Wikileaks withheld a batch of emails showing a $2.2 billion transaction between the Syrian regime and a Russian government-owned bank, according to a Daily Dot report. If true, the report will likely have a lasting negative impact on Wikileaks’ credibility. The report alleges that the transparency organization betrayed its own core values of “pristine leaking,” and did so in a way that protects Russia’s public image.
As the Daily Dot reports, court records placed under seal by a Manhattan federal court and obtained by the news organization “show in detail how a group of hacktivists breached the Syrian government’s networks on the eve of the country’s civil war and extracted emails about major bank transactions the Syrian regime was hurriedly making amid a host of economic sanctions.”
The report claims batch of emails were not included in the cache of documents Wikileaks published under the name the “Syria Files”in 2012. The emails allegedly show correspondence between the Central Bank of Syria and Russia’s VTB Bank. When the Daily Dot asked Wikileaks for comment, the transparency organization denied removing the batch of emails and vaguely threatened the journalist, saying, “You can be sure we will return the favor one day.”
It’s entirely possible that the hackers removed the email batch from the data dump it provided to Wikileaks. But it also seems very unlikely. As Daily Dot reporters Dell Cameron and Patrick Howell O’Neill point out in their story, they received 500 pages showing every step the hackers went through to infiltrate the Syrian government’s networks. The reporters say, “the court records leaked to the Daily Dot reveal the Moscow bank’s emails were, in fact, part of the larger backup file containing numerous emails currently found on the WikiLeaks site.”
If Wikileaks did indeed remove emails from its data dump, it would completely undermine founder Julian Assange’s repeated claims of providing “pristine” leaks since the organization was founded in 2006. It would indicate that the transparency organization is not neutral and is even willing to tamper with the information it’s publishing, thus undermining its mission of transparency.
Wikileaks’ credibility has been increasingly called into question with each of its last major leaks. When the organization published 19,252 emails from top US Democratic National Committee members earlier this year, cybersecurity experts said the leak was likely facilitated by the Russian government.
During an appearance on HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange also claimed the organization did not publish sensitive information from DNC donors. “We did not publish full credit card numbers of donors,” he said. “It’s the last four digits, just like your 7-Eleven receipt.” As Gizmodo reported, Assange blatantly lied about the contents of the dump. Wikileaks had in fact published dozens of full credit card numbers.
WikiLeaks was also criticized for publishing more than 80 variants of malware in the second email dump from Turkey’s ruling political party (AKP). Anti-virus security expert Vesselin Bontchev published the allegations on his GitHub page, showing how extensive the threats inside Wikileaks AKP email dump were.
New York Times reporter Zeynep Tufekci has also been vocal about the lack of legitimacy and newsworthiness of Wikileaks dumps. She wrote that the newest batch of AKP leaks “have nothing on Turkey’s political power structure” and contains “personal info of ordinary people as they email inquiring for jobs, share travel plans.” She also criticized Wikileaks for “putting women in danger” by publishing sensitive information of every female voter in 79 of 81 Turkish provinces.
The saddest part of Wikileaks’ eroding credibility is that we’re losing a major source for leaking information while protecting sources. The ideal of “ethical leaking” and “scientific journalism” has been completely undermined by an egomaniacal campaign from Assange, who has almost certainly received documents from Russian-backed hackers in an attempt to influence the U.S. election. Now, it appears Wikileaks went to great lengths to cover its tracks and also protect its sources image. If Wikileaks, Russia, and Syria are working together in a coordinated political campaign, the public deserves to know.