x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Website trying to 'change society'

WikiLeaks relies on a network of volunteers around the world, who specialise in a wide range of subjects from software to military law to verifying the documents they receive.

When WikiLeaks posted raw footage in April of a deadly US helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed 12 people, it seemed the whistleblowers' website had reached the apex of its fame and notoriety. Some may have thought so months later when Pvt Bradley Manning, a US intelligence analyst serving in Iraq, was charged with leaking confidential information. But the classified Afghan war reports published this week are perhaps an indication that WikiLeaks may be evolving into a force governments all over the world will need to reckon with.

The Iraq video phenomena was confined to YouTube, but with the Afghan war logs, the organisation has harnessed the power of three respected and influential news organisations, The New York Times, The Guardian in Britain and Germany's Der Spiegel. It is perhaps a remarkable achievement for an organisation with no headquarters, no offices and about five full-time volunteers. "The information kept the most secret would help reform society; we are dealing with information transparency to change society," said Daniel Schmitt, a Berlin-based volunteer and journalist who said he uses a false surname for security reasons.

"We have criteria for sources. You want material of moral, ethical, historical, political significance. We want our sources to write us a few lines saying why it should be justified. If it endangers someone's life, we don't publish it; but if in doubt, we say publish it. We would rather publish it than not." Of the 92,000 documents, about 15,000 have not been released as part of a "harm minimisation process demanded by our source", WikiLeaks has said. An entry on the website promised they will be made public in the future.

Mr Schmitt said WikiLeaks was raising funds so it could pay some employees and buy more hardware. It relies on a network of between 800 and 1,000 volunteers around the world, who specialise in a wide range of subjects from software to military law to verifying the documents they receive. WikiLeaks said the Afghan war reports were written by soldiers and intelligence officers listening to reports sent in from the front line of battles. While the material is at a low level of classification - officially deemed "secret" - the sources still did not have the authority to leak it.

Mr Schmitt said the organisation has servers all over the world to protect it from legals cases and injunctions aimed at removing the information from its website. "It is impossible to legally attack us," he said. "Because of the nature of the project, we maintain five servers in a few dozen jurisdictions. No one knows where all the servers are to make sure there is no one person who can shut the servers down or be intimidated into shutting them down."

@Email:hghafour@thenational.ae