Controversy and Confusion Over the Latest WikiLeaks Revelations: 8 Things You Really Need to Know
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
WikiLeaks has become a symbol of resistance to total government and corporate control over information and by extension, our lives.
Yet it often seems lately that the drama surrounding the organization is given more coverage than its actual revelations. Aside from founder Julian Assange's ongoing battle to avoid extradition to Sweden on rape and sexual assault charges, there's growing conflict with the leaks organization's former media partners over unredacted documents, arguments in the press about the proper way to handle sensitive information, and of course the ongoing concern of many for the treatment in prison of alleged leaker Bradley Manning.
After the recent exposure of all 251,287 diplomatic cables that WikiLeaks possessed in their original forms, with names of sources and sensitive information intact, the swirl of controversy has all but overshadowed the value of the information itself. Still, WikiLeaks continues to shape the public debate over war, diplomacy, US power, secrecy, information technology, and the role of journalism.
We've got eight things you need to know to be up-to-date on the latest with WikiLeaks.
1. Unredacted documents released
While working with the Guardian newspaper to release selected leaked documents, WikiLeaks briefly placed an encrypted file containing its entire cache of documents on a shared server and gave the password to reporters collaborating on the release. When Guardian editor David Leigh's book about WikiLeaks came out, he published the password to the encrypted file, apparently unaware that the file had been copied and was circulating on the Web--and that the password still worked. Julian Assange and WikiLeaks decided that since the information was already available, they'd release the full cache of diplomatic cables given to the site. WikiLeaks, after querying its Twitter followers, published a searchable database containing all 251,287 cables. While it's been described as “an astonishingly comprehensive, publicly available, fully searchable and free archive of US diplomacy covering every corner of the globe,” the archive contains the full, unredacted versions of the cables—including names and descriptions of sources, including whistleblowers and human rights activists.
“This incident is unfortunate in the extreme for multiple reasons: it's possible that diplomatic sources identified in the cables (including whistleblowers and human rights activists) will be harmed; this will be used by enemies of transparency and WikiLeaks to disparage both and even fuel efforts to prosecute the group; it implicates a newspaper, the Guardian, that generally produces very good and responsible journalism; it likely increases political pressure to impose more severe punishment on Bradley Manning if he's found guilty of having leaked these cables; and it will completely obscure the already-ignored, important revelations of serious wrongdoing from these documents. It's a disaster from every angle.”
WikiLeaks head Assange claimed that it was necessary to release the information because “We had a case where every intelligence agency has the material and the people who are mentioned do not have the material … So you have a race between the bad guys and the good guys and it was necessary for us to stand on the side of the good guys.”
Obviously Assange considers himself one of the good guys, but the exposure of activists and confidential sources around the world could have serious consequences for those named, as Greenwald pointed out, and also make other whistleblowers less inclined to go to WikiLeaks with their secrets.
Though many of the WikiLeaks cable trove had been previously released with names redacted, and the controversy over their release threatened to overshadow the information within them, there were a few new revelations worth noting.
Greenwald pointed out “[O]ne of the newly released cables reveals that Israel, according to what it told the U.S., attacked what it claims were Hamas members in Gaza with drones, and accidentally killed 16 people inside a mosque during prayer time.”
There's also a cable confirming that troops, in 2006, carried out a house raid on the home of an Iraqi farmer, handcuffing all the residents of the house before shooting them all in the head. They included children aged 5, 3, and 5 months, the farmer's 74-year-old mother, and visiting relatives. The cable, from Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, to Condoleeza Rice, also reveals that a US airstrike was then called in on the house, presumably to destroy evidence, but “autopsies carried out at the Tikrit Hospital’s morgue revealed that all corpses were shot in the head and handcuffed.”
Salon's Justin Elliott reports on another cable, one expressing concern over Microsoft's relationship with deposed Tunisian dictator Ben Ali: