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Last updated: November 28, 2011 10:12 am
WikiLeaks has delayed the release of a new online system to allow whistleblowers to pass secrets to its website, in another blow to Julian Assange’s campaign for radical transparency amid a barrage of legal, financial and technical challenges.
WikiLeaks’ electronic submission system has been offline for more than a year, impeding its mission to blow open government secrets. Mr Assange and his team have been working to “re-engineer from scratch” its submission system because existing security technology “could not be trusted”, he said last month.
However, a planned event on Monday to unveil the new system was indefinitely postponed at the last minute. In a posting from its Twitter feed over the weekend, WikiLeaks said: “Constructing the system is very complex. Due to the deteriorating state of internet security which directly impacts the ability of sources to communicate with journalists and human rights activists securely, WikiLeaks has decided to postpone the launch initially scheduled for Monday 28th 2011 in the interest of source protection.”
WikiLeaks now plans to hold a press conference on Thursday December 1 to launch a “new phase” in its operations, detailing “extraordinary privacy threats” to its journalists ahead of what the organisation has described as a “dramatic month” in prospect.
However, would-be whistleblowers may need more than a new submission system to reassure them that WikiLeaks can make a big impact and protect its sources.
Bradley Manning, the American soldier suspected of passing US government secrets to WikiLeaks, is preparing to appear before a military court at Fort Meade in Maryland next month after 17 months’ incarceration.
At the same time, Mr Assange is escalating his own personal legal battle. The Australian hacker is seeking permission to appeal in the supreme court against this month’s ruling that he should be extradited to Sweden to face questioning over allegations of sexual assault, which he denies.
Perhaps preparing for the worse, Mr Assange has hired a new PR agency in Stockholm to field media inquiries about the case.
Late November marks the first anniversary of WikiLeaks’ release of its largest cache of secrets, 251,000 US diplomatic cables. That publication raised WikiLeaks’ profile to a new pinnacle but set in motion a series of events which have brought the organisation to the brink of collapse.
The last year has seen WikiLeaks embroiled in clashes with financial services firms, international politicians and rival hackers. Payment firms including MasterCard, Visa and PayPal stopped processing donations to WikiLeaks last December, which has been a major problem for WikiLeaks’ financing.
Last month, Mr Assange warned that WikiLeaks may not be able to continue unless it raises millions of dollars in donations.
“The attacks on WikiLeaks have not just included the financial blockade,” Mr Assange told reporters at the Frontline Club press conference. “There have also been attacks on the very structure of the organisation . . . We viewed our submission system could not be trusted.”
Part of the problem stems from the acrimonious departure of Daniel Domscheit-Berg and other WikiLeaks volunteers in the summer of 2010. In his subsequent book about his time at WikiLeaks, Mr Domscheit-Berg accused Mr Assange of treating submissions with insufficient care and security, writing: “Children shouldn’t play with guns.”
Mr Assange has strongly disputed Mr Domscheit-Berg’s account but has nonetheless worked to create a new online drop-box for whistleblowers.
“For the last 12 months you haven’t been able to go through the front door to submit WikiLeaks sensitive information,” Mr Assange said last month, although data could be passed to him in person.
Mr Assange said then that he had planned to reveal WikiLeaks’ “new-generation submission system” on November 28. When it is finally unveiled, he said, it would include “a public interface but also several other mechanisms that are necessary to deal with an attack on the entire internet security system that has been established over the past few years by intelligence agencies and criminal groups . . . It is not possible to trust any regular web-based encryption system.”
He warned that the same risks to the certificate system upon which internet security relies could also threaten personal bank accounts.
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