[Marxism] Can We Trust Julian Assange and WikiLeaks?
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Aug 8 08:19:16 MDT 2016
NY Times Op-Ed, August 8 2016
Can We Trust Julian Assange and WikiLeaks?
By ALEX GIBNEY
The release of a cache of emails from the Democratic National Committee
by WikiLeaks last month has raised a great many questions — about the
role of the D.N.C. in trying to influence the primary and about the
alleged interference of Russian intelligence in an American election.
It also raised long-debated questions about WikiLeaks itself, about how
an organization dedicated to radical transparency continues to bring
secretive worlds to light. And the episode reveals some of the
weaknesses of WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, like their
recklessness with personal data and their use of information to settle
scores and drive personal agendas.
I’ve had my own run-ins with Mr. Assange. During the making of my 2013
film, “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks,” I spent an agonizing
six hours with him, when he was living in an English country house while
out on bail. I was struck by how insistently he steered the conversation
away from matters of principle to personal slights against him, and his
plans for payback. He demanded personal “intel” on others I had
interviewed, and dismissed questions about the organization by saying,
“I am WikiLeaks” repeatedly. (Later, Mr. Assange and his followers
attacked both me and my film.)
Even given that history, I believe that WikiLeaks was fully justified in
publishing the D.N.C. emails, which provided proof that members of the
D.N.C., in a hotly contested primary, discussed how to undermine the
campaign of Bernie Sanders. They are clearly in the public interest.
As for Mr. Assange’s animus against Hillary Clinton — he has written
that she “lacks judgment and will push the United States into endless,
stupid wars which spread terrorism” — that is evidence of bias, but no
more than that. After all, many news outlets are clearly, and sometimes
We still don’t know who leaked the D.N.C. archive, but given Mr.
Assange’s past association with Russia, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn
that it was a Russian agent or an intermediary. Mr. Assange insists this
is a mere distraction from the issue of D.N.C. interference, but the
answer is also in the public interest. We should all be concerned
(although hardly surprised) if it is that easy for the Russians to break
into the D.N.C. and possibly United States government networks.
As for the way the leak was published, Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks have
more to answer for. Contained in the D.N.C. archive were Social Security
numbers and credit card data of private individuals, information that
served no public interest. Mr. Assange defended this invasion of privacy
by claiming that deleting the information would have harmed the
integrity of the archive.
But there is a responsible tradition of redacting potentially harmful
private information. In 2010, just before publishing the first Afghan
war logs provided to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning, Mr. Assange and a
group of journalists from The Guardian, The New York Times and Der
Spiegel were engaged in a tussle over redacting the names of Afghan
informants. The three publications all decided to do so, but Mr. Assange
disagreed. As he told Nick Davies of The Guardian, “If an Afghan
civilian helps coalition forces, he deserves to die.”
Others present at this time insist that he was concerned about their
safety but had little technical ability to do the redactions on a tight
deadline. The net result: Mr. Assange held back 15,000 documents and
published the rest, including the names of about 100 Afghan civilians.
There is no evidence that any of those people were killed. But people
could have been hurt. And his refusal to redact allowed the United
States government to deflect attention from the evidence of possible war
crimes by claiming that Mr. Assange had blood on his hands.
In an underappreciated part of the WikiLeaks saga, computer-savvy
volunteers at the organization corrected Mr. Assange’s mistake and used
an inventive computer program to scrub names and identities from the
second leak of documents, the Iraq War Logs. It was an exemplary display
of how to publish sensitive materials. Sadly, Mr. Assange reverted to
form in subsequent leaks, including the unredacted publication of
251,000 State Department cables and his recent release of the emails
from the A.K.P., Turkey’s ruling party, which exposed the personal
information of more than one million Turkish women.
By comparison, Edward J. Snowden has been much more careful about how
leaked documents were published. He recently criticized Mr. Assange,
noting that WikiLeaks’ “hostility to even modest curation is a mistake.”
Mr. Assange has also leaked documents to benefit his private aims. In
2010, he ordered an associate named James Ball to pass 90,000 cables
covering Russia, most European countries and Israel to a shady
journalist named Israel Shamir, who, according to Mr. Ball, later
offered them to pro-Putin Russian media outlets for a $10,000 fee. It
also seems likely that Mr. Shamir passed documents to Belarus’s brutal
president, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, just before a crackdown on
opposition activists (which WikiLeaks has denied). Mr. Shamir is also
the father of Johannes Wahlstrom, a Swedish journalist who helped to
engineer a vilification campaign against the two women who accused Mr.
Assange of sexual assaults and who was to be a key witness had Mr.
Assange been tried for rape in Sweden.
For many of those who know him well, Mr. Assange is afflicted by what
the police call “noble cause corruption,” a belief that noble ends
justify reckless or immoral means. In a world awash in new information —
and misinformation — context, motivation and trust are crucial when
weighing the importance of leaks and their accuracy. Mr. Assange still
claims that WikiLeaks is a beacon of transparency. We should no longer
take him at his word.
Alex Gibney is a filmmaker whose latest documentary, “Zero Days,” is
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