With the U.S. election campaign at an end, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange denied Tuesday that his group has “a nefarious allegiance with Russia” and said he had come under “enormous pressure” to halt publication of a trove of emails pirated from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
In a statement published on the group’s website, Assange said efforts to discredit him by linking him to Russian President Vladimir Putin were reminiscent of the “red scare” tactics used in the 1950s to hunt down communists. He did not explain, however, how he obtained the emails.
U.S. officials have accused Russia of the hack that captured the emails and have said their publication by WikiLeaks was part of a plot to influence the U.S. election. WikiLeaks has published tens of thousands of emails in the past month taken from the Gmail account of John Podesta, the Clinton campaign’s chairman. So far, WikiLeaks has released 35 batches of the emails.
No one disputes the public importance of these publications.
Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder
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But Assange was unrepentant. “The U.S. public has thoroughly engaged with WikiLeaks’ election related publications which number more than one hundred thousand documents,” he wrote. “Millions of Americans have pored over the leaks and passed on their citations to each other and to us. It is an open model of journalism that gatekeepers are uncomfortable with, but which is perfectly harmonious with the First Amendment.”
He added, “The real victor is the US public which is better informed as a result of our work. No one disputes the public importance of these publications. It would be unconscionable for WikiLeaks to withhold such an archive from the public during an election.”
The ultimate impact of WikiLeaks on the election may always be unknown. But there is little debate that the leaks pulled the veil from a range of election issues. Journalists and historians are likely to consult the leaked emails for many months, if not years, in search of insights into the skein of relationships and personalities they reveal.
It was a leaked email that finally disclosed the contents of Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street, speeches whose secrecy had figured prominently in her primary battle with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders but had seemed to have lost their political relevance when they were revealed a month before Election Day in her battle with Donald Trump.
The leaked emails revealed the bad blood between one of former President Bill Clinton’s confidants and his daughter, Chelsea, and underscored the depth of the personal relationships that tied top Clinton campaign figures to members of the media as well as sitting executive branch officials.
Two top Democratic Party figures lost their jobs because of WikiLeaks: Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced out on the eve of the party’s national convention after leaked emails showed her staff had plotted to undercut the Sanders campaign. Her interim replacement as chair, Donna Brazile, was fired as a commentator by CNN after emails showed she’d leaked a debate question to Clinton.
Assange also came under attack. Ecuador, in whose London embassy he has sought asylum for the past four years, cut off his internet access out of concern he was interfering in the U.S. election, and he became the target of a bizarre multi-continent smear campaign that has never been explained.
On Tuesday, he rebutted criticism that he was seeking to thwart Clinton’s election by releasing only emails related to her Democratic nomination.
“We cannot publish what we do not have,” Assange wrote, saying WikiLeaks had not received leaks from the campaigns of Trump or lesser candidates that meet “our stated editorial criteria.”
He asserted that traditional media, “with its corporate advertisers and dependencies on incumbent power factions,” did not measure up to “WikiLeaks’ model of scientific journalism or an individual’s decision to inform their friends on social media.”
As far as allegations that Russian state hackers had obtained the emails, Assange said such charges were untrue.
“The campaign was unable to invoke evidence about our publications – because none exists,” Assange wrote.
WikiLeaks also claimed that the organization had been under “unrelenting” denial of service attacks that stretched into Election Day.
The head of the U.S. government intelligence apparatus, James Clapper, issued a joint statement Oct. 7 with the Department of Homeland Security declaring that they were “confident” in assessing that Russia and its “senior-most officials” were behind the intrusions. The statement didn’t name the hacks at the DNC and of Podesta directly but it was clear it referred to those penetrations.
Private cybersecurity firms that have done forensics on the digital fingerprints left by the hackers also have charged that cadres from Russia’s security apparatus were behind the penetration.
We have not published all of our evidence. We have plenty more that gives us complete confidence.
Dmitri Alperovitch, co-founder of CrowdStrike cyber threat intelligence firm
“We have not published all of our evidence. We have plenty more that gives us complete confidence,” said Dmitri Alperovitch, co-founder and chief technology officer of CrowdStrike, a cyber threat intelligence firm that was hired to conduct security checks on the DNC computer system.
Two separate and possibly competing groups of Russian state hackers, dubbed Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear, penetrated the DNC servers in the year prior to the discovery of the hack, Alperovitch said.
Cozy Bear has been blamed for recent hacks of the White House, State Department, Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon and other government entities. It entered the DNC network in the summer of 2015, Alperovitch said.
Fancy Bear, which is believed in U.S. intelligence circles to be linked to the GRU, Russia’s premier military intelligence service, penetrated the DNC servers only in April, “a couple of weeks before we got there” to do a cybersecurity checkup, Alperovitch said.
A hacker who goes by the moniker Guccifer 2.0 has claimed the DNC penetration, but Alperovitch said Guccifer 2.0 also claimed a hack of the World Anti-Doping Agency in August that later proved to be the work of Fancy Bear, which released the breached data.