- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2012

WikiLeaks became famous for publishing secrets passed to it by outraged whistleblowers.

But the anti-secrecy website, which began publishing stolen emails from a private intelligence firm this week, got its start posting purloined documents from computer hackers, not leakers, according to its founder, Julian Assange, and security researchers.

In 2007, in a contribution to a restricted internal WikiLeaks email discussion list, Mr. Assange said the group began with a terabyte of information - the equivalent of all the books in a large university library - gleaned by hijacking and duplicating stolen data that Chinese and other hackers were moving around the Internet.

“Hackers monitor Chinese and other intel [agencies] as they burrow into their targets; when they pull [data], so do we,” he wrote to John Young, the publisher of Cryptome.org, a site that began publishing leaked intelligence documents more than 15 years ago.

Mr. Young later posted the email exchange online.

“Inexhaustible supply of material. Near 100,000 documents/emails a day … . We’re drowning,” wrote Mr. Assange.

He said the documents included material from “half a dozen foreign ministries, dozens of political parties and consulates.” He said some documents had been hacked from the World Bank, the United Nations and private trade groups.

“We don’t even know a tenth of what we have or who it belongs to,” Mr. Assange said.

Mr. Young told The Washington Times that he thinks the 2007 email referred to WikiLeaks’ surreptitious monitoring of the Tor network, an Internet system that allows users to move encrypted data anonymously.

“Material can be extracted from Tor,” said Mr. Young, “Anyone with the technical ability can do that.”

In several comments to the news media last year, Mr. Assange minimized the role that the Tor breach played in the origins of WikiLeaks

“Somewhere between none and [a] handful of those documents were ever released on WikiLeaks,” he told a British news site, the Register.

But Mr. Assange has never answered questions about another technique WikiLeaks allegedly used; namely, exploiting file-sharing programs. By downloading those programs, users get access to the collections of thousands of others.

But file-sharing programs, unbeknown to most users, also allow access to all the data on their hard drive.

In early 2009, the security firm Tiversa Inc. watched as computers in Sweden - where WikiLeaks servers are based - remotely searched hundreds of computers using file-sharing and downloaded selected documents.

“Within a few days, we would see those documents appearing on WikiLeaks, labeled as leaks” from a whistleblower, Tiversa executive Scott Harrer told The Times.

WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson refused to discuss the sources of its information.

“We promise anonymity,” he said Tuesday.

The site became famous in April 2010, when it began to publish a huge trove of secret U.S. military videos and field reports, as well as 250,000 classified diplomatic cables. A low-level Army intelligence analyst, Pfc Bradley E. Manning, faces court-martial and possible life in prison if convicted of leaking them.

This week, WikiLeaks began to publish the results of its collaboration with the hacking coalition Anonymous, 5 million emails stolen by the hackers from private intelligence firm Stratfor Inc.

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