MormonLeaks (formerly Mormon WikiLeaks) is a whistleblowing organization inspired by WikiLeaks, which focuses on exposing documents from the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). It began in October 2016 as a leaked series of videos on the YouTube channel Mormon Leaks. In total, 15 videos were initially leaked via the Mormon Leaks channel from meetings of high-ranking LDS leaders including the Quorum of the Twelve. They discussed topics including the "homosexual agenda", the subprime mortgage crisis, and a debate over the sexual orientation of Chelsea Manning. Politicians featured in the videos included former Utah governor Mike Leavitt and former U.S. Senator from Oregon Gordon H. Smith.
Ryan McKnight, founder of MormonLeaks, was interviewed by The New York Times about his YouTube channel Mormon Leaks, and this led to contacts from Reddit who asked him for a secure way to send files. He set up a website to allow whistleblowers to protect their anonymity. The submission process ensures confidentiality, including erasure of IP addresses, asking leakers to use the privacy browser Tor, sending documents via SecureDrop, and additional encryption methods. Initial funding was raised through GoFundMe, and an official Twitter account was set up. The site's intent is to increase transparency of LDS Church leadership, and would not leak names of lower-level employees, instead focusing on the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency.
University of Tampa professor Ryan Cragun said scholars were interested in finding out what documents would be revealed, noting there was a dearth of information available about the finances of the LDS Church. He said active Mormons were unlikely to view the leaked materials, but the material would have a more significant impact on those who were questioning or had already resigned their membership status. Mormon scholar and columnist Jana Riess gave a mixed assessment, criticizing their tactics regarding privacy while saying it could help to increase LDS Church leadership transparency. Utah attorney and Mormon blogger Steve Evans said the practice of leaking was criminal publication of stolen property, and said LDS Church employees who leaked material were likely violating a non-disclosure agreement.
Beginnings on YouTube
McKnight is a former Mormon, having resigned from the LDS Church in 2014, The anonymous individual who sent him the videos via email, according to McKnight, had been holding onto them for a period of years but with the intention to do something with them eventually. Within a time span of under a month the YouTube channel had garnered 2,200 followers. Additional topics discussed by the high-level LDS Church leadership in the videos included marijuana, Islam, the subprime mortgage crisis, and a debate over the sexual orientation of Chelsea Manning. LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins provided an official response, which stated: "In these committee meetings, presentations are routinely received from various religious, political and subject matter experts on various topics. The purpose is to understand issues that may face the Church, and is in pursuit of the obligation Church leaders feel to be informed on and have open discussion about current issues. This is an informational forum, not a decision-making body."
In total the 15 videos were published to YouTube on the last day of the October 2016 LDS General Conference. Most of the videos were from closed session events only attended by high-level LDS Church leadership. Smith lectured the LDS Church leaders about the "inestimable power" yielded from being able to contact U.S. Senators whenever necessary for assistance. The lectures given to LDS Church leadership in this fashion were businesslike, with statistics and Microsoft PowerPoint presentations.
McKnight suddenly found himself the point-person on the Internet for those wishing to maintain anonymity and yet simultaneously publicize secret documents from the LDS Church. After the videos engendered debate and attention from Mormons and the wider Internet community, McKnight was asked to add more videos from people who messaged him on Reddit. Encryption methods are further incorporated to mask the identity of the whistleblowers.
MormonLeaks launched on December 19, 2016. The organization was started with a website and accompanying Twitter page.
The organization's first leaks appeared on December 19, 2016, in the form of LDS Church documents from 2010. It published four files onto its account on Facebook as of December 20, 2016. The first documents publicized by MormonLeaks included memos about legal procedures, a letter to the temple department's executive director regarding unsanctioned materials on the Internet, and an organizational chart for the intellectual property division of the LDS Church.
WikiLeaks was aware of the foundation under the site's original name of MormonWikiLeaks, and sent them a message on Twitter asking them to change their name. MormonLeaks has an attorney on staff, which McCambridge notes may be beneficial given the prior litigation history where the LDS Church made a copyright infringement assertion against WikiLeaks for publishing the church's Handbook of Instructions.
Mormon scholar and columnist Jana Riess was critical of the organization's tactics, stating: "I am very concerned about privacy in our culture more generally. People in the workplace have the right to expect that intraoffice communication and their emails will stay private." She called MormonLeaks "disturbing" and said: "It is not good news for any of us." On a positive note, Riess said it could motivate the upper LDS Church leadership to increase its transparency.
Utah attorney and Mormon blogger Steve Evans called MormonLeaks "a rebranding exercise of McKnight's existing practice of posting various confidential items." Evans said MormonLeaks had "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 was critical of McKnight's encouragement to those who choose to leak information to MormonLeaks: "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. McKnight is now publicly encouraging people to violate these agreements."