The largest leak of classified material in US history by Army private Bradley Manning ran via WikiLeaks. But as journalist and author of a book on WikiLeaks, David Leigh told DW the organization's glory days are over.
DW: Bradley Manning on Thursday pleaded guilty to 10 charges of leaking secret files to WikiLeaks. Manning said he wanted to spark a "public debate" on war. His attempts to hand over the information to "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" failed, so he turned to WikiLeaks with the documents. What does it say about the power of WikiLeaks that Manning chose this recipient for such significant documents?
David Leigh: One of the reasons why he chose them was that he was mixing with this group of hackers in the Boston area. When he came back on leave, he wanted to distribute this material somehow and these were people who were very close to the WikiLeaks operation and were enthusiastic for it. So I think he was probably affected by the people around him.
WikiLeaks' posting of some of the material sparked a huge scandal - depending what side of it you're on - and resulted in major implications. What does this say about WikiLeaks' significance?
Before Julian Assange did the deal with all the newspapers, I thought WikiLeaks was interesting, indeed fascinating, but not a huge player on the world stage. Even after what they called the "Collateral Murder" video, which they did a very good job of editing …
Are you referring to the video WikiLeaks released showing a helicopter attack on a Baghdad street, which also killed two Reuters journalists?
Yes, that's right. Even after that was put out, and that caused a considerable stir, it got the US Army pretty hysterically concerned, I wouldn't have said it set the world on fire. What did set the world on fire was the collaboration with The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel, the simultaneous publication. The scale and the audacity of that really catapulted Assange and WikiLeaks into a sort of celebrity rock-star role.
You say Assange started to have this celebrity role. So is the future of WikiLeaks dependent on what happens to Assange? Though Assange has given a couple of interviews from his exile in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he's avoiding extradition to Sweden on sex-crimes allegations, it's been pretty quiet around WikiLeaks. Is this organization dependent on his person?
WikiLeaks is dead. WikiLeaks consisted of Julian Assange and a few other people. Because of what Assange did, and because he is now out of action, and because he fell out with his handful of collaborators, WikiLeaks is dead and WikiLeaks has done nothing of significance since the Bradley Manning exposures. That was a one-off amazing event, which is not down to WikiLeaks, it's down to Bradley Manning because he is the one who did this astonishing thing for which he is likely to spend the rest of his life in jail.
Do you think there is still a spark among other techies that could reignite WikiLeaks?
Well the whole idea was brilliant because the underlying idea was that the recognition that huge databases are coming into the world as the result of the electronic age. When they come into the world, they are instantaneously copy-able and therefore they can be leaked at the click of a mouse - and they will be leaked. So what this is all about is structural really, where in a world of vast databases which can be leaked rapidly by different people to different outlets and so this will happen. Julian and his WikiLeaks outfit were the first people to really spot the possibilities of that.
So there could be someone else waiting to take advantage of new options and opportunities of technological developments.
Yes, the basic issue is technological. It is now possible to leak enormous databases on a worldwide scale almost instantaneously.
David Leigh is investigations executive editor at The Guardian. He is the co-author - with fellow Guardian journalist Luke Harding - of the best-selling book "WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy." Leigh was part of the Guardian team which worked closely with Assange in publishing the classified documents.