If the personal, country-hopping saga of Edward Snowden is the sideshow to his NSA revelations and the ensuing privacy debate, then the reemergence of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks as newsworthy topics is the sideshow to the sideshow. Which isn’t to say the group hasn’t made an impact on the story: While Assange’s initial attempts to align himself with Snowden reeked of publicity-fiending desperation, the organization did reportedly assist the NSA leaker with his trip from Hong Kong to Moscow and is working with Assange’s friends in Ecuador in hopes of earning Snowden asylum there. And they’re making sure everyone knows it.
After nearly a year in the background, online interest in WikiLeaks is back up this month, as shown in this Google Trends graph:
The New York Times has acted accordingly, with front-page stories on WikiLeaks two days in a row proclaiming “Offering Snowden Aid, WikiLeaks Gets Back in the Game” and “Assange, Back in News, Never Left U.S. Radar.”
Today’s take explains the absence: WikiLeaks hasn’t disclosed a significant story since 2010; Assange, “a forgotten man,” is in limbo at the Ecuadorian embassy in London; and its infrastructure and bank accounts have crumbled. There’s also the U.S. investigations to worry about: The Times reports that Assange and his group “are being investigated by several government agencies, along with a grand jury that has subpoenaed witnesses,” and the Justice Department confirmed “an investigation into matters involving WikiLeaks, and that investigation remains ongoing.”
But a comeback is occurring nonetheless, if more as an international network than a rogue publisher. “As an act of international, quasi-diplomatic intrigue, it’s impressive,” one expert in government secrecy told the Times. “It’s an extraordinary turn of events.” WikiLeaks, always game to play with the mainstream press, knows how to stoke the flame. In multiple conference calls with reporters since the Snowden story started, the group has teased its expanded involvement moving forward, including possibly publishing more of Snowden’s leaks, but skirted most specifics.
“WikiLeaks has successfully inserted themselves into the story by doing what seems to be an impressive job of lending support to Snowden’s ability to get out of Hong Kong,” Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, who published the initial NSA leaks, told BuzzFeed. “The kind of publication that WikiLeaks has done in the past is not as I understand it what Snowden wants for the documents. He could have gone to WikiLeaks in the first place if he’d wanted that.” But now that Snowden is in the fold, anything can happen. And even if nothing more comes of it, eyes are at least on Assange again.