AUSTIN, Texas — WikiLeaks has filed a formal complaint accusing The Associated Press of violating journalistic ethics in a recent report that claimed the transparency site was responsible for “outing” private data belonging to Saudi citizens.
The Aug. 23 investigation by AP reporters Raphael Satter and Maggie Michael accused WikiLeaks of releasing the private data of “scores” of residents of the Gulf kingdom as part of the The Saudi Cables. This collection, which the site launched in June 2015, consists of over 122,000 files leaked from Saudi foreign affairs ministry.
In the report, Satter and Michael lodge serious accusations, including that WikiLeaks published private medical data relating to “sick children, rape victims and mental health patients.”
The site, they wrote, also “published the name of a Saudi citizen arrested for being gay, an extraordinary move,” given that LGBT people can be punished with the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.
On its official Twitter account, WikiLeaks denied the claims, suggesting it was an old, incorrect story being revived as a way to attack the site in the buildup to this year’s presidential election.
No, WikiLeaks did not disclose "gays" to the Saudi govt. Data is from govt & not leaked by us. Story from 2015. Re-run now due to election.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) August 23, 2016
And on Aug. 24, Julian Assange’s legal counsel filed a formal complaint with the AP, which claims that the story represents a breach of journalistic ethics.
Formal complaint requests Associated Press carry out investigation: Satter breached AP standards in WikiLeaks story https://t.co/D5mzp4A28g
— Hanna J (@AssangeLegal) August 25, 2016
While the AP report takes pains to protect the identities of everyone ostensibly involved in the leak of private data in the interest of their safety, these precautions also make it far more difficult to independently verify the report.
In another tweet, WikiLeaks predicted other “recycled” attacks would be forthcoming from the media.
US big media scramble to side with presumptive winner #Clinton. We expect many more recycled attacks like AP's today as our leaks continue.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) August 23, 2016
WikiLeaks accused of leaking private info on Turkish women
WikiLeaks also recently faced accusations that it had released the private information of Turkish women in a tweet associated with the “Erdogan Emails,” an archive of 294,548 emails and thousands email attachments leaked from Turkey’s ruling AKP party after last month’s failed coup attempt.
In a July 25 report from The Huffington Post, Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina’s School of Information and Library Science, wrote:
“[T]his ‘leak’ actually contains spreadsheets of private, sensitive information of what appears to be every female voter in 79 out of 81 provinces in Turkey, including their home addresses and other private information, sometimes including their cellphone numbers.”
“If these women are members of Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (known as the AKP), the dumped files also contain their Turkish citizenship ID, which increases the risk to them as the ID is used in practicing a range of basic rights and accessing services. The Istanbul file alone contains more than a million women’s private information, and there are 79 files, with most including information of many hundreds of thousands of women.”
WikiLeaks reportedly blocked Tufekci on Twitter after a somewhat heated exchange about the issue in late July.
— Zeynep Tufekci (@zeynep) July 26, 2016
On Aug. 23, WikiLeaks used Twitter to refute Tufekci’s claims about the Erdogan emails, quoting from another tweet by national security analyst Michael Best, who took responsibility for the leak of private data.
— Michael Best (@NatSecGeek) July 26, 2016
According to a July 27 post by Best on his website, Glomar Disclosure, the leak originated with Phineas Fisher, the pseudonym of a hacker responsible for other high-profile leaks. While WikiLeaks published only a partial archive of the Erdogan emails, Best wrote that the organization also tweeted a link to the full leak file, which contained the private data, that Best had mistakenly published. He wrote:
“Even though my name was on the page as the uploader and I had tweeted it out first, WikiLeaks never tried to pass the buck to me or say that it was my upload or my fault. … I can only conclude that this is because doing so would have violated the spirit, if not the letter, of their source protection policy by placing the blame on me or pointing the Turkish government in my direction. For that, I’m grateful.”
Best deleted the data after he became aware of its contents, and WikiLeaks’ original tweet no longer links to a valid file. In another tweet, Best admitted that other copies may exist on the internet, though he’s made efforts to get them deleted as well.
Tufekci, for her part, continues to accuse WikiLeaks of irresponsible behavior. In a July 27 update to her Huffington Post report, she added:
“WikiLeaks’ defense of the doxing databases appears to boil down to ‘we didn’t upload them.’ But it’s no defense to say that one has merely linked to and publicized information that poses a direct and grave threat to millions, especially for people and groups with the power of publicity and millions of followers.”
Attacks grow against WikiLeaks after DNC leak
WikiLeaks’ record has come under increasingly close scrutiny since the July 22 “DNC Leaks,” a release of almost 20,000 emails and over 8,000 files taken from the Democratic National Committee’s private servers. These leaks tarnished the reputation of the Democratic Party during its convention in Philadelphia and led to the resignation of several key DNC officials, including the former party chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
During the fallout from the DNC Leak, the Hillary Clinton campaign accused WikiLeaks of working with Russia to leak the private files. These accusations were mostly based on circumstantial evidence provided by security experts with known ties to the NSA, as MintPress News founder and editor-in-chief Mnar Muhawesh noted on July 25.
“Ultimately, there’s no conclusive proof that the hackers in either instance were Russian or even tied to the Russian government,” Muhawesh wrote.