The WikiLeaks Hoax, Part I

It was, after all, none other than Der Spiegel that in January 2003, before the Iraq War had even started, published a spectacular cover story on the impending American invasion under the apodictic title “Blood for Oil.” The phrase was the Spiegel editors’ clever riff on the slogan of the German street protests opposing the first Iraq War twelve years earlier: “No Blood for Oil.” The editors did not even feel the need to add a question mark. The knowing subtitle read: “What [the intervention in] Iraq is really about.” The ostensible reasons, of course, simply could not be true. (For numerous further examples of Der Spiegel’s propagation of the dismal view, see the Der Spiegel archive of the regrettably now largely inactive German media watch blog Medienkritik.)

Even independently of WikiLeaks, Der Spiegel and the Times have occasionally dabbled in content-sharing in recent years. But what the publications share, above all, is not content, but spin -- typically, spin that is detrimental to America’s image and American security interests. (For just one among many examples, see my “The CIA Rendition Controversy: Is Khaled Al-Masri Lying?” in World Politics Review.)

WikiLeaks may have itself decided to provide the chosen three media organizations the leaked files in advance, as the standard news accounts suggest. Or it could well be that the original source provided them to both WikiLeaks and the chosen three, thus giving some of the world’s most thoroughly establishment “old” media a unique chance to partake of the fight-the-power hipness of the new media “whistleblower organization.”

But one thing, in any case, appears certain: WikiLeaks did not obtain the files via its famous online “secure submission” form. Once upon a time, the secure submission form was the centerpiece of the WikiLeaks project. It was here that anonymous sources were supposed to upload their sensitive material and to enjoy the assurance that in so doing their anonymity would be preserved. But as the blog Wikileak.org has documented, the site’s secure submission technology has been compromised for many months now. Wikileak.org is a techie blog devoted to critical examination of the WikiLeaks project. It is not affiliated with the project.

On June 12, WikiLeaks demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt just how uninterested it was in preserving the security of the site. On that day -- as was predicted would happen by Wikileak.org -- WikiLeaks failed to renew its SSL certificate: a basic form of web security certification that can be purchased for as little as $30 per year. Already at the time of the April release of its “Collateral Murder” video, WikiLeaks claimed to have raised some $370,000 in its funding drive.

Attempting to access a site with an invalid SSL certificate will typically generate a warning that secure connection to the site is not possible. Attempt, for instance, to connect to the original WikiLeaks “secure submissions” page here in either IE or Firefox and you will currently receive such a warning. It was only after Wired.com called attention to the lapsing of the WikiLeaks SSL certificate that WikiLeaks finally restored its ostensibly secure submissions form, though at a different address than previously.

The Swedish newspaper Sydsvenskan [English link] has, moreover, pointed to a further discrepancy between the carefully cultivated public image of WikiLeaks and the reality of the site. If the “secure submission” system was supposed to provide technical assurances of anonymity to potential leakers, it was the location of the WikiLeaks servers in Sweden that was supposed to provide them legal assurance: thanks, namely, to the robust source protection provisions in the Swedish Press Freedom Act. The current WikiLeaks submission page still promises that submissions are “protected under Swedish and Belgium [sic] press secrecy laws.”

But the law in question only applies to media that have been issued a “publishing license” by Swedish authorities. Sydsvenskan reports that WikiLeaks has no such license. Asked by Sydsvenskan what he thought of WikiLeaks’s promise of protection for sources under Swedish law, Anders R. Olsson, a Swedish journalist specializing in free speech issues, replied, “I think it is a bit strange that Wikileaks doesn't seem to know the rules.”

Thus, we have a “whistleblower organization” that is not in a position to provide the legal protections to sources that it promises with great fanfare and that makes no effort to maintain the secure submission environment that was supposed to be its very raison d’être. It is small wonder, then, that apart from the two blockbusters WikiLeaks has hardly published any leaks at all since its supposed re-launch. The whole edifice of the “new” WikiLeaks appears in fact to be nothing but a facade.

Who or what lies behind the WikiLeaks facade? For some clues, make sure to catch part II of “The WikiLeaks Hoax,” forthcoming on Pajamas Media.