As a journalist, I've always loved the idea of WikiLeaks. A safe place where whistle blowers and others with inside information could anonymously share data that the public needs to know. In a digital age when the once-great newspaper industry is on the decline and there are fewer checks than there should be on corporate and governmental power, WikiLeaks seemed to restore a small degree of balance.
But then things changed. In the last few months, WikiLeaks' actions and motivations have increasingly seemed untrustworthy. Yesterday, the New York Times published the results of a lengthy investigation into WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange. The reporters noted that--for whatever reason--WikiLeaks' latest activities have often tended to benefit Russia, particularly its president Vladimir Putin.
US officials say they are highly confident that the Democratic National Committee emails WikiLeaks released last month were obtained by Russian government hackers. "That raises a question," the Times story says. "Has WikiLeaks become a laundering machine for compromising material gathered by Russian spies? And more broadly, what precisely is the relationship between Mr. Assange and Mr. Putin's Kremlin?"
Organizations like WikiLeaks work when they have no agenda except one: Reveal the whole truth and let the chips fall where they may. While WikiLeaks started out that way, that isn't what it's doing now.
Here are some reasons I don't trust WikiLeaks anymore, and I don't think anyone should:
1. It continues to deny that its information comes from the Russian government.
Assange insisted to the Times that there is no "concrete evidence" that material it published came from Russia's intelligence agencies. That's an odd way of putting it, especially since Assange has also said that WikiLeaks would publish material from those agencies anyhow. And with US intelligence agencies saying Russia was the source of the material, it seems to be an open secret. Why keep denying the source of the emails? The only reason I can think of is that Russia told them to.
With this in mind, it's worth remembering that Assange works for the Russian government--literally. He's been given a television show to host on Russia Today, the Kremlin's state-sponsored television network.
2. It seems to be trying to affect the US presidential election.
It's highly likely that Russian president Vladimir Putin would like Donald Trump to be the next American president. Putin and Trump have each heaped praise on the other, and Trump has called for closer ties with Russia. He's even spoken in support of Russia's annexation of the Crimea.
So it's a little dismaying that the timing of WikiLeaks' announced next cache of damning Hillary Clinton emails--just in time for the election--seems designed to deliver the result that Putin wants. Speaking of timing, there's WikiLeaks release of DNC emails that proved the party leadership was doing its best to undermine Bernie Sanders' candidacy and make sure Hillary Clinton won the nomination. But why did WikiLeaks wait until primary season was over, when doing so earlier might have given Sanders a shot at winning?
Polls during primary season suggested that Sanders would beat Trump more easily than Clinton will (although she seems to have a big lead for the moment). I'm not saying that WikiLeaks wants Trump to be president. But the timing of its email releases almost seems designed to deliver that result.
3. The most important leaks no longer go through WikiLeaks.
Most damning of all, WikiLeaks may be losing sight of its mission. The biggest cache of leaked documents ever released (at least so far) is 11.5 million documents from a Panamanian law firm--the "Panama Papers"--that revealed how rich and powerful people hide their wealth in offshore havens.
Those documents were released anonymously to a consortium of investigative reporters, but not through WikiLeaks. Why not? The anonymous leaker claims to have tried repeatedly to contact WikiLeaks about the cache of documents but said there was no response.
What if he's telling the truth? Then it would seem WikiLeaks has gotten so focused on managing its relationship with Russia that it can no longer fulfill its original purpose. If that's true, it's a sad thing for us all.