According to Greenberg, what most observers fail to appreciate about WikiLeaks is the anonymity its document-submission system provided to would-be leakers. This anonymity was not God-given but hard-earned; it would be impossible without a software tool called Tor, which, in yet another ironic twist, emerged from research financed by the United States Navy. It's unlikely that tools like Tor would be widely used by today's whistle-blowers if the geeks did not outwit the government in their most significant policy tussle to date.

During the so-called crypto wars that raged for most of the 1990s, the government wanted to keep secure encryption technologies all to itself, arguing that their widespread use would empower drug traffickers and terrorists. Its opponents, by contrast, wanted everyone on the planet to have access to encryption. The geeks won, paving the way for tools like Tor and sites like WikiLeaks.

Many of these "crypto" battles were debated on a handful of mailing lists, where Julian Assange was both an avid reader and an occasional contributor. Greenberg, to his credit, has ventured far beyond the online archives of those lists, meeting and interviewing many of the leading figures in those fights and even corresponding with one of them in prison. He's at his best when on the road -- driving through a volcano-ridden Iceland, flying a decrepit Soviet plane with nine hackers, swimming in the Black Sea with fearless Bulgarian journalists. Even seasoned observers of WikiLeaks will find something new and interesting in this book. Who knew that Assange modeled WikiLeaks on Nicolas Bourbaki -- a collective pseudonym for a group of very talented mathematicians active in France since the 1930s? Or that Birgitta Jonsdottir, the Icelandic politician who collaborated with WikiLeaks, used to sell Kirby vacuum cleaners in New Jersey?

Alas, as the book unfolds, reportage seems to all but displace analysis, with Greenberg documenting minor squabbles between Assange and just about everyone else, or celebrating yet another innovation in encryption rather than placing his characters and their tools in the broader political context. For all their disruptive potential, encryption technologies have not solved the dilemma that has plagued sites like WikiLeaks. That dilemma is this: To get leaks, a site needs to have a public profile and look trustworthy. Who would want to leak documents to a honey pot run by some secret government agency? Who would want to help analyze them? So trust and prominence are essential -- but they are also hard to achieve if the leaking platform itself remains completely anonymous.

But once the anonymity cover is blown, the platform becomes vulnerable: its networks could be infiltrated by informers, its staff could be harassed and spied on, its online presence could be stymied by cyberattacks and legal hassles. Allowing whistle-blowers to leak anonymously is a crucial first step -- but it might also be the easiest step. In fact, it may even instill the leaking platform with a false sense of invincibility and resilience. One of the few unambiguous lessons of WikiLeaks is that early success can easily devastate the leaking platform, for such success will normally be followed by political trouble. Encryption technologies are of little help here. Their greatest impact is on the leakers, not on those processing the leaks.

Even with regards to the leakers, however, the situation is far more complex than Greenberg lets on. He draws elaborate comparisons between the cases of Bradley Manning and Daniel Ellsberg, arguing that digital technologies have expanded the scale and the speed of leaking and made it easier to cover the tracks. But have we entered a truly new era, in which technology provides a robust infrastructure for leaking -- a common techno-optimistic view advanced in many books about WikiLeaks? Or is the whole Cablegate episode just a blip in the long institutional march toward even greater secrecy -- perhaps an instance of governments and corporations not taking their network security seriously but hardly a guarantee that they won’t adapt in due time?

While the former view dominated most of the early responses to WikiLeaks, it seems excessively cheerful in retrospect. It’s true that one set of technologies has made it easier to release the leaked documents to the outside world, but another set of technologies is also making it harder to get them off the corporate or government networks. A pertinent recent case that Greenberg doesn’t discuss is that of Joe Muto, a former Fox News employee who, convinced of his anonymity, leaked some internal Fox footage to the popular blog Gawker. It took Fox less than 48 hours to out him -- by analyzing who on their network had retrieved the footage in question. Likewise, just this past June, the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, ordered that all employees at federal intelligence agencies who take lie detector tests also answer a specific question about their leaking practices. Very little about the heavily policed contemporary workplace suggests that leaking will become easier.

Greenberg does sense that an anti-leaking backlash might be in the offing: his early revolutionary rhetoric all but disappears as the book progresses. He even documents some recent efforts to automate the process of identifying potential whistle-blowers on government networks. But here the reporter in Greenberg is too attached to the human side of the story -- it is, after all, ironic that Julian Assange’s former hacker friends are now employed by the American government to make leaks impossible -- to offer a comprehensive picture of the recent technological solutions to leaking. Once all of those technologies are factored into our analysis, it may very well be that the much-lauded revolution in transparency is just a counterrevolution in disguise. For every machine that kills secrets, there are at least two that keep them alive.