WikiLeaks’ Assange Warns Sources Against “Direct-To-Newspaper” Leak Projects
Feb. 8 2011 - 10:14 am | 3,661 views | 0 recommendations | 3 comments
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange may be spending this week in court fighting against the legal forces pulling him to Sweden to face sex crime charges. But last Sunday he released another salvo in another of his many battles: his ongoing spat with the New York Times and The Guardian.
In the first of what WikiLeaks says will be a continuing video series it’s calling “Live People’s Conference,” Assange answered question from the group’s fans, including one from an American named Cynthia Germain Bazinet asking whether “direct-to-newspaper” leaking sites would be able to effectively shield the identity of sources.
Assange takes the opportunity–around four minutes into the video below–to lash out at his former media “partners.” He suggests that without WikiLeaks’ help, those media outlets don’t have the security wherewithal to protect sources or leaked information, and that the mainstream media may simply sit on sources’ leaks rather than publish them. He needles the New York Times specifically for delaying the publication of the Bush administration’s NSA wiretapping scandal, and CBS for keeping mum, at least temporarily, on the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses.
Here’s a transcript of his answer:
[Newspaper] organizations could create such a site if they cared about it. But it’s our experience that at least the Guardian and New York Times don’t care so much to protect sources. In fact, for Cablegate the Guardian and the New York Times communicated over phones. They swapped cables over email. The New York Times approached the White House with its list of stories it was going to publish on the cables one week before publication, and campaigned against the alleged source of the cables, Bradley Manning. We also cannot be sure that they would even publisht the stories they receive. The New York Times sat on the story about the National Security Agency mass-tapping Americans for over a year. CBS sat on the story of the torture at Abu Ghraib for months.
Assange’s criticisms come as the New York Times is considering building its own leak portal, what executive editor Bill Keller has called an “EZ-pass lane for leakers.” Assange may be right that the Times won’t have the technical knowledge to properly build security into that system to keep sources anonymous. His criticism of how the Times and the Guardian communicated about State Department documents over insecure channels seems intended to show the newspapers’ general lack of security savvy.
In fact, the only mainstream media outlet to launch such a leak portal so far is Al Jazeera: its so-called Transparency Unit. And though Al Jazeera’s site allows the use of PGP encryption to send documents and recommends the Tor anonymity service, those features remain largely hidden on the site and could easily be missed by a leaker.
Still, Assange fails to mention another “direct-to-newspaper” leak site: OpenLeaks, the one being launched by his old associate, Daniel Domscheit-Berg. If all goes according to plan, OpenLeaks would solve both the security problem and allay sources’ concerns that leaks might not be published. Domscheit-Berg, a security guru associated with the Chaos Computer Club and a former staffer at IT giant EDS, has said that OpenLeaks is building its own anonymous submissions technology. And the site will allow sources to give newspapers a deadline for their publications of documents. “If a newspaper doesn’t publish it, it will be shared,” Domscheit-Berg told me in December. “They can’t just put it in a drawer.”