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Here’s why Wikileaks’ Julian Assange wants to take down Google

Wikileaks threatened to leak documents about the internet search giant yesterday morning.

UN Panel Rules That Wikileaks Founder Is Arbitrarily Detained Carl Court / Getty

Julian Assange is no Google fan. He doesn’t like Hillary Clinton much, either.

And early yesterday morning, the founder of Wikileaks was supposed to unleash a fresh batch of leaked (or stolen) documents intended to upend Hillary Clinton’s presidential prospects. Pro-Trump enthusiasts branded the announcement as a can’t-miss occasion that would change the tide of the neck-and-neck race.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, he plugged his book and promised that more documents will be released every week until Election Day, Nov. 7. The documents, Assange said Monday night, will expose damning evidence against a range of powerful entities and issues, like the military, the oil industry, the U.S. presidential race and Google.

Yes, Google.

Assange’s problem with Google traces back to Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google and current chairman of the board, and his ties to the State Department when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. The Wikileaks founder never liked Google, as a longtime advocate of a decentralized internet, and he’s also railed against digital surveillance for decades.

But Google became particularly suspect to Assange around 2009 when, according to Assange, the company seemed to be working more closely with the federal government. The purported intersection of the corporate internet superpower with the U.S. government represented the perfect storm for Assange, who wrote a book in 2014 titled “When Google Met Wikileaks,” detailing the company’s close ties with U.S. policymakers.

“Nobody wants to acknowledge that Google has grown big and bad,” Assange wrote. “But it has. Schmidt’s tenure as CEO saw Google integrate with the shadiest of U.S. power structures as it expanded into a geographically invasive megacorporation.”

Over the years, Assange has released diplomatic cables and emails that seem to link Google employees to operations in Afghanistan and Iran, including attempts by a State Department official (who later went to work for Google) to move Afghan phone companies to U.S. military bases, as well as meetings with Iranian leaders, purportedly with the support of the U.S. State Department.

But the leaked documents never really hurt Google, as the company has only continued to grow and become more profitable in the years since Assange published them.

Wikileaks surged into the public eye in 2010 after Chelsea Manning, the former U.S. solider now serving a prison sentence for leaking classified documents, used the website to blow the whistle on deadly human rights abuses during military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Assange has since used his public status to criticize U.S. foreign policy, especially since Clinton, when serving as Secretary of State, publicly denounced Wikileaks as an attack on U.S. foreign relations and criticized the website for laundering “stolen” documents.

And Assange, being a longtime internet activist, began tracking Google’s ties to the State Department, which came into focus after a former Clinton staffer named Jared Cohen left to work for Google in 2010.

Assange claims Schmidt has worked closely with Clinton’s campaign for years, and indeed, Alphabet’s executive chairman does back a startup that’s become a major provider of data analytics for the Clinton campaign. Schmidt now also chairs a new innovation board at the Pentagon intended to bring Silicon Valley’s expertise in leveraging new technologies into military projects.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Alphabet backs this startup.

While it certainly makes sense for the Pentagon to court the nation’s top technology talent, those concerned with the collaborative relationship between the government’s domestic mass surveillance operations and technology companies like Google may feel discomfort with the formalized relationship between Schmidt and the Pentagon. Although, to be clear, Schmidt hasn’t been involved in the everyday workings of Google since 2011.

Wikileaks brands itself as a radical transparency organization, even if more recently it seems to be operating like an opposition research firm against Hillary Clinton after releasing nearly 20,000 private emails in July that led to the resignation of several key figures within the Democratic National Committee.

Assange admitted that he released the documents ahead of the Democratic National Convention in an attempt to turn the American public against Clinton. But that hasn’t exactly worked.

The general lack of context around how Wikileaks operates, as well as the website’s habit of taking to Twitter with unhinged accusations against Clinton, often muddies the points Assange tries to make. So far, the data dumps have exposed questionable behavior by certain individuals associated with the Clinton campaign, but haven’t shown deep systemic culpability.

If Assange’s claims about Google’s collusion with Clinton and the U.S. government are proven true by newly released documents, that could mean a whole new line of inquiry.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified a Google executive operating in Afghanistan.

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