Breakdown: The new WikiLeaks scoops

A new batch of unredacted diplomatic cables drops

Topics: WikiLeaks,

Breakdown: The new WikiLeaks scoopsWikiLeaks founder Julian Assange attends a news conference at the Geneva Press Club in Geneva, in this November 4, 2010 file photo. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said on December 3, 2010 that he and colleagues were taking steps to protect themselves after death threats following the publication of leaked U.S. diplomatic cables on their website. One of Assange's lawyers said he would also fight any attempt to extradite his client to face questions over alleged sexual misconduct, adding that he believed foreign powers were influencing Sweden in the matter. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud/Files (SWITZERLAND - Tags: POLITICS CONFLICT MILITARY MEDIA HEADSHOT) BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE(Credit: © Valentin Flauraud / Reuters)

When it comes to making news, WikiLeaks is going it alone — and in a crowd.

Last week, the whistle-blowing organization dropped 120,000 more diplomatic cables, apparently drawn from the cache of 250,000 first tapped last November. But whereas the group previously collaborated with newspapers such as the New York Times and the Guardian — and redacted potentially sensitive information — the new batch of documents is unredacted. Government sources worry that personal information might jeopardize the safety of diplomatic sources. Human rights activists worry that applicants for political asylum may face reprisals.

Instead of partnering with senior editors in London and Washington, WikiLeaks is now engaging in social media crowd-sourcing — asking for recommendations of interesting cables at #wlfinds on Twitter. While the editorial process is slow, the new documents are yielding news stories such as:

  • Iraq atrocity and coverup: Probably the most shocking cable, a message from the State Department’s Phillip Alston to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in March 2006, details the summary execution by U.S. soldiers of an Iraqi family — including five children under the ages of 5, and a 74-year-old woman. “Alston’s letter reveals that a US airstrike was launched on the house presumably to destroy the evidence, but that ‘autopsies carried out at the Tikrit Hospital’s morgue revealed that all corpses were shot in the head and handcuffed.’” 
  • Al-Qaida Down Under: Unredacted cables identified close to two dozen Australian citizens whom that government suspected of having ties to al-Qaida. Australia’s attorney general, Robert McClelland, condemned WikiLeaks, saying “The publication of any information that could compromise Australia’s national security, or inhibit the ability of intelligence agencies to monitor potential threats, is incredibly irresponsible.” 
  • Diplomats as lobbyists: After Oracle’s announced acquisition of Sun Microsystems in 2009, several federal officials and agencies, “including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Departments of Treasury, Justice, and Commerce, and the Federal Trade Commission,” pressured the European Union to allow the merger to go through. 
  • American settlers in Palestinian territory: Cables from Israel lent new insight into the motivations of Americans who uproot their families to live (illegally) in the West Bank. As Salon’s Justin Elliott pointed out last week, consular officers stationed at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv found that ” U.S. citizens’ reasons for moving to Jewish settlements in the area where Palestinians hope to establish a state were three-fold: social, economic, and ideological.”
  • Sex traffickers in Sweden: A 2006 cable recounts the story of 120 Chinese children, between the ages of 10 and 18, who arrived in Sweden seeking political asylum — and, over the course of 18 months, disappeared. The cables, from the U.S. Embassy in Stockholm, suggest that disappearances were managed by “organized traffickers residing in other European countries.” 

WikiLeaks is also crowd-sourcing the redaction issue, by polling its Twitter followers on whether they favor releasing the remaining cables from its cache without any redaction. Respondent have “favored disclosure at a ratio of of 100 to one,” according to the Guardian

The unexpected info dump was apparently triggered after WikiLeaks discovered that an encrypted file has been floating around the Internet for months containing the entire database of U.S. diplomatic cables. The password necessary to unlock the files was apparently the same one mentioned by the Guardian in a book published about WikiLeaks in February. (The Guardian has a more complete explanation of the snafu here.) 

Peter Finocchiaro is a senior editor at Salon. Follow him on Twitter @PLFino.

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