If a report from the United States intelligence community is to be believed and WikiLeaks knows the Kremlin used their organization to undermine a United States election, then the U.S. government and press bear some responsibility for the organization’s lack of concern about it.
The U.S. government launched a grand jury investigation into the media organization and held the grand jury’s first session in 2011. According to a “Manhunting Timeline,” it encouraged Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and other countries to file criminal charges against the organization’s editor-in-chief, Julian Assange.
WikiLeaks’ most prominent and arguably important source in the organization’s history, Chelsea Manning, was abused by the Marines in pretrial confinement and zealously prosecuted by the U.S. military as if she were a spy, who aided al Qaida terrorists. She was sentenced to 35 years in prison for Espionage Act-related offenses. Her disclosures were motivated by whistleblowing and yet, as her legal team argues, she received “far and away the most severe sentence ever adjudged.”
For the most part, U.S. establishment media outlets went along with the U.S. government’s commitment to criminalizing and isolating WikiLeaks. Even with the revelation of Google search warrants against WikiLeaks staff, editorial boards and journalists remained largely silent about an investigation that could have profound implications for freedom of the press, particularly now that someone like Trump will be president for the next four years.
But in the latest round of articles published by U.S. media outlets about Assange and WikiLeaks—mostly recycling well-known smears and popular critiques—there is zero contemplation of what the effect of targeting by the U.S. government may have been on the media organization over the past six to seven years.
There is no evidence that WikiLeaks is some kind of Kremlin-annexed information operation. And yet, that has not stopped people like Vox’s Zach Beauchamp from writing, “Julian Assange has proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, to be very much less than clear-eyed when Russia is involved,” and, “Whether or not the WikiLeaks-Russia relationship is more than a marriage of convenience, it’s clear the group is happy to dump any information on [Hillary] Clinton the Russians (or anyone else) give it.”
Beauchamp considers the possibility that Russia and WikiLeaks merely have a “confluence of interests.” The possibility of such a confluence only exists because the U.S. government targeted WikiLeaks staff members and volunteers, subject individuals with ties to surveillance, and alleged WikiLeaks committed crimes so companies like PayPal, MasterCard, and others would not allow the organization to use its services to raise funds.
The United States is an empire, whether people like Beauchamp and various U.S. media outlets wish to deny that or not. It is the greatest superpower in the world. Naturally, an organization like WikiLeaks is eager to publish any documents that can expose the inner workings of the country’s political and institutional machinery.
It is unclear how WikiLeaks knows the identity of the source behind Democratic Party and Clinton campaign emails. The media organization routinely maintains it anonymizes submissions to protect sources, however, when media outlets churn up rumors about the identity of a source, it puts WikiLeaks in a position, where they must consider whether to reveal some details about whether a source is a private citizen or a government employee, etc.
Let us presume Assange is lying about the source or really does not know the source’s identity. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, in fact, ordered Russian intelligence agents to hack into the Democratic Party and Clinton campaign, using a combination of sophisticated and not-so-sophisticated methods. Putin determined WikiLeaks would be a great tool for creating chaos in the U.S. presidential election.
There still is the issue of the nature of the information within the emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, which illuminated the ways in which the campaign worked to undermine the Bernie Sanders campaign. Was it not in the public interest to release documents that showed the collusion between the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign, even before the presidential primary was over?
Conservative commentators like Bill O’Reilly bashed disclosures of documents revealing evidence of U.S. torture when George W. Bush was president. They said the documents endangered Americans. Yet, the transparency was not the risk. The risk was created by U.S. military officers, who tortured, and that is what had the potential to incite terrorism.
Likewise, Putin did not elect Trump, even if he celebrated Trump’s election with bottles of the finest Russian vodka. To the extent that the disclosed documents were a factor, the contents made the difference. And the revelations they contained were largely suspected by Bernie Sanders supporters before WikiLeaks published documents.
That is a reality pundits and politicians ignore. How much do they think this alleged Russian hacking operation influenced the outcome? And what role did bad campaign strategy, which included ignoring Michigan and not campaigning in Wisconsin, have in Clinton’s loss?
Over the next week, the public will be inundated with allegations about WikiLeaks’ coziness with the Russian government. The allegations will range from plausible to completely unfounded and outright false. And for the most part, the same media outlets, which rail against the plague of “fake news,” will permit the publication of uncorroborated claims from anonymous officials and operatives, as they always do.
The fact remains, if WikiLeaks and Assange are more friendly toward Russia and Russian-sponsored media, that is largely a result of the actions of the U.S. government and media. Government officials and journalists had plenty of opportunity to abandon and oppose a campaign of criminalizing and isolating the media organization. Instead, they gave WikiLeaks and Assange plenty of incentive to be adversarial toward the United States and prize any documents, which called attention to the inner workings of U.S. empire.