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No telling what you'll find at WikiLeaks

Scrolling through WikiLeaks.org is like walking around that giant government warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The ark is out there somewhere, but, man, look at all these boxes!

Look here! A rollicking 350 messages from the private e-mail account of a member of the Aryan Nation ("June 7th — Hardy's Annual White Pride Picnic — We have a shelter building for cooking!").

And over here! The federal indictment of the guy who hacked Sarah Palin's Yahoo! e-mail ("Specifically, he reset the password to 'popcorn' by researching and correctly answering a series of personal security questions.")

And here! The personal e-mails of a Ball State professor trolling for mistresses to indulge his sex fantasies ("I am an experienced submissive and desire the best in pain and degradation.").

WikiLeaks, which made news this week with the release of 91,000 classified documents about the Afghanistan war, is a vast archive of the interesting, the mundane, the bizarre —and above all, the unseen.

What else exists on WikiLeaks that hasn't made news?

As of Tuesday, the site has posted 2,160 pages of documents or recordings from anonymous sources.

It's a smorgasbord of back-room deals and bedroom betrayals, exposes and government minutiae and glimpses inside cults and other fringe groups.

The police manual for Aspen, Colo., and internal memos about the dumping of toxic chemicals off the coast of Africa.

The secret ritual for Sigma Chi and a half-million pager messages sent just before the 9/11 attacks.

A U.S. Special Forces counter-insurgency handbook and the Command Chart for the Church of Scientology.

There's a Barnes and Noble "anti-union" administration manual, Marriott Hotel Crisis Management Plan from 2001 and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates' arrest report from last year.

You'll find an internal e-mail about an arson arrest at the 2007 Burning Man event.

And the Mormon Church General Handbook of Instruction from 1968.

And the diary of the final months in the life of George Sodini, who went on a shooting rampage last year outside Pittsburgh, killing three then himself:

"I like to write and talk. Ironic because I haven't met anybody recently (past 30 years) who I want to be close friends with OR who want to be close friends with me."

What's missing from Wiki-Leaks is a sense of order.

You get a wealth of fractured material, sans much context, filed alphabetically.

Cast ahead a few years and it's easy to picture WikiLeaks organized geographically.

Imagine an anonymous whistleblower leaking documents that show corruption in a local police department to a site that hosts the material in an organized way.

That's where WikiLeaks is headed.

"We are trying to bring WikiLeaks more directly to communities," spokesman Daniel Schmitt told the New York Times last year.

Part of that plan is allowing newspapers access to documents before they're made public. WikiLeaks did that with the recent release, allowing the New York Times, the Guardian in Britain and Der Spiegel in Germany access to the war documents in advance.

"When you release something to the world, its scarcity goes from zero to infinity," WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, 39, said on the radio show Marketplace. "There is not a good incentive for journalists to invest in pulling the material apart and writing (it) up and placing it in context."

The information exists in a new way on WikiLeaks.

But what to make of Walmart's "Save Money. Live Better" marketing strategy? Or Sigma Alpha Epsilon's secret ritual? Or the security plan for Super Bowl XLII?

It's fun to walk through the warehouse and peek inside the boxes, but without context, it's hard to get your bearings.

Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8650.

No telling what you'll find at WikiLeaks 07/27/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 27, 2010 10:03pm]
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