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Aug 22, 2011

First action of ‘Open Leaks’ — destroy leaked material

The first action of the new Open Leaks site, designed to succeed WikiLeaks, has been to destroy a vast trove of valuable documents.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

A disgruntled former WikiLeaks employee has destroyed a trove of leaked material taken from his former employer, amid claims he has provided information to US government agencies.

Daniel Domscheit-Berg, sacked from WikiLeaks just under a year ago after a falling out with Julian Assange, told Der Spiegel’s Holger Stark over the weekend that he had destroyed a cache of documents taken from WikiLeaks on his departure, after publicly threatening to destroy them late last week. The material has been in contention between Domscheit-Berg and WikiLeaks ever since, with the German hacker group Chaos Computer Club attempting to mediate the return of the material. The material is said to include at least 3500 submissions, some individually composed of several hundred documents, and keys to their decryption. Among the material, according to Der Spiegel (in German) and later confirmed by WikiLeaks was the US no-fly list — a notorious document that at one stage saw the late Senator Teddy Kennedy repeatedly being stopped and questioned at US airports because of the presence of a “T. Kennedy” on the list. There was also said to be information on a number of far-right groups, and US government internet surveillance arrangements with more than 100 companies.

Domscheit-Berg has changed his position on the circumstances in which he obtained documents more than once, and as the WL Central site has shown, was recently quoted as specifically denying having them.

Equally bizarrely, Domscheit-Berg had suggested whistleblowers whose material he intended to destroy simply resubmit the material to leaks sites. Anonymous whistleblower sites have proliferated since Domscheit-Berg’s departure and Julian Assange’s prosecution by the Swedish government in effect shut down WikiLeaks’ capacity to receive new material. However, security problems have these efforts to ape WikiLeaks, and News Corporation’s disastrous attempt specifically advised whistleblowers that the company would shop them to authorities or even other companies if it was in News Corporation’s interests.

After WikiLeaks, Domscheit-Berg published an inevitably “tell-all” book on his time in the organisation and repeatedly promised to establish his own “Open Leaks” whistleblower site. Earlier this month, Domscheit-Berg finally unveiled the site at the CCC’s Chaos Communications Camp hacker conference and invited attendees to probe its weaknesses. Flaws in the site were revealed within hours.

The call for testing at the camp apparently sparked a falling out with the CCC, which accused Domscheit-Berg of trying to claim the club’s seal of approval for Open Leaks. Its spokesman Andy Müller-Maguhn told Der Spiegel that Domscheit-Berg had been “shameless” in attempting to co-opt the organisation. Müller-Maguhn went further and suggested Domscheit-Berg was “flexible with facts”. “I doubt Domscheit-Berg’s integrity,” Müller-Maguhn concluded. Domscheit-Berg’s destruction of the material may partly have been pique at the CCC’s decision.

In a demonstration not merely of his rage at Domscheit-Berg’s destruction of material but at the bitter nature of the falling-out, Assange immediately released a statement suggesting that Domscheit-Berg had had contact with the FBI and that his wife had had contact with the CIA.

Domscheit-Berg’s destruction of such valuable material must surely entirely wreck the prospects of Open Leaks, which while long-delayed, had established relationships with media partner organisation ahead of the establishment of its secure dropbox system for whistleblowers. His inability to convnce the hacking community of his bona fides, even before his destruction of potentially critical material (assuming that is what he has done, rather than for example provide them to governments), is unlikely to convince would-be whistleblowers that his site is secure and he is trustworthy, even if claims about his links to law enforcement agencies don’t prove correct.

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4 thoughts on “First action of ‘Open Leaks’ — destroy leaked material

  1. Clytie

    This is particularly worrying for whistleblowers who have risked their careers and their safety to get information to Wikileaks. I really hope the Wikileaks submission system masked their identity successfully, and that D-B doesn’t know who they are. Assange will go to prison rather than expose his sources, but it doesn’t sound as though D-B takes their safety that seriously.

    A huge amount of pressure has been imposed from all directions on Wikileaks since the U.S. diplomatic cables started to come out. It’s interesting, seeing who cracks and who doesn’t. I’m amazed that Assange can keep on going, but I hope he does, because we need to know what our governments are doing in our name, and what corporations are doing with our resources.

  2. michael crook

    Pity about the no fly list. I first heard about this when I walked in to the Revolutionary Communist Party of America bookshop on 19th stW in NYC in 2002. It is a great bookshop, for those interested in left writings. The staff there were telling me that none of the Party members were allowed to fly by air in the US. If they booked a ticket, they were stopped at the gate. I repeated this comment several times in the ensuing years at political gatherings to be met with disbelief.

    I can only hope that Wikileaks and their successors keep on lifting the lid on the travesty of democracy that western political systems have become.

  3. AR

    Anyone who doubts the free character assessments above of Dumb-Shite should read his book. So little self awareness or human empathy that even his own, tedious self justifications demonstrate a strange, unpleasant and certainly untrustworthy person.