Julian Assange, an Australian Internet activist, is generally described as its founder and director. Since September 2018, Kristinn Hrafnsson has served as its editor-in-chief.
WikiLeaks has variously described itself as an organization of journalists, political activists, mathematicians, and start-up company technologists, an intermediary between sources and journalists, an advocacy group for sources, and a public intelligence agency.
The group has released a number of prominent document caches that exposed serious violations of human rights and civil liberties to the US and international public. Early releases included documentation of equipment expenditures and holdings in the Afghanistan war, a report about a corruption investigation in Kenya, and an operating procedures manual for the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In April 2010, WikiLeaks released the Collateral Murder footage from the 12 July 2007 Baghdad airstrike in which Iraqi Reuters journalists were among several civilians killed. Other releases in 2010 included the Afghan War Diary and the “Iraq War Logs”. The latter release allowed the mapping of 109,032 deaths in “significant” attacks by insurgents in Iraq that had been reported to Multi-National Force – Iraq, including about 15,000 that had not been previously published. In 2010, WikiLeaks also released classified diplomatic cables that had been sent to the US State Department. In April 2011, WikiLeaks began publishing 779 secret files relating to prisoners detained in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. In 2012, WikiLeaks released the “Syria Files,” over two million emails sent by Syrian politicians, corporations and government ministries. In 2015, WikiLeaks published Saudi Arabian diplomatic cables, documents detailing spying by the U.S. National Security Agency on successive French presidents, and the intellectual property chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a controversial international trade agreement which had been negotiated in secret.
During the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, WikiLeaks released emails and other documents from the Democratic National Committee and from Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, showing that the party’s national committee favoured Clinton over her rival Bernie Sanders in the primaries, leading to the resignation of DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and an apology to Sanders from the DNC. These releases caused significant harm to the Clinton campaign, and have been attributed as a potential contributing factor to her loss in the general election against Donald Trump. The U.S. intelligence community expressed “high confidence” that the leaked emails had been hacked by Russia and supplied to WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks said that the source of the documents was not Russia or any other state. During the campaign, WikiLeaks promoted conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.
In 2016, WikiLeaks released nearly 300,000 emails it described as coming from Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, later found to be taken from public mailing archives, and rereleased over 50,000 emails from the Turkish Minister of Energy and Natural Resources. In 2017, WikiLeaks published internal CIA documents describing tools used by the agency to hack devices including mobile phones and routers. In 2019, WikiLeaks published over 30,000 files as part of the Fishrot Files, exposing corruption at Samherji, a multinational fishing company based in Iceland. In October 2021, WikiLeaks’ secure chat stopped working and in February 2022 their submission system and email server went offline.
The organisation has been criticised for inadequately curating its content and violating the personal privacy of individuals. WikiLeaks has, for instance, revealed Social Security numbers, medical information, credit card numbers and details of suicide attempts.
1.1 Staff, name and founding
3 Legal status
3.1 Criminal investigations