WikiLeaks Times Release of Egypt-Focused Cables to News Cycle

Does this make Julian Assange’s rogue enterprise more of a journalistic operation?

WikiLeaks Egypt word cloud


Controversial “whistleblower” site WikiLeaks is improving as a timely source of information: It’s just released a fresh batch of leaked U.S. cables that concern Egypt.

Earlier today WikiLeaks’s official (if still “unverified”) Twitter account had the following tweet: “We will soon release numerous cables on Egypt.”

Then just a few hours later, WikiLeaks came good on its promise, and a new suite of leaked U.S. diplomatic cables concerning American political relations with a number of factions inside Egypt have surfaced on the WikiLeaks website (which is still online, despite the attempts by different users to suppress it).

All told there are 12 Egypt-specific cables on the single page (though WikiLeaks’s site seems to imply there’s another page of documents, the links don’t work), and they range from “confidential” classification to the higher “secret/no foreign eyes” level, over a period from August 2005 to July 2009.

The text of one particularly pertinent cable–a briefing, based on information obtained locally, that summarizes an “Egypt in transition” in September 2007–has been turned into a word cloud above, as we did for an earlier WikiLeaks release. Most prominent in this text are the words Mubarak, Sadat, and September: Mubarak is self-explanatory, and its this difficult man that the current protests center around. Sadat is Anwar El Sadat, third president of Egypt and Nobel Peace Prize winner–he was assassinated by fundamentalist forces in October 1981. In September 1981 (the third prominent word) Sadat ordered the arrest of some 1,500 people across political and religious persuasions in a crack-down designed to quell anti-Sadat jihadi activity–it failed to work. The cable addresses concerns, in 2007, that Mubarak’s hard line on the oppositional Muslim Brotherhood could cause similar social tensions in Egypt.

The cable got the dates of the social tension/explosion wrong. But WikiLeaks actually timed this well–releasing its information at exactly the right moment as the current Egyptian drama enters some of its most dramatic acts. Is WikiLeaks trying to prove it’s a truly journalistic entity at heart, lending support to founder Julian Assange’s claims that he’s protected by freedom of the press laws? Is the site actually planning on becoming more of a news source? Or is this merely the by-product of tighter hands on the reigns now that Assange is merely under house arrest, and has access to the Internet?


We suspect it’s actually the latter. WikiLeaks as a “news source” is a tricky concept as it can only be as powerful–or provocative–as the data that’s leaked to it. So unless an interested party leaks inside information from an organization that’s actually embroiled in something newsworthy right at that moment, WikiLeaks could hardly be regarded as a news organization.

What it can do is curate the leaks its given, and this seems to be the case here: Among the slew of confidential data leaked to the site from the U.S. diplomatic communications channel were a number of documents that related to Egypt. All the folks running WikiLeaks had to do was keep abreast of the news, corral the relevant leaked cables, and make an announcement to the world at the right moment. We know that, for example, twitterer @ioerror (Jacon Applebaum) is a WikiLeaks volunteer, subpoenaed over the recent DDoS attacks on anti-WikiLeaks entities, and he’s been covering the Egypt news. And we know that Julian Assange has been free to access the net to manage his team, and to speak to the press, while he’s under house arrest in the U.K.–in fact, Assange was recently legally given permission to move his arrest site to the Frontline Club, a journalist hot-spot in London.

WikiLeaks’s Twitter account has, in fact, been very active today in reporting and disseminating news about the goings-on in Egypt. Someone is very definitely at the helm of the organizationright now. But tweeting does not make one a journalistic entity. Not yet, anyway.

To read more news on this, and similar stuff, keep up with my updates by following me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.

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