Turnabout, as they say, is only fair play.
If you hadn't noticed, Wikileaks isn't quite the transparency operation it used to be. Staffers who routinely helped rein in Assange's less noble impulses long ago left the effort behind, leaving us with the often bizarre comedy that is Wikileaks in 2019. And while that doesn't justify the misguided DNC lawsuit or the potential threat to transparency posed by government efforts to prosecute leakers, that doesn't change one undeniable fact: modern Wikileaks is increasingly seen in infosec and policy circles as a poorly-written joke, long-since buried under the rubble of numerous scandals and Assange's bulbous ego.
That's not to say that Wikileaks didn't provide an invaluable service in its prime. Its early operations lit a much-needed fire under a press routinely terrified of speaking truth to power, especially in regards to the United States' often bipartisan, mindless unchecked international militarism. These days, however, Wikileaks is more about pandering to MAGA kids for bitcoin donations, selectively avoiding transparency, and levying silly legal threats against the press rather than actually adhering to its core mission of a decade ago.
Still, there's no doubt that Wikileaks of old contributed to a marginally braver press, even if it remains obvious that a lot of work on this front still needs to be done. And its influence continues to be mirrored by subsequent incarnations looking to improve on the formula, even as those efforts criticize Wikileaks' increasingly erratic behavior in the wake of a percussive parade of unflattering revelations.
Case in point: transparency activist and long-time infosec reporter Emma Best has unveiled the creation of Distributed Denial of Secrets. The organization is expected to make waves this week with the publication of hundreds of thousands of hacked emails and gigabytes of leaked documents, some of which come from previous hacks of Putin aides like Vladislav Surkov.
Unlike Wikileaks, DDoS will focus more on compiling and curating information, much of it coming from past hacks and breaches, building a sort of museum and library of now easily-accessible information. Especially information related to the Russian government and its bone-grafted relationship to Russian organized crime; stuff, project supporters claim, Wikileaks has steered clear of in recent years:
"A lot of what WikiLeaks will do is organize and re-publish information that’s appeared elsewhere,” said Nicholas Weaver, a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley’s International Computer Science Institute. “They’ve never done that with anything out of Russia."
DDoS differs from WikiLeaks in that it doesn’t solicit direct leaks of unpublished data—its focus is on compiling, organizing, and curating leaks that have already appeared somewhere in public. “Emma Best, I think, is someone who will actually do a good job,” said Weaver, citing Best’s aggressive use of the Freedom of Information Act to extract documents from recalcitrant U.S. agencies. “Things get so scattered that putting it all into one place is a huge benefit."
According to the group's FAQ, the biggest difference between itself and Wikileaks is it won't advocate for any particular ideology, putting the data itself back as the priority, a concept pretty clearly lost by Wikileaks in recent years:
"Distributed Denial of Secrets (“DDOS”) is a transparency collective, aimed at enabling the free transmission of data in the public interest. We aim to avoid any political, corporate or personal leanings, and to act as a simple beacon of available information. As a collective, we do not support any cause, idea or message beyond ensuring that information is available to those who need it most - the people."
Needless to say, Best and company are trying to manage the "creeping paranoia" that comes with playing information patty cake with Vlad and friends, having already mitigated what she calls "cyber shenanigans" the group believes was aimed at disrupting Friday's information dump. Also needless to say, this new operation, like operations before it, will likely be challenged by criticism when it comes to determining how far such transparency efforts should go (in fact it already has). But the fact remains that as long as the press refuses to fully embrace transparency, there's an evolving role for organizations just like this one.
In the interim, Best has been having fun with Wikileaks supporters who haven't been handling her criticism of the organization particularly well:
#WikiLeaks' top supporters are apparently viewing the upcoming Dark Side of the Kremlin release as an effort to attack WL, which is a totally normal reaction to have. pic.twitter.com/fB1mheoUz5
— Emma Best (U//FOUO) 🏳️🌈 (@NatSecGeek) January 24, 2019
If you've been tuned in to Wikileaks and its newer supporters' aggressive disdain for even the most tempered criticism, things should definitely get interesting when the full data trove drops this week.