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WikiLeaks founder: Bold publisher or Russian dupe?

  • Written by Paul Handley
  • Published in World
  • Read: 215

WASHINGTON -- Accusations that Russia interfered with the US presidential election by leaking hacked documents via WikiLeaks have put a fresh spotlight on the crusading website’s founder Julian Assange.

A report from the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released Friday accuses Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering the operation in which computer hackers stole Democratic Party files and fed them to WikiLeaks.

The website published the internal documents and emails over the weeks ahead of the November 8 election, embarrassing Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign and arguably contributing to her defeat — which US intelligence said was Putin’s goal.

Assange, who has made a trade out of publishing purloined secrets of governments and powerful organizations and individuals, has repeatedly insisted that WikiLeaks did not receive the Democratic files from the Russian government, adding that the group publishes anything significant that it receives.
   
“Nothing in today’s declassified ODNI report alters our conclusion that WikiLeaks’s US election related source are not state parties,” the group said in a Twitter statement late Friday.
   
Earlier in the week, Assange told Fox News the focus on WikiLeaks’s source for the information was a smokescreen for what it contained, and its impact on Clinton’s campaign.
   
“WikiLeaks published true information... The American public read that information, true information, and said, ‘we don’t like these people.’ And then voted accordingly.”
   
But Assange did not rule out that people acting on behalf of Moscow had handed over the documents.
   
The US intelligence report says Russian military intelligence relayed the material to WikiLeaks via unnamed intermediaries.
   
“Moscow most likely chose WikiLeaks because of its self-proclaimed reputation for authenticity,” it said.

‘Journalist’, ‘publisher’
   
Assange calls himself a journalist and publisher who is doing nothing illegal. Since he took refuge in Ecuador’s London embassy four years ago to avoid possible extradition to the United States for espionage — by Sweden, where he faces sexual assault charges, or by Britain — he has also called himself a “political prisoner.”
   
But since the organization stunned the world in 2010 by publishing hundreds of thousands of internal diplomatic communications from the US State Department leaked to it by a former US military intelligence analyst, Washington has regarded him as a dangerous menace and maintained the threat of prosecuting him, though no charges have been filed.
   
In 2010, US Vice President Joe Biden likened Assange to a “high-tech terrorist.” And US politicians this week roundly blasted him as irresponsible and an enemy of the country.
   
In its first decade, WikiLeaks has clearly welcomed secret documents on nearly any matter. The first document it published in December 2006 involved Somalia, and the next year it helped expose corruption by Kenyan leader Daniel Ara Moi.
   
Since then releases have targeted Peru’s oil industry, the Scientology group, the Syrian government, and Swiss and Icelandic banks.