Wikileaks Goes Rogue


It’s been described as the information equivalent of a "nuclear meltdown". For better or for worse, the 250,000 US State Department cables that were leaked to Wikileaks are now online for all to read and to download.

The new exposés will keep keen readers clicking for some time and will sell plenty of newspapers. Yet Wikileaks founder Julian Assange might have to wait a while if he expects a thank you from the media outlets reporting on "Cablegategate", as the more inventive have dubbed the public release of the unredacted cables by Wikileaks last week.

The trigger for Wikieaks’ decision appears to have been a report in the little-read leftist German weekly Der Freitag 10 days ago that claimed to have discovered a file called "cables.csv" online. "The password for the file is public and readily identifiable for those who know the material," wrote Der Freitag.

Der Freitag’s investigation into the possibility that the file containing the full, unredacted State Department cables was online and accessible prompted a call to the paper from Julian Assange.

"He was concerned about the forthcoming publication by Der Freitag … worried about the safety of US informants," reveals the weekly. The paper’s report concluded that just "how responsibly the self-proclaimed guardians of transparency manage the data" entrusted to them "is now in question".

Der Freitag’s source for the Wikileaks story isn’t clear. But there’s much that suggests that the publication of the story has something to do with the brawl between Julian Assange and his former spokesperson, Daniel Dolmscheit-Berg, who resigned from Wikileaks last year.

Switzerland’s Neue Zürchner Zeitung says that over the past few weeks, the dispute between Dolmscheit-Berg and Assange hit a "new phase of escalation", with Assange accusing Dolmschiet-Berg of working with Mossad and the CIA. The apparent grounds for the unproved accusation: Dolmscheit-Berg had destroyed 3500 secret documents he’d taken from Wikileaks after he left the site.

After Der Freitag’s report was picked up elsewhere last week, Wikileaks shifted its target. No longer attempting to stop publication of the full cables, it instead blamed The Guardian for their release, according to French website Rue 89. "In a bazooka-style editorial, Julian Assange has accused the British daily of having provoked the release of a series of non-authorised cables," begins the Rue 89 report.

Assange’s statement cites a passage from a 2010 book by Guardian journalist David Leigh, where the password for the file later discovered by Der Freitag was first divulged, continues Rue 89.

But The Guardian rejected those claims, stating that it had been assured that the file and its temporary password would remain online for only a few hours — and not several months — says the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s French service Radio Canada.

Several days of public back and forth led to the decision of Wikileaks to release the cables, according to Milan’s Corriere della Sera  following a public "survey" conducted via Assange’s Twitter account.

That decision was condemned by all five of the newspapers that initially worked with Wikileaks to release the cables, says the evening paper. Assange’s former media partners were joined by Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders. The partners issued a joint communiqué which expressed particular concern that the full release would put at risk the lives of sources.

Yet some continue to defend Wikileaks, even as most of the international media criticised the whistleblower website. And others continued to publish new revelations from the latest cables released last week.

El Universo of Ecuador published a long interview with Pedro Miguel from Wikileaks’ Mexican partner La Jornada yesterday. Miguel opines that thanks to Wikileaks, Mexicans won "a real vision of political power … which governs in opposition to the law that it should be obliged to adhere to". Of particular interest to Mexicans was the revelation that the US ambassador intervened in the 2006 Mexican presidential race to strengthen the then weak Felipe Caldéron, Miguel claims.

In Italy meanwhile, more reports in independent online publication Lettra 43 about Silvio Berlusconi’s battles with the Italian judiciary suggest the US believes there’s something to Berlusconi’s claims that Italian magistrates are political agents against him.

"Currently independent, the Italian judiciary was considered a haven for adherents of the Communist Party," wrote deputy US ambassador Elisabeth Dibble in 2009. Since the end of the Cold War, that might have changed, she continues, "but the timing of judicial actions … sometimes seems dictated by political motives."

And perhaps the most quoted cable discussed on Sunday claimed that Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe could die of prostate cancer before 2013, reports Terra Brazil. The 87-year-old veteran leader has been suffering from the cancer since at least 2008, when it was recommended he reduce his public activities.

The source of the report — the then-governor of Zimbabwe’s central bank — may be one of those US sources sleeping uneasily right now, as, thanks to the release of the unredacted cables, his identity was revealed in worldwide media reports.

ABOUT BEST OF THE REST: It’s a big world out there and plenty of commentators and journalists are writing about it but not always in English. And not surprisingly, ideas about big events of the day shift when you move away from the Anglosphere. Best of the Rest is a fortnightly NM feature by Berlin-based journalist Charles McPhedran. Charles reads the news in French, German, Spanish and Portuguese and reports on what the rest of the world is saying about the big stories.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.