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Assange Criticizes U.S. Effort To Conflate WikiLeaks Publications With Russian Hacking

In a press conference, WikiLeaks responded to a United States intelligence report on alleged Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election. The media organization urged skepticism toward the assertion that publications of Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign emails were connected to alleged hacking operations.

Editor-in-chief Julian Assange called the report “embarrassing to the reputation” of U.S. intelligence services because it more resembled a “press release” than an actual intelligence report. “It is clearly designed for political effect,” which has happened in the past with the Gulf of Tonkin and the Vietnam War as well as intelligence reports claiming falsely that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

“Critical question here is whether the allegation is that Russian intelligence services themselves or people under their direction hacked the Democratic National Party and [Clinton campaign chairman] John Podesta with the intent of favoring Donald Trump,” Assange suggested.

“Even if you accept that the Russian intelligence services hacked Democratic Party institutions, as it is normal for the major intelligence services to hack each others’ major political parties on a constant basis to obtain intelligence,” you have to ask, “what was the intent of those Russian hacks? And do they connect to our publications? Or is it simply incidental?”

Assange accused U.S. intelligence agencies of deliberately obscuring the timeline. He said they do not know when the DNC was hacked.

“The U.S. intelligence community is not aware of when WikiLeaks obtained its material or when the sequencing of our material was done or how we obtained our material directly. So there seems to be a great fog in the connection to WikiLeaks,” Assange declared.

It is true the report [PDF] does not provide a specific date when hackers affiliated or working closely with Russian intelligence allegedly passed documents to WikiLeaks. Instead, the public is given a wide time frame that ranges from early 2015 to May 2016.

“As we have already stated, WikiLeaks sources in relation to the Podesta emails and the DNC leak are not members of any government. They are not state parties. They do not come from the Russian government,” Assange reiterated.

“The Podesta emails that we released during the election dated up to March [2016],” Assange said. “U.S. intelligence services and consultants for the DNC say Russian intelligence services started hacking DNC in 2015. Now, Trump is clearly not on the horizon in any substantial manner in 2015.”

Without any evidence of how intelligence agencies uncovered motive, the report asserts Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wanted to “denigrate” Clinton and harm her potential presidency. Then, when Trump’s “electoral prospects” improved, Putin allegedly shifted strategy to helping Trump win.

Assange maintained WikiLeaks was the target of a “clear political attempt” to conflate publications with “attacks on the U.S. voting system.” This is why 52 percent of Democrats were found in a YouGov and The Economist poll to believe Russia hacked the voting system and changed tallies, even though that is far from the truth.

There are documents DCLeaks.com and other media outlets published. Those are separate from the material published by WikiLeaks—the DNC leak material and “The Podesta Emails.”

Assange was very pleased to note the CIA, FBI, and NSA determined they could not find any forgeries in WikiLeaks publications of the material at issue in the report. “Our record for accuracy over the last 10 years—perfect accuracy in our publications—is preserved.”

Asked by a CNN reporter to indicate whether WikiLeaks was certain a “go-between didn’t get the material from the Russian government or a private cyber hacking group acting on orders,” Assange said his organization would not play “20 Questions” and gradually narrow down the ambit of who the source was because that would make it easier for U.S. intelligence agencies to investigate and target their sources.

But Assange continued, “If our sources were a state, we would have a lot less concern in trying to protect them.”

As for whether WikiLeaks hoped for a particular outcome, such as the election of Trump, Assange answered, “We didn’t really hope for any particular manner.”

“We can see on the one hand Hillary Clinton represented a consolidation of power in the existing ruling class of the United States, a consolidation of the international neoliberal regime, an increase in reformism, creating a space which is harder for whistleblowers and publications like WikiLeaks to operate.”

“Trump and some of the people around him,” Assange added, are “very hostile to WikiLeaks.” They’ve made suggestions, for example, that “Edward Snowden should be executed.”

Assange referred to Trump as a “destabilizing” force in Washington, D.C., that could be both positive and negative in some respects. And, if Clinton had won and consolidated the existing regime, it would have obviously meant the continuation of the policy of prosecuting journalistic sources or whistleblowers, since President Barack Obama’s administration prosecuted more individuals under the Espionage Act than all previous presidents combined.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."