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Why Julian Assange and WikiLeaks Aren’t Heroes

Hypocritical hacking from an embassy endangers diplomacy, argues Pardee’s Paul Hare

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange apparently has a new follower: the incoming president of the United States. Early in January, Donald Trump tweeted Assange’s denial that Russia was the source of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) that WikiLeaks had published. US intelligence has insisted Russia was the culprit.

BU’s Paul Hare begs to differ with those who admire Assange. When Edward Snowden thinks you have a big mouth, Hare says, you may have a problem. Former National Security Agency whistleblower Snowden has criticized WikiLeaks for failing to redact sensitive information in the hacked DNC emails, allowing credit card and Social Security numbers of party donors and guests to tumble into public view. That criticism and WikiLeaks’ behavior confirm that the group’s victims extend beyond political fat cats, says Hare, a senior lecturer at the Pardee School of Global Studies and former British diplomat.

“Assange’s actions, if not challenged, threaten core elements of diplomatic practice … and could negatively impact how diplomacy is practiced around the world,” Hare, Britain’s former ambassador to Cuba, wrote in a recent column for the online site The Conversation.

Assange has lived since 2012 in Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he fled to avoid extradition to Sweden on rape and sexual assault charges, which he denies. He says he fears being sent to the United States after WikiLeaks’ release of secret files on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, for which Hare condemns him.

“I disagree with stealing cables, because it’s fundamental to diplomacy that you are able to communicate securely,” Hare says. “You can’t do that sort of thing from an embassy.” Holding governments accountable legitimately, he says, is best left to groups such as Berlin-based Transparency International, which publishes reports on government corruption in many countries.

Hare recently discussed his concerns about Assange with BU Today.

BU Today: What have Assange and WikiLeaks done that’s harmful?

Hare: If you’re a transparency activist, you should treat every country the same. I would have more sympathy if they were evenhanded. But as far as I know, WikiLeaks has never made any suggestion that they would like to show what the Russians do, because of course the link between Assange and Russia seems to be pretty close. He actually ran a show for Russian TV, which is Russian government funded.

Then, when his own behavior is questioned—sexual assault—by WikiLeaks employees, he rushes into a diplomatic mission. The only reason that people have not run in to arrest him is because of long-standing diplomatic protections, which gives the inviolability [of embassy grounds] to protect this separateness of diplomacy. But then, come the US election, he starts doing other things, handling stolen property, Democratic National Committee emails. That is not what an embassy is supposed to do. What you’re doing is something very dangerous to the world system.

Paul Hare

BU’s Paul Hare faults Assange for seeking an embassy’s protection and then using it as a haven to publish stolen emails. Photo by Jackie Ricciardi

[Fixing] corruption doesn’t necessarily mean you go completely transparent. On Syria, would it be helpful for every minutia of what [Russian Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov and [United States Secretary of State John] Kerry have said to each other over the last two years to be published? Probably not. If foreign ministers or ambassadors think what they say [is] the next day going to be all over the internet, that’s going to be a major blow to seeking peaceful solutions.

It’s also the bigger story, which is nobody knows really where WikiLeaks funding comes from or what they were paid for these things. How is Assange living? They are the total negation of transparency themselves. They are highly secretive.

Might people argue, “The stuff that the government is doing, I’m paying for as a taxpayer, and it’s being done in my name, so shouldn’t I have a right to know it?”

Perhaps. But then the argument of national security is that the more you do know, the more the terrorists will know. [Also], as Barack Obama said, he was embarrassed when it came out he would probably be monitoring Angela Merkel’s cell phone, but everybody’s up to it. The Germans have very good intelligence, the Israelis probably have the best of all, the British do. He said everybody wants to know who I’m meeting with and what I say. To be a genuine issue organization globally, in my view, you have to be evenhanded. [Assange] never speaks ill of [Russian leader Vladimir] Putin, he never speaks ill of the Chinese. He has an agenda, which is not pure transparency.

What is Assange’s motivation?

His history goes back with Clinton because Hillary Clinton was secretary of state at the time of the leaked [US war] cables. He sees the world as a creepy, corrupt, dark place where there are few shining lights of sincerity. And he’s extraordinarily self-centered. In [the sexual assault case], he fled from the British police because they were going to extradite him. He went through all the [court] processes. The decision went against him. He has an agenda against Clinton, as does Putin, because of what they perceive Clinton did in the [2011] election in Russia, when they thought [the US] tried to foment the opposition.

16 Comments
Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

16 Comments on Why Julian Assange and WikiLeaks Aren’t Heroes

  • Missy on 01.13.2017 at 12:46 pm

    Public figures should expect people to be constantly trying to find dirt on them and thus, they more than anyone else in our society should be on their best behavior at all times. My parents always told us “if you do not want to be embarrassed by your behavior then don’t do anything you will regret later”. Hillary and her cronies at the DNC knew the potential ramifications of their behavior so it is ironic that they are now being painted as the victims of biased transparency in a pathetic effort to excuse their own indiscretions. All of this could have easily been avoided if they had all followed protocol, had respect for decorum and done nothing that could ever come back to embarrass them.

  • 000 on 01.13.2017 at 12:50 pm

    [Assange] never speaks ill of [Russian leader Vladimir] Putin, he never speaks ill of the Chinese. He has an agenda, which is not pure transparency.

    Geez, I guess you never saw wikileak. I know for sure it has chinese gov censorship docs and wikileak is banned in China. I am a chinese and I saw the docs.

    Who is the one with an “agenda” here?

    Also if they went 100% transparent the US gov is sure to not use those info against them, yeah right.

    • Hildergarde on 10.09.2017 at 8:35 am

      Assange does not even COMMENT, wikileaks just publishes authentic material that other people have either said or cabled or whatever, but NEVER without the proof. He is NOT a USA Citizen and therefore NOT subject to it’s laws and that has them very annoyed because they would like to crucify him for revealing to the world some deeply disturbing elements of American policy that the US Government would rather you DID not know. Would you rather NOT know? Are you THAT foolish?

  • Andrew Wolfe on 01.13.2017 at 1:02 pm

    I can agree with only one thing in this article: Julian Assange is an arrogant egotist. I have no idea who ever claimed he was a hero. As for the rest of this interview, pretty disappointing. Elementary web searches refute Hare’s words, which seem less an attempt to inform your readers than to distract from the fact that wikileaks showed Hillary Clinton and her whole campaign was extremely corrupt. The otherwise milquetoast DNI intelligence report from Friday 1/6 said “Disclosures through WikiLeaks did not contain any evident forgeries.” This means that however obtained, the Podesta emails are genuine. In fact, neither Podesta nor the DNC have disputed any of them, even the ones most outrageously proving the torpedoing of Bernie Sanders and the pay-to-play at the Clinton Foundation. Regarding Russia, Wikileaks doesn’t cover Russia because it only covers English-speaking countries – no staff are fluent in other languages. China needs a wikileaks too, I’m sure, but the staff doesn’t claim to handle that either. And why does wikileaks alone have to satisfy any requirement for even-handedness? Please don’t pretend there is even-handedness at either NYT or CNN – both proven by undisputed wikileaks emails with Podesta to be collaborating directly with Hillary’s Presidential campaign. Hare might also have mentioned the NYT publishing Trump tax returns, which is indisputably cause for civil action and probably criminal prosecution as well. I guess I’ll file this under fake news.

  • Mike Lewis on 01.13.2017 at 1:28 pm

    This entire article uses Ad Hominem attacks on Julian Assange. Attacks his bias in order to distract from the the main topic, which the validity of the leaks THEMSELVES.

    “I disagree with stealing cables, because it’s fundamental to diplomacy that you are able to communicate securely” – replace word “securely” with “secretly” and playing the victim tactic here becomes obvious.

    • Sesqahanna Lord on 01.16.2017 at 8:42 pm

      Very well thought out and communicated!

  • Ben on 01.13.2017 at 3:33 pm

    This is largely just a character assassination of Assange. I’m not interested in whether he’s a nice person. I’m fairly interested in whether he’s harmed innocent people by doxxing them, but I’m most interested in what Assange (or anyone else) is bringing to light about governments’ illegal activities, the best way to do that, and the demonstrated ramifications–both positive and negative–of the way that’s being done.

    This article doesn’t address those issues very well. There are some claims that things would be better if some other organisation handled the investigation, but given that no organisation handling the investigation has any actual power, the only way to achieve any power over corrupt government is widespread dissemination of knowledge. Thus it seems to me that “things work better” when crimes are brought to light whenever possible, however possible. If the interview discussed this point with evidence rather than just vague assertions and one-sided claims, I’d be fascinated.

    Meanwhile, it seems this article could be renamed “BU’s Paul Hare thinks Julian Assange is not a very nice person.”

    • Roger Bates on 01.14.2017 at 1:27 am

      Fox News contributor Julian Assange ignores Australian corruption of news media that includes fake news [false & misleading information] published & fake archives of newspapers – Rupert Murdoch’s first newspapers Adelaide [city] South Australia [SA Murdoch newspaper publishing monopoly state – sold as genuine by Australian public libraries & British Libraries UK London. Corrupt journalism has cost billions of dollars of unaccounted for public debt. It appears that Assange, an Australian citizen, & WL is not what it claims to be. More information [hacker permitting] at https://rjrbtsrupertsfirstnewspaper.wordpress.com/2016/09/27/rupert-murdochs-fake-archives-of-newspapers-corrupt-journalism-and-billions-of-dollars-of-unaccounted-for-public-debt/ The FBI should investigate US citizen Murdoch’s corruption of foreign [Australian]governments [of both political parties] & law enforcement they appoint.

  • Soraya razavi on 01.14.2017 at 10:43 pm

    Yes Assange is a hero. The truest hero in decades. How pathetic it is that he loses his freedom for revealing WHAT WE NEEDED AND HAD THE RIGHT to know while clinton is still walking free

    • Sesqahanna Lord on 01.16.2017 at 8:43 pm

      Amen!

  • James Mooney on 01.16.2017 at 1:55 pm

    Yes, they’re heroes. Secrets kill. Remember WMDs? The MSM and their Fake News and CIA/McCarthy Red Scare is the bad guys.

  • a horse of course on 01.17.2017 at 9:41 am

    While much of the information that Wikileaks has exposed was necessary to expose, it should also be remembered and noted that within those big dumps of documents, etc, they have often included information that was unnecessary to exposing what they wanted to expose AND harmful or compromising. For instance, contained within those Hillary emails was email/street addresses/social security numbers/credit card numbers of innocent, private donors. If you’re going to do this kind of stuff, then take care to do it well, only leak info needed to expose the questionable actions/behavior and not information that unnecessarily harms or compromises others. Mission is noble, but Assange is a selfish hack in this regard–not a hero.

  • Jason Brown on 02.10.2017 at 3:12 am

    Much boohooing here over the release of “personal details” of a few evidently corrupt individuals in western political spheres.

    If journalism’s job is to give voice to the voiceless, then no better example can be given than the million dead citizens in Iraq, and countless others elsewhere, in western wars, as exposed by WikiLeaks.

    If that doesn’t make Assange a hero, then wtf does?

  • Sam Fragello on 03.10.2018 at 7:13 pm

    You sound like you’re on the Clinton payroll. Typical leftist babble that says nothing. I’d gladly give out my SS# in return for we learned through wikileaks. Your article forgot to mention what innocent person was wrongly damaged or wounded by wikileaks? And like the left likes to do, don’t ignore the word innocent.

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