Remember remember the 1st of September.
EVERYWHERE (Radsoft) — After a long day of painful acrimony dealing with the incorrigible ‘old media’ at the Guardian and after weighing the pros and cons of the issue through an online forum and poll, WikiLeaks released a 60 GB torrent of the complete Cablegate files just before midnight New York Time.
The torrent was unexpected although something was known to be in the works. Twitter account @m_cetera tweeted ‘holy shit’ when the news hit.
The files – all 250,000+ of them – were made available in an encrypted form with the encryption key being passed along. Subscribers were encouraged to tweet their mirror locations with the tag #wlmir.
The move follows a discussion online at Twitter in two camps, for and against the immediate release. Most were in favour of the immediate release, although the final decision was of course up to staff at WikiLeaks themselves.
Long Time Coming
The reason for the move dates back to the summer of 2010 when Guardian journalist David Leigh literally begged Julian Assange for a copy of Cablegate, got his brother in law and Guardian editor to enter into a ‘memorandum of understanding’ with WikiLeaks about security issues related to their release – only to almost at once go behind Assange’s back and break all the clauses in the agreement left and right. Assange later found out Guardian journalists were systematically breaching the agreement en masse.
Leigh had planned on sneaking a copy of Cablegate to the New York Times but was caught out. Part of his plan was to preempt the release by WikiLeaks so he’d get the scoop instead.
Leigh was by now in contact with the WikiLeaks intern Heather Brooke who’d come across a copy of Cablegate from Icelander and former WikiLeaks volunteer Smári McCarthy. Leigh needed Brooke to ‘sign on’ as permanent staffer at the Guardian so the Guardian could claim ownership of Brooke’s booty. He was also in contact with CIJ journalist James Ball who had worked closely together with WikiLeaks on the Iraq War Logs. Ball had been reportedly feeding Leigh with inside information in the hope that the Guardian would offer him a permanent position as well.
After the disruptive meeting 1 November 2010 it was obvious the partnership between WikiLeaks and the Guardian was all but over: the Guardian had flagrantly broken their agreement, their editors showed little remorse, and WikiLeaks went on to sign up 90 new media partners who knew how to work more honestly.
But David Leigh wasn’t through quite yet. An ‘old school’ journalist who laments the passing of journalism of old and who openly scorns what he calls the modern ‘news bunnies’, Leigh was to team with controversial Muscovite hit man Luke Harding to write a whirlwind book in a mere three weeks initially called ‘The Rise and Fall of WikiLeaks’ that they wanted published in time for Julian Assange’s Belmarsh hearing in February, and so roughly coinciding with ousted WikiLeaker Daniel Domscheit-Berg’s ‘boys adventure novel’ due to be released by the Bonnier empire in the spring of 2011.
The Encryption Key
Following receipt of Alan Rusbridger’s signed agreement on what was known as ‘Project 3’, Assange gave Leigh a URL and a partial password, told him how to complete the password, explained he needed to install PGP to use the download, and sent the elderly Guardian journalist back across London.
Leigh was able to construct the necessary password from Julian’s instructions to retrieve the data but was thereafter stumped by the file’s extension – ‘7z’. A quick ten-second search would have given him all he needed – access to a 7z utility for his Mac – but Leigh instead panicked and got back in his car and drove back to Frontline to wake Julian and ask for help.
This seeming ineptitude on Leigh’s part would colour the entire drama as it later unfolded. Leigh relates in his book how he was also stumped as to how he could ‘view’ the data on his computer and obtained assistance from a technical advisor at the Guardian who explained that text editors had search functions.
The one unpardonable crime Leigh was guilty of was taking the precise password (with accompanying instructions) Assange had given him and reprinting it all in his book – and even making the basic encryption key the title of a chapter in the book.
This seems to make no sense and serve no purpose. And Leigh went out of his way to obfuscate other things such as giving Anna Ardin and Sofia Wilén the distinctly German names Sonja Braun and Katrin Weiss. But the password to a highly sensitive data tranche? No such consideration.
Of course the location of the file in question was known only to Leigh, Assange, and one other at WikiLeaks.
Enter now the rat himself, disgraced former WikiLeaks staffer Daniel Domscheit-Berg who’d just ended his whistleblowing career at the CCC summer camp in Berlin.
The Cablegate file was mirrored across the world. It was kept under an unrecognisable name in an obscure and even hidden directory. But it was there. All Domscheit-Berg needed was the name and location of the file: he’d already determined, perhaps through David Leigh himself, that the password in Leigh’s book was shockingly enough genuine. Give Daniel Domscheit-Berg the location of the file and he could at last prove WikiLeaks was ‘unsafe’ – something he’d tried unsuccessfully to prove for a year.
Daniel evidently did a bit of blagging with the one other person who knew the name and location of the file and suddenly he turned up at the editorial offices of Germany’s Der Freitag to give them the scoop.
The WikiLeaks solicitors in Germany immediately contacted Domscheit-Berg and implored him to calm down as people’s safety (and even their lives) could be at stake. Domscheit-Berg’s reaction? ‘That’s just a diversionary tactic’, he told the German media, and gave ‘Freitag’ all they needed to test the download themselves.
The worst had happened. Ever since David Leigh published his book with the password, there was a theoretical risk the file could be exposed. Add to this mess the fact Domscheit-Berg had stolen a WikiLeaks server when he was ousted and only later returned it and somehow in the interim the contents of that server made it to The Pirate Bay, and a full scale disaster was in the cards. No matter the care WikiLeaks took to protect people, a geriatric journalist and a mad German were about to ruin it all.
Things must have been tense at WikiLeaks HQ. They must have been this way for the longest time. But finally the situation acquired what Julian Assange called ‘critical mass’ and they had to act. The flurry of over 130,000 unclassified cables hit the planet Earth in a single week, followed by a number of shocking announcements about the crisis, followed by the ‘seeding’ of the entire 60 GB Cablegate archive earlier Thursday evening.
All the intelligence agencies had it already, was the educated assessment. And it was necessary to give ‘innocents’ fair warning their names were exposed by making all the data immediately available.
People’s lives were put at risk because of two saboteurs: David Leigh of the Guardian and the permanently disgraced Daniel Domscheit-Berg – currently two of the most hated individuals on the planet.
OpenLeaks @ CCC 2011 (MP4)
Nothing is Permanent: Open Letter
Industry Watch: Schmitt Leaves WikiLeaks?
Industry Watch: The WikiLeaks Palace Revolt
Industry Watch: OpenLeaks: Schmitt on Toast
Industry Watch: OpenLeaks Off to a Flying Fail
Global Voices: Renata Avila Contributor Profile
Industry Watch: OpenLeaks: Schmitt on Toast II
Topsy: The Life and Times of the Leberkäse Kid
Industry Watch: Schmitt Suspended from WikiLeaks
Developers Workshop: The Jabberwocky of DeeDeeBee
Zeit Online: Chaos Computer Club misstraut OpenLeaks
Hanno’s Blog: OpenLeaks doing strange things with SSL
The Technological: Daniel Domscheit-Berg: The Reviews
Spiegel Online: Ex-Sprecher vernichtete WikiLeaks-Dateien
The Technological: The Life and Times of the Leberkäse Kid
Red Hat Diaries: Unrequited Love, Uncomfortable Coincidences
Spiegel Online: WikiLeaks-Aussteiger haben Datenschatz entführt
TwitLonger: Statement by Julian Assange on the Domscheit-Bergs
Spiegel Online: Chaos Computer Club wirft OpenLeaks-Gründer raus
Industry Watch: Statement by Julian Assange on the Domscheit-Bergs
TwitLonger: WikiLeaks Statement on Daniel Domscheit-Berg and OpenLeaks
Industry Watch: The Domscheit-Bergs Destroy 3,500 WikiLeaks Submissions
Spiegel Online: Chaos Computer Club: Hacker distanzieren sich von OpenLeaks
Industry Watch: WikiLeaks Statement on Daniel Domscheit-Berg and OpenLeaks
Spiegel Online: ‘I Doubt Domscheit-Berg’s Integrity’: Top Hacker Slams OL Founder