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New website plans to showcase leaked Mormon documents

Published January 9, 2017 12:28 pm

Mormon WikiLeaks • Founder Ryan McKnight plans forum to feature purloined papers about the Utah-based faith.
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Ryan McKnight hopes to become a Mormon version of Julian Assange, the Australian whistleblowing hacker who has published tens of thousands of secret government documents.

On Monday, McKnight, a former Latter-day Saint in Las Vegas, plans to launch Mormon WikiLeaks, an online website where anonymous tipsters — including those who work for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — can post purloined papers by and about the Utah-based faith's programs, policies and policymakers.

He and his former Mormon team — including a website designer, two cybersecurity experts and a social media developer — have not decided whether the debut will include any new finds.



"We received some documents and are still authenticating them and assessing their value," McKnight said in an interview Saturday. "If that gets done by Monday, we may release them on the site."

The LDS Church declined to comment, but critics of the new enterprise cited concerns about legal issues — church employees sign nondisclosure and confidentiality agreements — the ethics of violating an employer's trust, and the one-sided view the leaks may provide.

McKnight burst onto the scene in October, during the church's fall General Conference, when he facilitated the posting of 15 videos showing Mormon apostles privately discussing topics ranging from gay rights to politics to piracy to, as he said, simply offer "a peek behind the curtain" of the faith's burgeoning bureaucracy.

The videos, whose veracity the church did not dispute, went national. McKnight said he was inundated with queries from insiders wanting to make private Mormon information public, but needing assurances of anonymity, given the potential to be fired from LDS Church employment.

That's when McKnight, serving as a publisher, not the source of internal LDS documents, began to feel an urgency about providing a means whereby disgruntled or disillusioned members could post their work without fear of discovery.

Of course, there's always the question of authenticity.

If a document is unredacted — has all the names still listed — it's credibility is easier to determine, McKnight explained. If all the names are blocked out, there is little way to verify it.

In an era awash in fake news, McKnight expects to receive invented documents. Defensive Mormons may go on the offensive and send false material in an attempt to discredit the site, he said, and anti-Mormon zealots may concoct false items to discredit the faith and dismay the faithful.

But McKnight is determined to do all he can to weed out the good stuff from the bad. He has done it before.

Last September, a previous leaker sought McKnight's help in bringing to light LDS information he promised would be even more explosive. After working with him for some months, McKnight said, he concluded that the man was exaggerating what he had.

"I have no reason to believe," said the Vegas man, who goes by Fearless Fixxer on the Reddit website, "that any more information will come from him."

But McKnight is betting that solid, newsworthy leaks will emerge, and that Mormon WikiLeaks will be the repository of choice.

Not that he expects to make any money from the undertaking. He has no plans to sell ads on the website. He also harbors no illusions that his labor will bring down the church nor — as anti-Mormon activist Fred Karger aims to do — cost the global denomination its tax-exempt status.

McKnight just hopes it will give Mormons a more realistic view of their church — that it is a business, not a religion, and that the apostles and governing First Presidency don't "sit in a room all day talking to Jesus."

Mormon writer and researcher Jana Riess is no fan of McKnight's approach.

"I am very concerned about privacy in our culture more generally," she said. "People in the workplace have the right to expect that intraoffice communication and their emails will stay private."

The move to make such exchanges public in the country or in the church "is disturbing," Riess emphasized. "It is not good news for any of us."

If there is a "silver lining" in Mormon WikiLeaks' efforts, said the Cincinnati-based columnist, "it could be a nudge for the church to be proactive in becoming more transparent."

For example, she said, the LDS Church has not released its financial records in the United States since the 1940s. If those ledgers were published, she warned, they could be embarrassing to the church if they were presented without context.

This could be a chance for Mormon leaders to look at what details might be helpful for members to know, Riess said, and publish them first.

To Steve Evans, a Mormon blogger and Salt Lake City lawyer, Mormon WikiLeaks is "a rebranding exercise of McKnight's existing practice of posting various confidential items."

The main difference this time, he said, is "an added layer of cybersecurity, which won't necessarily protect the leakers, depending on their methods of obtaining the various stolen documents, videos, etc."

Evans, founder of the Mormon blog By Common Consent, defends his use of the word "stolen."

"They are materials created for and by the church, and as such are the church's property," he said. "And the leakers are likely either church employees or consultants working for the church. In either of those situations, it's very likely that the leakers are violating their nondisclosure and confidentiality agreements with the church, which opens them up to personal liability. McKnight is now publicly encouraging people to violate these agreements."

Even without such accords, Evans said, "someone who takes confidential information of their employer and leaks it publicly has broken a trust. This is the definition of being 'untrustworthy.' "

The only possible good for the church, he added, may be that members, will "learn more of policies, procedures and the interminable meetings one finds in an institution the size of the church."

Such disclosures might actually reaffirm Mormon faith, Evans said, seeing that "so much good can still come from a church with such a bureaucracy."

A bureaucracy that generates tons of paperwork — paperwork that McKnight is eager to expose.

pstack@sltrib.com

Twitter: @religiongal

 

 

 

 

 

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