The whistleblowing website WikiLeaks has long been in the crosshairs of the U.S. government. Now, more details exposed by The Intercept reveal that the National Security Agency (NSA)’s British counterpart, GCHQ, monitored Internet users who visited the WikiLeaks website and that the Obama administration urged allies to file charges against WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, the site’s founder.
The article was written by Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher, and is the latest piece on The Intercept based off documents Edward Snowden leaked to Greenwald and other journalists.
WikiLeaks is a target of a U.S. grand jury case, though the Washington Post reported last November that the Justice Department has indicated no charges would be filed since they couldn’t prosecute without targeting other media organizations and journalists. But the grand jury is not the only way the U.S. set its sight on WikiLeaks, which rose to prominence after they published hundreds of thousands of secret documents exposing the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and U.S. diplomatic dealings.
Greenwald and Gallagher report on three documents that show the extent of U.S. and British targeting of WikiLeaks. They contradict the U.S. government’s insistence that they only target “terrorists” for surveillance.
One document shows that the GCHQ used its surveillance system to sweep up the IP addresses of those visiting the WikiLeaks website and the search terms people used to reach the site. These included Americans. “How could targeting an entire website’s user base be necessary or proportionate?” asked Gus Hosein, the head of Privacy International, in an interview with The Intercept. “These are innocent people who are turned into suspects based on their reading habits. Surely becoming a target of a state’s intelligence and security apparatus should require more than a mere click on a link.”
A separate file reveals how the Obama administration wanted allies like Australia and Germany to file charges against WikiLeaks for publishing the Afghan war logs, which detailed civilian deaths caused by soldiers and other aspects of the war.
A third document shows that the NSA considered designating WikiLeaks a “malicious foreign actor.” According to The Intercept, such a designation would “have significantly expanded the agency’s ability to subject the group’s officials and supporters to extensive surveillance.
Such a designation would allow WikiLeaks to be targeted with surveillance without the use of ‘defeats’ – an agency term for technical mechanisms to shield the communications of U.S. persons from getting caught in the dragnet.” There is no confirmation that the NSA did decide to use the designation, though.