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Wikileaks

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Wikileaks is an international non-profit organization which publishes classified information on the internet while protecting the anonymity of its sources. Wikileaks has released sensitive information concerning official government affairs, political parties, politicians and corporations. The Wikileaks homepage states that they will accept information that is "classified, censored or otherwise restricted material of political, diplomatic or ethical significance" but will not accept "rumour, opinion or other kinds of first hand reporting or material that is already publicly available". [1] The homepage states the purpose of the organization is "to bring important news and information to the public... One of our most important activities is to publish original source material alongside our news stories so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth."[2] Daily Beast reporter Philip Shenon stated that Wikileaks aims to expose a “grand conspiracy between governments and other powerful institutions to hide the truth from the public.”[3]


Founding

Wikileaks.org was registered as a domain name in 1999 with American registrar and hosting company Dynadot.[4] However the website remained unused until 2006.[5] Assange originally claimed to be the spokesperson of the Wikileaks advisory board and that it was founded by "Chinese dissidents, mathematicians and startup company technologists, from the US, Taiwan, Europe, Australia and South Africa."[6] The site originally followed the “wiki” format and allowed any user to contribute and edit content. Its first release of classified information was a 2006 “secret decision” document signed by Somali Islamic Courts Union Leader Sheikh Hassan DahirAweys calling for the assassination of other Somali government officials. The leaders of Wikileaks could not be certain of the document’s authenticity, but felt the wiki model would allow users to comment and verify its accuracy.[7] Wikileaks’ primary tool for safeguarding the identity of its sources was a protocol called “The Onion Router” or “Tor.” This protocol would hide the data packets attached to emails that submitted classified information to the Wikileaks website.[6] In November 2010, Assange registered a corporation on behalf of Wikileaks in Iceland called Sunshine Press Productions.[8]

Evolution into a Media Organization

As of May 2010, the website no longer used the wiki format allowing user edits and comments. All content on the website is now controlled by Wikileaks staff and volunteers.[9]. This change accompanied an effort to re-brand the website as a journalistic enterprise. Charlie Savage of the New York Times observed that Wikileaks’ “old submissions page made few references to journalism, it now uses “journalist” and forms of the word “news” about 20 times.” In addition, “another new sentence portrays its primary work as filtering and analyzing documents, not just posting them raw. It says its ‘journalists write news stories based on the material, and then provide a link to the supporting documentation to prove our stories are true.’”[10] Wikileaks’ media page instructed requested that reporters refer to their staff as “investigative journalists,” among other things.[9]

Administration

Julian Assange is known as Wikileaks’ founder and editor-in-chief. The number of people involved in Wikileaks is uncertain, but various accounts describe the site as run by a small paid staff and a large number of volunteers.[11] As of August, 2011, Assange was personally assisted by two British journalists, Sarah Harrison and Joseph Farrell, in the administration of Wikileaks.[12] Since June 19, 2011, Assange has been living in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden on rape and sexual molestation charges.[13] In his absence, Sarah Harrison has appeared at press events accompanying major releases of secret documents and openly condemned the treatment of Assange by the British government.[12] The only other publicly acknowledged figure currently working for Wikileaks is Iceland journalist Kristinn Hrafnsson, who acts a Wikileaks’ spokesman.[14]

Daniel Domscheit-Berg

Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a German computer scientist, served as Wikileaks’ second-in-command until mid-2010.[15] Domscheit-Berg left the organization after arguments with Assange over many topics, ranging from Assange’s handling of finances to his exaggeration of the organization’s size and influence.[16] In 2011, Domscheit-Berg released a tell-all book entitled Inside Wikileaks. He also started a document sharing website to rival Wikileaks, entitled Openleaks.[17] Hrafnsson disputed the claims that Domscheit-Berg held a position of power within Wikileaks and stated that Wikileaks would sue Domscheit-Berg over the book and taking documents from Wikileaks upon his departure.[18]

Wikileaks Employee Confidentiality Agreement

In 2011, a confidentiality agreement that Wikileaks forces its employees to sign was leaked to the public.[19] The agreement attempted to prevent employees from divulging leaked information in a way which could interfere with would cause "loss of opportunity to sell the information to other news broadcasters and publishers" and "loss of value of the information."[19] Domscheit-Berg stated that the confidentiality agreement was evidence that "WikiLeaks has become what it despises: a repressive organisation, using restrictive contracts to gag its staffers, cultivating intransparency and unaccountability.”[20]

Legal Status

Wikileaks has its physical headquarters located in a former bomb shelter in Sweden, a country with strong laws protecting the identity of confidential sources.[21] Wikileaks has been hosted by several Domain Name Service (DNS) providers. Until August 2010 it was hosted by Swedish-based PRQ, the same provider that hosts the Pirate Bay bit torrent site.[22] For only a few weeks in August 2010, Amazon hosted Wikileaks. Amazon discontinued service citing violations of the terms of use agreement, but also likely bowing to US government pressure.[23] Wikileaks then moved to French company OVH, which survived an attempt to shut it down from the French Ministry of the Interior.[24] In 2012 there were reports that Wikileaks is once again being hosted by PRQ.[25] As of 2010, Wikileaks has its servers located “around the globe, including places like Sweden, Belgium and the United States that the organization considers friendly to journalists and document leakers.”[26]

Major Leaks

Camp Delta Standard Operating Procedures

Wikileaks released the 2003 and 2004 Standard Operating Procedures for Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay on November 7, 2007.[27] The documents were unclassified but reserved for “Official Use Only.” The documents revealed controversial practices and potential violations of the Geneva Conventions such as giving toilet paper to prisoners as rewards and hiding certain prisoners from the Red Cross.[28]

Sarah Palin Emails

During the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin’s private Yahoo! email account was infiltrated by the group of hackers known as Anonymous. The hackers posted content including screenshots of emails, her inbox, contact list and family photos.[29] Wikileaks justified its posting of this material by asserting that Governor Palin used the Yahoo! account to conduct official state business.[30]

British National Party Membership List

The British National Party is a far-right political party, founded in 1982, which runs on a platform prioritizing the interests of native Britons over “immigrants and asylum seekers.”[31] On November 18, 2008, Wikileaks released a list containing the names and personal information of members of the British National Party. Wikileaks claimed it was able to independently verify the list’s authenticity while party president Nick Griffin called the list a “malicious forgery.”[32]

Reykjavik 13

On February 18, 2010, Wikileaks published the first cable supposedly supplied by US Army Private First Class Bradley Manning known as Reykjavik 13.[33] The cable featured communication between the US Embassy Chief in Iceland and members of the Icelandic government. In April of 2010, Wikileaks released the “Collateral Murder” video featuring US military killing two Reuters journalists who they believed were combatants because their cameras resembled weapons.[34] In July of 2010, Wikileaks released the Afghan War Logs, containing almost 92,000 classified documents detailing the scope and scale of the war from the perspective of troops on the ground.[35] Wikileaks followed this with the release of the Iraq War Logs which contained nearly 400,000 classified documents about the War in Iraq which discussed sensitive topics such as civilian deaths and torture.[36]

Cablegate

The massive disclosure of US diplomatic cables from around the world which came to be known as Cablegate began on November 28, 2010.[37] The initial leaks consisted of 1,269 of the more than 250,000 cables Wikileaks possessed. In addition, these cables were heavily redacted both by Wikileaks and the five newspapers Wikileaks chose to release them: Le Monde, Der Speigel, The New York Times, The Guardian and El Pais. In September of 2011, Wikileaks decided to release the entirety of its cache unredacted.[38]

Stratfor

On February 27, 2011, Wikileaks released over five million internal emails from Stratfor, a Texas-based “global intelligence” firm. Wikileaks stated that the emails revealed that the firm’s primary purpose is “providing confidential intelligence services to large corporations.”[39] Observers argued that the emails demonstrated Stratfor was “providing low quality ‘intelligence’ to governments and corporations.”[40] Others claims the emails claims some revealing information about subjects ranging from the Pakistani’s knowledge of Osama Bin Laden’s location to the existence of a sealed indictment against Julian Assange in the U.S.[41]

Syria Files

On July 5, 2012, Wikileaks released “more than two million emails from Syrian political figures, ministries and associated companies, dating from August 2006 to March 2012.”[42] The emails primarily concerned the ministries of presidential affairs, foreign affairs, finance, information, transport and culture.[43] The emails were particularly embarrassing for western companies who assisted the Bashar Al-Assad regime with propaganda or equipment that could have been used for military purposes. For example, the New York PR firm Brown Lloyd James had a contract with the Syrian government which resulted in a “puff-piece” in Vogue magazine. The piece, entitled “A Rose in the Desert” was removed from Vogue’s website once its propaganda purpose was discovered.[44]

Support Organizations

Several support groups have sprung up to promote Wikileaks’ cause and defend it from litigation and government pressure. They also seek to protect Assange from criminal litigation and secure his safe release from de facto house arrest in the Ecuadorian Embassy. Assange’s native Australia is home to the Support Wikileaks and Coalition as well as the Wikileaks Australian Citizens Alliance. The Support Wikileaks and Assange Coalition provides information about the significance and history of Wikileaks. It also encourages Australians to contact government officials “to demand they take action for Assange” as well as organizes public demonstrations.[45] The Wikileaks Australian Citizens Alliance runs “campaigns, events, produces independent media, innovates direct action activism, develops networks across legal, media, arts, political fields” and operates several websites, Facebook and Twitter accounts.[46] In February 2013, a Wikileaks political party was formed in Australia. It pledges to “practise in politics what WikiLeaks has done in the field of information by standing up to the powerful and shining a light on injustice and corruption.” At least three states will have Wikileaks Party candidates on the ballot for the federal election in September 2013.[47] This includes Julian Assange who will be running for Senate in the state of Victoria.[48] The web address freeassange.org runs a site that hosts an online petition aimed at freeing Assange, but does not mention his captivity in the Ecuadorian Embassy on the petition page.[49]

A coalition of journalists and activists, including Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame, started the Freedom of the Press Foundation in December 2012.[50] The organization was founded to raise money for Wikileaks and other independent journalist organizations such as the Bureau of Independent Journalism.[51] Spokesman Trevor Timm stated that the money which goes to Wikileaks will be designated for journalistic activity only and not for legal defense.[50] Revolution Truth is an organization which started as a campaign to demand the US end unfair treatment of Wikileaks which is violating the First Amendment. They operate by pairing open letters with influential individuals and institutions.[52]

Criticism and Backlash

Negative Reactions to Cablegate

Every high ranking American government official who spoke openly on the issue of Cablegate strongly condemned it as reckless and dangerous. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs declared “to be clear, such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government. These documents also may include named individuals who in many cases live and work under oppressive regimes and who are trying to create more open and free societies.”[53] Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry stated “The release of classified information under these circumstances is a reckless action which jeopardizes lives by exposing raw, contemporaneous intelligence.”[53] Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a press conference on the issue, at which she stated “the United States strongly condemns the illegal disclosure of classified information. It puts people’s lives in danger, threatens our national security, and undermines our efforts to work with other countries to solve shared problems.”[54] The CIA responded by creating the Wikileaks Task Force to analyze the impact of the leaks on the government and the CIA’s security measures against leaked information.[55] The CIA had relatively few documents included in the Cableagate leaks.[56]

Other nations joined in the condemnation of Cablegate. Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon stated that “irresponsible leaks like these are deplorable and do not serve anybody's national interests.”[57] A spokesman for the British Foreign Office issued a statement which read “we condemn any unauthorised release of this classified information, just as we condemn leaks of classified material in the UK. They can damage national security, are not in the national interest and, as the US have said, may put lives at risk. We have a very strong relationship with the US government. That will continue."[58] Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara pronounced of the strongest rebukes of Cablegate, calling it a “a monstrosity and a criminal act.”[59]

A few media outlets and commentators also criticized the leaks. Bob Beckel of Fox News Business called for the illegal assassination of Julian Assange, stating “This guy's a traitor, he's treasonous, and he has broken every law of the United States. And I'm not for the death penalty, so...there's only one way to do it: illegally shoot the son of a bitch.”[60] National security analyst for Fox News K.T. McFarland stated that Wikileaks is a “terrorist organization” and called for the US government to permanently shut down their website.[61] Jeffrey T. Kuhner of the Washington Times said that “American diplomacy has been crippled” and Assange should be assassinated.[62] Others such as Fareed Zakaria in Time magazine and Jon Stewart of The Daily Show criticized Wikileaks for over-dramatizing the scandalous content of the leaks.[63] Zakaria stated that there is nothing too scandalous in the leaks because it shows US diplomats pursuing the same policies the State Department publicly announced.[64]

Bank Julius Baer v. Wikileaks

On February 6, 2006 the Swiss Bank Julius Baer, together with its Cayman Islands based subsidiary, filed a lawsuit against Wikileaks and its domain registrar Dynadot, in US Federal Court for the Northern District of California. The complaint alleged that Wikileaks had published confidential and forged bank documents belonging to the Bank in violation of numerous consumer banking and privacy protection laws.[4] Judge Jeffrey White issued an injunction on February 15 ordering the disabling of wikileaks.org and prohibited Wikileaks from being transferred to another domain registrar. Several free speech and civil liberties NGOs intervened or filed amicus curaie briefs, including Public Citizen, the California First Amendment Coalition, The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.[65] These groups raised jurisdictional issues[66]and First Amendment concerns in their amicus briefs and motions to intervene. The injunction was dissolved by Judge White on February 29, who cited several of the First Amendment and jurisdictional concerns raised by the interveners and amici. Bank Julius Baer withdrew the case on March 5.

Support and Praise

Awards and Accolades

Wikileaks and Julian Assange have won numerous awards from many institutions, ranging from small foundations and NGOs to major media outlets and international organizations.[67] In 2013, Wikileaks and Assange were honored by Global Exchange, a nonprofit based in San Francisco, with the People’s Choice Award. A statement on their website claims “Wikileaks is a valuable tool for human rights activists the world over. Wikileaks helps whistle blowers bring forth information that is vital to public debate. They have helped push stories hidden by secretive governments or ignored by corporate oriented media to the fore.”[68] In 2011, Wikileaks received the award for “Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism” from the Walkley Foundation of Australia. “The Walkleys” are considered the Australian equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. The award panel declared that “by designing and constructing a means to encourage whistleblowers, WikiLeaks and its editor-in-chief Julian Assange took a brave, determined and independent stand for freedom of speech and transparency that has empowered people all over the world.”[69] In 2008, Wikileaks was given the New Media Award by The Economist, which described Wikileaks as “an invaluable resource for anonymous whistleblowers and investigative journalists.”[70]

Positive Reactions to Cablegate

Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, said Wikileaks “is serving our democracy and serving our rule of law precisely by challenging the secrecy regulations."[71] Many media outlets and commentators praised the work of Wikileaks in holding the government accountable and standing up for free speech. Glenn Greenwald of Salon commended the work of Wikileaks and attacked its critics by stating “When WikiLeaks critics devote a fraction of their rage to this form of mainstream American thinking — which, unlike anything WikiLeaks has done, has actually resulted in piles upon piles of corpses — then their anti-WikiLeaks protestations should be taken more seriously, but not until then.”[72] An Economist blog post entitled “In Defense of Wikileaks” read “organisations such as WikiLeaks, which are philosophically opposed to state secrecy and which operate as much as is possible outside the global nation-state system, may be the best we can hope for in the way of promoting the climate of transparency and accountability necessary for authentically liberal democracy.”[73] The ACLU expressed gratitude for the work of Wikileaks but expressed regret at the fact that such an organization needs to exist to hold governments accountable in today’s political system, stating “The Wikileaks phenomenon — the existence of an organization devoted to obtaining and publicly releasing large troves of information the U.S. government would prefer to keep secret — illustrates just how broken our secrecy classification system is. While the Obama administration has made some modest improvements to the rules governing classification of government information, both it and the Bush administration have overclassified and kept secret information that should be subject to public scrutiny and debate. As a result, the American public has had to depend on leaks to the news media and whistleblowers to know what the government is up to.”[74]


Attacks on Wikileaks

Bank of America

On 2 February 2011, Wikileaks revealed that Bank of America through its legal representative, Hunton and Williams, contracted "Palantir Technologies, HBGary Federal and Berico Technologies, outline a plan to attack Wikileaks."[75]

Funding or Non-funding

Funding for Wikileaks has proved problematic since 2009 when the website announced it was experiencing financial troubles.[76] PayPal suspended its account with Wikileaks and froze its assets in January, 2010 for what Wikileaks said were “no obvious reasons.”[77] Access was restored a short time later. Following the massive release of US State Department diplomatic cables, known as “Cablegate,” PayPal, Bank of America, Visa, MasterCard and Western Union all forbid donations to Wikileaks.[78] Some have argued that the US government is directly responsible for the funding blockade.[79] This was corroborated by a vice-president of PayPal, who said the State Department pressured them to disassociate from Wikileaks.[80] Tim Worstall of Forbes took a more nuanced view and argued that while not directly responsible, the financial companies were afraid of encountering difficulties in obtaining licenses to do business in the US if they continued to deal with Wikileaks. He stated that a similar situation happened with Interpal, a charity for Palestinians, where the US government directly pressured financial companies to stop holding the charity’s accounts or it would have its licenses revoked.[81] P.J. Crowley dismissed US involvement in the financial companies’ decisions as “conspiracy theory.”[82] Whether or not the US government issued threats to the financial companies, Worstall believes the possibility of threats were enough to convince them to cut of donations to Wikileaks.

According to Wikileaks critic Steven Aftergood, the Knight Foundation, "rejected WikiLeaks’ request for financial support". [83]

In July, 2012 the situation improved for Wikileaks as a court in Iceland ruled that a payment processor associated with Visa had broken its contract with Wikileaks and must resume accepting donations. However, the ruling against Valitor, formerly known as Visa Iceland, may not allow Visa or other US credit cards to be used in processing payments.[80]


Advisory Board

Accessed May 2013: [84]

Contact

Web: www.wikileaks.ch (active link as of 12 July 2011)

Resources and articles

Related Sourcewatch

References

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