April 11, 2019


How Russia Often Benefits When Julian Assange Reveals the West's Secrets (Jo Becker, Steven Erlanger and Eric Schmitt, Aug. 31, 2016, NY Times)

United States officials say they believe with a high degree of confidence that the Democratic Party material was hacked by the Russian government, and suspect that the codes may have been stolen by the Russians as well. That raises a question: Has WikiLeaks become a laundering machine for compromising material gathered by Russian spies? And more broadly, what precisely is the relationship between Mr. Assange and Mr. Putin's Kremlin?

Those questions are made all the more pointed by Russia's prominent place in the American presidential election campaign. Mr. Putin, who clashed repeatedly with Mrs. Clinton when she was secretary of state, has publicly praised Mr. Trump, who has returned the compliment, calling for closer ties to Russia and speaking favorably of Mr. Putin's annexation of Crimea.

From the outset of WikiLeaks, Mr. Assange said he was motivated by a desire to use "cryptography to protect human rights," and would focus on authoritarian governments like Russia's.

But a New York Times examination of WikiLeaks' activities during Mr. Assange's years in exile found a different pattern: Whether by conviction, convenience or coincidence, WikiLeaks' document releases, along with many of Mr. Assange's statements, have often benefited Russia, at the expense of the West.

Among United States officials, the emerging consensus is that Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks probably have no direct ties to Russian intelligence services. But they say that, at least in the case of the Democrats' emails, Moscow knew it had a sympathetic outlet in WikiLeaks, where intermediaries could drop pilfered documents in the group's anonymized digital inbox.

In an interview on Wednesday with The Times, Mr. Assange said Mrs. Clinton and the Democrats were "whipping up a neo-McCarthyist hysteria about Russia." There is "no concrete evidence" that what WikiLeaks publishes comes from intelligence agencies, he said, even as he indicated that he would happily accept such material.

WikiLeaks neither targets nor spares any particular nation, he added, but rather works to verify whatever material it is given in service of the public, which "loves it when they get a glimpse into the corrupt machinery that is attempting to rule them."

But given WikiLeaks' limited resources and the hurdles of translation, Mr. Assange said, why focus on Russia, which he described as a "bit player on the world stage," compared with countries like China and the United States? In any event, he said, Kremlin corruption is an old story. "Every man and his dog is criticizing Russia," he said. "It's a bit boring, isn't it?"

Since its inception, WikiLeaks has succeeded spectacularly on some fronts, uncovering indiscriminate killing, hypocrisy and corruption, and helping spark the Arab Spring.

To Gavin MacFadyen, a WikiLeaks supporter who runs the Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of London, the question for Mr. Assange is not where the material comes from, but whether it is true and in the public interest. He noted that intelligence services had a long history of using news organizations to plant stories, and that Western news outlets often published "material that comes from the C.I.A. uncritically."

Recent events, though, have left some transparency advocates wondering if WikiLeaks has lost its way. There is a big difference between publishing materials from a whistle-blower like Chelsea Manning -- the soldier who gave WikiLeaks its war log and diplomatic cable scoops -- and accepting information, even indirectly, from a foreign intelligence service seeking to advance its own powerful interests, said John Wonderlich, the executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, a group devoted to government transparency.

"They're just aligning themselves with whoever gives them information to get attention or revenge against their enemies," Mr. Wonderlich said. "They're welcoming governments to hack into each other and disrupt each other's democratic processes, all on a pretty weak case for the public interest."

Others see Mr. Assange assuming an increasingly blinkered approach to the world that, coupled with his own secrecy, has left them disillusioned.

"The battle for transparency was supposed to be global; at least Assange claimed that at the beginning," said Andrei A. Soldatov, an investigative journalist who has written extensively about Russia's security services.

"It is strange that this principle is not being applied to Assange himself and his dealings with one particular country, and that is Russia," Mr. Soldatov said. [...]

It was the first of several times that Mr. Putin would take up Mr. Assange's cause. He has called the charges against Mr. Assange "politically motivated" and declared that the WikiLeaks founder is being "persecuted for spreading the information he received from the U.S. military regarding the actions of the U.S.A. in the Middle East, including Iraq."

In January 2011, the Kremlin issued Mr. Assange a visa, and one Russian official suggested that he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize. Then, in April 2012, with WikiLeaks' funding drying up -- under American pressure, Visa and MasterCard had stopped accepting donations -- Russia Today began broadcasting a show called "The World Tomorrow" with Mr. Assange as the host. [...]

Many of the documents WikiLeaks has published are classified, such as a C.I.A. tutorial on how to maintain cover in foreign airports. But what may be WikiLeaks' most intriguing release of secret documents involved what is, on the surface, a less sensational topic: trade negotiations.

From November 2013 to May 2016, WikiLeaks published documents describing internal deliberations on two trade pacts: the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would liberalize trade between the United States, Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim countries, and the Trade in Services Agreement, an accord between the United States, 21 other countries and the European Union.

Russia, which was excluded, has been the most vocal opponent of the pacts, with Mr. Putin portraying them as an effort to give the United States an unfair leg up in the global economy.

The drafts released by WikiLeaks stirred controversy among environmentalists, advocates of internet freedom and privacy, labor leaders and corporate governance watchdogs, among others. They also stoked populist resentment against free trade that has become an important factor in American and European politics.

The material was released at critical moments, with the apparent aim of thwarting negotiations, American trade officials said.

The overlapping goals of Vlad, Assange and Donald make them natural allies.

Did Trump really mention WikiLeaks over 160 times in the last month of the election cycle? (Gabrielle Healy, April 21st, 2017, PolitiFact)

President Donald Trump reveled in WikiLeaks' disclosures against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton during the closing argument of his presidential campaign.

His CIA director, Mike Pompeo, revealed a different attitude in a tough April 13 speech which addressed the anonymous hacking website.

The group "walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service," Pompeo said.

U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., was one of many voices who noticed the administration's hardened view toward WikiLeaks.

CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer interviewed Speier, a member of the House intelligence committee, on April 13 about Pompeo's characterization of WikiLeaks.

How much did Trump the candidate love WikiLeaks in the last days of the campaign? She attempted to count the ways.

"If you recall during the election cycle, in the last month of the campaign, I believe that President Trump as a candidate hailed WikiLeaks as the new savior, had mentioned it over 160 times in speeches during that period of time.

Really, that many times? We decided to check it out.

Posted by at April 11, 2019 6:18 PM