Does WikiLeaks still matter

Written by Bloomberg | Updated: Mar 1 2012, 01:03am hrs
It has been some time since WikiLeaks stunned the world with classified video of US military attacks on civilians in Iraq and thousands of secret diplomatic cables revelations that triggered an all-out attack on founder Julian Assange by the US government, which roped in Amazon and other companies as accomplices.

On Sunday, the shadowy organisation announced what it called an extraordinary new release of information, a cache of several million e-mails from the security-consulting firm StratFor. The nature of the e-mails and WikiLeakss new partnership with the hacker collective Anonymous raise questions about the organisations relevance.

The rise of WikiLeaks has been something straight out of a science fiction novel. A global organisation made up of hackers and borderline anarchists, aided by freedom-of-information advocates such as Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir and activist/hacker Jacob Appelbaum, releases a massive trove of military and government documents, which it obtains from a courageous, whistle-blowing, former military intelligence analyst named Bradley Manning.

The military information that WikiLeaks released shocked the nation and the world. The follow-up to that release was somewhat less of a blockbuster in intelligence terms. The thousands of diplomatic cables WikiLeaks published with the help of the New York Times and the Guardian newspapers, among other partners in mainstream media drew criticism because some argued they might put US agents or foreign activists at risk. For the most part, there was little of value or urgency in most of the cables.

While some of WikiLeakss partners published cables that showed US diplomatic sources thought Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was a loud-mouthed idiot with a penchant for voluptuous blonde nurses, it was hardly a revelation for most who have followed events in that country. Some cables referring to events in the West Asia were cited as a trigger for the uprisings in Tunisia that precipitated the Arab Spring demonstrations in that country; others argued that those links were a stretch and that few cables contained crucial intelligence information.

Now WikiLeaks has millions of e-mails from StratFor, a security-consulting firm that works with corporate clients and also has ties to the US government. While it may make the release of these e-mails seem more interesting, it seems a stretch to describe StratFor as being somewhat akin to a privatised CIA, as Wired magazine has called it. The company is known to have ties to the US military intelligence establishment, as the release from WikiLeaks makes clear, but there doesnt seem to be much qualifying as smoking guns in the e-mail dump. (WikiLeaks and its media partners are apparently still combing them).

When it comes to partners, WikiLeaks is no longer working with any leading US or British newspapersa development that probably isnt surprising, given the kind of enmity that people like former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller clearly hold for Assange. Instead, the list of partners includes outlets such as Al Akhbar in Lebanon, Bivol in Bulgaria, and La Nacin in Costa Rica. In the US, the organisation said it is working with the McClatchy newspaper chain and with Rolling Stone magazine. Not exactly a Whos Who of mainstream media sources.

Meanwhile, WikiLeaks has a new, non-media partner in Anonymous, the hacker collective that arose out of the anarchic online community 4chan with a history of releasing private information and targeting corporations and governments with hack attacks.