WikiLeaks, the whistleblowing website, has said that its massive archive of unredacted US state department cables was exposed in a security breach, which it blamed on its one-time partner - Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
In a 1,600-word-long editorial posted to the internet on Thursday, WikiLeaks accused the Guardian’s investigative reporter David Leigh of divulging the password needed to decrypt the files in a book he and another Guardianjournalist, Luke Harding, published earlier this year.
WikiLeaks said that the disclosure had jeopardised the “careful work” it was doing to redact and publish the cables.
“Revolutions and reforms are in danger of being lost as the unpublished cables spread to intelligence contractors and governments before the public,” WikiLeaks said in its statement.
Leigh and the Guardian both denied wrongdoing, and the exact sequence of events WikiLeaks was referring to remained clouded in confusion.
In comments to the AP news agency, Leigh dismissed WikiLeaks’ claims as “time-wasting nonsense”.
He said that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had supplied him with a password needed to access the US embassy cables from a server in July 2010, but that Assange assured him the site would expire within a matter of hours.
“What we published much later in our book was obsolete and harmless,” Leigh said.
“We did not disclose the URL [web address] where the file was located, and in any event, Assange had told us it would no longer exist.
“I don’t see how a member of the public could access such a file anyway, unless a WikiLeaks or ex-WikiLeaks person tells them where it is located and what the file was called.”
On its Twitter feed, WikiLeaks described one of Leigh’s previous statements as false and warned of “continuous lies to come”.
It also suggested that sloppy handling by people who formerly worked with WikiLeaks resulted in the inadvertent disclosure of unredacted versions of the cables.
Meanwhile, the group is defending itself against accusations from US and Australian officials that it may have put lives at risk by publishing uncensored US diplomatic cables on the internet.
‘Circulating on the internet’
The latest squabble among current and former WikiLeaks insiders has become increasingly heated and arcane.
But the key issue is who, if anyone, released unedited documents that could put those named at risk or complicate anti-terrorism operations.
Earlier this week, German publications and a blog published by Wired magazine claimed that a 1.73 gigabyte
Wired quoted the editor of German publication Der Freitag saying that his paper had found the file and “easily obtained the password to unlock it”.
Past disclosures already drawn from WikiLeaks’ trove of embassy cables have infuriated and humiliated high-ranking officials across the world, with the US ambassador to Mexico losing his job over the revelations.
WikiLeaks says the cables’ release also played a role in setting off the mass movement that has jolted dictatorial regimes across the Arab world.
But the US officials have warned that the disclosures could also have serious consequences for informants, activists and others quoted in the cables.
“What we have said all along about the danger of these types of things is reinforced by the fact that there are now documents out there in unredacted form containing the names of individuals whose lives are at risk because they are named,” the US defence department‘s Colonel Dave Lapan said on Wednesday.
“Once WikiLeaks has these documents in its possession, it loses control and information gets out whether they intend to or not,” Lapan told Pentagon journalists.
In its statement on Thursday, WikiLeaks said that it had tried to warn the US State Department about what was about to happen. The department did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.
- WikiLeaks says breach exposed unredacted U.S. cables (cbc.ca)
- Uncensored WikiLeaks cables posted online (independent.co.uk)
- WikiLeaks Says Unredacted Cables Exposed (abcnews.go.com)
- Massive tome of uncensored WikiLeaks cables posted to Web (theglobeandmail.com)
- Uncensored WikiLeaks release stirs new furor (ctv.ca)
- Exposed: Uncensored WikiLeaks cables posted to Web (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- WikiLeaks: Breach has exposed unredacted U.S. cables (ctv.ca)
- Exposed: Uncensored WikiLeaks cables posted to Web (seattlepi.com)
- Guardian dismisses WikiLeaks claim (mirror.co.uk)