Wikileaks champions itself as the “new model of journalism” through its whistleblowing activities, but its focus on the 2016 presidential election may have hit too close to home.
The US publicly blamed Russia for recent email leaks on October 7. It suggested publications like Wikileaks that hosted the material were also Russian-backed. The controversy surrounding the leaks has pushed its way onto the presidential debate stage. Democratic nominee Hilary Clinton has questioned the reliability of Wikileaks and rival Donald Trump’s personal admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The non-profit is as secretive as its founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange. While there’s no smoking gun that reveals Wikileaks as a Russian project, the impact the whistleblowing site will have in this election is undeniable.
Here’s what you need to know about Wikileaks:
1. Wikileak’s Founder Julian Assange Started Hacking Governments as a Teenager
When he was 16, Assange took up hacking at a time when Web sites were still nonexistent. Still, with a modem and a computer, he worked with others to break into secure networks including the US Department of Defense. His group, International Subversives, followed the Golden Rules, according to a book called “Underground”, reports the New Yorker.
“Don’t damage computer systems you break into (including crashing them); don’t change the information in those systems (except for altering logs to cover your tracks); and share information.”
The law caught up with Assange and in 1999 he admitted to hacking the systems of Australian National University, RMIT and Telecom, Courier Mail reports. He went on to found Wikileaks in 2006, a whistleblowing site that describes itself as, “a new model of journalism” that has strict standards for accuracy.
2. DNC Hacker “Guccifer 2.0” Says He’s Not Russian, but Cybersecurity Firms Say Otherwise
Cybersecurity firms have concluded that Russia was behind Democratic National Committee hack, which exposed bias the toward Hillary Clinton’s campaign. An online persona called “Guccifer 2.0” claimed responsibility for hacking the DNC and sharing files with Wikileaks, though he claimed no connection with Russia.
Reports from multiple cybersecurity firms suggest otherwise. Hired by the DNC to look into the attack, Crowdstrike attributed the leaks to two Russian groups, Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear. Cyber-analysis firm ThreatConnect investigated Internet protocol addresses and found a domain name, misdepatrment.com, all but identical to the DNC’s cybersecurity firm except for the misplaced r. ThreatConnect says Fancy Bear has used the technique before, probably to trick targets into thinking emails are coming from a known and trusted source, reports the Washington Post.
Regardless of the source of the leaked emails, not a single email or document’s contents has yet been disputed says the Intercept reporter Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald called out Newsweek reporter Kurt Eichenwald for suggesting a three way alliance between Trump, Wikileaks and Russia after the presidential nominee used an inaccurate report about a Wikileaks email that came from a Russian government outlet.
3. Hillary’s Campaign Has Disputed the Contents of the Latest Email Leak: The Podesta Emails
Clinton’s Campaign Chair John Podesta, is the latest target of email leaks published on Wikileaks. The site just released the second batch of 50,000 emails. So far, the emails have invited closer scrutiny over Clinton’s cozy relationship with Wall Street and Bill Clinton’s sex life.
Clinton’s campaign has discredited the hacks as a Russian-backed operation intended to, “throw the election to Trump.” In the second presidential debate against Trump, Clinton referred to a October 7 report where the US officially blamed Russia for recent hacks including email leaks. She has said Trump’s stated admiration for Russian president Vladimir Putin is particularly concerning. However, she seemed to acknowledge the leaks were true when she clarified an email with an excerpt of her paid speeches to Wall Street.
Podesta suggested that Russians were behind the leaks and that they contain fake documents. Clinton’s running mate Tim Kaine also questioned the authenticity of the emails in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union”.
“They’ve put out documents that are purported to be from my account,” Podesta told Fox News.
4. Wikileaks is Set Up So it’s Nearly Impossible for Governments to Shut it Down
Unlike hard copy files, Wikileak’s publications are nearly impossible to wipe out. Wikileaks hosts its publications on servers worldwide such as Sweden, Iceland and Belgium. For the US to shut down the operation, it would have to deal with international laws, which provide strong protections for whistleblowers in many cases, the Telegraph reports.
For example, the Swedish internet hosting company PRQ hosts Wikileaks as well as file sharing website Pirate Bay. PRQ founder Mikael Viborg told the Telegraph that Wikileaks has its publications backed up should its current servers go down. The site is rumored to have servers 30 meters underground in a Cold War nuclear bunker.
Wikileaks also protects its sources with the same secrecy. Wikileaks’s Assange says it uses encryption to, “bounce stuff around the internet to hide trails.” Wikileaks said on October 16 that a “state party” disrupted Assange’s internet and added that it had contingency plans.
5. The US Has Officially Linked Wikileaks to Russia
The US intelligence community has officially pinned recent cybersecurity attacks on Russia. It also claimed that whistleblower sites that published the emails like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks were also connected to Russia. The report concluded that only, “Russia’s senior most officials could have authorized these activities.”
The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts…These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process,” according to the joint statement from the Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Election Security
Like National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, Assange is no friend to the federal government. The Wikileaks founder has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, evading extradition to Sweden where he is wanted on rape allegations. Wikileaks fears that the US will take Assange if he is extradited to Sweden. Its spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsoon said they would only believe US if it issues an official confirmation that it won’t prosecute Wikileaks.
UPDATE: The post has been updated to with Clinton’s response to a Wikileaks email as well as reporter Glenn Greenwald’s take on the Media’s relationship with Clinton’s campaign.