On Thursday, the US Department of Justice published the long-awaited Mueller report.
The 448-page report is an incredibly thorough look at the Russian government’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, which included social media trolls and fake accounts, as well as hacking and leaking by Russian military intelligence operatives from the GRU.
Some parts of the report, however, are redacted, and thus may leave more questions than answers. One of the big questions that the report doesn’t fully answer is: what was the role of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange?
In the lead up to the 2016 election, Russian spies hacked the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign (DCCC), John Podesta, Colin Powell, and dozens of others. As part of their hacks the spies stole a large trove of data, thousands of documents and emails that they then disseminated both through the DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 personas on Twitter and on dedicated websites, as well as via WikiLeaks. Assange’s organization published some of the stolen data from the DNC starting on July 22, and then the stolen Podesta emails starting on October 7.
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The Mueller report details some of the communications between the people behind DCLeaks, Guccifer 2.0, and WikiLeaks. According to the report, WikiLeaks’s first contact with the two personas came in June 2016, after the GRU released the first batches of stolen data from the DNC.
"You announced your organization was preparing to publish more Hillary's [sic] emails. We are ready to support you,” the DCLeaks account wrote to WikiLeaks over Twitter direct message on June 14. “We have some sensitive information too, in particular, her financial documents. Let's do it to ether. What do you think about publishing our info at the same moment? Thank you.”
A significant part of exchanges between WikiLeaks and Russian spies emerged in the indictments against the GRU officers, as well as in the Mueller report. But some parts of their contacts, Mueller admits in his report, were impossible to get as “both the GRU and WikiLeaks sought to hide their communications.”
Was WikiLeaks just the recipient of stolen information, or did it play a more active role in the hack? For now, there’s been no public evidence indicating Assange and his associates committed any crimes as they communicated with the GRU.
Assange was indicted last week for a crime of conspiracy for offering to help Chelsea Manning crack a password when the whistleblower was stealing classified documents from a military network. But, as first noticed by Daily Beast reporter Kevin Poulsen, there may be another case against Assange that’s still secret.
That case, perhaps, may be hinted at in the fifth section of the Mueller report, which discusses “Section 1030 Computer-Intrusion Conspiracy.” (Section 1030 of the US Code is the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the anti-hacking law.)
Most of that section is redacted, citing “Harm to Ongoing Matter,” which indicates Attorney General William Barr’s established that publishing that part of the report could impede an ongoing investigation.
Right now, unfortunately, it’s impossible to know whether that redacted section indeed is about Assange and WikiLeaks. But one thing is clear: there’s still a lot we don’t know about WikiLeaks and its role in the 2016 Elections—and we may not find out the answers until the US government tells us more about its investigation into Assange.
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