Sarah Harrison

Journalist and legal researcher
Sarah Harrison


If you had to name the two most significant figures in the global surveillance and online privacy debates, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden would probably be the two you went for. But if you had to name the person that links them, there’s only one answer: Sarah Harrison.
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Harrison isn’t a high profile figure. She hasn’t been the focus of documentary films. She isn’t exiled in a foreign embassy. But behind the scenes at WikiLeaks, this British investigative journalist and legal researcher has been instrumental in revealing secret spying, and protecting the sources of those secrets.

So who is she? Here’s our biography of Sarah Harrison.

Comfortable beginnings

What we know about Sarah Harrison’s comfortable childhood in south-east England holds few clues to her career as a rights activist. Harrison attended the private Sevenoaks School in Kent, and later completed an International Baccalaureate educational program. Her father, Ian, was a fashion retail executive and her mother, Jennifer, was an educator who helped special needs kids learn to read.

After a gap year traveling and skiing, Harrison began studying for an English degree at Queen Mary University of London. It was while studying in London that Harrison’s future path would be set.

Chance assignment to WikiLeaks

By 2009, Harrison had decided to pursue a career in journalism. She joined the internship program at the Centre for Investigative Journalism at City University, London. A year later, she became a junior researcher at the same school’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

During her internship, Harrison was by chance assigned to work with . She met Assange at a crucial time , just before WikiLeaks published a cache of secret documents on the Afghanistan War in July 2010. The documents revealed hundreds of civilian deaths and other failures by US and allied forces. WikiLeaks’ ability to publish suppressed documents and protect its sources instantly gave the organization a high profile in the world of journalism.

Sarah Harrison’s WikiLeaks career

Harrison’s performance as an intern supporting Assange and WikiLeaks must have been impressive. In 2013, Harrison worked as a legal researcher with the WikiLeaks Legal Defense team. She was promoted to section editor, and in 2016 held the title of Investigations Editor . At WikiLeaks, Harrison has worked on “important investigative projects that have uncovered serious human rights violations and aspects of the global surveillance industry.

Harrison has continued to work directly with Julian Assange. She’s been described as one of Assange’s closest advisors, having been “closely involved in the publication of the embassy cables and with Assange's personal legal battles to avoid extradition to Sweden.”

Helping Snowden and other whistleblowers

So when Assange offered to help find safe refuge after the NSA surveillance revelations in June 2013, it was Harrison who did the work.

Harrison spent four months with Snowden. She helped him leave Hong Kong, where he shared the NSA files with and other journalists. Harrison stayed with Snowden during his 39-day stay in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport . And then helped him secure his asylum in Russia.

“When whistleblowers come forward we need to fight for them, so others will be encouraged,” said Harrison in a WikiLeaks statement . “Giving us the truth is not a crime. This is our data, our information, our history. We must fight to own it.”

Winning the Willy Brandt Prize for political courage

Recognition for Harrison’s activism came in September 2015, when major German political party SPD awarded her the International Willy Brandt Prize for ‘special political courage.’

The SPD said Harrison “exemplifies the pursuit of transparency and its use against escalating surveillance” and “showed great political courage.”

Exile in Berlin

After all her work to protect surveillance whistleblowers and reveal government secrets, Harrison says “I’m obviously a person of interest” to the US and UK governments. She doesn’t carry a mobile phone, for fear of being tracked. Her age isn’t even publicly known.

So, like and , Harrison has also moved to Berlin, Germany. She has said she doesn’t feel safe in her home country :
“Free speech and freedom of the press are under attack in the UK. I cannot return to England, my country… If I were to say that I hoped my work at WikiLeaks would change government behaviour, this journalistic work could be considered a crime under the UK Terrorism Act of 2000.”

Behind the scenes hero

It’s hard to say where Sarah Harrison’s courage comes from. She seems to have had a normal, even privileged childhood. And when she was first assigned to WikiLeaks, she had probably never been directly victimized by government surveillance.

Yet since that chance meeting with Julian Assange, Harrison has put her own safety and freedom on the line. She has protected whistleblowers and increased our knowledge of government surveillance and spying. Without Sarah Harrison, the fates of Assange and Edward Snowden could have been much worse. So, for her fearless commitment to truth and freedom, we thank her.

Featured image: “Sarah Harrison 2” by Sunshine Press Productions is licensed under CC-BY-3.0.