Aaron Swartz died a week ago. A public memorial service in New York City will be held later today. You may have read much about Swartz's life in the interim, including his work at a young age on Reddit and the RSS specification, his political activism, and the overzealous prosecution that may have contributed to his suicide. But you probably haven't heard the story WikiLeaks just outlined on its Twitter account. According to these tweets, Aaron Swartz had at one time aided Wikileaks in some indefinite way, had been in communication with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and may have acted as a source for the anonymous information-gathering organization.
The @Wikileaks Twitter account is one of two online outlets designated for official communication from WikiLeaks; the other is its home page. Here are its tweets on the organization's involvement with Aaron Swartz:
Due to the investigation into the Secret Service involvement with #AaronSwartz we have decided to disclose the following facts (1-3)— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) January 19, 2013
1. Aaron Swartz assisted WikiLeaks #aaronwartz (1/3)— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) January 19, 2013
2. Aaron Swartz was in communication with Julian Assange, including during 2010 and 2011— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) January 19, 2013
3. We have strong reasons to believe, but cannot prove, that Aaron Swartz was a WikiLeaks source. #aaronswartz— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) January 19, 2013
A caution: we can't say what this really means when it comes to Aaron Swartz. The aim of these tweets could be to imply that the US Attorney's Office and Secret Service targeted Swartz in order to get at WikiLeaks, and that Swartz died still defending his contacts' anonymity. Taking that implied claim at face value would be irresponsible without more evidence.
However, these tweets add up to an extraordinary statement from WikiLeaks itself. By doxxing (removing the anonymity) of Swartz as an ally and possible source, WikiLeaks may have broken its own rules of anonymity.
Here's an excerpt from WikiLeaks' policy on anonymity for sources (bolding ours):
As far as we can ascertain, WikiLeaks has never revealed any of its sources. We can not provide details about the security of our media organisation or its anonymous drop box for sources because to do so would help those who would like to compromise the security of our organisation and its sources. What we can say is that we operate a number of servers across multiple international jurisdictions and we we do not keep logs. Hence these logs can not be seized. Anonymization occurs early in the WikiLeaks network, long before information passes to our web servers. Without specialized global internet traffic analysis, multiple parts of our organisation must conspire with each other to strip submitters of their anonymity.
If WikiLeaks really divides up evidence this way — and the organization disabled some of this architecture when it stopped accepting anonymous submissions in 2010 — it may be impossible for whoever authorized tonight's statements to know for certain whether or not Swartz was a source. "We have strong reasons to believe, but cannot prove" Swartz was a source wouldn't just be a coy hedge, but a matter of fact. Still, dumping these statements on Twitter on a Friday night without any context, evidence, or follow-up questions makes it difficult to even verify whether these tweets are even authentic, let alone true.
Whether this is a play for attention, an attempt to steer the political conversation, or a desire to share uncomfortable secrets with the world, Wikileaks, or whoever is running its Twitter account, is stirring the pot.
Calls placed to WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson were not answered. Hrafnsson later confirmed the authenticity of the messages to CNET but declined to elaborate.
Sean Hollister contributed to this report.