Is Donald Trump still a fan of Wikileaks? Would he still say, as he did in January, that he’d sooner believe Julian Assange than his own intelligence services?
Trump has repeatedly attacked US intelligence agencies – going as far as comparing them to the Nazi regime – while openly cheering for WikiLeaks. He has also alleged, without any evidence, that the Obama administration spied on him and his election campaign.
The latest WikiLeaks document dump about the CIA’s computer hacking tools comes in the midst of a very public feud between Trump and the US intelligence agencies over Putin’s intervention into the presidential election in Trump’s favour.
It seems likely that the new WikiLeaks revelations are intended to help Trump, and emanate from the Putin regime, which has long been using WikiLeaks to further its agenda in the west and to undermine bourgeois democracy from the extreme right.
The WikiLeaks press release highlights the CIA’s “Umbrage” group, said to collect a library of hacking tools used by intelligence agencies of foreign countries, “including the Russian Federation”, allowing them to conduct false flag operations.
“With Umbrage and related projects the CIA cannot only increase its total number of attack types but also misdirect attribution by leaving behind the ‘fingerprints’ of the groups that the attack techniques were stolen from,” WikiLeaks said.
James Lewis, senior vice-president at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies and an expert on cyber security, speculated that the motive behind the leak could be to underpin the false flag conspiracy theories and evasions of the Trump camp.
“This might be one explanation for the leaks – it’s data to build a case that the Russian interference and connections are a secret ‘deep state’ plot, as the false flag bits in WikiLeaks ‘shows’,” Lewis said, putting “Vault 7” in the context of the trial of strength between the president and intelligence agencies.
“Mr Trump, who last year angrily dismissed the conclusion of intelligence officials that the Russians interfered in the presidential election to boost his candidacy, has now asked both his staff and a congressional committee investigating Moscow’s influence on the election to turn up evidence that Mr Obama led an effort to spy on him,” he said.
Perceptions of WikiLeaks in the west – and on the liberal-left in particular – have changed since the organisation’s 2010 release of huge numbers of classified US documents from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as well as US embassies around the world. WikiLeaks was then widely supported by opponents of those wars and by advocates of greater transparency on the part of western governments.
But since its de facto support of Trump, at the behest of Putin, in the presidential election, Wikileaks is now regarded with suspicion by rational liberals and leftists. Its leaks focused exclusively on Hillary Clinton’s camp, and were released at critical moments in the campaign: no wonder Trump declared “I love WikiLeaks!”
In early January, the CIA, National Security Administration (NSA) and FBI assessed with “high confidence” that Russian military intelligence was behind the anonymous hackers Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks.com, which stole data from prominent Democrats and passed it on to WikiLeaks.
“Moscow most likely chose WikiLeaks because of its self-proclaimed reputation for authenticity. Disclosures through WikiLeaks did not contain any evident forgeries,” the agencies found.
Assange has insisted that the documents did not come from Russian sources, although the organisation also says that in most cases it does not know the sources of the data passed on to it.
In a press release announcing the latest document dump, WikiLeaks suggested that the original source was a former US government hacker or contractor.
Assange has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for more than four years, since Sweden sought his extradition for questioning on an accusation of sexual assault. In that time, he has hosted his own show on the Russian state-run television channel RT (formerly Russia Today).
WikiLeaks has published little or no material that could be seen as damaging to Russia, although Assange has argued that is because the leaks the organisation receives are overwhelmingly in English, while Russian-language material finds its way to other outlets.
“There is a lot of circumstantial evidence of the links between Assange and Russia,” said Susan Hennessey, a former NSA lawyer now at the Brookings Institution. “It’s certainly not a coincidence that Russian military intelligence selected WikiLeaks as a distribution platform for its Democrats hack.”
“WikiLeaks’ involvement creates a reason for suspicion. It has committed itself to putting out material that is harmful to western interests, but has assiduously avoided releasing material that could be perceived as damaging to Russian interests.”
WikiLeaks has also published material helpful to pro-Putin far-right parties in France and Germany, suggesting that it will seek to influence the forthcoming French presidential election in favour of Marine Le Pen and the German election in favour of the neo-nazi Alternative for Germany (AfD).
Meanwhile, Trump may be regretting his outspoken support for Assange and WikiLeaks, as allegations of Russian influence dog his White House, and the threat of impeachment begins to look like a realistic possibility.
JD would like to acknowledge the work of Julian Borger in the Guardian, which has provided him with much of the information used in this post.