“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” – George Orwell, Animal Farm
“Leck bei Wikileaks“. The headline in German-language news weekly, Der Freitag, described the irony with Teutonic efficiency: “Leak at Wikileaks“.
In the story, published on Friday, editor Steffen Kraft claims to have found online a “password protected csv file” containing a 1.73GB cache of entirely unredacted diplomatic cables, originating from Wikileaks. According to Kraft, the password for the file is also easy to locate.
The same day, Wikileaks dumped a large number of cables online and asked its followers to help sift through them. Copies of the files have been in the possession of news organizations like the Guardian, the New York Times and Reuters for months, but this is the first time the documents had been made available to the public. The release came, says chief leaker Julian Assange, because the media has lost interest in the diplomatic revelations as yet unreported. (A cynic might infer that Assange — who remains under house arrest in the UK pending extradition on sexual assault charges — is worried that the media has lost interest in him too.)
But the document found by Der Freitag are not the official Wikileaks files, which have been partly redacted to remove the names of vulnerable sources. Rather it contained thousands of unredacted pages, with ‘named or otherwise identifiable “informers” and “suspected intelligence agents,” from Israel, Jordan, Iran and Afghanistan.’
It’s important to emphasize that Der Freitag hasn’t published hard proof that the unredacted file even exists. But according to Kraft, the found documents include many that have previously been published in censored form. And, to be clear, Der Freitag is not just some rogue German paper: they have a syndication deal with the Guardian (an erst-while Wikileaks partner) making it highly unlikely they’d invent the story out of whole cloth. (Update: Der Spiegel has confirmed the existence of the file — see below for more.)
So, if the unreadacted files have found their way available online, what are we to make of it? Kraft makes a clear implication that the files might have been leaked by Assanage’s arch-nemesis (and former colleague), Daniel Domscheit-Berg of OpenLeaks. Earlier this week he claimed to have destroyed thousands of unpublished documents before leaving Wikileaks and he’s made no secret of his hatred of his old pal (I’ve written previously about his scummy anti-Assange memoir). Certainly, along with staffers at the Guardian, the New York Times and any of Wikileaks’ growing number of current and former mainstream media partners, Domscheit-Berg is a possible suspect.
In truth, it almost doesn’t matter who is responsible: the eventual release of the unredacted cables was inevitable. The message of Wikileaks — and the amoral cult of leaking for lulz that came in its wake — has always been one of callous contempt for the human cost of “free information”. From Assange’s well-publicised remarks to Guardian reporters that “if [informants] get killed, they’ve got it coming to them. They deserve it.”, to LulSec and Anonymous’ willingness to publish the personal details of anyone even tangentially associated with their ‘enemies’, what we see time and time again from mass-leakers is a sociopath’s disregard for individuals, combined with a Hollywood serial killer’s hunger for attention. Sooner of later — for attention, to make some misguided political point, for the lulz — someone was bound to obtain and leak the raw documents.
As public attention shifted from Wikileaks to Libya or Hurricane Irene or Lady Gaga appearing in the Simpsons, so the leakers must resort to riskier and riskier behavior to get back in the headlines. And so it will be depressingly unsurprising if either side of the Wikileaks-Openleaks skirmish turns out to have gladly sacrificed the odd Afghan tribesman or Iranian civil servant in order to score a cheap point over their rival.
[Update: Der Spiegel, another former Wikileaks partner, has confirmed that the leak is legitimate, pinning the blame squarely on the rift between Assange and Domscheit-Berg.]
Der Freitag’s headline notwithstanding, there is an even more chilling irony in all of this; and to see it, you have to turn back to the beginning of the Wikileaks story. In 2010 Julian Assange invited the Guardian’s David Leigh to his hotel room to watch a video of an American helicopter allegedly mowing down a Reuter’s journalist. The name of the file was ‘Collateral Murder’, and the public’s outrage at seeing American troops’ apparent disregard for innocent life made Wikileaks — and Assange — a household name. If Der Freitag’s report is accurate, the words “Wikileaks” and “Collateral Murder” might be about to make a reappearance in the headlines. Only this time it won’t be the American military with blood on their hands, but the leakers themselves.