Wikileaks on Monday began publishing details of its latest trove of secrets: more than 5 million emails from the global intelligence company Stratfor.
But Wikileaks could not have done it without the help of its apparent new source: the hacker collective Anonymous.
Anonymous has long been a supporter of Wikileaks, famously taking credit for attacking the Web sites of PayPal and Mastercard in December 2010 as retribution for those companies suspending Wikileaks accounts.
But Anonymous appears to have taken its support a step further this time, claiming to have hacked Stratfor's servers last December and given emails it found to Wikileaks, which is publishing them under the banner "The Global Intelligence Files."
By teaming up on this new disclosure, Anonymous and Wikileaks forged closer ties. But for Wikileaks, those ties could erode its legitimacy as a whistle-blower, according to Steven Aftergood, an expert on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.
Aftergood said the way Wikileaks acquired information from Anonymous is different -- and more troubling -- than how it acquired secrets from others sources, such as Pfc. Bradley Manning.
Manning is fighting charges that he leaked hundreds of thousands of classified documents -- including battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, and diplomatic cables -- to Wikileaks.
"These records were not leaked. They were stolen," Aftergood said in an interview about the Stratfor emails. "Bradley Manning was an insider who had authorized access to the records and leaked them. Anonymous stole them from a private entity and Wikileaks is now publishing stolen records. It clearly puts Wikileaks on the wrong side of the law."
According to Wikileaks, it is working with more than 25 news outlets worldwide to sift through the emails, which date from between July 2004 and late December 2011. The communications "show Stratfor’s web of informers, pay-off structure, payment-laundering techniques and psychological methods," Wikileaks said in a press release. Stratfor's chief executive officer and founder, George Friedman, has said the stolen emails would not reveal anything significant.
The disclosure comes as Wikileaks and its founder have faced growing struggles. The site's online system for allowing whistleblowers to submit secrets has been offline for more than a year. In October, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, warned that his Web site may shut down because Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and other financial institutions had cut off donations. Meanwhile, Assange is fighting accusations that he sexually abused two women while visiting Stockholm in 2010.
"A public association with a hacker group like Anonymous may hurt WikiLeaks’ moral credibility just when the group needs it most," Forbes writer Andy Greenberg wrote.
Anonymous has long been supportive of Wikileaks, and recently, Assange expressed his gratitude. In October, he reportedly showed up at an Occupy London rally wearing an Anonymous mask. In a video from the rally, Assange claimed that more than 100 people from Anonymous were "arrested, raided or detained for defending Wikileaks and defending me personally."
"We owe all those people a debt," Assange said in the video.
For Anonymous, which has frequently published the internal communications of companies and government agencies, the decision to team up with Wikileaks gives the hackers a greater audience, one member of Anonymous told Wired.
“WikiLeaks has great means to publish and disclose,” the Anonymous member told Wired. “Also, they work together with media in a way we don’t.”
In an interview last month with Rolling Stone, Assange said by aligning itself with Wikileaks, Anonymous also receives something else: an education.
"As a result of joining our battle and trying to protect themselves, they have come to see that the threats related to Internet freedom come from the military-industrial complex, the banking system and the media," he was quoted as saying. "The media is the third big power group, because when you're involved in something like this, it becomes newsworthy."