‘No credibility, used by German spies’: WikiLeaks lambasts Focus’ claim it ‘works for Russia’

© Toru Hanai
WikiLeaks accused the German Focus weekly of “being used by German intelligence” to spread misinformation after it published an article claiming the whistleblowing group works for Russian intelligence.

“The report has no credibility,” WikiLeaks said in a statement, referring to an article published by Focus which claimed the organization is waging “misinformation and press campaigns in Western countries” on the Kremlin’s order to increase its authority in the West.

“If the Focus story exposes anything it is that the magazine is still being used to launch intelligence misinformation campaigns,” WikiLeaks said, adding that it already exposed the outlet’s links to the German intelligence service, the BND, in 2008.

WikiLeaks then lashed out at Focus for making a “false claim” without providing any evidence “in a vulgar attempt to whitewash the Kunduz massacre and the illegal behavior of the BND.” It also drew attention to the fact that Focus had already made similar claims about the former NSA contractor, whistleblower Edward Snowden, whom the magazine labeled a “Russian agent.”

WikiLeaks also challenged the claims made by Focus by asking them to submit “a report that it thinks backs up its story” to the whistleblowing group “and see if it holds up to the same public scrutiny.” It also drew attention to the fact that when it “exposed Focus [it] published the full investigative report by judge Schaefer, which documented dates and times of … 58 meetings [between Focus representatives] and the BND.”

The statement was published hours after Focus posted an article it claims was “based on a top secret government report,” in which it claimed that WikiLeaks was infiltrated by Russian intelligence agents years ago. The magazine also claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev are informed “in detail” about every forthcoming WikiLeaks publication in advance.

Focus went on to claim that it was Russian intelligence that obtained secret German military papers concerning the September 2009 Kunduz airstrike conducted by the US Air Force and called in by the Germans. Up to 179 people, including more than 100 civilians, died in that strike instead of the Taliban militants that were thought to be targeted. The claim is that the Russians then sent the papers to WikiLeaks, which leaked them and “put the Bundeswehr [German Armed Forces] and the entire NATO in the pillory.” In saying so, Focus cited “an unnamed government official.”

The media outlet went as far as claiming it was Russian intelligence and not the US National Security Agency (NSA) that spied on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone conversations. The Russian intelligence “changed the relevant protocols [of the audio surveillance recordings] to make them look like the US ones and sent them to the WikiLeaks as an anonymous sender,” Focus reported, adding that some unidentified “German, British and French services” came to a conclusion that “Kremlin’s intelligence wiretapped” Merkel’s phone.

The article published by Focus comes amid a torrent of allegations by US officials and presidential election candidates that Russia is responsible for major attacks in cyberspace and elsewhere. On September 21, the head of the US intelligence service, James Clapper, claimed that Russia is behind the recent hack that saw Democratic National Committee (DNC) records dumped online. Clapper added that Russia and its predecessor the USSR had been using similar tactics, targeting the US since the 1960s.

In the meantime, the FBI is stepping up its efforts to find evidence that would allow the Justice Department to launch a criminal case against alleged Russian hackers for trying to interfere in the election campaign.

On September 1, the New York Times published an article claiming that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange may have benefited Moscow, while there was no proof he had ties with Russian intelligence. The text even contained a rhetorical question asking if the whistleblowing site was a “laundering machine for compromising material gathered by Russian spies.”

WikiLeaks blasted the New York Times for publishing this story by calling it “conspiracy” and “not journalism.”

The alleged Russia-affiliated hackers have also been accused in US media of breaking into several US think tanks’ servers on August 30, and accessing Arizona and Illinois election databases.

Russian officials have repeatedly denied involvement in the hacks, particularly those of the DNC servers, calling them “so absurd it borders on total stupidity,” in the words of the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Putin also called the allegations false and suggested that blaming Russia is an electioneering trick which steers the US public away from the facts exposed by the leaked material.