What Is WikiLeaks? Is It A Criminal Operation?

The WikiLeaks logo and one of the most important people in its early history, Julian Assange.
The WikiLeaks logo and one of the most important people in its early history, Julian Assange.

Wikileaks is an international organization that publishes classified media and secret information without disclosing their sources. It was founded in 2006 by an Australian internet activist, Julian Assange, who is also the director. Julian Assange is a former computer hacker and was determined to make all secrets public. A year after its formation, the organization claimed to have more than 1.2 million documents in their database. Wikileaks primarily relies on volunteers from United States, Taiwan, Europe, Australia, and South Africa. Despite the fact that it uses the name Wikileaks, it does not follow the “wiki” publication method.

5. Overview of Operations and Objectives -

Wikileaks is a non-profit making organization and the founder, Julian Assange, had originally claimed to be the financier. The organization gets its information via three main ways. Namely these were through the use of either spies, hackers, or via drop boxes, where anonymous people post on their websites without disclosing their identity. For example, someone who works for a government or a big company and has been entrusted with secrets may find that his employer engages in horrific acts and decides not to go to police nor courts but to post in WikiLeaks. The organization has enough finances to pay people who give them the information. According to Assange, the primary objective is to promote transparency and free speech by bringing relevant news and information to the public. Another objective is to ensure the safety of "whistle blowers" and journalists who would desire to share sensitive information with the public. They ensure this by having drop boxes where volunteers drop their information online, remaining anonymous.

4. History and Organizational Structure -

The WikiLeaks domain name was registered in 2006, and the first document on the website was published in December of that same year. A Swedish internet provider, Bahnhof, hosts Wikileaks, and there are servers in several countries that offer legal protection to disclosures made to the site. The Swedish law forbids any administrative authority from questioning the news sources of any newspaper or media, and these laws make it almost impossible to eliminate WikiLeaks. The organization does not have a formal organization structure or official headquarters. Julian Assange acts as the founder, director, financier and also the spokesperson of WikiLeaks. In 2010, the organization’s team consisted of five full-time workers and over 800 people occasionally working with none of them being compensated. However, in 2014, four full-time workers including Juan Assange had begun to get salaries.

3. Major Hacks, Leaks, and Global Notoriety -

One of the first major leaks was in regard to a corruption story which featured the family of Daniel Arap Moi, a former Kenyan president. In the run-up to the 2008 US elections, the contents of a Yahoo account belonging to Sarah Palin were released after being hacked. Sarah Palin was the running mate of the then-Republican presidential candidate John McCain. In 2009, the organization released 570,000 intercepts of pager messages allegedly sent on the day of September 11 attacks. In April 2010, they released a detailed video of the Baghdad airstrike which showed two Reuters employees being fired at. The pilots mistakenly thought that the men were carrying weapons which were, in fact, cameras. The US forces were also shown in the video firing at a family van that had stopped to pick up the bodies. The most recent leak is that of a trove of emails sent or received by the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. They were a total of 1,258 emails and were sent to Clinton’s personal mail server and were selected concerning relevance to the Iraq war. The release probably timed to precede the release of the UK government inquiry report on the war.

2. Challenges, Controversies, and Criminal Liability -

The greatest challenge facing the WikiLeaks organization is financial constraints. The annual expenses of the organization are estimated at $300,000 and are expected to escalate up to $900,000 if the work currently being done by volunteers was to be paid. The firm has repeatedly been accused of working with the Russian agents with the aim of discrediting NATO-affiliated governments. The British and the French intelligence have also come up to the same conclusion and even alleged that the Russian president and prime minister always received details of what Wikipedia will publish. The US Attorney General started criminal investigations against WikiLeaks in respect to the diplomatic cables leak released in 2010.

1. Media Portrayal and Public Approval -

The organization has received both praise and criticism in equal measure. It has also won several awards including the Amnesty International UK Media Award in 2009. In 2010, the New York Daily News listed WikiLeaks first among the websites which had the potential to change the global news landscape completely.


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