Backchat Report: Was Russia behind the Clinton campaign email leak?

October 24th 2016


Photo: Flickr: americanprogressaction.

“Everyone has always kind of known Hillary Clinton and the broader Clinton machine is an incredibly large, well-funded and well-connected group of people with varying interests and incredibly close ties to American financial elites.”

On 7 October 2016, WikiLeaks started publishing thousands of secret emails from the private Gmail account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

The disclosures have shone a light onto the secretive workings of high-level political campaign discussions – but have also earned Wikileaks founder Julian Assange new friends on the political Right.

But what exactly do the Podesta emails say? And who leaked them? Backchat reporter Oscar Coleman delved into the archive, speaking to Dr Thomas Adams from the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.

According to Dr Adams, the leaks so far are not particularly scandalous for those who have been watching Hillary Clinton’s political career closely.

“In the WikiLeaks stuff so far, we have nothing that rises above incredibly strategic politics that might some people might find vaguely unethical.

“The fact that she didn’t release those Wall Street speeches was always clear evidence that there was something in there that was going to hurt her with Democratic primary voters, which is why [Bernie] Sanders was demanding them being released. The fact that there were things in there that will hurt her with voters should be perhaps not surprising.

“One of the things that everyone has always kind of known is that Hillary Clinton and the broader Clinton machine is an incredibly large, well-funded and well-connected group of people with varying interests and incredibly close ties to American financial elites. Now what that says about her politics is a whole different story. But nothing so far should be taken as that surprising I would think.”

But how exactly did WikiLeaks get their hands on Podesta’s emails and why?

A number of US journalists have claimed a distinct Russian connection to the hack, but Dr Adams says that we just can’t know for certain.

“On the one hand, Americans are guilty of an incredible exceptionalism. The United States has been engaged in messing with other country’s elections since the end of World War II, and the fact that another country is now actually getting caught trying to do the same thing relatively effectively – you know, many people around the world would argue this is just chickens coming home to roost.

“That being said, one can be against both things – one can find quite problematic America’s foreign policy in regards to these things, while also finding any country meddling in anyone’s election problematic. But beyond that, I mean who knows? I think there’s been all sorts of conclusions about how directly tied the Russian government is to this.”

The Clinton campaign has played up WikiLeaks’ connections to the Kremlin, portraying Trump’s use of the leaked emails as part of a grand Russian plot.

At the same time, Trump has claimed the mainstream media is avoiding discussion of the Podesta emails and is instead concocting his sexual assault controversies as a distraction.

WikiLeaks has pointed towards another conspiracy – the disconnection of Assange’s internet in the Ecuadorian Embassy – as evidence of a US decision to silence more leaks.

But is there a conspiracy at play here? Dr Adams sees the the intelligence community’s reaction as mostly unsurprising.

“Are our intelligence agencies around the world scared that WikiLeaks might be hurting them on this covert action, or that attempt to foment a coup, or this propping up of a dictator? Of course, right? So, it seems somewhat surprising that people would even find that strange.”

The cold cyberwar between Russia and the US is heating up, with Vice President Joe Biden laying the blame for the Podesta leaks at Russia’s feet – telling Meet The Press that the US is primed to launch a retaliatory cyber operation.

Whether they affect the outcome of the election or not, the Podesta releases are a sign of the increasing prevalence of leaks and cyberattacks targeting those in power.

It may only be a matter of time before something similar happens closer to home.


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Oscar is Backchat‘s digital producer.

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