When a leak becomes a deluge: Wikileaks’ US Embassy Cables are out

Julian Assange, editor and head of Wikileaks

Julian Assange, editor and head of Wikileaks

UK’s The Guardian is the first major newspaper out with coverage on the latest massive disclosure of information to come from whistle-blowing website Wikileaks.  The first read is ominous enough, and probably quite accurate: “global diplomatic crisis”.

What is being revealed is the shady backroom deals that make up international politics and the balance of power the world over, and how the policy of nations of the world can be quite two-faced, when compared to public stances on the same international issues.

French paper Le Monde has justified its decision on participating in the disclosure by saying transparency and judgment are not incompatible, it does not mean to act irresponsibly, and this is what separates it from Wikileaks (and any allegations that Wikileaks itself is being the irresponsible one here).

The front page of November 29th's Der Spiegel paper, with commentary of what the U.S. thinks of various world figures - information gathered via the latest Wikileaks leak.

The front page of November 29th's Der Spiegel paper, with commentary of what the U.S. thinks of various world figures – information gathered via the latest Wikileaks leak.

The New York Times outlines the coming deluge of information:

A cache of a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables, most of them from the past three years, provides an unprecedented look at backroom bargaining by embassies around the world, brutally candid views of foreign leaders and frank assessments of nuclear and terrorist threats.

Some of the cables, made available to The New York Times and several other news organizations, were written as recently as late February, revealing the Obama administration’s exchanges over crises and conflicts. The material was originally obtained by WikiLeaks, an organization devoted to revealing secret documents. WikiLeaks intends to make the archive public on its Web site in batches, beginning Sunday.

The anticipated disclosure of the cables is already sending shudders through the diplomatic establishment, and could conceivably strain relations with some countries, influencing international affairs in ways that are impossible to predict.

The editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, has clarified why this is being released and why it needs to be:

The revelations do not have the startling, coldblooded immediacy of the WikiLeaks war logs from Iraq and Afghanistan, with their astonishing insight into the minds of fighting men seemingly detached from the ethics of war. The disclosures are largely of analysis and high-grade gossip. Insofar as they are sensational, it is in showing the corruption and mendacity of those in power, and the mismatch between what they claim and what they do… Clearly, it is for governments, not journalists, to protect public secrets. Were there some overriding national jeopardy in revealing them, greater restraint might be in order. There is no such overriding jeopardy, except from the policies themselves as revealed. Where it is doing the right thing, a great power should be robust against embarrassment.

Senator John Kerry (D-MA), chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, takes shots at this being compared with the infamous Pentagon Papers leaks of 1971:

This is not an academic exercise about freedom of information and it is not akin to the release of the Pentagon Papers, which involved an analysis aimed at saving American lives and exposing government deception. Instead, these sensitive cables contain candid assessments and analysis of ongoing matters and they should remain confidential to protect the ability of the government to conduct lawful business with the private candor that’s vital to effective diplomacy.

Big stories that have come from the leak so far?

How have all these leaks gotten out?  The Pentagon’s private Internet, Siprnet, is supposedly quite secure but it is accessible to millions – leaving millions of points of failure to leaks along the lines of this.

The whole Wikileaks database is searchable here.  The Wikileaks website itself was victim of a distributed denial of service attack this morning and early afternoon, but is now back online for the time being.  Perhaps fearing his own death or some other situation that will make him unable to continue operations at Wikileaks, head of the website Julian Assange has urged supporters of the site to download a torrent that he refers to as “history insurance”.  The file is a 1.39 gigabyte file encrypted with AES-256.  The encryption key is only supposed to be released in the event of Mr. Assange’s death or incapacitation.

Clearly there will be much more to come on this in the coming hours and days.

The reaction quip of the day to this goes to Evgeny Morozov via Twitter:

WikiLeaks is what happens when the entire US government is forced to go through a full-body scanner

…referencing this story, of course.  Also, the New York Times page on their coverage is up.

2nd Update
Wikileaks itself has put up the Cable Viewer site where all the documents will eventually be released.  As of right now 219 of 251,287 documents have been posted.