Julian Assange has thrust himself and his organization, WikiLeaks, into the United States presidential election by releasing emails hacked from the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The emails themselves have revealed a lot about the Clintons and the inner workings of the Democratic Party, but less coverage has been devoted to why Assange has chosen the Clintons as his target. Some Republican commentators, such as Sean Hannity, have even praised Assange's work. Even some elected officials have offered plaudits for Assange, including Rep. Jeff Duncan (R., S.C.), who tweeted out "Thank God for Wikileaks – doing the job that MSM WON'T!"
But Assange is no hero. His recent targets have made him favorable to some Republicans who dislike Clinton, but his coordination with the Russian government should concern all Americans.
Assange's goal, contrary to the media and the public's belief, is not transparency in the service of good government. Instead, he strives to create maximum chaos within the United States. While WikiLeaks' revelations about the Clintons have been newsworthy, the actions of Assange should not be condoned and instead should be seen as interference in American democracy by foreign actors.
The strategy Assange has used this election has been on his mind for years. Essays written by Assange around the time of WikiLeaks' founding in 2006 detail his contempt for the American political system and his desire to see it crumble. In his essay "Conspiracy as Governance," Assange wrote:
Let us consider two closely balanced and broadly conspiratorial power groupings, the US Democratic and Republican parties.
Consider what would happen if one of these parties gave up their mobile phones, fax and email correspondence — let alone the computer systems which manage their subscribes, donors, budgets, polling, call centres and direct mail campaigns?
They would immediately fall into an organizational stupor and lose to the other.
Now his dream has nearly become reality. The Clinton campaign has been forced into a defensive stance due to the release of these emails leading up to Election Day. National security experts have declared that a hacking group known as Fancy Bear is behind the initial hacks of Podesta’s emails. Little is known about the organization, but the White House has suggested that the highest levels of the Russian government are involved in Fancy Bear's hacks.
By choosing to work secretly with the Russian government, Assange has given up any pretense about his organization's focus on whistleblowing and transparency. If Assange truly was dedicated to transparency, he would not have spoken out so strongly against the Panama Papers. These papers, released in April 2016, disclosed how wealthy individuals across the globe used private tax shelters to hide their wealth from disclosure. Some of the individuals named in the leak were Russian oligarchs who had close connections to Vladimir Putin. When the Panama Papers became public, WikiLeaks claimed that they were published as an attack on Putin by the U.S. government. Assange's willingness to attack American figures while defending leaks that are harmful to Russian interests should trouble political figures in America, no matter their political affiliation or feelings about the Clintons.
Years ago, when Assange began to release hacked documents, he was not treated as a serious threat by the U.S. government. He began to be taken more seriously in 2010 after he published documents relating to the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars—documents that put the lives of American servicemen and intelligence sources at risk. Later that year, he followed up that release by posting over 250,000 U.S. State Department cables. Assange received these leaked cables from U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning (now known as Chelsea) after he illegally downloaded them from an Army outpost. These cables contained communications between State Department officials and damaged our relations with important allies.
Assange sees a golden opportunity to sow disorder in the American political system in the hacked Podesta emails and DNC hack. This was his goal all along. WikiLeaks made public private emails and documents from the DNC right as it was about to hold its party convention. During a week that was supposed to be full of positive headlines for Democrats, the documents showed collusion between the DNC and Clinton's campaign during the primary elections that led to the resignation of then-DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. By slowly leaking Podesta's emails, Assange created a situation that forced the Clinton campaign to respond to them almost daily in the final weeks of the presidential election.
Again, the hacked emails have revealed concerning information about the Clinton machine that cannot be ignored. But there is a larger issue here: the effort of a hostile foreign power to influence our elections. Republican leaders should be careful about discussing the emails or even considering the valuable information they contain, and all Americans should be wary of Julian Assange's role in this election. They should understand that his ultimate enemy isn't the Clinton family, but the entire American political system.
Elected leaders should emulate Sen. Marco Rubio's (R., Fla.) approach to the hacks. Rubio refused to discuss them when asked about them recently, saying, "I want to warn my fellow Republicans who may want to capitalize politically on these leaks: Today it is the Democrats. Tomorrow it could be us."