WikiLeaks Science: DNA Collection, Climate Talks, & China's Google Hack

By Andrew Moseman | December 3, 2010 4:53 pm

WikiLeaks-LogoWhile a certain bacterium that can thrive in arsenic has dominated the science press this week, the big story in the world at large is on the ongoing WikiLeaks saga. The release of an enormous trove of confidential documents from the U.S. State Department has provoked plenty of fall-out: there’s governmental embarrassment and anger, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is now wanted in Sweden on alleged sex crimes. But we’re most interested in how the never-ending story touches several science and tech stories, some of which have unraveled here on 80beats.

Get That DNA

One embarrassing revelation of the leaked diplomatic cables was that American diplomats were supposed to be part spy; they were asked to try to gather genetic material from foreign governmental officials. Once the cables leaked, the State Department couldn’t exactly deny that this happened, but it now says that these suggestions came from intelligence agencies. And relax—the requests were voluntary.

A senior department official said the requests for DNA, iris scans and other biometric data on foreign government and U.N. diplomats came from American “intelligence community managers.” The official said American diplomats were free to ignore the requests and that virtually all do. [Washington Post]

China Source of Google Hack

Early in 2010 we reported on the large cyber-attack against Google. Though rumors swirled, the Chinese government denied its involvement; the country and the search engine giant went through months of tension before arriving at a truce in the summer. According to WikiLeaks, leaders of the Chinese Communist Party were directly connected to the hack.

China’s Politburo directed the intrusion into Google’s computer systems in that country, a Chinese contact told the American Embassy in Beijing in January, one cable reported. The Google hacking was part of a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government. [The New York Times]

Copenhagen Pressure

Yesterday, while discussing the ongoing climate summit in Cancun, Mexico, we mentioned the disappointment that came out of last year’s event in Copenhagen, Denmark. But now we know that the United States was attempting to apply the pressure behind the scenes to get something done at Copenhagen: WikiLeaks documents show American diplomats pushing Saudi Arabia to accept the agreement.

In a memo summarizing the trip of Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman to Saudi Arabia in January, [U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia James] Smith wrote that Feltman urged the country to send a formal notice to the United Nations indicating its acceptance of the climate pact. “A/S Feltman noted the importance that the President places on climate change, and the Copenhagen Accord,” Smith wrote. “Given that Minister of Petroleum Al-Naimi was involved in crafting the final agreement, A/S Feltman noted the United States is counting on Saudi Arabia to associate itself with the accord by January 31.” [The New York Times]

The Saudi leaders, understandably, were hesitant to embrace an agreement, fearing it would harm the nation’s petroleum-dependent economy. And to be fair, this isn’t the only reason the Copenhagen meeting flamed out.

Nuclear Iran

Speaking of Saudi Arabia, its king was one of many Middle Eastern leaders to privately petitioned the U.S. to do something—anything—to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power. According to the king, it was time to “cut off the head of the snake.” (For more on this and Iran’s ongoing nuclear drama, check out our update from earlier this week.)

WikiLeaks Hacked, Then Dropped

After kicking up a media storm, WikiLeaks’ ensuing Web traffic—plus a huge denial-of-service attack—disabled its Web page. WikiLeaks moved operations over to Amazon Web Services. Then, government types like Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut found out, and went nuts about it.

He said that no “responsible company” should host the material. He also said that he intends to ask Amazon about the extent of its relationship with Wikileaks and about what it will do in the future to make sure that its services are not used to distribute stolen or classified information. Since Amazon prides itself on the ease of using its cloud services, that could be tricky. Anyone with a credit card and an Internet connection can sign up for and start using Amazon Web Services. [PC World]

Nevertheless, Amazon gave WikiLeaks the boot. That action has short-term consequences for WikiLeaks’ data, but has much longer-term consequences for the future of cloud computing. If all the info is in the cloud, who gets to decide what’s objectionable, illegal, or obscene?

Bearing in mind that cloud computing is a radically different prospect compared to simple Web hosting, will cloud computing need its own set of laws and regulations? Will the wise IT manager wait until various lawsuits have proved what is or isn’t acceptable when it comes to the cloud? [PC World]

After WikiLeaks left Amazon, its troubles continued. The American company providing its domain name,, cut off service when cyber attacks against WikiLeaks threatened the rest of its system. It’s now at a Swiss address,, but who knows how long that will last.

Related Content:
80beats: Iran’s Nuclear Program: Scientists Attacked, Documents Wiki-Leaked
80beats: Will Anything Be Accomplished at the Cancun Climate Summit?
80beats: China Renews Google’s License; Have the Two Reached a Truce?
Gene Expression: Slouching Toward Transparency

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology, Top Posts
  • nick

    “The official said American diplomats were free to ignore the requests and that virtually all do.”

    A pretty idea, just wait until the documents showing this is a lie leak. :)

    “Speaking of Saudi Arabia, its king was one of many Middle Eastern leaders to privately petitioned the U.S. to do something—anything—to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power. ”

    A convenient mask on the age-old Sunni vs. Shiite (Sunni’s believe Shiite’s worship the wrong way. Shia is kinda like a progressive Islam.) violence. But trying to get us to do the dirty work, take the blood on our hands.

    I guess the DDoS was so bad it was killing the easyDNS through DNS requests? Because they don’t host any actual websites. Or maybe the perpetrator was after them so thoroughly it seeked to knock anything associated with them offline. A good way for a government to get rid of a website, cause a bunch of collateral damage – because no matter whether you agree on their right to free speech (and this could even be a 2nd amendment case too, part of the reason the right to keep and bear arms is to help prevent a tyrannical government from imposing its illict will upon the populace) you have to eat and if your business gets fcked you will dump them like a hot brick.

  • Albert Bakker

    It cannot be so that extremists like Lieberman (but moderates neither of course) can order what are apparently his servants at Amazon to execute North Korean like State censorship almost at will and then let it go unanswered.

    By the way Nick, shi’ism is not a kinda progressive Islam. If you think this is so, you should perhaps visit Iran, wander a bit outside Tehran and be very, very disappointed.

  • scott

    What an effed up world (because of-) filled with a bunch of petty, ego driven, paranoid hairless primates that put themselves in a much higher state of importance than they really are. We think things like a stack of paperwork, a box of files, credit ratings from Wal-Mart as something of extreme importance and yet, we could all be killed by a gama ray burst, solar discharge, supervolcano etc at any time.

    I think secretly, subconsciously, humans are/feel really small and insignificant and are afraid floating around without certainty in this seemingly endless void and thus create, orchestrate importance and drama on themselves to distract from so many unexplained wonders and terrors.

    We are really not much different than the two squirrel clans living on my property who wage war over territory, nuts, fruits…they are always spying, fighting, chasing each other..on the look out with paranoid fever. The western clan lives in the native brush overtaking my backyard next to some fruit trees….they are always on the lookout and or meeting in the middle, on the driveway, the aggrive eastern clan, who reside in the giant Magnolia tree in the front and who have hide outs than run down the driveway and visciously protect the seed they steal from the bird feeder half way bewteen the two territories. It is a cold, cold war. They have leaders, spies, warriors. Just like us.

    I love being on a secluded islands, with close friends and some pot brownies and just tune all that BS out. Shrimpy North Koreans who think they have something to prove, creepy chinese who secretly want to dominate the world, ugly right wingers who want the planet to pray to Jesus every night before bed, horrible bank execs that control and destroy lives over stacks of papers and files that judge people on the plastic junk they buy….and even PETA people who want to enforce tofu eating laws on everyone. When you break it down, its just commical. Just a bunch of animals, each group trying to dominate and control what they can.

  • Hello world

    “Wikileaks Julian Assange close links to the Economist controlled Rothschild”

    It’s modern day propaganda kids. Unverified information changing the views of the average person.

  • Ben Wise

    Just a minor but nontrivial editorial correction: the word you wanted for the first sentence of this article is “bacterium” (singular), not “bacteria” (plural) as you wrote. It’s an all-too-common error among students and even teachers, but really rankles the ear of anyone who’s studied any Latin at all (like saying “I have a dogs named Lassie”). Whoever wrote (and edited) this article should go down the hall and have a little talk with the person who wrote the EXCELLENT article on those bacteria, linked by the misnomered phrase!! Note that the headline of that linked article uses the correct term, “Bacterium”. Why you cannot simply learn by imitation is beyond me. I expect more literacy from the Discover staff.

    Ben Wise (retired – and curmudgeonly – microbiology professor)

  • sarah

    “The official said American diplomats were free to ignore the requests and that virtually all do.”

    your response to this is to suggest I ‘relax’? Pretty poor analysis of US criminal activity.

  • Grant

    “And relax—the requests were voluntary.”

    Nice use of sarcasm Andrew. 9/10, the best I’ve seen for a while. And I agree, “they” have been caught being dishonest, underhanded and generally untrustworthy, so their attempt to explain it all away would be comical… if only the circumstances were different.

  • Eliza Strickland

    @ Ben: Relax. It was a typo. These things happen.

    — Eliza, DISCOVER online news editor

  • rabidmob

    To be honest I don’t really understand the outrage about the diplomats collecting that information. I’m not even sure if there is any regulation about collecting it.

    Also it’s good to point out that if our diplomats are doing this, you can be that other nations diplomats are doing it too and probably more.


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