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Of Cables, Search Engines, and Revolving Doors
Who gets back to you when you can't reach Hillary? Someone connected to Google of course!
NORFOLK UK (Rixstep) — Sometimes you just have to reach Hillary.
SH: Oh hello. Can I please speak to Hillary Clinton?
SH: Erm I'm calling from the office of Julian Assange. It's very important. All of the US Department of State cables - we have intelligence that they are about to be put on the web - unredacted, not by us. This is an emergency.
[Julian writes note for Sarah: 'If you care about US security'.]
SH: But when I say they're about to go, they are ABOUT TO GO.
SH [soft voice again]: I don't think we have very long so...
[Sarah shakes head despondently at Julian.]
JA [whispers]: Put him on. Who is he? Who is he?
SH [into phone]: Let me put him on the phone to you.
SH [whispers to Julian]: He's the senior watch officer. He won't give me his name.
JA [whispers to Sarah]: Urg.
JA [into phone]: Hello. Who am I speaking to please?
JA: G'day... G'day... G'day Chad. This is Julian Assange. Erm I would like to speak to the most senior person available who can execute an action quickly to send someone to our location here in Norfolk. We can discuss details. It cannot be discussed over the phone.
[Sarah scribbles note to Julian.]
JA [reads note, then into phone]: Erm to try to make it clear: we don't have a problem - YOU have a problem.
(And of course the punchline is who got back to them. Lisa Shields, Eric Schmidt's girlfriend.)
A Quick Recap
Back to the summer of 2011. David Leigh's scurvy WikiLeaks book, put together in great haste with professional plagiarist Luke Harding, had been on the shelves half a year. Daniel Berg (aka Daniel Schmitt aka Daniel Domscheit aka DDB) had just got home to his Anke, all hurting from his fiasco at the CCC summer camp. DDB's lacklustre attempt to pimp an alternative to the WikiLeaks system had fallen flat on its face. Worse still: DDB was caught in a tangle of his own lies. One day he had in fact stolen documents from WikiLeaks (but not the Swedish police protocols - that's someone else) and the following day he'd done nothing of the kind. The third-day variant could be that stealing the docs was in fact a heroic act.
The CCC had been bargaining with DDB all along. After all, people's lives were at stake. And finally they grew tired of DDB's shameless lies and contradictions.
One Herbert Snorrason, an Icelander who'd done volunteer work for WikiLeaks back in late 2009/early 2010, was flying back from a visit to the US. He'd bought a copy of Leigh's book to keep occupied.
Snorrason got to the chapter in Leigh's book where Leigh plasters the monster Cablegate encryption key right across the top of the page. Snorrason shat an Icelandic brick.
For Snorrason had access to WikiLeaks mirror servers. And he suspected the encryption key could be legit. He raced home from the airport and tried the key.
The key worked.
Snorrason had met DDB in late 2009/early 2010. He'd taken a liking to DDB ever since DDB showed him his expensive leather-bound anthology of anarchist writings. (Both of them were armchair anarchists.)
Shaking from his discovery in Leigh's book, Snorrason turned to - DDB. That was the biggest mistake he ever made, a mistake that could have been cataclysmic for the world at large.
DDB was still down for the count after the CCC summer camp fiasco, very much out for revenge. This was his opportunity. He took the info Snorrason gave him, tested it for himself, then began talking to the German media. His plan was to make WikiLeaks appear irreponsible - unredacted cables fully available etc.
In fact the WikiLeaks Cablegate system had been meticulous, nigh on foolproof. All cables resided on an air-gapped laptop. Cables were distributed to myriad media partners who scrutinised them and redacted names as necessary.
All redacted names were replaced by 12 (twelve) upper case 'X' characters so as to give nothing away.
The media partners then resubmitted the cables for approval, then they and WikiLeaks collaborated on a release date.
The only flaws in the system were DDB and Leigh. They could have caused a catastrophe. Both of them were hoping for it.
Julian, Sarah, and the others had undoubtedly been aware of Leigh's key for some time. The cables themselves were on myriad mirror servers, ever since volunteers began backing them up to prevent the site being shut down.
The actual files weren't easy to locate however. They were in a secret directory not listed by the Apache web server. One had to specifically know they were there to access them.
The question on the minds of the good folk in Norfolk therefore was: 'how long?' What Leigh had done was a dirty trick - Julian doesn't see it that way, but others do. At any rate: equipped with the encryption key, one only needed the file. How long would it be before someone found the file?
DDB, bent on revenge, was trying to make that process speed up.
'Cablegate2' was the means out of the situation - the only way to save lives and protect the innocent. If Leigh had been so mad as to publish an authentic encryption key and DDB so hell-bent as to give away the file location, then anyone could have access.
As there were names there that had been previously redacted, those people could already be in the sights of their enemies.
Worse still: malevolent groups could publish their own versions and skew the contents for their own purposes. (Wars could be started on less pretext.)
It was therefore blatantly imperative to stop the chaos and possible bloodshed.
WikiLeaks began by releasing huge tranches of unclassified and unredacted cables. They then created an online survey to see what people thought about continuing with the classified ones: should they release or not?
And of course they placed that famous phone call to Hillary Clinton.
WikiLeaks and Julian (and Sarah and others) continue to fight for what is right. Julian's holed up in the Ecuador embassy in Knightsbridge in London; Sarah's in exile in Berlin after heroically saving the life of Edward Snowden.
David Leigh's gone into retirement, still cursing the 'news bunnies' who've taken over in the age of the web, online publications, and WikiLeaks. DDB weaves his way from one German political party to another, and was last seen out back of his country home sporting his radical chic Dr Martens and tilling his fields of biodynamic bullshit.
Developers Workshop: The ABCs of XYZ
Learning Curve: How do you do, Cablegate2
Learning Curve: Who wouldn't shout with the stakes so high
Industry Watch: Shoard (Sorkin is Smiling)
The Technological: Anke Domscheit Time Traveler
The Technological: That Super-Secret WikiLeaks Encryption Key File
Industry Watch: Statement by Julian Assange on the Domscheit-Bergs
Industry Watch: The Domscheit-Bergs Destroy 3,500 WikiLeaks Submissions