When WikiLeaks became a household name around 10 years ago, the work of the organisation was divisive to say the least.
Many conservative pundits and citizens decried both Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange as irresponsible at best and information terrorists at worst. But the Assange and his site also garnered plaudits; many people around the world saw the organisation’s exposing of government secrets as being in the public interest, a step in the right direction for freedom of speech and essentially ‘sticking it to the man.’
From the Spy Cables to the NSA documents, the world was given access to information that authorities had always kept off limits. Most of the 10 million documents WikiLeaks has released in the ten years since its arrival were originally only viewable by those who had the proper credentials and security clearance.
Assange has from the start touted a rather vocal line in the need for transparency, at any cost. Naturally his stance has made him more than a few critics and enemies down the line.
The heat on the Australian-born activist really started to turn up in 2010, when the US government began investigating WikiLeaks and Assange under the Espionage Act of 1917. This kicked off after WikiLeaks revealed footage of activities by the US Army in Iraq, which included but were not limited to, the bombing of civilians, the bombing of civilians and reporters by US forces and US authorities turning a blind eye to reports of torture by the Iraqi authorities after 2003.
The cables, which the US Defence Department called the largest leak of classified documents in history, were supplied to the organisation by Chelsea Manning.
Hilary and Julian
Presidential hopeful Hilary Clinton, who was US Secretary Of State at the time, condemned the leak, which also revealed the names of American informants, intelligence operations, and sensitive critiques of foreign nations.
It’s more than likely Clinton’s stance could have coloured Assange’s view of her.
In 2012, citing fear of being prosecuted in the US, Assange applied for political asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He was granted his request and resides there to this day.
Since then, a veritable army of pundits, politicians and public figures in the US has passed comment on Assange. There have been calls for him to be extradited, tried for terrorism and even for him to be assassinated.
That last proposed ‘solution’ to the Assange problem is back in the news today. Ahead of a largely self-congratulatory press conference to mark WikiLeaks’s tenth anniversary, WikiLeaks tweeted a link to a story on True Pundit in which it was alleged Hilary Clinton proposed taking out Assange with a drone strike when she was Secretary of State.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) October 3, 2016
This allegation was repeated at WikiLeaks’s press conference today, during which Julian Assange stated the organisation’s intention to publish around 1 million documents about the current US election ahead of the November polling day. He also stated that the releases were not aimed at damaging Hilary Clinton.
WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign
Did Hilary Clinton propose a drone strike on Assange? There’s been no official confirmation as yet – and ahead of the US election, I don’t really expect one – but it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest. Given what some politicians on both sides of the political spectrum in the USA have had to say about Assange, “can’t we just drone the guy?” seems pretty par for course.
Here’s another question: are the forthcoming WikiLeaks releases really not aimed at damaging Clinton’s campaign? We’ll have to see, but in light of the organisation’s recent shenanigans, it’s hard to take that at face value.
The last release of documents from WikiLeaks were the emails from the Democratic National Convention (DNC) – 19 252 emails and 8 034 attachments – which detailed the DNC’s interactions with the media, Hillary Clinton’s and Bernie Sanders’ campaigns, and financial contributions. It also showed allegedly there was a bias in the party that favoured Clinton over Sanders, including detailed plans on how to railroad the latter. These emails also released the night before the DNC, presumably to cause the maximum embarrassment.
Now, working in technology media has allowed me to pour over some of the documents WikiLeaks has released over the years and it really is rather exhilarating reading up on what politicians and law makers think of each other. Furthermore, I’m all for transparency and information leaks that are in the public interest, but I have a huge problem with actions that will have dire consequences – not only for the US, but here in South Africa as well. Especially when those actions are undertaken by an organisation that prides itself on telling all sides of the story.
Axe to grind?
I’m not saying that releasing the DNC data dump was wrong (incidentally, this led to a number of resignations on the DNC side), but it’s hard to deny it gave the Donald Trump campaign more fuel leading up to the US Presidential elections in November. And while Clinton and the DNC emails might have been fair game, I have to ask if WikiLeaks and Assange have any plans to dish any dirt on Donald Trump?
So far there’s not been much. Assange has even gone on record saying Trump is “a wise man” for not using email. While Assange told Fox News in September that WikiLeaks had any dirt on Trump, it would release it, his comments were rather sanguine.
“We have information that touches on the Republican Party’s campaign. In assessing that information, we will publish it, of course. But, Donald Trump, you know … doesn’t have a history of being in government,” he said.
Fair point, but that’s a pretty far cry from how he apparently feels about Clinton, calling her a “demon that will put nooses around everyone’s neck.”
Even if Trump hasn’t been in government, is there is nothing WikiLeaks has on him that’s in the public interest? Or is it just that no one’s willing to leak anything?
I have to ask whether Assange seems to have an axe to grind with Hilary Clinton. Given what an easy target the man is in public, how drum-tight is his private information. He has an official Twitter account that seems to be one long stream of hate spew and self promotion – you’re telling me he’s careful with his personal data?
Implications for South Africa
Locally we have been pretty much shielded from all of the things that Clinton has been accused of with many in the US saying they will vote for her because she is the “lesser of two evils”. But it will be better for everybody if she becomes the next US president – not only for trade and the economy but also for foreign relations. Clinton’s policies amount to more than rounding up foreigners, building a wall and insulting foreign dignitaries. She even knows how to pronounce ‘China’.
Where I once had a lot of respect for Assange it seems that his actions are more becoming about damaging Clinton’s reputation and securing his own survival than actually the shady dealing of political figures and speaking up for those that can’t. Oh, and incidentally, if Trump becomes president does he think ‘The Don’ will go easier on him than anyone in the US government up until now?
Let’s be clear on one thing
Let’s be clear on one thing (if it doesn’t come across as such): I’m 100% behind exposing corrupt politicians and any wrong-doing by any government. I just don’t agree with the way in which Assange is going about it, how he is selectively picking his targets and in the manner in which it is being presented.
Boston Globe reporter Indira A.R. Lakshmanan summed it up rather concisely by writing: “Assange’s campaign against Clinton is about protecting his future, not ours. Ask yourself who benefits from this crusade.”