Australian activist Julian Assange was arrested this Thursday, 11in London, at the Ecuadorian embassy, after losing the right to asylum. According to the authorities, the arrest complies with an extradition request made by the United States and a process to which he responds in the United Kingdom for failing to appear in court when summoned. He also responds to an extradition request from Sweden, where he is accused of sexual harassment and abuse.
But Julian Assange is best known for having founded an important and controversial internet portal. O WikiLeaks is an organization that publishes on the internet confidential documents obtained from companies and government agencies worldwide. According to the activist, the processes to which he responds mainly have to do with the role of WikiLeaks in disclosing secret files of countries and corporations.
Despite its name and logo, WikiLeaks has nothing to do with Wikipedia, the collaborative online encyclopedia, or the Wikimedia Foundation, the organization that takes care of the project. WikiLeaks is an international non-profit organization, based in Sweden, whose website was built based on open source software MediaWiki, developed by Wikimedia.
WikiLeaks was launched in 2006. Anyone can submit confidential documents to the site with the guarantee that their identity will be preserved when they are released. The portal analyzes these documents, verifies their veracity and only publishes those that can be proven to be 100% real. Over the years, journalists, activists, politicians and dissidents have used the platform to reveal country and business secrets.
In December 2006, three months after dominance wikileaks.org having been registered, the portal released its first secret documents. The file revealed an official decision signed by Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, leader of the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts, a fundamentalist militia in Somalia, to kill government officials by hiring "criminals" as hired killers.
Assange and the other WikiLeaks editors used the “open” nature of the site to ask readers to help, in a collaborative effort, find out whether the document was real or not. To date, however, the document's authenticity has yet to be proven. But that was how the portal decided to make its debut on the internet.
Shortly thereafter, WikiLeaks became a source for newspapers around the world. In 2007, the British newspaper The Guardian published a report telling details of the corruption schemes in the family of the then Kenyan leader Daniel arap Moi. Part of the information in that report was acquired through WikiLeaks.
The hacker collective Anonymous also started contributing and enjoying WikiLeaks in a short time. In 2008, the group claimed to have hacked Yahoo's private e-mail from the then US vice presidential candidate on the ticket with John McCain, Sarah Palin. The content of emails was published by WikiLeaks.
It was only in 2010 that WikiLeaks' reach gained new proportions and the site was targeted by the authorities. That year, a former US Armed Forces soldier, Bradley Manning (who now goes by the name Chelsea), leaked top-secret US government documents to the platform. Including a video recorded by the camera of a U.S. helicopter showing US soldiers shooting and killing Reuters journalists mistaken for terrorists in Baghdad in 2007.
Chelsea Manning would be trapped by the leak, and WikiLeaks would achieve global fame. From there, more and more individuals, dissidents and journalists would search the site to leak secret documents. In July 2010, 92 documents related to the US war in Afghanistan were also leaked, describing covert operations and flaws such as the murder of civilians. The revelations were made public by some of the largest newspapers in the world, such as The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel.
Check out a list of the most famous cases released by WikiLeaks (the complete list, with all cases, can be seen here):
- December 26, 2006: secrets of the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts in Somalia;
- November 7, 2007: the operating procedure manual for the Guantánamo prison;
- February 20, 2009: the secret “bibles” of Scientology;
- September 4, 2009: o Minton Case, a secret report on an incident involving toxic waste in the UK that affected 108 people;
- April 5 from 2010: the video of civilians and journalists being shot dead by a US military helicopter in Baghdad;
- July 25, 2010: 91 secret US documents on the war in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2010;
- October 22, 2010: 391 secret US documents on the Iraq War from 2004 to 2009;
- November 28, 2010: Cablegate, the release of 250 US diplomacy documents from 1966 to 2010;
- April 25 from 2011: files on 767 of the 779 prisoners of Guantánamo;
- December 1, 2011: documents that expose 160 companies operating in the private sector of mass surveillance;
- February 27, 2012: 5 million emails from the intelligence company Stratfor;
- July 5, 2012: 2,3 million emails exchanged between Syrian elite politicians;
- June 19, 2015: 500 reports and documents from the Saudi Arabian foreign ministry;
- July 22, 2016: 44 emails and 17 leaked files from the National Committee of the US Democratic Party;
- October 7, 2016: 58 emails from Hillary Clinton's campaign leader to the U.S. presidency, John Podesta;
- November 25, 2017: more than 500 documents from the US embassy in Yemen;
- February 16, 2017: CIA spying orders for the 2012 presidential election in France;
- March 7, 2017: Vault 7, a series of leaks on the CIA espionage apparatus;
- October 11, 2018: confidential documents from technology giant Amazon;
- January 30, 2019: private letters from Pope Francis revealing Vatican secrets.
What WikiLeaks has already revealed about Brazil
In November 2010, WikiLeaks and five other major international newspapers, including El País (Spain), Le Monde (France), Der Spiegel (Germany), The Guardian (United Kingdom) and The New York Times (USA), published a set of 220 confidential documents, but not top secret, which gave details of how the US diplomatic policy worked and how the country viewed its relationship with other countries.
The spill caused a huge stir in international politics. Among the leaked documents were comments by US ambassadors about the countries where they were based - including Brazil. The documents said, for example, that the Brazilian government was “paranoid”In relation to the Amazon and described the national army as a“ politically popular white elephant ”.
The documents also revealed that the Brazilian government refused to receive prisoners from Guantanamo, enlisted the help of the FBI to investigate the death of activist Dorothy Stang and refused to lend $ 5 million to the US government to help finance the War of the Afghanistan.
In 2015, Brazil returned to appear among secret documents released by WikiLeaks. That year, the organization began to reveal that the US National Security Agency (NSA) was spying on leaders of several countries, including then-president of France, François Hollande (in addition to its predecessors Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac), from the German chancellor Angela Merkel and the then president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, in addition to other important figures of the Brazilian government.
All of this happened two years after Edward Snowden, a former NSA analyst, also released secret documents about the agency's espionage practices (but independently from WikiLeaks). Snowden had previously revealed that Dilma and the Brazilian government were in the NSA's sights, but it was WikiLeaks that revealed the 29 phone numbers wiretapped by the agency, including that of ministers and former ministers of state.
WikiLeaks began to respond to the disclosure of secret documents in 2010, when US public prosecutor Eric Holder declared that the government had initiated a "criminal investigation" regarding the organization. As far as is known, the investigation remains open.
In the same year, financial institutions such as Bank of America, VISA, MasterCard, PayPal and Western Union made a blockade to WikiLeaks, prohibiting the transaction of donations to the organization's account. According to her, 95% of her funding came, at the time, from donations from employees.
Politicians and officials from several countries have also publicly criticized WikiLeaks. In April 2017, then director of the U.S. Intelligence Center (CIA), Mike Pompeo, described the organization as a “hostile intelligence service” and “a huge threat” to the country's national security.
WikiLeaks leaders have also been targeted by the authorities. Julian Assange faces an extradition request to the United States for the disclosure of secret documents. In 2015, the US government collected personal data, extracted by Google's court order, from three other members of the site's editorial team: Sarah Harrison, Joseph Farrell and Kristinn Hrafnsson.
On the other hand, WikiLeaks already received awards and is championed by non-governmental organizations worldwide. The organization was nominated, for six consecutive years, for the Nobel Peace Prize, from 2010 to 2015. It was also nominated for the Nelson Mandela prize of the United Nations (UN) for the “defense of freedom of expression” and human rights.
The list of awards that WikiLeaks has already won includes awards from internationally recognized press outlets, such as the American magazine Time. The organization was also awarded by the Brazilian Press Association (ABI) in 2013 for the defense of human rights.
A list of awards that WikiLeaks has won worldwide:
- The Economist: New Media (2008)
- The Amnesty: New Media (2009)
- TIME: Person of the Year, Popular Choice (2010)
- Sam Adams Integrity Award (2010)
- National Union of Journalists: Journalist of the Year (2011)
- Sydney Peace Foundation: Gold Medal (2011)
- Martha Gellhorn Journalism Award (2011)
- Blanquerna Award for Best Communicator (2011)
- Walkley Award for Contribution to Journalism (2011)
- Voltaire Freedom of Expression Award (2011)
- National Union of Italian Journalists: Piero Passetti Award (2011)
- Jose Couso Prize for Press Freedom (2011)
- Yoko Ono Lennon Award for Courage for the Arts (2013)
- Brazilian Press Association: Human Rights Award (2013)
- Union of Kazakhstan Journalists (2014)
- Willy Brandt Political Courage Award (2015)
- European United Left – Nordic Green Left Award (2019)
- Gavin MacFadyen Award (2019)