WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange looks out of a prison van...

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange looks out of a prison van as he is driven out court in London in 2019.  Credit: AFP via Getty Images/DANIEL LEAL

Famed WikiLeaks hacker Julian Assange is back in the news. The U.S. has taken steps that could lead to his extradition from the U.K., to face espionage charges. That includes a recent letter from the American ambassador in London assuring his British jailers that Assange if sent here would not face the death penalty.

Assange and WikiLeaks made big waves in 2010 by releasing video footage from a 2007 U.S. airstrike that appeared to target civilians, as well as military logs from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and diplomatic cables. These items were leaked by then-U. S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, later convicted in her court martial of violating the Espionage Act for which Manning served 7 years.

For more than five years, Assange has been held in the U.K. pending extradition, also on Espionage Act charges.

There is a salient and objective point to be made about what Assange did and why that is often glossed over in news reports and retrospectives. By the run-up to the U.S. presidential election in 2016, WikiLeaks’ self-assigned role had less to do with exposing evidence of war crimes than with opposing the election of former Democratic Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

As another presidential election heats up eight years later, it’s more important than ever for a news audience to know not just whether information they hear and read is genuine, but who or what the sources are and their motives for publishing it.

Assange’s leaks, while authentic, were weaponized to benefit one side in the 2016 race. How much they succeeded is anyone’s guess.

“Well before the first release of stolen documents,” from the Democratic National Committee, Assange “privately expressed opposition to candidate Clinton,” said the 2019 Mueller report on Russian election interference.

He shared his thoughts in direct private messages to allies on Twitter. “Hillary has greater freedom to start wars and has the will to do so,” Assange hypothesized. He said she’d use “hawkish liberal-interventionist appointees.”

In November 2015 Assange — eccentric but sophisticated — wrote to associates: “We believe it would be much better for GOP to win . . . Dems + Media + liberals would then form a block to rein in their worst qualities.” But, he added, “with Hillary in charge, GOP will be pushing for her worst qualities” and “dems+media+neoliberals will be mute . . . She’s a bright, well-connected, sadistic sociopath.”

Officers of the Russian military intelligence agency GRU, through an intermediary, proposed an alliance with Assange’s website, the Mueller report said.

In June 2016, WikiLeaks told the intermediary, a cutout called “Guccifer 2.0” : “We want it in the next two days prefable (sic) because the [Democratic National Convention] is approaching . . . ”

Candidate Bernie Sanders’ supporters indeed reacted angrily when the DNC’s unsurprising tilt toward Clinton was revealed.

In 2015, Donald Trump’s victory in the GOP primary remained months away; Assange favored a generic GOP nominee. He said Republican interventionism would generate a lot of opposition, “including through dumb moves, but while Clinton will do the same thing, she would co-opt the liberal opposition and GOP opposition.”

Those quotations clarify the motive for one famous hack. Whatever happens to Assange now, he seems to have carried out his own kind of interventionism. He wasn’t just a detached whistleblower. For him, privacy of communications and the laws of the land were beside the point.

Columnist Dan Janison's opinions are his own.


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