WikiLeaks: Agenda Compromised or Stronger Than Ever?

New Dump Revealing CIA Surveillance Capabilities Another Development Leaving Many Wondering if Entity is Being Manipulated

Wikileaks, CIA, Vault 7
Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy fromBrook Ward / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0) .

Love him or hate him, Julian Assange has a way of keeping himself at the top of the newsreel these days.

The latest trove of documents revealed via Assange’s infamous WikiLeaks platform is the first of a multi-part series known as “Vault 7.” Mysteriously teased in February, Vault 7 reveals a variety of details on the depth and breadth of the Central Intelligence Agency’s hacking capabilities.

According to the information put out by WikiLeaks, which seems to be authentic, the CIA is able to probe the personal communications devices of people all over the world. This includes iPhones, Android devices, computers, and even Samsung smart TVs. By rooting communication devices, the CIA is able to read the contents of communications before they are encrypted by popular services like Signal and WhatsApp.

The hack is not only revelatory in terms of the devices and programs compromised by the CIA, but the fact that the CIA has let its cyber weapons be traded so freely among government contractors and others in the web of hackers employed by the CIA. In addition, it appears that the CIA is capable of misattributing their cyberattacks to other state actors, thus throwing into question some of their intelligence assessments about recent cyberattacks.

It is important to note that Wikileaks has chosen not to release the actual code for the hacking tools, but instead to reach out to Apple, Microsoft and others so they can patch their code.

Despite the fascinating information revealed by the leaks, WikiLeaks still leaves a bad taste in the mouth of many Americans who blame Assange for throwing last year’s presidential election to Donald Trump. During the campaign last year, WikiLeaks revealed a variety of information on the internal workings of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) illegally obtained from their private servers. WikiLeaks also dumped the contents of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email account, which was obtained when some unknown actor employed a successful phishing attack against Podesta.

Due to these leaks, Assange has been accused of collusion with the Russian government, which clearly favored Donald Trump’s victory in the American election. While it is not clear that Assange has had any direct contact with the Russian government or Russian state actors, it appears true that the information from the DNC servers was obtained by Russian state actors and leaked to Assange’s organization.

This has called into question the motives and practices of WikiLeaks. Assange has thoroughly rankled a variety of Western governments, organizations, and political parties over the years. At the end of January, Assange dove into the French presidential election by highlighting leaked documents about center-right candidate Francois Fillon. For those convinced that Assange is a Russian stooge, the fact that the leaks seem to provide an overall benefit to far-right candidate Marine Le Pen lend further credence to the idea.

Fillon has faced his own issues from the mainstream French media, which has reported Fillon’s abuse of public funds.

Of course, no one knows exactly what is going on inside Assange’s head or who his contacts are. His inflammatory comments can be taken as supporting many different positions at any given time. When asked if he wanted Clinton or Trump to be president, Assange replied “You’re asking me, do I prefer cholera or gonorrhea?” He has proven a hero to liberals as well as conservatives, depending on the information he is leaking.

What is most telling about Assange is not necessarily the particular information he is leaking, but the manner in which it is leaked. As much as Assange portrays WikiLeaks as a neutral information conduit in a world of secrets, the fact is that the timing, content, and contextualization of that leaked information can have tremendous impacts on geopolitics that make WikiLeaks more than a neutral non-state actor.

In 2006, Assange wrote a brief article explaining his motivations in beginning the WikiLeaks project. He suggested that his ultimate mission is to make the cost of keeping secrets very high, such that any corrupt organization – particularly governments and political parties – is discouraged from holding on to too much damning information lest it eventually reach the public eye.

In a vastly corrupt world, with many government and financial leaders no longer in the control of democratic institutions, this could be a noble goal. However, the manner in which Assange has contextualized (or, more accurately, failed to contextualize) the information WikiLeaks has been leaking recently indicate cracks in the organization’s foundations.

The most obvious problem is that information is not neutral in the way that Assange portrays it to be. While exposing the secrets of corrupt institutions may serve the interests of those yearning for freer, more democratic world, information must always be contextualized if it is to contribute towards those ends. Furthermore, when exposing secrets with the intent of undermining corrupt practices, a leaker must be sure not to give ammunition to the organizations that they are attempting to expose. Assange’s record on this front has been mixed as of late.

The last year’s worth of leaks suggests that WikiLeaks is either unable or unwilling to properly vet the materials it publishes. While Assange has yet to publish any falsified documents, he has made some serious blunders in exposing information that is irrelevant or actively damaging to his cause.

For example, in the wake of an aborted coup in Turkey, WikiLeaks released a trove of documents on the Turkish government. The documents turned out to be relatively innocuous, except for the fact that the names and addresses of politically active women across the country were exposed, opening them to government repression. This is sloppy work at best, and it’s concerning that when people – including famed NSA leaker Edward Snowden – attempt to offer constructive criticism to Assange on this front, his first reaction is to pushback and dismiss any concerns.

It is possible that this sloppiness is a result of Assange being backed into a corner. Assange has been stuck inside Ecuador’s UK embassy for four years, which may not only be doing a number on his judgment skills, but further isolating him from his supporters. Indeed, Assange seems more isolated than ever as staffers exit their roles at the organization and Assange is generally left alone to comb through the trove of materials that land in his lap.

Perhaps also, Assange is feeling that his actions over the past decade are about to catch up with him. The result of Ecuador’s April 2 run-off election may seal his fate, as opposition candidate Guillermo Lasso has stated that he plans to rescind Assange’s asylum within 30 days of being elected. Even the ruling party has lit a fire under WikiLeaks in recent months, as Assange’s internet access was cut off in the run up to the American election out of fear that he was overtly influencing the outcome in a manner that contravenes Ecuador’s stated foreign policy.

Assange’s lawyer has also signaled that his condition is worsening, saying “His health is deteriorating. It’s obviously far from ideal, but given the difficult circumstances, he is doing incredibly well. But the situation has to end and it is in the hands of the U.S. administration to end that situation.”

To his credit, Assange seems to have walked back on some of his carelessness by redacting some irrelevant but personally compromising information found in the Vault 7 release. It is unlikely that Assange is the willing stooge of the Russian state, but it is entirely possible that, through his carelessness and the fear stoked by the American government and its allies, he has fallen into the role of useful idiot for the oppressive regimes that he claims to oppose, including Turkey and Russia.

Perhaps this latest CIA leak is a return to form, including redacting information not pertinent to the leak while fully exposing the corruption and incompetence of the world’s most powerful and insular institutions. The rest of the Vault 7 leaks – Assange has asserted what has been released is less than 1% of what is to come — will illuminate the continued relevance of WikiLeaks in a post-fact world.

Whatever Assange’s ultimate motives, it is the job of journalists to not simply verify and report the information posted by WikiLeaks, but to contextualize it in a world that increasingly lacks context.

Where else do you see journalism of this quality and value?

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15 responses to “WikiLeaks: Agenda Compromised or Stronger Than Ever?”

  1. artemis6 says:

    I do not for an instant believe Russia had anything to do with the totally BOTCHED election. It is a diversion for those who REALLY stole it from the people and do not want anything said about this fact. Wikileaks is the most reliable source I know for information……

  2. (Comment by reader @flapmooz1) It’s that WikiLeaks DOESN’T contextualise (or spin, more accurately) that makes it so valuable.

  3. Arbed121 says:

    Could you please correct one point you got wrong? The story about Wikileaks publishing the private details of Turkish women was false. Wikileaks published an email server from Turkey’s foreign ministry. It did not publish the database containing the women’s private details, which was published by a different website and quickly deleted. The owner of that website – Glomar Disclosure – had a huge fight with the author of the original piece that smeared Wikileaks for actions it never took (Zeynep Tufekci) and became so convinced she had acted maliciously he wrote a full account of it.

    • Jeff Clyburn says:

      It’s a blog.

      Another site hosted the database, Wikileaks shined an enormous spotlight on it. The point is to merely acknowledge that it could/should have been screened at the Wikileaks level.

  4. Josh Stern says:

    It does not appear to be true that information from the DNC was obtained by Russian State actors and given to Wikileaks. It appears to be true that CIA/FBI/NSA are lying and committing multitudes of crimes every day and it serves their agenda to blame as many as possible on Russia. That is the conclusion backed by a detailed public examination of all available evidence and claims. Beyond that, studies have shown that the FBI’s late campaign “reopening” of the Clinton e-mail investigation was crucial in diminishing her October lead in the polls. No studies have shown that the July release by Wikileaks of info that the DNC ran a fraudulent primary was crucial in causing HRC to fall behind Trump.

  5. M. Simon says:

    Well yes. Revealing the truth = throwing the election.

  6. HpO says:

    I respect what Julian Assange and Wikileaks are doing and what you guys are questioning here about them. Which is similar, by the way, to the criticism by the Canadian Dan Dicks of Press For Truth (PFF), something about a “limited hangout” set up by Assange. Whereas you call it de-contextualization. Something’s off, most def. Anyway, PFF’s YouTube file dating March 9, 2017 is named “Wikileaks, Vault 7, The CIA And The Point Everyone Is Missing!”

  7. MrE23 says:

    My comment was civilized, relevant, clear, and reasonably concise. Certainly no longer than many others that have appeared here. So why was it not approved? I’d appreciate a moderator response.

    • Jeff Clyburn says:

      If you included a link, it may be delayed because it has to be reviewed. If it was outright deleted, you’d see “deleted” in its place.

    • Comments editor says:

      Sir,
      Thankyou for your comment and your enquiry.

      Whilst it is clear that you respect our comments policy, the comment in question was automatically held: this does sometimes happen with legitimate comments such as yours. (I have e-mailed you a more detailed response on this.)

      The comment is now published, and the fact of it being initially held does not prejudice your good standing at WhoWhatWhy.

      Comments Editor.

    • MrE23 says:

      Thank you for your reply- it is appreciated.

  8. MrE23 says:

    “The hack is not only revelatory in terms of the devices and programs compromised by the CIA…”

    What hack? This was a leak, like the rest of what they have published. Heck, it’s even in their name.

    “…WikiLeaks revealed a variety of information on the internal workings of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) illegally obtained from their private servers.”

    How do you know it was illegally obtained? It could have been legally obtained by a DNC staffer (*cough* Seth Rich *cough*) and then given to WikiLeaks.

    “While it is not clear that Assange has had any direct contact with the Russian government or Russian state actors, it appears true that the information from the DNC servers was obtained by Russian state actors and leaked to Assange’s organization.”

    Based on WHAT?? The pronouncements of the intelligence community whose evidence you already said is suspect based on the leak? As if their statements aren’t already inherently suspect based on decades of outright lies and manipulations that have led to illegal wars, counterinsurgency death squad programs, etc.

    “…the fact is that the timing, content, and contextualization of that leaked information can have tremendous impacts on geopolitics that make WikiLeaks more than a neutral non-state actor.”

    Assange has stated that he enjoys “crushing bastards.” Clearly he doesn’t care what party or ideology said b******* adhere to. This raises his credibility, in my eyes.

    “Furthermore, when exposing secrets with the intent of undermining corrupt practices, a leaker must be sure not to give ammunition to the organizations that they are attempting to expose.”

    This is very presumptuous of Assange’s intentions, in terms of implying that he favors certain organizations over others. He favors exposing corruption and lies, whatever the source.

    The general thrust of this article seems to be to paint Assange with suspicion, and to imply that he is sloppy and careless, possibly to the point of having been manipulated by Russia (but surely not wittingly… or was he?)

    Set against the context of the enormity of the importance of everything WikiLeaks has revealed, this article reads like a petty, innuendo-filled hit piece to me. Certainly not the kind of valuable muckraking I usually turn to Who What Why for. Disappointing.

    • M. Simon says:

      Well. That does give insight into who runs this show.

      The thing that is clear to our overlords is that I have no secrets in the Internet Age. What is not yet clear to them is that neither do they. Any action on the secrets they hold is a reveal. So their knowledge is of limited value or useless. Counterproductive even.

      Of what use is a self destruct button? I’m not a Christian. At all. But the best advice I can give them is, “Go in peace.” If you need to own something try owning yourself. Because that is an infinitely harder job than owning a civilization. And infinitely more worthwhile.

    • Jeff Clyburn says:

      It’s a blog.