WikiLeaks Slip-up Spills Names of Government Informants

Nearly a quarter million classified U.S. State Department documents containing sensitive information that could harm government informants, are floating around the Web. The “Cablegate” files were being leakedslowly to the Web by information-releasing company WikiLeaks, until a recent mishap led to the full, uncensored database (along with the password to open it) being, in all irony,leaked.

WikiLeaks was initially releasing the files to the Web and censoring names of individuals who could have been harmed by the information. The latest file dump, however, is completely uncensored, and contains names of government informants and suspected intelligence agents in countries including Iran and Afghanistan.

The online file was first discovered by German media Der Freitag, and was later confirmed by Der Spiegel. The file contains only State Department documents, believed to have been provided to WikiLeaks by former Army private Bradley Manning.

WikiLeaks has reacted to the incident with the same belligerence that typically erupts from the company amid negative press. It stated through Twitter that the mistake was not on behalf of WikiLeaks, writing “There has been no WikiLeaks error,” and adding, “There has been a grossly negligent mainstream media error, to put it generously.”

This followed an earlier post, however, correcting reports that the leaked file was the encrypted “insurance” file the company mysteriously posted to the Web amid political pressure against its founder Julian Assange, stating, “There is an issue, but not that issue.”

The company later vaguely acknowledged the leak, stating “The issue relates to a mainstream media partner and a malicious individual,” while ducking responsibility, stating “There has been no ‘leak at WikiLeaks.’”

The statement is somewhat true, as the file was not leaked directly through WikiLeaks. Regardless, this doesn’t look well on the part of Assange, who is known for allegedly telling Guardian reporters that “if [informants] get killed, they’ve got it coming to them. They deserve it.”

Assange has denied making the above statement.

The story of how the encrypted file and the password to unlock it found their way online is one of the friendship and betrayal that has enshrouded WikiLeaks in recent memory. In retrospect however, it appears to come down to a slip-up caused by an apparent miscommunication.

The leak ties into the ongoing dispute between Assange and former WikiLeaks spokesman, Daniel Domscheit-Berg.

Domscheit-Berg defected from WikiLeaks in 2010 with another former employee and founded a competing organization, OpenLeaks. They took with them the company’s submission system that allowed individuals to provide information anonymously, as well as a large collection of documents that were contained in the system.

Their reason for leaving was based on a belief that Assange was placing people in harm’s way by mishandling names of informants and not properly securing leaked documents—concerns that were both proven accurate in the recent leak.

Regarding Assange, Domscheit-Berg wrote in his book titled “My Time at the World’s Most Dangerous Website” that “Children shouldn’t play with guns.” Domscheit-Berg added that he would only return the information he brought along with him if Assange “can prove that he can store the material securely and handle it carefully and responsibly.”

Now, here’s how the leak happened. According to Der Spiegel, Assange had stored the 1.73 GB encrypted file in an unsearchable directory of the company’s Web server and had provided the password to unlock it to an “external contact.”

The file happened to be on the database Domscheit-Berg took with him when he left. He returned the file to WikiLeaks in December, yet supporters of the company released an archive of the data to provide a public archive of files the company had already released—which included the encrypted archive—according to Der Spiegel.

Meanwhile, the person Assange had provided the password to made it public in the spring, “without suspecting that he would thus allow access to the unedited reports of American diplomats,” according to Der Spiegel.

Read the original post here.

Photo Credit: By Jacob Appelbaum [CC-BY-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons