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Will They Or Won't They?: WikiLeaks And The Next Data Dump


It's been promised to be the biggest leak ever. On September 9, "Newsweek's" blog, Declassified, reported that the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a new British nonprofit press organization, has been secretly working with WikiLeaks and “major television networks and one or more American media outlets in an unspecified number of countries” to prepare a massive cache of digital field reports from the American military campaign in Iraq.

And WikiLeaks announced on October 21 via Twitter that a “major” press conference is set to occur somewhere in Europe.

Declassified earlier reported on this supposed cache, back on July 7. Its anonymous source at the time claimed the cache may be much as three times bigger than the Afghan war logs. Sheer scale is not all: the source also claimed that the cache contains information about American military involvement in a “bloodbath,” as well as abusive treatment of prisoners by Iraqi security forces.

Ever since these claims, news organizations, reporters, and bloggers the world over have been trying to get a piece of the action. But now, according to WikiLeaks frontman Julian Assange, we may have just been smelling a red herring.

“Where do all these claims about WikiLeaks doing something on Iraq today come from? A single tabloid blog at Wired Magazine!” Assange wrote on October 18, in a Twitter editorial. “That's right. Over 700 articles, newspapers all over the world, and newswires fooled by a tabloid blog -- and each other.”

Assange was actually referring to two "Wired" blogs, Threat Level and Danger Room, particularly the latter, which in an earlier version of a post had indicated that the legendary leak was imminent. But his criticisms point to more long-standing troubles.

The two blogs had been at the forefront of reporting on the cache, but have also been fairly critical of WikiLeaks and the overall impact of its work. For example, in one post, despite eliciting anticipation for the leak, they also describe public reaction to the Afghan war logs as “yawns.” Their coverage of the scandal surrounding the resignation of WikiLeaks' spokesman in Germany, which was none too kind to Assange, undoubtedly ruffled some feathers, too.

Nevertheless, Threat Level felt compelled enough to respond to Assange's editorial, writing, “No, we do not hate WikiLeaks,” going on to detail "Wired's" long-standing record on covering the WikiLeaks beat (as far back as 2007), their investigations into the organization's finances and security infrastructure, and so on.

Journalistically speaking, "Wired's" got a pretty tight record. So, what's really going on? Threat Level Editor Kevin Poulsen highlights Assange's notorious outbursts against critical press coverage. Doubtlessly, Assange sees a failure in journalistic integrity on the part of "Wired," but I think it's really frustration and stress speaking.

Far more important is the question of whether this leak is or isn't going to happen. The source of the original Declassified posts was the Bureau's editor, Iain Overton, an ex-BBC man. So far he has not given any comment to reporters about Assange's remarks.

Assange hasn't actually denied the existence of the cache. “WikiLeaks does not speak about upcoming releases dates,” he writes in the editorial. “[...] since that simply provides fodder for abusive organizations to get their spin machines ready.”

Also, the venerable "Cryptome," a much older website that also deals in leaked and sensitive documents, has been under the impression that a “dump” was “upcoming.” In e-mail communications with them, they have never claimed to have an insider's track into WikiLeaks. Nevertheless, I have found their judgment to be astute.

And finally, if appearances are any measure, the Pentagon believes something big is coming. They may have been worried enough to publish a collection of Iraq-related “Significant Activities” (SIGACTS) reports from 2007 in its online reading room earlier this autumn.

-- Christopher Schwartz

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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