Yesterday afternoon, WikiLeaks released its largest document dump yet amidst legal threats, an international manhunt and arrest warrant for its founder Julian Assange, and apparently a cyberattack on its website.
The site’s two most recent publications of secret documents on the Afghan and Iraq Wars catapulted the self-described non-profit, whistleblower site into the spotlight. This leak, dubbed “Cablegate” by WikiLeaks, is reportedly seven times bigger than the Iraq leak.
The U.S. government has condemned the publication of the cables for the past few days and again yesterday. The UK government reportedly issued a notice to UK media, requesting that the government is contacted before any WikiLeaks stories are published.
On Saturday, State Department legal adviser Harold Koh sent a warning letter to Assange asserting that the publication of the cables is illegal, Reuters reported. Assange reportedly responded via a lawyer insisting that WikiLeaks would go ahead with the publication.
White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs is quoted as saying in a statement yesterday that the cables were stolen and their publication could hurt U.S. foreign policy and have serious consequences including death for individuals named in the cables.
“By releasing stolen and classified documents, WikiLeaks has put at risk not only the cause of human rights but also the lives and work of these individuals,” Gibbs is quoted as saying.
MEDIA OUTLETS AS PARTNERS?
For the third time, the self-described whistleblower site provided an advance look at the documents to media organizations. With this most recent leak, WikiLeaks let theNew York Times, Germany’s Der Spiegel, the United Kingdom’s The Guardian, France’s Le Monde and Spain’s El Pais take a look at the documents.
Interestingly, Assange referred to the news outlets as WikiLeaks’ “media partners” in a letter response to State Department legal adviser Harold Koh, the former Dean of the Yale School of Law. Koh wrote to Assange Saturday asking the site not to publish the cables and calling the publication illegal.
“We will now proceed to release the material subject to our checks and the checks of our media partners unless you get back to me,” Assange wrote.
iMediaEthics has contacted the following media outlets asking what their relationship is with WikiLeaks and if the news outlet is a “partner” with WikiLeaks: El Pais, Le Monde, the New York Times’ public editor Arthur Brisbane, the New York Times’ executive editor Bill Keller, and the Guardian’s readers editor Chris Elliott. We will update with any response.
The “partner” label is interesting, especially given the New York Times’ relationship with WikiLeaks. As iMediaEthics reported in August, the Times’s executive editor, Bill Keller, clearly described WikiLeaks as a source and NOT a partner in an NPR interview.
“I don’t call it a collaboration or alliance because that suggests some shared purpose, and it suggests they had some involvement in what we did with the material, which they did not. They were a source,” Keller is quoted as saying.
WikiLeaks stated on its Twitter last night that it will “provide information on how other media groups can apply” to work with WikiLeaks under embargo today.
CONDITIONS OF WORKING WITH WIKILEAKS?
The news outlets that have looked at the leaks in advance all clearly agree to hold publication of any stories or analysis until WikiLeaks’ set publication date.
But what else is entailed at getting a sneak peak at the documents?
CNN again noted that it didn’t see the documents in advance because it refused “to sign a confidentiality agreement with WikiLeaks.” We have written to CNN asking why they refused, and what were the terms of that agreement. We will update with any response.
The New York Times published a “note to readers” explaining why the news organization worked with WikiLeaks for the third time to report under embargo on the cables. In the note (see here), The Times argued the cables were in the public interest and said the newspaper would only publish about 100 of the 250,000-plus cables. But, nowhere in the note does the Times mention signing a confidentiality agreement. We have written to the Times to ask if it signed such an agreement.
In that statement, the Times claimed that the publication date embargo is the only condition the news organization was required to abide by.
“Except for the timing of publication, the material was provided without conditions,” the note read, detailing that the Times got “access to the material several weeks ago” with the set publication date of yesterday.
According to the Times, the documents were provided to the Times by an anonymous source, but “were originally obtained by WikiLeaks.” The Times reported that WikiLeaks received the documents “allegedly from a disenchanted, low-level Army intelligence analyst who exploited a security loophole.”
But, the Times said “The Times claimed it redacted any information which “would endanger confidential informants or compromise national security.” Further, the Times stated that it let the other news outlets and WikiLeaks know what it redacted.
And, the Times stated it sent the documents that it would publish to the Obama administration asking them “to challenge publication of any information that, in the official view, would harm the national interest” The Obama administration reportedly responded by reminding the Times that “they condemn the publication of secret material” and “suggested additional redactions. The Times agreed to some, but not all. ”
WikiLeaks’ main site, www.wikileaks.org, was down most of Sunday afternoon. The site tweeted around noon–about an hour or two before news sites started publishing analysis of the cables–that the site was under attack.
“We are currently under a mass distributed denial of service [DDOS] attack,” the tweet read. CNN explained that the DDOS attack is “an effort to make a website unavailable to users, normally by flooding it with requests for data.”
The BBC highlighted the “key issues” reported by the Times and the Guardian, including hacking in China and Guantanamo Bay.
WikiLeaks self-reported on its website for the cables that the leak is of 251,287 cables from U.S. embassies. WikiLeaks called it “the largest set of confidential documents ever to be released into the public domain.” Statistically speaking, the cables encompass correspondence from 1966 to February 2010, WikiLeaks wrote. The cables are “confidential communications between 274 embassies in countries throughout the world and the State Department in Washington, DC.”
See here the WikiLeaks website which hosts the cables.
As iMediaEthics reported last week, the U.S. State Department reportedly contacted several countries’ diplomats in order to prepare them for the leak. Christian Science Monitor updates the list to include: China, Germany, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Britain, France, Afghanistan, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Poland.
iMediaEthics has also written to the State Department and will update with any response.
WikiLeaks requested that the public use specific hash tags on Twitter to discuss the documents. Specifically, WikiLeaks asked either #cablegate or the “unique reference ID” for the document as hash tags.
Reuters reported that the Pentagon has changed some of its procedures following WikiLeaks’ publication of the Afghan and Iraq war diaries. The Pentagon reportedly “released a summary of precautions taken” as a result yesterday. The precautions include changing “the way portable computer storage devices such as flash drives can be used with classified systems.”
CNN reported: “A U.S. soldier who served in Iraq, [Pfc. Bradley] Manning, has been charged with illegally transferring classified data onto his personal computer and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The 22-year-old is suspected of having downloaded thousands of other documents from a server in Iraq.”
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, CNN wrote, “ordered two reviews of document security, according to Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman.” Tougher rules and limiting computer access “has been used to help close the gaps while maintaining that balance, he said. CNN reported that an email from Whitman on Sunday stated: “Bottom line: It is now much more difficult for a determined actor to get access to and move information outside of authorized channels.”
See here iMediaEthics other reporting on WikiLeaks.
UPDATE: 11/30/2010 7:07 PM EST: iMediaEthics has heard from Hans-Ulrich Stoldt of Der Spiegel regarding our questions about Der Spiegel’s relationship with WikiLeaks.
We asked if WikiLeaks was a “partner” of Der Spiegel to which he responded: “WikiLeaks is a source.” He clarified that no money changed hands between WikiLeaks and Der Spiegel in this relationship and that Der Spiegel was only required to “respect a common date of publication.” Der Spiegel therefore did not sign any confidentiality agreement.