21st Century Pirates

Tolga Akmen / Getty Images
Julian Assange prepares to speak from the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy where he continues to seek asylum following an extradition request from the U.S.

Over the past several years, WikiLeaks has gained international recognition for its releases of classified government documents. While heralded by some as a leader in the fight for government transparency, recent WikiLeaks revelations reflect a more geopolitical agenda. 

WikiLeaks has been making headlines recently for its involvement in the Russian hacking scandal. Starting in July of 2016, on the eve of the Democratic National Convention, WikiLeaks released over 40,000 emails from top ranking members of the DNC, which was described on their website as “part one of [WikiLeaks’] new Hillary Leaks series.” DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz resigned soon after the release, throwing the Democratic Party into disarray at one of the most crucial times of the election cycle. Many pollsters believe this personalized attack and strategic timing played a role in Hillary Clinton’s election loss. While the extent of WikiLeaks’ impact on the election is impossible to determine, the timing and focus of the announcement reveal a desire to influence the American electoral process. In addition, a declassified report by the U.S. Intelligence Community “assessed with high confidence” that the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, was behind the DNC hack and eventually “relayed material it acquired from the DNC and senior Democratic officials to WikiLeaks.” The report later stated that “Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency,” making WikiLeaks a powerful tool in Russia’s campaign to influence the U.S. election. The report also discussed previous interaction between WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and one of Russia’s leading state-run news outlets, RT. Following a meeting between Assange and RT’s editor-in-chief, it was announced that RT had partnered with WikiLeaks, supporting Assange through both sympathetic coverage and providing “new leaks of secret information.” 

WikiLeaks is playing a key role in enacting the agenda of a foreign country.

 WikiLeaks’ most recent document release, codenamed “Vault 7,” was released alongside a lengthy press release, which implied, among other things, that CIA hacking techniques had cracked the encryption on popular messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Signal. This was quickly reported by mainstream media outlets rushing to cover the story, but journalists upon closer inspection learned that, according to the documents themselves, this was false. In reality, the CIA could only view encrypted apps after having gained access to people’s entire phones—they could not simply break the apps’ encryption on its own. In fact, the words “Signal” and “WhatsApp” were never mentioned in any of the 8,761 documents. Similarly, the initial press release claimed that a CIA project collected various hacking techniques in order to “misdirect attribution by leaving behind the fingerprints” of other hackers. However, the actual released documents state that “the goal of this repository is to provide functional code snippets that can be rapidly combined into custom solutions,” meaning that source code was generally stored in order to save the CIA time when developing new technologies, not to impersonate foreign hackers. Other documents do discuss hiding the origin of cyber attacks, but only as would be expected for proper operational security. These misleading statements in the press briefing, combined with initially hurried reporting from several news outlets, served to misinform the general public. In addition, when cybersecurity experts analyzed the hacking tools discussed in the leak, they did not discover any “bombshell” revelations or evidence of illegal activities. The files generally discussed programs and vulnerabilities already known to the public or even discussed at cybersecurity conferences. The Vault 7 leak made precise information on the CIA’s methods, tools, and abilities available to anyone, including America’s enemies, crippling American intelligence operations.

Recently, Julian Assange's rape charges were dropped, and with it, Sweden's extradition request. Last week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the extradition and arrest of Julian Assange on espionage charges is now "a priority."  Assange has vowed that he will not cave into U.S. demands, and will continue large document dumps and sensationalized press releases.