Compared to its early days, when releases of material like Collateral Murder dominated public discourse for weeks, Wikileaks is now only a shadow of its former self, eclipsed largely by Snowden’s leaks.
That’s understandable, perhaps: Julian Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for nearly three years, and it has been hard for the organization to raise funds to pay Wikileaks’ running costs. However, that reduced visibility and activity doesn’t mean it’s not still releasing valuable material, particularly in the area of trade agreements. Today, it has published another interesting set of documents, this time from the field of surveillance:
WikiLeaks releases ten months of transcripts from the ongoing German Parliamentary inquiry into NSA activities in Germany. Despite many sessions being technically public, in practice public understanding has been compromised as transcripts have been withheld, recording devices banned and reporters intrusively watched by police.
WikiLeaks is releasing 1,380 pages of transcripts from the unclassified sessions, covering 34 witnesses – including 13 concealed witnesses from Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND). The transcripts cover from the start of the inquiry in May 2014 through to February 2015.
WikiLeaks has also written summaries of each session in German and English as the inquiry, due to its subject matter, is of international significance.
This underlines an important aspect of Wikileaks’ work: the fact that it seeks to make the documents it releases useful by providing commentary, summaries and indexes. Those valuable additions are often overlooked, but can play a crucial role in helping people understand the raw material provided.
The German parliamentary inquiry has been rumbling on for a year now, but has gained renewed importance with the recent revelations that the German spy service, the BND, has been searching through its databases using “selectors” (keywords) provided by the NSA, with apparently no oversight. Not only were many of the targets for those selectors EU citizens, but they included senior politicians and industry figures, too. Here’s Wikileaks’ summary:
One of the biggest scandals to emerge from the inquiry so far is the recent “selector” spy target list scandal where a BND official revealed that the agency was expected to spy on thousands of targets at the instruction of the NSA. These targets included members of the French government and European industry. This put into question Germany’s suitability in taking a leadership role in the European Union. It also showed that international co-operation on mass surveillance, which has been marketed in public as a counter-terrorism measure, is in practice also used by the United States for the purposes of industrial espionage and geopolitical advantage vis-a-vis members of the European Union. The committee requested the full “selector” list of targets provided to the BND by the NSA. The committee was told that the US would first need to be asked permission for the list to be revealed to the committee (even in confidence). Last Wednesday, 6 May 2015, when the answer was meant to be delivered, stalling tactics were used, leaving the German public, and the Parliamentary inquiry, without any ability to understand what their own secret services are up to.
The “selector” scandal has now reached the highest political echelons in Germany, with Angela Merkel’s earlier outrage over NSA spying — not least against herself — looking hypocritical at best, or dangerously naive at worst. Wikileaks’ latest release therefore comes at just the right moment for those seeking to understand what has been going on in Germany. It’s also a timely reminder that Wikileaks is still able to perform an important service in this respect, despite its straitened circumstances.