What is wikileaks ? A whistleblower website

Julian Assange, founder of the WikiLeaks website, speaks to reporters. 

WikiLeaks publishes and comments on leaked documents that allege government and corporate misconduct.
The nonprofit site is run by a loose band of tech-savvy volunteers and has quickly become one of the Web’s go-to locations.

One of its greatest controversies involves the publication in April of a secret video taken in 2007 of a U.S. helicopter attack in Iraq that killed a dozen civilians, including two unarmed Reuters journalists.

Thousands of alleged Afghan war documents go online

At the time, Maj. Shawn Turner, a U.S. military spokesman, said that “all evidence available supported the conclusion by those forces that they were engaging armed insurgents and not civilians.”

Pfc. Bradley Manning, 22, has been charged by the U.S. military with eight violations of the U.S. Criminal Code for transferring classified data, according to a charge sheet released by the military this week.

This month, site founder Julian Assange, who is rarely seen in public, told a TED conference that Wikileaks thoroughly vets materials on the site. Watch his TED talk

Those who defend WikiLeaks say it protects whistle-blowers, journalists and activists who want to communicate sensitive information. Critics have charged it recklessly endangers national security and the livelihoods of people whose identities must be kept secret.

A 2008, a U.S. Army Counterintelligence Center report, which was classified until it was uploaded to WikiLeaks in March, said that information posted to WikiLeaks.org could “aid enemy forces in planning terrorist attacks.”

There are “legitimate secrets,” Assange, 39, said at TED, including health records. But WikiLeaks deals, “with whistle-blowers that are well motivated,” Assange said.

Assange has said that the organization gets material from whistle-blowers in a variety of ways – including postal mail. WikiLeaks rarely knows the identity of the source of the leak. “If we find out at some stage, we destroy that information as soon as possible,” he said.

WikiLeaks operates in several countries, including Sweden and Iceland, Assange said, specifically because those nations offer legal protection to the disclosures made on the site.

Assange is considered a mystery and maintains a low profile. He said at TED that he has canceled at least three appearances in the United States, including a June talk at a national investigative journalism conference, because of what he called “unreasonable” statements that were made by U.S. officials. These statements were made in private, he said, and suggested that officials “may not follow the rule of law” in dealing with him. 

Wikileaks logo 

The recent leak of over 92,000 top secret, not-meant-for-prime-time military documents regarding U.S. involvement in Afghanistan to the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks.org is understandably giving the White House fits. It’s reminiscent of the 1971 publication by The New York Times of the blockbuster Pentagon Papers, a top secret, decades-long U.S. Department of Defense study of U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

Like that leak, this recent one is exposing dirty secrets about a failing U.S. foreign policy in a war it can’t seem to win. So who or what is WikiLeaks.org?

Not even four years old (it was launched at the end of 2006), WikiLeaks is a website devoted to blowing the whistle on dubious or reprehensible behavior through the publication of leaked documents. The site has published some scandalous leaks in its young history: 500,000 text messages sent on the morning of 9/11; e-mails from Sarah Palin’s personal Yahoo account; manuals on how to treat detainees at Guantanamo Bay; and perhaps the most well-known, the shocking and graphic footage, with accompanying audio, of a U.S. Apache helicopter slaughtering a group of unarmed Iraqi civilians after two of them had been misidentified as carrying RPGs (in fact, they were Reuters journalists carrying camera equipment).

As goes reputable journalism, The New York Times it ain’t, but the site is a force to be reckoned with, prompting us to offer up five things men should know about WikiLeaks.org.

1- WikiLeaks is not a wiki
The first thing men should know about WikiLeaks is that, contrary to its name, it’s not a wiki.

According to Ward Cunningham, the man who pioneered the concept, a wiki should be open to anyone interested in editing the content, it should encourage cross-topic associations through hyperlinks, and it should be in a state of constant evolution. None of these principles applies to WikiLeaks. Rather, the site is everything a true wiki is not, down to the fact that submissions endure an editorial process and are also formatted for easier consumption.

So why did they call it WikiLeaks? The answer is pretty pedestrian: During the early stages of the website, developers imagined it as a wiki.  How they imagined that such a site could host such documents and command credibility while still being a wiki is a mystery.

2- WikiLeaks’ founder claims to have survived assassination attempts
For a website devoted to transparency, WikiLeaks itself is on par with North Korea when it comes to functional transparency, a general trait that takes its cue from the site’s curiously reclusive founder, Julian Assange.

The 30-something Assange is a former hacker with a criminal record in Australia (for hacking into government computers) who leads a seemingly clandestine, intercontinental lifestyle resembling a moving target. He tells tales of evading trained commando units intent on assassinating him for the public embarrassment his website has facilitated. While there’s little doubt that he has made enemies in dangerous places, his burgeoning public image seems intent on shedding any links with the unromantic persona of an everyday computer hacker and embracing the faux-heroics of Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World.

3- WikiLeaks shares a server with Pirate Bay
Another thing men should know about WikiLeaks is how the site stays operational when everything around it seems to be on fire.

Although it utilizes mirror sites across the globe, the main server for WikiLeaks is located in Sweden, and this server also hosts one of the most contentious sites in cyberspace — The Pirate Bay, the infamous and massive bittorrent file-sharing site that practically defines the debate over the extent of copyright protection in the information age. For WikiLeaks, this location is no coincidence; the site claims to own a perfect record in protecting the names of its sources, a level of successful anonymity it enjoys thanks in part to Swedish law, which criminalizes the disclosure of anonymous sources.

4- WikiLeaks receives 10,000 pages of leaks per day
WikiLeaks’ recent publication of over 90,000 documents may seem like an overwhelmingly massive leak, but it’s all in a day’s work for WikiLeaks. Julian Assange told David Kushner of Mother Jones magazine that the website receives an average of 10,000 new pages each and every day.

Although they are all alleged to undergo a degree of editorial scrutiny, in the end even leaks of dubious authenticity have gone live on the site, making WikiLeaks the Will Rogers of whistle-blower websites in that it never met a leak it didn’t like — at least like enough to allow it to go live.

5- It has been alleged that WikiLeaks is a CIA operation
The last thing men should know about WikiLeaks is that the world of whistle-blowing websites is pretty damn cutthroat. It is, after all, rooted in the old concept of being the first to break a big story.

If by publishing leaked documents WikiLeaks “reports” on certain events in a neo-journalistic kind of way, who’s reporting on WikiLeaks? At least one answer is the U.S.-based freedom-of-speech informed whistle-blower site Cryptome.org, which predates WikiLeaks by a decade and enjoys substantially more credibility. The site is run by New York City architects John Young and Deborah Natsios, and in the past Young hasn’t been shy about not only leaking WikiLeaks documents, but also calling out and criticizing his more newsworthy upstart competitor. This has included accusations of collusion with underhanded agencies like the CIA.

Julian Assange: Whistleblower

Internet activist Julian Assange serves as spokesperson for WikiLeaks, a controversial, volunteer-driven website that publishes and comments on leaked documents alleging government and corporate misconduct.

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