The Founding of WikiLeaks
Julian Assange founded WikiLeaks in 2006 aiming to “bring important news and information to the public… One of our most important activities is to publish original source material alongside our news stories so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth.” It first began publishing source documents in December of that year.
Assange created the first anonymous secure online submission system for documents from journalistic sources. For years it was the only submission system of its kind, but such a dropbox is now a staple of many major news and human rights organisations, with versions such as SecureDrop.
One of WikiLeaks’ first major releases was the a copy of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp’s 2003 Standard Operating Procedures for the US Army.
In its first few years, WikiLeaks released allegations of illegality by the Swiss Bank Julius Baer, Sarah Palin’s Yahoo emails, the secret bibles of Scientology and the membership list of the far-right British National Party.
WikiLeaks, its publisher and its journalists have won many awards, including:
- The Economist New Media Award (2008)
- The Amnesty New Media Award (2009)
- TIME Magazine Person of the Year, People’s Choice (highest global vote) (2010)
- The Sam Adams Award for Integrity (2010)
- The National Union of Journalists Journalist of the Year (Hrafnsson) (2011)
- The Sydney Peace Foundation Gold Medal (2011)
- The Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism (2011)
- The Blanquerna Award for Best Communicator (2011)
- The Walkley Award for Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism (2011)
- The Voltaire Award for Free Speech (2011)
- The International Piero Passetti Journalism Prize of the National Union of Italian Journalists (2011)
- The Jose Couso Press Freedom Award (2011)
- The Privacy International Hero of Privacy (2012)
- The Global Exchange Human Rights People’s Choice Award (2013)
- The Yoko Ono Lennon Courage Award for the Arts (2013)
- The Brazillian Press Association Human Rights Award (2013)
- The Kazakstan Union of Journalists Top Prize (2014)
- The Willy Brandt Award for Political Courage (Harrison) (2015)
As well as nominations for the UN Mandela Prize (2015) and nominations in six consecutive years for the Nobel Peace Prize (2010-2015)
In 2010, WikiLeaks came to global attention by publishing tends of thousands of classified documents from the United States, from the US Army’s helicopter gunners in ‘Collateral Murder’ to the State Department diplomatic cables.
Because these leaks exposed one of the world’s biggest superpowers, and how it interacts with countries all over the globe, they dominated headlines the world over. These disclosures changed international understanding of politics and journalism as a practice, as debates raged over the ethics of secrecy, radical transparency and reporting on stolen documents.
While the Kenyan disclosures earned Assange awards and acclaim, publishing US secrets incurred the wrath and prosecutorial aggression of high-profile public officials.
It was later revealed that a grand jury was convened in Alexandria, Virginia, and the 2011 publication of Strafor emails indicated that private intelligence figures were claiming that the United States had a sealed indictment of Assange. The Grand Jury investigation remained open throughout Obama’s term, enabling the Trump Administration to take the next step and prepare charges against WikiLeaks members.
The crimes listed in the search warrant are:
- Espionage: 18 U.S.C. § 793(d) – imprisonment up to 10 years
- Conspiracy to commit espionage: 18 U.S.C. § 793(g) – imprisonment up to 10 years
- The theft or conversion of property belonging to the United States government: 18 U.S.C. § 641 – imprisonment up to 10 years
- Violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act: 18 U.S.C. § 1030 – imprisonment up to 10 years
- (general) Conspiracy: 18 U.S.C. § 371 – imprisonment up to 5 years
When Chelsea (then-Bradley) Manning was revealed as the imprisoned source of the 2010 releases, whistleblowers and leaking ethics became a major issue of public debate. Manning was ultimately convicted of several counts under the Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and was sentenced to 35 years in military prison, the longest ever penalty for a US leaker. At Manning’s trial, prosecutors attempted to portray Assange as a conspirator who encouraged Chelsea to leak to WikiLeaks.
WikiLeaks continued to disclose document archives in the subsequent years, including the following data sets:
- 25 April 2011 – Gitmo Files – Files on 767 of the 779 prisoners in Guantanamo Bay
- 1 December 2011 – Spy Files – Documents exposing 160 companies in the mass surveillance industry
- 27 February 2012 – Global Intelligence Files – 5 million emails from intelligence contractor Stratfor
- 5 July 2012 – Syria Files – 2.3 million emails from Syrian political elites
- 19 June 2015 – Saudi Cables – 500,000 cables & Foreign Ministry documents from the Saudi Government
- 16 November 2015 – Final Texts of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal
- 25 May 2016 – Documents from the Trade in Services Agreement trade deal
- 22 July 2016 – DNC Leaks – 44,053 emails and 17,761 attachments from the US Democratic National Committee
- 7 October 2016 – The Podesta Emails – 58,660 emails from Hillary Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta
- 25 November 2017 – Yemen Files – more than 500 documents from the US embassy in Sana’a, Yemen
- 1 December 2016 – German BND-NSA Inquiry Exhibits – 90 GB of information relating to the BND-NSA Inquiry
- 16 February 2017 – CIA espionage orders for the 2012 French presidential election
- 7 March 2017 – Vault 7 – Series of leaks on the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency
A full timeline of WikiLeaks releases can be found here.
In its decade of existence, WikiLeaks has published more than 10 million documents, with a perfect track record of authenticity.