How did WikiLeaks become associated with Russia?

WikiLeaks, the website that bills itself as “we open governments,” and entities linked to the Kremlin have a relationship that goes back further than the 2016 election. 

Headlines are focused again on WikiLeaks and Russia, after reports that Donald Trump Jr. occasionally corresponded with WikiLeaks on Twitter, starting in September 2016. While it doesn’t appear Trump Jr. sent any messages after Oct. 2016, WikiLeaks sent him messages through July 2017.

Those messages — which Trump Jr. disclosed earlier this week — have been turned over to congressional investigators as they investigate Russian election meddling and any alleged ties to the Trump campaign. According to the  the widely circulated January 2017 U.S. intelligence report detailing interference in the 2016 election, U.S. intelligence officials believe with “high confidence” that there is a connection between Russian military intelligence and the entities Guccifer 2.0, DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks that resulted in the deluge of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s associates hitting the Internet in the weeks ahead of the election. 

Clinton recently called WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange a “tool of Russian intelligence,” and current CIA Director Mike Pompeo has dubbed it a “hostile intelligence service.”

“We assess with high confidence that the GRU [Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate] relayed material it acquired from the DNC and senior Democratic officials to WikiLeaks,” the January 2017 intelligence report said. “Moscow most likely chose WikiLeaks because of its self-proclaimed reputation for authenticity. Disclosures through WikiLeaks did not contain any evident forgeries.”

But the Russia-WikiLeaks connection goes back further than the 2016 election cycle. Russia and WikiLeaks, in some ways, have long had goals that could work in tandem.

Pompeo said in July that Russia has been at election meddling a “hell of a long time,” long before the 2016 election, and former CIA Director James Clapper said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “committed to undermining our system or democracy, and our whole process.”

From WikiLeaks’ conception, WikiLeaks foundation Julian Assange said he wanted to use it to expose hidden information to “reveal illegal or immoral behavior” in government, and major businesses. 

One of the first public relationships between Russia and WikiLeaks emerged in April 2012, when the Russian-government funded RT — forced this week to register with the U.S. as a foreign agent — gave Assange his own talk show. Assange, who facing allegations of sexual misconduct made by two Swedish women, fled Sweden and took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in June 2012. The show didn’t last long, ending in summer 2012, but it’s one of the first public signs of connections between WikiLeaks and Russia. The January 2017 U.S. intelligence report mentions the Kremlin’s connection with WikiLeaks through RT. 

“The Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet RT (formerly Russia Today) has actively collaborated with WikiLeaks,” the report said. “RT’s editor-in-chief visited WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in August 2013, where they discussed renewing his broadcast contract with RT, according to Russian and Western media. Russian media subsequently announced that RT had become ‘the only Russian media company’ to partner with WikiLeaks and had received access to ‘new leaks of secret information.’ RT routinely gives Assange sympathetic coverage and provides him a platform to denounce the United States.”

Izvestia, formerly a Russian state-owned newspaper, claimed the flight for National Security Agency (NSA) leaker Edward Snowden to Hong Kong was coordinated with Russian authorities and intelligence agencies. WikiLeaks claimed it had paid for the flight. Snowden, a former contractor the NSA, revealed the NSA was tracking American’s phone records, fueling debates over technology and privacy.

Fast-forward to the 2016 election cycle. 

WikiLeaks published the hacked DNC emails beginning in July of 2016, and suspicion mounted that the Kremlin was somehow behind the hack. WikiLeaks did not reveal its source, although the hacker Guccifer 2.0 later claimed responsibility.

The January 2017 intelligence report confirmed Russian intelligence “gained access” to DNC networks in July 2015, keeping it until at least June 2016. 

Days later, then-candidate Donald Trump joked he hoped Russia would “find” Clinton’s missing 30,000 emails, causing an uproar from critics. 

“I will tell you this, Russia: If you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” the GOP nominee said in Florida during a news conference. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

The then-candidate also praised WikiLeaks. 

“I love WikiLeaks,” Mr. Trump said on Oct. 10, 2016.

In October and November of 2016, WikiLeaks proceeded to publish emails from former Clinton aide John Podesta, and intelligence officials also blamed Russia ultimately for the breach. 

Assange has denied that the Russian government was behind the hacks during the 2016 election, telling Fox News’ Sean Hannity in a Jan. 3, 2017 interview, “our source is not the Russian government and it is not a state party.”

Days later, the U.S. intelligence report emerged and contradicted that claim. But, with Russian meddling investigations ongoing with the special counsel and multiple congressional committees, the topic of connections between Russia, WikiLeaks and Trump associates is unlikely to go away soon.

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