WikiLeaks grilled on Trump, Assange in rowdy Reddit AMA

Redditors grill the document-dump site on the new US president-elect, ties to Russia and founder Julian Assange's whereabouts.

Terry Collins Staff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
Terry Collins
3 min read

WikiLeaks is known for pushing the boundaries, and it didn't pull punches Thursday during a freewheeling Ask Me Anything session on Reddit.

Staffers from the whistle-blowing site were bombarded with questions that focused heavily on the part WikiLeaks played during this year's US presidential election.

They repeatedly denied conspiring with President-elect Donald Trump in his heated race with Hillary Clinton, staunchly defending WikiLeaks' release of emails potentially damaging to Clinton's campaign and to the Democratic National Committee and saying the timing of those document dumps was not malicious.

"We have published more classified or otherwise suppressed documents than the rest of the world's media combined," they said. "We do publish as fast as we can. We always call for leaks early and often to ensure that as fast as possible is as fast as needed."

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange participates via video link at a news conference marking the 10th anniversary of the secrecy-spilling group in Berlin this week. The site published more documents Friday.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange speaking via video during the controversial secrecy-spilling group's 10th anniversary in Berlin last month.

Maurizio Gambarini/Getty Images

The WikiLeaks AMA comes about a month after the controversial not-for-profit site created by Julian Assange celebrated its 10th anniversary. In addition to the election, topics included Assange's relatively low profile in recent weeks and the site's determination to keep publishing sensitive material.

The online question-and-answer session also comes after WikiLeaks released thousands of hacked internal DNC emails, just before this summer's Democratic National Convention. The message included some that showed committee officials worked to undermine the campaign of Clinton rival Bernie Sanders. The US government said Russian hackers had stolen the emails.

WikiLeaks also published thousands of hacked emails allegedly from Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta, including full transcripts of Clinton's controversial speeches to Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms. It released those transcripts less than a month before Election Day.

The staffers steadfastly denied showing favoritism.

"We were not publishing with a goal to get any specific candidate elected," they said. "We were publishing with the one goal of making the elections as transparent as possible. We published what we received.

"We would have published on any candidate. We still will if we get the submissions."

The staff was asked why it chose to "expose" Clinton and not Trump.

"There was no choice to be made," they said. "We release information that we receive. We cannot release what we don't have."

The WikiLeaks staffers also said the site hadn't worked with Trump and Russia to get Trump elected.

"The allegations that we have colluded with Trump, or any other candidate for that matter, or with Russia, are just groundless and false," they said. "We receive information anonymously, through an anonymous submission platform.

"We do not need to know the identity of the source, neither do we want to know it."

The staffers were asked if they were concerned by the incoming Trump administration's stances on net neutrality and surveillance. They said WikiLeaks will be watching.

"We are concerned about anyone that gets access to the mass spying system the US has built. We will be happy to publish any documents on changes/abuses/policy changes on these topics and others from the Trump administration."

WikiLeaks staffers were constantly asked why the site has been so silent about Assange's situation at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been living since 2012. Assange has been avoiding extradition to Sweden, where he faces sexual assault allegations and to the US, which is seeking prosecution related to WikiLeaks releases.

Assange has been without internet service, the staff members said, but he's given interviews in person and by phone. Without their leader, the staff said, it decided to do the AMA "aware that our editor's communications situation is tricky."

"His internet hasn't been turned back on, despite the (US) elections being over, and we don't know why, though it was meant to just be turned off over the elections," the staff said.

Asked if there is anything they'd consider not leaking, the staff members spelled out their guidelines.

"We have an editorial policy to publish only information that we have validated as true and that is important to the political, diplomatic or historical," they said. "We believe in transparency for the powerful and privacy for the rest.

"We publish in full in an uncensored and uncensorable fashion... We are not risk-averse and will continue to publish fearlessly."