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To date, the website WikiLeaks has published millions of documents, sending shock waves through the world of diplomacy. It is considered that this site was created by an international organization, with its headquarters located in Sweden. The site is credited for spreading the new approach of transparency in journalism. WikiLeaks staff includes journalists from the US, Europe, Taiwan, Australia, South Africa, Chinese dissidents, and leading experts in the field of mathematics and technology. These persons (about 800 people) work on a voluntary basis. The creator of this site is a former Austrian hacker Julian Assange. The aim of the creators of the site was publication of secret documents that were carefully checked by specialists. Documents with increased confidentiality level, as well as unverified information, rumors and comments are not published. The site prefers to distribute only documented information. Published documents do not belong to the category of “top secret”, but still are confidential. Today, many states consider this form of journalism as terrorism. This paper will analyze the known facts concerning Assange and WikiLeaks in order to define whether publishing secret documents can be considered treason and terrorism. The analyzed topics include the history of WikiLeaks, the nature of published documents, the definitions of treason and terrorism, as well as situation with Assange and accusations against him.
Assange’s Brief Biography
Julian Assange was born in 1971 in Townsville, north-east Australia. On the maternal side he comes from the Scottish and Irish immigrants who came to Australia in the middle of the 19th century. In 1972, his mother (Christine) married a wandering theater director and Julian spent his childhood in continuous travels. In 1979 Christine broke up with theater director and began dating a musician. Soon they had a son, but it turned out that his mother’s new partner is a member of the New Age group “The Family” founded by Anne Hamilton-Byrne. The members of this group give their newborn infants to the founder. His mother, fearing for the fate of his son, fled. Therefore, since 11 to 16 years Julian was in permanent travels again (Khatchadourian).
Assange’s mother was rather nonconformist and believed that schooling can only divert a child from knowledge and implant the unnecessary respect to authority instead. So she taught her son at home, occasionally letting him go to schools in the cities where the theater stayed. All in all, in his childhood Assange has studied in 37 schools, but he actively admired self-education. He was especially fond of the sciences. Periodically his mother invited university professors to teach him. Next to one of the houses where they lived Assange found a computer store. He visited the store often and acquired his first programming skills there. When the mother noticed his passion for programming, she moved to a cheaper housing and bought Assange a Commodore 64 computer (Khatchadourian).
Julian Assange began to get involved in programming. Being 16 years old he bought a modem and began working in networks that preceded the Internet under the nickname Mendax. Internet alias that he had chosen had a hidden meaning, based on the oxymoron by Horace (“splendide mendax” – “nobly untruthful”). In 1991 Assange along with his accomplices was arrested for hacking the central server of Canadian telecommunications company Nortel. After several interviews, he pleaded guilty on all 25 counts. Assange was expected to spend 10 years in prison, but he managed to pay fine. Assange decided to get his first degree in the University of Melbourne, the faculty of physics and mathematics. However, he dropped out because he felt that the sponsors regulating educational process belong to the military. He also studied philosophy and neuroscience. Since 1994 Assange lived in Melbourne and worked as a programmer and free software developer. In 1995 Assange created Strobe, the first free and open port scanner. After some time, he was arrested on suspicion of stealing 500 thousand dollars from Citibank accounts. However, the charge was not confirmed. Together with his friends Julian formed an organization of hackers “Worms Against Nuclear Killers”. In their work they were guided by a special code: do not damage the system, but share information (Khatchadourian). Julian has changed several jobs related to IT, became the author of a number of programs related to network security and routing, and even was a consultant on computer security for some time. In 1997, in collaboration with Syulett Dreyfus, he issued a book about hackers “Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier”.
In 2006 Assange founded the website WikiLeaks “in the belief that the free exchange of information would put an end to illegitimate governance” (Harrel). Realizing that the site will deal with very sensitive materials, he decided that the home of the main server would be in Sweden, which is known for its loyalty to the journalists. In December of that year, the WikiLeaks resource publishes its first material: a decision by the Somali Islamic Courts Union that called for the execution of government officials. The portal said that the document might be fake, but it was “a clever smear by U.S. intelligence”. The document had a lengthy commentary, which asked, “Is it a bold manifesto by a flamboyant Islamic militant with links to Bin Laden? Or is it a clever smear by US intelligence, designed to discredit the Union, fracture Somali alliances and manipulate China?” (Khatchadourian 8). Assange, of course, never revealed the sources of his information. They, in turn, can feel safe. Before appearing at the WikiLeaks page, the information is also duplicated at all servers of the portal, so it cannot be traced.
Wikileaks General Information
WikiLeaks was created as an international social networking project, based on the modified wiki engine, which was enhanced by the possibility of anonymous editing articles using such technologies as MediaWiki, Freenet, Tor and PGP. It was declared, that the aim of the project is an untraceable publication and analysis of documents, which become available due to leakage of information. It is possible to navigate the site with secure access using HTTPS. Despite its name, WikiLeaks is not a wiki site: readers, who do not have the appropriate permissions, cannot change its content. However, anyone can become an anonymous source of information and send documents to the editors. It was called WikiLeaks, despite the fact that the engine MediaWiki (similar to the engine of Wikipedia) was used after the creation of the site to facilitate adding of new and editing existing incriminating documents. The outer shell became only the tip of the iceberg. Since it was originally assumed that the immediate publication of user information would create an excessive load on the server and would not meet the requirement to sufficiently protect publishers and accuracy of information, the site introduced a special mechanism to obtain new incriminating data. It was based on a complex system of gateways and protocols to preserve the leaks anonymous. New documents were collected, processed and published by the editors. The discussion between the editors was also carried out over the encrypted channels. In addition, the content of published material was limited. It was decided that they should be of interest in the political, diplomatic, historical or ethical point of view and should not duplicate the earlier published information (Kushner).
Assange has called himself the chief editor of the site, but the staff of the entire editorial board was not officially disclosed. The site only published a so-called “board of advisers”, which—besides Assange—consisted of:
- Australian journalist and filmmaker Phillip Adams (Phillip Adams);
- One of the student leaders of the Tiananmen protests in 1989, the leader of the Chinese democracy movement, a dissident Wang Dan;
- Thai writer, one of the leaders of Thailand anti-censorship movement CJ Hinke;
- An expert in the field of Internet safety Ben Laurie;
- Brazilian activist Chico Whitaker;
- Chinese dissident Xiao Qiang and Wang Youcai.
It is worth noting, that Tashi Namgyal Khamsitsang, one of the ministers of the government of Tibet in exile, the former representative of the Dalai Lama, who was mentioned on the site as one of its advisers, told the press in 2010 that he had nothing to do with the site (Khatchadourian). Steven Aftergood, the founder of Council Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy News blog, was also offered to join this site, but he refused (Khatchadourian).
In 2007 James Chen was mentioned as one of the organizers of WikiLeaks, but since then his name has never been mentioned in connection with the site. One of the founders and leaders of the project was a former hacker Daniel Schmidt, who participated in the activities of the German hacker organization Chaos Computer Club. The latter has also provided technical assistance to WikiLeaks. Assange took part in the congresses organized by this organization in 2007 (Fildes). In 2010, the member of Iceland parliament Birgitta Jonsdottir was also mentioned as one of the organizers of the site. Daniel Ellsberg was also considered as one of the instigators of the project. In the early 1970s he published The Pentagon Papers: the material, which proved that the administration of US President Lyndon Johnson sought to escalate the war in Vietnam. In total, according to the earlier published correspondence of WikiLeaks, the founders of this site included about 20 people.
One of the challenges of WikiLeaks complex system of publication was to ensure that once published material could no longer be removed from the network. For this purpose about three hundred mirrors were created all over the world. Also, since 2010 WikiLeaks has declared that they pay a great attention to anonymous sources of information and are willing to pay the lawyers of alleged informants.
Technical Features and First Leaks
The Swedish company PRQ.se was chosen as a provider for WikiLeaks, which offered hosting with a guarantee that the site would not be closed by court request. Another well-known project related to this provider was a torrent portal The Pirate Bay. In August 2010, WikiLeaks chose a new hosting at Pionen data center, owned by Bahnhof ISP, and located in an underground nuclear bunker built during the Cold War under Stockholm. Wikileaks.org domain was registered in 2006 by John Young, who had worked with the project for some time and had been one of its founders. Later the name of the owner of the web address in the Whois service was changed for John Shipton, an Australian living in Kenya, and domain registrar company was changed for Dynadot. The site founders claimed that he managed the organization called Sunshine Press, and that the documents were uploaded to Wikileaks via the website sunshinepress.org (mirror of WikiLeaks). According to official data at the WikiLeaks website, the main countries where the site operated included Australia, France, Germany, Iceland, Kenya, the U.S. and France.
One of Assange’s assistants was the owner of Tor end node, which allowed anonymous receiving and transmitting information over the network through a series of nodes, while in the leaf node information was decrypted. Scanning the traffic at his node, he was able to intercept the document according to which one of the leaders of the Islamic Courts Union, Hassan Dahir Aweys, called for hiring killers to murder members of the legitimate government of Somalia. Authenticity of the document was controversial, however, Assange decided to publish it on WikiLeaks on December 29, 2006, providing it with commentary that he offers visitors to discuss the authenticity of the material (although the Wiki engine had not been launched yet, and commenting was not possible). Even then the press paid attention to the new site, and at first it was reported that the site had been created by Chinese dissidents.
Immediately after the beginning of its activity WikiLeaks claimed that it could publish a million secret documents. By assumption of the magazine Wired, they were intercepted by Tor, which was used by Chinese hackers, but most of the documents dealt with the activities of Chinese dissidents and governments and organizations hostile to China. The intercepted documents were obtained due to improper use of Tor technology, which provided anonymity, but was not meant for full encoding. WikiLeaks denied the above stated assumption, stating that they did not publish the data obtained in this way.
Examples of Leaks
It was announced that the purpose of WikiLeaks was the exposure of corruption in the countries of Central Asia, China and Russia, but also the important role was given to presentation of secret activities of governments and corporations in the West:
Our primary targets are those highly oppressive regimes in China, Russia and Central Eurasia, but we also expect to be of assistance to those in the West who wish to reveal illegal or immoral behavior in their own governments and corporations (cited in Khatchadourian 9).
According to Assange, the site was created in order to develop scientific journalism, which he contrasted to the cautiousness and bias of the usual media (Fildes). “We specialise in allowing whistle-blowers and journalists who have been censored to get material out to the public” (ibid).
In the autumn of 2007, Assange and his assistants have paid a lot of time to preparation of a very large material on the procurement of US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. This publication described in detail how many weapons, armor and other equipment was ordered. But the press ignored this leak, and Assange declared that was offended: “[Afghan War Diary detailed] the US Army’s force structure of Afghanistan and Iraq, down to the last chair and nothing” (cited in MacKenzie).
In December 2007 WikiLeaks published the material about the financial machinations of former President of Kenya Daniel arap Moi, who supported the election of incumbent President Mwai Kibaki. These materials have played their role in the political crisis that erupted after the election, in which Kibaki won only with a small margin. Finally, he was forced to come to terms with the opposition on the establishment of the ruling coalition.
In 2008, the Church of Scientology, which is recognized as the sect in many countries, demanded that WikiLeaks remove their secret guidelines posted on the website. This requirement was ignored by WikiLeaks. Moreover, Assange declared that he would not meet anyone’s demands, be it “Swiss Banks, Russian offshore stem-cell centers, former African “kleptocrats,” the Church of Scientology, and the Pentagon” (Castelluccio 4). In addition to Scientologists’ documents, WikiLeaks published the guidelines of other religious organizations and Masons. Also in November 2007 WikiLeaks published a guide to the jailers at the US base at Guantanamo Bay, which confirmed the presence of the prohibition for the Red Cross access to some parts of the prison. In 2008, shortly before the US presidential election, won by Barack Obama, the site posted the contents of the Yahoo! account (including mailbox) of vice president candidate Sarah Palin.
In 2008 the US Army Counterintelligence Center issued a report in which WikiLeaks was called a potential threat to the military. This report was leaked and was published in WikiLeaks. Assange called it a declaration of war to the Internet resource. In 2008 WikiLeaks.org domain was blocked for a few days after a complaint to the court of California from the Swiss bank Julius Baer, lodged in response to the publication of documents allegedly showing that the bank is engaged in money laundering and helping clients evade taxes through offshore. California court dismissed the claims of Julius Baer, and the site returned to work.
In early 2009 WikiLeaks published secret UN reports that peacekeepers acting under the auspices of the organization were involved in rape in eastern Congo. Simultaneously WikiLeaks published thousands of documents of the US Congressional Research Service. Formally they were not classified, and since the work of the service was funded from the federal budget, according to US copyright law, they would have to be in the public domain, but the congressmen denied their free publication.
In 2009 WikiLeaks published the correspondence of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, headed by Phil Jones. The published letters exposed the manipulation by CRU data to convince the international community in human-induced global warming. Toward the end of the year the site published text messages sent from New York on the day of the attacks of 11 September 2001 in the United States.
In 2009 WikiLeaks published classified information that some types of radio controlled explosive devices used by the US Army could mistakenly detonate because of noise generated by the old intercommunications system. Soon this problem has been fixed, but some experts declared that this publication of WikiLeaks could help terrorists and other enemies of the United States.
In September 2009 there was a scandal because of a published report of the Trafigura Company, which proved its responsibility for the leak of toxic waste in the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire. The company even tried to stop the publication of the report and information on the progress of parliamentary hearings in the national media, including the newspaper The Guardian.
By 2010 WikiLeaks, according to various estimates, received about thirty thousand new classified material per day, and the number of published documents exceeded one million. In early 2010 WikiLeaks site was unavailable for a while due to lack of funds. The problem was solved with the help of Wau Holland Foundation, created by Chaos Computer Club in memory of its founder Herwart “Wau” Holland-Moritz. The Foundation managed to gather 600 thousand US dollars required for site operation. Donations to the Foundation and other affiliated organizations were carried out through banks and micropayment systems Flattr and PayPal, while MoneyBookers froze all funds transferred to the owners of the site, because it did not meet the standards of the payment system and was included in the Australia government’s black list. According to German law, the Foundation did not have the right to disclose data concerning the individuals and organizations who donated money. The money was spent only for the site technical support, hosting and transport tickets for WikiLeaks managers. In 2011, the Wau Holland Foundation released a final report, in which it declared that in the past year $1.3 million had been gathered for WikiLeaks needs. Also, according to Assange, “WikiLeaks gets about half its money from modest donations processed by its website, and the other half from “personal contacts,” including “people with some millions who approach us and say ‘I’ll give you 60,000 or 10,000,’” (cited in Whalen & Crowford).
After the project had been restarted in May 2010, users became unable to participate in the discussion at the site by means of wiki engine, and the description of the project was fixed. In 2007, it was reported that WikiLeaks is an uncensored “Wikipedia”, and in 2010 it was stated that WikiLeaks is not a “Wikipedia”, and the project doesn’t have “Wikipedia” functionality.
In April 2010 WikiLeaks published a classified video of a helicopter attacking Reuters journalists and their escort near Baghdad in 2007, who were mistaken for terrorists (video title was “Collateral Murder”). 18 people were killed in the attack, including two journalists. This video has caused a great resonance in the press:
Not only was the video concerning because it captured a possible war crime, but it also illustrated that news organisations and journalists have failed to report ‘the truth’ of the Iraq war (MacKenzie).
In May 2010 US Army Private Bradley Manning was arrested on suspicion of involvement in the leak of this video. It was assumed that Manning could be involved also in the next leak, published by WikiLeaks in July. This leak contained 77.000 classified field reports on the war in Afghanistan known as “Afghan War Diary”, which contained reports of operations, civilian casualties, and the names of US informants, which posed a threat to their lives. About 15 thousand documents were promised to be published later. Representatives of the Taliban stated after the publication that they intended to kill all Afghans who cooperated with the coalition forces in Afghanistan. The press wrote that publication of this video was prepared in Iceland, in collaboration with members of the local parliament. The same Iceland prepared a bill of unprecedented defense of freedom and expression and such resources as WikiLeaks. This leak appeared to be the biggest in US history after the Pentagon Papers.
The staff of The Guardian, The New York Times and Der Spiegel was involved for data reconciliation and for closer interaction with the press in the process of preparation of the “Afghan War Diary” for publication. Assange claimed that before the publication of this diary, the editors had tried to remove the information about the informants of the US Army from public documents, in order to reduce the harm from publications. It is worth mentioning, that in July 2010 there were rumors that before the publication of the Afghan Diary WikiLeaks contacted the Pentagon and offered to edit these documents, concealing the names of informants and other information that could lead to new human casualties among soldiers or civilians. WikiLeaks later published the Pentagon response in which the military demanded to stop publishing the remaining 15.000 documents. After this response WikiLeaks confirmed their intention to publish the documents intact. Representatives of the Ministry of Defense then tried to defend themselves, saying that they had had no contact with WikiLeaks because they had not applied to them directly.
Subsequent Events and Criticism
Authorities in different countries proposed to stop WikiLeaks activity or block access to the site. In 2007 the site was blocked in China and in 2010 in Thailand. Australian authorities also planned to block access to the site. Earlier WikiLeaks published a list of Internet resources, mainly with pornographic content, which were blocked for all Internet users of the country. However, plans to block WikiLeaks and other sites were considered as highly unlikely after the defeat of Conservative – Liberal Democrat coalition in the 2010. The Pentagon also mentioned about its intent to block WikiLeaks.
Though the press usually estimated WikiLeaks activity as positive, some organizations, such as Transparency International, criticized the online resource for the unreliability of published information and publication of books protected by copyright in the public domain. In June 2010 Wikileaks was nominated for Knight Foundation awards as one of the new technologies which determine the future of media. Despite the fact that the web site had received the majority of voices, the jury refused to give the award to WikiLeaks.
In the internal documentation the US authorities classified Julian Assange and WikiLeaks website as “enemies of the state”, according to newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald. Such status, for example, is given to Al Qaeda and the Taliban movement. The Australian newspaper reports that this information came from declassified secret documents of the US government in one of the lawsuits. In particular, the US military, who are in contact with Wikileaks, and Assange supporters can be charged with crimes punishable by death. This is an official recognition of Assange as terrorist.
On August 20, 2010 Sweden authorities issued an arrest warrant for Assange. Assange was suspected of sexual harassment and rape. Assange was accused of the following:
- he had sexual contact with a woman (her name was not disclosed in the documents, and she was referred to as “Miss A”) without a condom, despite her requests;
- he had committed sexual intercourse with “Miss W” without a condom while she was asleep.
In most European countries these actions, though ethically dubious, do not constitute a crime. However, in Sweden they are being prosecuted. Assange claimed that the allegations appeared due to publication of the Afghan Diary. The next day the authorities of Sweden withdrew Julian rape charges. However, after a chain of arrests and trials Assange appeared in Britain, waiting for extradition to Sweden. On June 19, 2012 Assange, who was under house arrest, took refuge in the Embassy of Ecuador in London and asked for asylum. On August 16, 2012 at 13:00 London time, Ecuador officially granted political asylum to Assange. At present moment Assange stays in the Embassy of Ecuador in London.
Can Assange be Considered as Terrorist?
According to the UN definition,
Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them (United Nations Declaration on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism).
Can Assange’s activity be compared to any if the existing definitions of terrorism, including the one mentioned above? Obviously, it cannot. But, no doubt, there were certain negative consequences of WikiLeaks publications. The world is really full of evil and injustice. In some countries, such as North Korea, one can be put to a concentration camp and be shot there for any “thoughtcrime”. In Iraq and Afghanistan the Islamic fundamentalists kill hundreds and thousands of people, sending suicide bombers to the markets and weddings. But somehow, that the object of Julian Assange’s attention was not the North Korean concentration camps, the Al Qaeda or Hugo Chavez’ drug mafia, but the US military. In July 2010, Wikileaks published more than 76.900 documents about the war in Afghanistan. In October it published approximately 400.000 documents about the war in Iraq.
Assange’s Afghan documents are very interesting to read, the majority of them does not have anything that would be worth to classify. This is an example that any bureaucracy always keeps secret of all that it can. However, some Afghan Taliban files make it possible to discover the American informants in Afghanistan. One can hardly tell how many Afghan farmers and US military will be blown up in the markets and checkpoints because the informant, who could prevent the explosion, was killed or fled, but some of these casualties are on Assange’s head.
The basic principles of governance were formulated in ancient states. They are “divide and conquer”, “carrot and stick” and the like. However, along with these principles another tool is widely used. It is the lies and silence. “Assange wrote that illegitimate governance was by definition conspiratorial—the product of functionaries in “collaborative secrecy, working to the detriment of a population” (cited in Khatchadourian 8).
The state never changes. Some governments are worse, some better, but all of them use lies and concealment of information in order to cover up their failures and incompetence. Often it is not incompetence, but, for example, corruption and crime. As a student of Kafka, Koestler, and Solzhenitsyn, he believed that truth, creativity, love, and compassion are corrupted by institutional hierarchies, and by “patronage networks”—one of his favorite expressions—that contort the human spirit.The modern world is increasingly turning into a big aquarium, leaving less room for idealizing government figures. It is becoming more and more difficult for them to form the image of wisdom, generosity and infallibility.
A new era begins, the era which has not yet happened in history. Any information about anything and anyone is easily accessible. Any event instantly becomes known. This is especially true of state and government, for any government is always under the microscope. Today, the authorities of different countries have begun to recognize this danger, which is brought by the Internet, and try to put pressure on online communities, restrict or prohibit the freedom of Internet communication. However, the genie can’t be forced back into the bottle: “A government or company that wanted to remove content from WikiLeaks would have to practically dismantle the Internet itself” (Assange’s words, cited in Castelluccio).
Wikileaks and Assange story clearly shows the double standards practiced by officials, politicians and journalists. Yesterday Assange was publishing papers on Kenya and he was a hero, a champion of democracy. Now he has done the same thing, but the documents concerned the US, and this time he is undermining national security, his hands are “stained with blood”, he is a terrorist, a fugitive, pursued by the authorities and former friends.