Call it the Wikileaking of Wikileaks.
On Sunday, over 11,000 of Wikileaks’ Twitter direct messages were published by Emma Best, a freedom of information activist. The messages, some of which contained names that were redacted, represent the largest leak of internal communications Wikileaks has ever experienced.
The release shouldn’t have been totally unexpected, however. Over the past year, a series of Wikileaks’ direct messages have been published by other outlets, including The Intercept, which reported that the messages were written by Wikileaks head Julian Assange. As The Intercept wrote, that earlier batch of messages “reveal[ed] a running theme of sexism and misogyny, contain hints of anti-Semitism, and underline Assange’s well-documented obsession with his public image.”
In the most damning moments, those messages leaked first also showed Assange describing Hillary Clinton as a “sadistic sociopath,” and explaining why “it would be much better for [the] GOP to win” the 2016 election. (These messages came concurrent to Wikileaks publicizing a series of emails Russia stole from Clinton’s campaign.)
The new messages, however, are much broader in scope. They contain messages from several others and date from May 2015 to November 2017. And they help shine that much more light on the conspiratorial hole into which Assange has sunk.
Wikileaks has a documented history of conspiracy mongering; its Twitter feed regularly pushes conspiracy theories for public consumption, such as the claim that Russia-supplied militants in Ukraine weren’t actually responsible for the destruction of Flight MH17 in 2014.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) July 23, 2014
The Twitter messages detail new conspiracy theories that Assange has peddled, as well. For instance, in a series of messages from June 2015, Assange informs the rest of the group the Peace Corps is, in reality, a group that is “used as cover for [the] CIA”. (Full disclosure: This reporter is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Kazakhstan.)
Elsewhere, Assange describes the Peace Corps as little more than a tool for the U.S. State Department “to calm irate populations.”
All told, to Assange, Peace Corps “was a brilliant, if evil idea” — and an organization that “is perfectly nasty at its core.”
Peace Corps volunteers, of course, aren’t actually used by the State Department to “calm irate populations.” Nor, as Assange appears unaware, is the Peace Corps a “cover” for agencies like the CIA.
Indeed, since its inception during the John F. Kennedy administration, Peace Corps has gone out of its way to maintain distance from the CIA. For decades, the Peace Corps has maintained a ban on hiring any current or former CIA agents; as the Peace Corps’ application explainer notes, “The only automatic disqualification is any previous employment with the [CIA]. Individuals with previous employment history at the CIA, including contractors and interns, are indefinitely disqualified from Peace Corps Volunteer service.” As Time Magazine added a few years ago, “the Peace Corps has never been identified as one of [the CIA’s] covers.”
But as seen with Assange, that hasn’t stopped conspiracy theories from developing over the past few decades pertaining to Peace Corps and the CIA. Russia, for instance, accused Peace Corps volunteers of espionage when Moscow evicted them in 2002. Then-FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev specifically pointed to volunteers allegedly “collecting information on the social, political and economic situation in Russian regions, on officials of governmental bodies and departments” as the reason behind the eviction. Patrushev would later blame Peace Corps, in part, for Ukraine’s 2014 EuroMaidan revolution, which overthrew the country’s thuggish, pro-Russia president.
For good measure, allegations of espionage near the Russian-Kazakhstani border were one of the reasons the Kazakhstani government ended its relationship with Peace Corps in 2011.
Even back in the 1970s, as Cambridge historian Christopher Andrew relates, the KGB specifically targeted Peace Corps volunteers. As Andrew wrote in The World was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World, “KGB co-operation with [Peru’s National Intelligence Service] against U.S. targets led to the expulsion of a series of CIA officers and the curtailment of Peace Corps activities.” The KGB later claimed credit “for organizing a series of protest demonstrations” against the arrival of Peace Corps volunteers in Bangladesh.
The lifetime ban of CIA agents, either current or former, from serving in the Peace Corps stems from a simple reason: volunteer safety. (It also helps that the volunteers, many of whom are recent college graduates who don’t speak the local languages upon arrival, would make terrible intelligence assets.) Many of the volunteers are placed in far-flung villages, hours or days from the nearest American consulate or embassy. Any credible allegations of espionage would place them in likely, and immediate, harm.
As it is, the revelations about Assange’s latest conspiracy comes only a few days after the CIA’s archivist published new documents showing just how frustrated the CIA was about the lifetime ban. As MuckRock published, the documents include letters from CIA Director William Casey to Peace Corps Director Loret Ruppe.
Writing in 1983, Casey said that he “continue[s] to disagree with [the ban] because I don’t believe a lifetime bar is necessary and I believe that such a bar does a terrible disservice to the honorable men and women” of the CIA. Casey said he was concerned the policy would “stigmatiz[e] CIA employees.”
Ruppe, though, was unsympathetic to Casey’s complaints, writing that the “lifetime bar to Peace Corps service by former CIA employees is of critical importance to the Peace Corps and must be maintained.” As she continued,
Our ability to survive numerous attempts to impair the credibility of Peace Corps Volunteers by attempting to identify them as CIA agents has been greatly enhanced by the inability of person[s] or groups making such allegations to provide a shred of substantiation for their charges. I am afraid that the presence of a former CIA employee in the Peace Corps, no matter what the individual’s association with the Agency might have been, would provide the linkage necessary to lend credibility to such accusations…
Without the rule, I fear that those who seek to destroy our program will be provided with the means to do so.
Ruppe also pointed to an example of Colombian guerrillas who kidnapped a Peace Corps volunteer, threatening to “try him as a CIA agent and execute him if it ‘found him guilty.’” Thankfully, the Peace Corps’ reputation in the country — and distance from the CIA — meant “that no attempt was ever made to carry out the threat.”
As Ruppe concluded about the ban, which remains in place, “I am therefore very strongly committed to the retention of this rule.”