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Activist speaks out about publishing damning WikiLeaks chat

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Emma Best has since been attacked by Julian Assange’s account.

Journalist and transparency activist Emma Best published more than 11,000 direct messages from a private WikiLeaks Twitter group on Sunday, revealing more about how the organization coordinated “troll operations” and “propaganda efforts” with its supporters.

The full cache, which spans a period between May 2015 to November 2017, was published on Best’s own website and archives conversations between those that operate the official WikiLeaks account and 10 supporters.

In conversation with the Daily Dot, Best said that in publishing the full archive she had wanted “to let people crowdsource it.”

“Some stuff in there is obvious in its importance, but some bits take a closer look. More eyeballs [means] more results and analysis,” she explained.

As Best had hoped, researchers and journalists have been digging through the lengthy thread since Monday, studying WikiLeaks’ privately stated positions against its public statements and drawing correlations with news timelines.

Key sections of the chat had already been the subject of an article published in February by Intercept journalist Micah Lee, which had focused primarily on messages from the WikiLeaks’ official account and whose comments Lee had credited to the organization’s founder, Julian Assange.

The article highlighted the account’s apparent political bias for a Republican win ahead of the 2016 presidential election. This gained widespread coverage because of the role that WikiLeaks played in publishing Democratic email caches that damaged Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in the month leading to Election Day.

Among other things, Lee drew attention to offensive comments made about former WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning’s gender transition and “anti-Semitic undertones” in an attack on an Associated Press journalist. Assange denied responsibility for the comments in his response to the claim, saying that the account was managed by “rotating staff” of volunteers as well as him.

Best told the Daily Dot that the anti-Semitism was, in part, also why she decided to publish the full cache: “to give people as much context as possible and let them judge for themselves.”

“Some tried to dismiss the racist and anti-Semitic stuff as jokes,” she said of the reaction to Lee’s article, “even though the only folks who make racist and anti-Semitic jokes are racists and anti-Semites. Some stuff in there is obvious in its importance, but some bits take a closer look. More eyeballs [means] more results and analysis.”

Best received the logs from a source just after Lee did. While Lee published his article, drawing attention to important exchanges, Best methodically worked toward a full release.

“I went through it several times and think I got everything that needed to be redacted,” Best said. “[I] waited to speak with a few people that I thought might be at risk. For the most part, everyone I spoke to was willing to have their names included. I think only two or three people wanted their stuff redacted before it was released, and all had good reasons.”

Not everyone was happy with the chat log’s publication, however. WikiLeaks’ official account and supporters began to suggest that the logs had been “modified” and some activists feared it would exacerbate needless in-fighting within the transparency community.

Best, however, quickly found herself a target of a different attempt to discredit the archive’s publication when Assange’s personal account cited her transgender status and dismissed her as a disgruntled activist who had been rejected for a job at the organization.

It’s uncertain who exactly is behind the @JulianAssange account at the moment, but it was recently utilized by supporters to push the #FreeAssange campaign, raising awareness of how Assange remains cut off from the internet and isolated in London’s Ecuadorian embassy.

Best reported the tweet, and Assange’s account was then locked for violation of Twitter’s rules; it was only freed when the offending tweet was deleted.

https://twitter.com/NatSecGeek/status/1023911465974214656

https://twitter.com/NatSecGeek/status/1023973187812515842

Best told the Daily Dot that the job claim was entirely false, outlining two interactions with the organization that “wouldn’t have been anything close to me seeking employment from them.”

“It’s unsurprising pettiness, considering,” she said. “I knew backlash was going to come, and a few folks had even asked me why I thought it hadn’t yet. I think today they realized it was going to get bad, and so [they] decided to get transphobic and make shit up about me having wanted to work for them.”

David Gilmour

David Gilmour

David Gilmour is a reporter who specializes in national politics, internet culture, and technology. He previously covered civil liberties, crime, and politics for Vice.