This post originally appeared on Medium.
Julian Assange of Wikileaks fame has been in the news recently because of successive information dumps of Hilary Clinton’s emails, hacked from the accounts of the Democratic National Committee head office, and her chief of staff, John Podesta.
Earlier this week, #freeJulian was trending on Twitter. He is currently residing in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in order to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is facing rape charges. He argues that if he is sent to Sweden, he could be extradited to the US next, where he wouldn’t face a fair trial. This is despite the fact that Sweden doesn’t allow extradition for political crimes.
Given how important Assange and Wikileaks have been in the upcoming election, it’s time to examine whether Assange is really as benign a source as he presents himself.
We tend to give whistleblowers the benefit of the doubt. After all, these are people who risk their reputations, their jobs and jail in order to ensure that citizens see important information, often held by organisations which are shrouded in secrecy.
Here in Ireland, we’ve seen a number of whistleblowers go up against the might of the police in order to inform us of irregularities in the investigation of certain cases, giving preferential treatment to individuals by not reporting driving infractions, and intimidation of people who have reported on police wrongdoing. These people are to be admired.
Edward Snowden recently asked that he be pardoned by the American Government, pointing out that the information he leaked about the systematic data collection by the NSA started an important debate in the country about how to balance the right to privacy against security.
But Julian Assange is a different case altogether.
Assange dumps documents without vetting or redaction
When Snowden got his hands on documents relating to the global surveillance programs of the NSA, he did not dump the information online — he handed it over to The Guardian who vetted the documents and redacted sensitive information.
Similarly, the person behind the Panama Papers leak handed over millions of documents to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
Assange has no such qualms, instead choosing to throw up the documents it receives without any kind of vetting. A report by AP about the Saudi cables found that sensitive medical records, the names of teenage rape victims, and the homosexual status of individuals who live in a country where that could result in life imprisonment or a death sentence, were among the documents leaked by the organisation.
AP said “The number of people affected easily reaches into the hundreds. Paul Dietrich, a transparency activist, said a partial scan of the Saudi cables alone turned up more than 500 passport, identity, academic or employment files.”
Wikileaks also drew criticism for the Erdogan emails, which mostly included emails from people containing their personal contact information, as well as the home addresses, phone numbers, party affiliations, and political activity of every female Turkish voter in 79 out of 81 provinces. As Wired pointed out: “That’s irresponsible any time, and disastrous in the week of a coup.”
Even the DNC emails include the social security numbers of donors, as well as their passport and credit card details.
Glenn Greenwald, the co-founding editor of the Intercept, points out that when Wikileaks first began “they were actually very careful in redacting.” Now, they “no longer believe, as Julian says, in redacting any information of any kind for any reason.”
Law professor Lawrence Lessig, who is spoken about in derogatory terms in the Podesta emails, says he is a big believer in leaks for the public good, but he “can’t see the public good in a leak like this — at least one that reveals no crime or violation of any important public policy. We all deserve privacy.”
Wikileaks has helped to disseminate emails hacked by authoritarian regimes
US Homeland has come out and officially come out and accused Russia of hacking both the DNC emails and the Podesta emails.
In their statement, they say:
“The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations. The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process.”
Similarly, the Saudi cables referred to above were most likely stolen by Iran.
Wikileaks don’t seem to have any problem putting up documents that were stolen by regimes looking to damage other countries. They clearly don’t care who the source is.
Even Ecuador, who are continuing to protect Assange, felt that he was interfering in the US presidential election and cut off his internet access.
Wikileaks is not a non-partisan operation
It is apparently not a coincidence that the first Hillary Clinton emails were released just before the Democratic National Convention. According to the New York Times:
“In the interview, Mr. Assange told a British television host, Robert Peston of the ITV network, that his organization had obtained “emails related to Hillary Clinton which are pending publication,” which he pronounced “great.” He also suggested that he not only opposed her candidacy on policy grounds, but also saw her as a personal foe.”
This suggests that Assange has a personal agenda in the release of documents.
This is not surprising given that Assange once said in a 2007 email which, ironically, was leaked, that his goal was “total annihilation of the current US regime and any other regime that holds its authority through mendacity alone.”
Apart from the issues talked about, there are other problems that have been discussed like the recent anti-Semitic tweets which were put out by the Wikileaks Twitter account, or the fact that as well as being accused of rape in Sweden, allegations came out a couple of days ago that he sexually groomed an eight year old online.
Above all, the main problem with Mr Assange in his role as a promoter of transparency is that he does not believe that any responsibilities go along with the job. It does not matter to him if breaches the privacy of ordinary citizens, puts peoples’ lives in danger or furthers the objectives of repressive authoritarian regimes. He only believes in revealing the truth, whatever the cost.