Wikileaks: How the diplomatic cables were leaked

ZDNet's Wikileaks series: This post will detail how Bradley Manning allegedly leaked the largest cache of secret data in U.S. history.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

This week-long serialisation forms the vast part of my undergraduate dissertation: "An empirical analysis of Wikileaks, pre- and post- the 2010 diplomatic cables release". Media organisation or terrorist group; revolutionaries or journalistic evolutionists? This post will detail how Bradley Manning allegedly leaked the largest cache of secret data in U.S. history.

One single officer of the U.S. military -- an insider -- is alleged to have been the most damaging whistleblower in U.S. history. His supposed actions sparked revolts in at least three countries.


It is alleged by U.S. authorities that Manning was the source of the leaks surrounding most of the released documents in 2010, -- including the 'Collateral Murder' video, the Afghanistan and Iraq War Logs, and the U.S. diplomatic cables; though the authorities are not being forthcoming on the charges faced or due process.

Through blowing the whistle on the whistleblower himself, Adrian Lamo, a threat analyst and former hacker gaining notoriety during high profile hacks in 2004, informed the authorities of Manning's actions after speaking to him online for a week. Manning alleged to have admitted releasing the leaks during the dialogue between Lamo and himself.

With a numbers discrepancy between the leaked documents from Manning and the total documents released on Wikileaks, it is believed further sensitive documents are being withheld in case of Assange's demise.

Along with this, Mark Stephens, lawyer to Assange and Wikileaks, said that Wikileaks had further "secret material which it regarded as a 'thermo-nuclear device' to be released if it needs to protect itself".

According to the logs with Lamo as published by the Guardian, Manning apparently confesses to the hacker how he removed classified documents from a secure server.

He claimed that he "would come in with music on a CD-RW"... "labelled with something like 'Lady Gaga' [...] erase the music... then write a compressed split file", while "weak servers, weak logging, weak physical security, weak counter-intelligence..." allowed the leak to transpire with little difficulty.

With nobody taking particular notice of what Manning was doing, he "listened and lip-synched to Lady Gaga's Telephone" to make it look as though the disc contained audio, as he downloaded the data to the burnable disk.

Further into the chat logs, he describes how he uploaded the logs to Wikileaks through "the usual channels", though Assange and the advisory board decided against immediate disclosure.

The Guardian detailed how an 'innocuous-looking memory stick' landed in the hands of a journalist at the newspaper, containing 1.6 gigabytes of text files detailing the entire collection of leaked diplomatic cables from U.S. embassies.

The systems used are behind firewalls with data encrypted by ciphers and documents protected by classifications. Yet, though Manning held top secret/sensitive compartmented information clearance to allow his work to go uninterrupted, none of the documents uploaded in CSV format were classified as 'TOP SECRET'.

A loophole in a directive initiated by the U.S. Department of Defence prohibited the use of removable media to prevent malware from attacking the networks. In 2008, the British Parliament brought in a similar policy after the spread of the Conficker worm on its networks, but also to prevent the accidental loss or theft of classified data.

But the directive ordered by the Pentagon did not take into optical media.

Governments were embarrassed by the leaks, by not only the emerging details of the lax security which allowed Manning to copy the vast cache in the first place, but also the details of the conversations held between diplomats.

In the new year, nobody could have predicted the implications on the stability of governments; particularly the seemingly less stable ones.

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The final post will unravel the consequences of the cables; predominatently the effects in North Africa nad the Middle East. It will go live at 2 pm PT / 5pm ET / 10 pm GMT today.

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