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Tufts Students Follow WikiLeaks’ Example

A computer screen displays JumboLeaks, a leak site for Tufts University related documents.

Will Ramsdell sits at his desk, the windowsill in front of him cluttered with potted plants, a box of floppy disks at his feet. A beige PC monitor behind him pointlessly flickers between a bright array of colors. But Will’s focus isn’t on his plants or his technological work of art. His focus is on his MacBook, the only evidence in the dorm room that the 21st century has already begun, and Ramsdell and the organization he represents are part of it.

Ramsdell is working on JumboLeaks, a student-run document leaking site for Tufts University documents. As he works, he chatters on about the nature of the internet, the philosophy behind leaks, and what JumboLeaks is about.

JumboLeaks launched on April 2, 2011 with the release of what they say is a leaked list of companies in which Tufts had direct holdings. On the list was Monsanto Corporation, Goldman Sachs Group, and Lockheed Martin, companies noted on the site as “ethically suspect.”

As tuition-paying students, Ramsdell and the small group of five or six students that started JumboLeaks are concerned about where their money is going.

“In a capitalist society, money is a vote,” Ramsdell says, noting that universities aren’t democracies, nor do they claim to be. The hope for JumboLeaks, he says, is to push Tufts towards a more democratic system.

The reference to democracy-by-leaking draws a noticeable parallel to WikiLeaks, but JumboLeaks and WikiLeaks have their differences. Though JumboLeaks calls itself “a little Wikileaks for Tufts,” the goals of JumboLeaks aren’t totally in line with those of WikiLeaks. While WikiLeaks hopes to eradicate secrecy from governing bodies and totally eliminate the ability of these groups to conspire, JumboLeaks isn’t so extreme.

“There definitely is room for secrecy in almost all instances,” says Ramsdell, but “deciding what should be private and what should be public is almost impossible.” Ramsdell and JumboLeaks, though, prefer information – especially about the money they and their peers are spending – to be public.

The Leak

The most important part of any leaking organization, be it WikiLeaks, JumboLeaks, or anything in between, is the content of the leaks it releases. JumboLeaks received its leak from a still undisclosed source in the fall of 2010 and spent a long time deciding how to move forward. When the leak occurred, JumboLeaks did not yet exist. It was passed to what would become one of JumboLeaks’ founding members, who spread it to some trusted friends. The small group of students discussed various courses of action, but ultimately – possibly with influence from the extensive media attention given to WikiLeaks during that time period – chose the leaking model.

Hoping for a partnership with campus media, Ramsdell says JumboLeaks representatives met with editors of The Tufts Daily, the independent student newspaper on campus. The Daily chose not to break the story, though. The Daily publicly questioned the vailidity of the leak in an April 4 editorial, which stated that “while the motivations of the group were reasonable, the dissemination of what is clearly considered classified information requires rigorous vetting, which Jumboleaks failed to carry out at the time of initial publication.”

Ramsdell is confident that the document is legitimate, despite this criticism.

“We have conversed with this leaker and have every reason to believe that it is legitimate,” Ramsdell says.

Tufts representatives have repeatedly declined to comment on the validity of the leak. “The Glomar response,” Ramsdell says with a grin, opening air quotes: “We can neither confirm nor deny.”

In a statement via email, Kim Thurler, the director of public relations for Tufts’ main campus in Medford, said “in making its investments, the university strives to honor the intentions of our donors and to advance our core mission of educating students and creating  knowledge through new research, both now and for future generations. Decisions about our investments are made by those who have fiduciary responsibility for the university.”

Precautionary Measures

JumboLeaks includes a webpage instructing users who are hoping to leak something to use Tor, free software than anonymizes online transmissions. For a leaking site based in a small university, Tor is very complicated and secure software. Ramsdell says it is more security than JumboLeaks needs under current circumstances, but the organization wants to protect itself from future complications.

“I’ve securely deleted all of the original versions [of the April 2 leak] from my computer,” he says. “What we are hedging against is a full-on subpoena from Tufts.” Though JumboLeaks prepares for the worst, Ramsdell says neither he – the only member of the organization who has publicly come forward – nor other members of the group have faced any threats or retribution for the leaks. But the protections aren’t for members of the group, he says.

“Our first priority is to protect the leaker,” says Ramsdell, adding that while laws are somewhat ambiguous towards leaking organizations, which could arguably fall under the legal protections given to media organizations, leakers in general have often violated a legal agreement.

A Growing Idea

The future of JumboLeaks is unclear, but since its launch on April 2, numerous students from other schools have emailed the address posted on the site seeking advice about how they might start similar groups at their college or university. Ramsdell says he’s been corresponding with students at Bowdoin College about a leaking site they wanted to start there.

Public universities are required to disclose information about investments made with their endowment and various other finances, but private colleges and universities aren’t held to the same standards for transparency. JumboLeaks seeks to bring a higher level of transparency to Tufts, and as the concept spreads, other such institutions.

WikiLeaks has sustained itself by collecting leaks from various sources in the vast network of international politicians and others with access to such information, but Universities don’t have such large networks, calling the volume of available leaks and sources into question. When asked if there were other leaks in JumboLeaks’ possession, Ramsdell smiled.

“Glomar,” he said.

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