British newspaper hits back in WikiLeaks row

1st September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain's Guardian newspaper denied Thursday accusations by anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks that one of its journalists leaked the passwords to a trove of unredacted US diplomatic cables.

In a sign of the broken relationship with one of its former media partners, WikiLeaks blamed the Guardian for the leak of 251,000 diplomatic cables online containing details of informants and sources.

"A Guardian journalist has, in a previously undetected act of gross negligence or malice, and in violation of a signed security agreement with the Guardian's editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger, disclosed top secret decryption passwords to the entire, unredacted, WikiLeaks Cablegate archive," it said.

"We have already spoken to the (US) State Department and commenced pre-litigation action. We will issue a formal statement in due course," WikiLeaks added, in a statement posted on Twitter.

The Guardian, one of a handful of newspapers that began publishing redacted cables last year, said it "utterly rejects any suggestion that it is responsible for the release of the unedited cables".

It said WikiLeaks shared the documents through a secure server for several hours before taking the server offline and removing the files.

In a statement Thursday, the newspaper said: "The Guardian was told that the file to which it was given access in July 2010 would only be on a secure server for a few hours and then taken off.

"It appears that two versions of this file were subsequently posted to a peer-to-peer file sharing network using the same password."

The newspaper said one version of the file was posted by WikiLeaks on December 7 last year, just hours before the site's founder Julian Assange was arrested in London on an extradition request from Sweden where he is wanted for questioning over alleged sexual assault.

But the newspaper added: "The unencrypted version of the cables published on the web... (on Wednesday) was not the one accessed by the Guardian last year."

The Guardian said it had always maintained "that the material should not be released in unredacted form".

The newspaper also denied WikiLeaks' allegations that the password had been released through a book by two Guardian journalists, "WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy", published in February.

"It's nonsense to suggest the Guardian's WikiLeaks book has compromised security in any way," the newspaper said.

"No concerns about security were expressed when the book was published or at any stage during the past seven months."

The Guardian reported that a link to the full, unredacted database was published by an unnamed Twitter user who found it after acting on hints published in several media outlets and on the WikiLeaks Twitter feed.

The newspaper said the security breach had led to the publication of the WikiLeaks archive of 251,000 diplomatic cables online, without the redaction of names to protect sources who spoke to US diplomats on condition of anonymity.

Cables released over the past nine months through agreements between WikiLeaks and selected media partners have revealed confidential diplomatic assessments and potentially embarrassing comments by world leaders.

But the cables released through media organisations were redacted to avoid naming sources or informants who spoke to US diplomats.

The Guardian was one of five news organisations, including the New York Times, Der Spiegel in Germany, Le Monde in France and Spain's El Pais to publish stories based on the cables, which were allegedly leaked by US soldier Bradley Manning.

But the relationship between the Guardian and WikiLeaks disintegrated several months ago, reportedly because of clashes between the website's founder Julian Assange and journalists including its investigations editor David Leigh.

The publication of the Guardian's book about WikiLeaks, co-authored by Leigh, is also reported to have caused frictions.

WikiLeaks has defended the release of the embassy cables -- as well as the previous release of leaked Iraq and Afghanistan war reports -- as the journalistic exposure of official deception.

The United States, while refusing to confirm the authenticity of any of the documents, has accused WikiLeaks of putting individual lives and US national security at risk.

© 2011 AFP

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