How is Assange “1,000 percent” certain Russia didn’t hack DNC?
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Toward the end of the campaign for president, WikiLeaks leaked many thousands of emails from the accounts of the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, the chairman of the Clinton campaign.

Those emails presented a very unflattering picture of the inner workings of the Clinton campaign and the DNC.  

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The Obama administration believes that the emails were originally hacked by agents of the Russian government to damage the Clinton campaign and enhance the chances of a Trump victory. President-elect Trump has been very skeptical of those claims, insisting that the administration and the intelligence community could be mistaken.

WikiLeaks is a self-described “multi-national media organization” that “specializes in the analysis and publication of large datasets of censored or otherwise restricted official materials[.]” 

Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, has been in self-imposed exile in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for more than four years, because the UK wants to extradite him to Sweden, where he is the subject of an investigation into alleged sexual assault.

Mr. Assange fears that Sweden might hand him over to the US, where he might be subject to prosecution relating to classified documents illegally taken from the U.S. Army and published in 2010 by WikiLeaks.

Recently, Mr. Assange gave an interview to Sean Hannity of Fox News; the interview has been airing this week. Mr. Hannity asked whether Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks could assure the American people “one thousand percent” that they “did not get [the leaked emails] from Russia or anybody associated with Russia?”

Mr. Assange gave what, on close examination, seems to be a very careful, well-rehearsed, and lawyerly answer to the question: “We can say, we have said repeatedly over the last two months, that our source is not the Russian government and it is not [a] state party.”

The Hill reported that, very soon after Assange gave this answer, President-elect Trump tweeted: “[Assange] said Russians did not give him the info.”

Other Republicans were unconvinced. Speaker of the House Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanUSCIS chief Cuccinelli blames Paul Ryan for immigration inaction Soaring deficits could put Trump in a corner if there's a recession Paul Ryan moving family to Washington MORE (R-Wis.) called Assange a “sycophant for Russia [who]…steals data and compromises national security.” Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonGOP senator says he suggested Greenland purchase to Trump, met with Danish ambassador It's time to empower military families with education freedom Cotton warns China: Crackdown on Hong Kong would be 'grave miscalculation' MORE (R-Ark.) said that he has “a lot more faith in our intelligence officers” who blame Russia for the hacks “than I do in people like Julian Assange.”

There are two related, but nevertheless distinct, questions that should be considered here. Were the emails hacked by agents of the Russian government? Were the emails hacked and then leaked for the purpose of helping Trump defeat Clinton in the election?

In the course of his interview with Hannity, Assange asserts: “[T]here is one person in the world — and I think it’s actually only one — who knows exactly what is going on with our publications … And that’s me.”

It is impossible to believe that a man who has been confined to one small building in London for the last four years could know who hacked into servers in the US and stole thousands of emails that were then given to WikiLeaks.

We can safely assume that Assange did not obtain the leaked emails from someone who walked into the Ecuadorian embassy and handed him a memory device. And, even if that incredible event did occur, how could Assange know with “1000%” certainty where that person had obtained the documents?

The Ecuadorian embassy in London does not span the globe.

The CIA, on the other hand, does have agents all around the world. Certainly some of them are operating in Russia. It is much more likely, I submit, that the CIA would have accurate information regarding Russian involvement than would Mr. Assange.

But Mr. Trump insists that the Democratic Obama administration has a partisan interest in convincing Americans that Russia aided his campaign, so that his victory will be seen as illegitimate. One hopes the CIA is sufficiently independent of political influence to be free of that kind of bias.

Probably the only ones who will ever know with certainty the identity and affiliation of the persons who hacked the emails that were ultimately leaked by WikiLeaks are those persons themselves. The rest of us can only make educated guesses.

Some guesses, however, are more educated than others. At this point, I think it makes sense to accept the judgment of the U.S. intelligence community that Russian agents were involved in the hack, while reserving the right to reconsider in light of any new facts that emerge.

That leaves the question of motive: were the emails leaked to help Trump and hurt Clinton? Supporters of Clinton say that, because they did hurt Clinton, it’s obvious they were leaked with that intention.

But that picture is clouded by reports that Russian hackers also attempted to penetrate computers of the Republican National Committee and were thwarted by security defenses installed in the RNC system.

There are indications that the RNC had more robust defenses than the DNC, but also that the attempts to hack into the RNC were not as aggressive as the hack into the DNC.

So, identifying motive is certainly going to be even more difficult than identifying the hacker. The identity and affiliation of the original hacker is a matter of objective fact; the motivation for the hacking is necessarily subjective.

And whose motive, precisely, are we seeking? The motive of the person or persons who actually hacked into the emails, or the motive of any intermediary to whom the emails might have been transferred, or the motive of Assange in leaking them to the public? (Assange has expressed very negative views of Mrs. Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State.) 

It’s possible they all had different motives.

As I’ve said, based on current information, I think the hackers probably were Russian agents. Whether their motive for hacking was to interfere in our election just for the sake of interfering or for the sake of helping Trump, and what Assange’s motive was in leaking the documents—I simply can’t say.

David E. Weisberg is an attorney and contributor on politics and law with The Hill. His work has also appeared in Social Science Research Network and The Times of Israel.


The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.