Earlier this January, WikiLeaks tweeted something few people were expecting.
“The Obama admin/CIA is illegally funneling TOP SECRET//COMINT information to NBC for political reasons before PEOTUS even gets to read it.”
A little over five hours later, they clarified what they had meant by their first tweet.
“#PseudoLeak (n): Where the White House authorizes officials to funnel anonymous claims to pet ‘journalists’ for political advantage.”
Not one hour later, President-elect Donald Trump quickly took advantage of that tweet to further undermine President Obama’s administration.
“I am asking the chairs of the House and Senate committees to investigate top secret intelligence shared with NBC prior to me seeing it.”
The Story Unfolds
It is easy to look at Wikileaks’ tweets and ridicule them for what looks like blatant hypocrisy on their part. An organization like WikiLeaks, which has leaked millions of megabytes of classified data, should in theory welcome the leak of any classified information to the press. However, it is not uncommon for state organizations, like the White House, to leak to the press for their own benefit, whether it be for misdirection or plain disinformation.
Wikileaks’ tweets could be seen as a valid attempt to undercut the policies of Obama’s administration, which have allowed for the maintenance of the single largest mass surveillance program in American history, as well as the expansion of America’s drone fleet and drone strikes. Both of these things have been implicitly condemned by WikiLeaks through leaked information.
That being said, why did WikiLeaks’ tweets mention the PEOTUS, or Trump, at all? Would WikiLeaks consciously support a president-elect that has called for the restoration of older surveillance measures under the Patriot Act and additional surveillance of Muslim communities?
Ostensibly, it is satisfying to think that WikiLeaks does what it does (i.e. hacking and leaking classified information) in order to make accessible to the public vital information with regards to the US government’s wrongdoings. Many agree that the government is being held accountable for its invasive policies. However, are these actions by WikiLeaks justified if the information being leaked is being provided by a foreign power attempting to interfere in America’s democratic process?
When you learn that there is growing evidence that the Russian government is the one supplying Wikileaks with hacked emails and data relating to the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, it becomes a different matter.
Wikileaks’ growing comfort with accepting information from Russia suggests that the organization doesn’t stand alone. Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, has, of course, denied accepting hacked emails from the Russian government and the Russian government has, for its part, denied both providing and/or directly obtaining said hacked emails. “Let them prove it,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in an interview with CNN.
However, Lavrov’s taunting challenge to the Americans does not disprove the potential embeddedness of the Russian government in WikiLeaks’ actions. If this embeddedness is, in fact, true, then WikiLeaks must reconsider the justifications it uses to ‘hold the US government to account’ and come to terms with the fact that it is co-operating with the Russian government, or more succinctly, Vladimir Putin.
Moreover, this debate has continued with the backdrop of the infamous, yet unverified, report released by Buzzfeed, outlining potential connections between Trump and Russian officials. If the reports are true, then WikiLeaks must be aware of the fact that it has become an expedited information delivery system for the Russian government by leaking classified information without incriminating itself. With the Russian government’s active attempt at having Trump elected, the following question arises: what exactly was WikiLeaks’ role in Trump becoming the ‘leader of the free world’?
In this new light, WikiLeaks’ tweets, which appear to show Assange’s organization having shifted favourable opinion towards Trump throughout the election, highlight a bizarre new trifecta in the world of geopolitics: Putin, Assange, and Trump. In other words, we have a sitting Russian president, the head of an international organization dedicated to undermining national governments through the exposure of vital classified information, and a sitting U.S. president working together.
All evidence should point to each party vehemently avoiding each other’s interests, and yet, their actions and agendas seem to be aligning.
Information, like leaked classified data, may be undermining the intrusive actions of Obama’s administration, but it bolsters Putin and Trump’s agendas at the same time.
This is not to say that American citizens shouldn’t criticize Obama or his policies, or that WikiLeaks’ attempts to expose the U.S. government’s human rights abuses are unjustified. There are even some who would praise Russia’s attempts to undermine the White House as a means of combating American imperialism. It is simply a reminder that information provided by WikiLeaks is now forever tied to its involvement with Russia, a government guilty of equal, if not worse, offenses. It is therefore a request that we do not exonerate WikiLeaks of its hypocrisy. WikiLeaks cannot walk on both sides of the street, condemning American human rights abuses while condoning Russia’s.
As Emily Tamkin and Robbie Gramer said so well in Foreign Policy Magazine on Assange’s worldview: “If a leak benefits the current White House, it’s a pseudo-leak. If it benefits the Kremlin, however, it is just a good, old-fashioned, noble leak.”
And now that Trump has gained the label of the modern Manchurian candidate, a puppet of Russia, who is to say WikiLeaks will continue to provide classified information on Trump’s White House? Who is to say that WikiLeaks will be unbiased in their so-called crusade? As soon as WikiLeaks began to align its agenda with the Kremlin, it lost its biggest appeal: the apparent objectivity of leaking classified information for the benefit of society.