WikiLeaks has been erroneously releasing cables containing names, places and conversations that have potentially endangered human lives.

The organisation has then attempted to cover up its mistakes by secretly and retroactively editing the documents on its website. In extreme cases entire sections, and even entire documents, have been removed.

Crikey can not give specific examples without risking the personal safety of the redacted names, but it raises serious questions about WikiLeaks’ ability to manage such a large amount of documentation, and the folly of the US State Department’s refusal to assist WikiLeaks in preparing the documents for release.

Of the 1203 cables released so far, at least 365 of the cables have been updated by WikiLeaks since they were initially released, mostly for formatting issues. Of the edited cables, more than 45 contain significant non-trivial edits, including 15 cables deleted entirely from the archive.

Examples of cables that were initially published with names but have been secretly censored at a later date include discussions with representatives of the US by nationals of their own countries’ elections, military activities and rulers.

In addition to names, whole sections of the cables have also been excised. One cable was taken down for three days and, when it returned, nearly half the content, including a frank discussion with the president of an African nation on a wide variety of topics, including the Israel-Palestine peace process and the war in Afghanistan, was missing. In a different cable, a secret escape route from a major country in the Middle East was initially described in detail but vanishes in an update several days later.

As well as edits, at least 15 cables that were published have been removed in their entirety from the archive. These cables cover diverse topics and it is not immediately clear why they have been removed.

The removal of cables and then their addition back to the archive several days later with edits suggest WikiLeaks is receiving instructions from interested parties to take problematic cables down until the redaction errors have been fixed.

This is despite WikiLeaks claiming that before release the documents are “all reviewed and they’re all redacted, either by us or by the newspapers concerned”.

Critics of WikiLeaks have long accused the organsiation of recklessness, with the US saying such releases put “lives in danger”. To counteract such criticism for the current “cablegate” releases, WikiLeaks requested but was denied editing assistance from the US State Department.

On the other side, there has been some criticism from transparency advocates that WikiLeaks should not be censoring the documents at all, with rival whistle-blower website cryptome calling redactions “immensely deceptive” and stating “Never redact. No vital secrets. No deals with cheating dealers.”

With about 4% of cables containing significant post release modifications, it seems that in the seismic battle between WikiLeaks and the US government, some people are falling through the cracks.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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