If you’ve been following any of the mainstream media as of late, I’m sure you’ve heard some mention of the WikiLeaks scandal that has had certain forces on the Internet teetering on the edge of an all-out brawl. For those who may not be in the know, please allow me to provide an overview of the battle and fill in some holes that some other sites have left in terms of technical vocabulary. My goal in this blog has been to try and communicate something of meaning to my readers by explaining how the Technology world impacts you in plain terms. Never have I seen a situation more worthy or my attention or yours.
On November 22, 2010, WikiLeaks, a website whose purpose is to provide an outlet for material that is not otherwise publicly available, announced that they had their hands on a leak that was going to be seven times the size of the “Iraq War Logs” of October that the Pentagon described as “the largest leak of classified documents in its history.” Many speculated, correctly I might add, that the leak consisted of Diplomatic Cables, or official communications, between the United States and her embassies around the world.
On November 26th, WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, sent a letter to the US State Department requesting a list of people who could be placed at risk by the upcoming leak. The State Department denied to work with them. Then, on November 28th, someone sanctioned a large-scale DDoS attack on WikiLeaks. DDoS stands for Distributed Denial of Service, and is a technique for preventing individuals from viewing a website by tying up the computer that runs that website with fake requests from many different computers. However, this did not stop the leaks from happening. The documents still leaked to the WikiLeaks partners in mainstream media, including The New York Times. Initial response to the leaks were not good. US Secretary of State Clinton said, “This disclosure is not just an attack on America’s foreign policy; it is an attack on the international community, the alliances and partnerships, the conventions and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity.”
The “official” fallout from the United States consists of actions like accusing Assange of being a “terrorist” and many individuals are claiming that WikiLeaks itself should be considered a Terrorist Organization. Unfortunately, the fallout did not stop there. Since this mess has started, WikiLeaks has been plagued by DDoS attacks on their servers. On December 2nd, only a few days ago – wikileaks.org was made unavailable because the company providing the routing services claimed the DDoS attacks were a threat to their infrastructure. On the same day, Amazon.com shut down the WikiLeaks account that was used as backup storage for the WikiLeaks server, proportedly after being visited by an aide to Senator Joe Lieberman. On December 6th, one of the banks that manages a WikiLeaks account froze their funds. Then, to boot, the WikiLeaks founder is arrested for rape. (It should be noted that he turned himself in.)
Whoever thought that these actions were a good idea, made a severe miscalculation. Now, Anonymous, the group of hackers based off of the website 4Chan and famous for their assaults on organizations like Scientology, has started retaliating. Anonymous claims that they will DDoS any website that supports the censoring of WikiLeaks in any way, shape, or form. In short, the US Department of State has opened one massive can of worms.
Whether or not the source of the Diplomatic Cables leak is someone who is guilty of treason, I cannot say. Personally, I suspect that is the case. However, the second that attacks against WikiLeaks began, I lost all sympathies for our government on this matter. I think there are a lot of parallels between this situation and the fight that those who lived through the McCarthy era faced. And I offer up this nugget of wisdom:
We will not walk in fear, one of another, we will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason. If we dig deep into our history and our doctrine, we will remember we are not descended from fearful men. Not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were for the moment unpopular.
-Edward R. Murrow, Good Night and Good Luck (2005)
I suspect that this situation will serve to inspire policy in Washington for years to come. There is already a bill that has been proposed in response to this situation. The question for us, I believe, is this: How much do we really back that little thing called freedom of the press?