Secret Power: WikiLeaks and Its Enemies

Reading time: 8 minuti, 1 secondo
  • Mirea D'Alessandro
  • mercoledì, 19 luglio 2023

Born in 1969, Stefania Maurizi is undoubtedly one of Italy's most renowned investigative journalists. She holds a degree in mathematics and specializes in cryptography. For years, she has been collaborating with Il Fatto Quotidiano and has worked for the daily newspaper La Repubblica and the weekly magazine L'Espresso. What sets her apart in the Italian journalistic landscape is her credibility. Her expertise in cryptography allowed her to collaborate with various international media with WikiLeaks since 2009.

WikiLeaks is a non-profit international organization founded in December 2006 that since its inception, has released hundreds of thousands of documents, protected by state, industrial, military, and financial secrecy. Stefania Maurizi has worked closely with its founder, Julian Assange, on the release of several classified documents, such as the Afghan War Logs, the Guantanamo Bay detainee files (GitmoFiles), and the National Security Agency's surveillance of European leaders (Nsa). She also collaborated with journalist Glenn Greenwald on Edward Snowden's top-secret files and led the journalistic research for the investigative documentary "Snowden's Great Escape."

Clearly, Stefania Maurizi believes in the power of investigative journalism, but the genuine kind. During the XXIII edition of Il Libro Possibile in Vieste, which will run until Saturday, July 22, 2023, she presented her book titled "Secret Power: WikiLeaks and Its Enemies." On stage with her was Kristinn Hrafnsson, the one to whom Julian Assange handed over the reins in September 2018.

The discussion during the event focused on freedom of expression, freedom of information, power, political priorities, and the fundamental right to know the truth. Julian Assange represents a defeat that we all unconsciously bear, which is why it is crucial to know his story. A complex story full of shadows. Stefania Maurizi has been working on the Assange case since 2009, conducting fourteen years of investigative work on all of WikiLeaks' secret documents. She faced intimidation and was spied on during her meetings with Julian Assange. To uncover the truth, she had to wage a trench warfare that has been ongoing since 2015. Represented by seven lawyers, she is currently fighting against four world powers: England, United States, Australia, and Sweden. Together with her team, her book not only reconstructs and defends the truth but also mobilizes public opinion on this case. As a matter of fact, her significant work plays a fundamental role in the fight for the freedom of Julian Assange and his fellow journalists.

Since April 11, 2019, Assange has been living in a cell at Her Majesty's maximum-security Belmarsh Prison in the United Kingdom, fighting for over a decade against powerful institutions seeking to silence him forever. These institutions include what President Eisenhower referred to as the "military-industrial complex of the United States": the Pentagon, the CIA, and the National Security Agency. The price he is paying for utilizing the resources of the cyber world and systematically violating state secrets, not to protect the safety and well-being of citizens, but to hide crimes and ensure impunity for the powerful, is very high. He has been imprisoned for ten years, from house arrest to the Ecuadorian embassy and finally to a prison.As the author puts it, Julian Assange is up against a leviathan: the entire military and intelligence complex of the United States and a series of governments, armies, and secret services from various nations that have not forgiven him for WikiLeaks' revelations. His only hope lies in the support of global public opinion. If Julian Assange were to be extradited to the United States to face the consequences of his charges, he would live his life in isolation, in a maximum-security prison that could be one of the most extreme in the United States, the ADX Florence in Colorado, where criminals like El Chapo are incarcerated. In her accurate, poignant, and compelling book, Stefania Maurizi tells the story of a pure revenge designed to destroy a man who has spent his life defending freedom of expression. If there is journalism that deserves to be practiced, it is precisely that which reveals abuses at the highest levels of power.

Ken Loach, in the book's foreword, writes: "This is a book that should make you very angry. If we believe in living in a democracy, we should read this book. If we care about the truth and honest politics, we should read this book."

The more rational and inflexible individuals might argue that Julian Assange, having committed illegal acts through cyberspace, deserves to serve a prison sentence, and we could discuss this for hours. However, the point in this case is different. What is illegality? And why are some things illegal while others are not? What defines them as such? In a system, it is deliberately decided what is illegal and what is not. Sometimes we forget this. In this case, the illegality of his actions stems from the necessity of powerful entities to hide their illicit activities.

At this point, my dear readers, I ask you, who is the real criminal? As a matter of impartiality in my writing, I cannot answer this question, but I have all the tools necessary to present you with the condition to reflect on the value of truth. Yes, the truth.

Who is Julian Assange?

Born in 1971, Juliane Assange is an Australian journalist and computer programmer. His figure is highly debated, and there's so much to write about him. What we can certainly say is that Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has forever changed the world of information, allowing investigative journalism to reach an unprecedented level of inquiry. This is precisely why he has become famous worldwide and is considered a major enemy by many governments, mostly in the West. A passionate computer enthusiast, since the early 1980s, he has been one of the pioneers in using the web to disseminate socially relevant information. An anarchic and anti-system figure, after joining a group of hackers called the International Subversives, he became what we would now call a "digital nomad," moving between various cities and working as a computer developer. Already in the early 1990s, he faced the first legal charges related to his hacking activities on government and foreign servers. In 2006, inspired by Wikipedia's encyclopedic model, Assange founded WikiLeaks. Initially, WikiLeaks operated as a wiki, accepting documents, analyzing them, and publishing them, inviting anyone to examine them and engage in public debate, much like a forum. It did not systematically collaborate with journalists, which it only began doing in subsequent years. After releasing a series of information in the organization's early years, such as extrajudicial executions by police in countries like Kenya, Assange rose to prominence in 2010, dealing a severe blow to the US security apparatus. The turning point in that first case was Bradley Manning, who, while serving as an intelligence analyst during US operations in Iraq, stole hundreds of thousands of classified documents. Assange's notoriety grew when WikiLeaks released a series of documents provided by Manning in the context of the so-called Cablegate.

To simplify, according to Il Post, the "embassy cables" or "diplomatic cables" are official reports written by officials and ambassadors belonging to the US Department of State, covering interactions between American officials or between them and ambassadors or officials from foreign governments. Each report is marked with a label indicating its level of confidentiality. On the WikiLeaks website, you can browse files based on their confidentiality level, country of origin, topic, etc. Among them, 15,000 are "secret," 101,000 are "confidential," and 133,000 are "unclassified." The most treated country - with over 15,000 documents - is Iraq. This is where Stefania Maurizi's story begins.

To conclude, my dear readers, and to arouse your curiosity about a case we should all fight for, I present a small excerpt from her book:

Not even a month had passed since Julian Assange contacted me to draw my attention to that report from American counterintelligence, which made WikiLeaks a global case. On April 5, 2010, he released a secret video titled "Collateral Murder," showing an American Apache helicopter slaughtering unarmed civilians in Baghdad while the crew laughed. The footage dated back to July 12, 2007, and it was a Pentagon file. The recording was captured in real-time by one of the two Apache helicopters flying over the city, hunting for rebels, and documenting the massacre without any filters or censorship. About fifteen civilians, including a respected 22-year-old war photographer and his 40-year-old assistant and driver, both working for the international news agency Reuters, were torn apart by 30-millimeter caliber bullets from the Apache. Two Iraqi children were gravely injured. Their father, driving a van, stopped to help the injured Reuters photographer's driver lying on the ground, but the helicopter showered him with bullets, killing him, and finishing off the survivor. Only the two young children, aged five and ten, sitting in the back of the vehicle, miraculously survived but suffered severe injuries. Apparently, the whole spectacle had pleased the crew, as evident from the conversations captured in the video. "All right," one of them said, laughing, "I hit them." And again: "Look at those damn dead bastards." Initially, the American authorities had claimed that those killed were insurgents, and later they stated that the attack occurred during a combat operation against hostile forces (…). Two months after the publication of the "Collateral Murder" video, on June 6, 2010, the American magazine "Wired" revealed that in Iraq, a 22-year-old American boy had been arrested after admitting in a chat that he was the one who had passed the "Collateral Murder" video and hundreds of thousands of other secret documents from the US government to WikiLeaks. The 22-year-old's name was Bradley Manning, an intelligence analyst in the US Army on a mission in Iraq.

Julian Assange is not a criminal; Juliane Assange is a journalist.