As leak enthusiasts go, few resemble Julian Assange less than Daniel Domscheit-Berg. The wide-eyed and softspoken German left WikiLeaks in September to start his own leak-focused organization known as OpenLeaks. But unlike WikiLeaks' would-be messianic founder, the 32-year-old hacker shrinks from the spotlight. "I want to avoid the whole prophetization thing," he says. "The moment that I become the focus, I'll pull out of this project completely."
Domscheit-Berg's WikiLeaks spinoff aims to keep a low profile, too. Like its parent organization, OpenLeaks will solicit secret documents from leakers in government and business. But instead of publishing the leaks on its site — a strategy that has made WikiLeaks the target of cyber- and legal attacks since it began posting a quarter-million secret cables from the U.S. State Department last month — OpenLeaks will function as a secure tip box that passes leaked files on to whatever media outlet or NGO the leaker chooses. "To constrain the power of the site, we're splitting submissions from publication," he says. "No single organization carries all of the responsibility or all of the workload."
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OpenLeaks is just one of a bumper crop of WikiLeaks-inspired sites popping up across the globe, borrowing various pieces of the original site's model of anonymous submissions and online publishing (see below ). Each hopes to ferret out scandalous information and has its own mission and geographic focus. That's good news for WikiLeaks, too, as Assange himself said in an interview last month. "The supply of leaks is very large," he said. "It's helpful for us to have more people in this industry. It's protective to us."
Domscheit-Berg, a former network engineer for information technology giant EDS and a sometimes member of Berlin's Chaos Computer Club, first discovered WikiLeaks in 2007 via another document repository site called Cryptome. After dismissing his initial fears that WikiLeaks was a CIA conspiracy, he befriended Assange and became the group's German spokesperson. But after a spat with Assange over his leadership style and his singular focus on massive U.S. document dumps, Domscheit-Berg defected, taking several engineers with him. "WikiLeaks has become a political player, which is never what it was supposed to be," he says.
In the long term, Domscheit-Berg argues, WikiLeaks' greatest impact may not be any particular document release but the entire movement of second-generation sites like OpenLeaks that it has spawned. "For three years I was part of the project that initiated this, the spark that set this fire," says Domscheit-Berg. "That's a beautiful thing."
Leaks "R" Us
Created by a group of former officials and journalists, BrusselsLeaks focuses on exposing the backroom dealings of the European Union's government. The site accepts anonymous submissions using the encrypted e-mail service Hushmail.
Launched in Paris by a Bulgarian expat, BalkanLeaks uses the anonymization tool Tor to accept documents. One leak recently sent to the site exposed a list of 34 prominent judges and lawyers who are Freemasons.
This Indonesian WikiLeaks copycat doesn't offer much in the way of security for leakers. But it recently obtained and posted a 1975 communiqué between former President Suharto and Gerald Ford, pushing for the invasion of East Timor.
This site, based in China, asks users to submit scandalous government information. But given its insecurity and China's authoritarian policies, Assange himself has warned against it. In September the WikiLeaks Twitter feed read, "China WikiLeaks is unauthorized and insecure. Avoid!"