Julian Assange’s public image is quickly shifting from benevolent vigilante to partisan cyber pest. CIA director Mike Pompeo agrees. Pompeo, newly appointed director of the world’s most powerful and sophisticated intelligence apparatus, recently labeled Assange’s website, Wikileaks “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”
Wikileaks’ attack on the Democratic National Committee’s email server during the 2016 campaign has caused more American officials and citizens to turn their opinion on the role Wikileaks plays in the world.
Assange’s character has always been in question, given the sexual assault claims leveled against him, and his alleged anti-Semitism. Despite Assange’s personal shortcomings, few disputed the importance of the work Wikileaks did. In fact, a large movement arose in America and across Europe, where he is currently in asylum, to free Assange and allow him to escape prosecution under the Espionage Act for exposing the murder of civilians by the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan. To many, Assange was a hero and Wikileaks was an independent seeker of justice.
Now, Assange and Wikileaks find themselves on the other end of damning exposure. Prior to 2016, aside from minor pro-Russian allegations, Wikileaks was seen as largely non-partisan. Brexit, the most important European election in a generation, and the Clinton-Trump circus of 2016 revealed Wikileaks loyalties. Assange was in close contact with Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) ,during the Brexit campaign using propaganda to demonize migrants in Europe and stoke fear in British voters, evidently to some success.
Much ink has been spilled on the connection between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia during 2016, though few realize the essential role of Wikileaks as a Russian agent leaking incriminating emails from the DNC in support of America’s own far-right nationalist. It is not clear why Wikileaks would have an affinity for nationalist movements in Europe with Farage, Marine Le Pen in France and now in America with Trump.
What is clear, however, is why Russia would. Russia, in their infinite cynicism, has weaponized Assange’s rivalry with western democracy to create instability in the western world and increase their own global dominance. When the West is in disarray, Russia has the opportunity to seize geopolitical power and supplant themselves a superpower once again. Wikileaks was just the tool to do the job.
Democracies thrive when a healthy support exists for independent whistleblowers and leakers. Large bureaucracies that are the roots of the American government have a tendency toward excessive secrecy. The secrets that need to be exposed will almost always come from vigilantes on the inside like Edward Snowden, which is healthy. It keeps agencies from sinking into destructive complacency.
Pompeo was right. Leakers are friends of freedom and democracy. Assange and Wikileaks are not.