The fifth sorta-kinda red flag (once you’ve seen two or three in one piece, it’s good to start suspecting everything in it) is that two of Tiversa’s advisors have awfully tight ties to the U.S. military and federal government. Wesley Clark, the former NATO commander and four-star general, is an advisor as is Howard Schmidt, who worked for the feds for three decades. Here’s the latter’s bio:

He retired from the White House after 31 years of public service in local and federal government including the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the FBI National Drug Intelligence Center. He was appointed by President Bush as the Vice Chair of the President’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Board and as the Special Adviser for Cyberspace Security for the White House in December 2001.

This piece raised questions from Forbes’s Andy Greenberg, too, and he beat me to it by more than two weeks. It’s some excellent blogging.

Sure enough, Greenberg confirms that Tiversa is working for the U.S. government, which is Wikileak’s sworn enemy, and he blows apart Bloomberg’s piece with this reporting:

In fact, in a phone interview with me today, Boback sounded distinctly less sure of his firm’s deductions than he did in the Bloomberg piece. “What we saw were people who were searching [computers connected to filesharing networks] for .xls, .doc, .pdf, and searching for those generic terms over and over again,” says Boback. “They had multiple Swedish IPs. Can I say that those are WikiLeaks? I can’t. But we can track the downloads of people doing that, and a short time after those files were downloaded, they’re listed on WikiLeaks.”

Boback, who says he’s working with a U.S. government investigation into possible peer-to-peer sources for WikiLeaks, says that he saw downloads of documents that later were posted to WikiLeaks from other countries too, both “in the U.S. and across Europe.” ”Many of the searches are in Sweden, many are outside,” adds Boback. “It’s hard for us to say that any IP address was WikiLeaks.

Ayy.

And then there’s the Occam’s Razor thing, which should have raised some questions from editors somewhere along the way:

Still, WikiLeaks’ latest bombshells, like the military documents and State Department cables allegedly leaked by Bradley Manning and the upcoming list of tax-sheltered Julius Baer clients in Switzerland, seem to have been the product of traditional whistleblowing, not hacking. Part of what has made WikiLeaks so much more effective than traditional hacking efforts, after all, is that whistleblowers with privileged accounts within computer networks are a far more efficient source of embarrassing data than hacking techniques such as random searches of filesharing networks. As Assange reminded me when we spoke in November: “Insiders know where the bodies are.”

The unfortunate bottom line is that it seems the press feels freer to go aggressively after enemies of the state, even if they’re helping it do its job informing the people about what their state is doing in their name.

Would this kind of journalism have passed the smell test if it weren’t about Wikileaks? I highly doubt it.

Bloomberg and BusinessWeek shouldn’t have run with this one. It looks for all the world that they may (to borrow a word) have published a smear.


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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.