//Will Wikileaks be responsible for the next attack on the United States?

Will Wikileaks be responsible for the next attack on the United States?

I rarely do a personal rant on my blog… preferring to stick mostly to Architecture, but this time, I am incensed by the behavior of WikiLeaks, and I’ll share my opinion.  If you are not interested, feel free to skip this entry.

Today, WikiLeaks decided to publish a list of potential targets for terrorism that the US Government considers to be critical to our safety and security.  Now, I’m not going to pretend that I’m happy with the fact that an irresponsible person gave this information to them.  Assuming the case is proven in court, the soldier who uploaded the data is very much guilty of treason. 

On the other hand, we have a long history, in the United States, of relying on trustworthy behavior on the part of the press.

In the US, we take press freedom seriously.  Much more so than many other democratic countries.  For example, in Germany, printing inflammatory literature about Jews can get you arrested.  In Britain, if you publish a remark about a government leader, you could be sued for defamation.  In the US, we don’t often use the legal system to regulate the press.  In exchange for that freedom, the press has a responsibility to publish things that help create an informed and educated public without causing actual harm.

The Wikileaks site wants to be protected like a newspaper.  But they have violated their responsibility to prevent harm. This act, publishing a list of vulnerable sites, is far from responsible.  It is reasonable to assume that our ability to analyze our own weaknesses is BETTER than the ability of a terrorist organization from another country.  The list, exposed today, is likely to be materially different, and probably more extensive, than anything a terrorist would create.  In fact, this list includes sites outside the US that we consider to be highly valuable.  Ergo, citizens of countries around the world are endangered by the publication of this list.  Even our allies had not received copies.

The press does have a responsibility to present information that is useful or provides value.  It is OK to say that a list exists, or even to report on a selected subset of sites where the government is having problems with providing security.  It is OK to talk about the categories of sites (ports, factories, trains, airports, yada, yada, yada), so that folks can understand what kinds of targets need to be secured. 

That said, it is wildly irresponsible, and in my opinion, criminal, to provide material and highly valuable information to our enemies and expect that you won’t be part of a chain of events that ends with the loss of life.  Julian Assange (founder of Wikileaks) has gone too far. 

While I cannot call for the hacking of his site, nor do I agree with the attacks that have taken place against his site, I have a hard time finding fault with the perpetrators of those crimes.  By providing material support to terrorist organizations, Mr. Assange is a terrorist.  I call upon our NATO allies to uphold the NATO treaty (an attack on one is an attack on all), and arrest Mr. Assange, shut down his site, and hand over all copies of as-yet-undisclosed information to their rightful owners.  Assange has proven that he cannot be trusted to behave in a responsible manner.

By |2010-12-06T16:03:51+00:00December 6th, 2010|Enterprise Architecture|12 Comments

About the Author:

President of Vanguard EA, an Enterprise Architecture consulting firm in Seattle focused on the Pacific coast of the US. Nick has over 30 years of professional experience in management, systems, and technology. He is the co-author of the influential paper "Perspectives on Enterprise Architecture" with Dr. Brian Cameron that effectively defined modern Enterprise Architecture practices, and he is frequent speaker at public gatherings on Enterprise Architecture and related topics. He coauthored a book on Visual Storytelling with Martin Sykes and Mark West titled "Stories That Move Mountains".

12 Comments

  1. Mike Lambrellis December 6, 2010 at 6:00 pm - Reply

    I believe you are over-reacting. Given that the vast majority of the sites listed are commercial/industrial sites owned by private or publicly-held (i.e. non-government) entities, most of which are operating in the "light of day", and that most of this information is available on the websites and in the annual reports of said companies, I find it extremely hard to imagine that interested parties would not already have this information, should they indeed want it.

    I don't need Wikileaks to tell me there's a pharmaceutical company in location X. I'm a shareholder and I see pictures of it in the annual report. Similarly I don't need to be told that there's a port in city Y because I have eyes and drive past it every day! Even military sites are in the public domain and combined with Google Earth, give any would-be terrorist a list of potential targets as long as your arm.

    Releasing a list of targets is not terrorism nor is it aiding terrorists. If however, Wikileaks had released highly detailed information on the nature of the security precautions taken at said sites, then that is a whole other kettle of fish. However, the site you refer to makes no reference at all at any such information – it does seem to be a catalogue of sites. Whoopee-doo.

  2. Blah December 6, 2010 at 6:08 pm - Reply

    A truly free press — one unfettered by concerns of nationalism — is apparently a terrifying problem for elected governments and tyrannies alike.

    It shouldn’t be.

    In the past week, after publishing secret U.S. diplomatic cables, secret-spilling site WikiLeaks has been hit with denial-of-service attacks on its servers by unknown parties; its backup hosting provider, Amazon, booted WikiLeaks off its hosting service; and PayPal has suspended its donation-collecting account, damaging WikiLeaks’ ability to raise funds. MasterCard announced Monday it was blocking credit card payments to WikiLeaks, saying the site was engaged in illegal activities, despite the fact it has never been charged with a crime.

    Meanwhile, U.S. politicians have ramped up the rhetoric against the nonprofit, calling for the arrest and prosecution and even assassination of its most visible spokesman, Julian Assange. Questions about whether current laws are adequate to prosecute him have prompted lawmakers to propose amending the espionage statute to bring Assange to heel or even to declare WikiLeaks a terrorist organization.

    WikiLeaks is not perfect, and we have highlighted many of its shortcomings on this web site. Nevertheless, it’s time to make a clear statement about the value of the site and take sides:

    WikiLeaks stands to improve our democracy, not weaken it.

    The greatest threat we face right now from Wikileaks is not the information it has spilled and may spill in the future, but the reactionary response to it that’s building in the United States that promises to repudiate the rule of law and our free speech traditions, if left unchecked.

    Secrecy is routinely posited as a critical component for effective governance, a premise that’s so widely accepted that even some journalists, whose job is to reveal the secret workings of governments, have declared WikiLeaks’ efforts to be out of bounds.

    We should embrace the site as an expression of the fundamental freedom that is at the core of our Bill of Rights.

    Transparency, and its value, look very different inside the corridors of power than outside. On the campaign trail, Barack Obama vowed to roll back the secrecy apparatus that had been dramatically expanded under his predecessor, but his administration has largely abandoned those promises and instead doubled-down on secrecy.

    One of the core complaints against WikiLeaks is a lack of accountability. It has set up shop in multiple countries with liberal press protections in an apparent bid to stand above the law. It owes allegiance to no one government, and its interests do not align neatly with authorities’. Compare this, for example, to what happened when the U.S. government pressured The New York Times in 2004 to drop its story about warrantless wiretapping on grounds that it would harm national security. The paper withheld the story for a year-and-a-half.

    WikiLeaks’ role is not the same as the press’s, since it does not always endeavor to vet information prior to publication. But it operates within what one might call the media ecosystem, feeding publications with original documents that are found nowhere else and insulating them against pressures from governments seeking to suppress information.

    Instead of encouraging online service providers to blacklist sites and writing new espionage laws that would further criminalize the publication of government secrets, we should regard WikiLeaks as subject to the same first amendment rights that protect The New York Times. And as a society, we should embrace the site as an expression of the fundamental freedom that is at the core of our Bill of Rights, not react like Chinese corporations that are happy to censor information on behalf of their government to curry favor.

    WikiLeaks does not automatically bring radical transparency in its wake. Sites like WikiLeaks work because sources, more often than not pricked by conscience, come forward with information in the public interest. WikiLeaks is a distributor of this information, if an extraordinarily prolific one. It helps guarantee the information won’t be hidden by editors and publishers who are afraid of lawsuits or the government.

    WikiLeaks has beaten back the attacks against it with the help of hundreds of mirror sites that will keep its content available, despite the best efforts of opponents. Blocking WikiLeaks, even if it were possible, could never be effective.

    A government’s best and only defense against damaging spills is to act justly and fairly. By seeking to quell WikiLeaks, its U.S. political opponents are only priming the pump for more embarrassing revelations down the road.

    Evan Hansen is Editor-in-Chief of Wired.com.

  3. Alex December 6, 2010 at 7:02 pm - Reply

    > The list, exposed today, is likely to be materially different, and probably more extensive, than anything a terrorist would create

    Publishing a list of places to attack is like publishing a list of subsystems in Windows that can be attacked by hacker. Big deal?

    If your system can be broken by anyone who just knows which part it consists of your system is frankly POS and go fix it and not whine about "terrorists".

  4. R. Wilson, US Citizen December 6, 2010 at 7:45 pm - Reply

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out. While I don't agree with Mr. Assange's actions, I also don't agree with the massive amounts of documents being classified as Top Secret. Yes, the United State is going to find a lot of these documents damaging, but it could also expose the US of sticking its nose into every other government's business. For example, the Cable leaks have shown that the US was heavily involved in Spain's copyright legislation.

    Hopefully, we will be able to see a silver-lining to the issue of the leaks. Hilary Clinton has already remarked how it does show the level of effort and commitment given by our foreign corespondents.

    Or better yet, maybe congress can get its act together and clean up our own government. But unfortunately, I don't see that happening in the near future; Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell already let us in on the GOP's goal for the next two years: "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." Gee, I thought the single most important thing was cutting runaway spending and reforming our entitlement system before the country collapses once and for all.

  5. Harry Pfleger December 6, 2010 at 10:53 pm - Reply

    Isn't the problem that such a list exists and can go into hands which are not trustworthy? Why does the government not handle such documents accordingly (e.g. assassination of President Kennedy)? We live in the information age and information is a weapon, good or bad. As history shows, weapons are not always used in good ways, and governments need to find ways that that the threat is going down. They to a bad job with guns and the like and they will probably not do a better job with information… I am rather a human with information than a human without information. Look what religions (you can also put the word government here, instead of religions) have done in the past with their supporter: they didn’t provide information; they did provide their thinking… I rather think on my own with as much information available as possible. That’s the information age…

  6. Afraid of political repurcussions December 7, 2010 at 7:46 am - Reply

    To answer your question: No, wikileaks will not be responsible.

    While you may disagree with the leaks saying that you understand the extralegal actions of DDoS attacks and the non-judicial rulings of crimes is like siding with abortion clinic bombers.

    Wikileaks is part of the press, if the US censors the press outside of the rule of law, then we become China real fast.

    Saying Assange = AlQaeda is far removed from reality. Is Microsoft a terrorist because Bing shows maps of sensitive targets?

    Remember that Nixon thought Deep Throat was a terrorist. That didn't make him right.  

  7. NickMalik December 8, 2010 at 3:06 am - Reply

    I'll post only one response, and then let it drop and get back to architecture.

    The world has literally millions of companies, and hundreds of thousands of "locations" that may be good targets for terrorists.  However, the list that I speak of has less than two hundred of the most important sites, ones that the US considers highly valuable for our national interests.  yes, they are operating in the open, which means that information is available about them, but that doesn't mean that a terrorist would have been easily able to differentiate these few sites from the tens of thousands of potential targets.

    Think like a terrorist.  They don't have much money.  They want a big impact.  Does the terrorist target an empty street, or a busy train station?  The latter, of course.  There are millions of places to put a bomb, but they carefully choose the one that causes the most damage and disruption.

    A carefully chosen list of sites is a treasure trove.  It is easy enough to scope out the ten sites closest to your location, looking for the one that is the weakest or easiest to attack.  Then, go after it… killing as many people and causing as much damage as possible, knowing that you have not only killed innocent people in Nigeria or Chile or Denmark, but that you've hurt the USA.  What could be a richer thing?

    We are deceived in believing that the information age makes all information equal.  Some information is fundamentally more valuable than others, if for no other reason than the addition of a filter: not just ANY sites are valuable… THESE sites are valuable.

    That is why this list is not just a list, and why the people who live near them, or work in them, are less safe than they were yesterday.  Was this in the interest of the general public?  No.  

    I agree with holding governments accountable and with being open about information and marking much less information as "top secret."  I think that Bush was completely out of control, and I'm dismayed to see that Obama hasn't done more to back away from his outrageous policies… but even Jimmy Carter would have classified this document, if for no other reason than to protect the lives of innocent people who work in those locations.  

    Assange has provided material support to a terrorist organization.  He has violated international laws of diplomacy, and he has endangered the lives of people who may not have the benefit of full governmental protection, now or in the future.  He is a criminal.  I believe that he can, and should, be lawfully prosecuted for his crimes and placed in prison.  Simple as that.

  8. Ilya Usov December 14, 2010 at 2:21 am - Reply

    Being a software developer I always follow one very basic security principle: "security by obscurity never works"  Unfortunately your post fails to respect that.

  9. Catherine December 22, 2010 at 4:27 am - Reply

    Press plays a very important role in today's world as this is the medium with the help of which people come to know about what is happening and what not.

    the freedom of press have always been a very controversial issue and till date there has been no line that has been drawn between what is right and what not.

    what Julian Assange has done still remains a very controversial topic and questions regarding it should have been done or not still remains unanswered

    at this stage the best thing to do is to gather as much information as possible and should think from all the viewpoints before forming any opinion

    I would suggest you to read this article

    http://www.identitysecurityandaccessblog.com

  10. NickMalik December 24, 2010 at 3:55 pm - Reply

    To Catherine, The blog post that you directed me to includes a (valid) wake-up-call for organizations to consider the possibility that an insider will disclose information.  This is an important concern and I value the opinion of the author.  To the point of maintaining that first line of security, he is right on.  He specifically did not comment on the second point: whether it is LEGAL for Wikileaks to disseminate the information that was made available to it.  My post discusses this aspect.  I voiced an opinion that it was a moral and legal decision, on the part of Wikileaks, to receive, understand, and intentionally disclose information that could (and probably will) lead to injury or death.  As such, our blog posts are complimentary to one another, each chosing to discuss one of the two issues at hand.

    To Ilya,

    Your comment is not clear to me.  I would not expect "security by obscurity" to work.  The information released was specifically protected information that we selected, stolen, and disclosed by an insider.  That is not security by obscurity.  That said, the information was transmitted not to an open website, or posted in a blog, but rather sent to an organization that claims that it is a media outlet, and is seeking first-amendment protections on that basis.  My argument is that our first-amendment protections, some of the most press-friendly in the world, are part of a sensitive historical balance that requires responsible behavior on the part of the media.  Assange has violated the trust of the media and therefore has not earned the protection that it entails.  

    99% of the data he has released is acceptable, even if sensitive, and I would support him if he had shown even the slightest regard for human life.  He has not.  The Talmud tells us: to save a life is to save the whole world, and to take a single life is to destroy the world.  

    Do you know the difference between murder, manslaughter, and reckless endangerment?  The difference is "intent."  Did the person who committed  an act that led to death intend for death to occur?  If so, it is murder.  If he did not intend death, but it occurred anyway, it is manslaughter.  If no death occurred, but a reasonable person would conclude that harm would likely come of his actions, then it is reckless endangerment.  As a reasonable person, I can easily see that reckless endangerment has occurred.  Perhaps manslaughter charges will apply by the time he lands on US soil (which he will, eventually).  Either way, these are felony offenses.

    Both morally and legally, Assange is a criminal.  Had he shown regard for human life, I would be defending him.  But he has not, and thus I am morally obligated to oppose him and call for justice.

  11. agricfowl January 10, 2011 at 2:36 am - Reply

    Nick, please stick to bloging about Architecture. That is the subject l am guaranteed you know alot about.

  12. Jennifer Hughes January 11, 2011 at 2:49 am - Reply

    To NickMalik:

    I agree to your point and thinks that the it depends on how you perceive the legal issues. If at all a person is  concerned about the NATIONAL SECURITY may be he/she will not think on this line but if the case is vice-versa then probably for them wikileaks is anytime a good deal.  

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