Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Julian Assange and WikiLeaks

The Begining

WikiLeaks logo
WikiLeaks logo

As the site gained popularity, the site changed its policy from allowing readers to post freely, instituting a stricter editorial policy. People would no longer be able to simply add what they wanted—information would have be submitted, either via a high-end security "anonymous drop box," deeply encrypted, or via the old fashioned, secret post mailbox.

Assange has claimed that WikiLeaks receives up to 10,000 submissions a day. Those posted are, he claims, subject to a rigorous vetting process.

The site's online manifesto states: "When information comes in, our journalists analyze the material, verify it, and write a news piece about it describing its significance to society. We then publish both the news story and the original material in order to enable readers to analyze the story in the context of the original source material themselves. We send a submitted document through a very detailed examination. Is it real? What elements prove it is real? Who would have the motive to fake such a document and why? We use traditional investigative journalism techniques, as well as more modern technology -based methods. Typically we will do a forensic analysis of the document, determine the cost of forgery, means, motive, opportunity, the claims of the apparent authoring organization, and answer a set of other detailed questions about the document. We may also seek external verification of the document."


Daniel Arap Moi
Daniel Arap Moi

In late 2006 and early 2007, WikiLeaks began to get its first documents. One of its biggest "gets" was picked up by British newspaper The Guardian about corruption in Kenya. WikiLeaks had found documents that indicated corruption in the family of former Kenyan leader Daniel Arap Moi. In a piece titled, "The Looting of Kenya," the Guardian reported that theformer leader's family had stolen more than £1 billion. "If true, it would put the Mois on a par with Africa's other great kleptocrats."

In March 2008, nearly a year after the Kenyan revelations, Wikileaks found and published Scientology's "sacred" text—which spilled the beans on the "Operating Thetan Levels" and other details that the Church of Scientology had reportedly long tried to suppress. Though the controversial religious organization threatened to sue, the lawsuit went nowhere.

And then, there were the Sarah Palin emails, which for many Americans, was the first time they'd heard of WikiLeaks. In 2008, Palin had been largely unknown to the general population, but when she was tapped as John McCain's running mate in the 2008 election, journalists scampered for information. They obtained a trove of juicy nuggets via WikiLeaks: Palin, then-governor of Alaska, had been using her personal Yahoo email account to discuss government business. It was the first crack in her armor.

Sarah Palin
Sarah Palin

With each subsequent release, WikiLeaks have become incrementally larger and more influential.

In short order, they have embarrassed governments on nearly every continent: from Somalia to Kenya to Sweden to England to Germany. Secrets of banks—like Julius Baer, and a rumored trove of documents on Bank of America—weren't immune, either. In WikiLeaks' world, almost no one would be spared.

To be sure, there were as many misses as hits—a WikiLeak posting of a document that purported to be a photographic image of an HIV-positive blood test result for Apple founder Steve Jobs was largely dismissed as a fake. For many, the lack of professional archival protocol in handling the huge trove of documents meant that the editorial policy left much to be desired. Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists wrote that what WikiLeaks does is a "kind of information vandalism," in an editorial for the FAS blog Secrecy News titled "WikiLeaks Fails Due Diligence Review."Others who have been involved in the site have distanced themselves, including John Young, the operator of, and Dominic Domscheit-Berg, who was a co-spokesperson of WikiLeaks but who later split from Assange to create OpenLeaks.

WikiLeaks has won awards for their scoops, including The Index on Censorship's 2008 Freedom of Expression Award in the The Economist New Media category and, in 2009, Amnesty International recognized WikiLeaks' work in "The Cry of Blood," exposing the assassinations by the Kenyan police force of over 300 people.

But nothing came close to "Collateral Murder."


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