LeaksWiki is a wiki about leaking organizations, the tools and methods used in leaking, and how leaking can improve in the future. The term leaking organization is used broadly to refer to any organization engaged in the disclosure of restricted information.
Rise of Leaking Organizations
Transparency is changing. Leaking websites and organizations are increasingly widespread. In large part, this recent rise of leaking organizations is likely due to the controversies around WikiLeaks. One reason leaking organizations are particularly noteworthy is because they separate the source from the release of the document or information and thus significantly alter the process of leaking, disclosure, and whistleblowing. This separation has a few important implications. First, the separation of the source from the document release makes the leaking process safer for the source or whistleblower. Anonymous submission systems give the source anonymity in the initial transmission of documents and the disconnection of the source from the release makes the source less traceable. Second, the process becomes easier for the source to release any documents or more documents. The intermediary leaking organization can study the documents in-depth, prepare them for release, work with media partners, and perhaps advocate for correction of a wrongdoing. Third, there is now a middleman in the process, the leaking organization. However, this can be both a benefit and a detriment. The leaking organization can be an additional security risk to the source and innocent people mentioned in the leaked documents, but it is also a body often (but not always) independent of government agencies, companies, and mainstream media institutions. The independence of the leaking organization may sometimes make it easier for them to serve as an additional check on traditional institutions. Fourth, there is now a group of people tasked primarily with determining how to make a leak successful and broadly defining what a successful release of leaked documents means.
Leaking organizations are enabled by technology, which explains why they are a fairly new phenomenon. The anonymity of the source requires additional layers of separation between the leaking website and the source. Usually, these take the form of the Internet, encryption, tools like Tor, and other security technologies. Technology also makes the leak more feasible and enables large leaks. Greenberg refers to these large leaks as 'megaleaks'. Large releases, like the Pentagon Papers, were possible before the Internet and the rise of leaking organizations but Megaleaks are only feasible because of the existence of computers, increasing information storage capacity, the ability for many people to view documents online, and faster uploads and downloads. Leaking organizations further enable megaleaks by examining and preparing large leaks for release. They are a technology-enabled way of outsourcing parts of the whistleblowing or disclosure process. Some leaking organizations even outsource the process by using crowd sourcing in document processing. Additionally, the people involved in leaking organizations and those reading the documents after release are only able to fully understand megaleaks because the Internet makes more information available to non-experts than ever before. Leaking organizations are a way of taking power away from these experts and institutions who would have normally handled documents that are now leaked.
Spectrum of Transparency Ideologies
Leaking organizations can be powerful forces of social change. The ideal type of change varies based on the ideology of the specific leaking organization. Some organizations hope to correct specific wrongdoings. Others want to publicize certain information. Some seek to encourage a general culture of transparency. The specific ideology of a leaking organization determines how it views the leaking process, transparency, whistleblowing, and leaking itself. The model is not perfect, but leaking organizations can be roughly placed on a spectrum of ideologies from radical transparency to selective release. The diagram below shows this spectrum with leaking organizations placed on it.
Radical transparency means releasing absolutely everything. A radically transparent leaking organization would have a website that listed all data on all visitors and a submission form that automatically posted the document and the information of the source with no modifications. The people who run the organization would post all information they came across in their lives. This is impossible but it represents one extreme of the spectrum.
Selective release means releasing the minimum information possible and all information being released with a specific agenda. Technically, the spectrum could end at no release of information but this is a spectrum of leaking organizations which inherently release information. A FOIA-resistant government agency that begrudgingly declassified only information that would aid the organization, serve as propaganda, or harm an adversary would be close to the selective release end. This end of the spectrum represents both increased secrecy and leaking as an extension of authority.
Both extremes on the spectrum of transparency ideologies are quite problematic. Indeed, the extremes are actually similar enough that the spectrum may be better portrayed as a loop. If a leaking organization released all information it possibly could, there would be too much information available for any of it to be useful, and few people would want to interact with the leaking organization for fear of their personal information being released. Thus, the leaking organization would stop receiving information. Similarly, an organization that released almost no information would be unable to interact with the world and would eventually shut down.
As a result, most or all leaking organizations fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, but few can be placed exactly in the center of it. Organizations focused on transparency and promoting free information usually fall closer to the radical transparency end, while organizations whose priority is whistleblowing and correcting wrongdoings usually are closer to the selective release end. The exact placement on the spectrum also varies based on the goals and priorities of the leaking organization.
The ideological placement of a leaking organization on the transparency spectrum significantly changes the leaking process. For example, Cryptome, a leaking organization closer to the radical transparency end of the spectrum, tries to avoid making changes or adding any information to the documents because it contributes to the problem of leaking as an extension of authority. On the other hand, Juzne vesti, an organization closer to the selective release end, uses leaked documents as a supplement to articles that contain background information and their interpretations of a situation. Despite these differences, leaking organizations seem to share a general process. This broad leaking process derived from my case studies is outlined in the chart below.
This diagram looks at the process primarily from the perspective of the leaking organization. The source leaks documents and post-release actions are there to capture steps the source or others take before and after the release in which the leaking organization may be involved. These vary widely, not only based on the organization, but also the source and leaked information.
The organization receives documents step involves the organization getting the documents from the source in some form. The method of transmission can vary widely, as can the documents transmitted. Documents here refers to any leaked information from millions of emails to a tip about corruption. The level of involvement of the leaking organization in this step also varies as some organizations advise sources on security practices and have secure submissions systems while others leave security to the source. Additionally, a few organizations find some of the documents they release.
Leak processing is the intermediate step where leaking organizations prepare documents for release by making the information usable and safe. This is the primary focus of most leaking organizations and generally the most time consuming step. There are three parts of this step and their exact order varies by organization and release: verification, redaction, and analysis/formatting. The verification sub-step involves tasks like checking the authenticity of a document and determining if the leak meets the organization's criteria for release. The redaction sub-step includes the removal of any information from names to metadata to parts of the document. The analysis/formatting step is any summary, addition of background information, mention of wrongdoings, or general preparation for release. The specific approach to these sub-steps depends on the organization.
The release step is the posting of documents, supplementary information, or articles from media partners. This could be followed by interviews about the release, advocacy for reform, or other post-release steps to help increase the effectiveness of the release. More information on the leaking process and examples of how each step is handled by different organizations can be found on the Leaking Process page.
Unfortuantely, the leaking process lacks transparency. The post-release steps are usually publicly visible and the pre-release steps are often documented on the organization's website, but the leak processing step is shrouded in mystery. Some generalities can be implied by release practices of the organization, but specific details must be pieced together like a puzzle from interviews, assumptions, and rumors. This should not be necessary and will lead to misunderstandings. This intermediary step is the primary function of leaking organizations, yet the most difficult. Thus, it is important the organization improve the leak processing step as much as possible as it determines the effectiveness of a release and the leaking organization in general. While the exact definition of effectiveness will vary based on the organization's transparency ideology and approach, leak processing is universally important.
It is crucial that the leaking organizations be more transparent. LeaksWiki is an attempt to increase transparency in the leaking with the goal of making leaking organizations more effective by improving their process within the context of their transparency ideology.
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- Hood, Christopher. "From FOI World to WikiLeaks World: A New Chapter in the Transparency Story?
- Chen, Nadeemy. Wikileaks and its Spinoffs: new models of journalism or the new media gatekeepers?
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- Caryl, Christian. Why WikiLeaks Changes Everything
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- Noveck, Beth Simone. Wiki-Government
- Birchall, Clare. "Introduction to 'Secrecy and Transparency': The Politics of Opacity and Openness"
- Cryptome Interview
- Juzne vesti Interview
- Public Intelligence Interview
- Why WikiLeaks' bid for radical transparency failed
- Roberts, Alasdair. "WikiLeaks: the illusion of transparency"