Media, Politics

WikiLeaks cables go public, unfiltered

By Osiame Molefe 1 September 2011

There is a new twist in the WikiLeaks saga. It turns out the entire, unredacted cache of US embassy cables has been available online for a while, albeit in an encrypted form. Thanks to The Guardian newspaper, the password too has been available since February. Few, however, had made the connection. Until now. By OSIAME MOLEFE.

A war of words has broken out anew between The Guardian and WikiLeaks over the latter’s publishing of a password to the entire archive of US embassy diplomatic cables in their unredacted form.

WikiLeaks has accused The Guardian of “betrayal” and said the paper’s actions were “reckless”. The Guardian has called the accusation “nonsense”. It said the password, contained in its book, “WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War”, “was a meaningless piece of information to anyone except the person(s) who created the database”.

The encrypted database was put online late last year allegedly by someone at WikiLeaks (possibly Julian Assange himself) as some kind of insurance should any harm befall Assange. It was published as a PGP-encrypted file on a peer-to-peer sharing site with no link made to WikiLeaks or Assange. Once a file is put on such a site, it gets copied to multiple servers worldwide to make sharing it easier. The downside is that retrieval becomes impossible.

In February this year, when The Guardian’s David Leigh and Luke Harding published the paper’s book on its dealings with Assange, it published the password in this passage.

“Eventually, Assange capitulated. Late at night, after a two-hour debate, he started the process on one of his little netbooks that would enable Leigh to download the entire tranche of cables. The Guardian journalist had to set up the PGP encryption system on his laptop at home across the other side of London. Then he could feed in a password. Assange wrote down on a scrap of paper:

[The Daily Maverick has chosen not to publish the password.]

“That’s the password,” he said. “But you have to add one extra word when you type it in. You have to put in the word ‘[Word removed]’ before the word ‘[Word removed]’. Can you remember that?” “I can remember that.” Leigh set off home, and successfully installed the PGP software.”

There was still one piece to the puzzle missing though: the link between the password and the encrypted file. Enter ex-WikiLeaks volunteer Daniel Domscheit-Berg who, after falling out with Assange, founded OpenLeaks. It appears that Domscheit-Berg or someone at OpenLeaks allegedly tipped off a Twitter user on the existence of the file and the news spread from there.

WikiLeaks has been in damage control since late last night. It held a referendum on Twitter asking its followers if it should release all the cables in searchable form. It did so after it had tweeted a link to the encrypted file. It said in a statement that on 25 August, it contacted the US state department in Washington warning them of the coming storm and to check whether their information notification programme was complete. The statement also said Julian Assange shared further information with the state department during a 75-minute phone call. The state department declined an in-person meeting to exchange further information that WikiLeaks said could not be exchanged over the phone.

Through all of this, WikiLeaks is claiming victory and the moral high-ground. The anti-secrecy organisation says any harm that comes to activists and other sources who revealed information to the US will not be its fault. The state department has yet to publish a statement on these latest developments, but expect they will neither confirm nor deny the authenticity of the database and they will condemn any actions that put its sources’ lives in danger. DM


Read more:

  • Guardian journalist negligently disclosed Cablegate passwords, on WikiLeaks,
  • Unredacted US embassy cables available online after WikiLeaks breach, in The Guardian.

Photo: Julian Assange (Reuters).

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