The latest installment of Wikileaks came with a surprise: the organization is going on the offensive. Assange has announced something called the Wikileaks Counterintelligence Unit, a project to actively surveil various surveillance contractors to provide a rare view into their business dealings — in Assange's words, "tracking the trackers."
"To counter threats against investigative journalism"
The inaugural release zeroes in on 19 different contractors as they visit countries like Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Spain, and Brazil. The location data displays only a time stamp and a country for each entry, but occasionally displays the message, "phone is currently not logged into the network," indicating the data likely comes from some kind of cell-tracking service. The contractors in question work for Western companies like Gamma International, designer of the infamous FinFisher spyware tool — and as with previous Wikileaks releases marked as "Spy Files," readers will also find marketing brochures for surveillance products to intercept and monitor web traffic.
By looking at the movements of these companies' employees, Wikileaks hopes to reveal who they're selling software to, and what that software might have been used for. Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Assange described the group's larger goal as, "to counter threats against investigative journalism and the public's right to know."
One recent example shows employees from both Gamma International and Hacking Team visiting Malaysia in late 2011 and 2012. The country suffered notable web interference in the weeks leading up to its election this year, targeting both opposition sites and independent media outlets, although government interference was never confirmed.