Understanding the real agenda behind Wikileaks

I’ve written extensively about the wonderful website Wikileaks and its ability to continually release vitally important information.

But Mother Jones provides a more shaded view, questioning some of the tactics of the secretive group:

WikiLeaks hatched in 2006 on a private mailing list used by Assange and other journalists and activists. To help navigate the technical, editorial, and organizational challenges, such as defining what Assange terms “ethical leaking,” the WikiLeaks team approached experts for advice. Not all were enthusiastic. Steven Aftergood, who writes the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy News blog [10] and has published thousands of leaked or classified documents, says he wasn’t impressed with WikiLeaks’ “conveyor-belt approach” to publishing anything it came across. “To me, transparency is a means to an end, and that end is an invigorated political life, accountable institutions, opportunities for public engagement. For them, transparency and exposure seem to be ends in themselves,” says Aftergood. He declined to get involved.

But WikiLeaks doesn’t readily take no for an answer. When I contacted the impressive figures listed on its advisory board, some didn’t know they were mentioned on the site or had little idea how they got there. Tashi Namgyal Khamsitsang, a former representative of the Dalai Lama, recalls getting a cryptic email from WikiLeaks a few years ago, but says he never agreed to be an advisor. Noam Chomsky is listed as a volunteer administrator of the WikiLeaks Facebook group. This is news to him. “I know nothing about it,” he says.

Digital security expert Ben Laurie [11] laughs when I ask why he’s named on the site. “WikiLeaks allegedly has an advisory board, and allegedly I’m a member of it,” he says. “I don’t know who runs it. One of the things I’ve tried to avoid is knowing what’s going on there, because that’s probably safest for all concerned.” Laurie says his only substantive interaction with the group was when Assange approached him to help design a system that would protect leakers’ anonymity. “They wanted a strong guarantee that [anything published] couldn’t possibly be tracked back to the original person who leaked the stuff,” says Laurie. Though his advice wasn’t heeded, Laurie, who lives in London, started receiving unannounced visits from Assange. “He’s a weird guy,” Laurie says. “He seems to be quite nomadic, and I don’t know how he lives like that, to be honest. He turns up with a rucksack, and I suspect that’s all he’s got.”

Assange’s passion—and paranoia—were palpable. “I don’t know what’s behind this obsession,” Laurie adds. “He’s always been kind of worried about the guy who has some secret and has to either keep those secrets secret or reveal them but without revealing himself.”

When asked about his supposed advisors’ denials, Assange downplays the board as “pretty informal.” But can WikiLeaks be trusted with sensitive, and possibly life-threatening, documents when it is less than transparent itself?

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