Guardian dismisses 'nonsense' Wikileaks security claims

The Guardian today described as “nonsense” a claim by anti-secrecy website Wikileaks that thousands of unedited US diplomatic cables were exposed because of a security breach by the newspaper.

Wikileaks said it had been releasing cables over nine months “according to a carefully laid out plan to stimulate profound changes”, but that its work was compromised as a result of the newspaper’s “recklessness”.

A Guardian News & Media spokeswoman said: “It’s nonsense to suggest The Guardian’s Wikileaks book has compromised security in any way.

“Our book about Wikileaks was published last February. It contained a password, but no details of the location of the files and we were told it was a temporary password which would expire and be deleted in a matter of hours.

“It was a meaningless piece of information to anyone except the person(s) who created the database.

“No concerns were expressed when the book was published and if anyone at Wikieaks had thought this compromised security they have had seven months to remove the files.

“That they didn’t do so clearly shows the problem was not caused by The Guardian’s book.”

But wikiLeaks claimed: “Revolutions and reforms are in danger of being lost as the unpublished cables spread to intelligence contractors and governments before the public.”

It added: “Every day that the corrupt leadership of a country or organisation knows of a pending Wikileaks disclosure is a day spent planning how to crush revolution and reform.”

It claimed that Guardian investigations editor David Leigh “recklessly, and without gaining our approval, knowingly disclosed the decryption passwords in a book published by The Guardian” and that the newspaper’s “disclosure” was a violation of the confidentiality agreement between Wikileaks and Alan Rusbridger, its editor-in-chief, signed on July 30 last year.

Leigh told the Associated Press that the WikiLeaks claims were “time-wasting nonsense”.

He said Wikileaks founder Julian Assange had supplied him with a password needed to access the US embassy cables from a server in July 2010 – but that Assange had assured him the site would expire within a matter of hours.

He said: “What we published much later in our book was obsolete and harmless. We did not disclose the URL (web address) where the file was located, and in any event, Assange had told us it would no longer exist.”

He added: “I don’t see how a member of the public could access such a file anyway, unless a WikiLeaks or ex-WikiLeaks person tells them where it is located and what the file was called.”

UPDATE:

The Guardian has issued the following statement in response to claims that Wikileaks could release up to 250,000 unredacted US state department cables:

The Guardian calls on WikiLeaks not to carry through its plan to release the unredacted state department cables. We believe this would be grossly irresponsible.

The paper utterly rejects any suggestion that it is responsible for the release of the unedited cables.

It has been our consistent position that the material should not be released in unredacted form. It was out of concern over security that we ended our partnership with WikiLeaks on December 23 2010.

The Guardian was told that the file to which it was given access in July 2010 would only be on a secure server for a few hours and then taken off.

It appears that two versions of this file were subsequently posted to a peer-to-peer file sharing network using the same password.

One version was posted on December 7 2010 a few hours before Julian Assange was arrested following an extradition request.

The unencrypted version of the cables published on the web last night (WEDS) was not the one accessed by the Guardian last year.

The Guardians book about WikiLeaks was published last February. No concerns about security were expressed when the book was published or at any stage during the past seven months.

A WikiLeakseditorialsays knowledge of the Guardian disclosure has spread privately over several months for the past month WikiLeaks has been in the unenviable position of not being able to comment on what has happened.

But on 4 August 2011 at Julian Assanges request the Guardians editor, Alan Rusbridger, met Assange. The two hour meeting, which was filmed by Assanges colleague, was cordial. Not only did Assange never mention the supposed security leak, he proposed working with the Guardian again on specific future projects. Since that date WikiLeaks has been in contact with the Guardians deputy editor, Ian Katz, to discuss collaboration. There were two further contacts during the week of August 8.

It should be noted that this is the third time that Assange has claimed he is suing the Guardian or its journalists. The first claim was made on November 1 2010 and was for supposed loss of earnings. Secondly, he claimed he was suing the Guardian for libel in February 2011 over the Guardians book. Separately, he threatened to sue the author and Freedom of Information campaigner, Heather Brooke, for criminal deception. None of these actions ever materialised.

The Guardian and its partners went to great lengths to protect potentially vulnerable sources identified in the WikiLeaks documents throughout their collaboration with the organisation.

Initially, as has been widely reported, Assange was unwilling to remove material to protect informants but the Guardian and its media partners persuaded him that the diplomatic cables should be carefully redacted before release, and this editing process was carried out by the newspapers. We are deeply concerned that the release of the unredacted files could put at risk sources we and our partner newspapers worked very hard to protect.

WikiLeaks published 130,000 apparently unredacted cables last week. Until Wednesday of this week very few people had the required information to access the full cables, but over the last few days WikiLeaks has published more and more hints about how they could be accessed and are now carrying out their own online poll about whether they should publish all the cables.

WikiLeaks should take responsibility for its own pattern of actions and not seek to deflect it elsewhere.

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