Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Wikileaks Effect

Almost two and a half years ago, on November 28th, 2012, the world was rocked. Assisted by Army Private Bradley Manning, a rogue computer activist organization known as Wikileaks, released more than 250,000 diplomatic cables—the single largest contemporary, unauthorized release of information to date. The world panicked. Suddenly you could anyone with a laptop and decent Wi-Fi could learn that China was considering decreasing support to North Korea, see that the U.S. military had committed atrocities against Afghan civilians, learn everything that the government had strived so diligently to protect.

Wikileaks effort to increase transparency in governemnt
motivated them to release the diplomatic cables

The Problem
Amidst the confusion, embarrassment and hasty apologies, the greatest danger wasn’t in affect foreign policy, but in the lives of informants overseas. In Open Secrets, a New York Times compilation and analysis of Wikileaks cables, they expound: “Wikileaks found reports that gave the names or other identifying features of dozens of Afghan informants, potential defectors and others who were cooperating with American and NATO troops.” They go on: “the 75,000 documents Wikileaks put online provide information about possible informants, like their villages and in some cases their fathers’ names.” This wild breach in confidentiality shattered illusions about U.S. security, and even though this aspect was not widely publicized, was by far the most dangerous aspect of the cable releases.

What happened
Julian Assange is the figurehead for the Wikileaks
organization. Given the anonymous nature of the
publications, it became very hard to charge him
There were some good things that came from Wikileaks. The government, seeing the trouble another leak could do, increased security and streamlined their confidentiality process. Previous to Wikileaks, the government had designated 183, 224 new secrets, an increase of 75% from 105, 163 in 1996. The year before the cable release, the Government Accountability Office also found that the Pentagon had given highest security clearances to some 630,000 people, often handing them out with no background checks or screening. In some ways, this was helpful when Wikileaks released the documents, because half of the government’s hoarded secrets were outdated and useless pieces of information. After this leak, however, the government released more inessential documents to the public, engendering faith in the system, and narrowed down the pool of government secrets, making them easier to protect and increasing the security overall.

The Future
The group known as "Anonymous" was a
successor to Wikileaks
But, does this really change anything? Sure the government tightened its belt and put on its game face for a few months but will it stick? Many people don’t think so. It has been referred to as a security pendulum in the United States, the level of openness in the government and how it changes based on events. Take for instance, the tight safeguards in place before the events of 9-11. Limited communication between the FBI and CIA to enhance security counterproductively led to a lack of total information that ultimately made it impossible for them to prevent the destruction of the World Trade Center. After this catastrophe, the government lessened the precautions and opened up communications. Nearly a decade later, these actions made it possible for a simple private to copy and send hundreds of thousands of top-secret cables. The real question is then, what will be the next disaster to strike and change the government’s policy once more. Finding an equilibrium that does not enact stifling regulations on government communications but still provides ample security measures will be the key.

The World
Lulzsec, another successor, who worked
to infiltrate and access government and
company secrets
However, the government is not the only entity that is in danger any longer. As Wikileaks gained power and influence, other “hacktivist” organizations—Lulzsec, Anonymous, and AntiSec—were formed, and they did not just target the government. Thousands of cyber attacks have since taken place, including the compromise of user accounts from Sony Pictures, shutting down the websites of both Interpol and the CIA, and acts that compromised the cyber networks of Visa and MasterCard. Hacktivist actions were, in fact, the leading cause for compromised information in 2011. These actions are continuous and nonstop against those who stand in objection to the aims of these groups. As the danger spreads to citizens, the increased safety measures must be widespread and effective and maybe in years to come the Wikileaks’ War will not mark when privacy and security stopped, but when they truly began.

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