The Revelations of WikiLeaks: No. 5 — Busting the Myth WikiLeaks Never Published Damaging Material on Russia

A month before Hillary Clinton spread the widely-believed myth that WikiLeaks had never revealed anything on Russia, the publication had already released more than a million files on the country. 

This is the fifth article in a series that is looking back on the major works of the publication that has altered the world since its founding in 2006. The series is an effort to counter mainstream media coverage, which is ignoring WikiLeaks’ work, and is instead focusing on Julian Assange’s personality. It is WikiLeaks’ uncovering of governments’ crimes and corruption that set the U.S. after Assange, ultimately leading to his arrest on April 11 and indictment under the U.S. Espionage Act.

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

Among the many myths fostered by critics of WikiLeaks is that the publication has repeatedly shown political bias in favor of nations the U.S. treats as enemies and suppresses documents damaging to them. High on this list were Russia and Syria.

For instance, Hillary Clinton, in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Oct. 16, 2017, asked why WikiLeaks never publishes anything critical of Russia. “If he’s such a martyr of free speech, why doesn’t WikiLeaks ever publish anything coming out of Russia? You don’t see damaging, negative information coming out about the Kremlin on WikiLeaks,” Clinton said.

Clinton on how Russia and Assange cost her the election

Hillary Clinton says Russia and WikiLeaks colluded to bring her down. Watch the highlights from Sarah Ferguson’s Four Corners interview:

Posted by ABC News on Monday, October 16, 2017

But a month before, on Sept. 19, 2017, WikiLeaks began publishing Spy Files: Russia,”revealing among other things, the inner workings of the Russian Federation’s extensive domestic surveillance programs.

Even earlier, on Nov. 4, 2016, Assange told journalist John Pilger that WikiLeaks had already released nearly a million files pertaining to Russia.

“We have published over 800,00 documents of various kinds that relate to Russia. Most of those are critical. A great many books have come out of our publications about Russia, most of which are critical, and our documents have gone on to be used in quite a number of court cases, refugee cases of people fleeing some kinds of claims of political persecution in Russia, which they use our documents to back up.”

Many of the documents Assange mentioned in his interview with Pilger are incorporated into other releases. Chief among these are Spy Files,” a series of four releases from December 1, 2011, to September 15, 2014; Global Intelligence Files,” more than 5 million emails from Texas-based Stratfor, published on February 27, 2012, and Hacking Team Archives,”  more than 1 million emails published on July 8, 2015.

All of these releases concern what WikiLeaks terms the global surveillance industry. Stratfor presents itself as a publisher of geopolitical analysis but provides confidential intelligence to a variety of multinational corporations, weapons manufacturers, and government agencies such as the Homeland Security Department. Hacking Team is an Italian vendor of intelligence malware that first came to international attention whenWikiLeaks began publishing “Spy Files.” The “Hacking Team” archive includes emails concerning Ukraine as well as Russia.

‘Spy Files: Russia’

The leaks were a collection of documents related to the surveillance activities of a St. Petersburg company called Peter–Service. The publication is comprised of 34 documents in various versions, bringing the total number of documents published to 209. “Spy Files: Russia” opened a window on how Russian telecommunications companies and internet service providers interact with the FSB, the Russian Federation’s primary security agency, and other state intelligence agencies, or SIAs, in developing and operating Russia’s extensive mass surveillance programs.

Spy Files: Russia” is fifth in a series of WikiLeaks’ “Spy Files” publications. Each segment is dedicated to a different aspect of what, taken together, amounts to a global system of surveillance. The series was launched in December 2013.

Mass interception of entire populations is not only a reality, it is a secret new industry spanning 25 countries,” Assange said when he announced “Spy Files”as an ongoing project. “It sounds like something out of Hollywood, but as of today, mass interception systems, built by Western intelligence contractors, including for ‘political opponents,’ are a reality.”

The first release, on Dec. 1, 2013, was comprised of documents from some 160 intelligence contractors operating in developed and developing countries. The second release, dated Dec. 8, 2013, provided further documentation of what WikiLeaks calls “the global mass surveillance industry.” Spy Files 3was comprised of 249 documents related to the business of 92 contractors with worldwide footprints. Spy Files 4” revealed how German-made malware was sold to intelligence agencies that surveilled political dissidents, journalists, and ordinary citizens.

No Court Orders Necessary

In the Russian surveillance system, SIAs are subject to few of the restraints customary in other countries. In particular, they are not required to obtain court orders to launch a surveillance operation. In consequence, individuals, companies, and other entities are routinely subject to threat and intimidation.

Of equal importance, Russian telecoms companies and ISPs are required by law to install a surveillance system called System for Operative Investigative Activities, or SORM by its transliterated acronym, on their premises (and at their own expense).

The SORM architecture was developed by the FSB, the Interior Ministry, and private Russian contractors, the WikiLeaks releases revealed. All local branches of the FSB are equipped with SORM technology and are connected with local ISPs. In effect, high-tech communications companies in Russia operate as appendages of Russia’s centralized intelligence apparatus. Peter–Service, the focus of “Spy Files: Russia,” is one such contractor.

As “Spy Files: Russia” explains, Peter–Service was founded 1992 and began as a supplier of electronic billing technology. It then became Russia’s leading manufacturer of the software used in the mobile telecoms industry. As of the 2017 release of “Spy Files: Russia,” the company had more than 1,000 employees in branches throughout Russia and Ukraine. By then, its technologies played a significant role in the national surveillance system.

Peter–Service also distinguished itself in this system in its approach to its obligations under Russian law to cooperate with Moscow’s surveillance operations. “Rather than being forced to comply,” WikiLeaks explains, “Peter–Service appears to be quite actively pursuing partnership and commercial opportunities with the state intelligence apparatus.”

Much was previously known, at least in outline, about the Russian Federation’s extensive surveillance programs. In “Spy Files: Russia,” the documents pertaining to Peter–Service lift the lid on the technical aspects of how these programs work. The focus of the documents is on the interface between private telecoms companies and the FSB and other SIAs. These interactions were not previously understood.

Spy Files: Russia” also includes a slide-show presentation (then available on Peter–Service’s website) that the company delivered at the Broadband Russia Forum in 2013. Significantly, the pitch was aimed not at telecoms providers but at FSB and Interior Ministry officials, among others. The document is thus an example of Peter–Service’s unusually activist approach to collaborations with the Russian state.

Spy Files: Russia” notes, “The presentation was written just a few months after Edward Snowden disclosed the NSA mass surveillance program and its cooperation with private U.S. IT–corporations such as Google and Facebook. Drawing specifically on the NSA Prism program, the presentation offers law enforcement, intelligence, and other interested parties to join an alliance in order to establish equivalent data-mining operations in Russia.”

WikiLeaks’ media partners for “Spy Files: Russia” were La Repubblica, the Rome daily, and Mediapart, a French online publication. Coverage of the release was sparse, and there appears to have been no official reaction. In the U.S., Wired magazine carried the only detailed overview of the publication.

Graphic shows the Internet backbone infrastructure in Russia and the nodes at various providers that run components of the proposed DPI*GRID system in different locations. The node TopGun most likely refers to a multi terabit DPI system developed by PETER-SERVICE. (WikiLeaks)

The WikiLeaks documents reinforce a bigger picture of modern Russian surveillance that combines technical mechanisms with legislative pressure,” the Wiredreporter wrote. Referring to the public-private collaboration of “Spy Files: Russia” documents, the report added, “Whereas a country like China uses elaborate technological solutions first and foremost (the Great Firewall) to restrict access to information, Russia employs a more hybrid approach.”

The publication of “Spy Files: Russia” was followed by one year the WikiLeaks release of mail caches from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. During the interim it was alleged, without evidence, that two Russian intelligence agencies had hacked the Democrats’ servers and that WikiLeaks collaborated with Russia in publishing the downloaded emails. The media’s uncritical acceptance of these assertions reflected its heightened hostility toward WikiLeaks.

A month prior to the release of “Spy Files: Russia,” for instance, Foreign Policy magazine reported that in the summer of 2016, following the publication of Democratic Party emails, WikiLeaks had obtained but did not publish “a wide-ranging trove of documents—at least 68 gigabytes of data—that came from inside the Russian Interior Ministry.”

FP cited “partial chat logs” that it had “reviewed.” These “were provided,” the magazine said by a source it neither named nor identified in even the broadest, most protective terms. FP offered no more substantive accounting of the material on which it rested its assertions.

In a Twitter response to FP, WikiLeaks said:

“WikiLeaks rejects all submissions that it cannot verify. WikiLeaks rejects submissions that have already been published elsewhere or which are likely to be considered insignificant. WikiLeaks has never rejected a submission due to its country of origin.”

In this context, Wired questioned whether “Spy Files: Russia” was approved by the Russian government to counter the charges that WikiLeaks had colluded with Moscow in releasing Democratic Party emails during the 2016 elections in the U.S. It quoted James Andrew Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former foreign-service officer as saying, “These are tricks that the Russians were willing to give up.” Neither Lewis nor Wired offered evidence substantiating this assertion, which ignored that WikiLeaks had already published nearly a million Russia-related files before the 2016 election.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” (Yale). Follow him on Twitter @thefloutistHis web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site. 

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8 comments for “The Revelations of WikiLeaks: No. 5 — Busting the Myth WikiLeaks Never Published Damaging Material on Russia

  1. Sam F
    September 25, 2019 at 12:28

    Thanks for this information; very useful. I agree with AnneR that the US FISA court is a sham, and know from long experience that the US judiciary actively subvert constitutional rights for direct and indirect personal gains. That is their job, as with Congress, the Executive branch, and the mass media: there is nothing left of democracy here, but a facade to further defraud the people.

    Nothing could be simpler than to create false “evidence” of Russians or any scapegoat du jour hacking the internet.
    I investigated internet racketeers using (among many others) the quasi-entity “TsarMedia” that was in fact based in Texas.
    Nothing else they did was more than a fraud scheme, like our own oligarchy, political parties, politicians, and mass media.

  2. Cara
    September 24, 2019 at 16:56

    Thank you Patrick Lawrence for this excellent report. I’m glad to see the WikiLeaks series continuing. Especially grateful to Joe Lauria for keeping the spotlight on Assange when so many others have abandoned him along with all pretense of journalistic integrity.

  3. Noah Way
    September 24, 2019 at 15:46

    The media works for the shadow government. Hillary was their doll.

  4. Robert
    September 24, 2019 at 10:30

    This article is key in supporting Julian Assange and combatting the disinformation campaign against him and his immense contribution to the world. Thank you.

  5. AnneR
    September 24, 2019 at 09:35

    Thank you Mr Lawrence and CN for continuing to keep the Assange and Wikileaks case in our minds. This is important.

    There are two statements in this piece that I would, however, question, the first being:

    “In the Russian surveillance system, SIAs are subject to few of the restraints customary in other countries. In particular, they are not required to obtain court orders to launch a surveillance operation. In consequence, individuals, companies, and other entities are routinely subject to threat and intimidation.”

    I would argue that here in the US and, perhaps, even more so in the UK there are indeed all too few restraints on our secret agencies’ surveillance of us via the internet, GPS, phone calls (NSA, anyone?), and increasingly the development and adoption of facial recognition software by the so-called agencies of “law and order.” And here in the US there are those FISA courts – when the deep state agencies decide to use them – which basically and secretly rubber stamp such surveillance. In the UK matters are little different.

    Second, I would question our (US-UK-IS) basic, fundamental dissimilarity on the following: “Of equal importance, Russian telecoms companies and ISPs are required by law to install a surveillance system called System for Operative Investigative Activities, or SORM by its transliterated acronym, on their premises (and at their own expense).”

    There might not (or might) be a “law” requiring the UK-US-IS telecom/ISPs to install such surveillance systems into their products. However, how different *really* is the situation here, given the exceedingly close relations among the tech companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft et al with DARPA (indeed the connections between the latter and the internet-computer-tech companies has existed for a long time, to my knowledge), and the willingness of the former to work hand in glove with the latter and the alphabet soup agencies, and their increasing links to Mossad and its affiliates – freely, by choice, of course (more $$$$$$ from the uninformed vox populi’s taxes, I do not doubt), not by open government diktat.

  6. Joe Tedesky
    September 24, 2019 at 09:18

    Thank you Patrick Lawerence for this article. In my future debates I will be sure to reference this fine example of Wikileaks unbiased reporting. For far too long we Assange supporters are left with the only narrative the MSM will allow us news junkies to hear and, that is Assange is a Russian spy set on destroying American democracy. So this article will rise to the top as proof Assange is a world class free press reporter who just wants to print the truth. It’s beyond appropriate timing we citizens of the world wake up to what is really going on in our fragile ‘fake news’ society as, we begin too prove that Wikileaks is the premier news agency we citizens need to keep our deceptive leaders on in regard to we citizens keeping these not to be trusted leaders of ours on the ever straight and very narrow road we receive our news on. Free Julian Assange right now!

  7. geeyp
    September 23, 2019 at 23:55

    Thank you Patrick Lawrence for another fine piece of work. The media stick their fingers in their ears, close their eyes, and go “La la la la la” as loud as they can to avoid any claim that these documents have existed on Wikileaks site for quite some time. It will not get through their thick, mushy skulls and therefore the people of the US are now the most likely in all the world to condemn Julian Assange. If media and people in many other countries now support Wikileaks and Julian and we here in the US do not, though have every reason to support him, how can one not feel ashamed of this country?

    • September 24, 2019 at 16:03

      Joe and Geeyp.
      You’re both most welcome. This series is hard but worthy work. I know of no other documented record of WikiLeaks releases. In effect, we’re reading Wiki into its rightful place in the record. W/best rgds. Patrick Lawrence.

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