Added by Gary Dunn on September 1, 2011
Wikileaks on Thursday confirmed reports that it has lost control of unredacted U.S. diplomatic cables that it has been gradually publishing for the past nine months.
The cables are available for download to anyone that has the address of the encrypted file, which is rapidly being replicated by many internet users, and the password to decrypt the file has been available online since February 2011. The U.S. diplomatic cables are unedited and include the names of U.S. diplomats’ informants who now are probably fearing for their lives.
Wikileaks started publishing U.S. diplomatic cables it received with the help of major news organizations that include The New York Times, Der Spiegel, and The Guardian. Editors at the news organizations had access to the entire cache of 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables yet reviewed cables prior to publication to remove or redact the names of informants that could be endangered as a result of the publication of the documents.
An editor at the Guarduan, David Leigh, received the U.S. diplomatic cables in an encrypted file and also received the password to decrypt the file. Leigh provided details about how he got the password, plus the password itself, in his book “WikiLeaks – Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy”. Parts of the book, including the section that discusses the password, have been available online for months (link leads to PDF).
When Assange provided the U.S. diplomatic cables to the Guardian’s Leigh, he made the file available in a temporary folder on the WikiLeaks web site. Through a series of events, the WikiLeaks web site was copied to other servers around the world, in an effort to ensure that the U.S. diplomatic cables remained accessible amid efforts by others to take down the WikiLeaks site. At the time, it was not known that the entire cache of unredacted U.S. diplomatic cables had also been duplicated and were available online.
At this point people that had the password to the encrypted file did not know where to find the file, and people that had access to the file did not know the password.
A journalist for the German weekly Der Freitag was given the location of the password in Leigh’s book. The weekly published the story without mentioning the location of the password, yet it did say that the password was out in the open and could be found by those familiar with the material. It did not take long for people to investigate further and put the two pieces of information together: the unredacted, yet encrypted, Cablegate file and the password to decrypt it.
During late Wednesday, former US Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley predicted that agencies and others would have the Cablegate files “…in short order”, and the prediction was confirmed hours later.
A statement by WikiLeaks blames the Guardian’s David Leigh for the fact that the unredacted U.S. diplomatic cables are now available online to anyone. In a statement, WikiLeaks said, “We have already spoken to the State Department and commenced pre-litigation action”.
The Guardian dismissed the WikiLeaks accusations, saying that Leigh had been told that the password he received was temporary and would be disabled within hours. In a statement, The Guardian wrote, “No concerns were expressed when the book was published and if anyone at WikiLeaks had thought this compromised security they have had seven months to remove the files,” the statement said. “That they didn’t do so clearly shows the problem was not caused by the Guardian’s book.”
WikiLeaks is currently considering making the entire cache of U.S. diplomatic cables available through it’s web site, and is taking a vote on the matter through Twitter. So far, the tally is greatly in favour of releasing the cables.
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