The Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) was set to break ties with WikiLeaks amidst concerns among the foundation’s board, which includes such well-known figures as Daniel Ellsberg, Edward Snowden, Laura Poitras, John Cusack and Glenn Greenwald, among others. The news was confirmed less than a month later when the nonprofit’s board officially voted to stop accepting U.S. donations for WikiLeaks, which had been blacklisted for years by Visa, MasterCard and PayPal after publishing leaked U.S. government documents provided by Chelsea Manning. WikiLeaks took to Twitter to suggest that something more nefarious was behind the board’s decision to cut ties. Once the news became public, WikiLeaks and its associated accounts linked the FPF’s decision to the fact that many of its members now work for organizations financed by eBay billionaire and PayPal co-founder Pierre Omidyar. In addition, the FPF itself has received large sums of money from Omidyar and his various businesses and foundations. Pierre Omidyar, prior to the founding of The Intercept, was known not for any commitment to journalism or free speech but rather for his connections to the U.S. government and his role in the financial blockade of WikiLeaks that began in 2010. Sibel Edmonds, FBI whistleblower and founder of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, told MintPress News that the FPF has a reputation for being a “very, very partisan organization and populated with ideologues.” She further asserted that the “number one reason” for the FPF’s decision was directly related to Wikileaks’ releases in 2016, namely the DNC leaks and the Podesta emails.
Part 4 - The fine line between curation and censorship
Omidyar’s view on leaks and leakers seem to have influenced the opinions of some of the FPF’s most prominent members. For instance, Glenn Greenwald, following the publication of the Podesta emails, suggested in a conversation with Naomi Klein that the Podesta emails should have been “curated” prior to their release in order to prevent the outing of potentially sensitive personal information. Specifically, Greenwald stated: “I think WikiLeaks more or less at this point stands alone in believing that these kinds of dumps are ethically — never mind journalistically — just ethically, as a human being, justifiable.”
The idea of “curation” in the publication of leaked documents is quizzical. Though one’s privacy is important, it is highly problematic to leave to one person the ability to decide what is and what isn’t in the public interest. “Curating” leaks gives those who are in possession of the leaked documents the power to decide what the public sees and doesn’t see instead of giving the public the right to decide what is relevant. In many cases, finding a “balance point” would present a challenge to even the most ethical and disinterested curator. Such power can easily be abused and used to shield key information contained in leaks or to hide crucial context.
For example, in the case of Chelsea Manning, Wired journalist Kevin Poulsen published parts of the chat logs between Manning and former hacker Adrian Lamo in which Manning allegedly admitted having given the leaked documents to WikiLeaks. However, Poulsen published only a quarter of the correspondence, claiming that he had not released the remainder as it contained “personal information” and “national security secrets” — concerns that were also raised upon the release of the DNC and Podesta emails.
Yet, the information Poulsen chose not to publish contained crucial context that showed that Manning leaked the documents to instigate reforms and inform the public – not to “cripple the United States’ foreign relations for the foreseeable future,” as Lamo had suggested in interviews before the chat logs’ full release. Ironically, it was Glenn Greenwald who publicly skewered Poulsen for journalistic malice.
However, Poulsen was merely “curating” the logs as he saw fit – albeit with the agenda of protecting Adrian Lamo, his long-time associate. Three years later, Greenwald found himself in a position similar to that of Poulsen when he came into possession of the Snowden leaks and became the “curator” of this collection. Now, nearly four years after receiving the cache, less than 2 percent of the estimated 58,000 files have been made public. If the releases continue at this snail’s pace, most of those reading this article will have been dead long before the Snowden cache is made fully public.
Perhaps this is why Greenwald, despite possessing hundreds of thousands of secret government documents he received from Snowden, has been able to travel to and from the United States without issue. Edmonds pointed this out, stating that “after Greenwald worked with so many whistleblowers and even though he has technically ‘aided and abetted’ this supposed illegal, major leak, he’s not touched. He can come and go [from the United States] as he pleases.” Meanwhile, Julian Assange has remained arbitrarily detained in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for seven years, unable to leave.
Also troubling is that Snowden – the man who ostensibly risked his life and freedom to make this information public – has offered no complaints concerning the glacial pace of the documents’ release, nor about Omidyar essentially taking ownership of the leaks through The Intercept.
Former NSA Intelligence Analyst and Capabilities Operations Officer Russell Tice once said the following regarding The Intercept and its possession of the Snowden leaks: “I would be outraged and highly vocal if I were in Edward Snowden’s shoes. For a journalist whom I had placed my trust in to go and withhold documents meant for the public?! For the journalist to make fortune and fame based on my sacrifices and disclosure?! Forming a lucrative business partnership with entities who have direct conflicts of interest?! No. That wouldn’t have been acceptable.”
It’s possible that Snowden himself may approve of what has amounted to the censoring of these leaks, as he has also called for the “curation” of leaked material following the release of the Podesta emails. Unsurprisingly, this drew a sharp response from WikiLeaks.
While Edmonds has made the case that Omidyar likely founded The Intercept to clamp down on the Snowden leaks before they could cause further damage to the U.S. government — or to his own business — another motivating factor could well have been a desire to surreptitiously continue his blockade against WikiLeaks, but by different and more easily concealed means.
Omidyar certainly isn’t the only PayPal linked billionaire involved in such efforts to undermine and discredit WikiLeaks. As Part II of this investigative series will show, Peter Thiel — a PayPal co-founder with close ties to the Trump administration — has also been involved in the creation of an “attack plan” that seeks to undermine WikiLeaks through a media disinformation campaign and by working to turn WikiLeaks’ former allies against it. Given the FPF’s recent decision and the attacks levied against WikiLeaks by Intercept writers, this plan seems to be well underway.
Correction: a previous version of this article stated that Pierre Omidyar is a co-founder of PayPal. While he did not found PayPal, he acquired it when eBay bought PayPal in 2002.