Tag Archives: WikiLeaks

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.

Click here to view a photo slideshow from the National Conference for Media Reform.

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Tufts takes the WikiLeaks Approach

Students at Tufts University have started JumboLeaks, a site that releases confidential information about the school’s finances, which they do not publicly disclose.

The Tufts Daily reports.

I’m going to Tufts tomorrow to conduct some interviews and get more information about JumboLeaks.

Government Modifying Network Security, WikiLeaks Winning

Information Week reports that the U.S. government is working on re-vamping their network security efforts “to prevent another WikiLeaks.”

According to the story, Corin Stone, the information sharing executive for the national intelligence community, testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee do discuss the upgrades.

Stone said the community is trying to find a “sweet spot” between allowing its members to share intelligence information while preventing unauthorized access to that data by people who might misuse it.

This is another case (after U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual resigned over a WikiLeaks-related issue) in which the U.S. government is playing into Assange’s hands.

Assange’s hopes for WikiLeaks were best defined in essays he published on November 10 and December 3, 2006. From the first, State and Terrorist Conspiracies:

We will use connected graphs as way to harness the spatial reasoning ability of the brain to think in a new way about political relationships. These graphs are easy to visualize. First take some nails (“conspirators”) and hammer them into a board at random. Then take twine (“communication”) and loop it from nail to nail without breaking. Call the twine connecting two nails a link. Unbroken twine means it is possible to travel from any nail to any other nail via twine andintermediary nails. Mathematicians say the this type of graph is connected.

Information flows from conspirator to conspirator. Not every conspirator trusts or knows every other conspirator even though all are connected. Some are on the fringe of the conspiracy, others are central and communicate with many conspirators and others still may know only two conspirators but be abridge between important sections or groupings of the conspiracy.

He suggests in a later essay, Conspiracy as Governance (on the same page linked to above), how a conspiracy may be hindered.

A man in chains knows he should have acted sooner for his ability to influencethe actions of the state is near its end. To deal with powerful conspiratorial actions we must think ahead and attack the process that leads to them since the actions themselves can not be dealt with.We can deceive or blind a conspiracy by distorting or restricting the information available to it.We can reduce total conspiratorial power via unstructured attacks on linksor through throttling and separating.A conspiracy sufficiently engaged in this manner is no longer able to comprehend its environment and plan robust action.

These passages are somewhat difficult to connect and put into context without reading the original essays in their entirety, which I recommend.

To put it simply, though, Assange is winning. The state is slowing down its flow of information and reducing the number of connections in its “conspiracy” as a result of WikiLeaks. I’m not suggesting here that the state will now fall apart and we will live in anarchy, but Assange is one step closer to dethroning the most powerful nation in the world.

U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Resigns; Point: WikiLeaks

Carlos Pascual, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, has resigned after a political fallout that occurred when WikiLeaks published a cable in December 2010 in which the U.S. Embassy to Mexico was critical of the Mexican government’s efforts in the ongoing war on drugs. The cable said Mexican President Filipe Calderon “has struggled with an unwieldy and uncoordinated interagency and spiraling rates of violence that have made him vulnerable to criticism that his anti-crime strategy has failed.

According to Reuters, Calderon was critical of the ambassador in an interview published February 22 in Mexican newspaper El Universal. Diplomatic tensions rose and Pascual resigned.

Julian Assange would see this as a victory; removing “conspirators” in control helps to dismantle the “conspiracy” of government. In many ways, he is right to see it that way. Instead of taking a cooperative approach (“Hey, we clearly aren’t doing this as well as you think, so lets work on solutions.”), President Calderon was standoffish, and the honesty of the embassy ended up hurting the relationship between the two nations.

Where honest dialogue is unwelcome, progress is impossible; as he sits on house arrest in the U.K., Assange is grinning to himself.

Maps as Journalism

Online journalism gives journalists and news consumers an unprecedented opportunity to see the news develop in ways far beyond static text or video. While much of digital journalism is yet to be discovered, one extremely valuable capability it has is the use of maps to give context to stories.

There are many ways of doing this. I will explore three.

Click for map page (at guardian.co.uk)

First, The Guardian offers what I think is the best single presentation of WikiLeaks’ massive dump of diplomatic cables. Users can explore a world map and read cables based on the location of origin or locations mentioned in the cable (i.e. American and French diplomats discussing Iran). This can help users find cables, say, about middle eastern countries or those between Russia and the United States, a view into how the fragile relationship is maintained.

Click for map page (at boston.com)

Another great use of mapping (with nothing to do with WikiLeaks) is a boston.com feature about the war in Afghanistan, The Long War. The map is marked with interactive numbers, marking a reporter’s progression through the region. As users click on the numbers, multimedia presentations emerge and allow the reader to see what was happening in that location. The map does a great job of providing context to the stories that are coming out of the region as well as helping them to understand the situation that American troops are in.

Click for map page (at usgs.gov)

Finally, a map with disappointing execution but amazing potential is the USGS map of earthquakes near Japan. The site allows users to see squares on a map, their size denoting their magnitude) where earthquakes have occurred and when. The map illustrates a fact that I certainly didn’t know and I feel many people have failed to see: there have been 482 earthquakes near Japan in that last seven days (users can click on the squares to get detailed information about the earthquake). Obviously most didn’t even come close to the power of the one that devastated northeast Japan, killing into the tens of thousands (along with the tsunami that followed it), but the map paints a picture. Instead of an isolated incident, the earthquake was part of a massive amount of seismic activity. I would really love to see a major news organization pick this information up and make a better-designed map with all of the information available. Better execution could make this into a wonderful presentation.

WikiLeaks Expands its List of Partners

WikiLeaks today expanded its list of partner news outlets today to include the Turkish newspaper Taraf, which will begin publishing U.S. diplomatic cables relating to Turkey. The country was the origin of more cables than any other foreign nation.

WikiLeaks already has similar contracts with The Guardian of England, Der Speigel of Germany, Le Monde of France, El Pais of Spain, and The New York Times. Spreading WikiLeaks content all over the world helps prevent any one country from being able to silence the leaks.

Academics to Clinton: Let Officials Speak Their Minds

P.J. Crowley

In an open letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a group of MIT professors and other academics expressed their concern over what is implied by the resignation of State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley. Crowley resigned after a visit to MIT in which he made very frank comments about Bradley Manning’s treatment, calling it “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.”

The academics voiced their concern that an official seems to have been forced to resign for speaking his mind, especially in an academic setting such as MIT.

In the context of an open and honest discussion in an academic institution, we were eager to hear Mr. Crowley’s views and willing to give him our opinions and advice. It is this type of openness to dissenting opinions, frankness of assessments, and honesty of discourse that leads to both the advancement of human knowledge and the healthy function of an open, democratic society.

Ultimately, the academics state the possible repercussions of Crowley’s seemingly forced resignation.

If public officials are made to fear expressing their truthful opinions, we have laid the groundwork for ineffective, dishonest, and unresponsive governance.

The tie-in to WikiLeaks itself is hard to ignore; one of the main supporting arguments of the recent release of diplomatic cables was that instead of hindering international conversation, it actually helped improve discourse. The academics’ theory, though they don’t approach their point this way, is that the same is true on a smaller scale. If officials speak their minds, it can create a conversation that enhances discussion and moves policy forward.

How democratic.