WikiLeaks: The players and key moments

WikiLeaks first began releasing classified U.S. military and intelligence information believed to have come from U.S. soldier Bradley Manning in April 2010 and has continued to release new details ever since.

A look at the world's best-known whistleblowing organization

Wikileaks founder and front-man Julian Assange, who has been holed up in Ecuador's embassy in London since June 19, 2012, despite police demands that he surrender to them and be extradited to Sweden over sex crime allegations, was granted political asylum by the Ecuadorian government on Aug. 16, 2012. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press)

Major events

WikiLeaks is a non-profit global media organization, co-founded by Australian Julian Assange, that releases previously secret information directly to the public. Its founders say the site protects people who want to shine a light on government and corporate misconduct. It is not affiliated with the Wikipedia online encyclopedia.

The organization describes itself as providing "an innovative, secure and anonymous way for sources to leak information to our journalists (our electronic drop box). One of our most important activities is to publish original source material alongside our news stories so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth."

In December 2010, MasterCard, Visa, PayPal and Western Union stopped processing donations to WikiLeaks, starving the organization of cash. In 2010 the average total monthly donation to WikiLeaks was more than €100,000 euros ($140,000), and Assange has said that his group typically relies on small donations. With the financial embargo in place, he has also pursued a "constellation of wealthy individuals" to help keep his organization going.​

The organization has published information from a variety of sources, but one of its best-known sources is former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning (formerly known as Bradley Manning), who was sentenced to 35 years in a military prison for supplying classified information to WikiLeaks. The organization began releasing classified information believed to have come from Manning in April 2010, with the posting of a video showing U.S. soldiers gunning down civilians from a helicopter in 2007. Since then, the group has continued to release leaked military, intelligence and diplomatic information.

Its major "data dumps" include the Syria files made public July 5, 2012; the Guantanamo files, made public on April 25, 2011; the U.S. diplomatic cables in November 2010; the Iraq war logs in October 2010; and the Afghanistan war logs in July 2010.

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For the diplomatic cable dump, WikiLeaks worked closely with several media partners, including the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel, whose reporters combed the material for relevant information for months and prepped it for publication. But relations between Assange and the papers deteriorated over Assange's very specific demands regarding how and when the information would be released and which details would be redacted.

On April 25, 2011, the New York Times and the Guardian published extensive reports about the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, based on more than 700 military documents leaked to WikiLeaks. The documents give the most complete picture to date of the controversial prison and the people who have been and continue to be held there. They reveal that far from being dangerous terrorists, many of the inmates, including an 89-year-old Afghan villager and a 14-year-old kidnap victim, proved to be harmless and were at times brought to Guantanamo for the sole purpose of extracting intelligence from them.

In June 2013, WikiLeaks says it helped whistleblower Edward Snowden travel to Russia to seek asylum from U.S. authorities.

WikiLeaks continues to release information, such as the June 19, 2014, leak of secret draft text for the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) Financial Services Annex, which covers 50 countries and nearly 70 per cent of world trade. According to Wikileaks, "The US and the EU are the main proponents of the agreement, and the authors of most joint changes, which also covers cross-border data flow. In a significant anti-transparency manoeuvre by the parties, the draft has been classified to keep it secret not just during the negotiations but for five years after the TISA enters into force."

Key players

Julian Assange

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (right) and Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino speak during a press conference inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on Aug. 18, 2014, where he confirmed he "will be leaving the embassy soon." Assange fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012 to escape extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted over allegations of sex crimes. (John Stillwell/The Associated Press)

Wikileaks founder and front-man Julian Assange has been holed up in Ecuador's embassy in London since June 19, 2012, despite police demands that he surrender to them and be extradited to Sweden over sex crime allegations. He was granted political asylum by the Ecuadorian government on Aug. 16, 2012.

British officials say that he is beyond their reach while in the embassy, but Foreign Secretary William Hague said Aug. 16, 2012, that Assange will not be allowed out of the the country. The Foreign Office added that it was committed to a negotiated solution that would let it "carry out our obligations under the Extradition Act," and threatened to use a 1987 law to lift the embassy's diplomatic status. The Swedish government also summoned Ecuador's ambassador in the wake of the decision.

Assange is living in an apartment inside the Ecuadorian embassy, and continues to receive visitors. He announced on Aug. 18, 2014, that he planned to leave the building "soon," but Britain signalled it would still arrest him if he tried. Assange made the surprise assertion during a news conference alongside Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino. But his spokesman played down the chances of an imminent departure, saying the British government would first need to revise its position and let him leave without arrest, something it has repeatedly refused to do.

"I am leaving the embassy soon ... but perhaps not for the reasons that Murdoch press and Sky news are saying at the moment," Assange told reporters at the embassy in central London during the press conference. Britain's Sky News, part owned by Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox, had earlier reported that Assange was considering leaving the embassy due to deteriorating health.

On July 2, 2012, the chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Dianne Feinstein, made fresh calls for Assange to be prosecuted for espionage. The U.S. Justice Department also confirmed it is conducting a criminal investigation into the WikiLeaks case.

While he remains a residents of Ecuador's embassy in London to avoid extradition to Sweden, Assange is active on the world stage. WikiLeaks announced April 16, 2013, that it had become a registered political party in Australia and Assange would be a Victoria state senate candidate in the country's federal elections in September. His campaign bid was unsuccessful, with his party securing less than one per cent of the vote.

On June 1, 2013, Assange published a column in The New York Times about The New Digital Age, a book by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen that analyzes the role of technology in transforming global culture, where he criticized Google for becoming a tool of U.S. foreign policy.

In October 2013, Assange published a letter he had sent to actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who portrayed him in the Hollywood film The Fifth Estate, based on his WikiLeaks organization. Assange, who had originally sent the letter before filming began, discouraged Cumberbatch from taking the role, saying that the project would be a work of “debased truth.” The film was released in October to mixed reviews and was considered a box office flop in the U.S.

On May 30, 2012, weeks before Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy, Britain's Supreme Court endorsed Assange's extradition to Sweden over allegations that he sexually assaulted two WikiLeaks volunteers in Stockholm in 2010.

The 42-year-old has denied wrongdoing, and insists the case is politically motivated by those opposed to the work of his secret-spilling organization. In his memoir, Julian Assange: The Unauthorized Autobiography, he says he did not sexually assault two women who have accused him of rape, and claims he was warned the U.S. government was trying to entrap him. The book, written by a ghostwriter who conducted 50 hours of interviews with the WikiLeaks chief, was released in September 2011 against Assange's wishes.

Assange asked Britain's Supreme Court on June 8, 2012, to reopen his extradition case, an unusual legal manoeuvre aimed at blocking his removal to Sweden, but the court announced its refusal on June 15. He has also  lost an earlier appeal on Nov. 2, 2011, against extradition to answer for the sex crime allegations.

Bradley Manning (now known as “Chelsea Manning”)

Bradley Manning (centre) is serving a 35-year sentence at at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, a men's military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., after being found guilty in July 2013 of 20 crimes, including six violations of the Espionage Act, as part of the Obama administration's unprecedented crackdown on media leaks.

U.S. Army Pte. 1st Class Bradley Manning, now known as Chelsea Manning after announcing in Aug. 2013 she wants to live as a woman, is the American soldier convicted of turning over a slew of classified U.S. documents to WikiLeaks.

She is currently serving a 35-year sentence at  at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, a men's military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., after being found guilty in July 2013 of 20 crimes, including six violations of the Espionage Act, as part of the Obama administration's unprecedented crackdown on media leaks.

Manning, a 25-year-old former intelligence analyst from Oklahoma, was arrested in Iraq in 2010 after she digitally copied and released more than 700,000 documents, including Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports and U.S. State Department cables.

She had admitted to sending troves of material to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks and pleaded guilty to charges that would have sent her to prison for up to 20 years. The U.S. military and the Obama administration weren't satisfied, though, and pursued a charge of aiding the enemy, which carries a potential life sentence. Manning, who chose to have her court-martial heard by a judge instead of a jury and decided not to enter a plea, was ultimately acquitted of that charge.

After the sentencing, Manning handed a statement to his lawyer, in which she explained that she had chosen to leak confidential information out of love for her country and concern for the world. "We had forgotten our humanity," wrote Manning.

Protesters march past a 'Restricted Area' sign at Fort Meade, Md., in a 2012 rally calling for the release of U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

​"Whenever we killed innocent civilians instead of accepting responsibility for our conduct we elected to hide behind the veil of national security."

On Aug. 22, 2013, a day after her sentence was handed down, Manning announced in a statement that she wanted to live as a woman and asked people to refer to her as “Chelsea.”

"As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female," Manning said in a statement. She added that she wanted to begin hormone replacement therapy, used by many transgender people to alter their gender characteristics, as soon as possible.

Officials at the all-male military prison where Manning is being held have said that they don’t offer hormone-therapy treatments. In Nov. 2013, Manning said that she would go to court if necessary to receive the therapy.

In Sept. 2013, Manning and her lawyer David Coombs filed documents with the U.S. Justice Department and the Department of the Army seeking a presidential pardon. Coombs argued  the leaked information did not merit protection.​

Assange's court case

Assange,an Australian citizen, was arrested in Britain on Dec. 7, 2010, on a warrant issued by Swedish authorities in connection with accusations that he had unwanted, unprotected sex with two female WikiLeaks volunteers during a trip to Stockholm in August 2010.

A U.K. judge ruled on Feb. 24, 2011, that Assange could be extradited to Sweden to face the allegations. Assange lost his first appeal ruling on Nov. 2, 2011, when judges John Thomas and Duncan Ousely said he should be sent to Sweden to be questioned over the allegations.

In mid-December, 2011, Britain’s Supreme Court agreed to hear Assange’s appeal. On May 30, 2012, it endorsed the extradition of the WikiLeaks chief to Sweden, bringing the secret-spilling internet activist a big step closer to prosecution in a Scandinavian court. But a question mark hung over the decision after Assange's lawyer made the highly unusual suggestion that she would try to reopen the case, raising the prospect of more legal wrangling.

He took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London on June 19, 2012. Ecuador granted him political asylum on Aug. 16, 2012, where he has lived ever since.

Assange has denied wrongdoing, and insists the case is politically motivated by those opposed to the work of his secret-spilling organization.

Canadian connections

On Nov. 28, 2010, WikiLeaks and its media partners began releasing some of the more than 250,000 classified diplomatic cables obtained by the group. The cables, sent from 274 U.S. embassies around the world, reveal frank and sometimes unflattering assessments of several world leaders and allies, including Canada. Cables have continued to be published, with the latest batch released on April 28, 2011.

Many of the leaked diplomatic cables have referenced Canada, including one sent by the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa to the U.S. government in 2008. It  reported former CSIS director Jim Judd saying Canadians and their courts had an "Alice in Wonderland" world view.

Other Canadian references in the cables include:

  • Cables released on April 28, 2011, reveal that the U.S. had kept an eye on Canada's debate about the prorogation of Parliament in 2008 and that it was frustrated with the delay in implementing copyright legislation. They also quoted the U.S. ambassador to Canada as criticizing the Conservatives' tough-on-crime agenda as lacking substance. A leaked cable from December 2008 suggests that U.S. Embassy officials in Ottawa saw Stephen Harper's appointment of senators as "a major about-face for a PM and a party that long campaigned for an elected upper chamber. The cost of the eighteen new senators also conflicts with political messaging about the need for official belt tightening."
  • A leaked diplomatic note reported on in February 2011 said Libya threatened to nationalize Petro-Canada's operations. It also said Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi cancelled a late September 2009 stopover in Newfoundland because he was reportedly angry with Canada's disapproval of the hero's welcome shown to a man convicted in the Lockerbie bombing.  
  • U.S. diplomats in Ottawa writing to Washington that the CBC pushes "insidious negative popular stereotyping " with "anti-American melodrama" in its entertainment TV programs.
  • An American diplomat saying that a French government official indicated that Prime Minister Stephen Harper was invited to the D-Day commemoration in France last year because his government was facing political instability.

Canada was also referenced in the Guantanamo files released in April 2011. Those documents mentioned a mosque in Montreal as one of nine houses of prayer or Islamic institutes worldwide considered by the U.S. military to be places where "known al-Qaeda members were recruited, facilitated or trained."

Other notable WikiLeaks material:

Syria files

Released beginning July 5, 2012, this package of information includes "more than two million emails from Syrian political figures, ministries and associated companies, dating from August 2006 to March 2012," according to WikiLeaks.

Guantanamo Files

 The Guantanamo files, made public on April 25, 2011, include 779 secret files on the Guantanamo Bay camp. Most of the documents are prisoner assessments.

U.S. Diplomatic cables

The U.S. diplomatic cables were released beginning in November 2010. The roughly 250,000 documents cover a six-year period that ended in early 2010.

 Iraq war logs

These contain close to 400,000 classified military documents related to the U.S.-led war in Iraq between 2004 and 2009. They were first made public on Oct. 22, 2010, and provided new insight into civilian deaths, the use of private contractors, treatment of prisoners and Iran's role in the conflict.

Afghanistan war logs

On July 25, 2010, WikiLeaks published the Afghanistan war logs,  about 77,000 secret U.S. military and intelligence documents covering six years of the war in Afghanistan. At the time, it was the largest leak of U.S. military information since the Pentagon Papers in 1971, although it would be surpassed by the release of the Iraq war logs a few months later. The war logs revealed new details about the war, including the close relationship of the Pakistani military with Afghan insurgents. They also indicated that Canada reconsidered its Afghan combat end date.

  • April 5, 2010: WikiLeaks releases classified U.S. military video from a series of attacks on July 12, 2007, in Baghdad by a U.S. helicopter. Twelve civilians were killed, including two Reuters news staff.
  • Nov. 7, 2007: A copy of standard operating procedures for Camp Delta — the  U.S. Army detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — dated March 2003 reveals some of the restrictions placed over detainees at the camp, including the designation of some prisoners as off-limits to the International Committee of the Red Cross, something that the U.S. military had previously denied.

With files from The Associated Press, The Canadian Press