Why Putin loves WikiLeaks

The leak of DNC emails will undermine Clinton—and boost Putin’s imperial ambitions.

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On July 22, WikiLeaks released a controversial trove of internal Democratic National Committee emails. The emails showed Democratic officials soliciting legal advice on how to promote Hillary Clinton’s primary campaign against Vermont senator and rival Bernie Sanders without violating neutrality laws, speculating about whether highlighting Mr. Sanders’ alleged atheism would undermine his campaign, and insulting Mr. Sanders’ campaign manager. While none of the conduct revealed by the emails was illegal, the email release coincided with the beginning of the Democratic National Convention and was deeply embarrassing to the party. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the party and an avid Clinton supporter, was forced to resign.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange freely admits to timing the DNC data dump to inflict the maximum amount of damage to the Clinton campaign. He said this was because Ms. Clinton favors indicting him for revealing classified government information and, more broadly, because she is “a bit of a problem for freedom of the press.” No mention was made of the fact that her opponent, Donald Trump, bans entire news organizations from his events if they provide insufficiently favorable coverage and defended his former campaign manager after a physical altercation with a reporter.

Mr. Assange’s petty personal motives could be easily dismissed but for the fact that his irresponsible actions play into WikiLeaks’ disturbing pattern of opposing American overreach while simultaneously cozying up to foreign authoritarian governments with egregious human rights records. Mr. Assange is currently hiding in the Ecuadorean embassy in London to avoid facing rape charges. Ecuador’s human rights record is atrocious. President Rafael Correa censors the media and violently silences his critics. But we hear none of this from Mr. Assange, who is content to ignore Correa’s dictatorial tendencies in order to have the freedom to lambast party officials in a country with free and fair elections for criticizing a campaign manager in private emails. His hypocrisy is astounding.

But the geopolitical implications of the leaks are even more disturbing than Mr. Assange’s personal animosity toward Ms. Clinton. In an interview with an online technology magazine, the D.N.C. hacker, who calls himself “Guccifer 2.0,” claimed to be a Romanian working alone. This claim quickly broke down. Metadata left behind in the hacked documents indicated that they were edited on a computer with Russian language settings installed. What’s more, the hacker spoke English with linguistic patterns typical of native Russian speakers, and in an interview with an online technology magazine conducted via Twitter, his Romanian responses contained several mistakes. From what we know, cybersecurity firms have concluded that Guccifer was likely an agent or team of agents connected to the G.R.U., Russia’s intelligence service and the successor to the infamous K.G.B.

Because the Russian government has denied any link to the cyberattack, it is impossible to know exactly what would have motivated Russian intelligence agencies, under the direction of Russia’s dictator-president Vladimir Putin, to hack the Democratic Party. However, Mr. Putin’s distaste for Hillary Clinton is well-known. At the start of her tenure as secretary of state, a fresh-faced and idealistic President Barack Obama was determined to “reset” relations with Russia and establish friendlier ties to Mr. Putin’s regime, but Ms. Clinton was skeptical of the “reset” effort from the start. She annoyed higher-ups in the Obama administration by censuring Mr. Putin for rigging elections and by repeatedly highlighting Russia’s myriad human rights abuses. As president, she has promised to push back against Russian aggression and stand with the United States’ allies in N.A.T.O.

A strong American foreign policy, however, does not jibe with Mr. Putin, who wants Russia to take the place of the United States as the principal power broker in Europe and Asia. Unprecedented Russian interventionism will only be possible if the U.S. abdicates its role as protector of democracy in Eastern Europe, withdrawing from N.A.T.O. commitments and scaling back military assistance to its allies abroad as Donald Trump has promised to do. Sabotaging Ms. Clinton to put Mr. Trump in the White House is the best way for Mr. Putin to realize his ambitions for a new age of Russian imperialism and for a Europe at his beck and call.

Government transparency is crucial to a healthy democratic society, and Mr. Assange’s WikiLeaks has an important role to play in uncovering corruption and human rights abuses around the world. But WikiLeaks also has an obligation to divulge the agendas behind the information it reveals, lest it become a propaganda arm for foreign dictators.

The D.N.C. leak was valuable. But in failing to disclose Russia’s role in the hacks, Mr. Assange has chosen to protect an authoritarian regime from the scrutiny it deserves and, in so doing, has violated the very transparency which his organization claims to pursue.

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