The Purloined Letter

Pictured: Julian Assange, who has been hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy in London
Pictured: Julian Assange, who has been hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy in London

Both the media and political commentators should question the provenance of those “explosive” emails

Donald Trump is being used as a tool for Russian propaganda. That is what most commentators would have us believe. But what if Trump is a willing participant? And, perhaps worse, what if Donald Trump deliberately seeks to advance Russia’s interests with the help of Western media? From the onset of Donald Trump’s nomination last year, mysterious forces have surrounded the Republican candidate for President. Over the past few months, the reasons for his evasion and undying devotion to the Russian Federation has become clear: Donald Trump believes Russia is our ally. But it is not.

The facts are as disturbing as they are plentiful: multiple news outlets, from Newsweek to NPR to the Financial Times, have utilized in-depth investigative reporting to conclusively prove Donald Trump parrots Wikileaks, and Wikileaks is at a minimum directed by Russian intelligence. I have neither the inclination nor the obligation to link to every story or substantiate anything, considering that highly credible outlets have reported on what the facts are. And the facts are damning, not because I or other commentators say so but because they simply are. That there is a foreign hand meddling in our election is as plain as day.

Trump’s policies aid a foreign power, namely the Russian Federation; and Wikileaks disclosures harm one or both political parties to the benefit of a foreign power—namely, the Russian Federation. This is elementary, it is pristine, and it is uncontested. By Trump’s own admission, he views Russia as the leader of a new international order. This is enormously dangerous on its own. But a tepid acquiescence to Russian propaganda is more so.

Which brings us to Wikileaks. This morning, Motherboard published a definitive account brimming with news. VICE’s reporting clearly shows a velvet yet definite Russian hand in the hacking of prominent Democratic operatives and their affiliates. Russia is targeting the Democratic Party. It is an adversary, it is motivated, and it is well-resourced. Like all adversaries, believe their intentions when revealed to you.

While Wikileaks does a fanciful job masquerading as an impartial news organization speaking truth to the powerful, it is in fact a favored tool in Putin’s military arsenal—and, along with Sputnik and Russia Today, at the center of a nearly $300 million-per-year campaign to conduct global information warfare. As the Washington DC based Center for European Policy Analysis beautifully summarized, Russian intelligence denial and deception operations have a dual aim: to deny, and to deceive the populace.

Disinformation and new propaganda can take many forms. From the use of false visuals or misleading headlines, to social media techniques, which create an impression that the “majority” understands an issue in a certain way. In the echo chamber of the modern information space, the spreading of disinformation is as easy as a Tweet, a Like, or a Share. These techniques are some of the most commonly used for spreading false stories and misleading information.

The aim of Wikileaks and their sympathizers here in the United States is clear. Pro-Russian forces in our society seek to aid Russia in its efforts to disrupt and sow doubt about the election here in the United States. These actions benefit tyrants like Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad, not Western leaders. It is therefore curious indeed that a man running for the highest elected office in America intends to erode confidence in our democratic process and undermine transitional democracies.

Russian intelligence, Wikileaks, and their agents of influence purposefully and ingeniously fabricate and alter documents to malign Hillary Clinton, and then syndicate those falsehoods far and wide. Across the American media, Wikileaks and their select allies in the press create the context for a pre-fabricated narrative with audacious means. By preceding and following a news story in such a way that it changes the meaning of the news itself, the authors of these purloined letters sow fear, doubt, and uncertainty at a critical time for our democracy. They are subversives. They are nothing noble.

While Trump’s true allegiance is worrisome, so too is the complicity of a patchwork of American media outlets who excuse and justify these tireless efforts on behalf of the Russian Federation. Wikileaks, a pro-transparency organization proven to be functioning as an arm of the Russian intelligence services, has pilfered and doctored thousands of privileged communications between Democratic National Committee staff and the inner circle of Secretary Clinton’s advisers. That is theft, and it is espionage when it is conducted in concert with the Russian Federation. Apologists for this activity aid both.

If Wikileaks releases another cache of fabricated communications with the intention to undermine democracy, all options should be on the table to include retaliating against Wikileaks benefactors.

In October 2016, Wikileaks released portions of the SF-85 and SF-86 documentation required to be adjudicated for personnel security clearance. That is both classified national defense information and the release of HIPAA and PII in violation of the Privacy Act. Wikileaks is disseminating unauthorized disclosures to foreign powers. Whether that is a violation of the Espionage Act is not my place to say, and neither is it yours. Any lawyer or person of any station that would disagree with this has very questionable allegiances indeed, and I would be disinterested in what they had to say. It is clear that Wikileaks and their adherents have allegiances to the Kremlin, not the truth.

Wikileaks is conducting espionage.

The federal government has been loathe to adhere to these rules lest it upset the delicate sensibilities of an intellectual counterinsurgency scholar, or a blogger. No more. We must take the gloves off and send a message. Personally, in my personal capacity, I believe physically dismantling the networks and destroying the equipment utilized by Wikileaks via technical means is entirely appropriate, as is the pursuit and capture of its top leadership.

Tactical information operations intended to disrupt and destroy Wikileaks ability to disseminate classified national defense information are also entirely appropriate. And, if Julian Assange continues his bellicose rhetoric, he should be extradited to the United States and detained until such time that he can explain his motivations.

If Wikileaks aspires to function as a subversive and clandestine organization it can be viewed as such, by organizations very skilled at taking it at its word. Wikileaks exists only in the digital domain, and lacks the logistical and psychological resolve to combat the United States in the human domain.

From its first releases half a decade ago, Wikileaks has demonstrated it has no regard for the national security of the United States and in fact intends to subvert our national security. Now it is time to push back against these terrorists, and hard. We must demonstrate to subversive actors like an Assange there are consequences to playing with fire, and sometimes the whole barn can burn down around you.

I look forward to that day, and feel Congress should ask hard questions if it does not come to pass. Information is power, and Assange believes he has a monopoly. Like Trump, we should examine his assets with a careful eye and then curate what should be released to the world at a place and time of our choosing. After all, transparency is the stated mission of a Wikileaks. They won’t mind. Right?

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