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Why Wikileaks could never really function the way people hoped

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The self-marketing of Wikileaks was oh-so-simple: We have an anonymous electronic mailbox and everybody can send files to it. We will decide what to publish on the website or hand over to mainstream media. Bad actors will get in trouble because of those leaks. Voilá! Magic!

Real investigative journalists were highly sceptical. It takes a lot of skill and experience to get it right. Oblique IT people like Assange simply lack the qualifications.

This breed of reporters has a hard life. You have to convince your superiors to pay for your story and pay for the special insurance and brace for legal counter-measures from the people accused in the story. The owners of the paper may have political leanings and thus kill interesting stories. Oh, and investigative reporters don’t get paid much.

And even the field of investigative reporting is fraught with problems: Government people often decide to leak something to selected reporters for various political reasons. Instead of movie-like meeetings with sweating whistleblowers in dark parking garages, reporters meet with their sources in a pizza restaurant and get handed a folder. Remember when CIA counterintelligence ace James Angleton was thrown under the bus via a reporter? The reporter could claim “civil rights” were upheld due to burning Angleton for some mail openings he was barely involved in. But this was just a disgusting maneuver to get Angleton out of the agency.

For many yeats Wikileaks was essentially just two IT people and an old server: Julian Assange and the German Daniel Berg. The former had been busted in the early 90s for serious hacking crimes, cooperated with the Australian police in some investigations and then received a minimal sentence. The judge even begged people not to assume Assange was a snitch inside the hacker scene. Was he? Daniel Berg was an IT guy and part-time activist who loves old communist books. He was part of the German “Chaos Computer Club” which was fiercely against any tool governments used to catch spies during the Cold War.

Both men had never published anything original, detailed and professional when it comes to governments, intelligence agencies and these type of “big” topics. The simple electronic mailbox scheme had maor design flaws:

  • What happens if somebody submits falsified material? The Wikileaks guys were not qualified to recognize professionally done fakes.
  • What happens if someone stole material somewhere for the fun of it and then submitted it? This is not whistleblowing. This is data laundering.
  • What happens if somebody submits something for nefarious purposes? Publishing the material could cause more damage, not less.
  • What happens if leaks simply benefit a political party like the Democrats?
  • What happens if the material is way too big in terms of size? Wikileaks had no way of rally reading and understanding the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs.
  • What happens if a published leak sabotages an ongoing investigation by government agencies against a dangerous target?
  • What happens if mindless leaking leads to nefarious organizations and individuals to improve their methods of secrecy?

The war logs were not really a sensation. Neither was the helicopter video. Same with the diplomatic cables. The prime source, young soldier Bradley/Chelsea Manning, though security at the military base was lax. He downloaded huge databases and burnt them onto a CD labelled “Lady Gaga”. It is likely these computers had secret software installed which initiated a silent alarm because of that unusual activity. We know programs like this exist and appear invisible. Next, Manning confided to a previously convicted hacker who was tied to a government security program, Adrian Lamo, who reported this to the authorities.

A younger Wikileaks member became an informant to the FBI and handed over hard drives. Uncensored versions of war databases became accessible to everyone because the password was mentioned in a book and apparently Wikileaks had forgotten to deactivate the potential access. All these bumbling blunders led to the biggest one of them all: Assange flying to Britain at the height of his fame, the country which was most likely to extradite him to the US. Why on earth did he do this? Why did his supporters never looked into this most bizarre decision?

The fate of Assange and Manning probably made many people in the world think twice about leaking or whistleblowing. Someone from the US authorities may leak something to the press about the damage Assange had caused in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, further destroying his reputation and discouraging people from whistleblowing. Governments everywhere probably bought new software to closely monitor computer activities of employees.

Bottom line, Assange probably caused massive damage to whistleblowing.

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