WikiLeaks

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WikiLeaks
Wikileaks logo.svg
The logo of WikiLeaks, an hourglass with a globe leaking from top to bottom
Screenshot
WikiLeaks homepage screenshot.png
Screenshot of WikiLeaks' main page as of 27 June 2011
Type of site
Document archive and disclosure
Available inEnglish, but the source documents are in their original language
OwnerSunshine Press
Created by Julian Assange
Key peopleJulian Assange (director)
Kristinn Hrafnsson (editor-in-chief)
URL wikileaks.org
CommercialNo [1]
RegistrationNone
Launched4 October 2006;15 years ago (2006-10-04) [2]
Current statusOnline, submissions offline

WikiLeaks ( /ˈwɪkilks/ ) is an international non-profit organisation that publishes news leaks [3] and classified media provided by anonymous sources. [4] Its website, initiated in 2006 in Iceland by the organisation Sunshine Press, [5] stated in 2015 that it had released online 10 million documents in its first 10 years. [6] Julian Assange, an Australian Internet activist, is generally described as its founder and director. [7] Since September 2018, Kristinn Hrafnsson has served as its editor-in-chief. [8] [9]

Contents

WikiLeaks has variously described itself as an organization of journalists, political activists, [10] mathematicians, and start-up company technologists, [11] an intermediary between sources and journalists, [12] an advocacy group for sources, [13] and a public intelligence agency. [14] [15] [16] [17] [18]

The group has released a number of prominent document caches that exposed serious violations of human rights and civil liberties to the US and international public. [19] Early releases included documentation of equipment expenditures and holdings in the Afghanistan war, [20] a report about a corruption investigation in Kenya, [21] [22] and an operating procedures manual for the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. [23] [24] In April 2010, WikiLeaks released the Collateral Murder footage from the 12 July 2007 Baghdad airstrike in which Iraqi Reuters journalists were among several civilians killed. Other releases in 2010 included the Afghan War Diary and the "Iraq War Logs". The latter release allowed the mapping of 109,032 deaths in "significant" attacks by insurgents in Iraq that had been reported to Multi-National Force – Iraq, including about 15,000 that had not been previously published. [25] [26] In 2010, WikiLeaks also released classified diplomatic cables that had been sent to the US State Department. In April 2011, WikiLeaks began publishing 779 secret files relating to prisoners detained in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. [27] In 2012, WikiLeaks released the "Syria Files," over two million emails sent by Syrian politicians, corporations and government ministries. [28] [29] In 2015, WikiLeaks published Saudi Arabian diplomatic cables, [30] [31] documents detailing spying by the U.S. National Security Agency on successive French presidents, [32] [33] and the intellectual property chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a controversial international trade agreement which had been negotiated in secret. [34] [35]

During the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, WikiLeaks released emails and other documents from the Democratic National Committee and from Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, John Podesta, showing that the party's national committee favoured Clinton over her rival Bernie Sanders in the primaries, leading to the resignation of DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and an apology to Sanders from the DNC. [36] These releases caused significant harm to the Clinton campaign, and have been cited as a potential contributing factor to her loss in the general election against Donald Trump. [37] The U.S. intelligence community expressed "high confidence" that the leaked emails had been hacked by Russia and supplied to WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks said that the source of the documents was not Russia or any other state. [38] During the campaign, WikiLeaks promoted conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. [39] [40] [41]

In 2016, WikiLeaks released nearly 300,000 emails it described as coming from Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, [42] later found to be taken from public mailing archives, [43] and rereleased over 50,000 emails from the Turkish Minister of Energy and Natural Resources. [44] In 2017, WikiLeaks published internal CIA documents describing tools used by the agency to hack devices including mobile phones and routers. [45] [46] In 2019, WikiLeaks published over 30,000 files as part of the Fishrot Files, exposing corruption at Samherji, a multinational fishing company based in Iceland. [47]

In October 2021, WikiLeaks' secure chat stopped working and in February 2022 their submission system and email server went offline. [48] According to the Daily Dot, in July 2022 WikiLeaks launched a version of the submissions portal that told sources to use expired PGP keys and did not function properly, and the submission site went offline without explanation later the same month. [49]

The organisation has been criticised for inadequately curating its content and violating the personal privacy of individuals. WikiLeaks has, for instance, revealed Social Security numbers, medical information, credit card numbers and details of suicide attempts. [50] [51] [52]

History

Staff, name and founding

Julian Assange is a founding member of the WikiLeaks staff. Julian Assange August 2014.jpg
Julian Assange is a founding member of the WikiLeaks staff.

The inspiration for WikiLeaks was Daniel Ellsberg's release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Assange built WikiLeaks to shorten the time between a leak and its coverage by the media. WikiLeaks was established in Australia but its servers were soon moved to Sweden and other countries that provided more legal protection for the media. [53]

The wikileaks.org domain name was registered on 4 October 2006. [2] The website was established and published its first document in December 2006. [54] [13] Before his arrest, WikiLeaks was usually represented in public by Julian Assange, who has been described as "the heart and soul of this organisation, its founder, philosopher, spokesperson, original coder, organiser, financier, and all the rest". [55] [56] Assange formed an advisory board in the early days of WikiLeaks, filling it with journalists, political activists and computer specialists. [10] Daniel Domscheit-Berg, Sarah Harrison, Kristinn Hrafnsson and Joseph Farrell are other notable associates of Assange who have been involved in the project. [57] [58] Harrison is also a member of Sunshine Press Productions along with Assange and Ingi Ragnar Ingason. [59] [60] Gavin MacFadyen was acknowledged by Assange as a ″beloved director of WikiLeaks″ shortly after his death in 2016. [61]

The initial tranche of WikiLeaks' documents came from a WikiLeaks' activist who owned a server that was a node in the Tor network. After they noticed that Chinese hackers used the network to gather information from foreign governments, the activist began recording the information. This let Assange show potential contributors that WikiLeaks was viable and say they had "received over one million documents from thirteen countries". [13]

WikiLeaks originally used a "wiki" communal publication method, which ended by May 2010. [62] Its founders and early volunteers were once described as a mixture of Asian dissidents, journalists, mathematicians, and start-up company technologists from the United States, Taiwan, Europe, Australia, and South Africa. [63] As of June 2009, the website had more than 1,200 registered volunteers. [63] [64] [65]

Despite some public confusion, related to the fact both sites use the "wiki" name and website design template, WikiLeaks and Wikipedia are not affiliated. [66] Wikia, a for-profit corporation affiliated loosely with the Wikimedia Foundation, purchased several WikiLeaks-related domain names as a "protective brand measure" in 2007. [67]

On 26 September 2018, it was announced that Julian Assange had appointed Kristinn Hrafnsson as editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks with Assange continuing as its publisher. His access to the internet was cut off by Ecuador in March 2018 after he tweeted that Britain was about to conduct a propaganda war against Russia relating to the Poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. Ecuador said he had broken a commitment "not to issue messages that might interfere with other states" and Assange said he was "exercising his right to free speech". [9] [68] [69]

Purpose

According to WikiLeaks, the goal of the organisation is "to bring important news and information to the public … One of our most important activities is to publish original source material alongside our news stories so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth." It also seeks to ensure that journalists and whistleblowers are not prosecuted for emailing sensitive or classified documents. The online "drop box" is described by the WikiLeaks website as "an innovative, secure and anonymous way for sources to leak information to [WikiLeaks] journalists". [70]

In a 2013 resolution, the International Federation of Journalists, a trade union of journalists, called WikiLeaks a "new breed of media organisation" that "offers important opportunities for media organisations". [71] Harvard professor Yochai Benkler praised WikiLeaks as a new form of journalistic enterprise, [72] testifying at the court-martial of Chelsea Manning that "WikiLeaks did serve a particular journalistic function," and that the "range of the journalist's privilege" is "a hard line to draw". [73] Others do not consider WikiLeaks to be journalistic in nature. Media ethicist Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies wrote in 2011: "WikiLeaks might grow into a journalist endeavor. But it's not there yet." [74] Bill Keller of The New York Times considers WikiLeaks to be a "complicated source" rather than a journalistic partner. [74] Prominent First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams writes that WikiLeaks is not a journalistic group, but instead "an organization of political activists; … a source for journalists; and … a conduit of leaked information to the press and the public". [75] In support of his opinion, referring to Assange's statements that WikiLeaks reads only a small fraction of information before deciding to publish it, Abrams wrote: "No journalistic entity I have ever heard of—none—simply releases to the world an elephantine amount of material it has not read." [75]

Administration

According to a January 2010 interview, the WikiLeaks team then consisted of five people working full-time and about 800 people who worked occasionally, none of whom were compensated. [76] WikiLeaks does not have any official headquarters.

WikiLeaks describes itself as "an uncensorable system for untraceable mass document leaking". [77] The website is available on multiple servers, different domain names and has an official dark web version (available on the Tor Network) as a result of a number of denial-of-service attacks and its elimination from different Domain Name System (DNS) providers. [78] [79]

Until August 2010, WikiLeaks was hosted by PRQ, a company based in Sweden providing "highly secure, no-questions-asked hosting services". PRQ was reported by The Register website to have "almost no information about its clientele and maintains few if any of its own logs". [80] Later, WikiLeaks was hosted mainly by the Swedish Internet service provider Bahnhof in the Pionen facility, a former nuclear bunker in Sweden. [81] [82] Other servers are spread around the world with the main server located in Sweden. [83] Julian Assange has said that the servers are located in Sweden and the other countries "specifically because those nations offer legal protection to the disclosures made on the site". He talks about the Swedish constitution, which gives the information–providers total legal protection. [83] It is forbidden, according to Swedish law, for any administrative authority to make inquiries about the sources of any type of newspaper. [84] These laws, and the hosting by PRQ, make it difficult for any authority to eliminate WikiLeaks; they place a burden of proof upon any complainant whose suit would circumscribe WikiLeaks' liberty, e.g. its rights to exercise free speech online. Furthermore, "WikiLeaks maintains its own servers at undisclosed locations, keeps no logs and uses military-grade encryption to protect sources and other confidential information." Such arrangements have been called "bulletproof hosting". [80] [85]

After the site became the target of a denial-of-service attack on its old servers, WikiLeaks moved its website to Amazon's servers. [86] Amazon later removed the website from its servers. [86] In a public statement, Amazon said that WikiLeaks was not following its terms of service. The company stated: "There were several parts they were violating. For example, our terms of service state that 'you represent and warrant that you own or otherwise control all of the rights to the content ... that use of the content you supply does not violate this policy and will not cause injury to any person or entity.' It's clear that WikiLeaks doesn't own or otherwise control all the rights to this classified content." [87] WikiLeaks was then moved to servers at OVH, a private web-hosting service in France. [88] After criticism from the French government, a judge ruled that there was no need for OVH to cease hosting WikiLeaks. [89]

WikiLeaks used EveryDNS, but was dropped by the company after distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against WikiLeaks hurt the quality of service for its other customers. Supporters of WikiLeaks waged verbal and DDoS attacks on EveryDNS. Because of a typographical error in blogs mistaking EveryDNS for competitor EasyDNS , the sizeable Internet backlash hit EasyDNS. Despite that, EasyDNS began providing WikiLeaks with DNS service on "two 'battle hardened' servers" to protect the quality of service for its other customers. [90]

WikiLeaks restructured its process for contributions after its first document leaks did not gain much attention. Assange stated this was part of an attempt to take the voluntary effort typically seen in Wiki projects and "redirect it to ... material that has real potential for change". [91] The "about" page originally read: [92]

To the user, WikiLeaks will look very much like Wikipedia. Anybody can post to it, anybody can edit it. No technical knowledge is required. Leakers can post documents anonymously and untraceably. Users can publicly discuss documents and analyse their credibility and veracity. Users can discuss interpretations and context and collaboratively formulate collective publications. Users can read and write explanatory articles on leaks along with background material and context. The political relevance of documents and their verisimilitude will be revealed by a cast of thousands.

However, WikiLeaks established an editorial policy that accepted only documents that were "of political, diplomatic, historical or ethical interest" (and excluded "material that is already publicly available"). [93] This coincided with early criticism that having no editorial policy would drive out good material with spam and promote "automated or indiscriminate publication of confidential records". [94] The original FAQ is no longer in effect, and no one can post or edit documents on WikiLeaks. Now, submissions to WikiLeaks are reviewed by anonymous WikiLeaks reviewers, and documents that do not meet the editorial criteria are rejected. By 2008, the revised FAQ stated: "Anybody can post comments to it. [ ... ] Users can publicly discuss documents and analyse their credibility and veracity." [95] After the 2010 reorganisation, posting new comments on leaks was no longer possible. [62]

During the 2010 reorganisation, the site's submission system went offline. [96] [97] While it was offline, WikiLeaks announced they were building a state-of-the-art secure submission system. The launch of the new system was delayed by security concerns in 2011. [98] The new submission system did not launch until four and a half years later, in May 2015. [99] [100] According to The Washington Post, Andy Müller-Maguhn and a colleague administered the submission server in 2016, though Müller-Maguhn denies this. [101] By October 2021, WikiLeaks' secure chat stopped working and by February 2022, WikiLeaks' submission system and email server were offline. [48] In July 2022, a broken version of the submission system briefly relaunched with expired PGP keys and went offline after it was reported on by The Daily Dot. [49]

The legal status of WikiLeaks is complex. In 2010, WikiLeaks set up a private limited company in Iceland for administrative purposes, according to a long-time spokesman and later editor-in-chief. [102] The organisation was also creating legal entities in France and Sweden, and operated in Australia. [102]

Assange considers WikiLeaks a protection intermediary. Rather than leaking directly to the press, and fearing exposure and retribution, whistleblowers can leak to WikiLeaks, which then leaks to the press for them. [103]

Criminal investigations

The US Justice Department began a criminal investigation of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange soon after the leak of diplomatic cables in 2010 began. [104] The Washington Post reported that the department was considering charges under the Espionage Act of 1917, an action which former prosecutors characterised as "difficult" because of First Amendment protections for the press. [104] [105] Several Supreme Court cases (e.g. Bartnicki v. Vopper ) have established previously that the American Constitution protects the re-publication of illegally gained information provided the publishers did not themselves violate any laws in acquiring it. [106]

Regarding legal threats against WikiLeaks and Assange, legal expert Ben Saul said that Assange is the target of a global smear campaign to demonise him as a criminal or as a terrorist, without any legal basis. [107] [108] The US Center for Constitutional Rights issued a statement expressing alarm at the "multiple examples of legal overreach and irregularities" in his arrest. [109]

In 2011, Google was served with search warrants for the contents of two WikiLeaks volunteers' email accounts. [110]

In 2015, it was revealed that Google had been served with search warrants for the contents of three WikiLeaks staff members' email accounts as part of a criminal investigation with alleged offenses including espionage, conspiracy to commit espionage, the theft or conversion of property belonging to the United States government, violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and criminal conspiracy. [111] [112]

In April 2017, CIA director Mike Pompeo called WikiLeaks "a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia". The official designation of Wikileaks and Julian Assange as a non-state hostile intelligence service was discussed in mid-2017 during preparation of the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018. It was eventually incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 that became law in December 2019. The Act says "It is the sense of Congress that WikiLeaks and the senior leadership of WikiLeaks resemble a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors and should be treated as such a service by the United States." In the opinion of some sources, the effect of the designation was to allow the CIA to launch and plan operations that did not require presidential approval or congressional notice. [113] [114] [115] [116]

In November 2018, an accidental filing with Assange's name was seen to indicate there were undisclosed charges against him. [117] On 11 April 2019, Assange was charged in a computer hacking conspiracy. [118] On 23 May, a superseding indictment was filed with charges of Conspiracy to Receive National Defense Information, Obtaining National Defense Information, Disclosure of National Defense Information, and Conspiracy to Commit Computer Intrusion. [119] On 24 June 2020, another superseding indictment was filed which added to the allegations but not the charges. [120]

Use of leaked documents in court

In April 2011, the US Department of Justice warned military lawyers acting for Guantanamo Bay detainees against clicking of links on sites such as The New York Times that might lead to classified files published by WikiLeaks. [121] In June 2011, the US Department of Justice ruled that attorneys acting for Guantanamo Bay detainees could cite documents published by WikiLeaks. The use of the documents was subject to restrictions. [122] [123]

On 8 February 2018, the UK Supreme Court unanimously allowed a document that had been leaked through WikiLeaks to be admitted as evidence. The cable had been excluded from use in an earlier part of the case before the Administrative Court based on the fact that it was a diplomatic communication, which enjoy "inviolable" protections that prevent them from being used in court outside of exceptional circumstances. [124] [125] The Supreme Court ruled that since the document had already been widely disseminated, it had lost any protections it might have had. [124] The hearing was considered an important test of the Vienna Convention in relation to WikiLeaks documents. [126] [124] [127]

Lawsuit by the Democratic National Committee

On 20 April 2018, the Democratic National Committee filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit in federal district court in Manhattan against Russia, the Trump campaign, WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, alleging a conspiracy to disrupt the 2016 United States presidential election in Trump's favour. [128] The suit was dismissed with prejudice on 30 July 2019. In his judgement, Judge John Koeltl said that WikiLeaks "did not participate in any wrongdoing in obtaining the materials in the first place" and therefore was within the law in publishing the information. [129] The federal judge also wrote "The DNC's interest in keeping 'donor lists' and 'fundraising strategies' secret is dwarfed by the newsworthiness of the documents as a whole...If WikiLeaks could be held liable for publishing documents concerning the DNC's political financial and voter-engagement strategies simply because the DNC labels them 'secret' and trade secrets, then so could any newspaper or other media outlet". [130]

Financing

WikiLeaks is a self-described not-for-profit organisation, funded largely by volunteers, and is dependent on public donations. Its main financing methods include conventional bank transfers and online payment systems. According to Assange, WikiLeaks' lawyers often work pro bono. Assange has said that in some cases legal aid has been donated by media organisations such as the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times , and the National Newspaper Publishers Association. [76] Assange said in 2010 that WikiLeaks' only revenue consists of donations, but it has considered other options including auctioning early access to documents. [76] During September 2011, WikiLeaks began auctioning items on eBay to raise funds. [131]

The Wau Holland Foundation helps to process donations to WikiLeaks. An article in TechEye wrote that "as a charity accountable under German law, donations for Wikileaks can be made to the foundation. Funds are held in escrow and are given to Wikileaks after the whistleblower website files an application containing a statement with proof of payment." [132]

In 2010, Assange said the organisation was registered as a library in Australia, a foundation in France, and a newspaper in Sweden, and that it also used two United States-based non-profit 501c3 organisations for funding purposes. [133]

In January 2010, WikiLeaks temporarily shut down its website while management appealed for donations. [134] Previously published material was no longer available, although some could still be accessed on unofficial mirror websites. [135] WikiLeaks stated that it would resume full operation once the operational costs were paid. [134] WikiLeaks saw this as a kind of work stoppage "to ensure that everyone who is involved stops normal work and actually spends time raising revenue". [76] While the organisation initially planned for funds to be secured by 6 January 2010, it was not until 3 February 2010 that WikiLeaks announced that its minimum fundraising goal had been achieved. [136]

In December 2010, the Wau Holland Foundation stated that four permanent employees, including Julian Assange, had begun to receive salaries. [137]

The Wau Holland Foundation, one of the WikiLeaks' main funding channels, stated that they received more than €900,000 in public donations between October 2009 and December 2010, of which €370,000 has been passed on to WikiLeaks. Hendrik Fulda, vice-president of the Wau Holland Foundation, said that every new WikiLeaks publication brought "a wave of support", and that donations were strongest in the weeks after WikiLeaks started publishing leaked diplomatic cables. [138] [139]

During 2010, WikiLeaks received over $1.9 million in donations. About $930,000 came through PayPal donations, with the rest coming through bank transfers. [140] In 2011, donations dropped sharply and WikiLeaks received only around $180,000 in donations, while their expenses increased from $519,000 to $850,000. [141] In 2012, WikiLeaks raised only $68,000 through the Wau Holland Foundation and had expenses more than $507,000. [141] Between January and May 2013, Wau Holland Foundation was only able to cover $47,000 in essential infrastructure for WikiLeaks, but not an additional $400,000 that was submitted "to cover publishing campaigns and logistics in 2012". [141]

By October 2017, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said the group had made a 50,000% return on Bitcoin. [142] By that December, they had raised at least $25 million in Bitcoin. [143] [144] The total value later reached $46 million. [145]

Financial blockade of WikiLeaks

On 22 January 2010, the Internet payment intermediary PayPal suspended WikiLeaks' donation account and froze its assets. WikiLeaks said that this had happened before, and was done for "no obvious reason". [146] [147] In December 2010, PayPal suspended WikiLeaks' account, thereby stopping donations through PayPal. PayPal said it had taken action after the US State Department sent a letter to Wikileaks stating that Wikileaks' activities were illegal in the US. [148] Hendrik Fulda, vice-president of the Wau Holland Foundation, said that the Foundation had been receiving twice as many donations through PayPal as through normal banks before PayPal's decision to suspend WikiLeaks' account. [138] Mastercard and Visa Europe also decided to stop accepting payments to WikiLeaks. Bank of America, Amazon and Swiss bank PostFinance had previously stopped dealing with WikiLeaks. Datacell, the IT company that enabled WikiLeaks to accept credit and debit card donations, threatened Mastercard and Visa with legal action to enforce the resumption of payments to WikiLeaks. Datacell said Visa's action was the result of political pressure. [148] [149]

Assange noted that the financial blockade by Bank of America, Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and Western Union, had cost WikiLeaks ninety-five percent of its revenue. [150] In July 2011, WikiLeaks filed a complaint against Visa and MasterCard with the European Commission. [150] In 2012, an Icelandic district court ruled that Valitor, the Icelandic partner of Visa and MasterCard, was violating the law when it stopped accepting credit card donations to WikiLeaks. The court ruled that donations to WikiLeaks must resume within 14 days or Valitor would be fined US$6,000 a day. [149]

Publications

2006–2008

2009

2010

Gun camera footage of the airstrike of 12 July 2007 in Baghdad, showing the slaying of Namir Noor-Eldeen and a dozen other civilians by a US helicopter. 2007-07-12 sun measurement.png
Gun camera footage of the airstrike of 12 July 2007 in Baghdad, showing the slaying of Namir Noor-Eldeen and a dozen other civilians by a US helicopter.

In mid-February 2010, WikiLeaks received a leaked diplomatic cable from the United States Embassy in Reykjavik relating to the Icesave scandal, which they published on 18 February. [186] The cable, known as Reykjavik 13, was the first of the classified documents WikiLeaks published among those allegedly provided to them by United States Army Private Chelsea Manning. In March 2010, WikiLeaks released a secret 32-page US Department of Defense Counterintelligence Analysis Report written in March 2008 discussing the leaking of material by WikiLeaks and how it could be deterred. [187] [188] [189]

In April, a classified video of the 12 July 2007 Baghdad airstrike was released, showing two Reuters employees being fired at, after the pilots mistakenly thought the men were carrying weapons, which were in fact cameras. [190] After the men were killed, the video shows US forces firing on a family van that stopped to pick up the bodies. [191] Press reports of the number killed in the attacks vary from 12 to "over 18". [192] [193] Among the dead were two journalists and two children were also wounded. [194] [195]

In June 2010, Manning was arrested after alleged chat logs were given to United States authorities by former hacker Adrian Lamo, in whom she had confided. Manning reportedly told Lamo she had leaked the "Collateral Murder" video, in addition to a video of the Granai airstrike and about 260,000 diplomatic cables, to WikiLeaks. [196]

In July, WikiLeaks released 92,000 documents related to the war in Afghanistan between 2004 and the end of 2009 to the publications The Guardian , The New York Times and Der Spiegel . The documents detail individual incidents including "friendly fire" and civilian casualties. [197] WikiLeaks asked the Pentagon and human-rights groups to help remove names from the documents to reduce the potential harm caused by their release, but did not receive assistance. [198]

After the Love Parade stampede in Duisburg, Germany, on 24 July 2010, a local resident published internal documents of the city administration regarding the planning of Love Parade. The city government reacted by securing a court order on 16 August forcing the removal of the documents from the website on which it was hosted. [199] On 20 August 2010, WikiLeaks released a publication entitled Loveparade 2010 Duisburg planning documents, 2007–2010, which consisted of 43 internal documents regarding the Love Parade 2010. [200] [201]

After the leak of information concerning the Afghan War, in October 2010, around 400,000 documents relating to the Iraq War were released. The BBC quoted the US Department of Defense referring to the Iraq War Logs as "the largest leak of classified documents in its history". Media coverage of the leaked documents emphasised claims that the US government had ignored reports of torture by the Iraqi authorities during the period after the 2003 war. [202]

On 29 July 2010 WikiLeaks added an "Insurance file" to the Afghan War Diary page. The file is AES encrypted. [203] [204] There has been speculation that it was intended to serve as insurance in case the WikiLeaks website or its spokesman Julian Assange are incapacitated, upon which the passphrase could be published. [205] [206] After the first few days' release of the US diplomatic cables starting 28 November 2010, the US television broadcasting company CBS predicted that "If anything happens to Assange or the website, a key will go out to unlock the files. There would then be no way to stop the information from spreading like wildfire because so many people already have copies." [207] CBS correspondent Declan McCullagh stated, "What most folks are speculating is that the insurance file contains unreleased information that would be especially embarrassing to the US government if it were released." [207]

Diplomatic cables release

On 28 November 2010, WikiLeaks and five major newspapers from Spain ( El País ), France ( Le Monde ), Germany ( Der Spiegel ), the United Kingdom ( The Guardian ), and the United States (The New York Times) started simultaneously to publish the first 220 of 251,287 leaked documents labelled confidential – but not top-secret – and dated from 28 December 1966 to 28 February 2010. [208] [209]

WikiLeaks supporters protest in front of the British Embassy in Madrid, 11 December 2010 Wikileaks protest Madrid 11th December 2.jpg
WikiLeaks supporters protest in front of the British Embassy in Madrid, 11 December 2010

Assange wrote "What makes the revelations of secret communications potent is that we were not supposed to read them. Diplomatic cables are not produced in order to manipulate the public, but are aimed at elements of the rest of the US state apparatus, and are therefore relatively free from the distorting influence of public relations". [210]

The contents of the diplomatic cables include numerous unguarded comments and revelations regarding: US diplomats gathering personal information about Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, and other top UN officials; critiques and praises about the host countries of various United States embassies; political manoeuvring regarding climate change; discussion and resolutions towards ending ongoing tension in the Middle East; efforts and resistance towards nuclear disarmament; actions in the War on Terror; assessments of other threats around the world; dealings between various countries; United States intelligence and counterintelligence efforts; and other diplomatic actions. Reactions to the United States diplomatic cables leak varied. On 14 December 2010 the United States Department of Justice issued a subpoena directing Twitter to provide information for accounts registered to or associated with WikiLeaks. [211] Twitter decided to notify its users. [212] The overthrow of the presidency in Tunisia of 2011 has been attributed partly to reaction against the corruption revealed by leaked cables. [213] [214]

On 1 September 2011, it became public that an encrypted version of WikiLeaks' huge archive of un-redacted US State Department cables had been available via BitTorrent for months and that the decryption key (similar to a password) was available to those who knew where to find it. [215] [216] Guardian newspaper editor David Leigh and journalist Luke Harding published the decryption key in their book, WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy, so the files were now publicly available to anyone including intelligence services. WikiLeaks decided to publish the entire, unredacted archive in searchable form on its website on 2 September. According to Assange, Wikileaks did this so that possible targets could be informed and better defend themseles, and also to provide a reliable source for the leaks. [217] [218] The website Cryptome published the unredacted cables on 1 September, a day before Wikileaks, and they remain on the Cryptome site. According to the website owner and operator they have never been asked by US authorities to remove them. [219]

2011–2015

In late April 2011, files related to the Guantanamo prison were released. [220] In December 2011, WikiLeaks started to release the Spy Files. [221] On 27 February 2012, WikiLeaks began publishing more than five million emails from the Texas-headquartered "global intelligence" company Stratfor. [222] On 5 July 2012, WikiLeaks began publishing the Syria Files (emails from Syrian political figures 2006–2012). [223] On 25 October 2012, WikiLeaks began publishing The Detainee Policies, files covering the rules and procedures for detainees in US military custody. [224] In April 2013 WikiLeaks published more than 1.7 million US diplomatic and intelligence documents from the 1970s, including the Kissinger cables. [225]

Placard in front of Embassy of Ecuador, London, 22 August 2012 Secret Laws,placard in front of Ecuador embassy.jpg
Placard in front of Embassy of Ecuador, London, 22 August 2012

In 2013, the organisation assisted Edward Snowden (who is responsible for the 2013 mass surveillance disclosures) in leaving Hong Kong. Sarah Harrison, a WikiLeaks activist, accompanied Snowden on the flight. Scott Shane of The New York Times stated that the WikiLeaks involvement "shows that despite its shoestring staff, limited fund-raising from a boycott by major financial firms, and defections prompted by Mr. Assange's personal troubles and abrasive style, it remains a force to be reckoned with on the global stage." [226]

In September 2013, WikiLeaks published "Spy Files 3", 250 documents from more than 90 surveillance companies. [227] On 13 November 2013, a draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership's Intellectual Property Rights chapter was published by WikiLeaks. [228] [229] On 10 June 2015, WikiLeaks published the draft on the Trans-Pacific Partnership's Transparency for Healthcare Annex, along with each country's negotiating position. [230] On 19 June 2015 WikiLeaks began publishing The Saudi Cables: more than half a million cables and other documents from the Saudi Foreign Ministry that contain secret communications from various Saudi Embassies around the world. [231]

On 23 June 2015, WikiLeaks published documents under the name of "Espionnage Élysée", which showed that NSA spied on the French government, including but not limited to then President Francois Hollande and his predecessors Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac. [232] On 29 June 2015, WikiLeaks published more NSA top secrets intercepts regarding France, detailing an economic espionage against French companies and associations. [233] In July 2015, WikiLeaks published documents which showed that the NSA had tapped the telephones of many German federal ministries, including that of the Chancellor Angela Merkel, for years since the 1990s. [234] On 4 July 2015, WikiLeaks published documents which showed that 29 Brazilian government numbers were selected for secret espionage by the NSA. Among the targets were then-President Dilma Rousseff, many assistants and advisors, her presidential jet and other key figures in the Brazilian government. [235]

WikiLeaks supporters protest in front of the Ecuadorian embassy in London Londres, Reunion con Julian Assange (9504697280).jpg
WikiLeaks supporters protest in front of the Ecuadorian embassy in London

On 29 July 2015, WikiLeaks published a top secret letter from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) Ministerial Meeting in December 2013 which illustrated the position of negotiating countries on "state-owned enterprises" (SOEs). [236] On 31 July 2015, WikiLeaks published secret intercepts and the related target list showing that the NSA spied on the Japanese government, including the Cabinet and Japanese companies such as Mitsubishi and Mitsui. The documents revealed that United States espionage against Japan concerned broad sections of communications about the US-Japan diplomatic relationship and Japan's position on climate change issues, other than an extensive monitoring of the Japanese economy. [237] On 21 October 2015 WikiLeaks published some of John O. Brennan's emails, including a draft security clearance application which contained personal information. [238]

2016

During the 2016 US Democratic Party presidential primaries, WikiLeaks hosted emails sent or received by presidential candidate Hillary Clinton from her personal mail server while she was Secretary of State. The emails had been released by the US State Department under a Freedom of information request in February 2016. [239] WikiLeaks also created a search engine to allow the public to search through Clinton's emails. [240] The emails were selected in terms of their relevance to the Iraq War and were apparently timed to precede the release of the UK government's Iraq Inquiry report. [241] The emails were a major point of discussion during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, requiring an FBI investigation which decided that Clinton had been "extremely careless" but recommended that no charges be filed against her. [242]

On 19 July 2016, in response to the Turkish government's purges that followed the coup attempt, [243] WikiLeaks released 294,548 emails from Turkey's ruling Justice and Development party (AKP). [244] According to WikiLeaks, the material, which they claim to be the first batch from the "AKP Emails", was obtained a week before the attempted coup in the country and "is not connected, in any way, to the elements behind the attempted coup, or to a rival political party or state". [245] After WikiLeaks announced that they would release the emails, the organisation was for over 24 hours under a "sustained attack". [246] Following the leak, the Turkish government ordered the site to be blocked nationwide. [247] [248] [249] [250]

Fisher asked WikiLeaks not to publish the AKP emails as she was still access files on the AKP network. After WikiLeaks published the emails, the AKP shut down its internal network and Fisher lost access. [251] [252] Most experts and commentators agree that Phineas Fisher was behind the leak. [253] [254] [255] Fisher said WikiLeaks had told her that the emails were "all spam and crap." [251]

WikiLeaks had also tweeted a link to a database which contained sensitive information, such as the Turkish Identification Number, of approximately 50 million Turkish citizens, including nearly every female voter in Turkey. [256] The information first appeared online in April of the same year and was not in the files uploaded by WikiLeaks, [257] but in files described by WikiLeaks as "the full data for the Turkey AKP emails and more" which was archived by Emma Best, who then removed it when the personal data was discovered. [258] [259]

On 22 July 2016, WikiLeaks released approximately 20,000 emails and 8,000 files sent from or received by Democratic National Committee (DNC) personnel. Some of the emails contained personal information of donors, including home addresses and Social Security numbers. [260] Other emails appeared to criticise Bernie Sanders or showed favouritism towards Clinton during the primaries. [261] [262] Emails showed that the DNC shared debate questions with Clinton in advance. [53] In July 2016, Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) because the emails released by WikiLeaks showed that the DNC was "effectively an arm of Mrs. Clinton's campaign" and had conspired to sabotage Bernie Sanders's campaign. [263]

On 7 October 2016, WikiLeaks started releasing series of emails and documents sent from or received by Hillary Clinton campaign manager, John Podesta, including Hillary Clinton's paid speeches to banks, including Goldman Sachs. The BBC reported that the release "is unlikely to allay fears among liberal Democrats that she is too cosy with Wall Street". [264] [265] [266] According to a spokesman for the Clinton campaign, "By dribbling these out every day WikiLeaks is proving they are nothing but a propaganda arm of the Kremlin with a political agenda doing Vladimir Putin's dirty work to help elect Donald Trump." [267] The New York Times reported that when asked, President Vladimir Putin replied that Russia was being falsely accused. "The hysteria is merely caused by the fact that somebody needs to divert the attention of the American people from the essence of what was exposed by the hackers." [268] [269]

On 17 October 2016, WikiLeaks announced that a "state party" had severed the Internet connection of Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy. WikiLeaks blamed United States Secretary of State John Kerry of pressuring the Ecuadorian government in severing Assange's Internet, an accusation which the United States State Department denied. [270] The Ecuadorian government stated that it had "temporarily" severed Assange's Internet connection because of WikiLeaks' release of documents "impacting on the U.S. election campaign," although it also stated that this was not meant to prevent WikiLeaks from operating. [271]

On 25 November 2016, WikiLeaks released emails and internal documents that provided details on the US military operations in Yemen from 2009 to March 2015. [272] [273] In a statement accompanying the release of the "Yemen Files", Assange said about the US involvement in the Yemen war: "The war in Yemen has produced 3.15 million internally displaced persons. Although the United States government has provided most of the bombs and is deeply involved in the conduct of the war itself reportage on the war in English is conspicuously rare". [273]

In December 2016, WikiLeaks published over 57,000 emails from Erdogan's son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, who was Turkey's Minister of Energy and Natural Resources. The emails show the inner workings of the Turkish government. [44] According to WikiLeaks, the emails had been first released by Redhack. [274]

2017

On 16 February 2017, WikiLeaks released a purported report on CIA espionage orders (marked as NOFORN) for the 2012 French presidential election. [275] [276] [277] The order called for details of party funding, internal rivalries and future attitudes toward the United States. The Associated Press noted that "the orders seemed to represent standard intelligence-gathering." [278]

On 7 March 2017, WikiLeaks started publishing content code-named "Vault 7", describing it as containing CIA internal documentation of their "massive arsenal" of hacking tools including malware, viruses, weaponised "zero day" exploits and remote control systems. [279] [280] [281] Leaked documents, dated from 2013 to 2016, detail the capabilities of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to perform electronic surveillance and cyber warfare, such as the ability to compromise cars, smart TVs, [281] web browsers (including Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera Software ASA), [282] [283] [284] and the operating systems of most smartphones (including Apple's iOS and Google's Android), as well as other operating systems such as Microsoft Windows, macOS, and Linux. [285] In September 2021, Yahoo! News reported that in 2017 in the wake of the Vault 7 leaks, the CIA planned to spy on associates of WikiLeaks, sow discord among its members, and steal their electronic devices. "[T]op intelligence officials lobbied the White House" to designate Wikileaks as an "information broker" to allow for more investigative tools against it, "potentially paving the way" for its prosecution. Laura Poitras described attempts to classify herself and Assange as "information brokers" rather than journalists as "bone-chilling and a threat to journalists worldwide". [286] Former CIA Director Mike Pompeo stated that the US officials who had spoken to Yahoo should be prosecuted for exposing CIA activities. [287]

On 5 May 2017, WikiLeaks posted links to e-mails purported to be from Emmanuel Macron's campaign in the French 2017 presidential election. [288] The documents were first relayed on the 4chan forum and by pro-Trump Twitter accounts, and then by WikiLeaks, who indicated they did not author the leaks. [288] [289] Some experts have said that the WikiLeaks Twitter account played a key role in publicising the leaks through the hashtag #MacronLeaks just some three-and-a-half hours after the first tweet with the hashtag appeared. [290] [291] The campaign stated that false documents were mixed in with real ones, and that "the ambition of the authors of this leak is obviously to harm the movement En Marche! in the final hours before the second round of the French presidential election." [288] [292] France's Electoral Commission described the action as a "massive and coordinated piracy action." [288] [292] France's Electoral Commission urged journalists not to report on the contents of the leaks, but to heed "the sense of responsibility they must demonstrate, as at stake are the free expression of voters and the sincerity of the election." [292] Cybersecurity experts initially believed that groups linked to Russia were involved in this attack. The Kremlin denied any involvement. [293] [294] [295] The head of the French cyber-security agency, ANSSI, later said that they did not have evidence connecting the hack with Russia, saying that the attack was so simple, that "we can imagine that it was a person who did this alone. They could be in any country." [296]

In September 2017, WikiLeaks released "Spy Files Russia," revealing "how a St. Petersburg-based technology company called Peter-Service helped state entities gather detailed data on Russian cellphone users, part of a national system of online surveillance called System for Operative Investigative Activities (SORM)." [297] Russian investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov said that "there is some data here that's worth publishing. Anything that gets people talking about Russia's capabilities and actions in this area should be seen as a positive development." [298]

2019

In November 2019, WikiLeaks released an email from an unnamed investigator from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) team investigating the 2018 chemical attack in Douma (Syria). The investigator accused the OPCW of covering up discrepancies. [299] Robert Fisk said that documents released by WikiLeaks indicated that the OPCW "suppressed or failed to publish, or simply preferred to ignore, the conclusions of up to 20 other members of its staff who became so upset at what they regarded as the misleading conclusions of the final report that they officially sought to have it changed in order to represent the truth". [300] The head of OPCW, Fernando Arias, described the leak as containing "subjective views" and stood by the original conclusions. [299]

On 12 November 2019, WikiLeaks began publishing what it called the Fishrot Files (Icelandic: Samherjaskjölin), a collection of thousands of documents and email communication by employees of one of Iceland's largest fish industry companies, Samherji, that indicated that the company had paid hundreds of millions Icelandic króna to high ranking politicians and officials in Namibia with the objective of acquiring the country's coveted fishing quota. [301]

2021

In 2021, WikiLeaks released a database of 17,000 documents, which it called The Intolerance Network, from the ultra-conservative Spanish Catholic organisation Hazte Oir and its international arm, CitizenGo. The documents reveal the internal workings of the organisations, their network of donors and their relationship with the Vatican. The release also includes documents from the secret Catholic organisation El Yunque. The editor of WikiLeaks, Kristinn Hrafnsson, said "As ultra right-wing political groups have gained strength in recent years, with increasing attacks on women's and LGBT rights, it is valuable to have access to documents from those who have lobbied for those changes on a global basis". [302] According to WikiLeaks, the documents were first released in 2017. [303]

Claims of upcoming leaks

In January 2011, Rudolf Elmer, a former Swiss banker, passed data containing account details of 2,000 prominent people to Assange, who stated that the information would be vetted before being made publicly available at a later date. [304] In May 2010, WikiLeaks said it had video footage of a massacre of civilians in Afghanistan by the US military which they were preparing to release. [305] [306] In an interview with Chris Anderson on 19 July 2010, Assange showed a document WikiLeaks had on an Albanian oil-well blowout, and said they also had material from inside British Petroleum, [307] and that they were "getting enormous quantity of whistleblower disclosures of a very high calibre" but added that they had not been able to verify and release the material because they did not have enough volunteer journalists. [308] In December 2010, Assange's lawyer, Mark Stephens, told The Andrew Marr Show on BBC Television that WikiLeaks had information it considered to be a "thermo-nuclear device" which it would release if the organisation needs to defend itself against the authorities. [309]

In a 2009 interview with Computerworld magazine, Assange claimed to be in possession of "5GB from Bank of America". In 2010, he told Forbes magazine that WikiLeaks was planning another "megaleak" early in 2011, from the private sector, involving "a big U.S. bank" and revealing an "ecosystem of corruption". Bank of America's stock price decreased by 3%, apparently as a result of this announcement. [310] [311] Assange commented on the possible effect of the release that "it could take down a bank or two". [312] [313] In August 2011, Reuters reported that Daniel Domscheit-Berg had destroyed around 3,000 submissions related to Bank of America (most of them "random junk"), out of concern over WikiLeaks' inadequate protection of sources. [314] The WikiLeaks Twitter account (believed to be controlled by Assange) stated "five gigabytes from the Bank of America" had been deleted, but Domscheit-Berg stated that he had only destroyed material received after Assange's Computerworld interview, and raised the possibility that Assange had lost access to the material because of technical deficiencies in WikiLeaks' submission system. [314]

In October 2010, Assange told a major Moscow newspaper that "The Kremlin had better brace itself for a coming wave of WikiLeaks disclosures about Russia". [315] Assange later clarified: "[W]e have material on many businesses and governments, including in Russia. It's not right to say there's going to be a particular focus on Russia". [316]

Authenticity

According to Wired in 2009, a "whistleblower" submitted fabricated documents to WikiLeaks. The documents were published and flagged as potential fakes. [10] WikiLeaks stated in 2010 that it has never released a misattributed document and that documents are assessed before release. In response to concerns about the possibility of misleading or fraudulent leaks, WikiLeaks has stated that misleading leaks "are already well-placed in the mainstream media. WikiLeaks is of no additional assistance." [317] The FAQ states that: "The simplest and most effective countermeasure is a worldwide community of informed users and editors who can scrutinise and discuss leaked documents." [318] According to statements by Assange in 2010, submitted documents were vetted by five reviewers with expertise in different topics such as language or programming, who also investigated the leaker's identity if known. [319] Assange had the final say in document assessment. [319]

Columnist Eric Zorn wrote in 2016 "So far, it's possible, even likely, that every stolen email WikiLeaks has posted has been authentic," but cautioned against assuming that future releases would be equally authentic. [320] Writer Glenn Greenwald stated in 2016 that WikiLeaks has a "perfect, long-standing record of only publishing authentic documents." [321] Cybersecurity experts have said that it would be easy for a person to fabricate an email or alter it, as by changing headers and metadata. [320]

Some of the releases, including many of the Podesta emails, contain DKIM headers. This allows them to be verified as genuine to some degree of certainty. [322]

In July 2016, the Aspen Institute's Homeland Security Group, a bipartisan counterterrorism organisation, warned that hackers who stole authentic data might "salt the files they release with plausible forgeries." [320] According to Douglas Perry, Russian intelligence agencies have frequently used disinformation tactics. He wrote in 2016 that "carefully faked emails might be included in the WikiLeaks dumps. After all, the best way to make false information believable is to mix it in with true information." [323]

Campaigns to discredit WikiLeaks

Writing for The Guardian in 2010, Nick Davies said there were low-level attempts to smear WikiLeaks, including online accusations against Assange. In 2010, Wikileaks published a US military document containing a plan to "destroy the center of gravity" of Wikileaks by attacking its trustworthiness. It suggests the identification and exposure of WikiLeaks' sources to "deter others from using WikiLeaks". [324] [325]

In 2010 the Bank of America employed the services of a collection of information security firms, known as Team Themis, when the bank became concerned about information that WikiLeaks held about it and was planning to release. Team Themis included private intelligence and security firms HBGary Federal, Palantir Technologies and Berico Technologies. [326] [327] [328] [329] [330] In 2011 hacktivist group Anonymous released emails it had obtained from HBGary Federal. Among other things, the emails revealed that Team Themis had planned to sabotage and discredit WikiLeaks. [331] One plan was to attack WikiLeaks servers and obtain information about document submitters to "kill the project". Another was to submit fake documents to WikiLeaks and then call out the error. A further plan involved pressuring supporters of WikiLeaks such as journalist Glenn Greenwald. [327] The plans were not implemented and, after the emails were published, Palantir CEO Alex Karp issued a public apology for his company's role. [331]

Promotion of conspiracy theories

Murder of Seth Rich

WikiLeaks promoted conspiracy theories about the murder of Seth Rich. [332] [333] [334] Unfounded conspiracy theories, spread by some right-wing figures and media outlets, hold that Rich was the source of leaked emails and was killed for working with WikiLeaks. [335] WikiLeaks fuelled such theories when it offered a $20,000 reward for information on Rich's killer and when Assange implied that Rich was the source of the DNC leaks, [336] although no evidence supports that claim. [337] [338] Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report into Russian interference in the 2016 election said that Assange "implied falsely" that Rich was the source in order to obscure that Russia was the actual source. [339] [340] [341] [342]

Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton

WikiLeaks popularised conspiracy theories about the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton, such as tweeting articles which suggested Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta engaged in satanic rituals, [39] [343] [344] implying that the Democratic Party had Seth Rich killed, [40] claiming that Hillary Clinton wanted to drone strike Assange, [345] suggesting that Clinton wore earpieces to debates and interviews, [346] promoting conspiracy theories about Clinton's health, [41] [347] [348] and promoting a conspiracy theory from a Donald Trump-related Internet community tying the Clinton campaign to child kidnapper Laura Silsby. [349]

Promotion of false flag theories

On the day the Vault 7 documents were first released, WikiLeaks described UMBRAGE as "a substantial library of attack techniques 'stolen' from malware produced in other states including the Russian Federation," and tweeted, "CIA steals other groups virus and malware facilitating false flag attacks." [350] A conspiracy theory soon emerged alleging that the CIA framed the Russian government for interfering in the 2016 U.S. elections. Conservative commentators such as Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter speculated about this possibility on Twitter, and Rush Limbaugh discussed it on his radio show. [351] Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said that Vault 7 showed that "the CIA could get access to such 'fingerprints' and then use them." [350]

Cybersecurity writers, such as Ben Buchanan and Kevin Poulsen, were skeptical of those theories. [352] [353] Poulsen wrote, "The leaked catalog isn't organized by country of origin, and the specific malware used by the Russian DNC hackers is nowhere on the list." [352]

In April 2017, the WikiLeaks Twitter account suggested that the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack, which international human rights organisations and governments of the United States, United Kingdom, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, France, and Israel attributed to the Syrian government, was a false flag attack. [354] WikiLeaks stated that "while western establishment media beat the drum for more war in Syria the matter is far from clear", and shared a video by a Syrian activist who claimed that Islamist extremists were probably behind the chemical attack, not the Syrian government. [354]

Reception

Awards and support

WikiLeaks won a number of awards in its early years, including The Economist's New Media Award in 2008 at the Index on Censorship Awards [355] and Amnesty International's UK Media Award in 2009. [356] [357] In 2010, the New York Daily News listed WikiLeaks first among websites "that could totally change the news". [358] Julian Assange received the 2010 Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence for releasing secret U.S. military reports on the Iraq and Afghan wars [359] and was named the Readers' Choice for TIME's Person of the Year in 2010. [360] The UK Information Commissioner has stated that "WikiLeaks is part of the phenomenon of the online, empowered citizen". [361] In 2010, an Internet petition in support of WikiLeaks attracted more than six hundred thousand signatures. [362]

On 16 April 2019, Mairead Maguire accepted the 2019 GUE/NGL Award for Journalists, Whistleblowers & Defenders of the Right to Information on Julian Assange's behalf. [363]

Improving government and corporate transparency

During the early years of WikiLeaks, various members of the media and academia commended it for exposing state and corporate secrets, increasing transparency, assisting freedom of the press, and enhancing democratic discourse while challenging powerful institutions. [364] [365] [366] [367] [368] [369] [370] In 2010, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern over the "cyber war" being led at the time against WikiLeaks, [371] and in a joint statement with the Organization of American States the UN Special Rapporteur called on states and other people to keep international legal principles in mind. [372]

Allegations of anti-Clinton and pro-Trump bias

Assange wrote on WikiLeaks in February 2016: "I have had years of experience in dealing with Hillary Clinton and have read thousands of her cables. Hillary lacks judgement and will push the United States into endless, stupid wars which spread terrorism. ...  she certainly should not become president of the United States." [373] In a 2017 interview by Amy Goodman, Julian Assange said that choosing between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is like choosing between cholera or gonorrhea. "Personally, I would prefer neither." [374] WikiLeaks editor Sarah Harrison stated that the site was not choosing which damaging publications to release, rather releasing information available to them. [375] In conversations that were leaked in February 2018, Assange expressed a preference for a Republican victory in the 2016 election, saying that "Dems+Media+liberals would [sic] then form a block to reign [sic] in their worst qualities. With Hillary in charge, GOP will be pushing for her worst qualities, dems+media+neoliberals will be mute." [376] In further leaked correspondence with the Trump campaign on election day (8 November 2016), WikiLeaks encouraged the Trump campaign to contest the election results as being "rigged" should they lose. [377]

Having released information that exposed the inner workings of a broad range of organisations and politicians, WikiLeaks started by 2016 to focus almost exclusively on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. [378] In the 2016 U.S. presidential election, WikiLeaks only exposed material damaging to the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton. WikiLeaks even rejected the opportunity to publish unrelated leaks, because it dedicated all its resources to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. According to The New York Times, WikiLeaks timed one of its large leaks so that it would happen on the eve of the Democratic Convention. [379] The Washington Post noted that the leaks came at an important sensitive moment in the Clinton campaign, as she was preparing to announce her vice-presidential pick and unite the party behind her. [380] The Sunlight Foundation, an organisation that advocates for open government, said that such actions meant that WikiLeaks was no longer striving to be transparent but rather sought to achieve political goals. [381]

WikiLeaks explained its actions in a 2017 statement to Foreign Policy : "WikiLeaks schedules publications to maximize readership and reader engagement. During distracting media events such as the Olympics or a high profile election, unrelated publications are sometimes delayed until the distraction passes but never are rejected for this reason." [378] On 7 October 2016, an hour after the media had begun to dedicate wall-to-wall coverage of the revelation that Trump had bragged on video about sexually harassing women, WikiLeaks began to release emails hacked from the personal account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. [382] [383] Podesta suggested that the emails were timed to deflect attention from the Trump tapes. [383]

Correspondence between WikiLeaks and Donald Trump Jr.

In November 2017, it was revealed that the WikiLeaks Twitter account corresponded with Donald Trump Jr. during the 2016 presidential election. [377] The correspondence shows how WikiLeaks actively solicited the co-operation of Trump Jr., a campaign surrogate and advisor in the campaign of his father. WikiLeaks urged the Trump campaign to reject the results of the 2016 presidential election at a time when it looked as if the Trump campaign would lose. [377] WikiLeaks asked Trump Jr. to share a WikiLeaks tweet with the quote "Can’t we just drone this guy?" which True Pundit alleged Hillary Clinton made about Assange. [377] WikiLeaks also shared a link to a site that would help people to search through WikiLeaks documents. [377] Trump Jr. shared both. After the election, WikiLeaks also requested that the president-elect push Australia to appoint Assange as ambassador to the US. Trump Jr. provided this correspondence to congressional investigators looking into Russian interference in the 2016 election. [377]

Allegations of association with Russian government

According to the Associated Press, leaked documents from WikiLeaks include an unsigned letter from Julian Assange authorising Israel Shamir to seek a Russian visa on his behalf in 2010. WikiLeaks said Assange never applied for the visa or wrote the letter. [384]

In 2012, as WikiLeaks was under a financial blockade, Assange began to host World Tomorrow, a television show that was distributed by Journeyman Pictures and aired on RT. [385] [386]

In 2013, the Russian national newspaper Izvestia reported that Russian intelligence officers had coordinated with WikiLeaks to get Edward Snowden to Russia. [387] [388] [389]

In April 2016, WikiLeaks tweeted criticism of the Panama Papers, which had among other things revealed Russian businesses and individuals linked with offshore ties. Assange said that journalists had "cherry-picked" documents to maximise "Putin bashing, North Korea bashing, sanctions bashing, etc." while avoiding mention of Western figures. [378] The WikiLeaks Twitter account tweeted, "#PanamaPapers Putin attack was produced by OCCRP which targets Russia & former USSR and was funded by USAID and [George] Soros". [390] Putin later dismissed the Panama Papers by citing WikiLeaks: "WikiLeaks has showed us that official people and official organs of the U.S. are behind this." [390] According to The New York Times "there is no evidence suggesting that the United States government had a role in releasing the Panama Papers". [391]

In August 2016, after WikiLeaks published thousands of DNC emails, DNC officials and a number of cybersecurity experts and cybersecurity firms claimed that Russian intelligence had hacked the e-mails and leaked them to WikiLeaks. [392] [393] Assange said that Russia was not the source of the documents and that the Clinton campaign was stoking "a neo-McCarthy hysteria". [394] In October 2016, the US intelligence community said that it was "confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations". [38] The US intelligence agencies said that the hacks were consistent with the methods of Russian-directed efforts, and that people high up within the Kremlin were likely involved. [38] On 14 October 2016, CNN stated that "there is mounting evidence that the Russian government is supplying WikiLeaks with hacked emails pertaining to the U.S. presidential election." [395]

WikiLeaks said it had no connection with Russia. [395] When asked about Guccifer 2.0's leaks, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said "These look very much like they’re from the Russians. But in some ways, they look very amateur, and almost look too much like the Russians." [396] [397] President Putin stated that there was no Russian involvement in the election. [268] [269] In August 2016, a New York Times story asked whether WikiLeaks had "become a laundering machine for compromising material gathered by Russian spies". It wrote that US officials believed it was unlikely there were direct ties between Wikileaks and Russian intelligence agencies. [385] A report by the Central Intelligence Agency shared with senators in 2016 concluded that Russia intelligence operatives provided materials to WikiLeaks in an effort to help Donald Trump's election bid. [398] [399]

In September 2016, the Daily Dot wrote that according to leaked court documents and a chatlog, a WikiLeaks release excluded evidence of a €2 billion transaction between the Syrian government and a government-owned Russian bank. [400] Responding to the Daily Dot, WikiLeaks said that all the Syria files they had obtained had been published. Their spokesperson also stated, in reference to the Daily Dot's reporting of the story: "Go right ahead, but you can be sure we will return the favour one day." [400] [401]

In March 2017, The Moscow Times wrote that a former WikiLeaks collaborator said that "in recent years, WikiLeaks and the Russian state have effectively joined forces." The article reported that, since submissions to the Wikileaks portal are anonymous and encrypted, it was very difficult for Wikileaks to trace their source. Mark Galeotti, a researcher at the Institute of International Relations Prague and an expert on the Russian security services, said he had suspicions "that things are sometimes fed in, and [WikiLeaks does] know where they came from." Galeotti said Assange would have to be "extraordinarily stupid and naive" not to conclude the DNC leaks came from Russia. [402] According to the Mueller indictment, WikiLeaks knew the source was the Russian Guccifer 2.0 persona. [403]

In April 2017, CIA Director Mike Pompeo stated: "It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is – a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia." Pompeo said that the US Intelligence Community had concluded that Russia's "primary propaganda outlet," RT had "actively collaborated" with WikiLeaks. [404]

In August 2017, Foreign Policy wrote that WikiLeaks had in the summer of 2016 turned down a large cache of documents containing information damaging to the Russian government. [378] [405] WikiLeaks stated that, "As far as we recall these are already public ... WikiLeaks rejects all information that it cannot verify. [378] WikiLeaks rejects submissions that have already been published elsewhere". [378] News outlets had reported on contents of the leaks in 2014, amounting to less than half of the data that was allegedly made available to WikiLeaks in the summer of 2016. [378]

In September 2018, The Guardian reported that Russian diplomats had secret talks with people close to Julian Assange in 2017 with plans to help him flee the U.K. Several possible destinations were suggested, including Russia. The Russian embassy denied the report. [406] It was also reported that Ecuador attempted to give Assange a diplomatic posting in Russia, but Britain refused to give him diplomatic immunity to leave the embassy. [407]

Allegations of anti-semitism

WikiLeaks has been accused of anti-semitism both in its Twitter activity and hiring decisions. [408] [409] [410] [411] According to Ian Hislop, Assange claimed that a "Jewish conspiracy" was attempting to discredit the organisation. Assange denied making this remark, stating "'Jewish conspiracy' is completely false, in spirit and in word. It is serious and upsetting." [408] [412]

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shooting in January 2015, the WikiLeaks Twitter account wrote that "the Jewish pro-censorship lobby legitimized attacks", referring to the trial of Maurice Sinet. [410] In July 2016, the same account suggested that triple parentheses, or (((echoes))) – a tool used by neo-Nazis to identify Jews on Twitter, appropriated by several Jews online out of solidarity – had been used as a way for "establishment climbers" to identify one another. [409] [411] In leaked internal conversations, the WikiLeaks Twitter account, thought[ by whom? ] to be controlled by Assange at the time, commented on Associated Press reporter Raphael Satter who had written an article critical of WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks tweeted that "[Satter]'s always ben(sic) a rat. But he's jewish and engaged with the ((()))) issue". [376]

Exaggerated and misleading descriptions of the contents of leaks

WikiLeaks has been criticised for making misleading claims about the contents of its leaks. [413] [414] Media outlets have also been criticised for uncritically repeating WikiLeaks' misleading claims about its leaks. [413] According to University of North Carolina Professor Zeynep Tufekci, this is part of a pattern of behaviour. [413] According to Tufekci, there are three steps to WikiLeaks' "disinformation campaigns": "The first step is to dump many documents at once — rather than allowing journalists to scrutinise them and absorb their significance before publication. The second step is to sensationalise the material with misleading news releases and tweets. The third step is to sit back and watch as the news media unwittingly promotes the WikiLeaks agenda under the auspices of independent reporting." [413]

Most experts and commentators agree that Phineas Fisher was behind the AKP email leak. [253] [254] [255] Fisher said WikiLeaks had told her that the emails were "all spam and crap" but published them anyway despite being asked not to. [251]

Buying and selling leaks

In 2008, WikiLeaks attempted to auction off the emails of an aide to Hugo Chavez, [415] drawing criticism. [416] [10] University of Minnesota media ethics professor Jane Kirtley asked, "Ethically speaking, why don't they just publish it?" [416] WikiLeaks later posted the emails on their website. [417] In 2010, Assange considered a subscription service which would give high paying subscribers early access to leaks. [418] In 2012, WikiLeaks put the Global Intelligence files behind a paywall, drawing intense criticism from supporters including Anonymous. [419] [420] [421] [422]

In 2015, WikiLeaks began issuing "bounties" of up to $100,000 for leaks. [423] WikiLeaks has issued crowd-sourced rewards for the TTIP chapters, the TPP [423] and information on the Kunduz Massacre. [424] [425] WikiLeaks has issued other bounties for leaks on Troika Crisis Planning, [426] LabourLeaks, [427] Trump-Comey tapes, [428] evidence of Obama administration officials destroying information, [429] 2016 U.S. Presidential election-related information, [430] information to get a reporter at The Intercept fired over the Reality Winner case, [431] the U.S. Senate torture report, [432] and documents and Sweden's vote on placing Saudi Arabia on the UN Women's Rights Commission. [433] WikiLeaks had defended the practice with their vetting record, saying "police rewards produce results. So do journalistic rewards." [425]

In April 2018, WikiLeaks offered a $100,000 reward for confidential information about "the alleged chemical attack in Douma, Syria." [434] In October, November and December 2019, WikiLeaks published the OPCW Douma Docs "regarding the investigating into the alleged chemical attack in Douma, Syria." [435] In a November 2020 interview with BBC, WikiLeaks' alleged source declined to say if he took money from the organisation. [436] [437]

Inadequate curation and violations of personal privacy

WikiLeaks has drawn criticism for violating the personal privacy of individuals and inadequately curating its content. These critics include transparency advocates, such as Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, the Sunlight Foundation and the Federation of American Scientists. [50]

In response to a question in 2010 about whether WikiLeaks would release information that he knew might get someone killed, Assange said that he had instituted a "harm-minimization policy." This policy meant that people named in some documents might be contacted before publication to warn them, but that there were also times were members of WikiLeaks might have "blood on our hands." [13] One member of WikiLeaks told The New Yorker they were initially uncomfortable with Assange's editorial policy, but changed her mind because she thought no one had been unjustly harmed. [13]

When asked to join their initial advisory board, Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists declined and told TIME that "they have a very idealistic view of the nature of leaking and its impact. They seem to think that most leakers are crusading do-gooders who are single-handedly battling one evil empire or another." [438] Aftergood has opined that WikiLeaks "does not respect the rule of law nor does it honor the rights of individuals." Aftergood went on to state that WikiLeaks engages in unrestrained disclosure of non-governmental secrets without compelling public policy reasons and that many anti-corruption activists were opposed to the site's activities. [439]

In 2010, Amnesty International joined several other human rights groups in strongly requesting that WikiLeaks redact the names of Afghan civilians working as U.S. military informants from files they had released, in order to protect them from repercussions. Julian Assange responded by offering Amnesty International the opportunity to assist in the tedious document vetting process. When Amnesty International appeared to express reservations in accepting the offer, Assange stated that he had "no time to deal with people who prefer to do nothing but cover their asses." [440]

In an August 2010 open letter, the non-governmental organisation Reporters Without Borders praised WikiLeaks' past usefulness in exposing "serious violations of human rights and civil liberties" but criticised the group over a perceived absence of editorial control, stating "Journalistic work involves the selection of information. The argument with which you defend yourself, namely that WikiLeaks is not made up of journalists, is not convincing." [441]

WikiLeaks has published individuals' Social Security numbers, medical information, and credit card numbers. [51] An analysis by the Associated Press found that WikiLeaks had in one of its mass-disclosures published "the personal information of hundreds of people – including sick children, rape victims and mental health patients". [51] WikiLeaks has named teenage rape victims, and outed an individual arrested for homosexuality in Saudi Arabia. [51] Some of WikiLeaks' cables "described patients with psychiatric conditions, seriously ill children or refugees". [51] An analysis of WikiLeaks' Saudi cables "turned up more than 500 passport, identity, academic or employment files ... three dozen records pertaining to family issues in the cables – including messages about marriages, divorces, missing children, elopements and custody battles. Many are very personal, like the marital certificates that proclaims whether the bride was a virgin. Others deal with Saudis who are deeply in debt, including one man who says his wife stole his money. One divorce document details a male partner's infertility. Others identify the partners of women suffering from sexually transmitted diseases including HIV and Hepatitis C." [51] Two individuals named in the DNC leaks were targeted by identity thieves following WikiLeaks' release of their Social Security and credit card information. [51] In its leak of DNC e-mails, WikiLeaks revealed the details of an ordinary staffer's suicide attempt and brought attention to it through a tweet. [442] [443]

WikiLeaks' publishing of Sony's hacked e-mails drew criticism for violating the privacy of Sony's employees and for failing to be in the public interest. [444] [445] Michael A. Cohen, a fellow at the Century Foundation, argues that "data dumps like these represent a threat to our already shrinking zone of privacy." [444] He noted that the willingness of WikiLeaks to publish information of this type encourages hacking and cyber theft: "With ready and willing amplifiers, what's to deter the next cyberthief from stealing a company's database of information and threatening to send it to Wikileaks if a list of demands aren't met?" [444]

The Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for open government, has criticised WikiLeaks for inadequate curation of its content and for "weaponised transparency," writing that with the DNC leaks, "Wikileaks again failed the due diligence review we expect of putatively journalistic entities when it published the personal information of ordinary citizens, including passport and Social Security numbers contained in the hacked emails of Democratic National Committee staff. We are not alone in raising ethical questions about Wikileaks' shift from whistleblower to platform for weaponised transparency. Any organisation that 'doxxes' a public is harming privacy." [446] The manner in which WikiLeaks publishes content can have the effect of censoring political enemies: "Wikileaks' indiscriminate disclosure in this case is perhaps the closest we've seen in reality to the bogeyman projected by enemies to reform — that transparency is just a Trojan Horse for chilling speech and silencing political enemies." [446]

In July 2016, Edward Snowden criticised WikiLeaks for insufficiently curating its content. [52] When Snowden made data public, he did so by working with The Washington Post, the Guardian and other news organisations, choosing only to make documents public which exposed National Security Agency surveillance programs. [52] Content that compromised national security or exposed sensitive personal information was withheld. [52] WikiLeaks, on the other hand, made little effort to do either, Snowden said. WikiLeaks responded by accusing Snowden of pandering to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. [52] At the same time, Glenn Greenwald criticized WikiLeaks for refusing to redact, telling Slate "I definitely do not agree with that approach and think that they can be harmful to innocent people or other individuals in ways that I don’t think is acceptable." [447]

In January 2017, the WikiLeaks Task Force, a Twitter account associated with WikiLeaks, [448] proposed the creation of a database to track verified Twitter users, including sensitive personal information on individuals' homes, families and finances. [448] [449] [450] According to the Chicago Tribune, "the proposal faced a sharp and swift backlash as technologists, journalists and security researchers slammed the idea as a 'sinister' and dangerous abuse of power and privacy." [449]

Internal conflicts and lack of transparency

In January 2007, John Young quit the advisory board and accused the group of being a CIA conduit. He published 150 pages of WikiLeaks emails. [10] In a 2010 interview with CNET.com Young accused the group of a lack of transparency regarding their fundraising and financial management. He went on to state his belief that WikiLeaks could not guarantee whistleblowers the anonymity or confidentiality they claimed and that he "would not trust them with information if it had any value, or if it put me at risk or anyone that I cared about at risk." [451] He later became supportive of the group again. [10]

Within WikiLeaks, there has been public disagreement between founder and spokesperson Julian Assange and Daniel Domscheit-Berg, the website's former German representative who was suspended by Assange. Domscheit-Berg announced on 28 September 2010 that he was leaving the organisation due to internal conflicts over management of the website. [452] [453] [454]

Julian Assange (left) with Daniel Domscheit-Berg who was ejected from WikiLeaks and started a rival "whistleblower" organisation named OpenLeaks. Assange Domscheit-Berg.jpg
Julian Assange (left) with Daniel Domscheit-Berg who was ejected from WikiLeaks and started a rival "whistleblower" organisation named OpenLeaks.

On 25 September 2010, after being suspended by Assange for "disloyalty, insubordination and destabilisation", Daniel Domscheit-Berg, the German spokesman for WikiLeaks, told Der Spiegel that he was resigning, saying "WikiLeaks has a structural problem. I no longer want to take responsibility for it, and that's why I am leaving the project." [455] [58] Assange accused Domscheit-Berg of leaking information to Newsweek , with Domscheit-Berg claiming that the WikiLeaks team was unhappy with Assange's management and handling of the Afghan war document releases. [58] Daniel Domscheit-Berg wanted greater transparency in the articles released to the public. Another vision of his was to focus on providing technology that allowed whistle-blowers to protect their identity as well as a more transparent way of communicating with the media, forming new partnerships and involving new people. [456] Domscheit-Berg left with a small group to start OpenLeaks, a new leak organisation and website with a different management and distribution philosophy. [455] [457]

While leaving, Daniel Domscheit-Berg copied and then deleted roughly 3,500 unpublished documents from the WikiLeaks servers, [458] including information on the US government's 'no-fly list' and inside information from 20 right-wing organisations, and according to a WikiLeaks statement, 5 gigabytes of data relating to Bank of America, the internal communications of 20 neo-Nazi organisations and US intercept information for "over a hundred Internet companies". [459] Assange stated that Domscheit-Berg had deleted video files of the Granai massacre by a US Bomber. WikiLeaks had scheduled the video for publication before its deletion. [460] In Domscheit-Berg's book he wrote: "To this day, we are waiting for Julian to restore security, so that we can return the material to him, which was on the submission platform." [461] In August 2011, Domscheit-Berg claimed he permanently deleted the files "in order to ensure that the sources are not compromised." [462]

Herbert Snorrason, a 25-year-old Icelandic university student, resigned after he challenged Assange on his decision to suspend Domscheit-Berg and was bluntly rebuked. [58] Iceland MP Birgitta Jónsdóttir also left WikiLeaks, citing lack of transparency, lack of structure, and poor communication flow in the organisation. [463] According to the British newspaper, The Independent , at least a dozen key supporters of WikiLeaks left the website during 2010. [464]

Non-disclosure agreements

Those working for WikiLeaks are reportedly required to sign sweeping non-disclosure agreements covering all conversations, conduct, and material, with Assange having sole power over disclosure. [465] The penalty for non-compliance in one such agreement was reportedly £12 million. [465] WikiLeaks has been challenged for this practice, as it is seen to be hypocritical for an organisation dedicated to transparency to limit the transparency of its inner workings and limit the accountability of powerful individuals in the organisation. [465] [466] [467]

Graffiti in Bilbao "We want to know." Bilbao - Ribera de Deusto 04.JPG
Graffiti in Bilbao "We want to know."

Public positions taken by politicians concerning WikiLeaks

In 2010, after WikiLeaks' release of classified U.S. government documents leaked by Chelsea Manning, then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was asked whether he saw Assange as closer to a high-tech terrorist than to Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. Biden responded that he "would argue it is closer to being a high-tech terrorist than the Pentagon Papers". Biden said Assange "has done things that have damaged and put in jeopardy the lives and occupations of people in other parts of the world." [468] [469] [470]

Several Republicans who had once been highly critical of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange began to speak fondly of him after WikiLeaks published the DNC leaks and started to regularly criticise Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. [471] [472] Having called WikiLeaks "disgraceful" in 2010, President-elect Donald Trump praised WikiLeaks in October 2016, saying, "I love WikiLeaks." [473] [474] In 2019, Trump said "I know nothing about WikiLeaks. It's not my thing." [475] Newt Gingrich, who called for Assange to be "treated as an enemy combatant" in 2010, praised him as a "down to Earth, straight forward interviewee" in 2017. [471] Sean Hannity, who had in 2010 said that Assange waged a "war" on the United States, praised him in 2016 for showing "how corrupt, dishonest and phony our government is". [472] Sarah Palin, who had in 2010 described Assange as an "anti-American operative with blood on his hands", praised Assange in 2017. [476]

Tulsi Gabbard spoke of the "chilling effect on investigative journalism", first of the US government's reclassification of WikiLeaks (from "news organization" during the Obama administration to "hostile intelligence service" after the 2016 election), then of his arrest. [477] [478]

Spin-offs

Release of United States diplomatic cables was followed by the creation of a number of other organisations based on the WikiLeaks model. [492]

See also

Related Research Articles

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