Last Friday, Wikileaks released nearly 134,000 diplomatic cables, more than six times the total published since the whistleblower site started posting files publicly last November. Furthermore, a sampling of the documents reveals that confidential information, including the names of people who have spoken confidentially to American diplomats, has not been edited out, even when those people’s identities were marked as “strictly private,” says the New York Times. US officials and human rights activists are deeply concerned that those named — including activists, journalists and academics in repressive regimes — could face “dismissal from their jobs, prosecution or violence” as a result.
As government officials and journalists worked their way through the pile of documents, they have already found the names of a United Nations official in West Africa and a foreign human rights activist working in Cambodia; both “had spoken candidly to American Embassy officials on the understanding that they would not be publicly identified.” Says the New York Times:
The new disclosures are likely to reignite a debate over the virtues and perils of making public the confidential views of American diplomats, some of whom have complained that the leaks have made their work more difficult. The disclosures take place as a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Va., continues to hear evidence in a criminal investigation of WikiLeaks for disclosing classified information.
A statement from Wikileaks specifically said that the speed with which the high volume of files has been released is “in accordance with WikiLeaks’s commitment to maximizing impact and making information available to all.” Indeed, Wikileaks said that doing so was intended to counter the “misperception” that the organization “has been less active in recent months.” “Crowd sourcing” the documents makes it readily possible for “people of different backgrounds and nationalities to interpret the cables,” according to the statement, which was not signed. As the New York Times says, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, “generally drafts or approves the group’s statements.”
Starting in November 2010, the New York Times, the Guardian and other news organizations have had access to more than 250,000 State Department cables originally obtained by WikiLeaks. While only 2,500 cables had been published by the end of 2010, the total is now about 20,000. The New York Times and others have edited documents to remove sensitive information; Wikileaks had previously done the same for the files it has published on its own website.
Also on Friday, Steffen Kraft, the editor of a small German publication based in Berlin, Der Freitag, said that he has found online a “password protected csv file” containing a 1.73GB cache of entirely unredacted diplomatic cables, originating from Wikileaks. The password was reportedly “plain to see” (“liege offen zutage”). In the files are thousands of pages of “named or otherwise identifiable ‘informers’ and “suspected intelligence agents” from Israel, Jordan, Iran and Afghanistan.” One “Iranian informant” was “specifically described” as saying that people in Iran always tried “to give the impression that they follow these stupid, crazy mullahs.”
As Tech Crunch notes, Kraft says that some of the documents had previously been published in censored form and that it’s likely they were leaked by Assange’s “arch-nemesis (and former colleague), Daniel Domscheit-Berg of OpenLeaks” who, earlier last week, had “claimed to have destroyed thousands of unpublished documents before leaving Wikileaks and [who has] made no secret of his hatred of his old pal.”
Regardless, the publication of the unredacted cables calls into question the ethics and motives of Wikileaks, says Tech Crunch:
In truth, it almost doesn’t matter who is responsible: the eventual release of the unredacted cables was inevitable. The message of Wikileaks — and the amoral cult of leaking for lulz that came in its wake — has always been one of callous contempt for the human cost of “free information”. From Assange’s well-publicised remarks to Guardian reporters that “if [informants] get killed, they’ve got it coming to them. They deserve it,” to LulSec and Anonymous’ willingness to publish the personal details of anyone even tangentially associated with their ‘enemies’, what we see time and time again from mass-leakers is a sociopath’s disregard for individuals, combined with a Hollywood serial killer’s hunger for attention. Sooner of later — for attention, to make some misguided political point, for the lulz — someone was bound to obtain and leak the raw documents.
Mediaite indeed says that this “leak” in Wikileaks calls into questions the motives of Assange, who remains in England under electronic monitoring, still fighting extradition to Sweden on charges of raping two women. Tech Crunch even goes so far to ask if Wikileaks has been engaging in “riskier and riskier behavior to get back in the headlines” and who cares about what happens to someone in Afghanistan or Iran named in a cable? What’s really being exposed with each further Wikileaks leak is, Der Freitag comments, “the weak point of all whistleblower platforms: the human factor.”
For all of its vaunted aims and magisterial statements about “maximizing impact and making information available to all,” Wikileaks, and those running it, are human, all too human, after all.
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