An Exploration of WikiLeaks: What has Taken Me So Long!

Recently a friend from my school’s career services office was trying to find contact information for a recent graduate, a common activity for her since her department is in charge of reporting graduate employment data to the ABA. Though I found nothing useful for her, I did find the graduate referenced in WikiLeaks because…well, I will leave it to the reader’s imagination since anything would be more exciting than the reality. Is he a CIA operative? A tax avoiding billionaire?

I was amused to find someone I vaguely know mentioned in WikiLeaks. I mean, it is famous, amirite? After pondering WikiLeaks for a few moments I ran out of things to ponder because my knowledge of it is limited to the following snippets – the Panama papers about tax avoidance, the Clinton emails (hacked from…was it the DNC?), documents on a topic I can’t remember that got Chelsea Manning convicted, and Edward Snowden’s proof of the US spying on Internet (or was it phone?) communications that led to his flight to Russia. Not an impressive mental haul for an information professional.

Most of my blog topics begin with the thought, “Geez, I should know more about that by now,” so off I go on an exploration. Many of my informational quests start with Wikipedia, so I consulted it first. According to the Wikipedia entry for WikiLeaks, it is a nonprofit organization with a website that publishes secret, leaked, and classified information from usually anonymous sources. The site was launched in 2006 by Sunshine Press and Julian Assange is generally identified as the founder and editor-in-chief. The “wiki” part of the name comes from the early wiki format of the site which ended in 2010.

On to the site! The About page says that WikiLeaks “specializes in the analysis and publication of large datasets of censored or otherwise restricted official materials involving war, spying and corruption. It has so far published more than 10 million documents and associated analyses.”

Okay then, so on to the documents! On the initial screen, there is a seemingly universal search field that appears to search all the documents on the site, though it is difficult to say for sure since there is not a relevant help screen.

WikiLeaks Initial Screen

Below the search field there are six categories – Intelligence, Global Economy, International Politics, Corporations, Government, and War & Military. Further below there are a number of featured databases such as the Hilary Clinton Email Archive and Vault 7: CIA Hacking Tools Revealed. When you click on a category, such as Intelligence, you find a list of all the intelligence related databases, with no search filed to search them all simultaneously.

I was a bit excited to run my first search in the universal search field! My first search was, of course, my last name, Gotschall, since it is a bit unusual! If a former student can be casually referenced, then why not my relatives, or at least my namemates (not a real word, I know…)? My initial happiness at retrieving three mentions of “Gotschall” faded after scanning the results. My uncle’s cousin’s book about speechmaking was cited in a CRS report, and the other two Gotschall whom I don’t know were mentioned in equally bland contexts.

Once you run a search (or just click on the search icon with no search), the advanced search features are revealed. There are search fields for “All these words,” “This exact phrase,” “Any of these words,” and “Exclude these words.” You can also search for documents by document date or date of WikiLeaks release.

Advanced Search

In addition to the fields, there are a number of search operators for use in the “All these words” field. You can use the OR, NOT, and proximity connectors, and also search by phrase or limit the search to document title or contents. You can filter your search results by leak and order your documents by relevance or date.

Next, my attention turned to what we have all heard so much about, the Hillary Clinton email archive. I clicked into the archive, and, I am not proud because it makes me seem like a Fox News viewer (which I am not), I typed in “Huma.” There were 260 pages of results. I was attracted to one with the subject line “Hi Huma” because, hey, famous politicians are just like us, amirite? I was unaccountably pleased with the pedestrian nature of the email. Huma was about to land in someplace called Shannon and would call soon.

Hi Huma Email

For a third example, I asked my coworker for something interesting to search for in WikiLeaks and he recalled a mild scandal involving John Podesta’s emails about his interest in UFOs. Considering the recent spate of pilot-UFO-freakout recordings floating around the Internet, this seemed like a timely topic.

After a few searches, I discovered that I could run “from [email protected]” to retrieve only emails from Mr. Podesta and that the search term UFO didn’t retrieve UFOs (and vice versa). To retrieve both terms, I used the OR connector which is the pipe symbol (|) on WikiLeaks.

The following search retrieved 24 documents: “from [email protected]” ufo | ufos

In one email dated January 19, 2016, which was released on WikiLeaks on November 7, 2016, Podesta answered questions from reporter Daniel Oberhaus. Podesta joked that, though politicians are afraid to discuss intelligent life in the universe, he was just interested in “making the UNIVERSE GREAT AGAIN.”

Podesta Alien Email

In addition to the above search examples, I had hours of fun poking around, reading about CIA hacking and abuse of detainees at Guantanamo Bay (not actually so fun…). It is a very easy site to search and has a much larger offering of advanced search features than most websites. For some reason, I had the impression that it was a pain to search, so I think that is why I failed to check out the site all these years? Maybe that was true back in the early days when it was a wiki? Or maybe I checked out it out years ago and just forgot.

Editor’s Note: This article published with permission of the author with first publication on RIPS Librarian Blog.

Posted in: Competitive Intelligence, Email, KM, News Resources, Search Engines, Wiki