• http://andrewmjones.com Andrew Jones

    Absolutely. You can’t stop distributed content like this, regardless of what you think of it. Companies have been learning this for years, as various new technologies facilitate rapid sharing and transparency they’re not always happy about. It seems governments aren’t there yet, though.

  • gRegorLove

    This doesn’t make sense to me. Did you miss the Articles and various “Browse by” links in the left column of the Cable Viewer page? The cables are accessible on the web without having to get the torrent of all of them. E.g. http://wikileaks.ch/cable/2005/06/05ISTANBUL890.html

  • http://www.seanlind.com/ Sean Lind

    I’m sorry Danny, but you’re making yourself out to sound like a dinosaur here.

    Torrents have been around since 2001. In the computer world 10 year old technology isn’t anything that typically requires FAQ’s. Admitting you’ve never downloaded a torrent seems kind of counter productive to your role here? That line can really only mean two things:

    1) You believe, incorrectly, torrents are exclusively for illegal pirating of video and music files

    2) You don’t use or understand the internet well enough to be “hip” to these decade old technologies.

    I’m just not sure the guy running a site, based purely on technology and the internet, should be so entirely clueless about something so very basic and common. If you don’t have a clue about something as run-of-the mill (and effective) as bit torrents, than what else are you in the dark on?

    Even if you claim “well I’ve never had a reason to download one before”, that’s still just a cop-out. I’ve never had a reason to engineer a DDOS attack before, yet I still fully comprehend what they are and how they work. Your job is with the internet, either stay on top of it, or become a better liar.

  • sailfast

    Wow! – editor in chief and never used torrents? Skip the tutorial. New idea! – once something is posted to the Internet you can’t get it back? My 12 year old knows that. Saw this on TechMeMe. Great inbound link! I guess the take-away from this article is write any crap to get links to boost SEO. Kinda disappointed with techmeme for highlighting this though … bye.

  • http://daggle.com/ Danny Sullivan

    gRegorLove, I did miss that entirely. That’s exactly what I wanted. I’ll update and clarify. I think it would help if those were pointed out within the post better. If I missed them, others might, do.

    Sean, admitting I never used a torrent file is admitting I never used a torrent file. I think there are lot of tech savvy people on the internet who haven’t. Unless you need information that’s typically within a torrent, why would you? I haven’t.

    I never said they were used exclusively for illegal pirating of video or music files. Never said that. At all. I said:

    “Torrent files are especially known as a way for people to download movies and television content that’s being passed around on the internet.”

    I didn’t use the words “illegal” or “pirate” in that at all. I deliberately chose not to use those words. I also said they are used for other things.

    Sorry you don’t think I’m hip because I haven’t used a torrent file when I’ve had no purpose to use it. I think you’re missing the main point. Wikileaks isn’t trying to give out information just to “hip” people. They’re trying to distribute information to anyone. That’s why I was disappointed that they didn’t seem to have a browsable interface to the data. I’m glad that they do.

    More important, while you might be hip to torrents, again, many people aren’t — including people in various governments who think if they can just shut down the Wikileaks site, that pulls the information off the internet. It doesn’t. The torrents are one way especially this doesn’t happen. So I think it’s useful to explain the role they play here.

    Saifast, I’m glad your 12 year old knows that. Perhaps you can get them to explain that to some government official over at the US State Department and elsewhere who don’t know it. They clearly don’t.

    The takeaway is that you can’t pull information back from the internet easily, if at all, once it is released.

    The relevancy here, by the way, is you’d better believe down the line, someone’s going to be asking whether the world’s most used and popular search engine, Google, is going to come under pressure to block Wikileaks. When that happens, it’s going to be useful to explain just how thick-headed such thinking is. I hope this helps.

  • ltothjr

    You might find http://cablesearch.org/ useful. They have the set of publicly released cables searchable and indexed.

  • http://daggle.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Yes, I mentioned them at the end of this piece, pointing at the previous article I wrote about them:


  • ltothjr

    For example, if you search for Carl Bildt (Sweden’s Foreign Minister), you’ll get two hits — one from Kabul, and one from Tbilisi (the capital of Georgia in the Caucasus). The default browser at Wikileaks’ own site would direct you to “by origin,” and odds are you’d look for Stockholm — and not get anything.

    Results are highlighted in yellow. This means you can scan quickly through a cable and find the hits.

    Interesting tidbit: So far, Colin Powell gets only one hit out of the 1208 cables released.

    Oh, and here’s a term of art: “scenesetter.” It’s State-speak for, “The top things you should know before meeting someone in person” — usually addressed to the President, the Secretary, or in preparation to a VIP visiting Washington. Fascinating stuff.

  • ltothjr

    As Manute Bol used to say, My bad. I didn’t hit refresh before posting that second one.

    Thanks, Danny. That’s a good post, too.

  • http://scrollinondubs.com Sean Tierney

    Clearly they can’t put the genie back in the bottle w/ the documents that have already been released. They’re trying to silence WL to prevent future leaks.

    To your statement “whether any individuals really have been harmed” – who knows re: physical harm at this point. There’s obviously egg on more than a few peoples’ faces right now though. IMHO it’s a net gain for transparency and accountability though and we should celebrate and figure out the responsible way to adapt WL to being a device for global accountability.

    WL is the great equalizer that could be a major boon to humanity and enforce transparency & accountability on entities that have been untouchable in the past. We should be working to come up w/ a responsible implementation of it that balances the importance of securing super-sensitive info like the instructions for enriching uranium while crowd-sourcing the oversight of all the dirty laundry that deserves to be aired out. My ideas here:

  • http://www.mindshareworld.com Ciarán Norris

    Sean – I’ve been working online for 10 years, I’m younger than Danny, but I have no idea about torrents. Not because I’m a dinosaur, but because I tried Napster all those years ago (not exactly the same, I know, but…) and it was a nightmare. Slow. Clunky. Killed my machine. Once bitten, twice shy.

    Using or not using torrents doesn’t mean anything – you can still be aware of them, and Danny’s post is, I think, a good one on how Wikileaks could be doing more, potentially, to make it easier for non-nerds/teens to get access to this stuff.

  • http://epeus.blogspot.com Kevin Marks

    The easiest way to search the cables is via the Guardian archive using site: and inurl: operators.

    eg to search for Sweden:


  • http://www.michellesblog.com Michelle Greer

    Wikileaks seems like it would get discredited before it would get taken down.

    It’s very possible that I am missing something. I have no clue how they verify sources, which is such a huge part of having credible evidence. This is from the Wikikeaks site:
    Wikileaks does not record any source-identifying information and there are a number of mechanisms in place to protect even the most sensitive submitted documents from being sourced. We do not keep any logs. We can not comply with requests for information on sources because we simply do not have the information to begin with. Similarly we can not see your real identity in any anonymised chat sessions with us. Our only knowledge of you as a source is if you provide a coded name to us. A lot of careful thought by world experts in security technologies has gone into the design of these systems to provide the maximum protection to you. Wikileaks has never revealed a source.

    If you can’t verify the identity of a source, how do you know that the source is credible? It makes no sense to me.

  • http://www.michael-martinez.com/ Michael Martinez

    People said they couldn’t stop the child pornography networks, and apparently thousands of people have been sent to jail over the past decade for believing that. What’s more, thankfully, you run far less risk of stumbling across that crap in today’s Web than you did 10 years ago.

    People said they couldn’t stop illegal file sharing across peer-2-peer networks, and yet they’ve managed to teach most Americans to stop downloading illegal music and just pay for it; apparently, the thousands of cease and desist letters and dozens of high profile lawsuits against families were pretty effective.

    Sure, the torrent networks are raging strong these days but the governments are taking them down, one by one, and sending people to jail.

    So it’s highly unrealistic to argue that Wikileaks cannot be shut down. If the governments of the world hold these people responsible for their illegal activities, there will be a die-off in Wikileaks-style vigilantism.

    The Cyber attacks conducted on behalf of Wikileaks could also land people in jail. Maybe it will never go away completely, but if they don’t back off quickly these people will find that their carefree youthful fun will have set them on a path that is less pleasant than a chatroom or Web forum.

    They think they’ve gotten away with it because nothing has happened over the course of days. Police agencies think in terms of months and years. This confrontation is far from over, even if the arrests only begin long after the news media has found some other reason for manufactured hysteria.

  • http://www.seanlind.com/ Sean Lind

    Danny, Ciarán Norris.

    This is ridiculous. Just because you bought a Mac it doesn’t mean you can stop paying attention to the world off of your computer.

    Comparing Napster to Torrents only proves your ignorance, they aren’t even closely related. This is like saying “I don’t like like apples because I tried a lemon once, it was sour”. Worse yet, you’re saying “Apples? Never heard of them, I stopped paying attention to fruit when I didn’t like a lemon.”

    I never claimed that everyone should be in the know about all established and emerging technologies, but I did claim that someone running a website based on them should at least understand the most common, decade old ones.

    Danny, you defend your comments by saying that many people in power won’t know what a torrent is, and wikileaks wanted to get their news out to the world, not just the tech saavy.

    That’s exactly what they did, you can read the documents directly on their site, or they give you the option to download the entire load of content. A torrent is the only option for this download that makes sense, for all the reasons you mentioned.

    You’ve written this whole article under the tone of “This was hard to do, and they should have done it differently, or held my hand”. Considering they did it in the best way possible, you clearly missed the boat.

    In short, not having downloaded a torrent file before is not an excuse for not understand the fundamentals of the technology. There are only four ways for someone to download a file. HTP, FTP, P2P, Torrent. You had ten years to learn about the fourth, and you failed to do so. You run a website based on online technology, trends and work very hard to be cutting edge and “in the know”.

    How do you not see this as a problem? If you were just some contract writer, then whatever, but you’ve taken on the role of editor-in-chief, knowing, at least the BASIC, technologies of the web is your job. If you’re not willing to put any effort into computing, past what version of OSX you’re running, stop writing about it. You clearly are a fantastic editor and business manager, this site is great, you have a crew of amazing writers and things are going well.

    I’m not saying you’re a poor writer, you’re not. I’m saying you’re clearly writing about a topic you’re no longer an authority on. Stick to SEO, you probably know more about it that just about anyone on the planet. Torrents came out just two-three years after CSS. Would you not find it repugnant if someone, claiming to be an authority on the internet had never heard of CSS two year ago?

    I’m not trying to pick a fight, I’m not trying to be “that guy”, I’m trying to say the things that your friends and co-workers are too polite to say. The man in charge can’t afford to look ignorant. You are the number one representative of the site. If you come across as incompetent, than so does your site. The transient property affects all things, including you.

    I’m not the only person thinking these thoughts; I’m just the one saying them out loud. Don’t let your own ego put the entire site at risk, simple as that.

  • http://www.seanlind.com/ Sean Lind

    Michael Martinez,

    It’s not quite as easy as you say. The problem is there is no such thing as a “torrent network”.

    Most Torrents are hosted on a site, with a tracker acting as a hub for logging all of the user information. But, torrents function fine without a central tracker. Without one each peer becomes a tracker.

    The problem, Michael, is to shut down access to a torrent, you need to shut down every single individual personal computer seeding the torrent. It’s simply impossible to do without physically taking down the internet as a whole.

    Also, your information is incorrect. Wilileaks never assisted in any cyber attacks. They were the victim of an attack, and in response 4chan, a 3rd party site with no affiliation with wikileaks, coordinated the cyber attacks on other sites.

    Please read at least some of the facts before you spread false rumors.

  • http://www.benlanghinrichs.net Ben Langhinrichs

    First off, you are absolutely correct that there is no shoving this genie back into the bottle. It is not comparable to child pornography because a) it isn’t clearly illegal and punishable to read the content, as shown by reputable news organizations reporting it, and b) it isn’t strongly against communal norms.

    Second, ignore the tripe about torrents. I run a software company with customers in 47 countries and well over a million licensed clients sold, and I’ve never used a torrent. My kids have; I’ve never needed them. It is possible to be tech savvy without knowing every variety of tech. I’ve always used http or ftp or email or specialized software to download.

    Third, Michelle’s comment above touches on one of the biggest problems with and scariest aspects of Wikilinks. It is not simply that it is unverifiable, it is that it is not uniformly verifiable. How better to spread misinformation than to blend it in with verifiable, true posts. Imagine the US government trying to deny the truth of a couple of cables mingled in with others they wouldn’t want to admit to, but actually true. That is the most dangerous part of a mostly anonymous set of interests spreading unverified information, It would very easy to cause serious problems between countries, and nobody would believe the denials.

  • http://www.seanlind.com/ Sean Lind

    LOL. I like the support. So far we have two people on the “Well I’m also in the tech industry, and if I don’t know about something, then how can it be important?”

    Nice attitude guys.

    Again, I want to point out – Bittorrents are a decade old.

    You had 10 years to learn about this technology, if internet based technology is your ONLY job, you’d think you’d make a point of at least attempting to stay on top of things.

    Here’s the truth: no matter the number of licences you’ve sold, in whatever number of countries, ignorance is still ignorance.

    Just because you didn’t know about something, doesn’t mean it’s not important… or basic. Don’t be so narcissistic.

  • http://daggle.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Sean, first of all, Wikileaks does offer flat access via HTML versions of the leaks, as was pointed out to me. I missed that. I’m glad they do and stand corrected on that point. I feel like in your rush to be upset that I (1) hadn’t used torrents before and (2) defend torrents as a widely used technology by average people that you missed the previous comment about this, as well as my update.

    Next, torrents, I’d argue, are not that widely used. Certainly they have no native support within either the Mac or the PC platforms. Both of those platforms provide native support for opening ZIP files. But if you want to download a torrent, in the case of the Wikileaks torrent, you have to download two additional programs.

    Yes, I think if that was the only way these had been released, that would have made them harder to get for many people. You can disagree. That’s fine. But that’s my view. Fortunately, they are provided in a much easier format, and I’m glad of that.

    In terms of writing about torrents, it was in the context of people who might try to seek out the actual documents. How might they search for them and go about doing it. Despite you’re wanting to attack me because I’d never used a torrent before, and therefore seemingly must be ignorant about any technology-related thing I write, it seems like I did fairly:

    1) Explain what they are
    2) Explain why, due to their distributed format, they can’t be stopped by any authority that thinks they’ll stop it
    3) Explain to those who have never used a torrent how they can successfully download all the files directly, if they want

    Where exactly was I ignorant in all that?

    No one knows everything. I could have pretended I was all up on using torrents all the time, and maybe that might have made you feel better. If I were writing for “ego” reasons, I’d do that even more.

    I actually thought the fact that I’m deeply immersed in technology of all types — and I am — and yet still had never needed to use a torrent before was telling about the wider impact on average people. You’re shocked I’ve never used a torrent. Well, if I haven’t — don’t you think there are many, many other people who haven’t?

    If you somehow feel like I slighted torrents, my apologies. If you’re disappointed that I hadn’t actually used one until now, I’d only hope you’d prefer I actually tell you and readers what I’ve used and haven’t used, rather than try to pretend about something. If you assume actual usage of torrents is an essential part of my job in covering search and search marketing, I’d disagree. If I’ve incorrectly described what torrents are and their relevancy to the Wikileaks information, and assumptions that its material can be somehow pulled back, please clarify that. That remains the point of this story.

  • http://www.seanlind.com/ Sean Lind


    Firstly: You only need to download one program to deal with torrent files, not two (unless you’re including the browser?) On a mac, use Transmission, on a PC use uTorrent. Both are free and wonderful programs.

    Secondly, it’s unfair to say that because there is no native support in windows or OSX it’s not widely used. ZIP files were created in 1986, yet windows didn’t have native support until 1997 (the Plus! pack forWin98).

    OS companies are notorious for being behind the times for any emerging file format or technology.

    But I’m not upset that you’ve never used torrents, or that you didn’t know what they were, I’m upset that you don’t seem to find that to be an issue, in your current job. How do you expect to remain an authority, especially to young-guns if you’re unfamiliar with some basic technologies.

    If the UK government and CBC are using torrents to distribute information, it’s pretty clear that you’re behind the times on this one.

    Basically, I was letting you know the impression you’re giving to the computer savvy world. It’s not one you want to be giving out. I’m not saying you should lie, but I am saying you should be more careful about what you say and how you say it. Rather than approaching the torrents like “I’m not really sure what’s going on, but I kind of figured it out” Why not say:

    “For those of you who don’t know what a torrent is, here’s a 30 second lesson:

    description, followed by link to transmission, and done.”

    Now you’ve given more information to your users than you did, and you sound like someone who actually knows what they’re talking about, instead of sounding like my grandmother trying to read her email.

  • http://www.michael-martinez.com/ Michael Martinez

    Sean Lind:
    “It’s not quite as easy as you say. The problem is there is no such thing as a “torrent network”.

    Well, pardon my lazy nomenclature. Nonetheless, tracking down these people is not as hard as you think.

    Governments have resources that “anonymous” peer-2-peer communities only wish they could have.

    As Darth Vader might say, “Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve praised. The ability to destroy freedom of speech through CyberTerror is insignificant next to the power of 180 governments with technological capabilities of their own.”

  • http://www.seanlind.com/ Sean Lind


    The problem is not tracking down these people, that’s not too hard.. .in fact you or I could do it (excluding the people who are too smart and careful to be found).

    The problem is removing these files (or blocking access to) personal computers across the world. I don’t know what kind of government you think the US has, but I can promise it will never have the resources to be able to undertake this.

    Remember, each PC with this torrent is a personal PC, running somewhere in the world. To get the location you need to get a court order for the ISP to release the information about the current leaser of the IP address.

    Then you need to get another court order to physically go to that person’s house and manually remove the files.

    Not to mention, none of these people have broken a single law.

    The problem is, you’re still viewing torrents as a P2P network, which it is not. You can’t just take down the main hub and everything dies (like gnutella, limewire, napster. etc.) There is no main hub, there are only peers.

  • http://www.michael-martinez.com/ Michael Martinez

    Sean, speaking as someone who has seen governments take down Websites I say this with all human compassion (and this is my last word on the topic): you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.

    Think about that.

  • http://daggle.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Sean, I specifically said that in the case of the Wikileaks torrents, to read them, I had to download two software programs. That is true. I needed uTorrent to actually get the file. Then I needed 7zX to unpack it. Having to get one program alone might be a barrier for some people. Having to get two is more of a barrier.

    I won’t argue that point with you further. I think information contained within a torrent file in inherently less accessible to most people than being a web page that they can browse. Not impossible to get, but harder to get. You can disagree. But I think Wikileaks would agree with me, given that they provide HTML access — which I’m glad of.

    If I’d spotted that from the beginning, I’d have spent less time talking about the effort to download the torrent and focused more on how the torrent file is distributed and thus hard to somehow “pull back” from the web. But in the end, I’m still happy that I added a bit of information that may help people who don’t know how to use torrents to download that info to their own computers, if they want.

    In terms of my current job and torrent, I pretty much also have nothing more to add on that front. I didn’t say I was unfamiliar with torrents. I knew what they were. Again, I think I fairly described how they worked. And I used them to download the information. What I said was that I hadn’t actually used a torrent before. And I hadn’t done that because I never needed to. There are lots of technologies that I’m familiar with that I haven’t actually needed to use.

    I did say that the 7z compression format was unfamiliar to me. I figure that out soon enough, of course.

    You’re worried that me saying I’ve not actually used a torrent file gives the impression that I’m not computer savvy enough to be writing about search and search marketing issues. I get that. I just disagree. I don’t write for Engadget. I write for Search Engine Land. We cover search. Torrents have not been a crucial part of that.

    Again, sorry you take it away as if I’m your grandmother, saying I’d not used a torrent. It’s really not a worry to me. I’ve explained exactly why I thought it was useful to say I hadn’t used one before, and I remain happy what that decision.

  • http://goo.gl/ZQX5 Michael Dadona

    The more efforts done to stop WikiLeaks making it more famous now and many readers turned into WikiLeaks’ supporters, especially, those parties involve in journalist world. It’s justly like killing their warrior but the spirit will never die in theirs mind. So, for sure there will be more supporters form these groups across the globe.

    Make thing more worse, now readers knew about the said legal case pounded on Juian Assange is very clear triggered by political motivated. Make him more strong now when he opted to surrender himself to the authority fully backed up by an international lawyer (Mark Stephens).

    The key point here is no party can deny the cable messages were true “documents” and with no choice unless shut it down from public viewing.

  • http://facebook.com/gelinas1 Colin Gelinas

    How do you even use a computer without knowing what 7zip is? My mind is blown.

  • http://daggle.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Because, Colin, I’ve never needed to expand a 7z compressed file. I’ve never had a file sent to me in that format. I’ve never downloaded any file in that format until last week. And I have downloaded many, many files.

    I’ve been using personal computers since the mid-1970s – like when we had to load programs using a tape recorder. I use a computer nearly every day for a variety of tasks, working 8 hours or more on them. I’ve never encountered a file that’s been compressed in that format until now. It’s as simple as that.

    I guess my mind is blown that you assume that most people apparently cannot use a computer without knowing about that compression format. I would say that the reality is that most people don’t need to know it and successfully use computers each day. If they did need it — if they did encounter it routinely — it would be native for expansion. On the Mac, it wasn’t. On Windows, I haven’t checked, but I suspect not.