The Fall of Wikileaks
How on earth did one of the most beloved and trusted advocacy groups in the world turn into a tabloid?
The problem isn’t about the usual bit-for-bit gamesmenship that takes place daily between the two ruling parties in the United States, this is far more sordid and despicable. It isn’t the Russian connection (however glaringly obvious it may be) that concerns me the most, it’s when good organizations shift from serving the public good to carrying out the grocery lists of its self-interested leaders.
If you were to follow Wikileaks on Twitter, a majority of the posts you’ll read will revolve around the Clintons and Sweden. I suppose it is coincidental that these are both parties Mr.Assange has butted heads with over the last few years – Sweden wanted him extradited on a rape charge that he claims was politically motivated, and Mrs. Clinton purportedly joked about (or seriously considered, depending on who you ask) attacking Julian with a drone strike. He has a list, and he holds a nasty grudge.
His most recent release – before the Podesta emails – was a handful of documents from a doctor claiming he is being held inhumanely in the Ecuadorian embassy. His medical records outlined a particularly vexing dental issue, in addition to a persistent problem with his shoulder. The treatments for both maladies (dental surgery and an MRI) cannot be performed within the confines of the Embassy, and Mr.Assange now finds himself being painfully stuck with no resolution in sight.
Wikileaks must be nonpartisan or it shouldn’t exist at all. If an organization this powerful – able to collate sensitive data from anonymous sources at a global level – can have its direction swayed by the whims of a single man with a toothache, we should classify it as a pariah, and a dangerous one at that.
At what point does rabid self-preservation begin to corrupt all of this well-intentioned transparency and anti-secrecy activism? When does the needs of a single individual start to soil the reputation of an organization ostensibly bound to conserve the needs of the planet? The smear campaign against Mrs.Clinton (of whom, it should be perfectly made clear, I am not a fan) was doomed to fail from the start, and the depths of Julian’s bitter hatred for her has surprised even me. On October 25th, Wikileaks snidely tweeted this:
After a few moments, they promptly deleted the tweet. Nobody seemed to notice. The excerpt refers to an email in the Podesta archive involving one of Mrs. Clinton’s inner circle, Huma Abedin, discussing a routine speech. In the email, she claims that the speech is ‘not right in her (Clinton’s) head’, which Wikileaks interpreted to mean the Clintonistas were concealing a serious mental illness.
I can’t decide which I find more appalling – the image of Assange chomping at the bit as he scans through every single line of text in this massive trove of data, foaming at the mouth for anything that could possibly damage her, or the fact than an organization that lectures the world on transparency and accountability deleted a horrendous tweet that bordered on libel without acknowledgement or an apology.
There are a few bad lies from Wikileaks that I feel ought to be fully addressed. The organization is very insistent to remind the world that it does no actual network intrusions. They only collate and collect data gleaned from anonymous leakers world-wide. Mr.Assange is a talented programmer, and his hacking resume spans all the way back to the distant days of phone phreaking. If there is a distinction between Julian running an application or executing a line of code to crack into a system or one of his supporters or friends performing the same action – it is a thin and ceremonial line, if it exists at all. Wikileaks has also vehemently denied any involvement with the Russian government, and has made clear it does not cooperate with Putin’s mafia state. Stockholm-Syndromed supports were eager to remind the world that Wikileaks had once published damaging materials about Russia, so obviously there’s no collusion, and we should all move on, right?
Wrong. As it happens, Mr. Podesta’s Gmail account was targeted by a Russian spearphising campaign in July. The dots, in this matter, are fully connected, and they lead back to Putin. Russia cracked the account and, as a result, the data ended up with Wikileaks:
Evidence collected by the security firm CrowdStrike and forensic work by Fidelis point to the breach being caused by two “threat groups” associated with Russian intelligence organizations. A pair of reports published in June by SecureWorks suggests that the same threat groups conducted phishing campaigns against the e-mail addresses of the DNC. The same attackers targeted the addresses of Clinton campaign staffers, political consultants, journalists, and current and former members of the military, among others.
At a minimum, this suggests that the DNC breach was part of a larger intelligence collection operation. The leaked data from the DNC breach, however, may have been intended to create chaos and uncertainty around the election. But why would the Russian government open that can of worms? It’s possible that this fits into a larger Russian strategy aimed at splintering NATO and countering what Russia has seen over the past decade as encroachment by the West on Russia’s national interests.
This sort of activity fits well into a larger picture of Russian state-sponsored and state-aligned information operations, including destructive cyber-attacks and intelligence collection. And the forensic evidence from the DNC breach fits right in with other recent operations by Russian hackers against US targets. [Ars Technica]
Maybe Assange never collaborated with Moscow. Maybe Assange did. Maybe the ‘how’ and ‘why’ don’t matter, because the result is completely the same in either scenario. If you have an alternate theory in regards to how Podesta’s email account ended up in the hands of Assange without Russian involvement, terrific, but I’ll follow the footprints that lead back to Fancy Bear until proven otherwise. Putin’s thugs weren’t subtle when they murdered Alexander Litvinenko, and they aren’t subtle when they crack into someone’s email account. Who would have guessed?
The problem with a self-preserving organization is that it will make dangerous bedfellows during its downfall. Sharks always smell blood, and Julian’s toothache is telegraphing to the rest of the world that there is a bargain to be had here, and you had better act fast before it’s gone. These slanderous PR campaigns are counterproductive, and will only serve to ensure Clinton has an even bigger ax of her own to grind when she strolls into the White House.
It sets his organization back. It sets his ideology back. It harms his credibility, and it embitters his most dedicated supporters. It should stop, now, and it should have never begun in the first place. What, exactly, does the Podesta leak teach us? Mrs.Clinton speaks differently to investment bankers than she does to average Americans on the campaign trail? How alarming. The Clinton Foundation was being used to generate personal wealth for the Clintons? Hasn’t this been happening since the 1990’s? Where’s the story?
There isn’t one, and as Wikileaks tosses her email data against the wall, hoping something will stick, Trump’s email is remarkably well secured, unencumbered by the relentless technical assault being levied against the Democratic party at a frantic pace and at a high level of sophistication. I suppose this is another coincidence, too.
This isn’t to say Mr.Assange and the organization under his purview are attacking Mrs.Clinton in a criminal manner. They are free to attack whomever they please, and there’s no obligation for them to like the Clinton’s, or to give them any special treatment. I certainly haven’t in my own work, and I wouldn’t expect them to play by rules I don’t follow myself. What I’m lamenting is the death of Wikileak’s idealism at the hands of Assaunge’s immediate and personal needs. What troubles me is not that the organization has pivoted swiftly to the right, but that in their blinding rage towards the Clinton’s, they have lost sight of what made them wholesome in the first place.
As Russian money lines the pockets of right wing movements across the globe (to the point where the French neoconservative party, National Front, literally lobbied for the ability to accept Rubles in its war chest), we simply cannot ignore Russia’s remarkably efficient war of attrition against rational, non-corrupted, western democracies. The threat is very real, and shouldn’t be casually dismissed as delusional liberals ‘re-igniting the Cold War’.
Brexit, Ukraine, UKIP, and the National Front funding would be damning evidence in and of itself of Putin’s sloppy fingerprints – but as Russian exile Gary Kasparov says – the link between Trump and the Kremlin is impossible to ignore. I am not prepared to listen to a man who only months ago fired Kremlin consultant Paul Manafort as his campaign manager. It would be like listening to a dripping wet man giving a lecture on how to stay dry.
The allegations of Russian influence upon Wikileaks is a different animal, but I’ll simply remind my readers that Assange, Putin, and Trump all have the same common enemy, and it may not matter much at all if they’ve shared a sleepover together. Their ambitions are tied inextricably to one another. Why pretend otherwise?
Vladimir Putin’s motivation for stoking civil unrest in the Western world is simple enough to grasp. When the United States is busy putting out fires at home, it has less bandwidth to put out fires abroad. After Putin’s repugnant invasion of Ukraine, President Obama levied heavy economic sanctions against the regime that devastated the value of the Ruble. Mr. Putin would have plenty of incentive to avoid another four years of Obama’s foreign policy, and if his puppet could take a few swipes at NATO while he’s at it, he’s killed two birds with one stone.
We should be careful to avoid our own version of partisanship when it comes to Wikileaks. Most of us on the left appreciated Wikileaks when it first rose to prominence during the Bush administration. It would be foolish for us to bristle when the sword cuts both ways. There is not a candidate or political party that I would want subjected to less scrutiny, and any vehicle that eradicates deceit and corruption in our world is a valuable one. My criticism cannot be dismissed as partisan whining – I support neither candidate in this election, and have written lengthy pieces detailing the faults of both sides.
While it is true that Wikileaks has undoubtedly gained partisan detractors on the basis of their criticism of one political party, the inverse is also undeniably true. Their organization has gained the empty support of right-wing imbeciles like David Duke and Sean Hannity, so it seems exceedingly odd that Wikileaks would complain about their shallow support from the left being replaced by their new shallow support from the right.
These sins would be infinitely more excusable and far less troubling if all Wikileaks did was simply attack Clinton. They are not content with merely opposing her, they actively support the GOP. Did you know they lovingly retweet puff pieces about Roger Stone? Did you know they’ve used their Twitter account to promote Fox News stories about their organization? Did you know they’ve retweeted neocon cesspool Brietbart? If you believe I’m focusing too heavily on the crimes of retweeting alone, I can solidly rest my case on their self-admitted and ‘official’ opinion on the VP Debate. After offering, without being asked, by the way, their brilliant opinion on Mr. Pence, they would later issue a press release on October 23rd that claimed their organization doesn’t make political endorsements. What sort of fools do they take us for?
Attacking Mrs. Clinton doesn’t make Wikileaks and Assange repulsive – their secretive support of Mr. Trump does. If Assange or Wikileaks had the courage of their convictions, they would openly admit their support for Mr.Trump, and stop pretending that they don’t make political endorsements. Instead, Wikileaks has chosen to dutifully carry out the orders of a bitter man with a toothache. While they flirt with the lunatic fringe of the right wing, the rest of the rational world is left trying to figure out what went wrong.