U.S. Diplomatic Cables Leak / Cablegate

U.S. Diplomatic Cables Leak / Cablegate

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Updated Jun 06, 2013 at 03:22PM EDT by Brad.  

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Overview

United States Diplomatic Cables Leak refers to a series of events that took place after the whistleblower site WikiLeaks public disclosure of over 200,000 classified diplomatic cables originally issued by the U.S. State Department’s 300 missions overseas.

Background

In June 2010, Wired Magazine reported that the U.S. State Department personnel have expressed concerns over a U.S. Army soldier named Bradley Manning, who was arrested and charged in May with unauthorized download of classified while serving his tour in Iraq. WikiLeaks rejected the Wired report as inaccurate. Later, it was revealed that the Army’s discovery came after another computer hacker Adrian Lamo contacted the FBI regarding a suspicious chat he had with Manning in May 2010.



On November 22nd, 2010, WikiLeaks[1] made an announcement via Twitter that the next release would be “7x the size of the Iraq War Logs.” U.S. authorities and the media have speculated that they may contain diplomatic cables. Following a brief, unsuccessful exchange with the U.S. State Department about the impending media disclosure on August 28th, select excerpts of the cables were published through a number of renowned news publications including El País, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, Guardian and The New York Times. The corresponding pages of source documents were simultaneously published by WikiLeaks on its website, a decision that was subsequently met by several distributed denial-of-service attacks as well as refusal of service by its financial partners like PayPal and Amazon.

Developments

Support for Bradley Manning

In June 2010, the Bradley Manning Support Network[10] was formed on Facebook by Mike Gogulski and Manning’s friend David House, with coordinated assistance from Courage to Resist, a support group for war resisters within the military. With its advisory board joined by notable figures like The Pentagon Papers journalist Daniel Ellsberg, filmmaker Michael Moore, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern and retired army colonel Ann Wright, numerous “Free Bradley Manning” rallies were held in North America and Europe throughout the year and by January 2011, the online donation campaign for Manning’s defense had reached over $400,000, according to the organization.



Other Facebook groups and online campaign sites soon followed, such as the Facebook page Save Bradley Manning[11] and the single topic Tumblr I Am Bradley Manning.[12] Beginning in October 2010, a number of Anonymous-affiliated channels began publishing video communiques under the campaign banner “Operation Bradley Manning,”[13] which sought vengeance by targeting government web sites. In March 2011, the hacker group Anonymous threatened to disrupt activities at Quantico by cyber-attacking communications and exposing information about personnel, calling it “Operation Bradical.”



News Media Analysis

The sheer volume of diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks led several newspapers to launch column series in analyzing the text and their implications. The content was covered extensively by The Guardian[4], Der Spiegel[2], El Pais[3] and The New York Times[5], accompanied by visual timelines, geographical charts and infographics. As the news coverage continued, the event also became widely known as Cablegate.



The Washington Post reported that it requested permission to see the document, but was rejected by WikiLeaks for undisclosed reasons. Other major U.S. news organizations like CNN and The Wall Street Journal were also denied advance access after refusing to sign a confidentiality agreement with WikiLeaks.

Anonymous Operation: Avenge Assange

Following the expose of the diplomatic cables, the U.S. State Department criticized the WikLeaks founder Julian Assange and began pressing on the affiliates of WikiLeaks to halt their transactions with the Swiss-based website. As a result, WikiLeak’s server host Amazon dropped their service, while Mastercard and PayPal ceased all transactions of funds donated by the supporters of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.



In retaliation against the U.S.-led counter-measures and support of WikiLeak’s editor-in-chief, an Anonymous contingent associated with Operation Payback launched several waves of DDoS attacks against various companies whom they perceived as enemies of Julian Assange that became known as Operation Avenge Assange.

September 2011 Leaks

In late August 2011, The Guardian reported that the complete archive of unredacted cables had been publicly available for months, citing internal security failures including the misplacement of the encrypted file by a WikiLeaks volunteer following the denial-of-service attacks in early November 2010.

The previously little known archive contains over 125,000 files including 34,687 on Iraq, 8,003 on Kuwait, 9,755 on Australia and 12,606 on Egypt. According to The Guardian, the set contains more than 1,000 cables containing the names of individual activists and around 150 identifying whistleblowers. Shortly after the media coverage of the unintended leak within WikiLeaks, the organization made available the unredacted archive on their website.

Global vote: should WikiLeaks release all US cables in searchable form? tweet #WLVoteYes or #WLVoteNo Why: http://t.co/GGON8cdless than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply


On August 31st, as news reports surrounding the previously unknown archives began to emerge, WikiLeaks asked the public to decide whether it should publish the rest of U.S. diplomatic cables archive in a searchable form, using the hashtags #WLVoteYes or #WLVoteNo. Meanwhile, Internet blog Gawker[10] criticized WikiLeak’s decision to release the rest of diplomatic cables as “a desperate gimmick by Wikileaks to pretend it still has some control over the contents of the cables.”

On September 2nd, The Guardian, The New York Times, Der Spiegel, El Pais and Le Mond--five news organizations that have collaborated with WikiLeaks--issued a joint statement[5] condemning WikiLeak’s decision to publish “unredacted State Department cables, which may put sources at risk.”

Feud with The Guardian Journalist

Amidst the mounting criticism over WikiLeak’s internal security blunders, the whistleblower organization blamed the fault of negligence on Guardian’s investigative editor David Leigh for publishing the password to unlock the archive in his book “Inside WikiLeaks: Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy.”

The file-decryption password was given to Leigh by Assange back in August 2010 while they were working together to publish the contents of the obtained U.S. diplomatic cables. In response to WikiLeak’s public accusation and request to dismiss Leigh from his position at The Guardian, the UK-based newspaper denied any wrongdoing by stating:

“Our book about WikiLeaks was published last February. It contained a password, but no details of the location of the files, and we were told it was a temporary password which would expire and be deleted in a matter of hours.”

On the same day, BoingBoing[6] reported that the passage from David Leigh’s “Inside WikiLeaks: Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy” has been publicly available via Google Books[7] since the date of publication.



DDoS Attacks

Between August 31st and September 1st, WikiLeaks announced via Twitter that the site was under heavy distributed-denial-of-service attacks. An online identity known as AnonCMD has since claimed the responsibility for the DDoS attacks via Twitter[8] and Wordpress[9], though it has been also met by heavy criticism from Anonymous supporters of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.



The U.S. Reviews Computer Security Procedures

On October 7th, 2011, President Obama issued an executive order to replace and improve the shortcomings in computer security safeguards that were first exposed by WikiLeak’s release of classified State Department documents in 2010. According to the New York Times, the new directive comes after a seven-month long governmentwide review and discussion of policies related to handling of classified information and how to reduce the risk of breaches.

Since the unauthorized disclosure of U.S. diplomatic cables in November 2010, the State Department stopped distributing its diplomatic cables over a classified e-mail system shared with other military agencies. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has disabled 87 percent of its computers to prevent people from downloading classified data onto external memory devices, such as memory sticks, CDs or DVDs.

Bradley Manning’s Trial Begins

On December 16th, 2011, the pre-trial hearing for suspected WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning’s case began in the military tribunal at Fort Meade, Maryland. Having been under solitary confinement for over a year without any public appearance, Manning’s pre-trial hearing instantly drew attention from the news media.



His first public appearance since arrest in May 2010, Manning sat calmly at the defense table, dressed in Army fatigues and prison-issue dark-rimmed glasses. On the first day of the hearing on December 16th, the attorney for Manning asked the presiding prosecutor Paul Almanza to step aside on the basis of conflicts of interest and bias. After a brief recess in considering the request, Almanza refused to recuse himself; Manning’s attorney then moved to file a writ to stay the proceedings until a decision can be made regarding his request.



Meanwhile, the Support Network held demonstrations outside Fort Meade on the day of the pre-trial hearing, as well as planning a larger march in Fort Meade on December 17th, the day of Manning’s 24th birthday.

Search Interest

Search queries for “Cablegate” yield a high spike in the first two months of release in November 2010 and the ongoing event corresponds with the resurgence in September 2011. According to Google Insights’ related news headlines, the term “Cablegate” has been used almost ubiquitously across various languages including Spanish, German and Japanese.



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