Sunday, August 08, 2010
Wikileaks Rides On
Two articles of interest concerning Wikileaks appeared in today's news. Their text is presented below.
Wikileaks To Publish New Documents
The online whistle-blower WikiLeaks said it will continue to publish more secret files from governments around the world despite U.S. demands to cancel plans to release classified military documents.
"I can assure you that we will keep publishing documents — that's what we do," a WikiLeaks spokesman, who says he goes by the name Daniel Schmitt in order to protect his identity, told The Associated Press in an interview Saturday.
Schmitt said he could not comment on any specific documents but asserted that the publication of classified documents about the Afghanistan war directly contributed to the public's understanding of the conflict.
"Knowledge about ongoing issues like the war in Afghanistan is the only way to help create something like safety," Schmitt said. "Hopefully with this understanding, public scrutiny will then influence governments to develop better politics."
He rejected allegations that the group's publication of leaked U.S. government documents was a threat to America's national security or put lives at risk.
"For this reason, we conveyed a request to the White House prior to the publication, asking that the International Security Assistance Force provide us with reviewers," Schmitt said. "That request remains open. However, the Pentagon has stated that it is not interested in 'harm minimization' and has not contacted us, directly, or indirectly to discuss this offer."
The NATO-led ISAF security force is mostly deployed in Afghanistan's less volatile north.
The Pentagon has maintained that the Defense Department had no direct contact with WikiLeaks about possible efforts to redact those documents to make them less of a security threat.
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said late last month that it was "absolutely, unequivocally not true" that WikiLeaks had offered to let U.S. government officials go through the documents to make sure no innocent people were identified.
The Pentagon demanded on Thursday that WikiLeaks cancel any plan to publish more classified military documents and pull back tens of thousands of secret Afghan war logs already posted on the Internet.
The demand to stop publishing more classified documents, which the Pentagon has no independent power to enforce, is primarily aimed at preventing release of approximately 15,000 secret documents that the website WikiLeaks has said it is holding and possibly classified U.S. State Department cables.
The Pentagon also hopes to stop WikiLeaks from making public the contents of a mammoth encrypted file recently added to the site. Contents of that file remain a mystery and Schmitt did not want to comment specifically on the content of a file the group posted online with the label "Insurance" in recent days.
He only said that "we regularly distribute backups of documents that have not been published ... This one has just been placed on a very popular site right now to make sure that it has been distributed as widely as possible."
Schmitt said that the group is committed to the security concerns of the world's entire population — which may in some cases be opposed to the United States' national interests.
"WikiLeaks is a globally acting organization," he said. "In that respect we are responsible toward the people of the world and not the people or the specific interests of one particular nation."
WikiLeaks posted more than 76,900 classified military and other documents, mostly raw intelligence reports from Afghanistan, on its website July 25. The 15,000 additional documents are apparently related to that material.
The documents leaked so far illustrate the frustration of U.S. forces in fighting the protracted Afghan conflict and revived debate over the war's uncertain progress. The White House angrily denounced the leaks, saying they put the lives of Afghan informants and U.S. troops at risk.
An Army private, Bradley Manning, is jailed on suspicion of leaking classified material to WikiLeaks in a previous case. He is a "person of interest" in the latest release, the Pentagon has said.
Schmitt said that he, editor-in-chief Julian Assange and three more people work full-time for WikiLeaks, and between 800 and 1,000 volunteerwith tasks like verifying documents, programming software or legal defense.
The group publishes their material out of "three to four dozen countries" and has had numerous attacks on its website, he said.
What To Do About Wikileaks? Not Much Can Be Done
WASHINGTON – An online whistle-blower's threat to release more classified Pentagon and State Department documents is raising difficult questions of what the government can or would do, legally, technically or even militarily to stop it.
Constrained by the global reach of the Internet, sophisticated encryption software and the domestic legal system, the answer seems to be: Not much.
But if the U.S. government believes that the release of classified documents WikiLeaks is preparing to disclose will threaten national security or put lives at risk, cyber and legal experts say the options could expand to include cyber strikes to take down the WikiLeaks website and destroy its files or covert operations to steal or disable the files.
It all sounds, at times, like a spy movie, where the possibilities extend as far as the imagination can reach. But most outsiders agree that reality is probably far less dramatic.
At the center of the drama was the posting last week of a massive 1.4 gigabyte mystery file named "Insurance" on the WikiLeaks website.
The "Insurance" file is encrypted, nearly impossible to open until WikiLeaks provides the passwords. But experts suggest that if anyone can crack it — it would be the National Security Agency.
That file, coupled with WikiLeaks' release of more than 77,000 secret military documents last month, prompted the Pentagon to demand that the website's editor-in-chief, Julian Assange, cancel any new document dumps and pull back the Afghan war data he already posted.
WikiLeaks slammed the demand as an obnoxious threat, and Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell declined to detail what, if any, actions the Defense Department may be ready to take.
Few people involved, for the Pentagon and other agencies, would talk openly about what the Pentagon or the clandestine NSA could or would do to stop the expected document dump. It is not even clear if U.S. officials actually know what WikiLeaks has.
"Do we believe that WikiLeaks has additional cables? We do," said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. "Do we believe that those cables are classified? We do. And are they State Department cables? Yes."
Officials say the data may also include up to 15,000 military documents related to the Afghanistan war that were not made public in the initial release.
Daniel Schmitt, a WikiLeaks spokesman in Berlin, said Saturday the new batch of classified documents the website is preparing to release will contribute to the public's understanding of the war.
"Hopefully with this understanding, public scrutiny will then influence governments to develop better politics," he told The Associated Press.
Schmitt denied that the disclosure of the documents is a threat to U.S. security interests.
Assuming the documents contain highly sensitive information that threatens national security, the U.S. must weigh a number of options, experts say.
First, from a legal standpoint, there is probably little the U.S. government can do to stop WikiLeaks from posting the files.
It is against federal law to knowingly and willfully disclose or transmit classified information. But Assange, an Australian who has no permanent address and travels frequently, is not a U.S. citizen.
Since Assange is a foreign citizen living in a foreign country, it's not clear that U.S. law would apply, said Marc Zwillinger, a Washington lawyer and former federal cyber crimes prosecutor. He said prosecutors would have to figure out what crime to charge Assange with, and then face the daunting task of trying to indict him or persuade other authorities to extradite him.
It would be equally difficult, Zwillinger said, to effectively use an injunction to prevent access to the data.
"Could the U.S. get an injunction to force U.S. Internet providers to block traffic to and from WikiLeaks such that people couldn't access the website?" Zwillinger said. "It's an irrelevant question. There would be thousands of paths to get to it. So it wouldn't really stop people from getting to the site. They would be pushing the legal envelope without any real benefit."
Legal questions aside, the encrypted file conjures visions of secret codebreakers hunched over their laptops, tearing open secret, protected files in seconds with a few keystrokes.
Reality is not that simple. It appears WikiLeaks used state-of-the-art software requiring a sophisticated electronic sequence of numbers, called a 256-bit key, to open them.
The main way to break such an encrypted file is by what's called a "brute force attack," which means trying every possible key, or password, said Herbert Lin, a senior computer science and cryptology expert at the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences.
Unlike a regular six- or eight-character password that most people use every day, a 256-bit key would equal a 40 to 50 character password, he said.
If it takes 0.1 nanosecond to test one possible key and you had 100 billion computers to test the possible number variations, "it would take this massive array of computers 10 to the 56th power seconds — the number 1, followed by 56 zeros" to plow through all the possibilities, said Lin.
How long is that?
"The age of the universe is 10 to the 17th power seconds," explained Lin. "We will wait a long time for the U.S. government or anyone else to decrypt that file by brute force."
Could the NSA, which is known for its supercomputing and massive electronic eavesdropping abilities abroad, crack such an impregnable code?
It depends on how much time and effort they want to put into it, said James Bamford, who has written two books on the NSA.
The NSA has the largest collection of supercomputers in the world. And officials have known for some time that WikiLeaks has classified files in its possession.
The agency, he speculated, has probably been looking for a vulnerability or gap in the code, or a backdoor into the commercial encryption program protecting the file.
At the more extreme end, the NSA, the Pentagon and other U.S. government agencies — including the newly created Cyber Command — have probably reviewed options for using a cyber attack against the website, which could disrupt networks, files, electricity, and so on.
"This is the kind of thing that they are geared for," said Bamford, "since this is the type of thing a terrorist organization might have — a website that has damaging information on it. They would want to break into it, see what's there and then try to destroy it."
The vast nature of the Internet, however, makes it essentially impossible to stop something, or take it down, once it has gone out over multiple servers.
In the end, U.S. officials will have to weigh whether a more aggressive response is worth the public outrage it would likely bring. Most experts predict that, despite the uproar, the government will probably do little other than bluster, and the documents will come out anyway.
"Once you start messing with the Internet, taking things down, and going to the maximum extent to hide everything from coming out, it doesn't necessarily serve your purpose," said Bamford. "It makes the story bigger than it would have been had the documents been released in the first place."
"If, in the end, the goal is to decrease the damage, you have to wonder whether pouring fuel on the fire is a reasonable solution," he said.
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