WikiLeaks obtained some of its secret information using peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing networks, rather than having it submitted by anonymous whistle-blowers, according to claims made yesterday by researchers for the US government.
Tiversa, Inc., a company that carries out investigative research for US government agencies including the FBI, says that WikiLeaks has been carrying out searches for classified information on file-sharing networks.
According to a report (opens in new tab) on business news service Bloomberg, chief executive officer Robert Boback says the government is now examining his company's evidence.
On face value, however, Tiversa's case seems far from watertight. It runs like this:
Tiversa says it discovered that computers in Sweden were looking for info on P2P networks such as LimeWire and KazaA.
According to Boback, some of the same information obtained in those searches later appeared on WikiLeaks.
At the time the searches were carried out, WikiLeaks' primary servers were based in Sweden, in the bomb-proof bunker of web hosting company PRQ.
Hardly incontrovertible - but Boback seems to think it is.
"WikiLeaks is doing searches themselves on file-sharing networks," the Tiversa CEO told an interviewer. "It would be highly unlikely that someone else from Sweden is issuing those same types of searches resulting in that same type of information."
WikiLeaks has flatly denied Tiversa's accusations. In an e-mail, the whistle-blowing organisation's London-based lawyer, Mark Stephens, called the accusations "completely false in every regard".
According to Tiversa, though, whoever was running the searches from computers in Sweden knew what they were looking for - and found it.
In a 60-minute period on 7th February, 2009, Tiversa detected four Swedish computers running a total of 413 searches for information on peer-to-peer networks.
One of those searches, Tiversa says, led to the download of a PDF document containing details of a new sensor system to be installed at the Pentagon's Pacific Missile Range Facility, from a computer in Hawaii.
Tiversa says the document was renamed and posted on WikiLeaks' website two months later, on 29th April, 2009.
Boback claims Tiversa has repeatedly tracked this pattern of the retrieval and posting . The company estimates that as many as half of all WikiLeaks's postings could have resulted from this method.
"There are not that many whistleblowers in the world to get you millions of documents," Boback said. "However, if you are getting them yourselves, that information is out there and available."
Tiversa's claim that such information is available highlights a shocking lack of security surrounding US military computer systems.
File-sharing networks are said to be very popular among US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, who use them to download music and videos. This practice has led to inadvertent sharing of secrets on military computers, which became the subject of Congressional subcommittee hearings in 2007 and 2009.
At the 2009 hearings, Boback told the subcommittee that Tiversa had discovered entire blueprints and details of the avionics package for the US presidential helicopter, Marine One on a file-sharing network.
WikiLeaks claims to receive all of its information anonymously from whistle-blowers. According to the website, the organisation says: "We cannot comply with requests for information on sources because we simply do not have the information to begin with."
The most publicised of WikiLeaks' alleged sources, US Army Private Bradley Manning (opens in new tab), is accused of being the source behind the site's leak of secret military documents relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (opens in new tab), including the now-notorious 'collateral murder' video (opens in new tab).
Manning is currently being detained in solitary confinement, by the US marine brig in Quantico, Virginia, where his conditions has been described as "torture" (opens in new tab).
The population of Sweden in 2009 was over 9.3 million, according to the World Bank's figures.