WikiLeaks (//) is an international non-profit organisation that publishes news leaks and classified media provided by anonymous sources. Its website, initiated in 2006 in Iceland by the organisation Sunshine Press, claimed in 2016 to have released online 10 million documents in its first 10 years. Julian Assange, an Australian Internet activist, is generally described as its founder and director. Since September 2018, Kristinn Hrafnsson has served as its editor-in-chief.
Type of site
|Document archive and disclosure|
|Available in||English, but the source documents are in their original language|
|Created by||Julian Assange|
|Launched||4 October 2006|
The group has released a number of prominent document caches. Early releases included documentation of equipment expenditures and holdings in the Afghanistan war, a report informing a corruption investigation in Kenya, and a manual for operations at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In April 2010, WikiLeaks released the Collateral Murder footage from the 12 July 2007 Baghdad airstrike in which Iraqi journalists were among those killed. Other releases in 2010 included the Afghan War Diary and the "Iraq War Logs". The latter allowed the mapping of 109,032 deaths in "significant" attacks by insurgents in Iraq that had been reported to Multi-National Force – Iraq, including about 15,000 that had not been previously published. In 2010, WikiLeaks also released the US State Department diplomatic "cables", classified cables that had been sent to the US State Department. In April 2011, WikiLeaks began publishing 779 secret files relating to prisoners detained in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. In 2012, WikiLeaks released the "Syria Files," over two million emails sent by Syrian politicians, corporations and government ministries. In 2015, WikiLeaks published Saudi Arabian diplomatic cables, documents detailing spying by the U.S. National Security Agency on successive French Presidents, and the intellectual property chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a controversial international trade agreement which had been negotiated in secret.
During the 2016 US presidential election campaign, WikiLeaks released emails and other documents from the Democratic National Committee and from Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, John Podesta. These releases caused significant harm to the Clinton campaign, and have been attributed as a potential contributing factor to her loss. The U.S. intelligence community expressed "high confidence" that the leaked emails had been hacked by Russia and supplied to WikiLeaks, while WikiLeaks denied their source was Russia or any other state. During the campaign, WikiLeaks promoted conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. In private conversations from November 2015 that were later leaked, Julian Assange expressed a preference for a GOP victory in the 2016 election, explaining that "Dems+Media+liberals woudl [sic] then form a block to reign [sic] in their worst qualities. With Hillary in charge, GOP will be pushing for her worst qualities, dems+media+neoliberals will be mute." In further leaked correspondence with the Trump campaign on election day (8 November 2016), WikiLeaks encouraged the Trump campaign to contest the election results as being "rigged" should they lose.
In 2016, WikiLeaks released nearly 300,000 emails it described as coming from Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, later found to be taken from public mailing archives, and over 50,000 emails from the Turkish minister of energy. In 2017, WikiLeaks published internal CIA documents describing tools used by the agency to hack devices including mobile phones and routers.
WikiLeaks has drawn criticism for its alleged absence of whistleblowing on or criticism of Russia, and for criticising the Panama Papers' exposé of businesses and individuals with offshore bank accounts. The organization has additionally been criticised for inadequately curating its content and violating the personal privacy of individuals. WikiLeaks has, for instance, revealed Social Security numbers, medical information, credit card numbers and details of suicide attempts.
Staff, name and founding
The wikileaks.org domain name was registered on 4 October 2006. The website was established and published its first document in December 2006. WikiLeaks is usually represented in public by Julian Assange, who has been described as "the heart and soul of this organisation, its founder, philosopher, spokesperson, original coder, organiser, financier, and all the rest". Sarah Harrison, Kristinn Hrafnsson and Joseph Farrell are the only other publicly known and acknowledged associates of Assange who are currently living. Harrison is also a member of Sunshine Press Productions along with Assange and Ingi Ragnar Ingason. Gavin MacFadyen was acknowledged by Assange as a ″beloved director of WikiLeaks″ shortly after his death in 2016.
WikiLeaks was originally established with a "wiki" communal publication method, which was terminated by May 2010. Original volunteers and founders were once described as a mixture of Asian dissidents, journalists, mathematicians, and start-up company technologists from the United States, Taiwan, Europe, Australia, and South Africa. As of June 2009, the website had more than 1,200 registered volunteers.
Despite some popular confusion, related to the fact both sites use the "wiki" name and website design template, WikiLeaks and Wikipedia are not affiliated. Wikia, a for-profit corporation affiliated loosely with the Wikimedia Foundation, purchased several WikiLeaks-related domain names as a "protective brand measure" in 2007.
On 26 September 2018, it was announced that Julian Assange had appointed Kristinn Hrafnsson as editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks while the organisation's statement said Assange was remaining as its publisher. His access to the internet was cut off by Ecuador in March 2018 after he tweeted that Britain was about to conduct a propaganda war against Russia relating to the Poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. Ecuador said he had broken a commitment "not to issue messages that might interfere with other states" and Assange said he was "exercising his right to free speech".
According to the WikiLeaks website, its goal is "to bring important news and information to the public ... One of our most important activities is to publish original source material alongside our news stories so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth." Another of the organisation's goals is to ensure that journalists and whistleblowers are not prosecuted for emailing sensitive or classified documents. The online "drop box" is described by the WikiLeaks website as "an innovative, secure and anonymous way for sources to leak information to [WikiLeaks] journalists".
In a 2013 resolution, the International Federation of Journalists, a trade union of journalists, called WikiLeaks a "new breed of media organisation" that "offers important opportunities for media organisations". Harvard professor Yochai Benkler praised WikiLeaks as a new form of journalistic enterprise, testifying at the court-martial of Chelsea Manning (then Bradley Manning) that "WikiLeaks did serve a particular journalistic function," and that the "range of the journalist's privilege" is "a hard line to draw". Others do not consider WikiLeaks to be journalistic in nature. Media ethicist Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies wrote in 2011: "WikiLeaks might grow into a journalist endeavor. But it's not there yet." Bill Keller of The New York Times considers WikiLeaks to be a "complicated source" rather than a journalistic partner. Prominent First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams writes that WikiLeaks is not a journalistic group, but instead "an organization of political activists; ... a source for journalists; and ... a conduit of leaked information to the press and the public". In support of his opinion, he said Assange's statements that WikiLeaks reads only a small fraction of information before deciding to publish it, Abrams writes: "No journalistic entity I have ever heard of—none—simply releases to the world an elephantine amount of material it has not read."
According to a January 2010 interview, the WikiLeaks team then consisted of five people working full-time and about 800 people who worked occasionally, none of whom were compensated. WikiLeaks does not have any official headquarters. In November 2010 the WikiLeaks-endorsed news and activism site WikiLeaks Central was initiated and was administrated by editor Heather Marsh who oversaw over 70 writers and volunteers. She resigned on 8 March 2012.
WikiLeaks describes itself as "an uncensorable system for untraceable mass document leaking". The website is available on multiple servers, different domain names and has an official Darkweb version (available on the Tor Network) as a result of a number of denial-of-service attacks and its elimination from different Domain Name System (DNS) providers.
Until August 2010, WikiLeaks was hosted by PRQ, a company based in Sweden providing "highly secure, no-questions-asked hosting services". PRQ was reported by The Register website to have "almost no information about its clientele and maintains few if any of its own logs". Later, WikiLeaks was hosted mainly by the Swedish Internet service provider Bahnhof in the Pionen facility, a former nuclear bunker in Sweden. Other servers are spread around the world with the main server located in Sweden. Julian Assange has said that the servers are located in Sweden and the other countries "specifically because those nations offer legal protection to the disclosures made on the site". He talks about the Swedish constitution, which gives the information–providers total legal protection. It is forbidden, according to Swedish law, for any administrative authority to make inquiries about the sources of any type of newspaper. These laws, and the hosting by PRQ, make it difficult for any authority to eliminate WikiLeaks; they place an burden of proof upon any complainant whose suit would circumscribe WikiLeaks' liberty, e.g. its rights to exercise free speech online. Furthermore, "WikiLeaks maintains its own servers at undisclosed locations, keeps no logs and uses military-grade encryption to protect sources and other confidential information." Such arrangements have been called "bulletproof hosting".
After the site became the target of a denial-of-service attack on its old servers, WikiLeaks moved its website to Amazon's servers. Later, however, the website was "ousted" from the Amazon servers. In a public statement, Amazon said that WikiLeaks was not following its terms of service. The company further explained: "There were several parts they were violating. For example, our terms of service state that 'you represent and warrant that you own or otherwise control all of the rights to the content ... that use of the content you supply does not violate this policy and will not cause injury to any person or entity.' It's clear that WikiLeaks doesn't own or otherwise control all the rights to this classified content." WikiLeaks was then moved to servers at OVH, a private web-hosting service in France. After criticism from the French government, the company sought two court rulings about the legality of hosting WikiLeaks. While the court in Lille immediately refused to force OVH to deactivate the WikiLeaks website, the court in Paris stated it would need more time to examine the complex technical issue.
WikiLeaks used EveryDNS, but was dropped by the company after distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against WikiLeaks hurt the quality of service for its other customers. Supporters of WikiLeaks waged verbal and DDoS attacks on EveryDNS. Because of a typographical error in blogs mistaking EveryDNS for competitor EasyDNS, the sizeable Internet backlash hit EasyDNS. Despite that, EasyDNS (upon request of a customer who was setting up new WikiLeaks hosting) began providing WikiLeaks with DNS service on "two 'battle hardened' servers" to protect the quality of service for its other customers.
WikiLeaks restructured its process for contributions after its first document leaks did not gain much attention. Assange stated this was part of an attempt to take the voluntary effort typically seen in "Wiki" projects, and "redirect it to ... material that has real potential for change". Some sympathisers were unhappy when WikiLeaks ended a community-based wiki format in favour of a more centralised organisation. The "about" page originally read:
To the user, WikiLeaks will look very much like Wikipedia. Anybody can post to it, anybody can edit it. No technical knowledge is required. Leakers can post documents anonymously and untraceably. Users can publicly discuss documents and analyse their credibility and veracity. Users can discuss interpretations and context and collaboratively formulate collective publications. Users can read and write explanatory articles on leaks along with background material and context. The political relevance of documents and their verisimilitude will be revealed by a cast of thousands.
However, WikiLeaks established an editorial policy that accepted only documents that were "of political, diplomatic, historical or ethical interest" (and excluded "material that is already publicly available"). This coincided with early criticism that having no editorial policy would drive out good material with spam and promote "automated or indiscriminate publication of confidential records". The original FAQ is no longer in effect, and no one can post or edit documents on WikiLeaks. Now, submissions to WikiLeaks are reviewed by anonymous WikiLeaks reviewers, and documents that do not meet the editorial criteria are rejected. By 2008, the revised FAQ stated: "Anybody can post comments to it. [ ... ] Users can publicly discuss documents and analyse their credibility and veracity." After the 2010 reorganisation, posting new comments on leaks was no longer possible.
The legal status of WikiLeaks is complex. Assange considers WikiLeaks a protection intermediary. Rather than leaking directly to the press, and fearing exposure and retribution, whistleblowers can leak to WikiLeaks, which then leaks to the press for them. Its servers are located throughout Europe and are accessible from any uncensored web connection. The group located its headquarters in Sweden because it has one of the world's strongest laws to protect confidential source-journalist relationships. WikiLeaks has stated it does not solicit any information. However, Assange used his speech during the Hack in the Box conference in Malaysia to ask the crowd of hackers and security researchers to help find documents on its "Most Wanted Leaks of 2009" list.
Potential criminal prosecution
The US Justice Department began a criminal investigation of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange soon after the leak of diplomatic cables began. Former Attorney General Eric Holder affirmed the investigation was "not saber-rattling", but was "an active, ongoing criminal investigation". The Washington Post reported that the department was considering charges under the Espionage Act of 1917, an action which former prosecutors characterised as "difficult" because of First Amendment protections for the press. Several Supreme Court cases (e.g. Bartnicki v. Vopper) have established previously that the American Constitution protects the re-publication of illegally gained information provided the publishers did not themselves violate any laws in acquiring it. Federal prosecutors have also considered prosecuting Assange for trafficking in stolen government property, but since the diplomatic cables are intellectual rather than physical property, that method is also difficult. Any prosecution of Assange would require extraditing him to the United States, a procedure made more complicated and potentially delayed by any preceding extradition to Sweden. One of Assange's lawyers, however, says they are fighting extradition to Sweden because it might result in his extradition to the United States. Assange's attorney, Mark Stephens, has "heard from Swedish authorities there has been a secretly empanelled grand jury in Alexandria, [Virginia]" meeting to consider criminal charges for the WikiLeaks case.
In Australia, the government and the Australian Federal Police have not stated what Australian laws may have been violated by WikiLeaks, but then Prime Minister Julia Gillard has stated that the foundation of WikiLeaks and the stealing of classified documents from the United States administration is illegal in foreign countries. Gillard later clarified her statement as referring to "the original theft of the material by a junior U.S. serviceman rather than any action by Mr Assange." Spencer Zifcak, president of Liberty Victoria, an Australian civil liberties group, notes that without a charge or a trial completed, it is inappropriate to state that WikiLeaks is guilty of illegal activities.
On threats by various governments towards Julian Assange, legal expert Ben Saul argues that Assange is the target of a global smear campaign to demonise him as a criminal or as a terrorist, without any legal basis. The US Center for Constitutional Rights has issued a statement emphasising its alarm at the "multiple examples of legal overreach and irregularities" in his arrest.
Use of leaked documents in court
On 8 February 2018, the UK Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a document leaked through WikiLeaks "could be admitted into evidence". The cable had been excluded from use in an earlier part of the case before the Administrative Court. The Supreme Court hearing was considered an important test of the Vienna Convention in relation to Wikileaks documents.
The appeal that led to this ruling centred on a US government cable provided by Chelsea Manning and published by WikiLeaks. The Chagos islanders argued that the document showed the UK's motive for setting up a marine park on their territory was to put an end to the islanders' resettlement claims, a motive which the islanders considered improper.
However, the Supreme Court also ruled that the admission into evidence of the Wikileaks document would not have made a difference to the Administrative Court’s decision that there was no improper motive behind the marine park proposal.
WikiLeaks is a self-described not-for-profit organisation, funded largely by volunteers, and is dependent on public donations. Its main financing methods include conventional bank transfers and online payment systems. According to Assange, WikiLeaks' lawyers often work pro bono. Assange has said that in some cases legal aid has been donated by media organisations such as the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, and the National Newspaper Publishers Association. Assange said in 2010 that WikiLeaks' only revenue consists of donations, but it has considered other options including auctioning early access to documents. During September 2011, WikiLeaks began auctioning items on eBay to raise funds, and Assange told an audience at Sydney's Festival of Dangerous Ideas that the organisation might not be able to survive.
On 24 December 2009, WikiLeaks announced that it was experiencing a shortage of funds and suspended all access to its website except for a form to submit new material. Material that was previously published was no longer available, although some could still be accessed on unofficial mirror websites at the time. WikiLeaks stated on its website that it would resume full operation once the operational costs were paid. WikiLeaks saw this as a kind of work stoppage "to ensure that everyone who is involved stops normal work and actually spends time raising revenue". While the organisation initially planned for funds to be secured by 6 January 2010, it was not until 3 February 2010 that WikiLeaks announced that its minimum fundraising goal had been achieved.
The Wau Holland Foundation helps to process donations to WikiLeaks. In July 2010, the Foundation stated that WikiLeaks was not receiving any money for personnel costs, only for hardware, travelling and bandwidth. An article in TechEye stated:
As a charity accountable under German law, donations for WikiLeaks can be made to the foundation. Funds are held in escrow and are given to WikiLeaks after the whistleblower website files an application containing a statement with proof of payment. The foundation does not pay any sort of salary nor give any renumeration [sic] to WikiLeaks' personnel, corroborating the statement of the site's former German representative Daniel Schmitt [real name Daniel Domscheit-Berg] on national television that all personnel works voluntarily, even its speakers.
However, in December 2010. the Wau Holland Foundation stated that 4 permanent employees, including Julian Assange, had begun to receive salaries.
In 2010, Assange said the organisation was registered as a library in Australia, a foundation in France, and a newspaper in Sweden, and that it also used two United States-based non-profit 501c3 organisations for funding purposes.
On 22 January 2010, the Internet payment intermediary PayPal suspended WikiLeaks' donation account and froze its assets. WikiLeaks said that this had happened before, and was done for "no obvious reason". The account was restored on 25 January 2010. On 18 May 2010, WikiLeaks announced that its website and archive were operational again.
In June 2010, WikiLeaks was a finalist for a grant of more than half a million dollars from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, but did not make the final approval. WikiLeaks commented via Twitter: "WikiLeaks was highest rated project in the Knight challenge, strongly recommended to the board but gets no funding. Go figure." WikiLeaks said that the Knight foundation announced the award to "'12 Grantees who will impact future of news' – but not WikiLeaks" and questioned whether Knight foundation was "really looking for impact". A spokesman of the Knight Foundation disputed parts of WikiLeaks' statement, saying "WikiLeaks was not recommended by Knight staff to the board." However, he declined to say whether WikiLeaks was the project rated highest by the Knight advisory panel, which consists of non-staffers, among them journalist Jennifer 8. Lee, who has done PR work for WikiLeaks with the press and on social networking websites.
During 2010, WikiLeaks received €635,772.73 in PayPal donations, less €30,000 in PayPal fees, and €695,925.46 in bank transfers. €500,988.89 of the sum was received in the month of December, primarily as bank transfers as PayPal suspended payments on 4 December. €298,057.38 of the remainder was received in April.
The Wau Holland Foundation, one of the WikiLeaks' main funding channels, stated that they received more than €900,000 in public donations between October 2009 and December 2010, of which €370,000 has been passed on to WikiLeaks. Hendrik Fulda, vice-president of the Wau Holland Foundation, mentioned that the Foundation had been receiving twice as many donations through PayPal as through normal banks, before PayPal's decision to suspend WikiLeaks' account. He also noted that every new WikiLeaks publication brought "a wave of support", and that donations were strongest in the weeks after WikiLeaks started publishing leaked diplomatic cables.
The Icelandic judiciary decided that Valitor (a company related to Visa and MasterCard) was violating the law when it prevented donation to the site by credit card. A justice ruled that the donations will be allowed to return to the site after 14 days or they would be fined in the amount of US$6,000 a day.
WikiLeaks posted its first document in December 2006, a decision to assassinate government officials signed by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys. In August 2007, the UK newspaper The Guardian published a story about corruption by the family of the former Kenyan leader Daniel arap Moi based on information provided via WikiLeaks. In November 2007, a March 2003 copy of Standard Operating Procedures for Camp Delta detailing the protocol of the US Army at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp was released. The document revealed that some prisoners were off-limits to the International Committee of the Red Cross, something that the US military had in the past denied repeatedly. In February 2008, WikiLeaks released allegations of illegal activities at the Cayman Islands branch of the Swiss Bank Julius Baer, which resulted in the bank suing WikiLeaks and obtaining an injunction which temporarily suspended the operation of wikileaks.org. The California judge had the service provider of WikiLeaks block the site's domain (wikileaks.org) on 18 February 2008, although the bank only wanted the documents to be removed but WikiLeaks had failed to name a contact. The website was instantly mirrored by supporters, and later that month the judge overturned his previous decision citing First Amendment concerns and questions about legal jurisdiction. In March 2008, WikiLeaks published what they referred to as "the collected secret 'bibles' of Scientology", and three days later received letters threatening to sue them for breach of copyright. In September 2008, during the 2008 United States presidential election campaigns, the contents of a Yahoo account belonging to Sarah Palin (the running mate of Republican presidential nominee John McCain) were posted on WikiLeaks after being hacked into by members of a group known as Anonymous. In November 2008, the membership list of the far-right British National Party was posted to WikiLeaks, after appearing briefly on a weblog. A year later, in October 2009, another list of BNP members was leaked.
In January 2009, WikiLeaks released 86 telephone intercept recordings of Peruvian politicians and businessmen involved in the 2008 Peru oil scandal. During February, WikiLeaks released 6,780 Congressional Research Service reports followed in March by a list of contributors to the Norm Coleman senatorial campaign and a set of documents belonging to Barclays Bank that had been ordered removed from the website of The Guardian. In July, it released a report relating to a serious nuclear accident that had occurred at the Iranian Natanz nuclear facility in 2009. Later media reports have suggested that the accident was related to the Stuxnet computer worm. In September, internal documents from Kaupthing Bank were leaked, from shortly before the collapse of Iceland's banking sector, which caused the 2008–2012 Icelandic financial crisis. The document shows that suspiciously large sums of money were loaned to various owners of the bank, and large debts written off. In October, Joint Services Protocol 440, a British document advising the security services on how to avoid documents being leaked, was published by WikiLeaks. Later that month, it announced that a super-injunction was being used by the commodities company Trafigura to stop The Guardian (London) from reporting on a leaked internal document regarding a toxic dumping incident in Côte d'Ivoire. In November, it hosted copies of e-mail correspondence between climate scientists, although they were not leaked originally to WikiLeaks. It also released 570,000 intercepts of pager messages sent on the day of the 11 September attacks. During 2008 and 2009, WikiLeaks published the alleged lists of forbidden or illegal web addresses for Australia, Denmark and Thailand. These were originally created to prevent access to child pornography and terrorism, but the leaks revealed that other sites featuring unrelated subjects were also listed.
In mid-February 2010, WikiLeaks received a leaked diplomatic cable from the United States Embassy in Reykjavik relating to the Icesave scandal, which they published on 18 February. The cable, known as Reykjavik 13, was the first of the classified documents WikiLeaks published among those allegedly provided to them by United States Army Private Chelsea Manning (then known as Bradley). In March 2010, WikiLeaks released a secret 32-page US Department of Defense Counterintelligence Analysis Report written in March 2008 discussing the leaking of material by WikiLeaks and how it could be deterred. In April, a classified video of the 12 July 2007 Baghdad airstrike was released, showing two Reuters employees being fired at, after the pilots mistakenly thought the men were carrying weapons, which were in fact cameras. After the mistaken killing, the video shows US forces firing on a family van that stopped to pick up the bodies. In the week after the release, "wikileaks" was the search term with the most significant growth worldwide during the last seven days as measured by Google Insights. In June 2010, Manning was arrested after alleged chat logs were given to United States authorities by former hacker Adrian Lamo, in whom she had confided. Manning reportedly told Lamo she had leaked the "Collateral Murder" video, in addition to a video of the Granai airstrike and about 260,000 diplomatic cables, to WikiLeaks.
In July, WikiLeaks released 92,000 documents related to the war in Afghanistan between 2004 and the end of 2009 to the publications The Guardian, The New York Times and Der Spiegel. The documents detail individual incidents including "friendly fire" and civilian casualties. About 15,000 of the 92,000 documents have not yet been released by WikiLeaks, as the group is currently reviewing the documents to remove some of the sources of the information. WikiLeaks asked the Pentagon and human-rights groups to help remove names from the documents to reduce the potential harm caused by their release, but did not receive assistance. After the Love Parade stampede in Duisburg, Germany, on 24 July 2010, a local resident published internal documents of the city administration regarding the planning of Love Parade. The city government reacted by securing a court order on 16 August forcing the removal of the documents from the website on which it was hosted. On 20 August 2010, WikiLeaks released a publication entitled Loveparade 2010 Duisburg planning documents, 2007–2010, which consisted of 43 internal documents regarding the Love Parade 2010. After the leak of information concerning the Afghan War, in October 2010, around 400,000 documents relating to the Iraq War were released. The BBC quoted the US Department of Defense referring to the Iraq War Logs as "the largest leak of classified documents in its history". Media coverage of the leaked documents emphasised claims that the US government had ignored reports of torture by the Iraqi authorities during the period after the 2003 war.
On 29 July 2010 WikiLeaks added an "Insurance file" to the Afghan War Diary page. The file is AES encrypted. There has been speculation that it was intended to serve as insurance in case the WikiLeaks website or its spokesman Julian Assange are incapacitated, upon which the passphrase could be published. After the first few days' release of the US diplomatic cables starting 28 November 2010, the US television broadcasting company CBS predicted that "If anything happens to Assange or the website, a key will go out to unlock the files. There would then be no way to stop the information from spreading like wildfire because so many people already have copies." CBS correspondent Declan McCullagh stated, "What most folks are speculating is that the insurance file contains unreleased information that would be especially embarrassing to the US government if it were released."
Diplomatic cables release
On 28 November 2010, WikiLeaks and five major newspapers from Spain (El País), France (Le Monde), Germany (Der Spiegel), the United Kingdom (The Guardian), and the United States (The New York Times) started simultaneously to publish the first 220 of 251,287 leaked documents labelled confidential – but not top-secret – and dated from 28 December 1966 to 28 February 2010. WikiLeaks planned to release the entirety of the cables in phases over several months.
The contents of the diplomatic cables include numerous unguarded comments and revelations regarding: US diplomats gathering personal information about Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, and other top UN officials; critiques and praises about the host countries of various United States embassies; political manoeuvring regarding climate change; discussion and resolutions towards ending ongoing tension in the Middle East; efforts and resistance towards nuclear disarmament; actions in the War on Terror; assessments of other threats around the world; dealings between various countries; United States intelligence and counterintelligence efforts; and other diplomatic actions. Reactions to the United States diplomatic cables leak varied. On 14 December 2010 the United States Department of Justice issued a subpoena directing Twitter to provide information for accounts registered to or associated with WikiLeaks. Twitter decided to notify its users. The overthrow of the presidency in Tunisia of 2011 has been attributed partly to reaction against the corruption revealed by leaked cables.
On 1 September 2011, it became public that an encrypted version of WikiLeaks' huge archive of un-redacted US State Department cables had been available via BitTorrent for months and that the decryption key (similar to a password) was available to those who knew where to find it. Guardian newspaper editor David Leigh published the decryption key in his book, WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy, so the files were now publicly available to anyone. Rather than let malicious actors publish selected data, WikiLeaks decided to publish the entire, unredacted archive in searchable form on its website.
In late April 2011, files related to the Guantanamo prison were released. In December 2011, WikiLeaks started to release the Spy Files. On 27 February 2012, WikiLeaks began publishing more than five million emails from the Texas-headquartered "global intelligence" company Stratfor. On 5 July 2012, WikiLeaks began publishing the Syria Files (emails from Syrian political figures 2006–2012). On 25 October 2012, WikiLeaks began publishing The Detainee Policies, files covering the rules and procedures for detainees in US military custody. In April 2013 WikiLeaks published more than 1.7 million US diplomatic and intelligence documents from the 1970s, including the Kissinger cables.
In 2013, the organisation assisted Edward Snowden (who is responsible for the 2013 mass surveillance disclosures) in leaving Hong Kong. Sarah Harrison, a WikiLeaks activist, accompanied Snowden on the flight. Scott Shane of The New York Times stated that the WikiLeaks involvement "shows that despite its shoestring staff, limited fund-raising from a boycott by major financial firms, and defections prompted by Mr. Assange's personal troubles and abrasive style, it remains a force to be reckoned with on the global stage."
In September 2013, WikiLeaks published "Spy Files 3", 250 documents from more than 90 surveillance companies. On 13 November 2013, a draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership's Intellectual Property Rights chapter was published by WikiLeaks. On 10 June 2015, WikiLeaks published the draft on the Trans-Pacific Partnership's Transparency for Healthcare Annex, along with each country's negotiating position. On 19 June 2015 WikiLeaks began publishing The Saudi Cables: more than half a million cables and other documents from the Saudi Foreign Ministry that contain secret communications from various Saudi Embassies around the world.
On 23 June 2015, WikiLeaks published documents under the name of "Espionnage Élysée", which showed that NSA spied on the French government, including but not limited to then President Francois Hollande and his predecessors Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac. On 29 June 2015, WikiLeaks published more NSA top secrets intercepts regarding France, detailing an economic espionage against French companies and associations. In July 2015, WikiLeaks published documents which showed that the NSA had tapped the telephones of many German federal ministries, including that of the Chancellor Angela Merkel, for years since the 1990s. On 4 July 2015, WikiLeaks published documents which showed that 29 Brazilian government numbers were selected for secret espionage by the NSA. Among the targets were then-President Dilma Rousseff, many assistants and advisors, her presidential jet and other key figures in the Brazilian government.
On 29 July 2015, WikiLeaks published a top secret letter from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) Ministerial Meeting in December 2013 which illustrated the position of negotiating countries on "state-owned enterprises" (SOEs). On 31 July 2015, WikiLeaks published secret intercepts and the related target list showing that the NSA spied on the Japanese government, including the Cabinet and Japanese companies such as Mitsubishi and Mitsui. The documents revealed that United States espionage against Japan concerned broad sections of communications about the US-Japan diplomatic relationship and Japan's position on climate change issues, other than an extensive monitoring of the Japanese economy. On 21 October 2015 WikiLeaks published some of John O. Brennan's emails, including a draft security clearance application which contained personal information.
On 4 July 2016, WikiLeaks tweeted a link to a trove of emails sent or received by then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and released under the Freedom of Information Act. The link contained 1258 emails sent from Clinton's personal mail server which were selected in terms of their relevance to the Iraq War and were apparently timed to precede the release of the UK government's Iraq Inquiry report.
On 19 July 2016, in response to the Turkish government's purges that followed the coup attempt, WikiLeaks released 294,548 emails from Turkey's ruling Justice and Development party (AKP). According to WikiLeaks, the material, which they claim to be the first batch from the "AKP Emails", was obtained a week before the attempted coup in the country and "is not connected, in any way, to the elements behind the attempted coup, or to a rival political party or state". After WikiLeaks announced that they would release the emails, the organisation was for over 24 hours under a "sustained attack". Following the leak, the Turkish government ordered the site to be blocked nationwide. WikiLeaks had also tweeted a link to a database which contained sensitive information, such as the Turkish Identification Number, of approximately 50 million Turkish citizens, including nearly every female voter in Turkey. The information first appeared online in April of the same year and was not in the files uploaded by WikiLeaks, but in files archived by Michael Best, who then removed it when the personal data was discovered.
On 22 July 2016, WikiLeaks released approximately 20,000 emails and 8,000 files sent from or received by Democratic National Committee (DNC) personnel. Some of the emails contained personal information of donors, including home addresses and Social Security numbers. Other emails appeared to criticise Bernie Sanders or showed favouritism towards Clinton during the primaries. In July 2016, Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned her position as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee as a result of the evidence that the Democratic National Committee was "effectively an arm of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign" and had conspired to sabotage Bernie Sander's campaign.
On 7 October 2016, WikiLeaks started releasing series of emails and documents sent from or received by Hillary Clinton campaign manager, John Podesta, including Hillary Clinton's paid speeches to banks. According to a spokesman for the Clinton campaign, "By dribbling these out every day WikiLeaks is proving they are nothing but a propaganda arm of the Kremlin with a political agenda doing Vladimir Putin's dirty work to help elect Donald Trump." The New York Times reported that when asked, President Vladimir Putin replied that Russia was being falsely accused. "The hysteria is merely caused by the fact that somebody needs to divert the attention of the American people from the essence of what was exposed by the hackers."
On 17 October 2016, WikiLeaks announced that a "state party" had severed the Internet connection of Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy. WikiLeaks blamed United States Secretary of State John Kerry of pressuring the Ecuadorian government in severing Assange's Internet, an accusation which the United States State Department denied. The Ecuadorian government stated that it had "temporarily" severed Assange's Internet connection because of WikiLeaks' release of documents "impacting on the U.S. election campaign," although it also stated that this was not meant to prevent WikiLeaks from operating.
On 16 February 2017, WikiLeaks released a purported report on CIA espionage orders (marked as NOFORN) for the 2012 French presidential election. The order called for details of party funding, internal rivalries and future attitudes toward the United States. The Associated Press noted that "the orders seemed to represent standard intelligence-gathering."
On 7 March 2017, WikiLeaks started publishing content code-named "Vault 7". In a series of tweets and a Facebook Live + Periscope press conference, WikiLeaks announced these documents contain CIA internal documentation of their "massive arsenal" of hacking tools including malware, virus projects, weaponised "zero day" exploits and remote control systems to name a few. Leaked documents, dated from 2013 to 2016, detail the capabilities of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to perform electronic surveillance and cyber warfare, such as the ability to compromise cars, smart TVs, web browsers (including Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera Software ASA), and the operating systems of most smartphones (including Apple's iOS and Google's Android), as well as other operating systems such as Microsoft Windows, macOS, and Linux.
On 5 May 2017, WikiLeaks posted links to e-mails purported to be from Emmanuel Macron's campaign in the French 2017 presidential election. The documents were first relayed on the 4chan forum and by pro-Trump Twitter accounts, and then by WikiLeaks, who indicated they did not author the leaks. Experts have asserted that the WikiLeaks Twitter account played a key role in publicising the leaks through the hashtag #MacronLeaks just some three-and-a-half hours after the first tweet with the hashtag appeared. The campaign stated that false documents were mixed in with real ones, and that "the ambition of the authors of this leak is obviously to harm the movement En Marche! in the final hours before the second round of the French presidential election." France's Electoral Commission described the action as a "massive and coordinated piracy action." France's Electoral Commission urged journalists not to report on the contents of the leaks, but to heed "the sense of responsibility they must demonstrate, as at stake are the free expression of voters and the sincerity of the election." Cybersecurity experts initially believed that groups linked to Russia were involved in this attack. The Kremlin denied any involvement. The head of the French cyber-security agency, ANSSI, later said that they did not have evidence connecting the hack with Russia, saying that the attack was so simple, that "we can imagine that it was a person who did this alone. They could be in any country."
In September 2017, WikiLeaks released "Spy Files Russia," revealing "how a St. Petersburg-based technology company called Peter-Service helped state entities gather detailed data on Russian cellphone users, part of a national system of online surveillance called System for Operative Investigative Activities (SORM)." Russian investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov said that "there is some data here that’s worth publishing. Anything that gets people talking about Russia’s capabilities and actions in this area should be seen as a positive development."
On 12 November 2019, WikiLeaks began publishing what it called the Fishrot Files (Icelandic: Samherjaskjölin), a collection of thousands of documents and email communication by employees of one of Iceland's largest fish industry companies, Samherji, that indicated that the company had paid hundreds of millions Icelandic króna to high ranking politicians and officials in Namibia with the objective of acquiring the country’s coveted fishing quota.
Claims of upcoming leaks
In January 2011, Rudolf Elmer, a former Swiss banker, passed data containing account details of 2,000 prominent people to Assange, who stated that the information will be vetted before being made publicly available at a later date. In May 2010, WikiLeaks said it had video footage of a massacre of civilians in Afghanistan by the US military which they were preparing to release. In an interview with Chris Anderson on 19 July 2010, Assange showed a document WikiLeaks had on an Albanian oil-well blowout, and said they also had material from inside British Petroleum, and that they were "getting enormous quantity of whistle-blower disclosures of a very high calibre" but added that they had not been able to verify and release the material because they did not have enough volunteer journalists. In December 2010, Assange's lawyer, Mark Stephens, told The Andrew Marr Show on BBC Television that WikiLeaks had information it considered to be a "thermo-nuclear device" which it would release if the organisation needs to defend itself against the authorities.
In a 2009 interview with Computerworld magazine, Assange claimed to be in possession of "5GB from Bank of America". In 2010, he told Forbes magazine that WikiLeaks was planning another "megaleak" early in 2011, from the private sector, involving "a big U.S. bank" and revealing an "ecosystem of corruption". Bank of America's stock price decreased by 3%, apparently as a result of this announcement. Assange commented on the possible effect of the release that "it could take down a bank or two". In August 2011, Reuters announced that Daniel Domscheit-Berg had destroyed approximately 5GB of data cache from Bank of America, that Assange had under his control.
In October 2010, Assange told a major Moscow newspaper that "The Kremlin had better brace itself for a coming wave of WikiLeaks disclosures about Russia". Assange later clarified: "we have material on many businesses and governments, including in Russia. It's not right to say there's going to be a particular focus on Russia".
WikiLeaks has contended that it has never released a misattributed document and that documents are assessed before release. In response to concerns about the possibility of misleading or fraudulent leaks, WikiLeaks has stated that misleading leaks "are already well-placed in the mainstream media. WikiLeaks is of no additional assistance." The FAQ states that: "The simplest and most effective countermeasure is a worldwide community of informed users and editors who can scrutinise and discuss leaked documents." According to statements by Assange in 2010, submitted documents are vetted by a group of five reviewers, with expertise in different topics such as language or programming, who also investigate the background of the leaker if his or her identity is known. In that group, Assange has the final decision about the assessment of a document.
Columnist Eric Zorn wrote in 2016 "So far, it's possible, even likely, that every stolen email WikiLeaks has posted has been authentic." but cautioned against assuming that future releases would be equally authentic. Writer Glenn Greenwald asserted that WikiLeaks has a "perfect, long-standing record of only publishing authentic documents." However, cybersecurity experts agree that it is trivially easy for a person to fabricate an email or alter it, as by changing headers and metadata.
Some of the releases, including many of the Podesta emails, contain DKIM headers. This allows them to be verified as genuine to some degree of certainty.
In July 2016, the Aspen Institute's Homeland Security Group, a bipartisan counterterrorism organisation, warned that hackers who stole authentic data might "salt the files they release with plausible forgeries." Russian intelligence agencies have frequently used disinformation tactics, "which means carefully faked emails might be included in the WikiLeaks dumps. After all, the best way to make false information believable is to mix it in with true information."
Promotion of conspiracy theories
Murder of Seth Rich
WikiLeaks has promoted conspiracy theories about the murder of Seth Rich. Unfounded conspiracy theories, spread by some right-wing figures and media outlets, hold that Rich was the source of leaked emails and was killed for working with WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks fueled the conspiracy theories when it offered a $20,000 reward for information on Rich's killer and when Assange implied that Rich was the source of the DNC leaks. No evidence supports the claim that Rich was the source of the leaks. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report into Russian interference in the 2016 election said that Assange "implied falsely" that Rich was the source in order to obscure that Russia was the actual source.
The Guardian wrote that WikiLeaks, along with individuals and groups on the hard right, had been involved in the "ruthless exploitation of [Rich's] death for political purposes". The executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, an organization that advocates for open government, was critical of WikiLeaks' fueling of conspiracy theories surrounding the murder of Seth Rich: "If they feel like they have a link to the staffer's death, they should say it and be responsible about it. The insinuations, to me, are just disgusting."
Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton
WikiLeaks has popularized conspiracies about the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton, such as tweeting articles which suggested Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta engaged in satanic rituals, implying that the Democratic Party had Seth Rich killed, claiming that Hillary Clinton wanted to drone strike Assange, suggesting that Clinton wore earpieces to debates and interviews, promoting conspiracy theories about Clinton's health, and promoting a conspiracy theory from a Donald Trump–related Internet community tying the Clinton campaign to child kidnapper Laura Silsby.
Criticism and controversies
Allegations of anti-Americanism
WikiLeaks has been accused of purposely targeting certain states and people, and presenting its disclosures in misleading and conspiratorial ways to harm those people. Writing in 2012, Foreign Policy's Joshua Keating stated that "nearly all its major operations have targeted the U.S. government or American corporations." In a 2017 speech addressing the Center for Strategic and International Studies, former CIA Director Mike Pompeo referred to WikiLeaks as "a non-state hostile intelligence service" and described founder Julian Assange as a narcissist, fraud, and coward.
Allegations of anti-Clinton and pro-Trump bias
Assange wrote on WikiLeaks in February 2016: "I have had years of experience in dealing with Hillary Clinton and have read thousands of her cables. Hillary lacks judgement and will push the United States into endless, stupid wars which spread terrorism. ... she certainly should not become president of the United States." In July 2017, during an interview by Amy Goodman, Julian Assange said that choosing between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is like choosing between cholera or gonorrhea. "Personally, I would prefer neither." WikiLeaks editor, Sarah Harrison, has stated that the site is not choosing which damaging publications to release, rather releasing information that is available to them.
In an Election Day statement, Assange criticized both Clinton and Trump, saying that "The Democratic and Republican candidates have both expressed hostility towards whistleblowers." In conversations that were leaked in February 2018, Assange expressed a preference for a Republican victory in the 2016 election, saying that "Dems+Media+liberals woudl [sic] then form a block to reign [sic] in their worst qualities. With Hillary in charge, GOP will be pushing for her worst qualities, dems+media+neoliberals will be mute.".
Having released information that exposed the inner workings of a broad range of organisations and politicians, WikiLeaks started by 2016 to focus almost exclusively on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. In the 2016 US presidential election, WikiLeaks only exposed material damaging to the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton. WikiLeaks even rejected the opportunity to publish unrelated leaks, because it dedicated all its resources to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. According to The New York Times, WikiLeaks timed one of its large leaks so that it would happen on the eve of the Democratic Convention. The Washington Post noted that the leaks came at an important sensitive moment in the Clinton campaign, as she was preparing to announce her vice-presidential pick and unite the party behind her. The Sunlight Foundation, an organisation that advocates for open government, said that such actions meant that WikiLeaks was no longer striving to be transparent but rather sought to achieve political goals.
WikiLeaks explained its actions in a 2017 statement to Foreign Policy: "WikiLeaks schedules publications to maximize readership and reader engagement. During distracting media events such as the Olympics or a high profile election, unrelated publications are sometimes delayed until the distraction passes but never are rejected for this reason." On 7 October 2016, an hour after the media had begun to dedicate wall-to-wall coverage of the revelation that Trump had bragged on video about sexually harassing women, WikiLeaks began to release emails hacked from the personal account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. CNN notes that due to extensive coverage of the Trump tapes, the leaks were an "afterthought" in news coverage. Podesta suggested that the emails were timed to deflect attention from the Trump tapes.
In 2010, Donald Trump called WikiLeaks "disgraceful" and suggested that the "death penalty" should be a punishment for WikiLeaks' releases of information. Following the dump of e-mails hacked from the Hillary Clinton campaign, Donald Trump told voters, "I love WikiLeaks!" Trump made many references to WikiLeaks during the course of the campaign; by one estimate, he referenced disclosures by WikiLeaks over 160 times in speeches during the last 30 days of the campaign.
In October 2017, it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a company working on behalf of the Trump presidential campaign, had contacted WikiLeaks about missing Hillary Clinton e-mails and the possibility of creating a searchable database for the campaign to use. After this was reported, Assange confirmed that WikiLeaks had been approached by Cambridge Analytica but had rejected the approach. WikiLeaks did not disclose what the subject of Cambridge Analytica's approach was.
Correspondence between WikiLeaks and Donald Trump Jr.
In November 2017, it was revealed that the WikiLeaks Twitter account corresponded with Donald Trump Jr. during the 2016 presidential election. The correspondence shows how WikiLeaks actively solicited the co-operation of Trump Jr., a campaign surrogate and advisor in the campaign of his father. WikiLeaks urged the Trump campaign to reject the results of the 2016 presidential election at a time when it looked as if the Trump campaign would lose. WikiLeaks asked Trump Jr. to share a claim by Assange that Hillary Clinton had wanted to attack him with drones. WikiLeaks also shared a link to a site that would help people to search through WikiLeaks documents. Trump Jr. shared both. After the election, WikiLeaks also requested that the president-elect push Australia to appoint Assange as ambassador to the US. After The New York Times published a fragment of Donald Trump's tax returns for one year, WikiLeaks asked Trump Jr. for one or more of his father's tax returns, explaining that it would be in his father's best interest because it would "dramatically improve the perception of our impartiality" and not come "through the most biased source (e.g. NYT/MSNBC)." WikiLeaks also asked Trump Jr. to leak his own e-mails to them days after The New York Times broke a story about e-mail correspondence between Trump Jr. and a Kremlin-affiliated lawyer; WikiLeaks said that it would be "beautifully confounding" for them to publish the e-mails and that it would deprive other news outlets from putting a negative spin on the correspondence. Trump Jr. provided this correspondence to congressional investigators looking into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Allegations of Russian influence
In August 2016, after WikiLeaks published thousands of DNC emails, it was claimed that Russian intelligence had hacked the e-mails and leaked them to WikiLeaks. At the time, DNC officials made such claims, along with a number of cybersecurity experts and cybersecurity firms. Assange accused the Clinton campaign of stoking "a neo-McCarthy hysteria". In October 2016, the US intelligence community announced that it was "confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations". The US intelligence agencies said that the hacks were consistent with the methods of Russian-directed efforts, and that people high up within the Kremlin were likely involved. On 14 October 2016, CNN reported that "there is mounting evidence that the Russian government is supplying WikiLeaks with hacked emails pertaining to the U.S. presidential election." WikiLeaks has denied any connection to or co-operation with Russia. President Putin has strongly denied any Russian involvement in the election.
In September 2016, the German weekly magazine Focus reported that according to a confidential German government dossier, WikiLeaks had long since been infiltrated by Russian agents aiming to discredit NATO governments. The magazine added that French and British intelligence services had come to the same conclusion and said Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev receive details about what WikiLeaks publishes before publication. The Focus report followed a New York Times story that suggested that WikiLeaks may be a laundering machine for compromising material about Western countries gathered by Russian spies.
On 10 December 2016, The Washington Post reported that the Central Intelligence Agency concluded that Russia intelligence operatives provided materials to WikiLeaks in an effort to help Donald Trump's election bid. WikiLeaks has frequently been criticised for its alleged absence of whistleblowing on or criticism of Russia.
In April 2016, WikiLeaks tweeted criticism of the Panama Papers, which had among other things revealed Russian businesses and individuals linked with offshore ties. The WikiLeaks Twitter account tweeted, "#PanamaPapers Putin attack was produced by OCCRP which targets Russia & former USSR and was funded by USAID and [George] Soros". Putin would later go on to dismiss the Panama Papers by citing WikiLeaks: "WikiLeaks has showed us that official people and official organs of the U.S. are behind this." According to The New York Times, both Assange claims are substance-free: "there is no evidence suggesting that the United States government had a role in releasing the Panama Papers."
In 2012, as WikiLeaks was under a financial blockade, Assange began to host a television show that was distributed by Journeyman Pictures and aired on Russia Today. Assange has never disclosed how much he or WikiLeaks were paid for his television show. Writing in Salon, Glenn Greenwald disputed that Assange represented the views of the Russian government in the show, arguing that the views Assange presented in his interview with Hassan Nasrallah were strongly critical of the Syrian government, a Russian ally.
After President Trump's National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn resigned in February 2017 due to reports over his communications with Russian officials and subsequent lies over the content and nature of those communications, WikiLeaks tweeted that Flynn resigned "after [a] destabilization campaign by U.S. spies, Democrats, press."
In April 2017, the WikiLeaks Twitter account suggested that the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack, which international human rights organisations and governments of the United States, United Kingdom, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, France, and Israel attributed to the Syrian government, was a false flag attack. WikiLeaks stated that "while western establishment media beat the drum for more war in Syria the matter is far from clear", and shared a video by a Syrian activist who claimed that Islamist extremists were probably behind the chemical attack, not the Syrian government.
In May 2017, cybersecurity experts stated that they believed that groups affiliated with the Russian government were involved in the hacking and leaking of e-mails associated with the Emmanuel Macron campaign; these e-mails were published on Pastebin but heavily promoted by WikiLeaks social media channels.
In April 2017, CIA Director Mike Pompeo stated: "It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is – a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia." Pompeo said that the US Intelligence Community had concluded that Russia's "primary propaganda outlet," RT had "actively collaborated" with WikiLeaks.
In August 2017, Foreign Policy reported that WikiLeaks had in the summer of 2016 turned down a large cache of documents containing information damaging to the Russian government. WikiLeaks stated that, "As far as we recall these are already public ... WikiLeaks rejects all information that it cannot verify. WikiLeaks rejects submissions that have already been published elsewhere". News outlets had reported on contents of the leaks in 2014, amounting to less than half of the data that was allegedly made available to WikiLeaks in the summer of 2016.
Allegations of anti-semitism
WikiLeaks has been accused of anti-semitism both in its Twitter activity and hiring decisions. According to Ian Hislop, Assange claimed that a "Jewish conspiracy" was attempting to discredit the organization. Assange denied making this remark, stating "'Jewish conspiracy' is completely false, in spirit and in word. It is serious and upsetting."
In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shooting in January 2015, the WikiLeaks Twitter account wrote that "the Jewish pro-censorship lobby legitimized attacks", referring to the trial of Maurice Sinet. In July 2016, the same account suggested that triple parentheses, or (((echoes))) – a tool used by neo-Nazis to identify Jews on Twitter, appropriated by several Jews online out of solidarity – had been used as a way for "establishment climbers" to identify one another. In leaked internal conversations, the WikiLeaks twitter account, thought to be controlled by Assange at the time, discussed an article critical of WikiLeaks by Associated Press reporter Raphael Satter. The WikiLeaks Twitter account went on call the journalist "a rat", adding "but he's Jewish" and encouraged others to troll him.
Exaggerated and misleading descriptions of the contents of leaks
WikiLeaks has been criticised for making misleading claims about the contents of its leaks. Media outlets have also been criticized for uncritically repeating WikiLeaks' misleading claims about its leaks. According to University of North Carolina Professor Zeynep Tufekci, this is part of a pattern of behaviour. According to Tufekci, there are three steps to WikiLeaks' "disinformation campaigns": "The first step is to dump many documents at once — rather than allowing journalists to scrutinise them and absorb their significance before publication. The second step is to sensationalise the material with misleading news releases and tweets. The third step is to sit back and watch as the news media unwittingly promotes the WikiLeaks agenda under the auspices of independent reporting."
After the 2016 Turkish coup d'état attempt, WikiLeaks announced that it would release e-mails belonging to Turkey's ruling conservative Justice and Development Party. WikiLeaks released Turkish emails and documents as a response to the Turkish government's crackdown on real or alleged government opponents that followed the coup attempt. When these e-mails were released, however, it "was nothing but mundane mailing lists of tens of thousands of ordinary people who discussed politics online. Back then, too, the ruse worked: Many Western journalists had hyped these non-leaks."
Inadequate curation and violations of personal privacy
WikiLeaks has drawn criticism for violating the personal privacy of individuals and inadequately curating its content. These critics include transparency advocates, such as Edward Snowden, the Sunlight Foundation and the Federation of American Scientists.
WikiLeaks has published individuals' Social Security numbers, medical information, and credit card numbers. An analysis by the Associated Press found that WikiLeaks had in one of its mass-disclosures published "the personal information of hundreds of people – including sick children, rape victims and mental health patients". WikiLeaks has named teenage rape victims, and outed an individual arrested for homosexuality in Saudi Arabia. Some of WikiLeaks' cables "described patients with psychiatric conditions, seriously ill children or refugees". An analysis of WikiLeaks' Saudi cables "turned up more than 500 passport, identity, academic or employment files ... three dozen records pertaining to family issues in the cables – including messages about marriages, divorces, missing children, elopements and custody battles. Many are very personal, like the marital certificates that reveal whether the bride was a virgin. Others deal with Saudis who are deeply in debt, including one man who says his wife stole his money. One divorce document details a male partner's infertility. Others identify the partners of women suffering from sexually transmitted diseases including HIV and Hepatitis C." Two individuals named in the DNC leaks were targeted by identity thieves following WikiLeaks' release of their Social Security and credit card information. In its leak of DNC e-mails, WikiLeaks revealed the details of an ordinary staffer's suicide attempt and brought attention to it through a tweet.
WikiLeaks' publishing of Sony's hacked e-mails drew criticism for violating the privacy of Sony's employees and for failing to be in the public interest. Michael A. Cohen, a fellow at the Century Foundation, argues that "data dumps like these represent a threat to our already shrinking zone of privacy." He noted that the willingness of WikiLeaks to publish information of this type encourages hacking and cyber theft: "With ready and willing amplifiers, what's to deter the next cyberthief from stealing a company's database of information and threatening to send it to Wikileaks if a list of demands aren't met?"
The Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for open government, has criticised WikiLeaks for inadequate curation of its content and for "weaponised transparency," writing that with the DNC leaks, "Wikileaks again failed the due diligence review we expect of putatively journalistic entities when it published the personal information of ordinary citizens, including passport and Social Security numbers contained in the hacked emails of Democratic National Committee staff. We are not alone in raising ethical questions about Wikileaks' shift from whistleblower to platform for weaponised transparency. Any organisation that 'doxxes' a public is harming privacy." The manner in which WikiLeaks publishes content can have the effect of censoring political enemies: "Wikileaks' indiscriminate disclosure in this case is perhaps the closest we've seen in reality to the bogeyman projected by enemies to reform — that transparency is just a Trojan Horse for chilling speech and silencing political enemies."
In July 2016, Edward Snowden criticised WikiLeaks for insufficiently curating its content. When Snowden made data public, he did so by working with the Washington Post, the Guardian and other news organisations, choosing only to make documents public which exposed National Security Agency surveillance programs. Content that compromised national security or exposed sensitive personal information was withheld. WikiLeaks, on the other hand, made little effort to do either, Snowden said. WikiLeaks responded by accusing Snowden of pandering to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
University of North Carolina Professor Zeynep Tufekci has also criticised WikiLeaks for exposing sensitive personal information. She argued that data dumps, such as WikiLeaks, which violate personal privacy without being in the public interest "threaten our ability to dissent by destroying privacy and unleashing a glut of questionable information that functions, somewhat unexpectedly, as its own form of censorship, rather than as a way to illuminate the maneuverings of the powerful."
In January 2017, the WikiLeaks Task Force, a Twitter account associated with WikiLeaks, proposed the creation of a database to track verified Twitter users, including sensitive personal information on individuals' homes, families and finances. According to the Chicago Tribune, "the proposal faced a sharp and swift backlash as technologists, journalists and security researchers slammed the idea as a 'sinister' and dangerous abuse of power and privacy." Twitter furthermore bans the use of Twitter data for "surveillance purposes," stating "Posting another person's private and confidential information is a violation of the Twitter rules."
Internal conflicts and lack of transparency
Within WikiLeaks, there has been public disagreement between founder and spokesperson Julian Assange and Daniel Domscheit-Berg, the website's former German representative who was suspended by Assange. Domscheit-Berg announced on 28 September 2010 that he was leaving the organisation due to internal conflicts over management of the website.
On 25 September 2010, after being suspended by Assange for "disloyalty, insubordination and destabilisation", Daniel Domscheit-Berg, the German spokesman for WikiLeaks, told Der Spiegel that he was resigning, saying "WikiLeaks has a structural problem. I no longer want to take responsibility for it, and that's why I am leaving the project." Assange accused Domscheit-Berg of leaking information to Newsweek, with Domscheit-Berg claiming that the WikiLeaks team was unhappy with Assange's management and handling of the Afghan war document releases. Daniel Domscheit-Berg wanted greater transparency in the articles released to the public. Another vision of his was to focus on providing technology that allowed whistle-blowers to protect their identity as well as a more transparent way of communicating with the media, forming new partnerships and involving new people. Domscheit-Berg left with a small group to start OpenLeaks, a new leak organisation and website with a different management and distribution philosophy.
While leaving, Daniel Domscheit-Berg copied and then deleted roughly 3,500 unpublished documents from the WikiLeaks servers, including information on the US government's 'no-fly list' and inside information from 20 right-wing organisations, and according to a WikiLeaks statement, 5 gigabytes of data relating to Bank of America, the internal communications of 20 neo-Nazi organisations and US intercept information for "over a hundred Internet companies". In Domscheit-Berg's book he wrote: "To this day, we are waiting for Julian to restore security, so that we can return the material to him, which was on the submission platform." In August 2011, Domscheit-Berg claimed he permanently deleted the files "in order to ensure that the sources are not compromised."
Herbert Snorrason, a 25-year-old Icelandic university student, resigned after he challenged Assange on his decision to suspend Domscheit-Berg and was bluntly rebuked. Iceland MP Birgitta Jónsdóttir also left WikiLeaks, citing lack of transparency, lack of structure, and poor communication flow in the organisation. According to the British newspaper, The Independent, at least a dozen key supporters of WikiLeaks left the website during 2010.
Those working for WikiLeaks are reportedly required to sign sweeping non-disclosure agreements covering all conversations, conduct, and material, with Assange having sole power over disclosure. The penalty for non-compliance in one such agreement was reportedly £12 million. WikiLeaks has been challenged for this practice, as it seen to be hypocritical for an organisation dedicated to transparency to limit the transparency of its inner workings and limit the accountability of powerful individuals in the organisation.
Lawsuit by the Democratic National Committee
On 20 April 2018, the Democratic National Committee filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit in federal district court in Manhattan against Russia, the Trump campaign, WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, alleging a conspiracy to disrupt the 2016 United States presidential election in Trump's favour. The suit was dismissed with prejudice on 30 July 2019. In his judgement, Judge John Koeltl said that WikiLeaks "did not participate in any wrongdoing in obtaining the materials in the first place" and was therefore within the law in publishing the information. He also said that the DNC case was "entirely divorced" from the facts. The suit could not be refiled due to its "substantive legal defect". The federal judge also wrote “The DNC’s interest in keeping ‘donor lists’ and ‘fundraising strategies’ secret is dwarfed by the newsworthiness of the documents as a whole”...“If WikiLeaks could be held liable for publishing documents concerning the DNC’s political financial and voter-engagement strategies simply because the DNC labels them ‘secret’ and trade secrets, then so could any newspaper or other media outlet.”
Koeltl also said U.S. courts were not the place for the DNC to seek damages against Russia over the hacking. “Relief from the alleged activities of the Russian Federation should be sought from the political branches of the Government and not from the court”.
Awards and praise
From interested parties
WikiLeaks has received praise as well as criticism. The organisation won a number of awards in its early years, including The Economist's New Media Award in 2008 at the Index on Censorship Awards and Amnesty International's UK Media Award in 2009. In 2010, the New York Daily News listed WikiLeaks first among websites "that could totally change the news," and Julian Assange received the Sam Adams Award and was named the Readers' Choice for TIME's Person of the Year in 2010. The UK Information Commissioner has stated that "WikiLeaks is part of the phenomenon of the online, empowered citizen." During its first days, an Internet petition in support of WikiLeaks attracted more than six hundred thousand signatures.
Support for good use of free speech
Sympathisers of WikiLeaks in the media and academia commended it during its early years for exposing state and corporate secrets, increasing transparency, assisting freedom of the press, and enhancing democratic discourse while challenging powerful institutions. In 2010, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern over the "cyber war" being led at the time against WikiLeaks, and in a joint statement with the Organization of American States the UN Special Rapporteur called on states and other people to keep international legal principles in mind.
Public positions taken by politicians concerning Wikileaks
In 2010, after WikiLeaks' release of classified U.S. government documents leaked by Chelsea Manning, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden likened Julian Assange to a "high-tech terrorist," stating that he had put people's lives in danger.
Several Republicans who had once been highly critical of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange began to speak fondly of him after WikiLeaks published the DNC leaks and started to regularly criticise Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. Having called WikiLeaks "disgraceful" in 2010, President-Elect Donald Trump praised WikiLeaks in October 2016, saying, "I love WikiLeaks." In 2019, Trump said "I know nothing about WikiLeaks. It’s not my thing." Newt Gingrich, who called for Assange to be "treated as an enemy combatant" in 2010, praised him as a "down to Earth, straight forward interviewee" in 2017. Sean Hannity, who had in 2010 said that Assange waged a "war" on the United States, praised him in 2016 for showing "how corrupt, dishonest and phony our government is". Sarah Palin, who had in 2010 described Assange as an "anti-American operative with blood on his hands", praised Assange in 2017.
Tulsi Gabbard spoke of the "chilling effect on investigative journalism", first of the US government's reclassification of Wikileaks (from "news organization" during the Obama administration to "hostile intelligence service" after the 2016 election), then of his arrest.
Concerns from U.S. government
At the same time, several US government officials have criticised WikiLeaks for exposing classified information and claimed that the leaks harm national security and compromise international diplomacy. Several human rights organisations requested with respect to earlier document releases that WikiLeaks adequately redact the names of civilians working with international forces, to prevent repercussions. Some journalists have likewise criticised a perceived lack of editorial discretion when releasing thousands of documents at once and without sufficient analysis. In 2016, Harvard law professor and Electronic Frontier Foundation board member Jonathan Zittrain argued that a culture in which one constantly risks being "outed" as a result of virtual Watergate-like break-ins (or violations of the Fourth Amendment) could lead people to hesitate to speak their minds.
Also in April 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated that arresting Assange was a priority: "We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious. So yes, it is a priority. We've already begun to step up our efforts and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail."
Campaigns to discredit Wikileaks
In 2010 the Bank of America employed the services of a group of information security firms collectively known as Team Themis when it became concerned about information that Wikileaks held about it and was planning to release. Team Themis included private intelligence and security firms HBGary Federal, Palantir Technologies and Berico Technologies. In 2011 hacktivist group Anonymous released emails it had obtained from HBGary Federal. Among other things, the emails revealed that Team Themis had planned to sabotage and discredit Wikileaks using various plans. One plan was to attack Wikileaks servers and obtain information about document submitters to "kill the project". Another was to submit fake documents to Wikileaks and then call out the error. A further plan involved pressuring supporters of Wikileaks such as journalist Glenn Greenwald. The plans were not implemented and, after the emails were published, Palantir CEO Alex Karp issued a public apology for his company’s role.
- OpenLeaks was created by a former WikiLeaks spokesperson. Daniel Domscheit-Berg said the intention was to be more transparent than WikiLeaks. OpenLeaks was supposed to start public operations in early 2011 but despite much media coverage, as of April 2013 it is not operating.
- In December 2011, WikiLeaks launched Friends of WikiLeaks, a social network for supporters and founders of the website.
- On 9 September 2013 a number of major Dutch media outlets supported the launch of Publeaks, which provides a secure website for people to leak documents to the media using the GlobaLeaks whistleblowing software.
- RuLeaks is aimed at being a Russian equivalent to WikiLeaks. It was initiated originally to provide translated versions of the WikiLeaks cables but the Moscow Times reports it has started to publish its own content as well.
- Leakymails is a project designed to obtain and publish relevant documents exposing corruption of the political class and the powerful in Argentina.
- Honest Appalachia, initiated in January 2012, is a website based in the United States intended to appeal to potential "whistleblowers" in West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina, and serve as a replicable model for similar projects elsewhere.
In popular culture
- Mediastan is a documentary released in 2013, directed by Johannes Wahlström, featuring the people behind Wikileaks.
- Underground: The Julian Assange Story is a biography movie of the early life of Julian Assange, directed by Robert Connolly.
- The documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks by director Alex Gibney premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
- The Fifth Estate is a film directed by Bill Condon, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Assange. The film is based on Wikileaks defector Domscheit-Berg's book Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World's Most Dangerous Website, as well as WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy by David Leigh and Luke Harding.
- War, Lies and Videotape is a documentary by French directors Paul Moreira and Luc Hermann from press agency Premieres Lignes. The film was first released in France, in 2011 and then broadcast worldwide.
- The Source is a 2014 oratorio by Ted Hearne, with a libretto by Mark Doten that features WikiLeaks document disclosures by Chelsea Manning.
On 11 April 2019, Ecuador withdrew Julian Assange's asylum and invited the police into its embassy to arrest him. Later in April Ecuador detained Ola Bini and froze his bank accounts saying that he was under investigation for cyber-attack charges. Ecuador authorities said Bini was a key member of Wikileaks and close to Assange.
- 2016 Democratic National Committee email leak
- Assange v Swedish Prosecution Authority
- Chilling Effects
- Classified information in the United States
- Data activism
- Digital rights
- Freedom of information
- Freedom of the press
- Freedom of the Press Foundation
- Information security
- Information warfare
- Mueller Report
- New York Times Co. v. United States
- Open government
- Open society
- 1993 PGP criminal investigation
- Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections
- Speaking truth to power
- Timeline of Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections
- Timeline of investigations into Trump and Russia
- Transparency (social)
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WikiLeaks ... is fueling Internet conspiracy theories by offering a $20,000 reward for information on a Democratic National Committee staffer who was killed last month ... in what police say was robbery gone wrong ... Assange implied this week in an interview that Rich was the source of the leak and even offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of his murderer. Meanwhile, the Russian government funded propaganda outlet RT had already been covering Rich's murder two weeks prior. RT and other Russian government propaganda outlets have also been working hard to deny the Russian government was the source of the leak, including by interviewing Assange about the Rich murder. ... The original conspiracy theory can be traced back to a notoriously unreliable conspiracy website
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November last year ... well blowouts in Albania ... Have you had information from inside BP? Yeah, we have a lot ...
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