The History of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange
The Julian Assange case has long been more political than legal.
On April 20, it became known that the London court issued an extradition warrant for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States. Assange has several cases related to the disclosure of classified information. He faces a prison sentence of 175 years.
In this article, we will talk about the history of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.
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What is WikiLeaks?
WikiLeaks began its history in December 2006. The project calls itself a non-profit organization. The website says that WikiLeaks specializes in analyzing and publishing huge amounts of data and secret documents related to wars, espionage, and corruption.
To date, 10 million items have been published. Despite the similar name, Wikipedia has nothing to do with the resource.
The site exists due to donations from organizations and individuals sympathetic to WikiLeaks. After MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal refused to work with the site, partner organizations, in particular the Wau Holland Foundation and Freedom of the Press Foundation, carry out transactions on its behalf. Since 2011, the site has been accepting donations in bitcoins.
In February 2010, the site was on the verge of bankruptcy: the administration literally had no money to continue its activities. The resource was saved by donations from organizations and users.
Even though the resource calls itself a multinational media organization, WikiLeaks cannot be called a full-fledged media organization. The project does not comment on published documents and currently serves more as an Internet encyclopedia of leaked information and a site for leaking classified documents. Nevertheless, after the loud revelations, many dubbed the project the future of journalism, calling it the first media channel in the world without ratings.
The organization encourages journalists of various publications to take materials from the site and make editorial content based on them. Among the partners with whom WikiLeaks is working on the release of documents are The Guardian, Spanish El Pais, Der Spiegel, The New York Times, and The Associated Press.
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Who is Julian Assange?
The founder, publisher, editor-in-chief, and official representative of WikiLeaks is Julian Assange. His interest in the secrets of the state was noticed at the age of 16: in his teenage years, he was a member of the hacker group International Subversives and hacked the internal systems of the US Department of Defense.
His hacking record also includes the infrastructure of the National University of Australia and the Melbourne Institute of Technology.
In 2006, Assange wrote a series of articles that can be called his political manifesto. According to him, he opposes “conspiracy state structures built on secrecy and authoritarianism,” which includes, for example, the US government.
Assange is a supporter of radical transparency, and information openness. At the same time, in his opinion, the task is not just “to shed light on something, but to put sticks in the wheels.”
Since 2019, the WikiLeaks founder has been living in London prison, hiding from Swedish justice. In the country where he once lived, he was accused of rape: two women with whom he had an affair filed a lawsuit against Assange, claiming that he humiliated their dignity and refused to have sex without a condom, despite their requests. In Sweden, such actions are treated as rape.
Where do informants come from?
The principle of WikiLeaks is that everyone can upload socially important documents to the site on an anonymous basis. All documents are reviewed by volunteers, journalists, and employees of the organization, who decide what should be published and what should not. According to the representative of the site, in 2014 there were already a sufficient number of applications from potential whistleblowers to take the project staff many years to process.
The site accepts secret documents related to politics, international relations, and affecting a particular society as a whole. In addition, documents that have been censored are published. Rumors, judgments, or personal observations are not accepted, nor is information that is already in the public domain.
The creators of WikiLeaks proudly call themselves world experts in source protection. All applications must be submitted via Tor or the Tails anonymity system. At the same time, if a potential whistleblower has difficulties uploading files, you can contact a WikiLeaks representative via a secure chat on the site.
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WikiLeaks employees and journalists from partner publications are engaged in checking the materials sent by users. According to statements on the website, employees use the same tools as investigative journalists, looking for answers to questions – for example, what motives the source may have for falsifying the document and why.
For example, in the case of a video of a helicopter attack in Baghdad, WikiLeaks sent journalists to Iraq to interview eyewitnesses of the tragedy, check death certificates in hospitals, and search for other evidence.
The most famous WikiLeaks informant is Bradley Manning (after the sex change, Chelsea Manning). It was he (or she) who was responsible for the bombshell leaks that appeared on WikiLeaks in 2010: the video of the airstrike in Baghdad, the leak of 250,000 US diplomatic cables, files about the Iraqi and Afghan wars, and several others.
How do states fight WikiLeaks?
Five years after the organization was founded, it received hundreds of lawsuits. In 2008, the court decided to restrict access to the site; the reason for the lawsuit was the publication of hundreds of documents about the offshore activities of the Swiss bank Julius Baer. And Assange’s personal account in one of the banks in Switzerland was frozen after the high-profile revelations of 2010.
DDoS attacks are constantly hitting the resource. Hosting providers refuse to provide their services to the organization. After Amazon’s refusal, the site became supported by the Swedish PeRiQuito (PRQ), which is known for also providing its services to The Pirate Bay. The organization’s servers are located in different countries. Assange also encourages his supporters to create mirrors of the site.
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After the publication of the chronicles of the Afghan war, Assange said that he had created a “safety” file that can be found in various P2P networks. Its volume is 1.4 GB, and it is protected by the powerful AES256 encryption standard (it is almost impossible to open it without a password). Nobody knows what exactly is in that file. According to rumors, there may be telegrams from primary sources or information previously published on WikiLeaks. Some say that the key to the file will be distributed in the event of Assange’s death or the destruction of WikiLeaks.
What is WikiLeaks being criticized for?
The main problems faced by the organization are ethical. WikiLeaks has repeatedly been criticized for the fact that the publication of certain classified documents will lead to the suffering of ordinary people. In particular, the site was criticized for the publication of 300 thousand emails of the Turkish government. The information was claimed to have no public interest, while the leak revealed confidential data of “almost every woman in the country.”
Another US government whistleblower, Edward Snowden, also criticized WikiLeaks.
“Of course, WikiLeaks helped to “democratize” information, and this is vital. However, their hostile attitude towards even modest selection and filtering of published information is erroneous,” Snowden wrote.
A Bloomberg article condemned the organization for promiscuity and the principle of “the more, the better.” According to the publication, WikiLeaks’ thirst to reveal all secrets and “make governments more open” (“We Open Governments” is the organization’s motto) leads to the opposite effect.