And the WikiLeaks saga continues, this time involving the recent failed military coup attempt in Turkey. Reported at the end of July, a collection of around 300,000 emails and links have been leaked online by WikiLeaks. Needless to say, as professionals in the security business, we’ve had had time turning away from this rolling train wreck around email security. From the DNC email leak to the Clinton email debacle it’s been a doosie of a season, but this case provides some telling insights into how and why it may happening and what appears to be a shift in Wikileaks’ purportedly “neutral” stance.
It all started a couple of days after the failed military coup attempt in Turkey, when internet-skeptic Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan used Apple’s Facetime app to generate support for his party, WikiLeaks published what it called Erdogan Emails. In fact, one of the emails even contained an Excel database of cellphone numbers of AKP deputies. The out of context military coup was thought to gain more meaning once the dumped emails were decrypted.
A post on WikiLeaks read, “We have verified the material and the source, who is not connected, in any way, to the elements behind the attempted coup, or to a rival political party or state.” Initially, it asserted itself to be neutral, making the publication a mere coincidence alongside the attempted coup.
However, the sensitivity of the political situation clearly showed otherwise. The innumerable conspiracy theories sprouting out trying to pinpoint the mastermind behind the orchestration of the coup evoked a suspicion that WikiLeaks might contain relevant clues. Shuffling a bit, the online publisher then claimed to have exposed corruption in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) under Erdogan. The emails seem to date back as long as 2010 until July 6, 2016.
But at that moment the information hardly reached the public as WikiLeaks was blocked by the Turkish censoring monitoring group Turkey Blocks. Apparently the “Erdogan Emails were suddenly behind a password login”, which, according to WikiLeaks, was the result of a DDoS attack. WikiLeaks intended to prevail despite the attack by urging Turks to bypass censorship through systems such as “TorBrowser and uTorrent”.
The supposed post-coup ‘political’ exposure is discovered to have had a disguise on top, with a dangerous layer underneath!
Contradicting the claim by WikiLeaks, Zeynep Tufekci, an academic and a contributor to the New York Times, holds that the dumped data is actually a host of mailing lists and spam emails containing private information. According to Tufekci, WikiLeaks has recently posted links containing sensitive information of “millions of ordinary, innocent people, especially millions of women in Turkey”. The “authenticated leak”, as National Security Agency’s whistle-blower Edward Snowden put it following its censorship, apparently exemplifies irresponsibility.
A thorough combing of the leaked documents uncovers personal details of a number of Turkish women. The information is as delicate as their home addresses, their cellphone numbers and even their Turkish citizenship ID. This leak clearly puts a lot of women in danger as “Their addresses are out there for every stalker, ex-partner, disapproving relative or random crazy to peruse as they wish”
Almost every female voter in 79 out of 81 provinces in Turkey has been exposed, and most frightening of all being that they were exposed immediately after the bloody failed coup attempt against Erdogan’s government. Some of the database also contains accurate political affiliations. This information can easily be misused for political manipulations or for harassment.
Tufekci in her blog post shows her anger towards the deception of the emails. An investigation of the published material by WikiLeaks show that the emails are not sent by the ruling AKP, rather to the party. Emails were under the gov.tr and akp.org.tr domain, but they don’t seem to be internal emails. “These emails are what you expect: chain emails, recipes, wishes for happy holidays, spam emails, pleas for jobs, serious emails imploring some pothole or other problem be fixed”.
Much of the deception that Tufecki tries to put her finger on seems to be the result of the absence of even a cursory check by WikiLeaks before publishing the documents. For example, WikiLeaks twitter had also been alleging that the dumped data is contained within 1400 emails related to Fetullah Gülen – the self-exiled cleric on whom the Turkish government puts the blame for the coup attempt. But the word ‘gülen’ means ‘smile’ or ‘smiling’ in Turkish, and a good look shows that some emails are in fact advertisements for vacations by the Mediterranean. Nothing found was actually newsworthy!
Tufecki battles against internet irresponsibility: “I hope that people remember this story when they report about a country without checking with anyone who speaks the language; when they support unaccountable, massive, unfiltered leaks without teaming up with responsible parties like journalists and ethical activists; and when they wonder why so many people around the world are wary of “internet freedom” when it can mean indiscriminate victimization and senseless violations of privacy. Discretion is not censorship”.
What is crystal clear is that Julian Assange’s pledge to keep hacking ethical has not quite taken flight. Perhaps if he wasn’t confined to his offsite location in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London the oversight would be more thorough and less damaging and dangerous.
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