Since the unanticipated release this week, in complete and unredacted form, of all 251,287 U.S. State Department cables held by WikiLeaks, there has been plenty of blame to go around — and the possible repercussions have grown increasingly dire.
Most obviously in danger are the informants in places like Iran, China, and certain countries in the Arab world whose names have now been made public.
In addition, Glenn Greenwald points out that “it likely increases political pressure to impose more severe punishment on Bradley Manning if he’s found guilty of having leaked these cables.”
And finally, it is now being reported that “Julian Assange could face prosecution in Australia after publishing sensitive information about government officials amongst the 251,000 unredacted cables released this week.”
According to The Guardian, “Australia’s attorney general, Robert McClelland, confirmed in a statement on Friday that the new cable release identified at least one individual within the country’s intelligence service. He added it is a criminal offence in the country to publish any information which could lead to the identification of an intelligence officer.”
WikiLeaks, for its part, has announced that it is suing The Guardian for violating a confidentiality agreement when that paper’s David Leigh published a password to the cable database in his book, Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy.
Leigh, however, denies that charge heartily, tweeting, “Deranged nonsense from Assange, attempting to deflect blame on to Guardian for his own chaotic mistakes. Sad to watch.”
Adding to the confusion, a former associate of Assange’s has now revealed in a piece for The Guardian that Assange was insistent all along that “all the cables must eventually be made public” — although presumably not in unredacted form.
The clearest and most detailed account of the entire fiasco is provided by Der Spiegel, which describes it as “a result of a series of mistakes made by several different people. Together, they add up to a catastrophe. And the series of events reads like the script for a B movie.”
The saga began last year, when Assange provided a password for the cable file to David Leigh. Leigh revealed that password in his book, apparently believing that it had been changed a few days after he received it. But Assange had never bothered to change it, apparently trusting to the obscurity of the file’s location in a well-hidden subfolder on a WikiLeaks server.
That subfolder, however, was unknowingly copied by WikiLeaks’ German spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg along with the dispatches that had already been made public, and when WikiLeaks supporters set up mirror sites to insure that the data could not be suppressed, the hidden subfolder went along with the rest.
Then Assange had a nasty falling-out with Domscheit-Berg, who left to set up his own competing whistleblower site. In a recent attempt to demonstrate that Assange could not be trusted to maintain secrecy, Domscheit-Berg’s associates spread the word that the hidden folder had been circulating through BitTorrent for months. Someone else tipped off a journalist that the password was available in Leigh’s book, and the secret was out.
On Wednesday evening, after it had become apparent that every intelligence agency in the world had already gained access to the database, WikiLeaks made the full database publicly available,
“For many people in totalitarian states this could prove life-threatening,” Der Spiegel” writes. “For Wikileaks, OpenLeaks, Julian Assange, Daniel Domscheit-Berg and many others, it is nothing short of a catastrophe. A chain of careless mistakes, coincidences, indiscretions and confusion now means that no potential whistleblower would feel comfortable turning to a leaking platform right now. They appear to be out of control.”