by Dack Rouleau
Christy Dopf contributed to this essay.
Only the incurably masochistic would turn to the Washington Post, one of the Democratic National Committee’s most luxurious vessels in publishing, to search for reasonable analysis of WikiLeaks, but surely one should expect something more dignified than the latest dollop of pablum carelessly tossed out by Craig Timberg. I have never heard of Timberg before, this mouthpiece of government who presents himself as an authority on technology in the news, but in fewer than twenty words, he proves himself to be no more respectable than Charlie Savage, another stenographer of the state, one whom Timberg appears to admire, and one whose failings I have noticed before.
On the 12th of November 2019, the Post published Timberg’s essay: “Russian Hackers Who Stole DNC Emails Failed at Social Media. WikiLeaks Helped.” Without commenting on the ugly informality of the title, we should note its unwarranted and unsettling confidence in the American government’s official narrative; namely, its baseless claim that agents of the Russian government accessed the DNC’s computer system, obtained proof of intra-institutional collusion against Bernie Sanders, and forwarded the material to WikiLeaks in the summer of 2016. Certainly, I would love to know who is responsible for my personal favorite of the WikiLeaks releases, I’m afraid we still have no proof, more than three years later, that Moscow deserves this overdue credit.
Nevertheless, Timberg is convinced that Russia is the hero—but in his inverted moral scope, taking exceptional risk in pursuit of enlightenment is the cardinal sin. “The Russian military hackers who stole tens of thousands of sensitive Democratic Party documents in 2016 struggled to disseminate their bounty online, at least until anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks joined the effort,” he writes, as if it is no longer necessary, or even advisable, for journalists to hide their shameless plunge into the viscid propaganda of the state. Thousands of pieces of indisputable evidence of a plot to sabotage a presidential campaign, of a conspiracy to thwart the will of the people, are “sensitive Democratic Party documents”? The organization that alerts Democratic Party voters and donors that they have been conned and defrauded is an untrustworthy “anti-secrecy group”? If this is the case, then what does Timberg, in moral-intellectual contrast, believe himself to be?
Let us hope, for his sake, he does not believe himself to be scholarly or conscientious. In the second paragraph of his essay, he seeks to prove that Moscow purloined the “sensitive … documents” by observing that DC Leaks, allegedly a Russian publisher, advertised “restricted documents leaked from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign” on the 14th of June 2016, more than a month before the infamous WikiLeaks release. However, Timberg neglects to mention—or does not know, more likely—that the documents released by DC Leaks were completely different from those published by WikiLeaks. Julian Assange explained this on multiple occasions, including in an interview that was distributed on the Internet prior to the publishing performed by DC Leaks.
The issue resurfaced during an interview with Afshin Rattansi of RT, released to YouTube on the 2nd of August 2016, several weeks after WikiLeaks published its own collection of emails. At the 4:45 mark, Assange says: “What [Hillary Clinton] is attempting to do is to conflate our publication of pristine emails … [with] whatever hacking has occurred of the DNC … by a range of actors. In the middle, we have something, which is the publication by other media organizations of information purportedly from the DNC—and that seems to be the case. So, that’s a series of Word documents and PDFs published by The Hill, by Gawker, and by the Smoking Gun. This is a completely separate batch of documents, compared to the twenty thousand pristine emails we have released.”
Assange goes on to say: “In this batch of documents released by these other media organizations, there are claims that, in the metadata, someone’s done a document-to-PDF conversion, and in some cases … the language of the computer that was used for that conversion was Russian. So, that’s the circumstantial evidence that some Russian was involved, or someone who wanted to make it look like a Russian was involved, with these other media organizations.”
Presumably, Timberg is ignorant of all of this, for he mentions none of it, and he neglects to revisit the connection of the material released by DC Leaks to the emails published by WikiLeaks. He is conspicuously impatient to abandon this subject, for he knows that no such connection exists, and he recognizes the dishonesty and fragility of his own argument. Rather than linger here and expose himself to further questioning, he proceeds to a description, sustained through six paragraphs, of a “Russian military agency known as the GRU”. He explains how this organization allegedly posted misinformation on American social media platforms, and although he has no evidence of such an operation occurring—none save for the nebulous suggestions of Robert Mueller, a notorious liar—he concludes that this Russian mission was not only executed, but narrowly directed at “disrupting the [2016 U.S. presidential] election” to favor Donald Trump.
Timberg’s sprawling analysis continues for another thirteen paragraphs, only three of which make any mention of WikiLeaks or Assange, and none of which explains how the Russian government coordinated with either entity. Even if we want to accept his description of the terroristic function of the GRU, as articulated by undeniably prejudiced American officials, still we have no evidence of the GRU having hacked into the DNC’s computer systems, nor do we find proof that the GRU collected this particular material, nor is there even the most indirect indication that it was passed from the GRU to WikiLeaks. Timberg hasn’t failed to connect the dots; he has failed to prove that the dots even exist.
He fails from the beginning, when he complains of WikiLeaks’s unfair ability to deliver content to a sizeable audience. He notes, with more than incidental envy, that WikiLeaks’s Twitter account has millions of followers, and suggests this “social media outreach can generate outsize results” [sic]. Timberg disqualifies himself as a journalist when he implies that it is possible for the public to overreact, and so to deliver outsized results, when the DNC is proven to have employed fascistic measures to undermine Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign. He disqualifies himself as a public intellectual in the same sentence, for only the irredeemably childish would suggest that WikiLeaks has the same influential reach as the Washington Post. He may, however, prove himself correct in the long run, for his disastrous essay just might convince some people to abandon the Post for the Leaks.
Dack Rouleau is an independent journalist living in New Hampshire. He was previously a columnist for The Citizen of Laconia and has appeared on the MCSC Network. You can read his work at https://overwritten.org/.