National Security & Defense

Is Julian Assange Telling the Truth about the WikiLeaks Hack?

Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, February 2016 (Reuters photo: Peter Nicholls)
Consider Assange’s motives for concealing the source of the leaked e-mails.

The Democrats are committed to their story that Russian intelligence operatives hacked Democratic operatives’ e-mails to interfere with the U.S. presidential election. Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, which published those e-mails, says this is not the case, that the source was a non-state actor. Tucker Carlson, debating the question on Fox News, asked why Assange might lie about this.

This probably already has occurred to Carlson (who is a very sharp thinker), but there are many reasons Assange might prefer that version of events irrespective of its truth or falsehood. Gaming it out a little might help. Imagine you are Julian Assange and . . . 

1. You know for a fact that Moscow was not the source of the WikiLeaks e-mails. What do you do? In this case, it seems most likely that you would simply tell the truth, that Russian intelligence was not behind the leak.

2. You know for a fact that Moscow was the source of the WikiLeaks e-mails. What do you do? That is going to depend a great deal upon your personal commitment to the truth and your integrity. For the sake of argument, let’s assume a position of agnosticism on this vis-à-vis Assange. Presumably, Assange does not want to spend the rest of his life hiding out in third-rate embassies, and, presumably, he would like whatever life he has to be long and full and not cut short by, say, poisoning with polonium like that of Alexander Litvinenko. The Assange-WikiLeaks point of view seems to be that it does not in the end matter very much what the source of these documents was, in any case. So, you have a very strong incentive to deny that Moscow was the source.

3. You don’t know whether Moscow was the source. That does not seem to me implausible, either. If Russian state hackers were in fact the people clever enough to phish out the password to John Podesta’s Gmail account, they probably didn’t pass on the information directly from the GRU or whichever conclave of Muscovite nefariousness was behind the deed. The Russians are, in general, pretty good at the sneaky stuff, having as they do a genuine gift for deviousness, and it is unlikely that they would have had any direct contact with WikiLeaks, instead of insulating themselves behind layers of intermediaries. In that case, Assange has a different but similar set of motives: He still doesn’t have a lot of friends, and he still doesn’t want to live in an embassy for the rest of his life, and he’s in need of a Plan B in the direst way. Why unnecessarily annoy Vladimir Putin and the incoming U.S. president? (You need not buy the conspiracy theory that Donald Trump is a Putin puppet to understand why he’d much prefer the source of those DNC e-mails be a cheesed-off Bernie Bro at the DNC instead of Russian spooks.) So, again, you have a pretty strong incentive to deny that Moscow was the source.

All of which leaves us . . . where?

Some sober perspective is in order here.

There have been much more serious incursions, many of them linked to China, that present genuine national-security threats.

If the Democrats’ version of the story is true, this represents at most some pretty low-level, apple-stealing stuff in terms of international espionage and post-Soviet dirty tricks. One would almost be disappointed if the Russians weren’t up to more serious hijinks than that. No one disputes the legitimacy of the WikiLeaks documents, and they were not exactly chock-full of sensitive national-security secrets, just a lot of back-and-forth that’s embarrassing to Democrats and to a few of their media sycophants. There isn’t even much evidence that they had a meaningful effect on the election.

That doesn’t mean that we should ignore it, but, in terms of what we are cursed to keep calling “cyberwar” activities, this is pretty small potatoes. There have been much more serious incursions, many of them linked to China, that present genuine national-security threats. But the Obama administration has for the most part sat on its thumb in response to those. The Chinese hack on the Office of Personnel Management was a much more substantial violation of our security, but so far as the waning Obama administration is concerned, stealing private (and, indeed, classified) information on 20 million people is nothing next to causing Debbie Wasserman Schultz a bit of public consternation.

#related#By all means, investigate, and do so vigorously. If the Russians are engaged even in bush-league mucking about with our elections, then that should be exposed and responded to. We shouldn’t take Assange’s word on this one way or the other.

But in the end, the DNC leak is a jaywalking case that we’re prosecuting while our enemies are plotting something more like an electronic 9/11. If it takes embarrassing a few Democrats to get Uncle Stupid moving on this, so be it, but the sorry case of Hillary Rodham Clinton is the beginning of this story, not the end of it.


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