You know that feeling you get when you get off the phone with someone and trash-talk them for half an hour, only to realize that you left your phone on and they were listening the whole time? Where do you go from there?
The U.S. government knows that feeling. WikiLeaks.org began releasing on Sunday a cache of more than 250,000 confidential cables between 274 U.S. embassies around the world. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday castigated WikiLeaks, claiming that the organization’s release of sensitive documents amounts to nothing less than an “attack on the international community.” Clinton told reporters that Wikileaks’ move has the potential to put the lives of human rights activists, anti-corruption activists, U.S. diplomatic sources at risk.
The cables expose the Obama administrations’ candid opinions of foreign leaders, international conflicts, and describe secret plots, including an attempt to remove highly enriched uranium from a Pakistani research reactor. The cables, 15,652 of which are classified as Secret, date from 1966 to February 2010.
While condemning the release of the cables, Clinton said that she’s confident that the less than polite pictures they portray of foreign leaders will not damage relations with U.S. allies. Nevertheless, the big issue now is damage control. In an attempt to minimize backlash, the Obama administration called a number of world leaders in advance to warn them of the imminent WikiLeaks release. Clinton will be visiting Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Bahrain this week, and her first order of business will involve a meeting with several countries belonging to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), where she will likely attempt further damage control.
The scramble to prepare the world for the impact of the released documents has been somewhat anticlimactic, though, given the fact that the WikiLeaks website has been down since Sunday. The organization blames the outage on a denial-of-service attack, claiming that unknown hackers are preventing it from releasing the documents. But it looks like the group planned for such an attack, so it provided several media outlets with copies of the cables in advance. The New York Times published a list of summaries of the cables on Sunday. One cable revealed that the massive cyber attack on Google in China was, indeed, orchestrated by the Chinese government.
A denial-of-service attack occurs when rogue programs overwhelm a website with so many data packets that it can’t keep up and ultimately shuts down.
Computer security expert Bruce Schneier explained to the Associated Press that “pinpointing the culprits is impossible because the Internet's structure does not allow for the tracing back of the data packets used in such attacks.”
But a denial-of-service attack is minor compared to the personal attacks on WikiLeaks’ founder, the very anemic-looking Julian Assange, who checks into hotels under false names, dyes his hair, doesn’t use credit cards, and speaks to his colleagues on encrypted cell phones (swapping his own out frequently to avoid being traced by Western intelligence agencies). Assange, who seems too pale to be a native Australian, is being investigated in Sweden on allegations of rape and molestation, which he denies as a smear campaign. (Side note: I just realized that Assange's unseasonable paleness is one of his "disguises.")
Since releasing over 77,000 classified pentagon documents regarding the Afghan war and over 390,000 confidential documents on the war in Iraq, some of Assange’s loyalists have turned against him, accusing him of being careless in his quest for grandeur. A number of Wikileaks colleagues disapproved of Assange’s decision to release the names of Afghan intelligence sources for NATO troops. “We were very, very upset with that, and with the way he spoke about it afterwards,” said Wikileaks volunteer and member of Iceland’s Parliament, Birgitta Jonsdottir, in an interview with the New York Times.
To prevent future leaks, President Barack Obama is cracking down on governmental agencies’ access to classified information. In a memo from the White House Office of Management and Budget sent Monday, governmental agencies were ordered to ensure that their employees only have access to documents and information that they need to perform their jobs. Henceforth, there will be a zero-tolerance policy for unauthorized disclosures of classified documents.