Wikileaks‘ reputation is now quite probably tarnished – not only among those who never believed that it would work in the way its founder or co-founder Julian Assange asserted it would, anyway, but also among some of the public who so far admired the whistle-blowing platform, and among those who may have considered feeding Wikileaks with new confidential documents now or in the future.
To which extent Wikileaks – or online whistleblowing more in general – have lost credit among those who previously liked the concept, now that an unknown number of documents are publicly disclosed unredacted (i. e. without removing names of people from the classified documents who may otherwise face threats for being uncovered) is hard to tell. Experience would suggest that many Wikileaks fans will simply follow Assange’s example and exclusively blame the mess on the Guardian (one of the papers who cooperated with Wikileaks and redacted the files before publication in the past) for the publication of the encrypted files’ password.
Among the German media, the extent to which they see Wikileaks damaged varies from paper to paper. Die Welt, conservative, tries to contain itself, and quotes U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, as previously quoted by the New York Times:
We continue to carefully monitor what becomes public and to take steps to mitigate the damage to national security and to assist those who may be harmed by these illegal disclosures to the extent that we can.
Wikileaks, too, writes Die Welt,
understands that it isn’t worth it. A human life weighs more heavily than the elucidation of real or supposed grievances.
Die Welt wasn’t among the mainstream media partners who cooperated with Wikileaks. Der Freitag, a not-so-mainstream paper from the left, however, had become an Openleaks partner – the platform founded by Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a German national who had fallen out with Assange. According to Die Welt, Der Freitag reported Wikileaks’ passport leak last week. A cooperation partner of Openleaks, or Openleaks itself, may therefore be responsible for now general knowledge of the Guardian disclosure, which had spread privately over several months, reached critical mass last week – “critical mass” being the wording used in a statement Wikileaks e-mailed to reporters on Thursday.
According to the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Wikileaks have now put all their remaining files or “cables”, a total of 251,287, online – neither edited by themselves, nor by a cooperation partner. [This number may refer to the encrypted, or to intentionally published files. The Wall Street Journal reported this Friday that “in recent days, as German media reported that the full set of unredacted cables was online outside of WikiLeaks’ control, WikiLeaks scrambled to publish more than 100,000 of its previously unreleased cables”, and that “some of the newly released cables reportedly contained the names of confidential informants”]. Either way,
This could mean that informants and activists in dictatorships and war zones become endangered, as now, intelligence services and warring parties can read the data, too,
muses Andrian Kreye of the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, but adds that even Dinah PoKempner, a solicitor with Human Rights Watch (HRW) isn’t aware of people having been arrested or gotten into harms way for having been mentioned in the cables. Rather, in Tunesia or Egypt, the revelations had played an important role for the protest movements.
Either way, suggests Kreye, Wikileaks had lately relied on nothing but on data Bradley Manning had passed on to them. Those files were all public now – and Wikileaks hadn’t received any new files since. One reason could be that the platform doesn’t work any more, and anonymity was therefore technically unfeasible now, writes Kreye.
Even if Assange’s allegations against the Guardian are true, Wikileaks could have chosen a safer way of passing the files on to their cooperation partners, and could – and probably should – have deleted the unedited file immediately after download by the Guardian and other partners, suggests Johannes Kuhn, another Sueddeutsche journalist. Both Assange and the Guardian’s David Leigh (the latter mentioned the complete password publicly) should face questions.
And despite PoKempner’s suggestion that no informants are known to have been harmed so far, worries about the safety of those mentioned in the files still aren’t unjustified. On August 19, Assange had phoned Der Freitag’s (i. e. Domscheit Berg’s partner publication) publisher Jakob Augstein. Assange feared for the safety of informants, Der Freitag reported on August 25. Augstein assured him that his paper wouldn’t publish information which could endanger informants of the American government.
Now, out of control when it comes to the daily whistle-blowing routine, Assange is back to explaining the world to the world.
“Media organizations that proudly tell the public that they seek the truth are liars,”
he told an audience in Sao Paulo, through a video link from England on Thursday, and:
“In our negotiations with The New York Times and The Guardian, we constantly saw the difference between what the population wants and the angles that are chosen by media groups. The population is much less conservative.”
Maybe some “conservatism” at Wikileaks wouldn’t have hurt.