The Government's Secret Fear of Wikileaks, Where Confidential Documents Live Forever

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In March 2008, the Department of Defense supposedly published a memo about a perceived national security threat. The target: Wikileaks a site that had previously put out sensitive information about Abu Ghraib.

It's been two years since that memo, which Wikileaks has published (PDF), and there's no clear evidence that Wikileaks was ever tampered with. But it's chilling to think that it could have ever even—and still may be—a possibility. Sites like Wikileaks catalog our secret history, the version that we weren't supposed to know. In fact, according to the memo, the DoD's primary concern was that someone from inside the government was feeding the site important documents:

The possibility that a current employee or mole within DoD or elsewhere in the U.S. government is providing sensitive information or classified information to cannot be ruled out. claims that the "leakers" or "whistleblowers" of sensitive or classified DoD documents are former U.S. government employees. These claims are highly suspect, however, since states that the anonymity and protection of the leakers or whistleblowers is one of its primary goals.


In other words, a primary source.

According to the memo, the DoD considered Wikileaks' weaknesses, at least in regards to finding those moles through site exploits:

The obscurification technology used by has exploitable vulnerabilities. Organizations with properly trained cyber technicians, the proper equipment, and the proper technical software could most likely conduct computer network exploitation (CNE) operations or use cyber tradecraft to obtain access to's Web site, information systems, or networks that may assist in identifying those persons supplying the data and the means by which they transmitted the data to ...

Successful identification, prosecution, termination of employment, and exposure of persons leaking the information by the governments and businesses affected by information posted to would damage and potentially destroy [its] center of gravity and deter others from taking similar actions.


A frightening thought, although to date there haven't been any reports of Wikileak source exposures. (Though they've definitely screwed up themselves.)


Other than the obvious Big Brother creepy-crawly feelings this story invites, it's also an important reminder about how we keep our collective memory. It's through news, and occasionally through secret documents, and through the stories we tell. If Wikileaks hadn't existed, the Guantanamo Bay torture manual may never have come to light. Nor a map of Abu Ghraib. Sites like Wikileaks force us to remember those things that some people would rather us forget. Deleting it, or its information, is like a memory wipe of history. [Wikileaks via Infoworld via Techmeme]

Memory [Forever] is our week-long consideration of what it really means when our memories, encoded in bits, flow in a million directions, and might truly live forever.