WikiLeaks intentionally waded into conspiracy theory territory today. It began Tuesday morning when the group announced a $20,000 reward for information on the death of DNC staffer Seth Rich. Rich was shot and killed in Washington D.C. last month:
ANNOUNCE: WikiLeaks has decided to issue a US$20k reward for information leading to conviction for the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) August 9, 2016
Why does WikiLeaks care about this particular shooting? The answer is that some conspiracy theories floating around on Reddit (and elsewhere online) have suggested that Rich was killed because he was the person who gave DNC emails and other material to WikiLeaks.
If the tweet was dipping a toe in the conspiracy theory waters, what Julian Assange said in an interview with a Dutch television program is closer to a cannonball off the springboard. (ht: Buzzfeed) You really have to read (or watch) the entire exchange to understand just how far down the rabbit hole Assange is going:
Host: The stuff that you’re sitting on, is an October surprise in there?
Julian Assange: WikiLeaks never sits on material. Our whistle-blowers go to significant efforts to get us material and often very significant risks. There’s a 27-year-old, uh, works for the DNC who was shot in the back, murdered, just a few weeks ago, for unknown reasons as he was walking down the streets in Washington.
Host: That was just a robbery I believe, wasn’t it?
Assange: No. There’s no finding.
Host: What are you suggesting, what are you suggesting?
Assange: I am suggesting that our sources take risks and they are…they become concerned to see things occurring like that.
Host: But was he one of your sources then? I mean…
Assange: We don’t comment on who are sources are.
Host: But why make the suggestion about a young guy being shot in the streets of Washington?
Assange: Because we have to understand how high the stakes are in the United States and that our sources are…our sources face serious risks, that’s why they come to us so we can protect their anonymity.
Host: But it’s quite something to suggest a murder, that’s basically what you’re doing.
Assange: Well, others have suggested that. We are investigating to understand what happened in that situation with Seth Rich. I think it is, uh, a concerning situation. There’s not a conclusion yet. We wouldn’t be willing to state a conclusion but we are concerned about it. More importantly, a variety of WikiLeaks sources are concerned when that kind of thing happens.
First of all, kudos to the Dutch interviewer who doesn’t let Assange drop this suggestion without pointing out what a wild accusation he is making. But second, Assange really is suggesting that maybe Seth Rich was a source and maybe he was murdered. He even refers at one point to people saying as much online.
But unlike all the people talking about this on Reddit, Assange is in a position to say whether or not a key part of this claim is true. Either Seth Rich was a WikiLeaks source or he was not. Given that he’s now dead, what harm can come from revealing he was a source of information (if that is indeed the case)? But Assange won’t confirm that, he just wants to suggest it could be true.
The deeper question is why Assange is doing this. Putting aside the conspiracy theory about Rich for the moment, there’s another, simpler explanation. Several outside experts who looked at the DNC hack concluded it was carried out by Russia. Immediately after those reports were published someone calling himself Guccifer 2.0 appeared online and claimed he was behind the hack. But further investigation suggests Guccifer 2.0 is not a person at all but a propaganda effort designed to distract from Russia’s culpability for the DNC hack.
With Guccifer 2.0 looking dubious as the source, Julian Assange is now adding fuel to a conspiracy theory which also seems designed to suggest someone else (other than Russia) gave him the DNC material. Conveniently for Assange, the person he is indicating might be behind this isn’t around to confirm or deny the story.
So one of two stories is likely to be true. Either Seth Rich was Wikileaks’ source and he was murdered or, and this seems much more likely, Assange and WikiLeaks are acting as a propaganda outlet for Russia. The fact that Assange has long had a show on the Kremlin-run RT network makes the latter choice seem much more plausible. But WikiLeaks continues to push back hard against the idea that Russia is responsible for the material:
Clinton campiagn has developed a new PR strategy. All future corruption revelations about her are the work of Russia https://t.co/P5za3nYh44
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) August 9, 2016
Here’s the video of the exchange with the Dutch television show: