< Whither the Leakers?


Friday, March 15, 2013

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Right now, WikiLeaks remains under near financial blockade and, as of June 2012, its founder, Julian Assange, has been holed up inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he’s been granted diplomatic asylum. The British government says it intends to extradite him to Sweden, where he's wanted in questioning in a sexual assault investigation. Assange claims that the US is waiting to extradite him from Sweden to face charges related to the Manning leaks.

Cyrus Farivar, senior business editor at Ars Technica, recently observed that, despite its current ill fortunes, WikiLeaks has inspired a rash of copycats – QuébecLeaks, BrusselsLeaks and EnviroLeaks, RULeaks, and UniLeaks for universities, to name a few. But, in spite of this flood of aspiring leak sites, the leaks themselves seem to have dried up.

CYRUS FARIVAR:  It's great if you have 50,000 sites that can publish leaks but, at the end of the day, you need leakers. If  there's one thing that the case of Bradley Manning shows it's that you can get in an awful lot of trouble if you leak really important stuff. So it takes a certain type of person with a certain type of conviction, not to mention a certain type of access, willing to face the music, as it were. So far, the only two major sites beyond WikiLeaks are an outfit out of Bulgaria that's called BalkanLeaks and another one that's called LocalLeaks, which has ties to Anonymous and has been publishing documents pertaining to the Steubenville, Ohio alleged rape case. There's also a new platform out of Italy that’s called GlobalLeaks that is also still in progress.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  So begin with BalkanLeaks.

CYRUS FARIVAR:  They are run by two guys. One lives in Bulgaria, the other lives in France. They're both journalists and they're both information activists. They’re using a software that's called Tor, the de facto gold standard in terms of keeping information and people and data anonymous and encrypted online. And so, they've written up instructions in Bulgarian, in Macedonian, in other regional languages, explaining to people precisely how to use this tool and why it's important that they use it. One of the things that they've gotten most recently is a, a really interesting government dossier concerning the recently departed Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Boris Borisov.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Recently departed, why?

CYRUS FARIVAR:  BalkanLeaks published what's called the Buddha Dossier which outlined to the public, in more detail than had ever been seen before, the fact that the previous government had recruited him as a government agent for his believed ties to the Bulgarian underworld. Within weeks, Mr. Borisov stepped down from the head of the Bulgarian government. I asked BalkanLeaks’ head if they thought that the fact that the Prime Minister had stepped down was a direct result of their publication, and, you know, they seemed to be okay with taking a little bit of credit but they were reticent to accept all of the credit.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  So now, tell me about this Italian project called GlobalLeaks, which evidently is trying to construct the next generation of leak sites?

CYRUS FARIVAR:  What GlobalLeaks wants to do is they want to create a framework, a platform, an application, if you will, that anybody could use and install and verify on their own, so there could be a global leaks partner or client in Brazil and another one in South Africa and another one in California and another one in Japan. Conceivably, anybody could run a properly- secured leaking platform.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  They’re franchising.

CYRUS FARIVAR:  In a way, yeah.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  So now tell me about the third successful site based in the United States. It's called LocalLeaks. It has garnered a lot of attention for its coverage of the alleged rape of a high school girl in Steubenville, Ohio. And that trial has just begun this week. You say that LocalLeaks stands out among these sites. How?

CYRUS FARIVAR:  Unlike WikiLeaks, unlike GlobalLeaks, unlike BalkanLeaks, for that matter, LocalLeaks is inviting people to submit documents and photos and is collecting its own kinds of digital material and is compiling them into a long, detailed and, frankly, quite plausible chronology and narrative, trying to tell what it calls “the hard truth of the Steubenville alleged rape situation.”

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  It takes in material from the community, analyzes it, creates a narrative, using a wide variety of sources – Tweets, Facebook, Instagram, and so on. Let’s see, is there a word for doing that?


Let me think. Mm - oh no, I can’t think of one.

CYRUS FARIVAR:  I think that that’s a fair point. Something that’s often frustrating about some of these larger leak sites is that, all too often, they just act as repositories for huge volumes of information. It's really difficult for people to know what's important and what's not. And, as you say, when journalists or other people take the time to sift through that,  I think that that provides a valuable service.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  What about the websites inspired by WikiLeaks that aren't grassroots, that have been launched by the Wall Street Journal and Al Jazeera, have they gone anywhere?

CYRUS FARIVAR:  Not as far as I'm aware. The Wall Street Journal site, in particular, came under heavy scrutiny because there was some language in its terms and conditions that basically said that if you were a leaker, potentially the Wall Street Journal, if forced to, could turn over your identity. WikiLeaks, GlobalLeaks and BalkanLeaks, as much as they’re able, shield the identity of the leaker so that they really don't know where the leak came from. It's important to remember than in the case of Bradley Manning, with WikiLeaks, the reason why we even know Bradley Manning's name is because a journalist that he confessed to turned him in to the Feds.


BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Cyrus, thank you very much.

CYRUS FARIVAR:  You’re welcome, Brooke.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Cyrus Farivar is the senior business editor at Ars Technica.


Cyrus Farivar

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Brooke Gladstone