Have Wikileaks and the media parted ways?

The whistleblower website has been accused of partnering with Russian intelligence

by Noé Sainderichin

Wikileaks, the site that has become infamous for publishing confidential information about government wrongdoing, once did so through accredited publications. When Wikileaks began releasing secret U.S. documents and files in 2010, it relied on The Guardian, the New York Times, and Der Spiegel. The credibility of these outlets gave legitimacy to the website and its founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange.

The American government criticized the leaks for endangering the country’s national security, but the news media saw them as a powerful weapon of information. As it gained international fame, the whistleblower website started to publish independently.

Throughout the recent US election, however, Wikileaks released troves of emails obtained from the chair of Clinton Campaign, John Podesta, and Democratic National Committee officials. The weekly leaks dogged Clinton’s campaign and fueled conspiracy theories about the Democratic candidate.

The initial timing of the leaks, mere days before the Democratic Convention, was seen by many of the news outlets that praised his original work, including the Guardian, as Assange’s editorial decision to discredit Clinton’s campaign. The possibility has been raised, with increasing evidence, that the website has become a tool for the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. democratic process.

Concordia Professor Brian Gabrial, who voted for Hillary Clinton,
Concordia Professor Brian Gabrial, who voted for Hillary Clinton, sees a clear editorial decision behind the leaks. Courtesy of Brian Gabrial

For Brian Gabrial, a journalism professor at Concordia University from Minnesota, the motivation seems evident. “I know Assange hates Clinton,” he said. Whether Russia is behind the email hacking is beside the point in that sense, but Gabrial laments the disproportionate release, since Wikileaks had nothing to show on Donald Trump.

During the second presidential debate, Clinton fired back at Wikileaks, affirming that 17 intelligence agencies had established leaks originating from Russian hackers.

In a joint statement by the Director of National Intelligence prior to the second debate, the U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) stated it believed the “recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails [were] consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts.”’

Eight days after the election results, NSA director Michael Rogers reiterated the claim that Wikileaks had been used as a geopolitical tool of manipulation by a “nation-state”, although he did not name one in particular.

In an interview with John Pilger on November 5, later sold to several broadcasting companies like Russia Today, Assange rejected the accusations. Speaking from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has sought political asylum for more than five years under threat of immediate extradition to the U.S., Assange claimed that “the Russian government is not the source.”

While Assange does not provide any further explanation, his claim has been echoed by a former veteran State Department official, Steve Pieczenik. In a series of videos he published in early November on YouTube, Pieczenik claimed that Wikileaks had in fact been working with some rogue FBI agents, who were unhappy with the handling of the first investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server back in June 2016.

“People in the intelligence community informally initiated a counter-coup through supplying information to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks in order to prevent Hillary Clinton from becoming the next president of the United States,” he admitted, although the claim was not taken seriously by most media outlets.