WikiLeaks targets Syria with 'embarrassing' trove

WikiLeaks has obtained some 2.4 million e-mails, which relate to both the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the regime’s opponents, including Western countries.

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP
Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gather outside the Ecuador Embassy in London last month. Assange is seeking political asylum to prevent being extradited to Sweden to face questioning about allegations of sexual assault.

WikiLeaks – known for publishing secret government and corporate documents – is focusing its latest effort on the tumult in Syria.

This latest batch of leaks totals some 2.4 million e-mails, which WikiLeaks says will be embarrassing to both the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the regime’s opponents, including Western countries.

So far, the only information released has to do with the Italian defense giant Finmeccanica, which is reported to have provided communications equipment and expertise about helicopters to the Syrian military and police.

Finmeccanica (which is 30 percent owned by the Italian government and is also one of Britain's largest defense suppliers) says it is investigating the authenticity of the e-mails before commenting. 

WikiLeaks acknowledges that some of the e-mails can't be verified. They involve 680 different Internet domains, 678,752 different e-mail senders, 1,082,447 different e-mail recipients, and several different languages, including Arabic and Russian.

Published by the Italian news magazine L'Espresso, one of WikiLeaks' media partners, e-mails appear to show that a subsidiary of Finmeccanica was selling radio equipment to Syria as recently as two months ago – at the same time that the European Union was imposing an embargo on the regime, specifically prohibiting the sale of weapons and equipment that could be used in the fight against the Syrian opposition.

In a statement Thursday, WikiLeaks said the Syria-related entities or domain names from which the e-mails were obtained include the Ministries of Presidential Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Information, Transport, and Culture.

"The material is embarrassing to Syria, but it is also embarrassing to Syria’s opponents,” WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said, without elaborating, through WikiLeaks spokeswoman Sarah Harrison. “It helps us not merely to criticize one group or another, but to understand their interests, actions and thoughts. It is only through understanding this conflict that we can hope to resolve it."

According to the organization, the range of information in the e-mails “extends from the intimate correspondence of the most senior Baath party figures to records of financial transfers sent from Syrian ministries to other nations.”

In addition to L’Espresso in Italy, according to the organization, “ground-breaking stories derived from the files will appear in WikiLeaks (global), Al Akhbar (Lebanon), Al Masry Al Youm (Egypt), ARD (Germany), Owni (France), and (Spain).”

Originally, that list included the Associated Press in the United States. But the AP objected to being listed as a WikiLeaks “collaborator,” and it was removed from the list.

"Like a lot of news organizations, we were offered material by WikiLeaks to evaluate for possible coverage – in the same way we receive health and science journals, survey results and such ahead of time in hopes of generating stories," AP spokesman Paul Colford told The Huffington Post. "To state that AP was 'collaborating' with WikiLeaks was a mistake."

Thursday’s disclosure wouldn't be the first major leak of Syrian e-mails, according to the AP. In February, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz published excerpts of what it said were e-mails hacked from Syrian servers by “Anonymous,” the shadowy Internet activist group. In March, the Guardian newspaper in Britain published e-mails it sourced to Syrian opposition activists.

WikiLeaks has been laboring under severe funding problems – the refusal of PayPal, credit card companies, and other financial institutions to transfer money to the organization because of its notoriety has made it difficult to solicit contributions – and Mr. Assange’s own legal difficulties.

Assange was not present at the WikiLeaks announcement in London Thursday. He has spent the past two weeks at the Ecuadoran Embassy in London, trying to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning about allegations of sexual assault.

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