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<nettime> Chris McGreal: Who watches Wikileaks? (The Guardian) (! ; -)
Patrice Riemens on Sun, 11 Apr 2010 17:38:59 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Chris McGreal: Who watches Wikileaks? (The Guardian) (! ; -)


Maybe two old slogans can be revived in this context:

"Avail Public Data Freely, Protect Private Data Strongly" (German Chaos
Computer Club motto, late 80s - in yours truly's Indian English rendition

"Watching Them Watching Us" (Dutch hackers group Hacktic, in the early
90s; the slogan was probably coined by Rop Gonggrijp, then Hacktic's, err,
'supremo' ;-))

Some more background on Rop Gonggrijp's blog:


The Iraqi shock horror video is not on wikileaks (?), but has a dedicated



Wikileak.org - without 's' - follows critically Wikileaks - with an 's'


original at:


Who watches WikiLeaks?

This week a classified video of a US air crew killing unarmed Iraqis was
seen by millions on the internet. But for some, the whistleblowing website
itself needs closer scrutiny

Chris McGreal in Washington
guardian.co.uk, Friday 9 April 2010

It has proclaimed itself the "intelligence service of the people", and
plans to have more agents than the CIA. They will be you and me.

WikiLeaks is a long way from that goal, but this week it staked its claim
to be the dead drop of choice for whistleblowers after releasing video the
Pentagon claimed to have lost of US helicopter crews excitedly killing
Iraqis on a Baghdad street in 2007. The dead included two Reuters news
agency staff. The release of the shocking footage prompted an unusual
degree of hand-wringing in a country weary of the Iraq war, and garnered
WikiLeaks more than $150,000 in donations to keep its cash-starved
operation on the road.

It also drew fresh attention to a largely anonymous group that has
outpaced the competition in just a few short years by releasing to the
world more than a million confidential documents from highly classified
military secrets to Sarah Palin's hacked emails. WikiLeaks has posted the
controversial correspondence between researchers at East Anglia
University's Climatic Research Unit and text messages of those killed in
the 9/11 attacks.

WikiLeaks has promised to change the world by abolishing official secrecy.
In Britain it is helping to erode the use of the courts to suppress
information. Its softly spoken Australian director, Julian Assange, was
recently in Iceland, offering advice to legislators on new laws to protect

Assange, who describes what he does as a mix of hi-tech investigative
journalism and advocacy, foresees a day when any confidential document,
from secret orders that allow our own governments to spy on us down to the
bossy letters from your children's school, will be posted on WikiLeaks for
the whole world to see. And that, Assange believes, will change

But there are those who fear that WikiLeaks is more like an intelligence
service than it would care to admit ? a shadowy, unaccountable
organisation that tramples on individual privacy and other rights. And
like so many others who have claimed to be acting in the name of the
people, there are those who fear it risks oppressing them.

Assange has a shock of white hair and an air of conspiracy about him. He
doesn't discuss his age or background, although it is known that he was
raised in Melbourne and convicted as a teenager of hacking in to official
and corporate websites. He appears to be perpetually on the move but when
he stops for any length of time it is in Kenya. Almost nothing is said
about anyone else involved with the project.

WikiLeaks was born in late 2006. Its founders, who WikiLeaks says
comprised mostly Chinese dissidents, hackers, computer programmers and
journalists, laid out their ambitions in emails inviting an array of
figures with experience dealing with secret documents to join WikiLeak's
board of advisers. Among those approached was the inspiration for the
project, Daniel Ellsberg, the US military analyst who leaked the Pentagon
papers about the Vietnam war to the New York Times four decades ago.

"We believe that injustice is answered by good governance and for there to
be good governance there must be open governance," the email said. "New
technology and cryptographic ideas permit us to not only encourage
document leaking, but to facilitate it directly on a mass scale. We intend
to place a new star in the political firmament of man." The email appealed
to Ellsberg to be part of the "political-legal defences" the organisers
recognised they would need once they started to get under the skin of
governments, militaries and corporations: "We'd like ? you to form part of
our political armour. The more armour we have, particularly in the form of
men and women sanctified by age, history and class, the more we can act
like brazen young men and get away with it."

Others were approached with a similar message. WikiLeaks organisers
suggested that it "may become the most powerful intelligence agency on
earth". Its primary targets would be "highly oppressive regimes in China,
Russia and central Eurasia, but we also expect to be of assistance to
those in the west who wish to reveal illegal or immoral behaviour in their
own governments and corporations."

But the group ran in  to problems even before WikiLeaks was launched. The
organisers approached John Young, who ran another website that posted
leaked documents, Cryptome, and asked him to register the WikiLeaks
website in his name. Young obliged and was initially an enthusiastic
supporter but when the organisers announced their intention to try and
raise $5m he questioned their motives, saying that kind of money could
only come from the CIA or George Soros. Then he walked away.

"WikiLeaks is a fraud," he wrote in an email when he quit. "Fuck your cute
hustle and disinformation campaign against legitimate dissent. Same old
shit, working for the enemy." Young then leaked all of his email
correspondence with WikiLeak's founders, including the messages to

Despite this sticky start, WikiLeaks soon began making a name for itself
with a swathe of documents and establishments started kicking back.

Two years ago, a Swiss bank persuaded a US judge to temporarily shut down
the WikiLeaks site after it published documents implicating the Julius
Bare bank in money laundering and tax evasion. That revealed WikiLeaks'
vulnerability to legal action and it sought to put itself beyond the reach
of any government and court by moving its primary server to Sweden which
has strong laws to protect whistleblowers. Since then the Australian
government has tried to go after WikiLeaks after it posted a secret list
of websites the authorities planned to ban, and members of the US Congress
demanded to know what legal action could be taken after the site revealed
US airport security manuals. Both discovered there was nothing they could
do. It's been the same for everyone from the Chinese government to the

Yet WikiLeaks worries more than just those with an instinctive desire for
secrecy. Steven Aftergood, who has published thousands of leaked documents
on the Secrecy News blog he runs for the Federation of American
Scientists, turned down an invitation to join WikiLeaks board of advisers.

"They have acquired and published documents of extraordinary significance.
I would say also that WikiLeaks is a response to a genuine problem, namely
the over control of information of public policy significance," he says.
Yet he also regards WikiLeaks as a threat to individual liberties. "Their
response to indiscriminate secrecy has been to adopt a policy of
indiscriminate disclosure. They tend to disregard considerations of
personal privacy, intellectual property as well as security," he says.

"One of the things I find offensive about their operations is their
willingness to disclose confidential records of religious and social
organisations. If you are a Mormon or a Mason or a college girl who is a
member of a sorority with a secret initiation ritual then WikiLeaks is not
your friend. They will violate your privacy and your freedom of
association without a second thought. That has nothing to do with
whistleblowing or accountability. It's simply disclosure for disclosure's
sake." Aftergood's criticism has angered WikiLeaks. The site's legal
advisor, Jay Lim, wrote to Aftergood two years ago warning him to stop.
"Who's side are you on here Stephen? It is time this constant harping
stopped," Lim said. "We are very disappointed in your lack of support and
suggest you cool it. If you don't, we will, with great reluctance, be
forced to respond."

WikiLeaks has also infuriated the author, Michela Wrong, who was horrified
to discover her book exposing the depths of official corruption in Kenya,
It's Our Turn To Eat, was pirated and posted on WikiLeaks in its entirety
on the grounds that Nairobi booksellers were reluctant to sell it for fear
of being sued under Kenya's draconian libel laws.

Wrong was angry because, while she supports what WikiLeaks is about, the
book is not a government document and is freely available across the rest
of the world. From email distribution lists she could see that the pirated
version was being emailed among Kenyans at home and abroad. "I was beside
myself because I thought my entire African market is vanishing," says
Wrong. "I wrote to WikiLeaks and said, please, you're going to damage your
own cause because if people like me can't make any money from royalties
then publishers are not going to commission people writing about
corruption in Africa." She is not sure who she was communicating with
because the WikiLeaks emails carried no identification but she assumes it
was Assange because of the depth of knowledge about Kenya in the replies.

"He was enormously pompous, saying that in the interests of raising public
awareness of the issues involved I had a duty to allow it to be pirated.
He said: 'This book may have been your baby, but it is now Kenya's son.'
That really stuck in my mind because it was so arrogant," she says. "On
the whole I approve of WikiLeaks but these guys are infuriatingly
self-righteous." WikiLeaks does apparently expect others to respect its
claims to ownership. It has placed a copyright symbol at the beginning of
its film about the Iraq shootings.

Assange has countered criticism over some of the material on the site by
saying that WikiLeak's central philosophy is "no censorship". He argues
that the organisation has to be opaque to protect it from legal attack or
something more sinister. But that has also meant that awkward questions ?
such as a revelation in Mother Jones that some of those it claims to have
recruited, including a former representative of the Dalai Lama, and Noam
Chomsky, deny any relationship with WikiLeaks ? are sidestepped.

Despite repeated requests for a response to the issues raised by
Aftergood, Wrong and others, WikiLeaks' only response was an email
suggesting to call a number that went to a recording saying it was not in

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