Digital World: (Un)Plugging the (Wiki)leak

The news media will tell you what they think you ought to know. But Cablegate is all about power to the people.

November 29, 2010 22:29
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

Wikileaks Julian Assange. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Well, here it is, a day or so after the big Wikileaks leak, and the world is still here (at least it was Monday afternoon, as I wrote this). Countries are still talking to each other, no one has declared war on anyone else, no “heads have rolled,” and there haven’t even been any divorces reported – yet.

Actually, the hype preceding the actual release of the documents seemed to be greater than the sum of the several hundred of 250,000 or so documents that Wikileaks plans on eventually releasing. The first batch was released on its special “Cablegate” website Sunday night. It’s called Cablegate, of course, because the leaked documents are largely cables that were sent from US embassies, consulates and diplomats around the world to the State Department via SIPRNet, the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, a special under-the-radar Internet run by the US Defense Department.

Not under-the-radar enough, apparently; according to the guy who allegedly handed the documents over to Wikileaks, a US soldier, it was “childishly easy” to get access to the cables.

Based on the press reports so far, the Cablegate documents don’t contain any real bombshells; most of them contain information we already kind of knew (of course, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, along with Israel, want to eliminate Iran as a threat, and the US had to bribe countries into taking Guantanamo detainees – why else would they take them?).

But of course, things are different when you see them in print or online. On the other hand, we’re only at the beginning of the process: a mere few hundred of the promised 250,000 plus documents have been released so far. It’s possible the Wikileaks people are saving the “juicy” stuff for later.

Whether the initial fears pan out – that the Cablegate documents will cause all manner of international mischief and even endanger the lives of those named (and those suspected of being the ones not named) as sources – the cat is out of the bag, and there’s no chance of stuffing it back in. What does it all mean?

Well, the news media (especially the “chosen” outlets such as the Guardian and The New York Times) will tell you what they think you ought to know. But Cablegate is all about power to the people – and there’s no reason you shouldn’t be making your own decisions on what content is important and what isn’t.

The current iteration of Wikileaks – the second major one this year – is available at The site, as of Monday, still had the Iraq War Logs that were leaked earlier; a version of Wikileaks with all of the documents it has revealed so far, including the 9/11 call transcripts, is still up at that most of the Wikileaks mirrors seem to be down.)

The dedicated Cablegate site, unlike some of the other Wikileaks sites, has a useful search engine, as well as other tools. But, as could be expected, the site and the search engine have been very busy, with searches taking long minutes, if they are completed at all. Could be things might calm down at the site in the coming days, but probably not, given that Wikileaks has promised to keep releasing documents in the coming weeks.

There are several sites on the Internet that have begun to try and organize the information that has been released so far, like the Guardian’s blog page, which has an index of which embassy the cables were sent from and when, the subject matter, graphics of where the data relates to, and other interesting information but not the contents of the cables themselves. In what seems to me to be a restriction completely at odds with the spirit – and fact – of Wikileaks’s releasing the data to the public, the Guardian won’t let you download the cables from their site, just information on who sent what to whom, when and on what subject.

That’s not much help if you’re interested in figuring out what the data itself says; for that, you have to go to the Cablegate site itself. But then you’re still stuck with the slow search problem.

Instead, I would suggest downloading your own copy of the archive itself. Wikileaks offers a torrent of the full archive released so far, which you can download using an application that supports Bittorrent downloads (e.g., Remember, Wikileaks has only released a few hundred of the promised documents so far, so the archive isn’t all that big – just about a megabyte or so.

You can also find alternative copies of this archive on various torrent download sites around the Internet, as well as a torrent of a download of the full Wikileaks site itself, which several enterprising folk pulled when Wikileaks reported that its site was getting attacked (just do a search for “Cablegate torrent” and you’ll find plenty of hosts to download the archive from).

I’d suggest going with the latter; the unzipped torrent downloaded directly from the Wikileaks site was pretty bare-bones, and although it is in HTML format, for use with a Web browser, my copy was missing an index, or homepage file, meaning that I got annoying boxes, instead of graphics, and not very pleasant-looking pages. The archive of the full site itself I got from a third-party site was much nicer looking.

With either version, you can use your operating system’s search engine to narrow down the data you want. You can also get updates on the latest releases and other useful information at the Cablegate Facebook page (the comments are quite interesting; not everyone, it appears, believes that Wikileaks is really on the peoples’ side).

Regardless, you will now have the same information the folks at the Guardian and the Times have, and you will be able to read for yourself what the brouhaha is all about. Or will you?

It’s possible that the reason the documents are having a much more mellow impact than expected is because they are much more mellow than they are supposed to be. Many of the cables as published by the site contain a disclaimer: “This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.”

Huh? I thought this was about no-holds-barred, out in the open, give the people what they want journalism? Did someone “get” to Wikileaks’s publisher Julian Assange? How is it that this guy is actually still walking around after revealing this sensitive data – much less the scandalous (for the US government) information he released earlier this year about Iraq? This sounds like a story that needs to be investigated by a dynamic, gimme the truth no matter how bad it hurts kind of website – like Wikileaks?

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