The Ecuadorian diplomat who gave Julian Assange political asylum reports from the extradition hearing against the WikiLeaks journalist, and explains why it is “the most important case against the freedom of expression in an entire generation.”
by Fidel Narváez, (translated by Ben Norton)
Part 5 - WikiLeaks was not the first to publish the diplomatic cables without redaction, but only Julian Assange is being persecuted.
Three of the 18 charges against Assange accuse him specifically of publishing US diplomatic cables without redactions. But the defense and its witnesses showed that WikiLeaks was not the first media outlet to publish these files, and those who did it were not prosecuted. WikiLeaks was careful to encrypt the archive, but actions out of Assange’s control led to its publication.
The German computer science professor Christian Grothoff testified about an investigation into the chronology of the events of 2011. Grothoff reviewed the timeline: In the summer of 2010, WikiLeaks shared the cables with The Guardian journalist David Leigh, through a file on a temporary website protected with a very strong encryption password. Assange only wrote part of the password on paper. WikiLeaks and its media partners began to publish the edited cables in November 2010.
WikiLeaks suffered constant attacks on its servers and mirror copies of its archive were created around the world to protect the information. Those copies were not accessible without a secure code. In February 2011, The Guardian journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding published a book in which the title of a chapter was the complete password for the unredacted cables. When the book published the key, WikiLeaks no longer had the ability to delete the mirror archives or change the encryption.
On August 25, 2011, the German newspaper Der Freitag published an article in which it explained that the password revealed by Leigh and Harding could be used, and in a few days the complete archive, without redaction or editing, appeared on Cryptome.org, a page created in the United States. The websites MRKVA and Pirate Bay also published copies of the archive. On September 1, the U.S. government accessed the unredacted cache for the first time, through Pirate Bay.
Professor Grothoff testified that he had not been able to find a single example of the code published online before The Guardian journalists published it in their book.
Assange and his WikiLeaks colleague Sarah Harrison called the U.S. State Department to warn that the unredacted cables were online, but their warnings were ignored. The journalist Stefania Maurizi recounted in her testimony that she was meeting with WikiLeaks the same day that she found out that the cables had been published, out of Assange’s control.
“I remember that when I arrived there were fierce discussions as to what to do. Julian was clearly acutely troubled by the situation with which Wikileaks was faced,” she recalled. For more than a year, he had been taking all of the possible measures to prevent this. “Assange was himself making urgent attempts to inform the (US) State Department the information was circulating out of Wikileaks’ control.”
WikiLeaks had to release the cables on September 2, 2010, and published an editorial note indicating that “A Guardian journalist has negligently disclosed top secret WikiLeaks’ decryption passwords to hundreds of thousands of unredacted unpublished US diplomatic cables.”
The journalist Glenn Greenwald, who won the Pulitzer Prize for the Edward Snowden revelations, wrote that day:
Once WikiLeaks realized what had happened, they notified the State Department, but faced a quandary: virtually every government’s intelligence agencies would have had access to these documents as a result of these events, but the rest of the world — including journalists, whistleblowers and activists identified in the documents — did not. At that point, WikiLeaks decided — quite reasonably — that the best and safest course was to release all the cables in full, so that not only the world’s intelligence agencies but everyone had them, so that steps could be taken to protect the sources.
The journalist Jakob Augstein, editor of Der Freitag, confirmed in his written testimony that, in August 2010, his media outlet published an article titled “Leak at WikiLeaks,” about the about the release of the password by The Guardian journalists. Assange called him and requested that he not publish anything that could reveal where the archive could be found, worried about “the security of the informants” of the U.S. government.
Finally, John Young, the representative of Cryptome.org, confirmed in his written testimony that his U.S.-based website first published the unredacted diplomatic cables, before WikiLeaks republished it:
I published on Cryptome.org unredacted diplomatic cables on September 1, 2011… and that publication remains available at the present… no US law enforcement authority has notified me that this publication of the cables is illegal, consists or contributes to a crime in any way, nor have they asked for them to be removed.