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Daniel Domscheit-Berg [right] used to be Wikileaks second-in-command. Disillusioned he left the site. Now he's founded OpenLeaks and is calling out Wikileaks' recent questionable behavior.  (Source: AFP)

OpenLeaks, Wikileaks' new rival, promises greater transparency and discretion.
Who's watching the watchmen?

Most would agree that there is a need for whistleblowing outlets in the media.  Without the scrutiny of exposé reporting, there are serious questions concerning whether the civilian government, military, and corporate businesses would exchange integrity for potential foul gains. 

With media shifting online, the web seems a natural home for a whistleblowing endeavor.  But the real question is -- who should be entrusted with such a vital mantle 

Criticism From Within 

Daniel Domscheit-Berg, like Wikileaks' notorious founder, Julian Assange, was a member of a high-profile early hacking community.  Whereas Mr. Assange frequented the Zen/Pacific Island servers in Australia, Mr. Domscheit-Berg was a member of the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) in Germany.  

When Mr. Assange looked to open Wikileaks, Mr. Domscheit-Berg was already familiar with famous Australian who had committed cyber-crimes under the named "Mendax".  He agreed to participate in the project, and for a time assumed the position of both spokesperson for the site and its number-two commander behind Mr. Assange. 

But in recent months, the German technology expert became troubled with Mr. Assange's leadership and Wikileaks’ lack of transparency.  He also indicates that recent leaks were badly botched and questionable. 

In response he has created a new site, with firm ethics guidelines, dubbed OpenLeaks. 

Leaks:  Who to Trust? 

When it comes to whistle blowing, the question of who to trust is a critical one.  After all, it's far too easy for international cyberespionage to masquerade under the guise of "whistle blowing" as some have accused Wikileaks of intentionally or unintentionally doing. 

Ideally a whistleblower must have a certain degree of respect for the government or institution he's exposing.  Or perhaps more aptly, they should desire to improve it through their actions, rather than destroy it. 

Mr. Assange in recent interviews espouses such morals, but his writings from the 1990s reveal a man who's firmly anti-government, to the point of advocating anarchy.  In a 1997 book, Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier, which Mr. Assange did research for, he voices such opinions. 

In the book, he and the author Suelette Dreyfus write:

As he quietly backed out of the system, wiping away his footprints as he tip-toed away, Mendax [Assange] thought about what he had seen. He was deeply disturbed that any hacker would work for the US military.

Hackers, he thought, should be anarchists, not hawks.

Such a statement could be construed as off-the-cuff, but at least one source who was a member of Mr. Assange's Australian hacking circle, who did not want to be named, confirmed that Mr. Assange had advocated such anarchic ideals.

And the recent leaks from Wikileaks certainly seemed more of a bid to destabilize U.S. foreign policy, rather than merely call it out for wrongdoing.  While the blame for the publication of recent leaks like a list of top targets for terrorists to harm U.S. national security rests partly on cooperating publishing organizations, such as The New York Times, one has to question why Wikileaks published them in the first place. 

If its goal was merely to report wrongdoing, why was it releasing loads of cables, many of which contained embarrassing or dangerous secrets (vulnerable locations, undisclosed illnesses of world leaders, or political tensions) but seemingly had little to do with wrongdoing? 

OpenLeaks: New Leaks Site, New Perspective

Mr. Domscheit-Berg left Wikileaks some time ago -- and he is not alone.  In the last year or two, particularly after the recent round of leaks, many of the site's top volunteers have abandoned it, questioning whether the site is abandoning its morals for a darker agenda. 

Mr. Domscheit-Berg sums up the sentiments of these former volunteers, stating, "In these last months, the organization [Wikileaks] has not been open any more, it lost its open-source promise." 

When asked about Mr. Assange's leadership in a recent interview, he comments, "It has weakened the organization.  [T]oo much focused on one person, and one person is always much weaker than an organization." 

He and his fellow volunteers have launched a new site OpenLeaks website, which is now live (www.openleaks.org).  The site has not yet published any leaked information, but plans to begin by writing short essays analyzing information it has obtained. 

For his part, Mr. Domscheit-Berg promises more transparency and discretion.  Whereas Wikileaks does not disclose details on its leadership structure or finances, OpenLeaks plans on publishing reports detailing its procedures.  

Similarly, Mr. Domscheit-Berg says that if he happens upon a treasure trove of information, like the illegally obtained U.S. State Department cables that were recently published by Wikileaks, that he would be more selective about what is passed to the media. 

He says that by carefully reviewing the material, you kill two birds with one stone.  First, you ensure that each leaked document really necessitates publication under whistle-blowing grounds, allowing extraneous documents to be eliminated.  And secondly, by taking a slower, more considered approach, OpenLeaks hopes to not burn through its supply of leaked info as Wikileaks is thought to have.



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No good has been done by this episode
By Tony Swash on 12/14/2010 2:02:01 PM , Rating: 1
Generally I support whistle blowing which exposes wrongdoing and I support a general principle of transparency in government. As long as Wikileaks was an agent for allowing whistle blowing to expose wrong doing I would support it. However I feel very ambivalent about the leaking of a seeming vast number of miscellaneous US diplomatic documents. It seems as if it has been done simply because it can be done. Almost no wrong doing has been exposed. All that has been achieved is the embarrassment of the US government and a lot of other people. For what purpose?

Of course reading other people's secrets is juicy especially if it involves someone you don't like. But it's not a very high principle.

What has been exposed is the sort of candid secret internal commentary that the diplomatic service of any country engages in. By definition a certain level of secrecy is a requisite for any government and for any diplomacy, and I know from my own time in public service that there are occasions that I have made candid comments which were very much not intended for any sort of public consumption. I have in writing called people assholes, untrustworthy and incompetent. I made such honest and at times brutal comments in order to improve public service but if my comments had been made public it would have been destructive and distractive, it would not have made good governance more likely it would have made it less likely.

It is essential for good diplomacy that people working inside the diplomatic services are free to offer what they think are true but nevertheless potentially embarrassing comments in the knowledge that their comment will remain confidential. I fear that if people in diplomatic services start to worry that their comments will be made public or leaked then all that will happen is that people will make comments they know to be false or less true but which they also know will be less sensational if leaked. That's not good for diplomacy or government.

Imagine if every painful stage of the private negotiations slowing building the Northern Irish peace process, every concession or movement of the parties concerned, had been immediately leaked. Would that have been helpful or progressive? If one thinks that the principle of transparency trumps all other considerations then the answer would have to be yes. I do not think that and I am glad that the Irish peace negotiations could for a long time mature in secret.

As to the attacks being made on Wikileaks - what did they expect? It is surely a simple principle of life that if you attack someone then one should expect  them to fight back. Wikileaks chose to mount a significant attack on the US and lot of other governments around the world. It did so for reasons I cannot see are particularly progressive. What is progressive or useful about publishing a detailed list of targets considered to be vulnerable to terrorist attack? What good is done by doing such a thing?  Wikileaks attacks have done a great deal of damage and now those they have attacked, who are very powerful and now very pissed off, have counterattacked. Is any one shocked? 

None of the newspapers appear to be being attacked or threatened so the freedom of the press does not seem to be an issue here. Personally I think the behaviour of newspapers like the Guardian has been a bit shabby. Publishing all this material just seems to me to be the liberal broadsheet equivalent of the tabloid press taking photographs of a celebrity cheating on their wife or husband. It sells newspapers but is it a particularly good thing to do?

I defend the right of newspapers to publish secrets whose publication is in the public interest. I do not support the right of newspapers to publish any secret, no mater how damaging or hurtful or which achieve no greater good, just because they can. Newspapers have rights but they also have responsibilities. As I have said currently there seems to be no major attacks on the newspapers who published the material, other than condemnation by other media.  

I fear that all this episode has done is discredit whistle blowing, damage a lot of painfully built diplomatic relationships and probably destroyed Wikileaks. 

A big mess.




By Lerianis on 12/16/2010 4:09:18 AM , Rating: 2
Tony, the fact is that government officials are employed by the American people (in America) and the people in the country whose government they work for.

There is no reason why they should be able to have any secrets, nor hide any information, from their people except for VERY short periods when operations are ongoing.
At most, for a time period of 1 year even then.

Allowing our government to have secrets allows things like the Tuskegee Experiments, My Lai, the Bay of Pigs, etc. to go on.


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