Wikileaks helped Donald J. Trump become President. Now the website is publishing secrets which hurt American interests. Does President Trump still love Wikileaks?
In August 2013, the Editor-in-Chief of Russia Today, the Kremlin-operated English news channel paid an unusual visit to the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The special trip had little, if anything, to do with the affairs of the South American country. Instead, the TV executive was courting a partnership with a man who’d become a permanent resident of the embassy. The deal they struck that day would shake the foundations of US democracy in the years to come and set the stage for new Cold War.
The person the RT executive was meeting was Julian Assange, the 43-year-old Australian founder of Wikileaks, the website responsible for the publication of thousands of the world’s most sensitive classified documents. Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012, trapped there by a global diplomatic tug-of-war over his asylum to Ecuador and rape charges he faces in Sweden.
During their meeting in 2013, the RT Editor-in-Chief and Assange agreed to a broad strategic partnership, according to a recently declassified Intelligence Community report on Russia’s role in the 2016 elections. The deal put Assange on the Kremlin payroll in exchange, RT would receive access to “new leaks of secret information”. RT would later announce it had become the only “Russian media company to partner with Wikileaks”.
During the election, the flow of information between Moscow and Wikileaks appears to have evolved into a two-way street. US Intelligence says it has high confidence Moscow relayed hacked DNC e-mails to Wikileaks during last year’s election campaign via an intermediary. Donald J. Trump could barely contain his enthusiasm, even publicly proclaiming “Wikileaks. I love Wikileaks”.
Flash forward to today, Wikileaks now claims to have uncovered “the biggest CIA leak ever”, 9000 CIA documents detailing not only what the CIA does to spy on foreign nationals but also how they do it. The documents include specific code the CIA developed which allows them to turn on cameras and microphones on computers, iPhones and Smart TVs without their owners’ knowledge.
As a society, we’ve all tacitly agreed to give up privacy in exchange for security and convenience. Former NSA analyst Edward Snowden, who is now exiled in Moscow, had made similar claims. What’s different about this leak is the complexity of the detail, exposing not only the CIA playbook but also the very weapons it uses.
Former CIA Director Leon Panetta is worried. These leaks “can damage the sources and the techniques that are used in order to protect our security and turn over the know-how to our enemies,” Panetta says. In other words, the leaks have real world consequences of the highest order and now our enemies have them.
Considering the close relationship between Russia and Wikileaks, it’s at least plausible that the latest CIA leaks are a result of Kremlin sponsored counter-intelligence. In its declassified document on Russia’s interference in the election, US Intelligence believes Wikileaks is being increasingly used as a public face for Kremlin counterintelligence. “Moscow likely chose Wikileaks because of its self-proclaimed reputation for authenticity,” the Intelligence Community believes.
If the substance of the new leaks is explosive, so is the timing. On Saturday, President Donald J. Trump alleged on twitter he and his campaign staff were wire-tapped at his Manhattan Trump Towers by former President Barack Obama. Obama, his former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and the current FBI Director James Comey have all denied the claims but the Trump accusations parallel the Wikileaks notion of a deep state intelligence community with eyes and ears everywhere.
There is no way yet to verify any link between the new CIA Wikileaks dump and the Trump wiretapping allegations but together, they’ve shifted attention away from Trump’s campaign ties to Russia, to US Intelligence. What investigators will try work out next is who obtained and leaked the CIA documents? Considering the Kremlin’s lengthy relationship with Wikileaks, the scale of the hack, and past practice, investigators will look for Moscow’s digital fingerprints.
This 21st Century version of the Cold War is being fought on a digital landscape hidden behind subterfuge written in digital code and is becoming increasingly hostile and punitive. The stakes today may even be greater than at the height of the first Cold War, threatening the core of our democracy. As this geo-political battle plays out in real-time, one can only wonder how does a war like this end? And will that happen before hostilities reach a point of no-return, or spill over from the cyber realm into deadly real-life conflict?