Tag Archive | "Julian Assange"

Why did Julian Assange release the unedited diplomatic cables?

Why did Julian Assange release the unedited diplomatic cables?

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He didn’t. Infighting, strange coincidences and miscommunication led the original unedited WikiLeaks file onto the Internet in its entirety.

What you need to know is this: The 251,287 leaked, unedited diplomatic cables that have been made public and scrutinised these past few days were already coursing around on the Internet since the beginning of the year.

The condemnation of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, based on a joint statement by major newspapers such as The New York Times, France’s Le Monde, Germany’s Der Spiegel and Spain’s El Pais that “deplore the decision of WikiLeaks to publish the unredacted State Department cables, which may put sources at risk” may make it seem as if Assange is responsible.

But he isn’t. (Note: These same newspapers worked with WikiLeaks last year to report on the details of the diplomatic cables but with crucial sources that needed to be protected blanked out.)

Here’s what happened:

Some time between June and August 2010, Assange concealed the password-protected file containing the unedited cables on a WikiLeaks server. Assange then gave the password to an external contact to allow him access to the material.

This external contact has now been revealed to be David Leigh of the Guardian newspaper, who was receiving the diplomatic dispatches that WikiLeaks obtained. This was a secret deal, with the world’s major newspapers in cahoots, and this was before the world was obsessing over WikiLeaks.

The editors of the newspapers listed above then carefully edited the information obtained from the leaked cables and news broke about the content of these cables.

The feud between Assange and his number two man

But things aren’t always so pretty in the world of espionage or when you have to deal with people who might double-cross you.

Daniel Domscheit-Berg, the German spokesman and another public face of WikiLeaks, feuded with Assange. Domscheit-Berg reportedly didn’t like how WikiLeaks was being run because he wasn’t convinced Assange was interested in protecting sources of sensitive information. (Assange has been accused of megalomania by some.)

Domscheit-Berg left WikiLeaks in September 2010 with a German programmer. They took with them contents of the WikiLeaks server, including the encrypted original, unedited cables.

At that time, WikiLeaks was experiencing a lot of problems because of what they were doing and the stance they took. They were faced with denial-of-service attacks and several US companies (such as Mastercard, PayPal and Amazon) withdrew their support. (Probably stemming from governmental pressure.)

But WikiLeaks was determined to stay up and well-meaning supporters set up mirror sites to prevent WikiLeaks from disappearing from the Internet.

And at the end of 2010, Domscheit-Berg returned to WikiLeaks a collection of files he had taken, including the unedited encrypted cables. But number one and number two have not kissed and made up and are unlikely to ever will.

However, the enthusiasm from the WikiLeaks supporters prompted them to release a copy of the collection of files from the WikiLeaks server onto the Internet because this would ensure a type of public archive for the files, in case they were stolen or destroyed.

They even did this by sharing the compressed data via BitTorrent.

What the supporters clearly didn’t know was that the encrypted original unedited cables were concealed in a hidden subdirectory that was also being shared around.

Apparently, after Assange provided the password to Leigh (the Guardian journalist) to access the original unedited cables, he left the files there without moving them away. Neither did he change the password.

Stranger than strange

Then in Feb. 2011, David Leigh published his book, “WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy”.

Not only did it contain the details of the the meeting between Leigh and Assange, it also revealed and talked about the password provided by Assange to view the original unedited cables.

To make matters worse, Assange’s falling out with Domscheit-Berg led both men to issue statements against each other. Domscheit-Berg even set up another whistle-blowing site called OpenLeaks, not as competition, but supposedly as a better version of WikiLeaks.

To prove that Assange’s WikiLeaks structure is not secure, people associated with the OpenLeaks project began talking about the hidden diplomatic cables.

A German weekly called Der Freitag, which sides with OpenLeaks, published a cautiously formulated version of the story about the location of the password (found in Leigh’s book) but without exactly revealing the exact location.

How the story caught fire

An account of the story of Leigh, the hidden cables and the password then cropped up on a platform used by open-source developers to exchange programming codes.

The link to this entry was hot stuff and spread through Twitter. It wasn’t long before someone managed to put one and one together.

WikiLeaks is now blaming Leigh and the Guardian for the breach while the Guardian has responded that they were told the cables and password were temporary and would be deleted within hours of making it accessible.

Seven months is indeed a long time for such sensitive information to be left lying around unattended.

The real victims

The people likely to feel the brunt of this episode will belong to faraway countries, of a particular despotic bent. Dissidents in Burma, China and Middle East have real reasons to fear for their lives having been exposed.

The biggest blow dealt yet to any entity? Whistle-blowing sites such as WikiLeaks or OpenLeaks will need to prove against a lot of odds that they are viable platforms for whistle-blowers to come forward with an expose without fear or favour.

The moral of the story? Change your password once every few months and do include symbols such as @ or # or *.

The end.

Read the entire account so far here, here and here.

David Frost interviews Julian Assange

David Frost interviews Julian Assange

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Ear on the ground: Perspectives on Wikileaks

Ear on the ground: Perspectives on Wikileaks

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New Nation updates you on a hotly-debated issue.

Saturday Night Live, a popular American sketch comedy and variety show, pokes fun at Assange.

TIME MAGAZINE and the Bank of America are just the latest groups to snub Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks.

Although Assange was the reader’s choice to be TIME’s magazine’s Person of the Year, its editors picked Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg instead, even though he was ranked a distant 10th.

Bank of America, facing threats that Wikileaks will release confidential files pertaining the bank next year, have decided to stop all payments funneled to the organisation, according to this Financial Times report.

While Assange is undeterred about releasing more documents, claiming to possess a “thermal-nuclear device” that will be released if he feels threatened, he got a taste of his own medicine when court papers detailing how he molested two Swedish girls were leaked.

In Singapore, bloggers, politicians, and writers have been furiously debating about Wikileaks, especially when it came to the effects of its disclosures on international diplomacy:

“I find Wikileaks very interesting because I used to be the foreign service officer writing those notes. I would hate to have some of the notes I wrote released to the public – not because they are bad notes, but because it’s important for diplomats to have confidential discussions with each other… If we come to a stage ewhere we cannot speak frankly, that is when we lose a bit of our edge over other countries; we lose the ability to punch above our weight. But now that it is out, I encourage you to read it because it’s good education on Singapore’s foreign policy.” — Gerald Giam, Executive Council member of the Worker’s Party, at Face to Face

“From an ethics standpoint, do governments and the military have the right to hold information secret? I’m inclined to say ‘yes’ , purely for security reasons. Yet I’m completely aware that the very same mechanisms are also being used to keep other information that ought to be disclosed, secret. Which is why we all love WikiLeaks.” — Marthia Lee, in her personal blog

“Unless governments and higher-level authorities begin conducting their affairs in honest and direct ways, Wikileaks and similarly styled ‘leaks’ via mobile phones, instant camera videos, iPhone scanners and photos will continue exposing ‘truths’, and continue causing upset.” — Lee Wei Fen, on Kent Ridge Common