Unredacted U.S. Diplomatic WikiLeaks Cables Published

It looks as if the entire mass of U.S. diplomatic cables that WikiLeaks had is available online somewhere. How this came about is a good illustration of how security can go wrong in ways you don’t expect.

Near as I can tell, this is what happened:

  1. In order to send the Guardian the cables, WikiLeaks encrypted them and put them on its website at a hidden URL.
  2. WikiLeaks sent the Guardian the URL.
  3. WikiLeaks sent the Guardian the encryption key.
  4. The Guardian downloaded and decrypted the file.
  5. WikiLeaks removed the file from their server.
  6. Somehow, the encrypted file ends up on BitTorrent. Perhaps someone found the hidden URL, downloaded the file, and then uploaded it to BitTorrent. Perhaps it is the “insurance file.” I don’t know.
  7. The Guardian published a book about WikiLeaks. Thinking the decryption key had no value, it published the key in the book.
  8. A reader used the key from the book to decrypt the archive from BitTorrent, and published the decrypted version: all the U.S. diplomatic cables in unredacted form.

Memo to the Guardian: Publishing encryption keys is almost always a bad idea. Memo to WikiLeaks: Using the same key for the Guardian and for the insurance file—if that’s what you did—was a bad idea.

EDITED TO ADD (9/1): From pp 138-9 of WikiLeaks:

Assange wrote down on a scrap of paper: ACollectionOfHistorySince_1966_ToThe_PresentDay#. “That’s the password,” he said. “But you have to add one extra word when you type it in. You have to put in the word ‘Diplomatic’ before the word ‘History’. Can you remember that?”

I think we can all agree that that’s a secure encryption key.

EDITED TO ADD (9/1): WikiLeaks says that the Guardian file and the insurance file are not encrypted with the same key. Which brings us back to the question: how did the encrypted Guardian file get loose?

EDITED TO ADD (9/1): Spiegel has the detailed story.

Posted on September 1, 2011 at 12:56 PM83 Comments


kevinm September 1, 2011 1:01 PM

That is a good example of what can go wrong when people use encryption without fully understanding what they are doing. If they had they probably would not have published the real key.

nullspace September 1, 2011 1:18 PM

having trouble confirming that this password works for the insurance file.

sha1sum : cce54d3a8af370213d23fcbfe8cddc8619a0734c insurance.aes256

gpg –output z.7z -d insurance.aes256
gpg: no valid OpenPGP data found.
gpg: decrypt_message failed: eof

$ openssl enc -d -aes256 -in insurance.aes256 -out insurance -pass ‘pass:ACollectionOfDiplomaticHistorySince_1966_ToThe_PresentDay#’
bad decrypt

can anyone else confirm?

David September 1, 2011 1:36 PM

Can someone come up with a black list of reporters who published articles on this without bothering to do some fairly trivial fact-checking? I doubt they have been more careful when verifying the content of their stories is actually difficult.

Dom De Vitto September 1, 2011 1:39 PM

This reminds me of a Dilbert quote:

Stupidity is like nuclear fuel: it can be used for good or evil.
But in either case, you don’t want to be too close to it.

In this case stupidity at the Guardian hit critical mass 🙁

mike September 1, 2011 1:40 PM

Well what if it was intentional leak? Assange once said he didn’t like anonymizing the leaks. In that case this was all a very well orchestrated plan.

NobodySpecial September 1, 2011 1:40 PM

Presumably though, the encryption key published by the Gruniad would have been misspelled?

Alan September 1, 2011 1:46 PM

A suggestion for future book authors:

“This story is based on actual events. Only the names AND PASSWORDS have been changed to protect the innocent.”

ralph September 1, 2011 2:06 PM

what a crappy professional password
and endangering lives

this is a good password: & make many copies and store it in many safe places…


Chris W September 1, 2011 2:10 PM

Have a look at the German news sites. Der Spiegel has a detailed write up – and it’s even worse.

Apparently, when Wikileaks’ presence was attacked by Lieberman and his ilk, the encrypted Guardian archive made it into the mirroring kit. possibly the document collection was arranged somewhat hastily and Assange didn’t even realize first what was in there.

That mirroring kit was then distributed as one big torrent, thus irrevocably distributing the encrypted guardian archive.

So once the Guardian book came out, everything was sitting there in plain sight.

And it gets worse. Apparently, at some point in time the people around Daniel Domscheidt-Berg – the disgruntled ex-Wikileaks architect – realized what had happened there – and sat on that knowledge. But when the mud slinging contest between DDB and Assange escalated they tipped off the press – namely a “Der Freitag” reporter.

“Der Freitag” is a young magazine still trying to make a name for itself. So when they got this scoop, they of course published a very thinly veiled version of the story.

Soon people started adding 2 and 2, and voilà – we have unencrypted Cablegate archives.

Conclusion – instead of fighting Assange, the letter soup agencies should have advised him. Security isn’t only secure software – it’s also secure procedures around it.

Chris W September 1, 2011 2:28 PM

Addendum: DDB was summarily and very publicly kicked out of the CCC (German Chaos Cumputer Club) a few weeks ago.

Back then, only a very flimsy reasons were given. Now the assumption is the CCC folks learned about this desaster and did not want get involved with this.

Andy September 1, 2011 2:35 PM

The “insurance.aes256” file is not encrypted with the published password, nor is it the file that was decrypted. Der Spiegel has a more complete — and accurate as far as I know — account at http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,783778,00.html . The Spiegel account differs from my personal knowledge in only one particular — Leigh claims that the file as circulated is not the same filename he originally received from Julian, so either it was renamed on the server or Julian reused the same password for multiple distributions. AFAIK there’s no reason to believe the file Leigh received has different contents than the z.pgp that is decrypted by the published password.

To answer your question “how did the file get loose”, the Spiegel narrative covers that pretty well. z.pgp was in an un-linked but easily bruteforceable subdirectory of the wikileaks file server, and was included in several of the early wikileaks mirror torrents from 2010.

Turns out, key management is hard.

Tuttle September 1, 2011 3:03 PM

They didn’t remove the file, but mirrored it all over the net and the guardian journalist published the password.

eve_wears_a_badge September 1, 2011 3:13 PM

@Andy FTFY: “Turns out key management is hard when one side publishes the key you gave them in a book.”

Grahame September 1, 2011 3:48 PM

US government can’t keep secrets, and neither can Wikileaks. No surprises here. If more than one person knows a secret….

squarooticus September 1, 2011 5:02 PM

I fail to see why this is a bad thing. Very little good can come of the government keeping secrets.

IMO, if something needs to be kept secret then the government should probably not be doing it.

Dirk Praet September 1, 2011 5:46 PM

So since when is publishing a password a good idea ?

Although the entire story is a classic MFU of the worst kind, I am definitely not buying the Guardian’s explanation that they were told the password was “temporary”. If my understanding of GPG symmetrical encryption is correct, this is absolute nonsense. It’s pretty much obvious that at this point – and especially after the scandal that brought down NoTW – they will tell anything to save their skins. Mr. Leigh, the journalist who wrote that book, has some serious soul searching to do:

1) either he is lying
2) or he has been played
3) or he has been horribly negligent.
4) All of the above

Which in all cases makes him a really strong contender for the annual “Moron of the Year” title.

moo September 1, 2011 6:08 PM


It’s a bad thing because some of the cables involve real people, such as informants who have shared info with the U.S., and whose actual names (or enough info to readily identify them) are contained in the cables. When Wikileaks was releasing cables themselves, they redacted that kind of identifying info. Now that its all out in the open, some of those informants are at risk of being killed by e.g. the governments they betrayed. It might make it harder for the U.S. to recruit sources in the future — they couldn’t keep these people’s identities secret, so why would anyone trust them to keep their identity secret in the future?

And yeah, I agree that the Guardian should not have published the password for any reason. The weakness may have already existed, but I think that publication should still be blamed for the breach. I’m not advocating security by obscurity here, but if they hadn’t published the password this fiasco probably wouldn’t have happened. The weakness might have gone undiscovered, which would have been bad for Wikileaks (who believed they were secure when they were not) but would have been infinitely better for those who are now at risk. Never assume an unnecessary disclosure like that is “harmless”… anyway, what possible benefit could it have to publish a real password, discontinued or not??

moo September 1, 2011 6:18 PM

@ Dirk Praet:

Wikileaks gave the Guardian a copy of a file which was encrypted with a certain password. They also gave them the password. These two pieces of data, combined, yields an unencrypted archive. This will ALWAYS be true, so as long as even one copy of the file exists ANYWHERE the password needs to be kept secret forever. If either one of those two things becomes public somehow, then the other one MUST be kept secret. It looks like someone at the Guardian did not understand this. Even if the file had not been accidentally mirrored into the wild, after the password was published in a book, anyone could have potentially broken into the Guardian’s offices and stolen a copy of the file, or just hacked into their computers to get it.

The password is by far the easier of the two things to keep secret, because its small enough to pass it on verbally or on paper (whereas the archive has to be copied and transmitted using computer systems, so there’s a much higher chance that someone who isn’t supposed to have access will be able to get a copy of it somehow from one of those computer systems). If they were done with the info, they should have destroyed any piece of paper with the password on it, and done their best to forget it. Publishing it in a book is about the dumbest thing they could possibly have done with it.

@cimactiga September 1, 2011 6:42 PM

All these comments seem to miss the greater stupidity – that US diplo-traffic is stored in cleartext and easy to lose. What happens to it after the loss is still the responsibility of the US Gov. Can someone describe a protocol using key escrow and single use keys to allow the US.GOV to communicate in secret?

vexorian September 1, 2011 6:55 PM

Missing the entire picture are we? If a website can get the cables so easily then most likely any nefarious force with more resources could.

I actually think that finally letting people that figured as informants in the cables know that their informant status has been breached is going to improve their security, rather than making them believe they are safe just because wikileaks censors their names when publishing in the wikileaks site whilst media actually get the uncensored versions.

Irresponsibility comes from the parties that were supposed to keep the data secret in the first place. Why are US embassies sending out this vital information in a way that is so easy for civilians to find?

SM September 1, 2011 8:52 PM

vexorian: There was a database that most people with a mid-level American security clearance could access. One of the several million people with this clearance and authority to use this database seems to have swept it (the American security apparatus seems to blame one Private Bradley Manning). Its one of the basic problems of security: how do you ensure that the right people get the right information? How do you decide who you can trust with access to certain documents?

Vince whirlwind September 1, 2011 8:52 PM

“as informants in the cables know that their informant status has been breached is going to improve their security, ”

Precisely. The US lost this information. If Assange had it, then all those organisations whose very raison-d’etre is to dig up stuff like this should be assumed to have it as well. Either way, it is clear that your secret is not safe with the US Gov.

PackagedBlue September 1, 2011 9:22 PM

Wikileaks, who cares? Who really reads such crap propaganda?

What would be interesting, is a chatterbot, that can fake such cables, from the current and past news.

Disinformation, sure works wonders, and is very annoying.

DNSSEC, sure is needed these days.

Paul September 1, 2011 9:25 PM

That pass phrase may look relatively large and secure but from a social perspective it was a very bad choice.

It is easy to understand who a journalist, someone who’s trade is words, would find it tempting to quote that password as it is probably more descriptive of the protected content than the filename used for the content itself.

The pass phrase should have been something irrelevant and dull, not descriptive, not funny, just as unnoteworthy as possible.

Daniel September 1, 2011 9:41 PM

I don’t know how much of it is FUD but the Israelis are claiming the names of the people released are no big deal and that while it might be embarrassing to some people no one’s life is threatened. As someone who once upon a time carried a security clearance my own reaction is that I too doubt any truly vital information was disclosed. I’ve never been impressed with the overall quality of information from wikileaks.

I do agree that the Guardian should be shot. Not because of endangering people but for sheer stupidity. Who would have thought anyone would have published the real password in a book. /facepalm. Talk about hiding in plain sight!

EH September 1, 2011 10:22 PM

The Guardian is already trying to move the ball down the field in a “nothing to see there” manner. To wit, this is their current take on the story, which no longer mentions the author of the book:

“In the course of it the password Assange had provided, assumed to be long obsolete, was published. The book contained no information that would enable anyone to find and download the encrypted file.”

David Leigh’s name is not associated with the book in the story, but then again the article is co-bylined by him:


Looks like they’re a little too embarrassed to keep harping on how much Wikileaks is at fault for this, like they were yesterday.

Encrypdud September 1, 2011 10:48 PM

Seems like:

1 one should always have multiple fragments of the decrypting key in possession of several trusted individuals, just like no single person can launch a nuke

2 don’t use (only) a password, use passfiles

Oasa September 2, 2011 12:09 AM

How did the Guardian think that a temporary password would even work? Clearly, the same file will always have the same password.

I think they misunderstood completely, or else they’re lying now to deflect blame. Or maybe both. It seems clear that access to the file was meant to be temporary, not the password itself.

Dave X September 2, 2011 12:19 AM

The password looks more like the filename.

And heck, using a webserver for secure file delivery isn’t terribly bright. Who knows who could copy it while it was up.

I suppose one could use a mod_rewrite rule to cause a file to be destroyed during a download, but still, putting something on the web is a recipe for making uncontrolled copies.

Clive Robinson September 2, 2011 1:02 AM

Did anyone else get a wry laugh out of the password and the fact Der Spiegel got the scoop?

For those that don’t get the joke the year 1966 (used in the password) was the year every English football (socca) fan remembers because it was (so far) the only time England has won the “world cup” they beat West Germany 4-2 (the third goal was controversial) In Wembley Stadium (North London UK).

Even though Germany had won it a number of years previously and a couple of times since, the world cup, “66” is also the year many German football fans remember, not just because the English make such an issue of it but mainly that “third goal” (the English also have a similar controversial goal 20 years later from the 1986 world cup with Argantina and the “hand of god” from Maradona,).

I can’t help feeling that the choice of year in the password was premeditated by the fact that the Guardian is an English Newspaper that Julian Assange trusted at the time.

Apparently Juilian Assange nolonger trusts the Guardian for a number of reasons ( http://thenextweb.com/uk/2011/01/31/julian-assange-severs-ties-with-the-guardian-agrees-deal-with-the-telegraph/ ). So there may be a certain degree of undercurent/backstabing/revenge/score settling going on which might explain some of the “oddities” going on.

It appears that Julian having trust issues with people is not uncommon and some have remarked on it and sugested he might be paranoid (others think he has good reason to be)

I guess we will have to wait for his book should he actually ever write it ( http://m.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/jul/06/julian-assange-memoirs?cat=media&type=article ).

JonS September 2, 2011 2:53 AM

@ moo:
“It might make it harder for the U.S. to recruit sources in the future”

You say that like it’d be a bad thing. As a non-US citizen, I can assure you that it wouldn’t be.

Paeniteo September 2, 2011 3:10 AM

@Dave X: “And heck, using a webserver for secure file delivery isn’t terribly bright.”

There’s nothing wrong with putting a strongly encrypted file on a webserver – as long as the password doesn’t appear in a book, that is.

Winter September 2, 2011 3:39 AM

How should I consider a stack of documents that are visible by thousands of people secure?

And why should I trust the contents of a file on the computer of a newspaper encrypted with a password known to journalists will remain secure?

If my name was in there, I would assume every secret service would know it when they wanted. And every private detective too.

grumpy September 2, 2011 5:44 AM

And why should I trust the contents of a file on the computer of a newspaper encrypted with a password known to journalists will remain secure?

The bigger question is: why should I trust a journalist…? Two separate sets made bad decisions here, at The Grauniad and at Der Freitag. Two widely separated instances of bad judgment. Conclusion: do not trust journalists. There are no good ones.

Clive Robinson September 2, 2011 7:04 AM

@ Paeniteo,

“There’s nothing wrong with putting a strongly encrypted file on a webserver”

Actualy from a high security point of view it’s not advisable, along with a whole bunch of other seamingly benign “sins”.

For this particular sin it is for two main reasons,

Firstly because you don’t know how “strong” the encryption actualy is, just that “so far it’s not been shown to be weak”.

Secondly because you don’t know how “strong” KeyMat handling / storage is.

The “old” idea (1900 and earlier) behind encryption was that it was only for “data in transit” by trusted courier in sealed envelopes or concealed containers, and that after decryption the encrypted version would be destroyed (burnt). This was because knowledge of the Black Chambers in places like Wien and the consiquent breaking of cipher systems was well known in certain circles, as where the methods employed. Most of which involved “ciphers in depth” for the stronger ciphers and “code book” messages.

With the work of Marconi and others the cipher and code book systems then in use prior to the last century became a real liability as was seen during the First World War where the majority of the German Naval ciphers sent by radio where broken. Even though Churchill had let the “cat out of the bag” in one of his books, the lesson appears to have been lost on the British Admiralty come the second world war and the US diplomatic service to name but two who had their ciphers and codes read by the Germans.

During the second world war most of the breaks into the German Enigma traffic involved either ciphertext in depth or other information from past broken messages used as likley cribs selected with the new “traffic analysis”.

It was also “assumed by many” that the enemy did not have eyes and ears everywhere nor did they have sufficient ability to store every message sent… Well Verona put payed to that idea, but old habbits die hard.

And in a way that is the point, if Julian Assange had hand delivered encrypted copies of the files to the newspapers he selected then we would not be talking about the fail in KeyMat handling by the Guardian Journalist releasing all the data.

So it was a fail by Julian Assange in “just leaving the unredacted but encrypted file lying around” that alowed the fail by the Guardian Journalist so disastrous.

However the real question to my mind is “why on earth Julian Assange gave unredacted messages to newspapers”.

Lets be honest newspapers are an epic fail at keeping secrets and many countries beleive (with some justification) that journalists are also spys.

Who remembers back to what happened to the Israeli who broke the news of the Israeli nuclear program and what role journalists played in his down fall?

The lessons from history are there for those who chose to see them and many “Crypto Sins” are still valid as we’ve seen demonstrated…

TS September 2, 2011 8:18 AM


That’s amazing. I’ve got the same password on my luggage!

David September 2, 2011 11:31 AM

@JonS: ‘@ moo:
“It might make it harder for the U.S. to recruit sources in the future”

You say that like it’d be a bad thing. As a non-US citizen, I can assure you that it wouldn’t be.’

You really think a lack of sources of information will stop us from bombing and shooting people? We’ll just be bombing and shooting more of the wrong people.

Dave X September 2, 2011 3:34 PM

@Clive Robinson: Yes, yes yes.

@ Paeniteo: It seemed that the task that Assange wanted to accomplish was to deliver the huge file securely to the Guardian. There are better ways of doing that than http: scp, rsync sftp, courier, fedex, etc. http is pretty convenient, but it makes it too easy to have too many copies around. If Assange wanted to make the responsibility for the copy fully that of the Guardian reporter, he would have encrypted one watermarked copy with the reporter’s public key and delivered that copy to the reporter securely. If the reporter screws up, it is all in the reporter’s hands. It is Assange’s fault if he loses track of his USB backups of the z.pgp and his commandline history of:

gpg2 –batch –passphrase “ACollectionOfDiplomaticHistorySince_1966_ToThe_PresentDay#” z


One mod_rewrite rule is somethign like:

RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME}   -s
RewriteRule ^(once.*)$         dumpNdelete.cgi?$1   [T=application/x-httpd-cgi,L]
IndexIgnore *.cgi

where dumpNdelete.cgi copies out a file and deletes it. It is kinda fun. Assange could have put the file in once_z.gpg, asked the reporter to download it, checked that the reporter got it then given him the password.

n99 September 2, 2011 6:32 PM

I’m the person who leaked the cables to the public. I could get them by downloading the WikiLeaks mirror, unpacking xyz.7z, decrypting z.gpg with the password given by Leigh as the title of chapter 11 in his book, unpacking the resulting file z with 7zip: cables.csv.

It is not clear how the xyz.7z file got in into the mirror, it is possible Domscheit-Berg had something to do with it, but I guess it was Assange’s leaving it there.

By the way Leigh is the person who needed Assange’s help to open a 7zip file.

Also, the guy who thinks 1966 had something to do with soccer is wrong, the first cables in the package are from 1966.

I’m convinced Domscheit-Berg screwed everything up, he told every OpenLeaks partner about the supposed WikiLeaks security failure to make his own project look better, thereby giving everyone the chance to find the cables – despicable.

Bob A. September 2, 2011 7:04 PM

The Guardian’s attitude is rather slack. They obviously didn’t change the password on their version.

If the cables name names, Wikileaks possibly released the originals to protect those who could be misidentified by faked versions.

decora September 2, 2011 7:18 PM

“It was also “assumed by many” that the enemy did not have eyes and ears everywhere nor did they have sufficient ability to store every message sent… Well Verona put payed to that idea, but old habbits die hard.”

uhmmm what? i coulda sworn Venona was an accident based on the Soviet’s somehow managing to have duplicated one-time pads.

Ken September 2, 2011 7:46 PM

Given the template for Assange’s passwords, we can now assuredly construct the password used for the “insurance” file:


(Note that it is, as expected, an even more secure encryption key than the one he used for the “cables” file.)

Flay September 2, 2011 11:27 PM

Good object lessons on security but as for the contents of the files, there’s no security breach is there? After all, they weren’t very secret as they were intended to be broadly available to people with low security clearances. You would assume that quite a few foreign agencies would have regular access to these. If someone is put in danger by these cables then the security breach is by the person who published them on the State Dept website in the first place.

I think governments are aware that people in embassies might not aways say the nicest things about them and they probably don’t care as long as it’s kept secret from the public. That would be embarrassing. Such is diplomacy.

igb September 3, 2011 2:14 AM


That’s right, but the discovery that there had been careless use of key material by the Russians was only important because the US had carefully archived huge amounts of ciphertext. Venona didn’t disclose key material (or at least, not in any quantity), it disclosed that key material had been misused and therefore a careful examination of an archive of historic cipher material might be worthwhile.

Edmund in Tokyo September 3, 2011 5:18 AM

This sounds like a cultural mis-understanding between a hacker and a normal person.

Hackers know that in the networked world secrets are hard to keep, so they make them as small as possible, while taking less trouble to protect big things like the entire encrypted file.

Non-hackers are used the idea that if something is secret, you don’t let anybody have it. It presumably wouldn’t have occurred to this journalist that the encrypted file would be download-able by other people. After all, it’s secret.

If Assange had thought like the journalist he wouldn’t have let the encrypted file leak. (It would have probably been on a DVD in a locked briefcase.) If the journalist had thought like Assange he wouldn’t have put the password in the book. But they were operating on different paradigms, so their security failed.

who knows? September 3, 2011 7:00 AM

One possible explanation is that the people producing the book thought that it was innocent sensationalism that would boost the book’s verisimilitude. It seems that the Guardian people were clueless about computer security and thought that revealing the password was harmless fun. Of course, if they knew what they were doing,…

Name September 3, 2011 7:16 AM

From the spiegel article: “Any autocratic security service worth its salt” — for which read, first and foremost, the CIA. It’s quite an interesting euphemism for “spy agency”, really.

Wendy M. Grossman September 3, 2011 11:14 AM

It seems to me – admittedly no expert but a long-time observer of these things – that what ought to have happened is for Wikileaks to have encrypted the files first with its own secret key and then a second time with the Guardian’s public key. Then the files could only have been opened by people with access to the Guardian’s secret key. For best results, I would have expected at least the Guardian’s side of this exchange to have been generated for just this one-time use and not used again.

It sounds like both sides could have used better technical advice.

But I don’t think it would be at all obvious to a journalist that you shouldn’t publish a password in the interests of telling a good story. The bigger point, I think is that a lot of things had to go wrong for the unredacted cables to get out – but that each of them was not, independently, an unlikely event. I think people forget a lot that what seems – even is – safe at one particular moment may not be in the future if certain conditions come to pass – and humans notoriously fail at this sort of probabilistic prediction.


Mark September 3, 2011 12:57 PM


Wikileaks gave the Guardian a copy of a file which was encrypted with a certain password. They also gave them the password. These two pieces of data, combined, yields an unencrypted archive. This will ALWAYS be true, so as long as even one copy of the file exists ANYWHERE the password needs to be kept secret forever.

Unless the plaintext is made public. Here the newspaper only published part of the plaintext. Other parts of it were still secret so it still mattered that the cyphertext and key be kept apart.

If either one of those two things becomes public somehow, then the other one MUST be kept secret. It looks like someone at the Guardian did not understand this. Even if the file had not been accidentally mirrored into the wild,

The way The Internet works means that data is only ever copied (multiple times).

after the password was published in a book, anyone could have potentially broken into the Guardian’s offices and stolen a copy of the file, or just hacked into their computers to get it.

Alternativly once it was known that the newspaper had a copy of the plaintext it would make more sense to go after that.
Depending how the “redaction” was actually done there might also be many files which contained the entire original text plus metadata dealing what needed to be obscured.

Clive Robinson September 3, 2011 3:00 PM

@ Decora & igb,

Venona is one of those half known secrets.

It is not clear if the NSA was told by a spy or other person that OTP material had been “reused” by the Russians or if they discovered it.

What became clear is that they kept every single message they had ever received.

But importantly it was very unlikley they were told of OTP re-use as very few people would know. So many have assumed that the NSA spend a lot of time “trawling through the archives” just comparing message with message one char offset at a time in the hope of finding a plaintext on plaintext result.

We know that they had automated IC machines in the NSA so it is actually quite possible they did routienly trawl through looking for such mis-use of keying material.

Either way we know they “Never Shred Anything” and we also know they have good ears around the world that picked up the ciphertext in the first place…

Johann September 3, 2011 6:22 PM

Why would the Guardian even publish the encryption key? That’s just padding the article, for NO reason — so how come Wikileaks gets all the shit for this? It makes no sense.

Wendy M. Grossman September 3, 2011 8:22 PM

Because the journalist in question did not know the difference between an encryption key and a password. In Heather Brooke’s The Revolution Will be Digitised, just out, she talks about the same journalist and it’s clear his technical literacy is quite limited.


Max September 4, 2011 2:40 AM

I am no expert on this as well but:
As Wendy M. Grossman says:

What ought to have happened is for Wikileaks to have encrypted the files first with its own secret key and then a second time with the Guardian’s public key. Then the files could only have been opened by people with access to the Guardian’s secret key.

I think that is going in the right direction, But don’t they just have to use the Guardians public key with gpg? And does this not only protects Wikileaks from been accused of leaking the key.

Wikileaks don’t seem to be accused of leaking the key?
They are been accused of publishing the cables!

So even if they had used the Guardian public key, had the Guardian published the private key instead of the private passphrase, it would be the same situation.

If Wikileaks had put some info the Guardian did not want publishing in the same file and said if you publish the key you also publish this, that “might have worked? ”

Private keys are maybe? are not as nice to print in books!

but then again this is all in hindsight, and the real problem is that Jo public and maybe some journalists don’t understand the importance of the keys, so maybe:
Wikileaks should have used the public gpg key of the Guardian to encrypt the cables.
Put the file on a cd and sent it to the Guardian.
Then maybe they could not be accused of publishing encrypted cables.
(they did not, it would seem, publish decrypted cables) !

In the end it comes down to public opinion, which has little or nothing to do with the science of security, and everything to do with the political manipulation on all sides going on.

Sum1 September 4, 2011 4:06 AM

Max said:
Wikileaks don’t seem to be accused of leaking the key?
They are been accused of publishing the cables!

From my read of the Der Speigal article I’d say they’re trying to pin the leaking of the key on WL as well, as though publishing it in a book wasn’t supremely stupid.

This unified front from all the media outlets even though the flack is between Guardian UK and WL is sus.

Wouldn’t journalistic integrity demand that they wait until the court case has it’s day before poisoning the well with slanted reporting on what Guardian or WL did with the key?

For all we know, it was the CIA that published the unredacted data. How’s that EAW going, BTW? In favour of JA? Buggar. Better make him out to be a real ass.

How did he even publish the unredacted cables under house arrest, anyway?

Dave Walker September 4, 2011 7:01 AM

I read the Der Spiegel piece, and am glad they decided to go into the detail they did; it’s a really good piece of responsible journalism.

The situation as it stands – where the full, unredacted text is available to everyone – can from one perspective be considered to have happened as the result of a chain of actions (pretty much all innocent, but all foolish to some degree) performed by actors including WikiLeaks, journalists and unknown Torrent uploaders, many of whom ought to have known better.

There are, of course, other perspectives, and I choose to take one of these.

It’s been stated that the unredacted documents contain information which, if they fall into the wrong hands, could get good people killed. If this statement is accurate, to my mind, that causes the documents to attract a particular kind of protective marking.

Part of the handling requirements associated with this class of marking is that the documents – their handling, distribution, and performing of activities informed or provoked by information contained in the documents – must be controlled by the entity who distributed them in the first place – ie, WikiLeaks (and that’s temporarily ignoring the fact that serious document mishandling had happened, for WikiLeaks to get their hands on thse documents in the first place).

Thus, the Guardian journalist (and other recipients) should have been required to be educated, examined and bound to contractual account on document handling by WikiLeaks, before being given access to the documents. That’s even assuming the recipients had “need to know” requirements which involved holding copies of the unredacted documents – and this is where, in my view, it all falls apart.

Again, assuming WikiLeaks’ legitimacy, what could far more sensibly have been done would involve WikiLeaks inviting a journalist to meet with them, perhaps, once suitably briefed and bound to contractual account, see – but not receive copy of – some sample unredacted content, and then, where required, receive copy of already redacted material. If WikiLeaks needed to have said journalist see unredacted material or perform the redaction for them, this should have been done on a WikiLeaks computer (kept disconnected from any public network) on a WikiLeaks-controlled site, in the presence of WikiLeaks staff, and with the journalist keeping no copy. If the redacted copy then needed to be circulated, it might – and there’s still a discussion to have around this – have then been permissible to distribute the data using the mechanisms employed for the unredacted copy.

Thus, by not taking on and maintaining the mantle and procedures of originator control – and failing to ensure the recipients were fully educated and bound regarding the nature of the data, its handling requirements and the consequences of its mishandling – WikiLeaks should be seen as fully responsible for the disclosure as it stands.

moshe September 4, 2011 2:09 PM

Anyone who writes any version of the following argument is a paid shill for the Guardian or is Anti-Wikileaks by virtue of being part of the multi-million dollar disinformation/propaganda channels or working for one of the leak-affected corporations/organizations:

It is logical to see how the Guardian editor was tempted to publicize this password as it was lucid and juicy.
It is logical to see how the Guardian editor was tempted to publicize this password because he wanted a spicy item to increase book sales.

Those arguments are nonsense because those things are passwords FFS !!

They are English speaking corporate computer users with long term experience of logging into their accounts for basic computing on the desktop, email, paying bills online, online banking, booking flights, tickets and maintaining accounts on multiple paid services.
Someone using passwords in such a variety of uses simply cannot be excused for publishing passwords.

The Guardian is only fooling creationists with excuses for publishing the password. This is the ultimate smear against Julian Assange, helping him make 100s of enemies around the world wanting him dead, for their own safety.

Now Julian is safer in jail than anywhere else. Think of it all from the point of view of his personal security and everything becomes quite clear.

Unless The Guardian wants all those 100s turn against them. That’s a tendency of people only as insanely motivated as Julian.

Moderator September 4, 2011 3:27 PM

The Guardian is only fooling creationists

Please don’t pick off-topic fights.

Also, shouting a lot doesn’t really make arguments more convincing.

Clive Robinson September 6, 2011 8:41 AM

With regards the author of the book David Leigh,

He is the brother in law of the Gardian Editor Alan Rusbridger, and holds the post of “executive editor” at the Guardian with responsability for special investigations.


He is also “The Anthony Sampson professor” at City University journalism department, London.”


From 1908 he worked for the Guardian’s sister paper the Observer as an “investigative reporter”.

It was the Observer that was christened “Alister’s Piss Pot” or “Cambell’s Urinal” for the way it slavishly printed every false claim, half truth and bit of spin that came out of the “Suporrt Bush to invade Iraq” think tank at 10 Downing St.

He is also known to have many close associations with the security services including providing “Cover jobs” for undercover agents and officers. This association is believed to have long preceded his book about UK Priminister Harold Wilson (some say he was fed information wholesale because of an interdepartmental rivalry or turf war that was inprogress at the time).

It is believed that it was these “unofficials” who taught him how to hack phones, which knowledge he has passed on to students at City University


Although he currently denies it tries to blaim others (sounds kind of familiar ;).


And where did such knowledge for what he wrote come from it appears from practical experiance…

It is known that quite sophisticated equipment more usually associated with well resourced under cover surveillance operations are part of the stock equipment available to students, staff and “others” from City University equipment held in the journalism department in which he is a Proffesor and teaches.

He is well known to be a very capable investogative journolist and is very offey with most of the aspects of such work, including the methods that sail close to or even over the edges of legality (as he has admitted himself).

In the University department he is known (contrary to the impression he otherwise currently gives) to be rather more technicaly sophisticated and adept with the equipment of “security” and “espionage” than the majority of Journo’s.

So let’s be honest his claims about “temporary key” put out by him and his brother inlaw Alan Rusbridger in The Guardian sound somewhat lame / hollow to put it mildly.

There is a fairly recent profile of him up on wikipedia but it is light on real details about him.


Of more interest there appears to be either a closing of ranks or white wash going on in the UK papers over the Wikileaks incident,

Yesterday the London Evening Standard published an article basicaly indicating that Julian Assange is basicaly deranged etc etc.

Which seams odd because the owner of the Evening Standard is a Russian Billionair who has been known to have had one or two talks with Julian Assange of corupt Russian business men and the Russian Government…

Then all of a sudden the owner of the evening standard has a few “unexplained” problems.

Now I know the Daily Mail is not to be trusted on just about anything but they still occasionaly get it accidently right…

Any way here’s the Dail Fail’s take on it,


Clive Robinson September 6, 2011 8:48 PM

In my post above I mentioned an article in the London Evening Standard that blaimed nobody but Julian Assange for the release of the unredacted cables, but forgot to include the link,


The journalist is “Sam Leith”, read it and see how little it compares to what we know from other sources (as I said “closing of ranks or white wash”) at best he is very ill informed…

Peter E Retep September 6, 2011 10:26 PM

I hope no one was entertaining the fantasy
that such poorly secured documents
were not already in the hands of persons most willing
to use them to cause strategic damage for their own benefit,
We are almost at the point of Open Communication,
differently envisioned by Woodrow Wilson.

A-Nonymous September 7, 2011 4:54 PM

there has been a round of hysterical denials of responsibility for the unedited Cablegate file being in the public domain by both David Leigh of The Guardian and Julian Assange. Unfortunately, this blame game has distracted from the fact that Daniel Domscheit-Berg, Assange’s disaffected ex-colleague and one of the few people who knew the name of the encrypted cable file that was loose, gave this information and the location of the password in Leigh’s book to the German news organization Der Frietag, which published the story, followed by Der Spiegel and others. Domscheit-Berg did this out of malice and to promote his own leaking platform Openleaks, to which Der Frietag is a partner. A lo t of people had that z.gpg file sitting on their computers without knowing what it was, including myself. Now we know.

But Julian Assange’s denial of any responsibility for the snafu is not convincing. We all know that The Guardian should not have published a password, at least not without asking Wikileaks if it was safe to do so. You said in your blog post: “Memo to WikiLeaks: Using the same key for the Guardian and for the insurance file — if that’s what you did — was a bad idea.” I have no expertise in security, but that’s what I thought too. Assange could have copied the contents of the file, encrypted it with a unique password, given that to Leigh, and deleted the file after Leigh downloaded it. Then Leigh’s password would have been useless. Instead, Assange gave Leigh a password to a file he intended to keep on Wikileaks server and subsequently made available for download. (Assange also could have downloaded the file onto Leigh’s laptop, decrypted it, expanded it, and sent Leigh on his merry way, without having to give him any password, which seems like the best plan.)

You stated in one of the edits on your blog post that Wikileaks claimed that their insurance file is not encrypted with the same key. True, but this is a bit of misdirection. Some months ago (I think it was November 2010), Wikileaks released an “insurance file” called insurance.aes256 through The Pirate Bay. This was supposed to be a “poison pill”. It was released just before Assange was arrested to be (maybe) extradicted to Sweden and the Wikileaks web site came under attack on account of the Cablegate release. Assange said the key to this file would be released if Wikileaks was disabled completely and no longer able to operate. He h inted that the insurance.aes256 contained all of the leaks that Wikileaks had ever received and had not published. That file has a different key.

However, Wikileaks made it possible for people to download the encrypted Cablegate database without knowing what it was. This may also have been intended as a kind of “insurance”. The file, called z.gpg, is included in a torrent called xyz-magnets.txt.torrent that is part of the download for Wikileaks’ archive of leaks. If you go to wikileaks.lu (this wasn’t working on wikileaks.org last I tried it -technical problems), scroll down to “All released leaks archived”, and download that. You’ll find the torrent there. Inside is the z.gpg file, along with 3 other encrypted files whose contents are unknown, which you can decrypt with David Leigh’s password and then unpack (which you may not want to do, as I’m told it’s 60GB -the reason that I don’t do it myself). Wikileaks put this archive download online during the period last year when the archive was not available to browse on their web site. I downloaded it at the time, because I wanted to look at some old leaks, and this was the only way to do it. I ignored the file in question, because I couldn’t tell what was in it. Only a few people knew that was Cablegate, including Daniel Domscheit-Berg.

But that’s how the file got online -which you can see for yourself. And that file is, indeed, encrypted with the same key as was given to Leigh. So I think your admonition of Wikileaks is correct. Assange should not have given Leigh that particular password. The Guardian should simply plead ignorance and apologize for Leigh’s blunder instead of all this mud-slinging that has included outright lying about the events that led to the disclosure of the fi le. I think both Assange and Leigh were careless, but not malicious. Well, maybe Assange was not as careful as he should have been, while Leigh was rather stupid. The disclosure of the unedited file online was the result of a series of errors and actions by various parties. Each one taken alone would not have mattered. For my part, I blame Domscheit-Berg, whose actions were malicious and taken without any regard for the consequences to any of the other parties, including US State Department informants designated as “strictly protect” by the embassies.

Please pardon me if this explanation is not clear or if you already know it. I am not a “computer person”, much less a computer security person, so am unsure of how to refer to different types of files. I noticed that your blog post had some gaps, but you may know more by now, as it has been 5 days since you posted.

Clive Robinson September 8, 2011 6:39 AM

@ A-Nonymous,

“But Julian Assange’s denial of any responsibility for the snafu is not convincing.”

It is and it is not depending on your view point and knowledge of what was going on at the time.

When Julian Assange handed over the keys and effectivly the file he was in effect not incharge of the wikileaks site, he had effectivly handed over control of it to a couple of trusted lieutenants one of whom was Daniel Domscheit-Berg.

The reason for this was that Julian had at this point become a “globe trotting lightening rod” and from the acounts of others assumed he was being continualy watched and thus it was not safe for him to be administering it. Julian had also taken up moving from place to place frequently often staying at the homes of sympathisers to the cause and his friends.

David Liegh by his own admission had Julian stay at his house on a number of occasions leading upto the handover of the key and location of the file.

However it appeared there had started to be unrest in the wikileaks camps, somebody thought (and posted anonymously) that Julian was frittering away the wikileaks money on a “jet set playboy life style” “forever in the spotlight being the Golden boy whilst others did the work for no benifit”.

Now there is a bit of the story that is leaking out that you did not mention,

It would appear that one of the trusted lieutenants (Daniel) who was not in the spotlight was partly responsable for the desision to roll the site up and mirror it off (somebody has told me that he talked Julian into the idea). And importantly it was Daniel who did the roll up knowing full well it contained the file of unredacted cables.

Thus the impression I’m left with from waht has been said is that Daniel Domscheit-Berg wanted the “Fame, Glory and money” if not the playboy lifestyle he was not getting whilst doing all the work.

And as a consiquence of his actions the file got out into the wild. And as you note he has been capatalising on it.

Well Daniel’s certainly got his name out so he is atleast a bit (in)famous, and he might be getting some money out of it, but as for Glory no, as the story leaks out bit by bit his actions look very very underhanded.

Any way due to the fact that from Juilian’s perspective David and the Guardian had not respected his wishes about only publisiing cables that had been “redacted and released” by wikileaks, and that after they got their hands on the csbles David and the Guardian boft become hostile to him, gave rise to Juilian having the sense of having been used buy then.

Then on top of that there where the anonymous posting from a person clearly a wikileaks insider and a number of other “odd things” happening from people close to him has made Julian overly cautious and potentialy paranoid. As I said earlier we will have to wait for his version of events to be published.

Likewise I guess we will have to wait for Daniel’s version of events to be published (again if they ever do).

Anonlulz September 10, 2011 3:45 AM

If a similar password has been applied to the insurance file, I have to guess it’s a good password

as xkcd said it in the url, easy for people to remember, hard for computers to crack 🙂

kodlu September 10, 2011 9:22 PM

From another blog “moon of alabama” with no comment:

Assange Was Right To Publish All Cables

Recently, because of quite outrageous misbehavior by the former Wikileaks spokesperson Daniel Domscheit-Berg and the Guardian’s David Leigh, all cables, unredacted, became available via Cryptome and other unofficial sources. To prevent possible cable forgeries coming into circulation Assange then decided to publish the whole official bunch he had obtained at the Wikileaks’ website. There was no longer a need to redact those as the unredacted version was unfortunately already in circulation.

The model Julian first tried to work with, giving the cables to media outlets and have them publish on them, did not work. Those outlets published some cables but they held back on many others while at the same time bashing away at Wikileaks and Julian.

As an example see cable 06GENEVA763:

I have received various reports indicating that at least 10 persons, namely Mr. Faiz Hratt Khalaf, (aged 28), his wife Sumay’ya Abdul Razzaq Khuther (aged 24), their three children Hawra’a (aged 5) Aisha (aged 3) and Husam (5 months old), Faiz’s mother Ms. Turkiya Majeed Ali (aged 74), Faiz’s sister (name unknown), Faiz’s nieces Asma’a Yousif Ma’arouf (aged 5 years old), and Usama Yousif Ma’arouf (aged 3 years), and a visiting relative Ms. Iqtisad Hameed Mehdi (aged 23) were killed during the raid.

Even after many months not one of the official Wikileaks partner media outlets had published this cable about a massacre U.S. troops committed in Iraq. They suppressed it. Only now, after it became public knowledge, do they start to report on it. Why do they only now deem it as newsworthy when it was availble to them for many months? This in itself is a huge media scandal.

Clive Robinson September 11, 2011 4:53 AM

@ Kodlu,

“Even after many months not one of the official Wikileaks partner media outlet had published this cable about a massacre U.S. troops committed in Iraq. They suppressed it.”

During “times of war” in the 20th century newspapers have very rarely reported accuratly or at all on “home aspects” supposadly for morale reasons. This censorship was imposed either formaly or informaly by those politicaly in charge. Partly because it was viewed as “giving amuntition to the enemy” and partly not to cause “dispair and despondency” in those working in the war effort.

Thus the desire to maintain the “we are good and the enemy is bad” stance which we have seen since the Boer War in southern Africa where it is said the British invented the idea of civilian internment which became effectivly “concentration camps”. News papers seldom if ever reported on these aspects because even when not formaly censored they new that the official sources they relied on for much of their news would dry up.

We still see this in the “deferential behaviour” at press conferences where even to get an invite means you have to “behave in the way expected”. The US is especialy bad at this where the real news actually comes from “off the record” comments were previous “good behavior” might get a journalist a little (virtualy harmless) snipt.

During the first “TV War” in south Vietnam in the early 1970’s it became clear to those Politicaly in charge that though initialy helpful the nightly pictures on TV News of death and destruction, became very problematic.

Part of this was the fact that both the reporting organisations and to some extent the viewers became desensitised, and thus the news became more and more shocking over time.

The other part was that Vietnam was not a war that was going to be won by conventional warfare. This is visable by the oft touted statistic of “it took on average 50,000 rounds to kill one of the enemy with standard infantry tactics but only 1.3 shots on average from snipers.”.

Unconventional warefare is seldom seen by people as a “good war” especialy in the public eye. For instance at the start of the first world war the wearing of a helmet was considered a sign of cowardice by many, and the use of machine guns as weapons of “the evil enemy”. However towards the end of the First World War the tank had been invented, observer aircraft had progressed into fighter aircraft and bombers, poison gas and other chemical weapons had been developed. Naval warfare had moved from “capital ships” fighting to submarines and sea mines preying on merchant vessels. And the techniques of coal and other miners had been put to use to stack large quantities of explosives down below enemy positions, and blow them up from beneath (hence the term “land mine”). Likewise in the Second World War we eneded up with sub machine guns, assult rifles, unmaned planes and the first guided missiles and long range rockets and nuclear weapons.

Thus the Vietnam war progressed from conventional warefare through to attacking the civilians aledged to be giving “aid and comfort to the enemy” by destroying vilages, then the indiscriminate droping of anti personnel mines, Napalm and defoliants such as agent orange.

It was the ground level reporting on TV and in the press of this irregular warfare that turned the American youth and others against the war and started the anti war and peace movments that so threatened the US Government it turned on it’s own citizens (which maybe why the “war on terror” is so importent to keep the citizens cowed these days).

The point is that in most cases the press are not free they are constrained by the control of their news sources and the fear of alienating their audience and thus losing power and revenue.

A recent example is the shutting of New Internationals “News of the world” newspaper, arguably even just a few months ago it was one of the most popular papers in the UK. Then it was revealed that they had not just been hacking phones of Celebs and Politicos, but the familes and friends of victims of child abduction and murder and even soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Almost overnight it lost all of it’s advertisers and became dead in the water, and the politicos turned on it and it’s proprietors.

Thus from the press’s viewpoint they portray the need to tread a very carefull line to stay in existance with their customers. Though the reality is they do what they think won’t alienate them from their paymasters and news sources, and the politico’s that effectivly control both through patronage and law making.

Nigel Wadgebottham September 19, 2011 5:50 PM

This whole matter confuses me. It seems to me that this material was either:

  • trivial, in which case its release isn’t a big deal;
  • vital, in which case, why did WikiLeaks have a clear text version in the first place?

So sure, the author, the Guardian, WikiLeaks, Assange, et al., were all remiss – but what about the original owners of the information?
I find myself with a choice between thinking the US State Department is somewhat like the Keystone Kops, or else this is a carefully orchestrated effort to distribute disinformation while making it appear that it was an accident. Neither choice is comforting…

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