Leak Proof

Friday, March 13, 2009


The site Wikileaks posts leaked documents from anonymous whistleblowers worldwide, even if those documents pose a danger or could potentially lead to loss of life. Julian Assange, the site's investigations editor, explains why Wikileaks publishes almost anything it receives.

Comments [13]

Mark P from San Mateo, CA

While I appreciate that this story is about how one particular media organization makes its publishing decisions, I would've loved to hear more about the information that wikileaks has published and the consequences. (I'd find it that tale much more valuable than knowing what the editor would choose to publish in hypothetical situations.) For instance, I'd like to know how has wikileaks's information been picked up by other media groups? Are wikileaks's stories sometimes swept under the rug by other media? What types of groups tend to be the targets of leaks posted on wikileaks? Have its leaks led to criminal or civil prosecutions, changes in government policy, or changes in a company's strategy?

Perhaps another story should be in the works.

Mar. 21 2009 02:25 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

As has been pointed out elsewhere, there sure seems to be an increase in negative attention from right-wing critics of the program, but Bill G's implied threat to your interviewee takes the cake!

It is getting scary in here!

Mar. 20 2009 04:30 AM
Matt W. from Arlington, Virginia

So I assume you will be stopping by Fort Meade and Bolling Air Force Base this weekend to check to see how your tax dollars were spent this previous week. Let me know how it goes at the gate.

There is a big difference between what Wikileaks publishes and what the really good reporters and really awesome military bloggers are reporting.

I think that is the key, reporting, not the raw data that can be exploited by the enemy. If reporting works on every other issue in American politics except for the military manifest of equipment in-country, then your problem seems solved.

I look forward to your update about your "checking in" on your tax dollars within the Intelligence Community.

Mar. 17 2009 08:59 PM
Sara Witaker

Wikileaks is great! onthemedia should be ashamed of themselves for taking the most inflammatory angle possible.

I found the interviewer biased -- and frankly incompetent.

Firstly, OTM starts out with an accusation about Norm Coleman being hacked, which is absolutely false! See http://wikileaks.org/wiki/The_Big_Bad_Database_of_Sendator_Norm_Coleman or just google). The Wikileaks guy isn't given an opportunity to respond.

If this is the quality of journalism NPR holds high, no-wonder it is going down the tubes.

Then, rather than cover the thousands of real Wikileaks examples, which have changed national election outcomes, exposed assassinations, etc, OTM does a Dick Cheney and uses same outlandish "ticking timebomb" hypotheticals that the Bush gang used to trick us into torturing innocent people.

@Bill G: No whistleblowing function? From the Wikileaks report about that document:

"This 2004 report..demonstrates that the primary US IED "jamming" system, also disables most US military communications. Consequently troops can communicate, or be protected from IEDs, but not both. "

Tens of billions of dollars have been spent on these devices.

That's why the whistleblower sent it to Wikileaks.

Mar. 16 2009 11:53 AM
Bill G from San Antonio Tx

Wikileaks released classified information on the DOD's Warlock Green and Warlock Red jamming technology that effectively ended the remote IED threat in Iraq. Fortunately for Julian Assange this information was old and was most likely not of much use to the insurgents and terrorists. I say fortunately because I know many many people who would have seen to it that Assange face some good old fashioned vigilante justice had they or anyone they knew been hurt because of Wikileaks irresponsibility.

And lets call it what it is: irresponsible. There’s no “whistle blowing” here because there was nothing immoral or nefarious about the DOD’s efforts to stop remotely detonated IED’s. The publics knowledge and right to know werent served by this. This was an important secret that 10,000 of US troops were able to keep a compelte secret until a few assholes in the press and Assange blabbed about it.

Assange should really think long and hard about publishing his next big scoop. The life he saves might very well be his own.

Mar. 16 2009 08:51 AM
Mike from Bismarck, ND

Matt - Would you suggesting that media should not report that there are even troops in Iraq, because that general information will aide the enemy? Should the public not know exactly how many troops are in Iraq? Should the public not know how much the war is costing? Is any of this information necessary for the public?

Where do you draw the line that separates generalities that "unnecessarily increase risk" and generalities that would not?

From where I'm standing, as a taxpayer and a veteran, I want to know that my money is being spent effectively and our troops (many of whom are very close friends and family) are well provided for.

If I don't have that information available to me, how do I then select politicians who decide on war funding? Or do you suggest I leave that up to the politicians and keep my mouth shut, because they know better than me? What a democracy that would be. If that's the interpretation of the constitution our troops are protecting, I might as well move to Russia.

Mar. 15 2009 09:27 PM
Matt W. from Arlington, Virginia

First off, that isn't how elemental swords and earth mana work.
Second of all, having enough of equipment Y to do what equipment Y does throughout an entire area of operations isn't how operations are managed or mismanaged as you say.
Third, I am not assuming that Wikileaks is not the only party to receive the information, only that they would follow their stated editorial policy when publishing information sent to them, which they do not.
Fourth, localized or unlocalized exact numbers of equipment Y helps the enemy identify units and unit movements, not a moot point in determining the operational security of American Forces.
Fifth, such information unnecessarily increases the risk so to troops, but also provides information to the enemy that could be used to frustrate the accomplishment of the short and long term mission objectives of deployed units.
Sixth, even wikileaks disagrees with your assertion that knowledge will make us safer, according to their editorial policy, source policy, and communication policy.
Seventh, Free Markets require more than transparency for their operation.
Based on NB's post, and the lack of knowledge contained within, NB shouldn't be so confident in labeling points moot, when so many of his own are just that, moot.

Mar. 15 2009 07:47 PM

Come on, Matt, war isn't a game. It's not as if the terrrists can hit Uncle Sam five times with their +3 elemental sword to exhaust all his earth mana and then score an epic win.

if the US Army doesn't have enough of equipment Y to insure the safety of its troops, then the people paying for the war should know about this mismanagement.

Furthermore, you fall into the trap of assuming that if Wikileaks had not published, nobody would have known about it. Coleman had hoped to paper over his leak of confidential information in the same way. Wikileaks got sent the information about equipment in Iraq; it is not safe to assume that they were the only third party to receive the information.

Finally, even if your argument made sense, it would not be of any help without additional, very localised information about where exactly those few X of Y are, or more importantly where they are not. So it is still moot.

(Seriously, are you really arguing that some website puts the lives of soldiers in a war zone at risk? Like they weren't already! Soldiers, in a war zone, occupying a foreign country!)

In the end, knowledge will make us all safer. Just like free markets cannot exist without full transparency.

Mar. 15 2009 02:38 PM
Matt W. from Arlington, Virginia

I remember when Wikileaks published a list of all the equipment that the military U.S. had inside Iraq. If that isn't a case where Wikileaks has published information that put lives in danger, I don't know what is. I just wish OTM had that information before they took wikileaks assertion at face value and talked about their editorial policy in abstract terms instead of this very real case that illustrated their agenda more than any abstract discussion could have ever shown.
If there is X number of equipment Y that protects soldiers from threat Z, then X number of Y must be engaged before threat z can be used to deadly effect in another location from where that equipment would currently be engaged in order to defeat equipment's Y ability to protect soldiers from threat Z.
Wikileaks has published information that put lives at risk and should not be given the benefit of talking in abstractions about their editorial policy, it does a disservice to the idea of an open society they claim to support.

Mar. 15 2009 02:14 PM


Wikileaks did not "hack into" Sarah Palin's email. Wikileaks published a partial contents of her inbox she kept at Yahoo! after getting sent the data, thus pointing out that Palin was evading a couple of laws on recordkeeping and conflict of interest: i.e., clearly blowing the whistle.

Something similar happened in the case of Norm Coleman. His campaign team misconfigured their website. The original whistleblower for that fact, Adria Richards, pointed out that the webserver was configured to bring up lists of documents in certain very easily detected cases.

Then, somebody else (as far as I am aware it is unknown how many) downloaded actual files off that website, including "database.tar.gz" that apparently contained private data of Coleman's campaign donors. Eventually that file ended up with Wikileaks.

Now here is why Wikileaks is blowing the whistle on this too. It turns out that Coleman kept certain records (specifically CVV numbers to go with credit card numbers) for longer than allowed by law. Also, he failed to notify the individuals involved within the timeframe set by law for such breaches of confidentiality. By publishing the data in redacted form Wikileaks publicly pointed out that Coleman was ignoring a big problem.

Yes, this is embarrassing for Coleman. No, that is not the fault of Wikileaks for pointing it out. Coleman was actively hoping for his problem to just go away if he just kept quiet about it. Wikileaks did the right thing here - and so did Ms Richards, by the way, who neither accessed nor distributed any data from Coleman's website.

On the interview: please, journalists, let go of the "ticking timebomb" type questions. They are completely hypothetical. Basing your judgment on the answer given to a question that has no answer makes no sense.

Mar. 15 2009 02:07 PM
David Rowe from Lawrenceville, NJ

Point taken, in Jane's post. But Julian sounds so noble, as does this project which is consistently put forward as a place for whistleblowers. But how is hacking into Sarah Palin's email or posting Coleman's supporter's personal information "whistleblowing?"

Maybe this is what happens when a media institution has its primary loyalty to its sources - no matter their agenda - over readers.

Mar. 15 2009 08:36 AM
Jane Wade

Norm Coleman's website was not “hacked”. The Coleman campaign left the database of its supporters in an open directory on its website where it could be easily accessed by anyone. They blew it but are trying to blame “hackers” and not take responsibility for their own mistake. By the way, this happened back in January and they never disclosed it to their supporters, as required by Minnesota law.

Mar. 14 2009 07:32 PM


I didn't know these guys exist, but I'm very happy now to know that they do exist!

It's about time!

Mar. 14 2009 10:29 AM

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