WikiLeaks is back at it this week, releasing the largest batch of secret state department cables to date. Some 20,000 documents were made available from the cable trove between Wednesday and Friday morning, and a Friday tweet from WikiLeaks promises 45,000 more will come soon. These numbers are still developing.
But the world is much more prepared for a document dump now than it was in 2010. A number of websites that organize its documents and make them searchable through keywords now exist. A WikiLeaks support site called WL Central provides a handy compendium. In the upcoming September issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, a story by Dave Maass explains how he uses these search engine sites to find many stories with a local angle, all built on WikiLeaks material, for his coverage at the San Diego CityBeat.
WikiLeaks tweeted a recommendation for those interested in searching the most recent release of cables: CableGateSearch.net. It’s a search engine built for the diplomatic cables, and WikiLeaks followed that tweet up with a few word-search examples: thirty-four US diplomatic cables include the word “mistresses.” Eighteen US diplomatic cables include the words “sex slavery.” Five contain the words “honey trap.”
Raymond Hill, the creator of CableGateSearch.net, writes in an e-mail that his site has seen more traffic between Wednesday and today than in the last three months combined. His site experienced some outages, and may experience more, he said, due to the huge flow of documents. Hill was motivated to turn the documents into a searchable database when he learned of threats towards Julian Assange. Hill wrote that he believes this type of ferocious opposition, “is best countered with making the information which is the target of censorship even more accessible.”
Dutch investigative journalist Henk van Ess is also very busy this week. He was having technical difficulties with his site, CableSearch.org (which is not related to CableGateSearch, despite the similar name). The site went offline briefly Friday morning to upload thousands of documents; on an average day, there’s a steady but slow flow of about ten or twenty cables a day, he says. “This was a surprise to everyone who monitors WikiLeaks,” said van Ess, about the huge release.
The CableSearch project is part of the European Centre of Computer Assisted Research, of which van Ess is the co-founder, and the Dutch-Flemish Association of Investigative Journalists (VVOJ). The search engine is a passion project, created out of van Ess’s frustration with the lack of stories produced by reporters using the WikiLeaks cables. “It was very important to give a structure to the WikiLeaks documents, “ says van Ess. He says he became concerned when reporters started telling him it was just too difficult to sift through the files to find something relevant. “Most people I talked to said forget it, the way to search WikiLeaks is too elaborate, there’s no search interface,” says van Ess. “It was a technical problem that was making reporters stop doing what they should do.”
van Ess provided a slightly obscured snap shot of his web traffic jump this week:
The next project for the European Centre and VVOJ is building a database of all the Iraq war logs, released by WikiLeaks in October 2010. When asked about his feelings about WikiLeaks, van Ess has the same verbal response as the one on his FAQ page: “Do we stand behind WikiLeaks? My answer to that is always, stop asking that. We are busy studying the cables.”