The United States is reportedly closing in on prosecuting Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who has spent over six years holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London avoiding extradition.
But while the ethics of WikiLeaks’ operations and its motives are contested, the organization has revealed undeniably newsworthy information that authorities sought to keep from the public. These are some of the biggest stories that came from WikiLeaks.
The U.S. Military Killed Civilians And A Reuters Cameraman In Iraq
In 2010, a video shot on board an American helicopter operating in Iraq documented the U.S. killing a 22-year-old Reuters cameraman and his driver in an air attack in Baghdad. WikiLeaks released the footage of the strike, which killed at least a dozen people, in a 38-minute video called “Collateral Murder.” It shows the graphic killings along with audio of the aircrew laughing and referring to those killed as “dead bastards.” The U.S. military initially claimed the Reuters crew was killed in a firefight with insurgents, an explanation that the video contradicted.
The video and more than 700,000 leaked documents sparked a major scandal and outcry from human rights groups. It also led to the arrest of Chelsea Manning, a U.S. intelligence officer who had illegally downloaded the documents from a military base before providing the information to WikiLeaks.
Corruption, Killings And Abuse In Iraq And Afghanistan
After WikiLeaks released the “Collateral Murder” video, it continued with other document dumps from the Manning files. The documents revealed extensive corruption and human rights abuses in both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as an apparent lack of action from U.S. officials to investigate or prevent such abuses. Some of the files detailed that U.S. forces knew of Iraqi police abuse, including torture and rape, but often did nothing to punish those acts. Another release concerned U.S. Marines killing or wounding dozens of unarmed civilians near Jalalabad, Afghanistan, while they fled from an attack.
The U.S. Spied On Its Allies And Tapped Foreign Government Phone Calls
A 2015 release revealed the U.S. had been spying on a number of allies, using the National Security Agency to intercept the phone calls of top foreign officials, businesses and leaders. The revelations caused an international political uproar, forcing President Barack Obama to issue apologies to Germany, France, Brazil and Japan ― all of which were targeted in the spying. In the case of Germany, WikiLeaks alleged the files showed the NSA had tapped the German chancellery going back decades.
Intelligence Reports On Guantanamo Bay Prisoners
Hundreds of reports on operations and inmates at Guantanamo Bay gave insight into operations at the secretive U.S. detention camp and the status of its prisoners. The 2011 release revealed that dozens of the inmates struggled with depression and mental illness, that the United States was obtaining information through torture, and that some prisoners were detained on slim evidence or because of mistaken identity. The files also showed that 172 of the prisoners there had been deemed high-risk prisoners who would pose a threat to the U.S. if released.
Australia’s Internet Blacklist
In one of its early leaks from 2009, WikiLeaks published a list of nearly 2,400 web pages that the Australian government was allegedly planning to permanently block access to in the country. The list, which the Australian government disputed, included sites that involved child pornography and extreme violence ― but also included several other pages that included YouTube videos, WikiLeaks entries and poker sites. The release intensified a public debate over internet censorship, while child rights advocates condemned WikiLeaks for publicizing the names of sites that abuse children.
Kenya’s Extrajudicial Killings
WikiLeaks published a suppressed report from Kenya’s National Commission on Human Rights in 2008 that contained allegations of extrajudicial police killings in the country. The publication received widespread support from human rights groups, and Amnesty International gave WikiLeaks a media award in 2009 as a result.
The CIA Targeted Smartphones And Computers
Not to be confused with Edward Snowden’s leak of documents detailing NSA surveillance measures, WikiLeaks released its own files in 2017 purporting to show the CIA’s extensive hacking capabilities. The files alleged the CIA can target individual computers and smartphones with malware that can allow the agency to view the contents of a device. In one especially creepy document, the CIA detailed how it could attack a Samsung smart television so that the device appeared to be in off mode when it was, in fact, turned on and recording conversations around it.
The Inner Workings Of Sony Pictures
A cyber attack exposed thousands of internal documents and emails from Sony Pictures in 2014 as part of a bizarre incident U.S. officials believed was linked to North Korea taking offense at a Seth Rogen comedy that mocked its leader Kim Jong Un. While WikiLeaks wasn’t connected to the initial release of the documents, the site later collected and released all of the hacked files in a searchable database that gave an in-depth look at conversations between Hollywood’s top executives.
The Hillary Clinton Emails
During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, WikiLeaks released thousands of emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief, John Podesta, which Russian hackers had stolen from his Gmail account. The emails were an embarrassing look into Clinton’s private circle and offered her critics an array of easy targets to attack her on, including an email that showed that CNN contributor and later Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile had leaked a question from a town hall-style Democratic primary debate to Clinton in advance.
The WikiLeaks emails damaged Clinton and her campaign, while the question of who knew about the documents ahead of their release and how the leak relates to Russia’s interference in the U.S. election is a major focus of special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation. Mueller has questioned many associates of political consultant Roger Stone, who worked for President Donald Trump’s campaign, to determine whether Stone or his associates were conduits between WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign.