WikiLeak Leaks: from Transparency to Trolling for Putin
Stephen Komarnyckyj on a cache of hacked materials that shed a disturbing light on the culture of a man and an organisation once hailed as champions of transparency.
In 2006 Wikileaks began its crusade for transparency with the bold statement that, “Our primary targets are… oppressive regimes in China, Russia and central Eurasia.” However, the organisation would also assist westerners “to reveal [the] illegal or immoral behaviour [of] their … governments and corporations.”
“Our primary targets are… oppressive regimes in China, Russia and central Eurasia.”WikiLeaks 2006
WikiLeaks changed perceptions of the western military in 2010 when it released a clip of an American helicopter being used in the killing of civilians in Baghdad. The crew member’s yell of “light them all up” revealed a culture in which civilian slaughter had the same meaning as vaporising avatars in a computer game.
Assange, a rangy blond Australian with an ascetic aura and elfin features, seemed like an apostle of transparency. However, almost a decade later, Assange is still friends with the Holocaust denier Israel Shamir. When he was bundled out of the Ecuadorian Embassy on 11 April he looked like an unkempt supermarket Santa Claus who had just been fired for drinking. Wikileaks now publishes Russian fakes and seemingly supports Putin. What went wrong?
From Targeting Oppressive Regimes to Serving Them
The decline of WikiLeaks can be traced with a cache of leaked documents published by the Distributed Denial of Secrets Initiative. According to its internal discussions in 2006/07, the organisation’s board included “representatives from expat Russian and Tibetan communities” .
The Panama Papers are presented as a Soros-funded attack on Putin because they expose his money laundering. Clinton leaks good. Putin leaks bad.
The organisation believed the west’s “relative wealth and tolerance” would help it flourish and considered approaching the Soros Foundation for funding. Assange and his colleagues developed the concept of ethical leaking as a democratising force. Wikileaks would allow anyone “to be an author or editor” and this would lead “to a vast … accurate collective intelligence and knowledge.”
However, a leak of the organisations’ internal messages in 2015 reveals how the organisation, eight years later, had lost its ideals. WikiLeaks was engaging in propaganda and trolling.
Activists were encouraged to target the Swedish Embassy and MF on twitter with an image suggesting that the rape case against Assange was a “fraud”. The Panama Papers are presented as a Soros-funded attack on Putin because they expose his money laundering. Clinton leaks good. Putin leaks bad.
Some of the team admittedly acknowledge Russian imperialism, but Wikileaks itself is consistent: NATO is to blame for everything. Ukraine is run by Nazis who, of course, have just held elections won by a Jewish candidate.
What Changed in a Decade?
Israel Shamir, exposed in 2010 in a Swedish publication as Holocaust denier, is described by Assange as a “friend” is one of Putin’s most ardent supporters on the extreme right. He was in close personal contact with Assange since 2010. He also seems to have been in charge of disseminating WikiLeaks material in Russia.
There is a further clue in another leaked document, an exchange of messages between Mark Warner, Vice Chair of the House Intelligence Committee and Adam Waldman, a US lobbyist for the Russian billionaire and close Putin associate Oleg Deripaska.
In another leaked document, an exchange of messages with a fake Sean Hannity account, Assange refers to information he has about Warner.
The “WikiLeaks leaks” remind us that Hannity, Waldman and Warner could all tell us more about Assange, Deripaska and Manafort and the core of the investigation into Russian activity in the US elections. Will they ever be asked the right questions?