Thursday, September 01, 2011


Wikileaks unredacted diplomatic cable leak makes data available to any and everyone

by Larry Geller

Update: Instead of downloading data to search yourself, a website now provides lightening-fast searches of the entire 250,000+ trove of cables. Check it out at

This morning’s Democracy Now included this headline: WikiLeaks Blames Guardian for Cable Disclosure:

The whistleblower website WikiLeaks has blamed The Guardian newspaper for making public thousands of unredacted diplomatic cables. In a lengthy editorial, WikiLeaks accuses a Guardian reporter of divulging the password needed to decrypt the files in a book published earlier this year. The files reportedly contain raw, unredacted cables that include the names of agents, journalists and human rights workers in countries such as Israel, Jordan, Iran and Afghanistan.

[Democracy Now, WikiLeaks Blames Guardian for Cable Disclosure, 9/1/2011]

By the time Democracy Now aired, this news was literally all over the place. Twitter is kind of a world-wide broadcast station itself.

A quick Google search revealed the location of the cables.

If you understand how to download a bit torrent file, you can be the proud possessor of a complete copy of the cables. You won’t be alone, of course, practically every geek on your block may already have a copy. If you don’t know how to download a torrent, Google (or your nearest geek) can easily explain. The download of the compressed file would take only a few minutes. Bit torrent is fast. Thanks to the release of the password, the files will not be encrypted. The data is now in clear text.

Regardless of the dangers of unredacted diplomatic cables in the wild, which surely must be vexing the US and other governments as well as the officials and civilians whose names have now been exposed, the cables themselves do represent a wealth of information, not all of which is classified and not all of which would be shadowy diplomatic secrets. Most likely, to some extent, similar information is available from other sources.

We can be sure that thousands of eyeballs are now scanning the new data. The ability of personal computers to search that amount of data is truly remarkable. All it takes to search a file even of that size is to load it into an editor. Then searches for keywords like “Hawaii” or “APEC” are well within the capabilities of the average home computer user.

Meanwhile, a blame game is playing out over whether the Guardian newspaper really revealed the password or not. It hardly matters how this turns out as far as the curious public is concerned. News agencies will sort through and report on their findings. For those whose names have unfortunately been revealed, however, the leak is clearly of far greater concern.

The massive leak also demonstrates, I think, that data wants to be free. If personal data, medical data, or diplomatic cables is out there, the risk of it escaping or being hacked is just too real.


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