Near History: Julian Assange & Wikileaks

Julian Assange Time Magazine cover 2010

Posted on October 19, 2020


Foreword

Before I researched this topic, the words “Julian Assange” and “Wikileaks” brought up conflicting emotions within me. During the initial height of Wikileaks’ fame (or infamy) in 2010, I was more focused on beating Super Mario Galaxy than world geopolitics. So here we are again, another Near History lesson.

Who is Julian Assange? A really fast overview:

Julian Assange is a hacker, a purporter of free information, and an anti-corruption activist. His mother divorced when he was very young, and the two lived a nomadic lifestyle across Australia. His mother then remarried to a guy in a New Age group (cult). Julian had a penchant for analytical thinking and computer programming, and when the family finally settled down in Melbourne, his skills finally had the chance to flourish.

Over the course of his young adulthood, he performed a large hack on a secret US military database that got him arrested and charged with 24 counts of hacking. After this, he became depressed, homeless, and his hair turned white due to a custody battle for his son.

Throughout the 90s (after his hacking career had ended), Assange programmed with various early internet companies and learned about cryptography. His interest in governmental transparency and protecting whistleblowers never waned, and in 2006, he co-founded Wikileaks.

Wikileaks

Wikileaks is a website devoted to publishing leaked government documents to protect whistleblowers. Before the site became a household name, they published classified information about post 9/11 US drone strikes in Yemen, human rights violations by Kenyan Police, a Peruvian oil political scandal, and details about a US-Israeli cyberattack on an Iranian nuclear facility, among numerous other instances of classified media that governments wouldn’t want people to see.

Chelsea Manning Leaks in 2010

Wikileaks became widely known in the US in 2010 after a US Intelligence Analyst named Chelsea Manning provided Wikileaks with a massive leak. Manning was serving in the Iraq War, but didn’t support it, which led her to send Wikileaks the documents.

The following four paragraphs all describe the leaks provided by Chelsea Manning. That’s how big of a leak this was.

The first leak facilitated by Manning and Wikileaks occurred in April 2010. It contained the “Collateral Murder” video, in which US soldiers fatally shoot 18 people from a helicopter in Iraq including a Reuters journalist named Namir Noon-Eldeen, his assistant Saeed Chmagh, and a number of civilians. Reuters had made a previous request to the US government for the video to be released under the Freedom of Information Act, but that request had been denied. Wikileaks worked for a week to break the military encryption of the video so it could be viewed, then posted it on their site. The video garnered national outrage.

In July, 2010, Wikileaks posted the Afghanistan War Logs, which consisted of over 91,000 official documents relating to civilian deaths, Taliban attacks, and insurgency involvement by Pakistan and Iran. These logs painted a grisly picture of the war in Afghanistan never before seen by the American public.

In October, 2010, Wikileaks published the Iraq War Logs. These Logs contain 391,832 United States Army field reports. These reports detail that 66,081 of the 109,000 recorded deaths during  the Iraq war were civilian deaths, not combatants.

Finally, in November, 2010, following a drawn-out and dramatic release of redacted documents, Wikileaks published 251,287 classified diplomatic cables. These cables detailed events and incidents regarding international relations from 274 embassies. The age of the cables ranged from 1966 to 2010, and covered a wide variety of sensitive data.

There was large backlash against Wikileaks for this leak. Paypal cut off their donation account, their DNS hosting service dropped them from their entries, and multiple banks and credit card companies froze their assets and donation channels.

Conclusion?

Wikileaks hasn’t stopped being active. They bounced back after the backlash in 2010 and have continued to post document leaks from governments around the world. Although this article focused on leaks from the United States government, don’t let that make you think they only care about the United States. ANY whistleblower from ANY country can use Wikileaks to anonymously publish their information. If you’re curious about more recent leaks, take a scroll down the Wikileaks wikipedia page or google the word “wikileaks”. You may find some interesting information.

As is the goal with the Near History project, I urge you to come to your own conclusion on this topic. Please don’t use this article as your only source of information on the topic – rather, use it as a springboard to start learning more. The only way that we can come together as a species is by learning more about each other and what has happened on this earth. Don’t jump to conclusions, and don’t take everything you read as fact. Do diligent research, use caution, and be wary of WHO is writing what.

Further Reading / Sources

The MC Guide to Wikileaks and Julian Assange

The Wikipedia article on Wikileaks

The Wikipedia article on the US Diplomatic Cables Leak

Cover Photo: Time Magazine


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