“We open governments.” - WikiLeaks
Every couple of years, there comes a person or a phenomenon that totally revolutionizes the way we think, and the way we respond to the world and its powers. Consider that one pillar of modern democracy glorified as ‘Freedom of Press’. Perhaps there is no other organization that breathed life into it the way WikiLeaks did. They opened governments, indeed. WikiLeaks’ early releases included documentation of equipment expenditures and holdings in the Afghanistan war and the corruption in Kenya. Soon enough, this paved way to one of the most hotly debated topics which would soon bring WikiLeaks to the front pages of all newspapers – the Cablegate. It began in April 2010 with the publication of the gunsight footage from the 12 July 2007 Baghdad airstrike in which Iraqi journalists were among those killed by an Apache helicopter, known as the Collateral Murder video. In July of the same year, WikiLeaks released the Afghan War Diary, a compilation of more than 76,900 documents about the War in Afghanistan, previously unavailable to the public
The stage was set; the pieces were moving. After three consecutive releases or ‘mega-leaks’ in 2010, Julian Assange, the Editor-in-chief and Founder of WikiLeaks, had managed to get himself publicly criticized and appraised simultaneously – worldwide. As soon as major American political leaders and parties started bearing the brunt of these ‘virtual’ attacks, the U.S. Government churned out laws banning any and every support to the site, including downloading of its cables or videos. Consequently, Amazon.com was systematically pressurised to let go of the WikiLeaks servers, as the latter was “putting at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government”.
Soon enough, as controversies started rearing up their heads around the WikiLeaks project, Amazon dumped its servers on December 1, 2010. In a chain of events that followed, Paypal cut off the account used by WikiLeaks to collect donations, the Swiss bank PostFinance announced that it had frozen Assange’s assets, MasterCard and Visa terminated their payments. But as it turns out, Assange and his team had been braced for the impact. In less than an hour, the site had relocated its services to Bahnhof, a Swedish Internet service provider, over which the U.S. had no jurisdiction. WikiLeaks had made its move. And it had been tackled quite smartly indeed.
WikiLeaks had earlier employed other companies like PRQ and the Pirate Bay to route its data, by a so-called tunnel service – meaning the material itself would be hidden someplace safe, but to the downloading party it would appear as if it were coming from the said companies. However, in the face of the existing scenario, a refuge was sought that would reflect the same shady image as that of the organization itself. The dire need of the moment was in its secrecy. The answer to all the troubles lay in the Vita Berg Park in Stockholm, Sweden: Pionen–White Mountain, designed by Albert France-Lanord Architects. Formerly a cold war bunker, this 1,200 square meter space had served as an underground shelter during the Second World War. And as it had seen the War days, it could sustain a full-fledged nuclear attack without as much as a scratch.
Meet Dean Nelson, Chairman and Co-Founder of a group called Data Centers. He once toured the White Mountain along with Jon Karlung, CEO of Bahnhof. On being enquired by CNN as to the reasons triggering this move by WikiLeaks, his answer leaves us in no doubt:
“It’s actually 30 meters under solid bedrock. And it’s got a one-foot thick solid bomb-door. So it’s a pretty secure facility. That’s probably one of the primary reasons. As you get more computers and more data on the internet, the heat that’s generated from those computers is tremendous…you can use things like underground cooling to get rid of that heat.”
Bahnhof had enjoyed the pleasure of having just the required architects on board. The Albert France-Lanord Architects employed a totally new, yet innovative approach: that of considering the rock as a ‘living organism’, thus letting it occupy it’s share of deserved space. They sought to create strong contrasts: on the one hand, rooms where the rock would dominate, with the human being rendered a stranger against the rooms, as against those where the human being would take over totally. After destroying the former office and blowing up the rock to create extra space, they reinforced the cave, made all the technical installations and ended up with a place like no other.
Futuristic rooms for the servers. Dozens of electronic cabinets. A floating glass conference room above. Two diesel engines from German submarines for backup power. Experts admit that all the physical barriers in the world won’t be able to purge the threat that hackers constantly pose any hoard of information. But the fact remains: more and more websites are relying on places like bunkers, even container ships, to store their servers.