Julian Assange, describes Wikileaks as: “…a non-profit media organization dedicated to bringing important news and information to the public. We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for independent sources around the world to leak information to our journalists. We publish material of ethical, political and historical significance while keeping the identity of our sources anonymous, thus providing a universal way for the revealing of suppressed and censored injustices.”
Few people were aware of “Wikileaks” existence and its potential impact on world relations…until recently.
The stated initial purpose was"… exposing oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we also expect to be of assistance to people of all regions who wish to reveal unethical behaviour (sic) in their governments and corporations. The scope of Wikileaks has increased exponentially.
Wikileaks began in 2006 and was purportedly founded by Chinese dissidents who were never identified. The purpose was to disclose actions taken by the Chinese government against its citizens as well as reporting events taking place in Sub-Sahara Africa pertaining to human rights violations. In that capacity it won a number of international awards. By 2010, some members of the international media considered Wikileaks a "website that could totally change the news".
Judging from recent events, that certainly has occurred.
An interesting timeline arises here. On December 4, 2009 Wikileaks reported financial problems and suspended all access to its websites except for submittals of information. Suddenly, on February 3, 2010…two months later…Julian Assange announced that the financial crisis was over and Wikileaks would again post documents. Two months later, April 2010, Wikileaks shifted its attention to the United States. Connection???
In April it released a video entitled “Collateral Murder” which showed the classified and decrypted video of an American helicopter attack on some believed insurgents among whom were two Reuters’ correspondents. Anyone viewing the video with knowledge of events unfolding in Iraq’s hostile urban environment can appreciate the sad error. The fact that Wikileaks applied the term “murder” should be instructive.
Assange quickly followed that in July with “Afghan War Diary” which included 76,900 documents relating to that war…some classified. In October, “Iraq Diary” disclosed 400,000 documents. This was soon followed in November with the publication of 251,287 State Department cables some marked “confidential.”
Somebody somewhere decided to take down the United States and they used Wikileaks to achieve that goal. Considering the curious funding coincidence, Wikileaks may well have become the tool of a serious anti-American state sponsored cyber attack.
To protect himself, Mr. Assange composed an “Insurance Policy” which includes a 1.4 GB encrypted file of unknown contents. Should anything happen to him, the key to open this widely dispersed file will be transmitted. Protection or blackmail, it makes one wonder?
Several Governments have attempted to pressure business entities to limit financial transfers to Wikileaks. This resulted in an interesting internet response. A lose group of internet activists who call themselves “Anons” (for anonymous) struck out on their own and brought down websites belonging to Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, the Swiss police, and Senator Joseph Leiberman, a harsh critic. They believe in a free internet and organize attacks against any entity that threatens this freedom.
The action did NOT come from one organization or nation, but from a collection of entities of unknown origin some possibly government controlled but others merely tech savvy individuals huddled in basements. The impact was powerful and unprecedented. They overwhelmed the targeted data systems.
Several questions immediately arise:
1. What is the impact of these diplomatic releases? Nations depend upon candid conversations between world leaders that sometimes conflict with stated public policy. Having those private conversations published breaks faith and places the United States in an embarrassing situation as well as making it nearly impossible to conduct the business of international relations. Who will trust America again?
2. Who did it? Since Wikileaks merely provides the vehicle for releasing secret information the source of this information remains unknown. How wonderful for international spy networks. One need merely penetrate another government’s inner sanctum then anonymously release classified information to undermine that government. Wikileaks could become the unintended tool of international espionage. Remember, someone covered their debts in late 2009…Who? Why?
3. Why is the United States the most recent target? That we do not know. Wikileaks would argue that it merely released documents that arrived thus satisfying its mission statement. However, Wikileaks could be a tool for a cyber attack on America meant to undermine its ability to function in the international community. The impact of these disclosures is impossible to gauge, but one can certainly imagine the problems it has caused. It is interesting to note that Julian Assuage has allies: Venezuela, the United Nations, Brazil, Ecuador which offered him sanctuary, and Russia which suggested that he be given the Nobel Peace Prize.
4. Will there be human consequences as a result of these disclosures. How many people who have cooperated against the insurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq will be killed because this classified information was released? How will this impact the U.S.’s ability to recruit? No one knows.
One thing is certain, the United States’ reputation in the international community is irreparably damaged; America’s future ability to gather needed intelligence has been undermined; and America is weaker as a consequence. This was an intentional serious breach of national security.
Perhaps of equal importance to the release of these documents is the response of the “Anons.” At a time when all of our lives are controlled by electronic networks, the prospects of a cyber war are frightening. Up to this point, most expected an attack from a government. The world has now learned that an unassociated collection of like minded people networked around the globe have the potential of overwhelm earth’s cyber infrastructure. Everyone is vulnerable and even the “Anons”, who do not even know the composition of their “membership”, did not know their power until these past weeks.
The world has entered a new age with new threats. Releasing classified documents can have disastrous consequences for any nation. Disruptive Internet attacks delivered from unknowable and untraceable sources for real or imagined reasons has the potential of disrupting critical human services. We have entered the realm of cyber-anarchy.
by Ron Chapman
Ron Chapman is an award-winning Louisiana columnist. He also teaches at Nunez Community College.
Bayoubuzz Newsletter - Sign Up Below