In Depth

What WikiLeaks revealed

Julian Assange continues fight against extradition to the US

WikiLeaks gained worldwide renown by publishing classified documents on everything from the film industry to national security since the whistle-blowing website was founded in 2006.

Now its Australian-born founder Julian Assange is being sought by the US on 17 counts of espionage and one computer-hacking charge. This week, London’s Woolwich Crown Court is hearing from lawyers representing US authorities and Assange battling over his extradition.

Assange’s defence team have argued that he is the victim of a “politically motivated prosecution” that forms part of Donald Trump’s “war on investigative journalists”. They claim there was even a plot to kill their client and that he is at significant suicide risk.

Lawyers for the US government say Assange “put lives at risk” by sharing unredacted files and that some sources “disappeared” after they were identified.

So what exactly has WikiLeaks revealed? The Week rounds up some of the biggest stories.

Chelsea Manning files

Over the years, WikiLeaks released US State Department cables, Iraq war logs, top-secret files on Guantanamo detainees and a video depicting the US military killing Iraqi civilians and Reuters journalists from an Apache helicopter - with all the records leaked to the organisation by former Army private Chelsea Manning.

The disclosures, published by news outlets worldwide, “laid bare how US military and intelligence agencies carried out its war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan and the treatment of detainees it captured”, BuzzFeed News reports.

The 39-minute Apache helicopter video was perhaps the most damaging to the US government, with critics claiming that the pilots behaved as though they were in “a computer game”.

However, in 2011, WikiLeaks faced a backlash from the mainstream media for publishing raw classified data, with no attempt to protect the innocent, The Independent says.

In total, the organisation released more than 251,000 unredacted US diplomatic cables into the public domain. “At least 150 of the documents refer to whistle-blowers, and thousands include the names of sources that the US believed could be put in danger by the publication of their identities,” the newspaper reports.

The leak was condemned in a joint statement by The Guardian, The New York Times, Spanish newspaper El Pais, Germany’s Der Spiegel and French paper Le Monde. “Our previous dealings with WikiLeaks were on the clear basis we would only publish cables which had been subjected to a thorough joint editing and clearance process,” said the statement.

Sony Pictures leak

In 2015, WikiLeaks released more than 170,000 emails and 20,000 documents leaked from movie studio Sony Pictures.

Among other things, the emails “revealed that actresses Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams received a lower fee than their male co-stars in American Hustle”, reports the BBC.

There were “also messages from producers and executives insulting celebrities such as Angelina Jolie”, the broadcaster adds.

The emails had reportedly come from hackers working on behalf of the North Korean state who were angered by Sony’s planned release of The Interview, a comedy about two Americans hired to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

DNC emails

WikiLeaks and founder Assange were hit by further criticism in 2016, over the site’s perceived role in the US presidental election campaign. Indeed, “nothing seems to have been more damaging” for the organisation’s reputation, writes sociologist Geoffroy de Lagasnerie on openDemocracy, an independent media platform that focuses on human rights. 

WikiLeaks’ publication of leaked Democratic National Committee emails fuelled the perception that the organisation was cosying up with the political circles of Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, de Lagasnerie adds.

One of the thousands of hacked emails from the account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign boss John Podesta seemed to suggest a CNN contributor had tipped off the Democrats about a question to be asked during a debate hosted by the broadcaster.

Vault 7

In 2017, as part of its so-called Vault 7 release, WikiLeaks revealed that the CIA “has been involved in a concerted effort to write various kinds of malware to spy on just about every piece of electronic equipment that people use”, says The Independent.

The documents revealed the capabilities of the US intelligence agency to perform electronic surveillance and cyberwarfare, including systems to compromise cars, smart TVs, web browsers and the operating systems of most smartphones.

One file indicated that the CIA were looking into ways of remotely controlling cars and vans by hacking into them.

“The purpose of such control is not specified, but it would permit the CIA to engage in nearly undetectable assassinations,” said WikiLeaks, in what The Independent describes as “an unproven piece of speculation”.


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