The New WikiLeaks - 2021-08-18
As Freddy Martinez tracked the latest impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump on Twitter, he saw a screencap of a CNN broadcast that struck him as odd. Right there in his feed was a clip from some shaky phone footage shot by one of the Capitol rioters. CNN credited the video to someone whose work Martinez had just encountered: donk_enby,* a relatively unknown hacktivist who had scraped the data from the right-wing social network Parler. They then gave the data to Distributed Denial of Secrets, a transparency collective Martinez advises, which published a 32-terabyte archive of posts and and videos from the riot as a shareable archive, making it available to practically anyone—including news networks and congressional investigators, who played some of the videos during the impeachment hearings.
For Martinez, watching the investigators play the videos for millions of Americans was "surreal"—"a cyberpunk moment," Martinez heard someone call it. Distributed Denial of Secrets, or DDoSecrets, had been a thorn in the side of secretive governments, corrupt corporations, and powerful law firms since its founding in late 2018. In June 2020, in a release known as BlueLeaks, the group published 269 gigabytes of law enforcement data, which exposed police malfeasance and surveillance overreach across the United States. DDoSecrets also published incriminating records from overseas tax shelters, from the social media site Gab, and from a Christian crowdfunding site often used by the far right. The group has affected autocrats as well, exposing the Russian government's plans in Ukraine and mapping out the Myanmar junta's business dealings. These revelations have spawned numerous news stories in the public interest, making DDoSecrets a valuable source for journalists, but also rendering it a target: In July 2020, German authorities seized one of the organization's servers. August of last year brought ominous news of a Department of Homeland Security bulletin labeling DDoSecrets a "criminal hacker group." And yet by February, Congress was discussing the Parler videos on the Senate floor.
Such are the contradictions that come of being in the vanguard of the journalistic transparency movement in the post-WikiLeaks era. One part of the U.S. government uses group members' work; another describes them as criminals.