Tag Archives: Wikileaks

Clay Shirky: WikiLeaks has created a new media landscape

Clay Shirky, author and professor at New York University’s interactive telecommunications programme, has contributed to the Guardian’s Comment if Free with an analysis of WikiLeaks’ effect on the media and publishing environment.

WikiLeaks, as my colleague Jay Rosen points out, is a truly transnational media organisation. We have many international media organisations, of course, Havas and the BBC and al-Jazeera, but all of those are still headquartered in one country. WikiLeaks is headquartered on the web; there is no one set of national laws that can be brought to bear on it, nor is there any one national regime that can shut it down

WikiLeaks has not been a series of unfortunate events, and Assange is not a magician – he is simply an early and brilliant executor of what is being revealed as a much more general pattern, now spreading.

Full post on Guardian.co.uk at this link.

Frontline Club on its meeting to discuss Vaughan Smith’s support for Julian Assange

We missed this report being published at the end of last week, but it follows a meeting of members at the Frontline Club to discuss founder Vaughan Smith’s support of Julian Assange and Smith’s decision to give Assange a bail address.

At the meeting, which chair John Owen described as “unprecendented”, it’s reported that there was widespread support for Vaughan’s stance, although some concern was raised about his perceived role in the case.

The main areas of concern were that Vaughan was seen as a spokesman for WikiLeaks and that the distinction between his personal support for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and the Club could get lost in the reporting of the story.

It was suggested that the Trust should take on the responsibility of the PR and appoint a spokesperson to relieve Vaughan of what had become an “impossible task” of dealing with the press.

While there was a great deal of support expressed for the WikiLeaks operation, some journalists were concerned that the Club should be impartial and not take on a campaigning or advocacy position.

Assange: The US cannot take down WikiLeaks

If you’re a whistleblower and you have information that’s important, we will accept it, we will defend you and we will publish it.

This was the message from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in an interview on CBS News’ 60 Minutes, where he also insisted that the US does not have the technology to take the WikiLeaks site down.

Just the way our technology is constructed, the way the internet is constructed. It’s quite hard to stop things reappearing. So, we’ve had attacks on particular domain names. Little pieces of infrastructure knocked out. But we now have some 2,000 fully independent in every way web sites, where we’re publishing around the world.

In the interview, Assange also challenges the idea that WikiLeaks goes after certain parties.

We don’t go after. That’s a bit of a misconception. We don’t go after a particular country. We don’t go after a particular organizational group. We just stick to our promise of publishing the material that is likely to have a significant impact.

He also defended the organisation’s harm minimization process, although admitted that “it is absolutely impossible” to say that nothing WikiLeaks ever publishes will result in harm.

Read Journalism.co.uk’s interview with former WikiLeaks in-house journalist James Ball, who worked for the group on the preparation and release of the US embassy cables, at this link.

WikiLeaks to be subject of New York Times’ first e-book

The New York Times is to publish its first e-book on Monday, which will take a look at WikiLeak’s activities lin 2010.

“Open Secrets: WikiLeaks, War and American Diplomacy,” includes an introductory essay by the newspaper’s executive editor Bill Keller, where he explains the paper’s role in the release of documents. An excerpt of that can be found here.

It will also include profiles of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and analyses from NYT correspondents of the documents in the book, which will reprint the full text of all the cables and war logs published on the NYT’s Web site, as well as an additional 27 cables selected for the book.

The e-book will be available from Monday (31 January) and an excerpt of Keller’s essay will be published in the New York Times Magazine on Sunday, his first piece as columnist for the magazine.

Earlier this month the Guardian announced it would be publishing its own book detailing its partnership with Assange.

New York Times considers creating own in-house WikiLeaks

The New York Times is considering setting up its own in-house version of WikiLeaks, according to editor Bill Keller.

Keller told Yahoo’s The Cutline blog that he is “looking at something along the lines” of Al Jazeera’s Transparency Unit, which was instrumental in the recent publication of the Palestine Papers by Al Jazeera and the Guardian.

“Nothing is nailed down”, according to Keller, but he has sketched out the idea behind the possible division:

A small group from computer-assisted reporting and interactive news, with advice from the investigative unit and the legal department, has been discussing options for creating a kind of EZ Pass lane for leakers.

The New York Times was one of three media partners – including the Guardian and der Spiegel – that worked with WikiLeaks on the release of the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs.

The NYT was also one of five newspapers that had advanced access to WikiLeaks’ next release, the US embassy cables. It was subsequently revealed however that the NYT was forced to obtain its copy of the cable from the Guardian, having been cut out of the loop by WikiLeaks.

Given the difficulty Keller had in obtaining advanced access to the embassy cables, and the general risks of relying on organisations such as WikiLeaks, we may yet see many more national news organisations following suit and establishing their own sections to deal directly with leaks.

Full story on The Cutline at this link.

AP: WikiLeaks looking to enlist up to 60 more media partners

WikiLeaks is seeking up to 60 additional media partners to help speed up the publication of its massive cache of US embassy cables, the Associated Press reports.

Editor-in-chief of the whistleblowers’ site Julian Assange told the AP that he wants to reach beyond traditional media organisations such as the Guardian, the New York Times and der Spiegel, with which he has worked on previous releases.

Assange has previously expressed frustration with the slow pace of the release of the secret diplomatic cables, and said releasing country-specific files to selected local media would serve to push them out faster.

Sometimes, that could mean doing what Assange called “triangulating the politics of a country” — giving documents to a left-wing paper in a country with a right-wing government, or offering cables to conservative titles in countries with a left-leaning administration.

Full story on Associated Press at this link.

h/t: Jon Slattery

Guardian forced to print embarrassing correction over WikiLeaks cable

The Guardian was forced to publish an embarrassing clarification on Tuesday after an article in its Comment is Free section heavily criticised WikiLeaks for publishing a US embassy cable that was put in the public domain by the newspaper.

The 2009 cable shows that the prime minister of Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai met with American and European ambassadors, whose countries had imposed travel sanctions and asset freezes on the country’s president Robert Mugabe and his top political lieutenants, and private agreed with them that the sanctions should remain in place.

Tsvangirai’s private discussions over the sanctions could leave him open to being charged with treason and, if convicted, sentenced to death.

The original Guardian article, written by former Republican National Committee communications manager James Richardson, claims that: “WikiLeaks may have committed its own collateral murder, upending the precarious balance of power in a fragile African state and signing the death warrant of its pro-western premier.”

But the Guardian was forced to later admit that the cable “was placed in the public domain by the Guardian, and not, as originally implied, by WikiLeaks”.

The headline of the article has been amended from “WikiLeaks’ collateral damage in Zimbabwe” to “US cable leaks’ collateral damage in Zimbabwe” and the image caption has also been amended.

But the main body of the article still includes numerous strong criticisms of WikiLeaks over the publication:

And so, where Mugabe’s strong-arming, torture and assassination attempts have failed to eliminate the leading figure of Zimbabwe’s democratic opposition, WikiLeaks may yet succeed …

Before more political carnage is wrought and more blood spilled – in Africa and elsewhere, with special concern for those US-sympathising Afghans fingered in its last war document dump – WikiLeaks ought to leave international relations to those who understand it – at least to those who understand the value of a life.

Read the full Guardian article on Comment is Free at this link.

Update: Guardian deputy editor Ian Katz has published a blog post today explaining the error.

Some critics saw malice in the publication of the Richardson piece in the first place: why would the Guardian point the finger at WikiLeaks knowing it had published the cable? In fact, neither Richardson, a first-time contributor to our comment website, nor the US-based editor who handled it, were aware of the somewhat complicated process through which (most) cables were published. The piece was posted on the bank holiday after Christmas. The Guardian’s WikiLeaks editing team was not around. They were taking a well-earned break after months of working on the documents.

Full post by Katz at this link.

‘The Russification of WikiLeaks’: Crowdsourcing the fight against Russia’s casual corruption

Russia has a peculiar attitude to the whole Wikileaks affair. While the rest of the world debates whether Julian Assange is a hero or a reckless criminal, or whether confidential information should stay that way or not, Russians mostly meet every new cable from the US embassy in Moscow with an apathetic sigh.

Virtual mafia state, you’re saying? Oh please! Is that really a secret? To millions of Russians it definitely isn’t. Corrupt high-ranking officials publicly accused of their crimes not only keep their posts but often get promoted. So you can leak whatever you like, it won’t make any difference. If you’re lucky, you’ll stay alive and out of prison. But the subject of your scoops, investigations and revelations won’t even flinch, let alone resign or even publicly apologise.

Another problem with the leaked documents is that the majority of these cables are, let’s face it, unbearably tedious and written in dry bureaucratic lingo. It’s highly unlikely that anyone except for professional journalists assigned to the task will read them, especially in the case of the Russian audience which has to do so in a foreign language. The majority of Russian’s have to rely on Wikileaks’ official representative in Russian media, a weekly magazine called Russian Reporter, which has been criticised over the veracity of its coverage of the embassy cables release.

But despite the WikiLeaks cables being properly available to only a small portion of the Russian audience, and interest in the Russification of WikiLeaks being generally low, a Russian version site that sprung up recently turned out to be so popular that it crashed several times under the burden of requests in the first few days after the launch. Ruleaks.net, which was set up by the Pirate Party of Russia, has already been quoted in dozens of Russian-language media all over the world. It’s hard to say exactly why, but I can explain the motivation that drives dozens of volounteer translators to help Ruleaks.net, myself included.

First of all, it helps you feel like you are a part of something important, even though your name never appears anywhere – the website operates on a strictly anonymous policy. Secondly, I get to read all the leaks that I otherwise wouldn’t – after all, I’m now doing it for a common cause, not for own amusement. And the potential for journalistic self-improvement is enormous: in the course of two days and a couple of translated leaks I learned the full nomenclature of tags and notes in classified documents and now can crack these cryptic combinations of letters and numbers like nuts.

But the best thing about Ruleaks is its technological basis, an innovative crowdsourcing platform Powercrowd.ru, which allows multiple translators to work on a single leak which may be too big for one to handle. Vadim Likholetov, Powercrowd.ru’s developer, says the project wasn’t originally intended to be used exclusively in conjunction with Ruleaks, but it’s a great opportunity to ‘break in’ a tool that is versatile enough to tackle any similar task.

Crowdsourcing, it seems, is finally catching on in Russia. Online anti-corruption crusader Alexey Navalny, who is proudly hailed as ‘our very own WikiLeaks’ (although his methods are different from Assange’s, as Navalny only publishes legally obtained documents), has been extensively blogging about all kinds of corruption and injustice in Russia for several years. He has 27,000+ subscribers to his blog and one of his latest posts – on alleged widespread embezzlement at a state-owned oil company – gathered the maximum amount of comments allowed by Livejournal.com: 10,000.

Quickly realising that he alone would be overwhelmed with the amount of work which largely consists of meticulous skimming through thousands of pages of official documents, Navalny asked his readers if they could help him out. Several months later, rospil.info was launched. The URL is a clever pun: the name of every state corporation in Russia begins with Ros-, and the widely used euphemism for embezzlement is ‘raspil’, literally ‘sawing’ – hence the two saws in the eagle’s paws on the logo.

This is a crowdsourced effort to expose the ‘sawing’ of state funds through fake auctions; people skim through the website on which all bids for government purchases are announced, post suspicious ones on rospil.info and then have volounteer experts to look through them. So far, in a couple of weeks since the launch, the results are noteworthy: fake auctions worth £210 million have been exposed and hastily canceled. And all of this with near-zero budget.

Similar projects are springing up everywhere now: Fiodor Gorozhanko from St.Petersburg launched zalivaet.spb.ru (‘We’re drowning!’), a website where anyone can mark on a map the location of a leaking roof, the problem which the city’s inefficient and corrupt authorities can’t or don’t want to handle, while another maps potholes, etc. And since none of these initiatives have yet reported any pressure from the authorities whose incompetence they are pointing out, perhaps those up above are finally realising that exposing flaws in the state’s fabric might be actually good for it.

After Twitter revelation, WikiLeaks suspects US of pressuring Google and Facebook

WikiLeaks suspects that Google and Facebook may be under pressure from the US Government to reveal information relating to the whistleblower’s site or its members.

The claim follows a court order issued by the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in December and published by Salon.com [PDF], which ordered micro-blogging site Twitter to hand over information about five accounts associated with WikiLeaks, including one belonging to Julian Assange.

WikiLeaks tweeted on Saturday:

Note that we can assume Google & Facebook also have secret US government subpeonas. They make no comment. Did they fold?

The subpeona issed to Twitter claims that there are “reasonable grounds” to believe the site had information “relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation”. This information included IP addresses, contact information, private messages and the addresses used to access the accounts, allowing investigators to establish potential connections between users.

Despite being ordered to the contrary, Twitter notified those targeted by the subpoena, WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange, Dutch hacker Rop Gonggrijp, Bradley Manning and Icelandic collaborator and MP Birgitta Jónsdóttir. It is over the request for Jónsdóttir’s information in particular that Iceland has requested an explanation from US authorities.

Assange’s lawyer, Mark Stephens, said in an interview with Channel 4 News that the U.S Department of Justice is seeking to target not just WikiLeaks’ main collaborators but also the organisation’s 634,000 followers on Twitter in an “intimidatory” act.

Yesterday, The Telegraph’s Shane Richmond commented that the news of this subpoena may change the way people react to social networking sites:

There’s also a risk that cases like this one will deter people from using social networks to express controversial opinions.

What has come out of this weekend’s events is the contrast in the types of information and their availability and use. As both Richmond and Stephens note, WikiLeaks’ publishing of classified government information reflects the reporting journalists have done “for years”. The American DOJ’s demand of personal details, however, may impact upon how individuals share information in future. Richmond highlights the warning Columbia students were given regarding public online discussion of WikiLeaks, but could similar discussion soon hold risks for journalists?