Wikileaks Decides to Release All Files


Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, has decided to release all 251,287 of the United States diplomatic cables that he acquired last year, without editing out the identities of diplomatic informants and highly sensitive classified information. It’s a decision that is in stark contrast to the efforts of news organizations including the Guardian and the News York Times to redact such information, out of real fears that informants could suffer reprisals including arrest and violence. Since November of last year, those two papers and also Der Spiegel, El País and Le Monde had begun publishing  a small selection of the cables, with identities and other information redacted.

The News York Times’ Lede blog says that, actually, a Wikileaks computer file containing all the raw US cables was posted online “by mistake” last year, as revealed last week by Der Freitag, a small, left-leaning publication based in Berlin. Der Freitag said that it had found a 1.73 GB file named  “cables.csv”; its contents were ”definitively unredacted versions of the cables.” While “cables.csv” was encrypted, its password could be found on the internet. Then on Monday, a “former Wikileaks operative” said that the file had been available at least since March:

As Spiegel Online reports, the password-protected file with the unredacted cables was made available because of “a chain of careless mistakes, coincidences, indiscretions and confusion” that followed the splintering of the antisecrecy organization into rival factions over the past year.

The most important of these errors appears to have been made some time before Dec. 12, 2010, when someone working with WikiLeaks posted the encrypted cable archive on a file-sharing site at a time when supporters of the group wanted to make sure that the leaked data could be made public if the group’s founder, Julian Assange, was arrested and his site closed down. A copy of the file, which seems to have been last modified on June 9, 2010, also appears to have been posted on the mirrors or complete copies of the main WikiLeaks site the group encouraged its supporters to create.

The password that unlocks the file was revealed in part because Mr. Assange also broke with editors at The New York Times and The Guardian — after both published some carefully redacted versions of the cables last year — over differences in philosophy and critical reports about his personal life.

A Guardian article says that Assange had actually “foreshadowed” a plan to release the entire trove of cables at a secret meeting last November:

The diary of one of those present at Ellingham Hall, the stately home which was then their base, records: “Heated conversation about rough plans on releasing cables … JA insistent all cables must somehow eventually be released.” His wish has now been realised, after a year punctuated by his arrest, heated quarrels with former associates, and a chapter of accidents within Assange’s chaotic organisation. A few days after the Ellingham Hall meeting Assange turned himself in for arrest on an extradition warrant sought by Sweden, on allegations of sexual assault by two young WikiLeaks supporters there. He is still fighting extradition.

On 7 December, the day of his arrest, a huge file of WikiLeaks information was posted on the Pirate Bay filesharing site by one of his supporters. According to the group’s former No 2, computer expert Daniel Domscheit-Berg: “These people said they wanted to keep WikiLeaks operational, but they never spoke to Julian.” As a result, it was never apparently realised that the file-set included Assange’s copy of all the classified US cables.

Domscheit-Berg suggests that “laziness” on Assange’s part led to the revelation of the password for the files:

Earlier in the year, according to Domscheit-Berg, Assange gave a copy of the cables file to the Guardian…. He provided the Guardian with a password and access to a special online server, on which he said he would place a copy of the cables file, which would only remain in existence for a short time. What Assange did not reveal was that he had not followed conventional security practice and created a new password for the transaction. Instead, according to Domscheit-Berg, he had merely reused the existing master password, already known to others within WikiLeaks. “The file was never supposed to be shared with anyone at all. To get a copy you would usually make a new copy with a new password. He was too lazy to create something new.”

David Leigh, a Guardian editor, indeed published a book about Wikileaks earlier this year; the book noted the password provided by Assange because it was assumed that that password was obsolete. But as the News York Times’ Lede blog says

Mr. Leigh said in an e-mail to The Times that he had included the password in the book on WikiLeaks only after Mr. Assange assured him it would expire after a few hours. He said Mr. Assange was responsible for any breach.

WikiLeaks insisted in a note on its official Twitter feed that Mr. Assange did not tell Mr. Leigh that the password was temporary. The group also said in an unsigned statement: “WikiLeaks has commenced pre-litigation action against The Guardian and an individual in Germany who was distributing the Guardian passwords for personal gain.”

How the release of so many thousands of secret diplomatic files will play out remains to be seen. The Guardian says that the Australian cables included a document that identifies 23 Australians alleged to have links with al-Qaida, leading to an “angry response” from Robert McClelland, Australia’s attorney general. What is sure is that Wikileaks, along with its stated aims of transparency and truth, is an all-too human organization. The latest release of all the cables online without rhyme or reason, and even by accident — human error — points to a lack of thought and decisiveness of what to do with all that information, as if Wikileaks and those behind it, having found themselves the keepers of so much that is so valuable have gotten a bit … self-inflated? consumed with the power potentially at their disposal?

Now, finding themselves left holding a very big bag of goods, the choice has been made simply to throw it all to the winds and see what ensues.

Related Care2 Coverage

Wikileaks Publishes Cables With Names of Confidential Sources

“Mentally Fragile” Bradley Manning “Should Never Have Been Sent to Iraq”

Assange, Manning, and the Rosenbergs: Is nothing secret anymore?


Photo by Sean MacEntee

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Gloria W.
Gloria W.4 years ago


SeattleAnn S.
Ann S.4 years ago

Nice to finally have someone out all the dirty "little" secrets of governments everywhere. Governments lying to the people for their own good has been taken too far and abused unfortunately, so a protagonist for the people has been long due.

Tom Sullivan
Tom C Sullivan4 years ago

Yes release them all, let all the Goverments squirm around as people read about theere looser officals.
Give this man the Nobel Peace Prize!!!!

Mo Va
Mo Va4 years ago

Please release all information so every politicians all over the world should be more careful. The released information would help ordinary citizen be alert about corrupt politicians.
I have to thank Julian Assange for his bravery.

Nessie B.
Nessie B.4 years ago

Freedom of information should Not mean informants should be prosecuted. Instead, they should be rewarded.

Elisabeth M.
lis Gunn4 years ago

David Leighwho had the password and published it, says Assange was "lazy" in not changing the password, and perhaps he was. However, according to other press reports ".... at least one cable posted on Monday from the US embassy in Australia had a name removed but several others left in the identiies of people whom diplomats had flagged for protection." and " a complaint was made on the same day as Wikileaks servers were targeted in what appeared to be a concerted cyber assault, forcing the organisation's online portals to shut down for several hours." Perhaps i am just a conspiracy theorist but I suspect there is more to this matter than we are being told.

Matt L.4 years ago

Well this should be interesting, I wish Assange could have released the leaks more responsibly, but the US government is certainly keeping too many secrets from us citizens. There is not much to protect Assange from US goons now that everything is released. I just hope the benefits outweigh the harm. It's going to take a while for people to sort through all the documents. I wonder what other nasty secrets will be revealed now.

If our damn "free press" actually did their jobs we wouldn't need groups like Wikileaks. People like Manning are essential for democracy. It's hard fight our government's corruption when we don't even know what they are doing.

Assange lost some points with me with the unfiltered release, but the commenters have a point when they say he was backed into a corner.

David Anderson
David Anderson4 years ago

Michael M.

7:15AM PDT on Sep 2, 2011

Seriously people.

Would you support the same kind of censorship, torture, and political imprisonment that we saw under stalin?!
Who's being non-patriotic?
Have you forgotten what America is supposed to be about?

If you truly believe this, then in intellectual honesty, you should start a PARDON SCOOTER LIBBY campaign immediately. After all, he was prosecuted for a tangential role in exposing only one person who was in not danger at the time of the exposure.

Maryanne E.
Maryanne E.4 years ago

I am all for the release of information, but do so responsibly. Assange's lazy approach of 'I'll change the password in a couple hours' is in no way responsible!

Jamie Clemons
Jamie Clemons4 years ago

Its a war against whistleblowers.