It’s hard to keep up with the accusations leveled at WikiLeaks. This week, Julian Assange is apparently doing the bidding of Vladimir Putin by releasing hacked Democratic National Committee emails showing the DNC’s eagerness to undermine the campaign of Bernie Sanders.

WikiLeaks has previously been accused of being a front for Israeli spy agency Mossad (that’s when Assange is not being attacked as an anti-Semite, although what better way to disguise that he’s a Mossad agent?) and a CIA operation, although who WikiLeaks was a front for when it released the Saudi cables last year or the recent emails from within Turkish dictator Recep Erdogan’s party (not to be confused, as many have, with a separate set of documents containing extensive personal information on Turkish citizens) is a little less clear.

Then there was the time WikiLeaks was accused of placing numerous people in deadly danger and damaging international relations by releasing the Chelsea Manning cables, only for the US government to fail to produce any evidence of anyone being placed in danger. Or the time WikiLeaks was supposed to have put Zimbabwean politician Morgan Tsvangirai in danger, except it turned out to be the Guardian that did it. Not unlike the time a Guardian journalist, seeking to big-note his role in Cablegate, gave away the password to the unredacted cable collection.

[The problem with massive data leaks like the Panama Papers]

Whatever the case, plainly that whole “we’ll destroy WikiLeaks by keeping Assange confined with legal harassment” plan isn’t quite working.

It’s also a little confusing as to why the DNC wouldn’t support Hillary Clinton, given Bernie Sanders is an independent, less likely to appeal to key Democrat constituencies among Hispanics and African-Americans (as the primary race demonstrated) and thus less likely to defeat a Republican candidate, but that “so what?” question has been left behind in the race to blame Russian President Vladimir Putin for interfering in US politics.

Undoubtedly, Julian Assange has strong feelings about Hillary Clinton, given her role in the Obama administration’s long-running efforts to destroy WikiLeaks and pursue him over the Manning cables. And undoubtedly the kleptocratic, brutal Putin regime has actively tried to interfere in European politics to split the EU and foster the rise of extremists.

And let’s assume, for argument’s sake, it was indeed an officially sanctioned Russian intelligence operation that hacked into the DNC’s poorly secured email system, and not a Russian hacker operating on their own, or a non-Russian government or hacker using Russian servers, or someone wanting it to appear that it was Russia. This is, according to some, a far bigger scandal than Watergate — Watergate times a thousand, according to one febrile commentator. That Donald Trump — in a statement that makes the maddest moments of the final days of Nixon look anodyne — promptly urged the Russians to keep up its cyber attack on the Democrats only added to the fury.

But this hypocrisy of American outrage is remarkable. Even putting aside the US’ long record of regime change in other countries and its propping up of some of the world’s worst dictators — no one must dare do to Americans what it casually does to perceived enemies and allies — US complaints about Russian hacking are bizarre given that the US and its allies run the planet’s biggest spying operation.

[Cybersecurity? The biggest online criminals are … us]

The mass surveillance operation run by the Five Eyes countries and revealed by Edward Snowden is one not merely or even mainly directed at Russia or China, or terrorists, or other strategic rivals — but at close allies. It was the United States that conducted surveillance operations on successive French presidents and French companies, that spied on Angela Merkel and on the presidents of Mexico and Brazil. It was the NSA that undermined global encryption standards to make it easier to break into protected systems and demanded backdoors into major software products and online services. It was Australia that spied on the president of Indonesia. It was the Brits and the Americans who tapped undersea cables, GCHQ and MI6 who used G20 meetings during the financial crisis to spy on allies and enemies alike.

The information gleaned from this global-scale spying operation was used by Anglophone governments to pursue their own strategic ends (and shared with corporations that would benefit from it — Australia notoriously handed its wiretaps of privileged communications between Indonesian trade negotiators and their US legal advisers to the US government for use by American companies).

Assuming a Russian masterplan to spy on the Democratic Party’s highest officeholders, the information stolen and somehow channelled to WikiLeaks hasn’t been used secretly but openly — no one, so far, has suggested any of the hacked emails are fake.

The autocratic Putin regime thus stands accused of using transparency and democracy to interfere in US politics, while the Five Eyes nations routinely use secrecy to interfere in the politics of other countries. Which is better?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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