Why Did WikiLeaks Publish the Turkish Emails?

Foreign Policy has a gotcha story revealing that WikiLeaks turned down some documents on Russia last year. It is absolutely a gotcha, showing that WikiLeaks refused some Russian-related documents at a time when it was saying it’d happily accept some — or some Republican focused ones.

But given the sourcing, I’m wondering whether it instead shows that WikiLeaks won’t accept submissions from certain kinds of sources.

The story is based on “partial chat logs,” showing only WikiLeaks’ side of the conversation.

WikiLeaks declined to publish a wide-ranging trove of documents — at least 68 gigabytes of data — that came from inside the Russian Interior Ministry, according to partial chat logs reviewed by Foreign Policy.

The logs, which were provided to FP, only included WikiLeaks’s side of the conversation.

The language of the gotcha paragraph makes it appear as if the chat logs came from a WikiLeaks person because it uses the first person plural discussing what got sent to WikiLeaks.

“We had several leaks sent to Wikileaks, including the Russian hack. It would have exposed Russian activities and shown WikiLeaks was not controlled by Russian security services,” the source who provided the messages wrote to FP. “Many Wikileaks staff and volunteers or their families suffered at the hands of Russian corruption and cruelty, we were sure Wikileaks would release it. Assange gave excuse after excuse.”

Except further down in the article, “the same source” (whose identity or need for anonymity is never explained) describes feeding something else to Assange.

Approached later that year by the same source about data from an American security company, WikiLeaks again turned down the leak. “Is there an election angle? We’re not doing anything until after the election unless its [sic] fast or election related,” WikiLeaks wrote. “We don’t have the resources.”

In other words, this gotcha appears to be coming from the source (who was unwilling to share its side of the conversation with FP, which is itself suspect), not WikiLeaks after all (note, the source of the files said today he tried to get WikiLeaks interested in publishing them going back to 2014). And FP’s source appears to have been testing WikiLeaks’ willingness to publish a range of things, including both Russian documents and “data from an American security company.” I would be pretty suspicious of a source who was feeding me unrelated dumps. Julian Assange has also suggested he would happily publish documents from intelligence services — and technically did, with the Syria leaks — but it would be different if WikiLeaks suspected the intelligence service was trying to target it.

So it’s a damning story, but the details of it suggest there may be far more to the story (especially when you remember there was a badly executed American-based attempt to smear Assange as a pedophile last year).

Moreover, the story doesn’t mention something else: that a long profile came out this week substantially validating the second excuse, “we don’t have the resources.” A huge part of Raffi Khatchadourian’s NYer profile of Assange focuses on how overwhelmed WikiLeaks was last summer trying to get out the DNC emails, and so had to be forced to publish in timely fashion by the Guccifer 2.0 persona.

Meanwhile, a WikiLeaks team was scrambling to prepare the D.N.C. material. (A WikiLeaks staffer told me that they worked so fast that they lost track of some of the e-mails, which they quietly released later in the year.) On several occasions, and in different contexts, Assange admitted to me that he was pressed for time. “We were quite concerned about meeting the deadline,” he told me once, referring to the Democratic National Convention.

Here’s what I don’t get though.

If WikiLeaks was so overwhelmed, why did it publish emails from Turkey’s ruling party, which the NYer notes was one of the things contributing to the pressure.

In addition to the D.N.C. archive, Assange had received e-mails from the leading political party in Turkey, which had recently experienced a coup, and he felt that he needed to rush them out.

As I have previously noted, there are some interesting details about the hack-and-leak of these files. All the more so, now, given that Emma (then Michael) Best had a role in publishing them.

The other most celebrated case where inaccurate accusations against Wikileaks may have been counterproductive was last summer when something akin to what happened with the Macron leak did. Wikileaks posted a link to [Emma] Best’s archived copy of the AKP Turkish emails that doxed a bunch of Turkish women. A number of people — principally Zeynep Tufekci — blamed Wikileaks, not Best, for making the emails available, and in so doing (and like the Macron dump) brought attention to precisely what she was rightly furious about — the exposure of people to privacy violations and worse. Best argues that had Tufekci spoken to [her] directly rather than writing a piece drawing attention to the problem, some of the harm might have been avoided.

But I also think the stink surrounding Wikileaks distracted focus from the story behind the curious provenance of that leak. Here’s how Motherboard described it.

Here’s what happened:

First, Phineas Fisher, the hacker notorious for breaching surveillance companies Hacking Team and FinFisher, penetrated a network of the AKP, Turkey’s ruling party, according to their own statement. The hacker was sharing data with others in Rojava and Bakur, Turkey; there was apparently a bit of miscommunication, and someone sent a large file containing around half of akparti.org.tr’s emails to WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks then published these emails on July 19, and as some pointed out, the emails didn’t actually seem to contain much public interest material.

Then Phineas Fisher dumped more files themselves. Thomas White, a UK-based activist also known as The Cthulhu, also dumped a mirror of the data, including the contentious databases of personal info. This is where Best, who uploaded a copy to the Internet Archive, comes in.

Best said [she] didn’t check the contents of the data beforehand in part because the files had already been released.

“I was archiving public information,” [she] said. “Given the volume, the source, the language barrier and the fact that it was being publicly circulated already, I basically took it on faith and archived a copy of it.”

Without laying out all the details here, I think there are some interesting issues about this hack-and-leak that might have gotten more scrutiny if the focus weren’t Wikileaks.

One of the details in the Assange profile I didn’t know is that Guccifer 2.0 offered up Democratic emails — the suggestion is they were the Podesta ones, though that is not affirmatively claimed — to Best in August.

Someone close to WikiLeaks told me that before Assange published the Podesta e-mails he faced this precise scenario. In mid-August, Guccifer 2.0 expressed interest in offering a trove of Democratic e-mails to Emma Best, a journalist and a specialist in archival research, who is known for acquiring and publishing millions of declassified government documents. Assange, I was told, urged Best to decline, intimating that he was in contact with the persona’s handlers, and that the material would have greater impact if he released it first.

The Turkish emails were published (by WikiLeaks and Best) in July, so just as all this was going down. As Motherboard pointed out, the first batch wasn’t all that interesting, and the second one was interesting primarily because of the privacy violation in publishing them.

So if WikiLeaks was so frantic in July, at precisely the time it was scrambling to publish the DNC emails before the Convention, why did it bother publishing the Turkish emails at all? The answer to that may be even more damning than the gotcha that FP presented.

Update: Remember, too, that Assange said he’d publish the ShadowBrokers files last August, but did not.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

45 replies
  1. Rugger9 says:

    This is also inconsistent compared to the recent semi-thawing of relations between Erdogan’s government and Russia (this is after the Russian jet was shot down for violating Turkish airspace a couple years ago, but authoritarians tend to travel together).  The enmity between Turkey and Russia goes back centuries, and in addition Turkey is a long-standing NATO member, so Tayyip’s olive branch was head-scratching.

  2. FC2543Q says:

    I have seen the idea that wikileaks has received Russian documents, and refused to publish them, passed around by critics frequently. One of the claims I have seen is that they received RNC documents prior to the election but decided to hold them back – presumably, as the story goes – to help Donald Trump at the behest of the Russian government.

    I don’t know enough about specific cases like this to comment one way or the other on how credible these accusations may be.  There is one issue that I have not seen addressed by people accusing wikileaks of this sort of holding back of information: where did these leaked documents go then? We don’t live in world anymore in which a leaker would have access to a single copy of something and once they send it to wikileaks it’s gone. (Even the cointelpro burglars made physical copies of the files they liberated before they sent them to the media).

    Wikileaks is far from the only way to make documents public these days – so where are all of these troves of documents damaging Russia and RNC that wikileaks has been sitting on? I am by no means saying that wikileaks would not pick and choose the sort of documents they would release – as is the prerogative of any media outlet. I am saying that it does not seem plausible to me that if someone went to the trouble to send wikileaks documents that they would just give up and walk away if  wikileaks refused to publish.

    • SpaceLifeForm says:

      Valid point. Hence why WL was suspicious of source. Targeted leak.

      Recall that WL previously dumped Turkish emails without proper sanitation, and they still contained malware.

    • Rayne says:

      Alternative theory: WL is part of a two-part threat process in which the threat is laundered by at least a degree from origin.

      Part A collects the threatening material and ‘leaks’ to Part B; the ‘leak’ need only be an agreement to leak, or an encrypted file minus key.

      Part B says publicly it has material (it may only have access to some of it or to an encrypted file) and does nothing more — threat now made.

      Internal forensics confirm content was accessed, so threat has been validated.

      What we see is the result of the threat.

      • bmaz says:

        I have another “alternative theory” about Mr. Assange. But, hey, this is a family blog so I will not explain further about that worthless piece of shit.

        • Rayne says:

          Oh, I’ll bet we’re on the same NSFW wavelength. I think I used up all my potty mouth factor for the day in Trash Talk so I’ll mind my Ps and Qs.

          • bmaz says:

            Fret not! I will return Trash Talk soon to the wholesome family friendly destination it has always been!!!

            Once we are out of the fucking pre-season.

      • SpaceLifeForm says:

        So if Part A is really IC and leaked to Part B and then Part A confirms, does that change the scenario?

  3. Rugger9 says:

    If you follow the link I had posted on earlier threads on this particular point, it was noted that many of these were eventually quietly leaked to the BBC. However, there is a clear pecking order for release, and it was under Assange’s direct control.

  4. SpaceLifeForm says:

    “Assange, I was told, urged Best to decline”

    That does not mean that WL wanted to control the situation. It could mean that WL already had a strong hunch that source not trustable, or something else hapening. I.E., a message to Best to wait.

    68 gigabytes of data. Compare to the amount the TheIntercept has. TI has barely revealed anything in last 4 years. It takes a long time to go thru that much data, find stuff that it relevant, redact, and put together an article that most of public would understand and could relate to.

  5. SpaceLifeForm says:

    OT: AWS for 4th time. This is past the enemy action point.

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/politics/ct-chicago-voter-data-cloud-met-0818-20170817-story.html

    A file containing the names, addresses, dates of birth and other information about Chicago’s 1.8 million registered voters was published online and publicly accessible for an unknown period of time, the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners said Thursday.

    The acknowledgment came days after a data security researcher alerted officials to the existence of the unsecured files. The researcher found the files while conducting a search of items uploaded to Amazon Web Services, a cloud system that allows users to rent storage space and share files with certain people or the general public. The files had been uploaded by Election Systems & Software, a contractor that helps maintain Chicago’s electronic poll books.

  6. Rugger9 says:

    One wonders how much it will take before a class action is filed against AWS for not protecting the data (and Choicepoint, etc. before them) because the identity theft and/or security driven changes in cards, accounts, auto-payments carry real costs.

    Not that I’m a fan of litigation, but that is the hammer we proles have to remind the oligarchs of their duties to us.

  7. harpie says:

    o/t
    emptywheel retweeted digby: digby‏ @digby56

    Bannon is the “intellectual” leader of the “alt-right.” His comments to the Prospect are a template for agenda to sow dissension on the left [Links to Digby’s Salon article: Welcome to the Breitbart era: Steve Bannon’s former site is the new monarch of right-wing media; Breitbart News has elected a president, reshaped the media landscape and eclipsed Fox News and Rush Limbaugh ]

    Zeynep Tufecki retweeted David Carroll Verified [email protected]

    Need reporters on Bannon’s renewed ability to harness *both* Cambridge Analytica and Breitbart through the Mercers./ Here’s Bannon’s disclosure form that documents his various Cambridge Analytica LLC relationships. Ready, set, go.

    • harpie says:

      Susan Hennessey  retweeted Jim Sciutto‏Verified account @jimsciutto:

      Question: Until a few hrs ago, Bannon had a top-level security clearance. Now he runs a news site. Did he sign/commit to any restrictions?

       
      Susan Hennessey:

      There are some variations but typically these are conditions you agree to when you obtain a Top Secret clearance: /1 While employed by USG, you must obtain authorization to travel abroad and you must report foreign contacts. /2 Both in service & for the rest of lifetime: Submit to prepublication review, protect classified information, report unauthorized disclosures This means that Bannon not only has prepublication obligations, he also has a legal duty to report if he ever learns of a classified leak./5 I’m able to work @lawfareblog because, unlike media outlets, we do not & will not publish classified info. Will Breitbart have same policy? There’s variation among agencies, but unless WH clearance process completely broken, Bannon signed a contract detailing specific obligations

    • harpie says:

      Walter Shaub‏Verified account @waltshaub  Walter Shaub Retweeted Reuters Top News 

      I’d like to know if he [Bannon] had arrangement for post-govt employment w/ Breitbart while in WH -18USC208 bars activities affecting future employer / Dear @SarahHuckabee maybe also give Bannon heads up arrangements for future employment are reported in Part 3, OGE Form278. Here’s a sample: / Hopefully, the boys in WH Counsel Office also had him file one of these, as required by STOCK Act. @SarahHuckabee maybe share with media? /

    • orionATL says:

      thanks harpie,

      tufecki has good instincts.

      bannon + breitbart + mercers + cambridge may have ( or be rapidly developing) the capacity to do great damage to both the ideal and the reality of each voter making up his or her mind independently.

      don’t believe the republican pr that “this doesn’t really work”.

      on a level far less sophisticated than cambridge analytica purports to be, we have already seen, over and again, the effects of negative advertising on political races at all levels. i’d go so far as to say that that tactic is even more toxic at state and big city levels than at national level.

      • greengiant says:

        Another possibility is like a number of other scams,  Madoff,  SAC capital,  MF Global,  the alleged superior high tech supersecret sauce used in hedge funds and electioneering is just a smoke screen for “we are stealing your moneys but you don’t know how we do it yet”.  When playing games of chance theft is far more profitable.

  8. SpaceLifeForm says:

    OT: They keep attacking Kaspersky, but it ignores the underlying fundamental platform problem.

    Just google it. Windoze.

  9. SpaceLifeForm says:

    OT: So now Marcus Hutchins (MWT) is in a noisy apartment in Milwaukee thanks to GCHQ throwing him under bus.

    Regarding 8 lines of code that someone else wrote 8 years ago!

    Yakov Smirnoff mode on

    What a planet!

    • bmaz says:

      I have a criminal client with a brother that died out of state this morning in a traffic accident where he was an innocent passenger, and that my client will almost certainly miss the funeral of.

      But YOU are here carping that Hutchins is not being housed in the fucking Ritz Carlton pending his case?

      No absurd whine before its time I guess.

  10. orionATL says:

    it seems rather odd.

    way would a policy magazine like “foreign policy” get into a debate about what wikileaks reported if or when? what has foreign policy got to gain from this? why would the magazine care about what assange did one way or another?

    a current table of contents:

    http://foreignpolicy.com/the-magazine/?issue=mayjune-2017

    assange sleuthing seems a bit out of their line.

    • orionATL says:

      “foreign policy” is owned by the slate group which is owned by the wash post.

      so why not run thru slate or the wapo?

      • bmaz says:

        “Odd”. Yes. How could a magazine dedicated to “Foreign Policy” ever have an opinion on the dump of tens of thousands of State Department emails. By Manning and Assange in a not legitimately curated way?

        How DARE people have any opinion that actually calls in to question anything ever around this act?

          • bmaz says:

            Heh, the last 24 hours of so have been a bit of hell because of that little professional life thing I carped about. Now resolved, after great effort.

            • orionATL says:

              congratulations on what i take to be good representation – all the more so for a client who probably does not have a lot of bff’s at this point in his/her life.

    • Rayne says:

      My guess: Jenna McLaughlin pitched it to FP. She’s bylined at least one other piece at FP. If she pitched it as a freelancer to WaPo she’d be stepping on someone else’s beat.

      The question is: Why didn’t somebody at WaPo report this?

      As for why FP: take a look around their content. This isn’t your father’s FP; the piece fits its current direction and likely spells more reporting ahead where fopol meets infosec.

      • orionATL says:

        rayne,
        yours is a reasonable guess and better than any i have.

        but looking at the mag’s content (see sample), the worlds of cybersnatching and cybersnitching :)) seem fare removed from fp’s staple subjects for articles.

        i was just wondering if there might be a grudge match involved where assange is a subject, one involving hidden players who are political/media powerboys (or girls :) ) ?

        • Rayne says:

          FP might be looking for a new beat since warfare has shifted from traditional to asymmetric methods, including cyberspace. They’re long overdue, if you think about it. And if they’re opening a new beat, why would they clone a competitor’s content by using the same journalists?

          Might be an opportunity for McLaughlin, too; she may be crowded out at most recent outlet.

    • AKSACK says:

      Wikileaks supposedly removed emails embarrassing to Russia from their Syria Files relase. From what I’ve seen this has not been disproven. Wikileaks’ response was to threaten the journalists that reported it. They, and Assange, are as far from credible as a source can get, IMO. The claims of being a foreign intelligence asset may not be true, but you can’t deny it with confidence anymore, and at best they are useful idiots. Their Twitter account during the election was a joke, they pushed BS conspiracy theories and Breitbart type nonsense.

  11. orionATL says:

    Let’s start a fight! :))

    i think releasing the dnc emails was the dumbest move assange/wikileaks ever did – with one exception.

    why dumb?

    – because the content of the leaks were utterly trivial,

    – because the motive was clearly vindictive on assange’s part, there was no public benefit, and

    – because assange was thereby kicking many of his natural american supporters in the teeth.

    that other dumb move by assange?

    fucking two swedish women (who were clearly assange groupies) in the same week, and then having each find out that the other had also having received the king’s favors, and then having the two women collude on some sex charges with roaring feminist swedish law officers.

    sentence: five + years in confinement in one room of the equadorian embassy, london, and counting.

    talk about times to keep your dick in your pants? julien, old buddy, that would have been one such time.

    • Rayne says:

      In re DNC emails release, I’ll argue it wasn’t a dumb move because it did damage. The public only heard “emails” and lumped the Podesta, DNC, and HRC’s personal server and State Department emails all in a single bin just as they experience their own email inbox. Releasing the emails gave the media a news peg they didn’t otherwise have once the DOJ was through with HRC’s server and State Department emails. The media was stupid enough to fall for it while locked into an industry-wide reflexivity of “both sides” coverage. In other words, they were compelled to find something negative to report on HRC as well as Trump.

      Look at the Shorenstein Center’s report on Election 2016 news coverage as well as Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center’s study, Partisanship, Propaganda, and Disinformation: Online Media and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. One chart from the latter study shows negative coverage by topic and candidate — “Clinton emails” drew the largest number of sentences written by media.

      Shorenstein’s study concluded the media had a bias for the negative. At the same the study also noted, “Overall, Trump received 15 percent more coverage than she did. Trump also had more opportunities to define Clinton than she had to define him.” If so much of the coverage about HRC was focused on emails whether hers, Podesta’s, or the DNC’s, they aren’t giving her the same amount of time to make a case on policy.

      Which is the reason I believe the emails were dumped: keep the Democratic candidate(s) on defense and off policy, while Trump continues on the trail touting his fascist agenda, amplified on a granular basis by social media.

      Do I like Wikileak’s ‘dumb move’? Fuck no. But I can understand the rationale entirely.

      In re Assange’s dumb Swedish move: What. A. Fucking. Moron. Imagine being the target of the U.S. intelligence community and fucking just any chick in a country which so-helpfully assisted the U.S. with renditions of targets. The stupid, it burns white hot. Like so many other men with eager dicks and massive egos, he folded under the weight of his libido like a broken lawn chair. I don’t even care if he never actually got his puny penis out of his pants; he put himself in a position where he was plausibly guilty. Han är jävla dum.

      But this is the very thing which compromised Assange. If Trump won he’d stand a chance of getting out of the Ecuadoran embassy and living a semi-normal life. If HRC won, he’d be stuck in the embassy or he’d be hounded for life.

      • orionATL says:

        yeah. i have to agree entirely on the effectiveness of the wikileaks email release on the clinton campaign. therr’s no doubt the wl intent was malign.

        i was looking at things from what i thought should have been assange’s self-interest. whatever trump thinks of assange, there are probably a lot of influential republicans and military/natsec types who would never cut him the slack people with my perspective would have. now his future rests on the thin thread of trump’s goodwill.

        as for his lark in sweden, i studied that issue a lot when it first came to light to see if he was a rapist or not. i think it is fair to say rape was never a fair charge at all, but sweden’s sexual laws, the particular prosecutor and the swedish sexual politics involved, and u. s. revenge-seeking worked together to guarantee assange would pay a big price for his shore leave fun.

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