After years of limited activity due to ongoing persecution, Wikileaks has taken one of its biggest steps since Julian Assange’s stalemate in London’s Ecuadorian embassy by opening a new Tor hidden service (http://wlchatc3pjwpli5r.onion.top/). This site allows visitors to chat with an anonymous Wikileaks representative and receive advice about making a leak. Alongside Sweden’s agreement to interview Assange regarding sexual molestation charges in the UK, this paints a picture of significant headway for the embattled journalism outlet.
This is not the first time Wikileaks has made use of the powerful anonymizing network, however. Chelsea Manning first chatted with Wikileaks using Jabber and IRC before using Tor to leak her cache of documents from the US military and diplomats, now famous as the largest leak of classified information in the history of the America. In fact, here you can still read WikiLeaks’ ancient documentation relating to Tor. This page appears to pre-date the Tor Browser Bundle, as it instructs users on how to manually configure Firefox to use the Tor network. It also lists a broken hidden service link that was once used as its anonymous dead drop for uploading documents: http://suw74isz7wqzpmgu.onion.top/.
The new chat service then, may optimistically be interpreted as Wikileaks beginning to return to its former glory. That’s not to say WikiLeaks has lain completely dormant during this time; they notably released chapters from the secret TPP trade agreement and a CIA document assessing the efficacy of the drone war in the last few months. A mirror of the Wikileaks website is also available on Tor at http://jwgkxry7xjeaeg5d.onion.top/.
Since Manning’s leak, Tor has become much more popular among journalists and their sources. Edward Snowden and Laura Poitras used Tails both when planning the leak and in transferring the documents for the first time. Since then, the importance of Tor as a journalistic tool has hit home far and wide. The number of newspapers and other outlets with SecureDrop sites, closely analogous to WikiLeaks’ dropbox, underwent a dramatic increase. The SecureDrop website lists a slew of publishers making use of their software including, among others: Forbes, The Intercept, The Guardian, and The Washington Post.
And SecureDrop is only one instance of such a website framework. GlobaLeaks also provides a Tor-based gateway through which leakers can transmit their files. It seems that despite or perhaps because of the excessive secrecy surrounding international politics – and the grave consequences of breaking it – a rich whistleblowing community has sprung up as a counterforce, and they gravitate around open source cryptography. As WikiLeaks and Chelsea Manning have shown, darknet technology has been critical in supporting that role for more than five years now. Laura Poitras even went as far as crediting the Tor project at the end of her documentary about Snowden’s leaks, Citizenfour.
Let’s hope that with WikiLeaks’ new chat site, and the plethora of leaking platforms that have sprung up in the past two years, we will see a new and vigorous era of leak-based journalism and plenty more Mannings and Snowdens to come.