Julian Assange's brainchild has given birth to a raft of global imitators and would-be whistleblowers.
- By Cameron AbadiCameron Abadi is deputy editor at Foreign Policy. He previously worked at the New Republic and Foreign Affairs and as a correspondent in Germany and Iran. His writing has appeared in Bloomberg Businessweek, the New Yorker, the New Republic, and Der Spiegel.
In an interview last month with Forbes magazine, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, admitted that he hoped his website would inspire others — not least, to relieve him of some of the burden of serving as the conduit for the world’s whistleblowers. “The supply of leaks is very large,” said Assange. “It’s helpful for us to have more people in this industry. It’s protective to us.”
Since then, a number of new websites have sprung up, answering Assange’s call. Most borrow WikiLeaks’ modus operandi — and a derivation of its name — but they accept a slightly more humble mandate, requesting documents from only a specific part of the world. Most of them also are seeming to try to learn from Assange’s public relations mistakes, styling their sites as stringently “objective,” whatever that means.
To be fair, not all of these sites have a great deal of content thus far, but it will definitely be worth keeping an eye on these organizations in the months, and years ahead. The United States government may have withstood WikiLeaks’ best shot (and vice versa), but other governments around the world may not be as robust.
The Indonesian government claims not to be concerned by the domestic whistleblower website that appeared last Friday, December 10. And, in truth, it’s hard to see why they would be right now. Judging from the limited English language offerings on Indoleaks, it’s mostly a collection of documents from the not-so-recent past, mixed with auditing reports from government contractors. Hits include transcripts of confidential conversations between former Indonesian President Suharto and former U.S. presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Indonesian officials say they are unlikely to prosecute the creators of the website, which is based in Indonesia. “We certainly don’t want to be accused of preventing people from accessing public information,” one spokesperson said. Rather than the government, IndoLeaks main adversary seems to be the technical glitches that have made it difficult to access.
This whistleblower site was created by one of Russia’s most popular bloggers, and one of the Kremlin’s most persistent and least pleasant gadflies, Alexei Navalny. Previously, Navalny had used his perch as an independently wealthy stakeholder in Russian companies to gain privileged information about their corruption, which he would then post on his blog: His targets have included state-owned oil companies Gazprom and Rosneft, and the state-owned bank VTB. For that good work, he earned the ire of the Russian government, though he says he has never received any direct threats. Navalny is now soliciting other people to provide him with documentation of corruption in the higher echenlons of the national government and economy. His site is still in beta mode, but already seems to have acquired documentation of official abuses of power.
TuniLeaks’ content, at the moment, still seems mostly to consist of the collected WikiLeaks cables filed from the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. But a forum for Tunisians to discuss what is already public information to the rest of the world proved too much for government officials, who immediately set about trying to ban the site. But the founders of TuniLeaks, a Tunisian blogger collective named Naqaab based in Tunis, are refusing to give in. For now, the site is still active. In their first batch of cables from the WikiLeaks archive, they draw attention to official military strategy sessions between Tunisian and American officials: The long record of close inter-governmental ties between Washington and Tunis may not go over well among the public at large. And this cable, detailing corruption throughout the Tunisian government, has explosive potential all on its own.
This site intends to expose the nefarious decision-making that happens behind the closed doors of the European Union capital. A short introduction on the site’s homepage solicits information from any “corporation, consultancy, institution or NGO” with information. But having presumably seen the raft of bad press that WikiLeaks and its creator, Julian Assange, have garnered in recent weeks, the creators of BrusselsLeaks are at pains to emphasize that they don’t an adversarial, anarchist agenda. “We are trustworthy, reliable professionals with excellent Brussels contacts,” they write on the homepage. “We work to make sure the information gathered is 100% reliable and correct, and only then do we act on it.” As of yet, however, it seems no one has taken them up on their offer.
OpenLeaks, the first WikiLeaks spinoff run by former employees (including Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who has prepared a tell-all book about his tenure as Julian Assange’s colleague to be published in Germany in January), is also the first to move past the original concept. Rather than publish documents itself, OpenLeaks, which is supposed to be available starting next week, will instead present itself as a digital service for other websites. OpenLeaks will provide a sort digital submissions box to their clients (presumably media organizations and NGOs), allowing visitors to confidentially pass documents to administrators of their websites. Those organizations would then be responsible for publishing the leaks, and editing and redacting them appropriately. The founders of OpenLeaks hope to maintain WikiLeaks’ goal of transparency while avoiding the radicalism that has hounded their former colleague. “To constrain the power of the site, we’re splitting submission from the publication part. We won’t publish any documents ourselves. The whole field is diversified,” says Domscheit-Berg. “No single organization carries all of the responsibility or all of the workload.”
BalkanLeaks has a refreshingly simple slogan: “The Balkans are not keeping secrets anymore.” According to the Sofia Echo newspaper, the site was created earlier this week by a Bulgarian expat living in Paris. The newspaper also reports on some of the items currently on the site, including a list of 34 members of the Bulgarian judiciary said to be freemasons. (Of course, that may suggest that the site is aimed more at stirring conspiracy theories than unveiling high crimes and misdemeanors, but it may be fodder for a criminal investigation nonetheless: the Sofia Echo reports that it may be against the law for judges and other national legal officials to declare membership in secret societies.) Perhaps in hopes of correcting false impressions based on that scoop, BalkanLeaks’ homepage vehemently assures its readers of its credibility: “We will review the documents and publish them after checking the information.”