Why Wikileaks is Wicked Awesome* (Technology)

*Editor’s Note: I originally wrote this post in 2010. Given the circumstances surrounding the 2016 American election and the increasingly damning role Wikileaks played, I must therefore revise my statement. For the record, I no longer rate Wikileaks to be “wicked awesome”, nor even “awesome”. 

Wikileaks is a site that publishes raw source material provided by whistleblowers. Their bio on their twitter page perhaps says it best; “We open governments.” One of their most recent and famous feats of journalism was the very disturbing “Collateral Murder” video of a US helicopter opening fire and either wounding or killing men, women, children and journalists in Iraq.

This video, along with reportedly 260,000 other classified documents were provided by a young intelligence officer named Bradley Manning from a forward operating base in Iraq. He grew a conscience after witnessing firsthand how the military was covering up lots of things, and grew disillusioned quickly. He ended up confessing his leaks to a former hacker, who in turn turned him in. It’s a great story. You can read the original chats between the whistleblower and the ex-hacker here.

But what I found really interesting to me was the man behind Wikileaks itself. His name is Julian Assange, and not much is known about him, except that he is from Australia and in his late 30s. It has been said that his mother was in a traveling theater group, and that they were on the run from his father who was part of a cult. He apparently attended dozens of schools, which makes sense because he has told reporters that he “basically lives in airports”, although he has also said that Australia has recently confiscated his passport. In short, it appears Julian is accustomed to being on the run, which may come in handy because the Pentagon is currently looking for him, and since it it presumed Julian/Wikileaks is in possession of up to 260,000 classified documents from Bradley Manning, they are probably trying very hard to find him.

Julian also happens to be an ex-hacker of the “white hat” kind, meaning ethically inclined. He was caught at a young age after pleading guilty to belonging to a hacking group that attacked major government and military sites in the US. After that he worked for the good guys, in cyber security, as many ex-hackers do. These skills he has sharpened over the years, allowing him to keep Wikileaks up and running; the operation is based out of Sweden (a country known for it’s stringent rules protecting individual privacy and journalism), but the servers have a network of mirrors that bounce all over the world, preventing the powers that be from either tracking or shutting him down. He is a brave man that believes in transparency and government accountability, the world could use a few more like him. He represents what technology could do to journalism – free it from government and private industry influence, where raw information is presented to the public, which is where a truly free and open society should be.

Here is an interesting talk he gave at an Electronic Arts Conference in Sept. 2009.

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