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WikiLeaks’ Cablegate Spawns Passwordgate

Cablegate (photo: Global Astrology Blog)

Decryption passwords for an encrypted file containing the entire cache of unredacted unpublished US State Embassy cables have been disclosed. The file has been cracked and supposedly two WikiLeaks mirror sites have published the cache of unredacted unpublished cables. It is only a matter of time before cables that WikiLeaks did not intend to make public are being shared widely.

WikiLeaks asserts a Guardian journalist “negligently disclosed top secret WikiLeaks’ decryption passwords” for the hundreds of thousands of unredacted unpublished cables. The Guardian’s James Ball toes the line and defends The Guardian stating the newspaper denies any “charges of complicity in the release of the unredacted US embassy cables.” As this story develops and more details and facts become known, Pfc Bradley Manning, accused whistleblower to WikiLeaks, remains in pre-trial confinement at Ft. Leavenworth in Nebraska.

One wonders what Manning would think about this if he knew all the shameful details.

WikiLeaks writes, “Guardian investigations editor, David Leigh, recklessly, and without gaining our approval, knowingly disclosed the decryption passwords in a book published by the Guardian. Leigh states the book was rushed forward to be written in three weeks—the rights were then sold to Hollywood.” Assuming that’s true, Leigh is responsible for a crime against whistleblowing that may not be prosecutable in a court of law but in a court of public opinion it would be tough to see a whistleblower trusting Leigh with information ever again.

The Guardian calls WikiLeaks allegations “nonsense”:

It’s nonsense to suggest the Guardian’s WikiLeaks book has compromised security in any way. Our book about WikiLeaks was published last February. It contained a password, but no details of the location of the files, and we were told it was a temporary password which would expire and be deleted in a matter of hours.

It was a meaningless piece of information to anyone except the person(s) who created the database. No concerns were expressed when the book was published and if anyone at WikiLeaks had thought this compromised security they have had seven months to remove the files. That they didn’t do so clearly shows the problem was not caused by the Guardian’s book.”

If what The Guardian is claiming is in fact true, WikiLeaks has committed a crime against whistleblowing. It too may not be prosecutable in a court of law but in the court of public opinion a whistleblower may never again feel comfortable with submitting a leak to WikiLeaks.

Especially devious, though, are the actions that OpenLeaks founder and WikiLeaks defector Daniel Domscheit-Berg has taken in the past weeks. As if Daniel Domscheit-Berg was working for Palantir or HBGary to fuel a feud and create concern over the security of the organization’s infrastructure, Domscheit-Berg is believed to have passed off the Cablegate archive to various individuals. He is said to have done so under the guise that he was “warning” these players about the password in Leigh’s book. This is suggested to have happened after he was expelled from the Chaos Computer Club in Berlin in August and involved German newspaper Der Freitag, which is said to now be an OpenLeaks media partner.

This, too, is a crime against whistleblowing. A supreme crime. Add this to the news reports that he allegedly destroyed the keys to WikiLeaks files that he stole when he defected from WikiLeaks and it is clear that Daniel Domscheit-Berg should not be trusted to run any leaks organization.

Allegations are consistently thrown at Assange and WikiLeaks that they have been reckless with information, but no one appears to have been as reckless with the data as Domscheit-Berg. And nobody appears to have been as autocratic as Domscheit-Berg either, as he allegedly thought he had the right to take it upon himself and destroy around 3000 unpublished whistleblower communications that he took from WikiLeaks.

In defense of WikiLeaks, it is clear that they understand what could happen now that decryption passwords are out there for a file that is on the Internet and has been cracked. As the organization explains in the editorial, the presence of the file on the Internet is why I and other bloggers/journalists have recently been writing stories on scoops from over 130,000 cables that were just released:

WikiLeaks advanced its regular publication schedule, to get as much of the material as possible into the hands of journalists and human rights lawyers who need it. WikiLeaks and its partners were scheduled to have published most of the Cablegate material by November 29, 2011 – one year since the first publication. Over the past week, we have published over 130,000 cables, mostly unclassified. The cables have lead to hundreds of important news stories around the world. All were unclassified with the exception of the Australian, Swedish collections, and a few others, which were scheduled by our partners.

WikiLeaks has also been in contact with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty at a senior level. We contacted the US embassy in London and then the State Department in Washington on 25 August to see if their informant notification program, instituted last year, was complete, and if not, to take such steps as would be helpful. Only after repeated attempts through high level channels and 36 hours after our first contact, did the State Department, although it had been made aware of the issue, respond. Cliff Johnson (a legal advisor at the Department of State) spoke to Julian Assange for 75 minutes, but the State Department decided not to meet in person to receive further information, which could not, at that stage, be safely transmitted over the telephone.

WikiLeaks is taking precautions. Mass media hysteria will likely take place but like most hysteria it will be entirely unnecessary.

The organization has chosen to put the decision on whether to publish the full Cablegate cache now to a “global vote.” People who want to see the full cache published in searchable form are to tweet #WLVoteYes and those who don’t are to tweet #WLVoteNo.

I think the full Cablegate cache should be published in searchable form. It is the best thing to do for accused whistleblower Bradley Manning.

This whole turn of events would not have happened if the whistleblower who leaked to WikiLeaks had not taken on significant risk and sent information to WikiLeaks. The Guardian would have no award-winning journalism series. The new organization’s editors would have no book to publish. And they would have no rights to sell to Hollywood if the whistleblower had not trusted WikiLeaks and sent the information to WikiLeaks. The whistleblower’s interests should be considered first and foremost and that cannot be lost in all of this drama about what happened with the Cablegate file that ended up on the Internet.

If the entire cache of cables is available for consumption by the public, more scoops can be found and shared just like they have been on Twitter (via the #wlfind hashtag). Media from all over the world can write about the scoops the world’s most dedicated and committed information activists have been finding.

The more revelations that are found, the easier it is for Manning’s defense to make the case that what he did was an act of whistleblowing.

I’ll draw your attention to what Assange said in a press phone call on March 25:

…When a whistle blower gets hold of a hundred documents or a thousand documents, they cannot scrutinize every word. Rather, they can see that there are enough words to suggest that crimes or abusive acts have been committed and the other words provide a context to those crimes or abusive acts.

Whistle blowers then give material to the press to make sense of it, extract those components that are most relevant to the public, and redact where it is occasionally necessary to protect the physical integrity of people…

Citizens of the world are busy at work digging through hundreds of thousands of cables, pulling out details on activities and operations by government officials and corporations that were previously kept secret or confidential. Journalists and bloggers are pulling together past articles on events and incidents, looking to see what was said then and comparing the news reports with the cables that describe those events or incidents. They are putting together posts that inform the public as to how the US government has engaged in blackmail, coercion and manipulated people to create feuds that would eventually lead to the US getting what the US wants. They are packaging articles that when viewed collectively show how WikiLeaks has contributed to helping the world better understand what has been happening globally between governments in the past decade.

Uncovering scoops or details in the cables is important to the future of accused whistleblower Bradley Manning. If the full cache is finally published in searchable form, that is what the people of the world will continue to do.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."