At the time the choice of topics had to be made for this assignment, Wikileaks was not as a common and well-known word as it is three months later. By now, imagining a time, where not every living person has actually heard of Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange, seems rather strange.Subsequently, the triage of the information has been quite challenging, since last October and the avalanche of news and chatter the multiple revelations and scandals related to the subject (see image: Google Trend for the search term “wikileaks”).
It is nevertheless a pleasure to wander around the multitude, to let yourself being carried away by the flow of blog posts and comments, to try to follow most of the countless links you encounter and, at some point, just to stop for a moment, look where you have landed, and actually read what lies before your eyes. For example: “we understand the fears that can be generated before an informative abyss like the one we face with the Wikileaks case”, a sentence from the homepage of look4leaks.net. This site is ranked 2’084’048th by Alexa, with no reported links to it. The 1 million dollar question being: how did you end up on this page ?
Now that the introductory remarks are completed, let’s come to the point. The original concern leading to the present post, which made sense at the time, was whether Wikileaks could be considered as a reliable source of information for journalists or not. The fact that five of the most internationally renowned newspapers and newsmagazines – The New York Times, El Pais, Le Monde, The Guardian and Der Spiegel – all agreed to collaborate with the Wikileaks to release gradually around 250’000 embassy cables, clearly assets the credibility of the documents the organization provided. And this even if the Indian congress showed some suspicion.
Moreover, the other initial interrogation concerning Wikileak’s ability to protect its sources, is not really issue, since it turned out every revelation regarding the US military had one single source, Bradley Manning a 22 years old military data analyst (see picture, source: wired.com). The news of his arrest was first reported by the magazine Wired:
Manning came to the attention of the FBI and Army investigators after he contacted former hacker Adrian Lamo late last month over instant messenger and e-mail. Lamo had just been the subject of a Wired.com article. Very quickly in his exchange with the ex-hacker, Manning claimed to be the Wikileaks video leaker.
From the chat logs provided by Lamo, and examined by Wired.com, it appears Manning sensed a kindred spirit in the ex-hacker.
When Manning told Lamo that he leaked a quarter-million classified embassy cables, Lamo contacted the Army, and then met with Army CID investigators and the FBI at a Starbucks near his house in Carmichael, California, where he passed the agents a copy of the chat logs. At their second meeting with Lamo on May 27, FBI agents from the Oakland Field Office told the hacker that Manning had been arrested the day before in Iraq by Army CID investigators.
The events leading to Bradley Manning’s arrest had thus nothing to do with Wikileaks capacity to protect its sources. And there have been no reports of other source’s identity getting unveiled or threatened so far. Assange furthermore declared at an event in London, that:
“We never know the source of the leak, as our whole system is designed so that we don’t have to keep that secret. It’s very, very hard when your adversary is a modern state intelligence agency to keep a secret. But if you don’t collect the secret in the first place, then you don’t have to keep it.”
The most serious reproach, one could address Wikileaks, aside from the debate whether the documents should have been published or not, has to do with the lack of transparency in the organization’s functioning, and the extensive publicity around the personality of Julian Assange. These criticisms were relayed inside the organization, when Daniel Domscheit-Berg, former Wikileaks spokesman, expressed his concerns in the Swedish documentary film WikiRebels:
“If you preach transparency to everyone else,you have to be transparet yourself, you have to fulfill the same standards that you expect from others”
He also announced the creation of a new platform, openleaks.org, which, he assured, would attach a lot of importance to transparency. One quick look at the Twitter account of this organization, now one month old, shows that it is transparent indeed.