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WikiLeaks Disclosures Affected U.S. Diplomacy And National Security


So Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, is in British custody and facing charges in the United States. And we're going to look this morning at the timeline that brought us here and also at some of the impact Assange has had on U.S. diplomacy and national security. I want to begin with NPR national security correspondent David Welna. Good morning, David.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So look back for me. When did the U.S. government actually begin to take notice of WikiLeaks?

WELNA: Well, I'm sure it noticed WikiLeaks 12 years ago, when WikiLeaks posted a U.S. Army manual of standard operating procedures for soldiers who were guarding hundreds of al-Qaida suspects in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But it was 2010 when WikiLeaks really got a lot of attention. That's when it posted a leaked U.S. military video that was shot from an Apache helicopter gunship, and it showed an air attack on more than a dozen people on the ground in Iraq who were clearly not fighting back. And among those killed were two men who worked for the Reuters News Agency.

And that same year, the military court-martialed an Army private - known then as Bradley Manning, who is now known as Chelsea Manning - who was charged with downloading to a personal computer that video and hundreds of thousands more military and diplomatic documents.

GREENE: Well, wasn't that also around the same time that Assange himself was accused of sexual assault and rape in Sweden? And did those accusations slow down the operations at WikiLeaks at all?

WELNA: Yeah, Assange was questioned by police in Stockholm about these sexual assault allegations, which he denied. But that's when the somewhat shining image of Assange in the eyes of some really started to tarnish. And yet, while all that was unfolding, WikiLeaks continued posting hundreds of thousands of previously secret military documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

GREENE: And then, of course, we come to 2016 and WikiLeaks, you know, being part of the story of the 2016 presidential election.

WELNA: Right. It was, and WikiLeaks posted some 20,000 emails from leaders of the Democratic National Committee in July of 2016, right around the time of the conventions. And that was a development that Donald Trump, who was then the Republican presidential nominee, cheered.


DONALD TRUMP: WikiLeaks - I love WikiLeaks.

WELNA: And Assange, shortly after that, denied to you, on our air, that Russia was the source of those leaked emails. And then WikiLeaks, a few months later, dumped more documents right before the election from Hillary Clinton's campaign manager. And that's something that she thinks may have contributed to her loss to Trump.

GREENE: All right, a reminder of the timeline here and WikiLeaks and some of the impact. That's NPR national security correspondent David Welna.

David, thank you so much.

WELNA: You're quite welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.