The 2016 election cycle in the United States has been dramatic. One unfolding story is about a leaked batch of emails and other documents that belong to prominent people in the Democratic Party. The whistleblower site WikiLeaks has been publishing these documents throughout the election season. Now, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is without an internet connection, courtesy of the government of Ecuador.
Assange has been living in asylum at Ecuador's embassy in London since 2012. A communique from the embassy says that Ecuador has a strict nonintervention policy when it comes to the internal affairs of other nations. The message also states that Ecuador isn't bowing to external pressures, implying that this decision wasn't made because someone from the United States requested it.
To understand how all this happened, you have to look back to 2010. That year, Assange traveled to Sweden to give a presentation at a conference. While in Sweden, two women brought forth allegations of sexual assault against Assange. He denied the charges. Police arrested him in London in December 2010.
Assange said that he believed Sweden's plan was to use the allegations as a pivot to extradite him to the United States. Since WikiLeaks had published sensitive documents that cast many government agencies and administrations in a negative light, he was worried he would be brought to trial or otherwise punished for his actions.
Assange turned to the Ecuador embassy in London for help, as he had become friends with Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa. The embassy granted Assange asylum in August 2012, and he has lived there ever since.
While living in the embassy, Assange has continued his work with WikiLeaks. During the 2016 election cycle, the organization turned its attention on Hillary Clinton's campaign. Assange has been critical of Clinton since she served as U.S. secretary of state. When WikiLeaks began to publish stolen documents from the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, people began to investigate who was responsible for the leak.
According to WikiLeaks' website, the organization doesn't steal from or infiltrate other organizations to get documents. It relies on whistleblowers and other sources for information. In the case of the Clinton files, many fingers pointed toward Russian hackers. Russia, meanwhile, denies it has had any involvement. But the denials haven't convinced everyone who suspects Russian agents are attempting to affect the U.S. presidential election.
That brings us to this week, when Ecuador shut down Assange's internet connection. It would be dangerous for any country to be implicated in tampering with the peaceful transition of power in another nation, particularly one as influential as the United States. Ecuador's actions could be seen as a protective measure to distance the country from any such charges.
Meanwhile, WikiLeaks continues to operate as normal. The organization's Twitter feed revealed the news about Assange's internet connection on Oct. 17 and claimed that “contingency plans” were in play. A string of cryptic tweets even suggested that a “dead man's switch” had activated. A dead man's switch is a simple mechanism that allows a course of actions to begin if no one issues the command to stop it. In this case, it could mean the release of batches of previously unpublished documents.
Beyond that, WikiLeaks is larger than just Assange — it involves a network of information technology specialists and journalists. While Julian Assange is a clear leader and spokesperson, WikiLeaks is less centralized than many other organizations. So while Assange's own involvement might be diminished, the leaks will likely continue.