The WikiLeaks-mobile parked outside of Fox News. via Flickr.
You know, and I know, that Edward Snowden is currently acting out his own real-life version of a Borne Identity film throughout the planet’s most exotic locales – leaving a trail of American state secrets and public dissent over the whole “America is spying on everyone without suspicion” thing in his wake. Accompanying him on this worldwide evasion of prison time, while setting the media ablaze with headlines about his epic escape from the clutches of the Americans, is Sarah Harrison of WikiLeaks. On Wednesday morning, WikiLeaks announced that Edward Snowden is safe and sound as they continue to help him seek political asylum.
Back in America, last Monday, Buzzfeed and Rolling Stone journalist Michael Hastings was killed in a spectacularly tragic one-car accident. The fiery crash completely destroyed Hastings’s Mercedes Benz C-250. Hours before his death, Michael sent out a now-infamous email stating that the FBI would soon be interrogating his “close friends and associates”. Jennifer Robinson, a lawyer for WikiLeaks, received the note from Hastings – news they announced to the world with a tweet on June 19th. The existence of Hastings’ panicked email has fueled the conspiracy that, perhaps, his car was hacked and the accident was actually an elaborate cyber-assassination. It’s a deeply troubling theory, especially in light of comments from Hastings’ friends who say he “drove like a grandma”.
Then of course there’s Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks’ military source who leaked the largest amount of classified American documents ever released. Among the revelations that Manning let the world in on the infamous “Collateral Murder” video that shows an American military helicopter firing on, and murdering, three journalists. The army reportedly thought the shoulder-mounted camera one of the reporters was holding was a rocket launcher. After killing the men, one of the helicopter’s crewmembers can be heard celebrating: “Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards!” Bradley Manning, who has pleaded guilty, has so far spent over three years in prison without trial and faces life behind bars.
WikiLeaks began as an alternative source for raw, classified and leaked information that severely deviated from both traditional and new media outlets by avoiding all editorialising and simply providing its readers with the information it had at its fingertips. But since Bradley Manning’s trial has become a crucial moment in American history for determining the fate of modern whistleblowers – and with the organisation’s leader Julian Assange holed up in London’s Ecuadorian embassy – the agency has now become a type of globalised political party determined to maintain freedom of information and whistleblowers’ rights.
The fact that Snowden is being aided and escorted by a staffer from WikiLeaks says a lot about their developing role in the world. Snowden is undoubtedly the NSA’s number one target at the moment, and he has evaded American handcuffs, so far, at every turn. The expertise of WikiLeaks is undoubtedly playing a huge role in that process, given they have successfully kept their leader from the Swedish government who are looking to speak with him about an alleged sexual assault case. While it’s unclear if Assange will ever leave the embassy, he is certainly keeping himself in the conversation with regular appearances on CNN, and his own show on Russia Today.
Likewise, the cryptic email sent by Michael Hastings to WikiLeaks’ lawyer indicates that they have become some kind of support group for those who believe they have been targeted by American authorities for blowing the truth whistle. While it would almost be preferable to learn that Michael Hastings simply did die because of a horrible accident, the timing of his email and the freak nature of his car accident certainly have caused a perfect storm for conspiracy. Even if Hastings’s car was not hacked, and for whatever reason he succumbed to poor judgment and fatally unsafe driving on the night of his death, clearly he was worried about the FBI and believed WikiLeaks could help.
With the fates of Snowden and Manning still up in the air, 2013 is already a crucial year for deciding how whistleblowers will be treated in years to come. It certainly does not look good for either of these men. And with Barrett Brown – the journalist who is often mistaken for Anonymous’s spokesperson, still sitting behind bars and facing up to 100 years in prison – struggling to come up with the required legal funds to fight his case, this year is shaping up to be a dark one for those who decide to speak out against the US government. If WikiLeaks continues to develop their role in providing support to these high profile whistleblowers, they have a lot of work to do.
WikiLeaks seems to be in the midst of an identity change that they appear to be figuring out as they go along. A recent poll reported Assange could secure a seat in the Australian senate – so perhaps he is grooming himself for some kind of political future whenever his own legal entanglement is settled. Or maybe WikiLeaks will achieve a more solidified status as a political party without any specific sovereignty, delivering pro-freedom of information rhetoric to the world, while simultaneously existing as an organisation designed to help whistleblowers seek asylum, provide legal advice for investigative journalists and help out leakers on trial. With so many of these major news stories unfolding at once, it will be interesting to see how they handle the workload as their public identity shifts. The world is becoming much more acquainted with the culture of leaks, and Assange’s institution is in the centre of it all.
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