WikiLeaks has released over 20,000 emails, hacked from the servers of the Democratic National Committee. This comes a week before Hilary Clinton is expected to become the Democratic presidential candidate. The new database, which includes 19,252 emails with 8,034 attachments, was introduced in a tweet by WikiLeaks, using the hashtags #Hillary2016 and #feelthebern. Many of the emails are apparently from the DNC Communications Director Luis Miranda. The messages are from the period of January 2015 to May 2016. While they talk about a range of topics, many relate to the fundraising by the Democrats for the primaries. They include confirmation emails disclosing donations from party members, and also full names, addresses, and phone numbers, passport and social security numbers of the donors. A hacker known as Guccifer 2.0 claimed credit for procuring this information trove for Wikileaks. However, some remain skeptical about his involvement, citing differences between the data Wikileaks released and Guccifer 2.0’s previous leaks of hacked data.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) July 22, 2016
While this development may unnerve the DNC for a while, a look at the larger picture throws many questions at the motive, content, and effect of this leak.
Ugly truths exposed?
Most of the emails showed routine communication about campaign planning among senior DNC officials. However, some emails have renewed the long-running debate about whether the DNC, which is supposed to be neutral during a primary campaign, was tilted towards Hillary Clinton’s candidature. A significant scoop is that the DNC’s CFO, Brad Marshall, sent an email asking “for KY and WVA can we get someone to ask his belief. Does he believe in a God. He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage.” While the email mentions no name, the most obvious guess is Bernie Sanders. If the DNC actually implemented such a plan to expose Sanders as an atheist in order to discredit him with Christian voters it, would be a huge departure from the DNC’s conventional neutral role.
Given that Marshall has denied that Sanders was the target and that there is no evidence that the plan was actually carried out may let this bit of revelation pass without creating any disastrous ripples.
Another email revealed that Politico reporter Kenneth Vogel made an agreement to share a copy of a forthcoming story about Hillary Clinton’s fundraising with a DNC contact before publishing it. This kind of pre-publication story sharing is considered against ethics of neutral journalism, as it can give a source undue influence over the article’s contents.
However, these records of communications can at best create an air of suspicion around the neutrality of the DNC, and not prove anything concrete about it.
Breach of security?
What is in fact more crucial and disturbing is that the emails point to an apparent carelessness and mishandling of donors’ private information on part of the DNC. One email, for instance, contained an image with a picture of a $150,000 cheque. Emailing cheques like this is a threat to cyber security because the cheque payment network in the US allows anyone to withdraw money from someone else’s account with only the routing information printed on every check. Also included in the email dump were numerous donors’ names, contact information, credit card numbers, and social security numbers. A lot of these donors are wealthy, making them attractive targets for identity thieves.
There is a debate over whether this leak is the work of hackers associated with the Russian government, pointing to a possibility that a foreign government is trying to manipulate the US election. By some, this is being considered part of a broader scheme by Russia to get Donald Trump elected president. It is not unknown that Trump has been pro-Putin throughout the presidential campaign. As a matter of fact, his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who once advised Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Putin former leader of Ukraine, is considered to be the influence behind Trump ensuring that the Republican Party’s platform would not take a hard line against Russia’s activities in Ukraine. The latest leaks may serve as adding fuel to the fire that Trump always manages to ignite.