When he was just a teenager living in Australia, Julian Assange began to call himself “Mendax” and quickly became a highly-skilled hacker. Then, in the 1990’s, Assange and other black hat hackers gained control over MILNET for two years with the use of a back door. This gave them full access to the Pentagon Security Coordination Center. The IT rebels were also able to use their computers to interfere with the authorities who were investigating them. This is an incredibly sophisticated hacking syndicate that easily rivals the intelligence agencies of global superpowers. They are hacktivists that work the world over. They can be found virtually anywhere, particularly in server rooms, coffee bars and campuses. The important thing to note is that their command and control centers are spread far and wide with cyberspace battles raging on constantly. It should go without saying but this is a tightly-knit closed organization held together by extremely talented and dedicated information technology experts, some of whom dreamed of an uncensorable system for untraceable mass document leaking.
In line with this, in 1999, Julian Assange registered leaks.org. Years later, in 2006, Sunshine Press launched the WikiLeaks.org website, as part of an international non-profit organization that obtains and publishes sensitive information. To do this, hacktivists linked to the Swedish file-sharing site Pirate Bay gave WikiLeaks safe haven. Sweden is known the world over as being the most adamant about protecting internet publications from censorship. So, they have a freedom of speech law in place that prompted WikiLeaks to set up shop in Stockholm. As part of this, WikiLeaks wanted to tunnel traffic through the company PRQ to bypass IP bans. They offer a number of services, like providing VPN tunnels to protect the anonymity of sources. Plus, Sweden has strict freedom of expression laws that PRQ is more than willing to exploit. However, after a few years with them, in August of 2010 WikiLeaks decided to move their headquarters to Uppsala and began to mainly be hosted by the Swedish ISP Bahnhof, where there are now a couple WikiLeaks servers in the Pionen facility.
In the beginning, the founding members and original volunteers of WikiLeaks were a small group of mathematicians, political dissidents, start-up technologists, and journalists from all around the world including Taiwan, South Africa, America, Europe, and Australia. The website was inspired by Wikipedia, hence the name WikiLeaks to indicate that it would allow for the collaborative editing of its content and structure by its users. In the end, though, the wiki aspect of the website was eventually terminated in 2010, but the domain name remained the same. Regardless, when they first launched the site the idea was that the general public would write analysis articles collaboratively. Of course, it was soon discovered that most people don’t have what it takes to do so, plus they aren’t even really interested in the first place. As a result, the hacktivists had to seek professional assistance instead.
Assange and the IT guerrillas realized that they would have to work with the mainstream media. The hacktivists knew that they needed to ally themselves with well-known outlets if they were ever going to get anything worthwhile accomplished. So, in 2007 WikiLeaks, in association with The Guardian, published evidence that the second president of Kenya, Daniel Arap Moi, embezzled large sums of money from state funds. Soon after that they also released a report about the police force there and the inhumane death patrols they conducted. However, these disclosures still weren’t enough to get WikiLeaks the widespread recognition that the organization so desperately needed. The thing was that although the general public didn’t really take notice of the website, people on the internet sure did. News spread like wildfire online. Even the highly reputable and longstanding German Chaos Computer Club (CCC) got involved. This brought with it some of the best IT minds in the world. After all, both WikiLeaks and the CCC have the same mission of fighting for free access to information. So, one member of the CCC in particular named Daniel Domscheit-Berg quit his day job and teamed up with Julian Assange. They soon became the spokesmen of WikiLeaks.
As part of this everyone involved with WikiLeaks was required to communicate with each other by way of a restricted mailing list. They used the platform to organize and orchestrate all of their operations in secret. In this way, they were able to distribute leaked information to anonymous volunteers who then checked the authenticity of the content. This also worked to help eliminate traces of the source’s identity. So, daring whistleblowers were then able to safely expose abuses of power. The plan was that disclosure was going to be used as a preventative kind of instrument of justice against would-be evil-doers. This is why every release of material that WikiLeaks does has a second message with it. They warn everyone that if anyone engages in anything unjust, and especially if they try to hide it, they will most definitely be exposed and hopefully prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Of course, WikiLeaks could be just as guilty of breaking the law. Regardless, based on what they do the institution and its products are vital to the future of transparency in particular and democracy in general. WikiLeaks prompts those who wish to engage in morally questionable acts to think twice before doing something bad and then trying to cover it up. This is how the organization became a force to reckon with in record time.
WikiLeaks has released more classified information than the whole rest of the world’s media combined. Since its inception in 2006 WikiLeaks has compiled a database of more than 10 million documents. That alone is an enormous feat worth taking note of. The hacktivists are radical IT guerrillas who have made numerous records available to the public which is of the utmost importance to society and history, including diplomatic and military records, among many other documents. In this way every action they take is yet another battle won in a well-orchestrated ideological war against secrecy, in the fight for global transparency. In contrast to this, the intelligence agencies of the world are trying to protect their critical sensitive information in an effort to keep people safe. The CIA and other groups are worried that if anything of significant strategic value falls into the wrong hands that something disastrous might happen. Regardless, the main goal of WikiLeaks is to guarantee free press across the world, by making every important document available to the general public, especially material that has been hidden away.
In 2008 WikiLeaks acquired files that were only meant to be available to high-ranking members of the Church of Scientology, which normally cost an inordinate amount of money to obtain. Once WikiLeaks published the material the Church quickly retaliated. Their attorneys took very aggressive actions to censor Julian Assange. The Scientologists even hired a private detective to look into him. The problem was that their legal and illegal attempts at censorship and harassment only strengthened the resolve of the hacktivists. WikiLeaks vowed that something had to be done against those who withhold important information from the general public. They realized that they needed to engage in even more corrective actions to injustice, all across the globe. Then, the Icelandic economy came crashing in on itself. So, WikiLeaks obtained files which showed that the financial collapse was the result of cronyism and secretiveness. The document they leaked was a high exposure loan book, which revealed that politicians had been derelict in their duties and that bankers had lied. As a result, WikiLeaks, information activists, and members of the Icelandic Parliament drew up a proposal to transform the country into a safe haven for journalism. It was adopted unanimously and the bill passed, thus WikiLeaks became a true vanguard that went from using disclosures as weapons to directly influencing freedom of expression legislation.
Here’s where it all gets twisted. The thing is that rather than leading WikiLeaks with an open door policy based on full disclosure and total transparency as one would think, Julian Assange actually controls the organization much more like a dictator. He can be quite a hypocrite, making deals behind closed doors and such. Julian Assange is so bad in fact that at one point he callously decided to release the Afghan War Diary without any redactions, including the names of informants on the ground. This put the lives of an untold number of people in jeopardy, but Assange felt that it was worth the risk. Julian Assange is very utilitarian in his approach. On top of that, his unilateral decision making is so offensive to so many people that the Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir and the German technology activist Daniel Domscheit-Berg stopped working for WikiLeaks. This was quite unfortunate because she had helped prepare the Collateral Murder video, and he had been Julian’s right-hand man. In spite of this, they both quit before the release of the Iraq War Logs.
This was a massive dump that contained nearly 400,000 documents. The leak consisted of US Army field reports of the Iraq War from 2004 to 2009. Some of the material contained evidence of tens of thousands of civilian casualties in the Iraq War. These are figures the US wants to withhold. So, WikiLeaks published the Iraq War Logs on October 22nd of 2010. In so doing, it became the biggest leak in the military history of America up to that point, far surpassing the Afghan War Diary of July 25th from that same year. The documents had all been given to WikiLeaks by a courageous US Army intelligence analyst now named Chelsea Manning. The thing is that there are so many examples of this kind of excessive use of force, leading to violence that is often lethal, by US law enforcement and military personnel that are also being leaked by other whistleblowers. This is something the American government doesn’t want to be known. Many of the cops and soldiers in this country are some of the most dangerous people on Earth and that makes us look bad, which we are, but we’re not supposed to know it. That’s exactly why WikiLeaks does what it does. The thing is that as a non-profit organization it can be hard to generate operating costs. Although they don’t receive much money for personnel costs, they do have to pay for a whole lot of hardware, bandwidth, and traveling. That’s why groups like the Wau Holland Foundation process WikiLeaks donations to help out in the cause.
Information dissemination is big business, but it’s well worth it. Just as an example, beginning in 2010, WikiLeaks started releasing classified cables that had been sent to the US State Department by hundreds of different embassies, consulates, and diplomatic missions all around the world. On November 28th of that year, the first 220 cables were published by The New York Times in the US, El Pais in Spain, The Guardian in the UK, Le Monde in France, and Der Spiegel in Germany. Assange always goes for maximum media exposure. The unprecedented document dump became known as Cablegate. In total, more than 250,000 documents have been released so far as part of that operation. Afterwards, major corporations like Visa, Mastercard, and PayPal stopped processing donations into WikiLeaks because they were leveraged by the American government. Plus, for years now the United States authorities have been trying to build a case against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. They would like to do something based on the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which is a federal anti-hacking law. The bottom line is that the US views the website as a threat to national security, and they know they can’t get Assange using the Espionage Act because several Supreme Court cases have already established that the American Constitution protects the re-publication of illegally gained information provided the publishers did not themselves violate any laws in acquiring it.
There’s just so much stuff for prosecutors to try and choose from. WikiLeaks has done a lot since their debut in December of 2006 with the Somali assassination order of government officials, signed by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys himself. At one point WikiLeaks even released lists of censored websites so the internet service providers in a number of countries such as China, Iran, and Thailand were forced to retaliate. That’s why, as a result of a number of denial-of-service attacks as well as WikiLeaks elimination from different DNS providers, the website has been made available on multiple servers and different domain names. It even has an official Darkweb version on the Tor Network. In this way WikiLeaks uses “bulletproof hosting” by maintaining servers in undisclosed locations, not keeping logs, and using military grade encryption to protect sources and information. As part of this, new releases dubbed Vault 7 and 8 started being published in 2017. The documents detail, among many other things, the activities and capabilities of the CIA to perform electronic surveillance and cyber warfare. Those files revealed to the public that the Central Intelligence Agency has the ability to compromise web browsers, cars, and even smartphones. The fact is that the CIA can and will take over the operating system of just about any device.
Meanwhile, WikiLeaks gets barraged with threats and lawsuits. In the most recent example, during the 2016 US presidential race, WikiLeaks released emails and other documents from the DNC and Hillary’s campaign manager, John Podesta. Along with this, Julian Assange is known to have privately expressed a preference for a GOP victory in the US presidential election. Since Assange is WikiLeaks, on November 8th of 2016 during a private Twitter correspondence between WikiLeaks and the Trump administration, in which they were advised to contest the election results in case they lost. So, as of the time of this writing, the DNC is now in the process of suing the Trump campaign, the Russian government, and WikiLeaks, alleging a conspiracy plot. My guess is that regardless of whatever the verdict turns out to be, there is surely lots more to come…