You might have heard of Wikileaks, but if you haven’t been following closely, you might not know exactly what it is, or who’s behind it, or why it was launched.
In this article, we’ll explain the details of the site’s purpose, activities, and founder so that you can understand its huge influence on the last 15 years of international news leaks and anonymous whistleblowing.
What Is Wikileaks?
Wikileaks was founded in 2006 by Julian Assange, a publisher and activist.
He began working on an idea to create a platform where people could come forward anonymously with sensitive information about the wrongdoing of governments and corporations. This is called “whistleblowing”.
His goal was to give people and organizations the ability to publish documents they feel are important to the public good, such as corruption within government agencies.
He felt that without anonymity, there wouldn’t be enough integrity for this to happen.
Since its foundation, Wikileaks has published leaked classified documents, including military documents and other secret files from a range of sources, including various anonymous sources.
Wikileaks published a range of sensitive material from 2006 to 2009.
This included leaked information about corruption in various Arab countries, drone strikes in Yemen, Peru’s “Petrogate” oil scandal, extrajudicial executions by the police in Kenya, and the unrest that took place in Tibet in 2008.
These revelations all received a certain amount of attention in the media.
Some other fairly high profile revelations in this period were the publication of Swiss banking records, information from Sarah Palin’s Yahoo account, and the membership list of the far right British National Party.
However, it was only later that Wikileaks became a household name around the world.
The Chelsea Manning Leaks
Wikileaks is best known for publishing information provided to it by Chelsea Manning (then known as Bradley Manning).
Manning is a former US Army intelligence analyst who provided Wikileaks with sensitive information in early 2010. This included the infamous “Collateral Murder” video, which shows US forces killing 18 civilians in Iraq, including two Reuters journalists.
Later that same year, the site published almost 400,000 US military field reports from the Iraq war, covering the period from 2004 to 2009. Other Manning-related material includes war logs from Afghanistan and files from the Guantánamo Bay prison camp.
This was followed by around 250,00 US diplomatic cables. This revealed American spying around the world, tensions with America’s allies, and also revealed corruption in many countries that the US had dealings with.
This was one of the causes of the uprisings that took place across the Arab world starting in 2011, in what is now known as the Arab Spring.
This demonstrates the huge influence that Wikileaks has managed to attain over major world events.
2016 Democratic Party Leaks
Wikileaks made headlines again in 2016 with two high-profile leaks. These were of emails from the Democratic National Committee and from Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta.
This provided proof of what many people had already suspected: that the Democratic National Committee favored Clinton as the Democratic nominee for the 2016 US presidential election over her rival, Bernie Sanders.
This led to an official apology to Sanders and even the resignation of the DNC’s chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. This provides another great example of the influence that Wikileaks has been able to achieve through its publications.
It was later alleged that the hackers who stole these emails were agents of one or more Russian intelligence agencies.
Chelsea Manning is the former US Army intelligence analyst who provided Wikileaks with much of the information that made them famous, including evidence of American war crimes. She was arrested in May 2010.
The way she was treated in her pre-trial detention was described as “cruel, inhuman, and degrading” by Juan E. Méndez, United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture.
In 2013, Manning was convicted and sentenced to 35 years in prison, amid protests. Several appeals for her release followed, and in 2017, this sentence was commuted by President Obama, and she was released later that year.
Opinions on Manning’s case have sharply divided US opinion. Some regard her as a hero who stood up for truth and openness and didn’t turn her eyes away from the crimes she witnesses. Others see her as a traitor who hugely endangered US national security.
The Founder Of Wikileaks: Julian Assange
Julian Assange is the founder of Wikileaks. He is an Australian citizen but has, since April 2019, been confined in the Belmarsh maximum security prison in London.
He was sought by the Swedish police in connection to an allegation of rape from a Swedish woman but attempted to evade extradition, arguing that if he was taken to Sweden, he would then be extradited to the US.
As part of his efforts to do this, he spent the years 2012 – 2019 living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
Since the British police were unable to enter the embassy and Assange refused to leave, he was able to live there with impunity, and he continued to work while in this house arrest.
However, he was forced to leave in 2019 when his relations with the Ecuadorian embassy broke down. The Ecuadorian authorities invited the police into the embassy and Assange was arrested.
How Is Wikileaks Financed?
Wikileaks is a non-for-profit organization that is mainly funded through donations. Many of the lawyers who represent Wikileaks often work pro bono. Donations are collected via PayPal and Amazon Payments.
Some supporters donate on a regular basis, others contribute when large leaks take place.
The majority of funds go towards legal bills and the running costs of the website. At present, these expenses include hosting services and salaries for staff.
Although the site has taken criticism for being “anti-establishment,” it has also become very popular among some of those who support whistleblowers and transparency.
While Wikileaks’ finances are not transparent, they have repeatedly stated that all donors’ identities remain confidential, and no money goes toward political campaigning.
It has experienced restrictions from major financial institutions like PayPal, the Bank of America, Visa, Western Union, and others, and Assange said in 2011 that such limitations had cost the site 95% of its revenue stream.
Wikileaks is one of the most controversial organizations in modern politics partly because of what it does, and partly due to how it does it and those who fund it.
They provide free access to leaked material, which may be used in court cases or public debate.
Whether you think its activities are a vital struggle to maintain transparency in politics or dangerous subversion, it’s something that you need to be informed about.