Edward Snowden changed the information game whenever he leaked classified information about global surveillance systems. The event was a message to the world about the capabilities of governments and their intelligence agencies. Julian Ass
ange has often been confused with Snowden because they fall along the same lines of leaking information and pissing off world governments. However, Assange is, in my opinion, afar more intriguing and possibly far more dangerous character.
Let me explain, Assange is the founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks—an organization that publishes and releases classified information and media often originating from whistle blowers. The supposed nonprofit (supposed because a private limited company with shareholders isn’t supposed to be considered nonprofit) has claimed to have released over 10 million documents since its founding back in 2006, when Assange was just coming out of his group hacker faze; his cyber punk hacker name was Mendax, he hacked a lot of stuff.
When Assange founded the company under Sunshine Press, he released a manifesto to explain his philosophy for leaking information, “…in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.”
This is essentially how WikiLeaks started too, its slogan was even, “We open governments.”
That’s sort of what makes this such a hard topic for us, especially Americans. We have a heavy belief in a free press; a belief that we need reporters to keep people, programs, and the government honest and to inform the people about significant happenings. WikiLeaks operated as a catalyst of sorts for this information, finding and releasing the hard to get information.
WikiLeaks has even done some objectively good things in its history. Take the “Collateral Murder” tape. Back in 2007, there was a series of air-to-ground air strikes being conducted in Baghdad. The operation consisted of a team of two US AH-64 Apache Helicopters, heading out to find and eliminate Iraqi insurgents. The helicopters entered an area where an American Humvee was attacked by small arms fire, the location was now occupied by about a dozen Iraqi men. Believing the men were insurgents back with more advanced weaponry, the Apache opened fire with its 30mm cannon.
As it turned out the men attacked were actually there investigating the attack and the “weapons” they were holding were actually simply just cameras. It is estimated that seven men were killed in that strike. Even more shockingly two of the men were well known Iraqi war correspondents for the website Reuters, Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen. Eldeen was killed in the air strike while Chmagh was critically injured.
The second strike was actually conducted not too long afterwards, when a van saw the attack and moved to go help the injured Chmagh. The helicopter again launched an attack before classifying the van as an insurgency raid. The van ended up being occupied by a father and his two children. The father unfortunately died and the children were left injured in the back with shrapnel wounds and major brain damage. Chmagh also lost his life in the second air strike, trying to show that they were firing on civilians.
At this point in the story people had fled into a nearby building, prompting the helicopter to launch three AGM-114 Hellfire missiles.
Reuters investigators tried for years to attain reports on their fallen comrades by invoking the Freedom of Information Act, but all their attempts were unsuccessful. It wasn’t until 2009 that WikiLeaks obtained the video from an undisclosed source and released it to the public. There is a lot more to this story, even to this day these events are talked about especially for their horrid commentary. However, for all intents and purposes, people that had done wrong were finally getting their comeuppance.
So again, the organization has done good, that can be seen in some of the Yemen files and how they promote free press in countries that cannot at the moment operate a system themselves. So, where does the controversy come in.
Well a lot of it can be found in the more recent years of WikiLeaks. For me one of the most alarming is WikiLeaks and Assange’s attitude towards Russia; yes, Russia and its connections making me feel like a conspiracy theorist again. But, there is a lot of weird connections between Russia, America, and WikiLeaks now. For instance, the DNC hack is alleged to have been conducted by Russian agents and released to WikiLeaks, a move that Trump openly encouraged. A move that was so anti-Clinton it almost seems like the organization was choosing partisanship over independence. The Podesta files as well were a means to undermine a running election, and I am not saying there isn’t interesting stuff in these files or that WikiLeaks wasn’t going to try and release these anyways, but let’s look for a second into Assange’s connections with Russia.
Back in 2015, while moving to Ecuador’s London embassy, Assange requested that he be able to pick his security team. He opted that the Russians would provide his security and should be allowed into the Embassy, a move that was said to be akin to “a coup in the embassy.”
Remember last week when we discussed the propaganda network RT, well, Assange has actually hosted a show on the network where he has criticized American culture and motives, while ignoring the fact that he was operating within a pro-Putin channel. A show that would have had to gone through Putin himself to have been authorized.
Snowden even got mixed up in the Russian government because his passport was canceled while he was on his way to Latin America, his preferred location. But, Assange has alleged that he was adamant to keep Snowden in Russia; Assange’s preferred location.
Assange even abandoned his own philosophy once for Russia when it came to denouncing the Panama Papers, a leak that attacked many elites of the world including Russian oligarchs and Putin himself. Assange accused the leak as an American plot even though American businessmen and politicians were caught in the scandal. Putin eventually agreed with his statements.
So, it is just so weird that a man that wishes to attack repressive governments and defend the people from misinformation is so candid and playful with one of the world’s biggest perpetrators in that field. Russia currently ranks number 148 out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders Press Index program. When confronted with this accusation, Assange gave a fairly weak answer, “In Russia, there are many vibrant publications, online blogs, and Kremlin critics such as [Alexey] Navalny are part of that spectrum. There are also newspapers like Novaya Gazeta, in which different parts of society in Moscow are permitted to critique each other and it is tolerated… So my interpretation is that in Russia there are competitors to WikiLeaks, and no WikiLeaks staff speak Russian.”
The problem with that is one, they have worked with Russian organizations and agents. And two, is the idea that Assange doesn’t recognize the strife of a Russian reporter. Ever since Putin has come into power 34 reporters, known for their criticism of the government, have been murdered. Before you think I am getting into conspiracy theory territory again, this number does not include other murders where the motive was unclear or the perpetrator was never found. This number comes from a clear motive and the perpetrator often being a military official. Reporters and Satirist are often harassed and threatened on a weekly basis for their work. One of those two people Assange mentioned, Navalny, was actually arrested last month for his criticisms.
Looking more into there motives, we also see WikiLeaks fail in their mission to protect citizens. During the DNC hack and the release of the Podesta Files, peoples personal information was released. We are talking about credit card numbers, social security, addresses. These people who were targeted were mostly just innocent donors, people trying to support their party or an individual cause. Yet, thats part of the problem with WikiLeaks, they don’t need an editor; their is no filter. They release all, regardless if that information can eventually cause harm.
I wish I could go into more about WikiLeaks because we like an organization that helps whistle blowers get their information out. However, there are other alternatives. Snowden contacted journalists directly. The VA now has a department to protect military whistle blowers. I am not saying that whistle blowing is easy, just that WikiLeaks and the thousands of other sites do have their disadvantages.
Then you have Assange, who is at the center of it. A man so mysterious, so intriguing, I can’t tell if he is just a radical idealist or a full-on zealot with a bit of a God complex. We need to come to terms that one man is making a lot of heavy decisions almost completely on his own.