According to a newly released Foreign Policy report, leaked communications show Wikileaks declined to release a cache of hacked Russian documents in the winter of 2016, dismissing the only partially published records as "already public". While there will be plenty of talk about this being proof of founder Julian Assange's loyalties to Russia, it most prominently displays his general hypocrisy and self-interest. Photo: Getty
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange released a statement about the US election on Tuesday, defending his organisation's decision to post thousands of emails from the Democratic National Party's senior officials during the height of the US presidential election season.
Ever since Wikileaks published Hillary Clinton, the DNC and John Podesta's email archives, the organisation has been on the outs with many liberals and leftists in the US. It was hard to deny that Assange has held a grudge against Hillary Clinton for many years and, by all appearances, he was willing to take that grudge so far that he'd help get a maniac like Donald Trump elected. When the extent of Russia's meddling in the 2016 US election became more clear, many people began wondering if Assange was a secret ally of Putin. Foreign Policy's report from Thursday will not help the Wikileaks founder gain much credibility in his denials.
According to the report, Wikileaks was offered at least 68 gigabytes of data from the Russian Interior Ministry by an anonymous source. But Assange didn't feel that dropping the documents was a high priority. Foreign Policy was able to view partial chat logs from the time and was given details by a source that provided the internal communications.
The logs show only Wikileaks' side of the conversation, with an unidentified representative reportedly writing, "As far as we recall these are already public." In 2014, the BBC reported on some of the hacked materials that were being offered to Assange, but according to Foreign Policy, that was less than half of the materials that Wikileaks turned down in 2016.
Foreign Policy's source said that several leaks were offered that would have exposed corruption and they were shocked to be turned down. "Many Wikileaks staff and volunteers or their families suffered at the hands of Russian corruption and cruelty, we were sure Wikileaks would release it," the source said. "Assange gave excuse after excuse." Foreign Policy only says that "the Russian cache was eventually quietly published online elsewhere, to almost no attention or scrutiny".
On another occasion later that year, Wikileaks reportedly declined a different leak from the same source as "diversionary" because it lacked "an election angle".
Foreign Policy spoke to Wikileaks through DM on Twitter. The respondent is only identified as "staff", but it's generally assumed that Assange himself runs the account. "WikiLeaks schedules publications to maximise readership and reader engagement," the staff member wrote. "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."
Assange has maintained from the beginning that Wikileaks doesn't "have targets", and he's insisted for a long time that he'd like to expose more material from Russia and China. But he seems to be admitting that if it doesn't put the biggest spotlight on Wikileaks at the time, he'll take a pass.
The report goes on to outline many other examples of times that Assange has decided to overlook materials and demonstrated shady connections to Russia. Whether it shows that he's some sort of witting agent for Putin is dubious. But any claims he makes about being purely focused on distributing any important information he receives regardless of its country of origin or political affiliation are garbage. The biggest revelation to come out of the Clinton email dump was that a staffer at CNN tipped off Clinton's campaign to some of the debate prep before she faced Bernie Sanders. Yeah, it looks bad, but it's hardly earthshaking. Other than that, the release's greatest contributions are the Pizzagate conspiracy and Donald Trump screaming, "I love Wikileaks."
Assange is a journalist, a unique kind of journalist for sure, but a journalist nonetheless. He makes editorial decisions, and he can be wrong. But these days, his self-aggrandisement and personal mythmaking border on megalomania. He's the kind of guy who will make up a story about his cat being a gift from his kids just to give himself an extra level of humanity that seems so clearly to be missing. In other words, he's an arsehole.