Tableau and WikiLeaks

Joe Lieberman

Previously Tableau had allowed thea visualization of the Wikileaks data to appear on their Tableau Public site, this was not the actual emails and documents, but merely a visualization of the data – Tableau Public is a bit like YouTube for data visualization.

However, much liks Amazon, PayPal, and other companies they soon pulled the data from their site ( at the end of 2010).

As a result many people were not happy about this, lots of complaints and accusations about government collaboration, etc.

Below is the formal statement by Tableau on the reasons for the data being taken down.

Wednesday afternoon, Tableau Software removed data visualizations published by WikiLeaks to Tableau Public. We understand this is a sensitive issue and want to assure the public and our users that this was not an easy decision, nor one that we took lightly.

We created Tableau Public—a free service that enables anyone to make interactive graphs from their data and share them online—because we recognized the need for strong analytics tools in a data-driven world. Given the controversy around the WikiLeaks data, we’ve closely followed the debate about who actually has the rights to the leaked data.

Our terms of service require that people using Tableau Public do not upload, post, email, transmit or otherwise make available any content that they do not have the right to make available. Furthermore, if we receive a complaint about a particular set of data, we retain the right to investigate the situation and remove any offending data, if necessary.

Our decision to remove the data from our servers came in response to a public request by Senator Joe Lieberman, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee, when he called for organizations hosting WikiLeaks to terminate their relationship with the website.

This will inevitably be met with mixed reaction. However, our terms of service were created to ensure responsible use of data.


How Secret are these Secrets on WikiLeaks ?

The WikiLeaks release of 250,000 documents is, of course, big news –  it’s the largest number of published leaked secret documents ever.

There is much excitement about the content, understandably so. The US Administration is less excisted and is apparently concerned about the leaks with the following statements being made:

  • “Such disclosures puts at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government”
  • “President Obama supports responsible, accountable, and open government at home and around the world, but this reckless and dangerous action runs counter to that goal.”
  • “place at risk the lives of countless innocent individuals
  • “place at risk on-going military operations,”
  • “place at risk on-going cooperation between countries.”

So, the US administration and  US Intelligence seem to be pretty concerned about the “risk”.

Clearly, such damaging material would be kept under incredibly tight security? They would probably take the following actions to minimize risk:

  • Partition the information – so only certain people could access certain information
    • For example, there is no need for all the Brazil analysts to access information on Italy.
  • Remove any network connections
    • For obvious reasons
  • Limit physical access
    • High security rooms, CCTV, armed guards, those fancy double key entry rooms you see in movies, etc, etc
  • ZERO ability to copy data.
    • Systems to prevent photography, printing, etc (obviously USB devices would be blocked

Errr, will no.

Those statements are probably true for critical intelligence, but these cables are NOT even Top Secret. They were just “Secret”, which is pretty low in the world of intelligence, in fact Top Secret is when intelligence circles really start to operate and there several levels above Top Secret.

The data that was stolen was copied from a centralized system, which around 3 million US military and US government workers had access to; from very junior levels upwards.

Much of the data was, according to the Guardian who are involved in leaking the material with WikiLeaks, copied to a CD! I.e – it was nothing more than a drag and drop exercise.

Hardly, high-tech and hardly highly protected data.

There is a staggering lack of security around these secret files. Probably because they contain opinions rather than hard intelligence, source names or signal frequencies.

Given the numerous cases of spying and espionage (see a small sample below, more available here)  its  likely  these cables would already have been seen by other intelligence agencies.

Examples of Spying

It highly unlikely that all cases of spying are discovered and made public.

Given the alleged “risks” this data poses, with “countless lives at risk”  there was little security around the actual data. In fact it sounds like its harder to get onto a plane with a 500 ml bottle of water than get hold of the “secret” cables.

The 250,000 leaked cables maybe the biggest leak ever published, but it’s probably not the biggest leak ever.

WikiLeaks Under “Attack” by DDoS

Wikileaks is currently under a massive Distributed Denail of Service  according the BBC.

In other, and entirely unreleated news WikiLeaks is just about to release diplomatic cables that are both secret and embarassing for the US Government.

Leaking Information

Leaking information can be an important, safe, legal, criminal, dangerous, right, or the wrong thing to do.  It can be so many things, to so many people, and it can be multiple things at the same time, and change depending on the government of the day.

The recent case of Damien Green leaking information, arrested, investigated, and then being cleared, demonstrates this. He provided information to the country, which he thought was important, and not damaging to the state, there were allegatiosn he broke a vareity of laws and threatened national secureity. The police then investigated, and he has since been cleared.

It is right that allegations of breaching the offical secrets act are investigated, and the argument of “I would never do this“, is not a reason not to investigate.  What is wrong is that the allegations against Damien Green appear to have been grossly exagerated and the police used as political pawns in this process. But, once the allegations had been made, they had to investigate, what would be their other option? To ignore allegations of corruption and breaches of the Offical Secrets Act? Not a good situation to be in.

Imagine if  John Profumo had never been investigated, because of his position or the fact he stated he had done nothing wrong.

For every leak of data there will always be people who question the value of it, call it a threat to the government or the nation, and state that it should never happen. But, if it was not for leaks we would never have know that there were no WMD in Iraq, or and perhaps more importantly, that the governments didn’t really have any information about WMD before the invasion.

If it was not for leaks then torture program in the US would never have been found out, and then Obama adminstration would not have been in the position to disclose this informaiton to the public.

But, if leaks about the Manhattan project or D-Day landings had been made then World War II could have been lost.

Leaks can be both valuable and dangerous, but there must be a mechanism to allow them to occur, else the wrongs of the governments can never be corrected.

Without doubt the best, and most secure way to leak information is the WikiLeaks website.  WikiLeaks provides a record of documents leaked to the website and protects those who submit the data through a vareity of technical and legal mechansism.

If you have data that needs to be made public their site is the place to go. Below is a video demonstrating how to upload data to WikiLeaks.