Cryptome site since the mid-90s. That site was part of the inspiration for WikiLeaks, and Young a participant in WikiLeaks development; for details, see below. Cryptome has an archive of Assange's posts to the cypherpunks list.

Is it journalism?

WikLeaks calls what it does journalism and refers to its staff as journalists. They often work closely with mainstream journalists.

Recently, the way they interact with those journalists has changed. Rather than publicly releasing their entire trove of 250,000-odd US diplomatic cables, WikiLeaks has given the entire collection to several newspapers. When one of those papers publishes a story based on some of those documents, then the supporting documents go up on the site. As yet, WikiLeaks has not publicly released any cables except those. This contrasts with the handling of the Afghan War material where they put everything on the web right away and then invited journalists to comment.

Unlike earlier disclosures by WikiLeaks of tens of thousands of secret government military records, the group is releasing only a trickle of documents at a time from a trove of a quarter-million, and only after considering advice from five news organizations with which it chose to share all of the material.

"They are releasing the documents we selected," Le Monde's managing editor, Sylvie Kauffmann, said in an interview at the newspaper's Paris headquarters.

WikiLeaks turned over all of the classified U.S. State Department cables it obtained to Le Monde, El Pais in Spain, The Guardian in Britain and Der Spiegel in Germany. The Guardian shared the material with The New York Times, and the five news organizations have been working together to plan the timing of their reports.

They also have been advising WikiLeaks on which documents to release publicly and what redactions to make to those documents, Kauffmann and others involved in the arrangement said. [11]

The Wall Street Journal suggests this may be a strategy to raise the site's profile:

WikiLeaks, frustrated at the lack of splash of recent leaks on its whistle-blowing website, has rolled the dice to try to raise its profile by teaming up with news organizations in its latest dump of classified documents.[12]

It may also be an attempt to ensure that the site has more of the legal protections afforded to journalism in various countries. If they publish only things which mainstream journalists have already disclosed, they may be safe from prosecution on grounds of that publishing. Of course this does not protect them against all possible ways they might be prosecuted.


WikiLeaks depends critically on two aspects of modern technology, the Internet for rapid movement of data and modern cryptography to provide anonymity to sources. It probably could not have existed a generation ago; at the time of the release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, neither the available networks nor the publicly available cryptography were good enough.

On the technical side, WikiLeaks uses a variety of cryptographic techniques. They provide (though as of January, 2011 it has been down for "re-engineering" for over a month) an electronic dropbox for submissions:

Submitting documents to our journalists is protected by law in better democracies. For other countries, the electronic drop box is there to offer help and protection. It is particularly designed to keep your identity hidden from everyone, including WikiLeaks. We never keep logs of who uses the drop box or where they are coming from.[13]

They also recommend that, as a second layer of protection, contributors use the TOR anonymizing network.

The site itself uses the Mediawiki software developed for Wikipedia and used by many other wikis, including Citizendium. Originally, the plan was to have each document as a non-editable wiki page, and to encourage public comment on the associated talk page. Talk pages were to be editable by anyone, with anonymous comments strongly encouraged. That plan has long since been dropped; what appears now is only the documents and analysis by WikiLeaks staff.

Notable leaks

WikiLeaks has published a large number of formerly secret documents. The Daily Telegraph has a list of "Wikileaks' 10 greatest stories" (as of Oct. 18, 2010):[14] Their list was:

  • Iraq Apache helicopter attack (see below).
  • Standard Operating Procedures for Camp Delta (Guantanamo Bay detention camp.)[15]
  • Several official Scientology documents.
  • The Climategate material, email and files from East Anglia University's Climatic Research Unit.
  • The proposed, and seriously flawed, blacklist of sites to be blocked by the "Great Firewall of Australia".
  • A consultant's report on the health effects of waste dumping in African waters. The oil trading company Trafigura, that was doing the dumping and had commissioned the report, desperately wanted it kept secret.
  • The far-right British National Party membership list, with names, addresses and occupations.[16]
  • Sarah Palin's email account at Yahoo was hacked and the results posted to WikiLeaks.
  • 500,000 pager messages sent in the US on the day of the 9/11 Attack. This has been a controversial release; many of the messages were private and of little public interest.
  • "In a delightful twist, a British military manual - the Defence Manual of Security, or Joint Services Protocol 440 (JSP440) - specifically dealing with how best to avoid leaks was leaked onto the site in October last year."[14]

The two largest releases of documents to date, both in 2010, were a set of nearly 100,000 reports from the US military in Afghanistan and a collection of 250,000 US diplomatic cables. These are discussed in the following sections.

While many releases to date have involved government documents, Assange 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.[17]

Assange has said[18] That revealing various corporate secrets is next on the Wikileaks agenda. Some articles claim that Bank of America will be the next target.[19]


Early in 2009, WikiLeaks released a UN report, "A United Nations investigator has recommended the sacking of Kenya’s Attorney General and the Police Commissioner over extra judicial killings."

Of course the Kenyan government denied the allegations.

This is the work for which Amnesty International gave them an award.

Afghanistan War logs

On July 25th, 2010, Wikileaks released tens of thousands of classified military field reports in relation to the Afghanistan War. It provided The New York Times [20], The Guardian [21] and Der Spiegel [22] with over 90,000 classified military documents in what is being described as one of the biggest leaks in the history of the United States military [23]. The documents show that:

  • There have been hundreds of unreported civilian deaths and soldiers frequently fudge the numbers in their field reports in counting dead civilians as 'insurgents'.
  • The Taliban apparently use heat-seeking missiles against allied aircraft, something the US has glossed over.
  • The CIA pretty much runs their own paramilitary in Afghanistan, launching raids and ambushes, and even has the ability to call air strikes.
  • The US gives millions of dollars to Pakistan, but some of that money is funneled to insurgents killing American soldiers.

The reports paint a clear picture of Afghanistan and the war. Despite almost a decade of war and billions of dollars spent on it, the insurgency is not dying down, and is in fact getting stronger. With poverty, corruption on every level, citizens under threat of constant violence, untrained soldiers and police officers and everything else detailed in the documents, it is hard to imagine the war could ever be won.

Baghdad helicopter attack

WikiLeaks released a video of a US attack helicopter firing on civilians in Iraq[24], and later set up a separate Collateral Murder web site for the material.

And in April 2010, for example, Wikileaks posted a video on its website that shows a US Apache helicopter killing at least 12 people — including two Reuters journalists — during an attack in Baghdad in 2007. [25]

Reuters had previously asked for the video and been refused.[26] Utne Reader commented:

WikiLeaks represents a ray of sunshine. By placing raw documents in the public domain, the organization not only leaps past the interpretive and gatekeeping roles of investigative reporting but also subverts the power of governments and businesses to censor the paper trail of their actions. (Reuters filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the video that captured the shootings of its newsmen. The request was denied. WikiLeaks never asked for permission in the first place.)[27]

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." [28]

US diplomatic cables

In late November 2010, WikiLeaks began publishing some of a collection of around 250,000 US diplomatic cables. They have also set up a separate website, Cablegate, for this material.

These are messages from US diplomats to Washington or vice versa. All are classified, and many are distinctly embarrassing to the US government, to other governments, or both. Washington was definitely unhappy about the previous leaks of military material, but this diplomatic leak is in some ways much worse — it embarrasses friends, provokes enemies, and reveals both US strategies in many areas and US government misbehavior in some. This time, many in Washington are absolutely furious; see the next section for details.

As discussed under methods above, WikiLeaks are taking a different approach with this material than with previous leaks. Rather than just making it all public on the web, they have given all of it to several newspapers and are taking advice from those papers on both what to put up on the web and whether parts of it need to be redacted. Reuters published an article[29] summarizing the major revelations up to December 1, breaking them down by country. Quoting them:

  • "King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program."
  • "Saudi donors remain the chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like al-Qaeda."
  • "The State Department asked US envoys at UN headquarters and elsewhere to procure credit card and frequent flyer numbers, mobile phone numbers, email addresses, passwords and other data from foreign diplomats and top UN officials."
  • "U.S. diplomats cast doubts on the reliability of NATO ally Turkey, portraying its leadership as divided and permeated by Islamists and said advisers to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan had "little understanding of politics beyond Ankara."
  • "China's Politburo directed the intrusion into Google's computer systems in that country, a Chinese contact told the US Embassy"
  • "China is exasperated with North Korea and some in Beijing feel their erratic neighbour is losing strategic value and will one day reunite with South Korea."

For more, see the original article.

Guantanamo files

Earlier, WikiLeaks released the Standard Operating Procedures for Camp Delta, a manual for the (Guantanamo Bay detention camp.)[15].

In 2011, they followed up with 779 files on individual prisoners.[30]

Syrian emails

WikiLeaks released some email from Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's office in 2011 and in 2012 followed up with a trove of over two million messages "from 680 "Syria-related entities", including the Ministries of Presidential Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Information, Transport and Culture".[31]

U.S. reactions

Some of the WikiLeaks releases have had US sources and have been extremely embarrassing to the US government. Responses in the US have ranged all over the spectrum of possibilities.

The New York Times was involved in both The Afghan War and the diplomatic cables release and has not hesitated to publish and analyze documents obtained from WikiLeaks. Other news organisations have followed suit, though some have also been quite critical of WikiLeaks.

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. [32] A classified report, "(U)—An Online Reference to Foreign Intelligence Services, Insurgents, or Terrorist Groups?" was produced by the Army Counterintelligence Center.[33]

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. [34]

The US Government does face hurdles in any attempt to prosecute WikiLeaks.[35] 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.[12] Despite these difficulties, they are having a grand jury hearing to determine if Assange can be tried under the Espionage Act.[36]

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).[37] The army have arrested a young soldier named Bradley Manning, who was allegedly the source of the leaks. He is likely to undergo court martial and, if convicted, to get a substantial sentence.[1]. In early 2013, Manning pleaded guilty to some charges, but not all[2].

One aspect of the government response seems odd; employees and contractors are still forbidden to read classified material they do not have clearance for, even if it has been made public by WikiLeaks.[38]

There have been a number of other attacks on WikiLeaks or on members of its staff, more-or-less all of which have been attributed by some observers to US government machinations. The government denies involvement.[39] These attacks are discussed in a later section.

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.[40]

Sarah Palin wrote about Assange on Facebook: "He is an anti-American operative with blood on his hands. His past posting of classified documents revealed the identity of more than 100 Afghan sources to the Taliban. Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders?"[41]

Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee has called for the leaker to be prosecuted for treason and executed.[41]

The conservative/libertarian Republican congressman Ron Paul believes WikiLeaks should have at least the same protection as news media. He criticized fellow Republicans for calling for treason action against Assange, an Australian; treason is narrowly and precisely defined in the U.S. Constitution. In contrast to Huckabee, 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?[42]

Attacks on WikiLeaks, and counter-attacks

In addition to press and political criticism, there have been a number of actions taken by various actors whose effect is to damage WikiLeaks.

Some attribute nearly all of these to US government pressure or covert intervention. Many of the actors, however, deny any such motive and give other explanations. Certainly, there has been some pressure; Senator Joe Lieberman, chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, has called for organizations working with WikiLeaks to sever those relationships, and his staff have been in touch with many of them.

Withdrawal of service

A number of companies have cut off various services to WikiLeaks.

Internet services

Wikileaks Domain Name Service provider, has pulled support, although reports that Wikileaks has lost the domain name itself are incorrect. EveryDNS complained the attacks against Wikileaks were disrupting their entire service. As of 3 December, servers could still be addressed directly if their IP addresses were known, but delay grew increasingly worse. [43] Wikileaks, on December 2, appears to be hosted on Swedish ISP Bahnhof Internet and French ISP Ovh Systems.[44]

At one point, WikiLeaks were hosted by the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) Infrastructure as a Service cloud computing environment. Amazon, after a call from Senator Lieberman's staff[45], 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[46]

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 can also happen with hosted servers. [47]

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.

Importantly, the government itself can't take official action to silence WikiLeaks' ongoing publications — that would be an unconstitutional prior restraint, or censorship of speech before it can be communicated to the public. No government actor can nix WikiLeaks' right to publish content any more than the government could stop the New York Times and Washington Post from publishing the Pentagon Papers, which were also stolen secret government documents.

But 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. That makes it all the more unfortunate that Amazon caved to unofficial government pressure to squelch core political speech. Amazon had an opportunity to stand up for its customer's right to free expression. Instead, Amazon ran away with its tail between its legs. [48]

An online publisher or hosting service may yield to government pressure, or simply decide to sever a relationship that brings bad publicity.

OpenDemocracy commented:

At approximately 6pm on Wednesday, Amazon ousted from its servers after concerted and aggressive political pressure from America’s Homeland Security Committee. Clearly this raises serious questions about what appears to be a festering culture of backroom democracy across the western world, in which Britain is complicit. Diplomatic secrecy, as critics of Wikileaks argue, may well be in some cases entirely justified and necessary – however not if it means nurturing what Assange himself describes as the “corruption of governance"[49]

Tableau Software, a free data visualization service, discontinued support of Wikileaks after an inquiry from Senator Lieberman. Like Amazon, they claimed to base 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." [50]

Financial services

Paypal blocked the account of the Wau Holland Foundation, a German non-profit which was handling donations for WikiLeaks, on December 3 with the statement:

PayPal has permanently restricted the account used by WikiLeaks due to a violation of the PayPal Acceptable Use Policy, which states that our payment service cannot be used for any activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity. We’ve notified the account holder of this action.[51]

The Threat Level blog at Wired commented:

PayPal's public statement doesn’t detail the "illegal activity" WikiLeaks promotes, but presumably it’s the leaking of classified information. Sometimes such leaks are indeed illegal. And sometimes classified leaks — legal or not — reveal warrantless wiretapping of Americans, secret CIA prison networks,and massive government waste hidden in black budgets. The reasoning PayPal offers for its newfound intolerance for WikiLeaks would seem to apply equally well to the New York Times and the Washington Post.[52]

Later a PayPal vice president indicated that their decision had been influenced by the State Department:

PayPal's VP of Platform Osama Bedier ... made it seem like PayPal had complied with a governmental request to deny service to WikiLeaks, "We have an acceptable use policy and their job is make sure that our customers are protected, making sure that we comply with regulations around the world and making sure that we protect our brand." Bedier also said that PayPal’s decision was influenced by the fact that the State Department deemed WikiLeaks illegal in a letter sent on November 27th,[53]

The letter in question, however, was not direct government pressure on PayPal; he was referring to a letter the Department sent to WikiLeaks.

Visa[54] and Mastercard[55] also suspended payments to Wikileaks. Critics have pointed out that both still allow donations to the Ku Klux Klan, or payments to pornography sites.[45] In Iceland, however, the local Visa/Matercard processing company was ordered by a court to resume processing donations.[56] That case went to the Icelandic Supreme Court, who also ruled in favour of WikiLeaks.[3] The processing company was given fifteen days to restart processing; after that it will get about $7000 a day in fines.

The Swiss bank PostFinance closed Assange's account on Dec 6 saying:

PostFinance has ended its business relationship with Wikileaks founder Julian Paul Assange. The Australian citizen provided false information regarding his place of residence during the account opening process. Assange entered Geneva as his domicile. Upon inspection, this information was found to be incorrect. Assange cannot provide proof of residence in Switzerland and thus does not meet the criteria for a customer relationship with PostFinance.[57]

Apparently Assange had given his lawyer's office address.

Denial of service attacks

In late November, there was a denial of service attack against Wikileaks' dedicated servers, The source has not been confirmed, but a "patriot hacker" called the Jester claimed it was him.

The Jester claimed that the attack was formulated by him through a Twitter update on Sunday that read "TANGO DOWN - for attempting to endanger the lives of our troops, 'other assets' & foreign relations." He calls himself "hactivist for good" and is usually embroiled in bringing down jihadists sites.[58]

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

While there have been reports of additional attacks on Wikileaks' servers, technical details have not yet been available. [59] Netcraft, however, has published measurements of degraded performance in reaching Wikileaks.[60]

Attacks against supporters

Assange visited Sweden in July 2010 and has since been accused of sexual misconduct by two women, both of whom voluntarily slept with him but later decided they had been abused. Swedish prosecutors have filed charges of rape and issued a warrant via Interpol. He has been arrested in the UK and may be extradited. For details, see the Assange article. These charges can be seen as an attack on WikiLeaks; Assange's lawyers argue that they are politically motivated.

At, Glenn Greenwald wrote that Wikileaks was targeted by the U.S. government, citing actions taken by Icelandic police against a leaker. [61] Steven Aftergood, however, says that Icelandic police differ with the Salon account.[62] The Chief of Police in Reykjavik, Fridrik Smari Bjorgvinsson, says 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.[63]

The US government sees WikiLeaks activity as criminal and is actively investigating it with a view to prosecution.[64]


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


Anonymous, an online community of hackers and activists, announced its support for Wikileaks by "declaring war", calling on supporters to attack sites and companies that have acted against WikiLeaks, and to spread the leaked diplomatic cables online.[65] There are now several hundred mirrors of the material.

They have successfully attacked a number of sites including Mastercard[66] Visa[67] and PayPal.[68], a Swedish government site, the site of the lawyer representing the two women in the Assange case, Sarah Palin's site, and PostFinance. There has been discussion of a possible attack on Amazon but that has not yet occurred, partly because Amazon would likely be a difficult target and partly because "we felt that it would affect people such as consumers in a negative way and make them feel threatened by Anonymous. Simply put, attacking a major online retailer when people are buying presents for their loved ones, would be in bad taste."[69]


The WikiLeaks web site has been active since 2006, less a brief interlude when they shut down for financial reasons. The group also runs other web sites such as Collateral Murder, which has video of a US helicopter attack on civilians in Iraq, and Cablegate for the leaked US diplomatic cables.

WikiLeaks 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.[70]

It began with discussions on a private by-invitation-only mailing list. Somewhat ironically, many of that list's messages wound up being made public without WikiLeaks' consent after some dissension on the list. See below for links.

Looking for support

In the formative stages, the founders of Wikileaks approached a number of people, all of whom had been prominent in previous leaking, for support.

Cryptome and John Young

The organisers approached John Young, owner of the long-established leaked document site, Cryptome, and asked him to register the WikiLeaks website in his name.

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. 'F*ck your cute hustle and disinformation campaign against legitimate dissent. Same old sh*t, working for the enemy.' Young then leaked all of his email correspondence with WikiLeak's founders, including the messages to Ellsberg.[1]

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, an activist collective in Seattle with an established lawyer

and plenty of backbone.[71]

A recent interview with Young reports:

His current view on WikiLeaks is complicated. "I'm a member of WikiLeaks. I'm an insider of WikiLeaks. I'm a devotee of WikiLeaks. I'm a critic of WikiLeaks," he said. "My current shtick is to pretend that I am an opponent of WikiLeaks. It's called friendly opposition. Praising each other is so insipid. Your parents praise you. Your friends never do. They know it's a con job, so praise is manipulation. Criticism is more candid. [Assange] hasn't returned the favor."[72]

Cryptome continues to have good coverage of WikiLeaks, with both copies of many leaked documents and various articles analysing either the revelations or the WikiLeaks organisation.

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.”[73]

Jay Lim of Wikileaks sent an email of complaint, which Aftergood 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.”[74]

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.[75]

Daniel Ellsberg

Early in the formation, the founders wrote to Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, saying:

We believe that injustice is answered by good governance and for there to be good governance there must be open governance," ... 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." [1]

Ellsberg is generally 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 as 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 …[76]

More recently, Ellsberg was one signer of a joint statement[77] including this text:

Ellsberg strongly rejects the mantra "Pentagon Papers good; WikiLeaks material bad." He continues: "That’s just a cover for people who don’t want to admit that they oppose any and all exposure of even the most misguided, secretive foreign policy. The truth is that EVERY attack now made on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange was made against me and the release of the Pentagon Papers at the time."[77]

The "insurance" files

In July 2010,just after the release of the Afghan War material, WikiLeaks put out a large heavily encrypted BitTorrent file named "insurance". There has been no public indication of what it contains. Digital Journal wrote:

A massive 1.4 gigabyte encrypted file named “Insurance” has been posted to the WikiLeaks site and by most estimates is 20 times larger than the 76,900 secret military/Afghanistan documents released to the Web last month.

Speculation abounds online about the reasoning behind the insurance file, much of it based on a belief the file will be used as leverage should anything happen to the site or anyone associated with it. According to the Associated Press, WikiLeaks, in an email response on Thursday, said: "As a matter of policy, we do not discuss security procedures."

However, in the Goodman interview, when asked to explain the file, Assange stated: “Well, I think it’s better that we don’t comment on that.” He then followed that with a thought-provoking comment: “But, you know, one could imagine in a similar situation that it might be worth ensuring that important parts of history do not disappear.”[78]

Whatever is in that file — it might be anything from random rubbish encrypted as a bluff to four gigabytes or so of text compressed — many people now have copies. If WikiLeaks publishes the encryption key, everything in the file becomes public.

In August 2013, WikiLeaks released an 'insurance' file of over 400 GB of classified information.[79] There has been speculation that this was a trove of material obtained from Ed Snowden.

Internal dissension

There has been considerable internal dissension in the WikiLeaks team. No-one there disagrees with the basic ideas of the project, but Assange's leadership has been questioned. He has been criticized as too autocratic and too much the publicity hound. Some blame him for an excessive focus on revelations of American misdeeds, distracting from the original goal of attacking corrupt governments worldwide.

An interview with John Young had comments:

Mr. Young then cited the profile picture of Mr. Assange that adorned the skyline of the WikiLeaks site and his flair in promoting upcoming leaks. "I have separated 'WikiLeaks' from 'Julian,'" he said. "He has now taken off on his own track. WikiLeaks is still out there as a wonderful idea of a large number of people working without being celebrated or known—the wiki—and the leaks are still needed by multiple people but not a singular person running it. He's on the verge of a career of being Julian Assange. He's used WikiLeaks to leverage that. So now WikiLeaks is breaking away from him and other wikis are being set up by other people disaffected by his monomania."[72]

A fork of the project has been announced, with some WikiLeaks staff setting up another web site called OpenLeaks. [80][81]

See also [4]

2013 Syrian visit

In December 2013, a delegation from Australia's WikiLeaks Party met with high-ranking Syrian officials, including president Bashar al-Assad, as part of a 'peace and reconciliation' mission and to open an office in Damascus. The delegation included Gail Malone, activist Jamal Daoud, University of Sydney academic Tim Anderson, and Julian Assange's father and WikiLeaks Australia Party CEO John Shipton. The visit was seen as 'misguided' by Middle-East analysts and journalists covering the Syrian Civil War.[82][83] WikiLeaks distanced itself from the delegation claiming it 'did not know or approve' of the meeting.[84]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Chris McGreal (9 April 2010), "Who Watches Wikilinks?", Guardian (UK)
  2. Wikileaks: an uncensorable Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis.. Archived from the original on 2008-10-02.
  3. Julian Assange: Why the World Needs WikiLeaks, Huffington Post.
  4. David Kushner (6 April 2010), "Inside WikiLeaks' Leak Factory", Mother Jones
  5. 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
  6. Julian Assange, State and Terrorist Conspiracies
  7. zunguzungu, Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy; “To destroy this invisible government”
  8. "25 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World", Utne Reader, nov/dec 2010
  9. Bruce Sterling (22 Dec 2010), The Blast Shack
  10. Robert Manne (March 5, 2011), "Inside the brain of WikiLeak's Julian Assange", The Australian
  11. Respected media outlets collaborate with WikiLeaks, Dec 4, 2010
  12. 12.0 12.1 Jessica E. Vascellaro (26 July 2010), Wikileaks Rolled Dice to Raise Its Profile
  13. WikiLeaks Submissions page
  14. 14.0 14.1 Tom Chivers (Oct 18, 2010), "Wikileaks' 10 greatest stories", The Telegraph
  15. 15.0 15.1 Ryan Singel (14 November 2007), "Sensitive Guantánamo Bay Manual Leaked Through Wiki Site", Wired
  16. "Leaked list 'exposes BNP members'", BBC News, 19 November 2008
  17. Andy Greenberg (29 November 2010), "An Interview With WikiLeaks' Julian Assange", Forbes
  18. Andy Greenberg (Nov 29, 2010), "WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange Wants To Spill Your Corporate Secrets", Forbes
  19. Andy Greenberg (Nov 30, 2010), "Is Bank Of America WikiLeaks’ Next Target?", Forbes
  20. "The War Logs", New York Times
  21. "Afghanistan war logs: How the Guardian got the story", The Guardian, JUly 25, 2010
  22. "Explosive Leaks Provide Image of War from Those Fighting It", Der Spiegel, July 25, 2010
  23. "'Hidden US Afghan war details' revealed by Wikileaks", BBC, July 25, 2010
  24. Dan Froomkin (5 April 2010), "Wikilinks VIDEO exposes collateral murder in Iraq", Huffington Post
  25. Jonathan Fildes (Dec 7, 2010), "What is Wikileaks?", BBC News
  26. Reuters seeks US army video of staff killed in Iraq, July 2008
  27. Joe Hart (nov/dec 2010), "Julian Assange: The Sunshine Kid", Utne Reader
  28. "Gates assails Internet group over attack video", Reuters, 13 April 2010
  29. "Factbox - Main revelations of WikiLeaks diplomatic cables", Reuters UK
  30. {{citation title = The Guantanamo Files date = April 2011 url = }}
  31. Tom Brewster (July 5, 2012), "WikiLeaks Releases 2.5m 'Syrian Emails'", Tech Week Europe
  32. Stephanie Strom (17 March 2010), "Pentagon Sees a Threat From Online Muckrakers", New York Times
  33.—An Online Reference to Foreign Intelligence Services, Insurgents, or Terrorist Groups?, Army Counterintelligence Center, U.S. Army, 18 March 2008, MGIC-2381-0617-08
  34. Daniel Drezner (1 December 2010), "Robert Gates gets the last word on WikiLeaks", Foreign Policy
  35. Baruch Weiss (Dec 5, 2010), Why prosecuting WikiLeaks' Julian Assange won't be easy, Washington Post
  36. Dan Goodin (Dec 13, 2010), "Grand jury meets to decide fate of WikiLeaks founder", The Register
  37. WikiLeaks Documents Sent Via Siprnet, National Public Radio, 28 November 2010
  38. Cade Metz (Dec 5, 2010), "White House forbids feds from reading WikiLeaked cables", The Register
  39. Charley Keyes and Laurie Ure (Dec 3, 2010), "U.S. officials deny they are urging technical takedown of WikiLeaks", CNN
  40. Jeffrey T. Kuhner (2 December 2010), "KUHNER: Assassinate Assange, Web provocateur undermines war on terror, threatens American lives", Washington Times
  41. 41.0 41.1 Haroon Siddique and Matthew Weaver (Dec 1, 2010), "US embassy cables culprit should be executed, says Mike Huckabee", The Guardian
  42. Andy Barr (3 December 2010), "Ron Paul stands up for Assange", Politico
  43. Darren Pauli, "Wikileaks loses domain name after DoS attacks", ZDNet Australia
  44. Tom Espiner (2 December 2010), "Amazon pulls the plug on Wikileaks servers", ZDNet UK
  45. 45.0 45.1 Joby Warrick and Rob Pegoraro (Dec 9, 2010), "WikiLeaks' resilience shows strength of Internet-age lifelines", Washington Post
  46. Ravi Somaiya and J. David Goodman (3 December 2010), "WikiLeaks Struggles to Stay Online After Attacks", New York Times
  47. Keir Thomas (2 December 2010), "Amazon's Wikileaks Rejection Raises Cloud Trust Concerns", PCWorld
  48. Rainey Reitman and Marcia Hofmann, Amazon and WikiLeaks - Online Speech is Only as Strong as the Weakest Intermediary, Electronic Frontier Foundation
  49. Ryan Gallagher (3 December 2010), Wikileaks: the truth is not treason
  50. Elissa Fink (2 December 2010), Why we removed the WikiLeaks visualizations, Tableau Software
  51. Paypal blog
  52. Kevin Poulsen, PayPal Freezes WikiLeaks Account
  53. Alexia Tsotsis (Dec 8, 2010), PayPal VP On Blocking WikiLeaks: State Department Said It Was Illegal
  54. "Visa suspends all payments to WikiLeaks",, Dec 7, 2010
  55. Declan McCullagh (Dec 6, 2010), "MasterCard pulls plug on WikiLeaks payments", Cnet News
  56. Omar R. Valdimarsson (July 12, 2012), "Iceland Court Orders Valitor to Process WikiLeaks Donations", Bloomberg
  57. PostFinance press release
  58. Carl Bagh (Nov 29, 2010), "Denial-of-Service attack on Wikileaks, courtesy patriot hacker", International Business Times
  59. "WikiLeaks Under Denial of Service Attack (DDoS)", SecurityWeek News, 28 November 2010
  60. Paul Mutton (3 December 2010), taken down by US DNS provider, Netcraft
  61. Glenn Greenwald (27 March 2010), The war on WikiLeaks and why it matters
  62. Steven Aftergood (29 March 2010), Is There a War on Wikileaks?, Secrecy News blog, Federation of American Scientists
  63. "Icelandic authorities reject Wikileaks surveillance claims", Icenews, 26 March 2010
  64. Birgitta Jónsdóttir (July 3, 2012), "Evidence of a US judicial vendetta against WikiLeaks activists mounts", The Guardian
  65. Somaiya, Ravi. Hundreds of WikiLeaks Mirror Sites Appear, The New York Times. Retrieved on 6 December 2010.
  66. "Info War! Hacker(s) Punish MasterCard with Denial of Service Attack for Wikileaks Revenge", Arlington Cardinal, Dec 8, 2010
  67. "Assange supporters attack Visa website", MSNBC, Dec 8, 2010
  68. "The Hacker War Over WikiLeaks Rages On", Discover Magazine
  69. "Botnet Operators Set To Join Operation Payback", Dark Reading, Dec 9, 2010
  70. Wikileaks
  71. Wikileaks-leak,
  72. 72.0 72.1 Thomas Golianopoulos (Dec 7, 2010), "The Original WikiLeaker", New York Observer
  73. Steven Aftergood (3 January 2007), Wikileaks and Untraceable Document Disclosure, Secrecy News, Federation of American Scientists
  74. Steven Aftergood (22 February 2008), A Word from Wikileaks, Secrecy News, Federation of American Scientists
  75. Steven Aftergood (29 November 2010), The Race to Fix the Classification System
  76. Brad Friedman (1 December 2010), Interview with "Pentagon Papers" Whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg on WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, Hillary Clinton and more..., KPFK
  77. 77.0 77.1 Public Accuracy press release, Dec 8, 2010
  78. Lynn Herrmann (Aug 5, 2010), "WikiLeaks insured from gov't intrusion? Assange talks", Digital Journal
  79. Hamill, Jasper. Getting worried, Assange? WikiLeaks spaffs out 'insurance' info, Media News, The Register, 19 August 2013. Retrieved on 8 April 2014.
  80. ”A new WikiLeaks” revolts against Assange, Dec 9, 2010
  81. Jerome Taylor (Dec 10, 2010), "WikiLeaks splits as volunteers quit to set up rival website", The Independent
  82. Loewenstein, Antony. WikiLeaks party's Syria visit is a damaging and misguided PR coup, The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 14 January 2014. Retrieved on 8 April 2014.
  83. Pearlman, Jonathan. Wikileaks party under fire over meeting with Assad, The Daily Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 31 December 2013. Retrieved on 8 April 2014.
  84. Gayle, Damien. Julian Assange’s father leads Wikileaks delegation visit to Syria to meet Assad as they vow to open Damascus office, The Daily Mail, Associated Newspapers, 31 December 2013. Retrieved on 8 April 2014.