Thursday, August 29, 2019

Assange Is A Spy Not A Journalist: The Case Against WikiLeaks Founder Juilan Assange

Counterterrorism magazine published my piece on the case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

You can read the piece via the magazine piece above and below or the text below:

The Case Against WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange

By Paul Davis 

Many journalists have decried the 18-count indictment against 47-year-old Julian P. Assange, claiming the WikiLeaks founder and operator is a journalist and therefore exempt from prosecution for publishing classified information provided to him from a government whistleblower.

Ben Wizner, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), stated that prosecuting Assange would be unprecedented and unconstitutional. He said the prosecution would open the door to criminal investigations of other news organizations.

But not all journalists agree. Marc Thiessen, a conservative columnist for the Washington Post, states clearly that he believes that Assange is certainly not a journalist – he’s a spy.

“Some are concerned that the newest Assange indictment will help set a precedent to go after investigative journalist who publish classified information,” Thiessen wrote. “But as I wrote in 2010, unlike reputable news organizations, Assange did not give the U.S. government an opportunity to review the classified information WikiLeaks was planning to release so they could raise national security objections. So responsible journalists have nothing to fear.”

“Regardless,” Thiessen writes, “Assange is not a journalist. He is a spy. The fact that he gave stolen U.S. intelligence to al-Qaida, the Taliban, China, Iran and other adversaries via a website rather than dead-drops is irrelevant. He engaged in espionage against the United States. And he has no remorse for the harm he has caused. He once called the innocent people hurt by his disclosures “collateral damage” and admitted WikiLeaks might get “blood on our hands.” Thiessen wrote in his column.

WikiLeaks, founded in 2006 by Assange, describes itself as a multi-national media organization and associated library. WikiLeaks states on its’ website that they specialize in the analysis and publication of large datasets of censored or otherwise restricted official materials involving war, spying and corruption. WikiLeaks claims to have published more than 10 million documents and associated analyses.

“WikiLeaks is a giant library of the world’s most persecuted documents. We give asylum to these documents, we analyze them, we promote them, and we obtain more,” Julian Assange said in an interview with a German magazine.

WikiLeaks claims to have contractual relationships and secure communications paths to more than 100 major media organizations from around the world, which they say gives them sources, negotiating power, impact and technical protections that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to achieve.

According to the WikiLeaks website, the organization is entirely funded by its publisher, its publication sales and the general public. On April 11th, Assange was arrested in the United Kingdom in connection with a U.S. federal charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for agreeing to break a password to a classified U.S. government computer.

Assange, an Australian citizen, was dragged forcefully by London’s Metropolitan police officers from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He entered the embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations, which he has denied. Ecuador Foreign Minister Jose Valencia said Ecuador revoked his political asylum due to countless acts of interference in the internal politics of other countries, personal attacks on embassy personnel, visitors, and diplomatic officials from other countries, as well as making threats against the government of Ecuador. Also, Ecuador was concerned about Assange’s deteriorating mental and physical health, his lack of personal hygiene, and his refusal to obey embassy rules. Ecuador invited the police inside their embassy to remove Assange.

Afterwards, Assange was found guilty in a British court of failing to surrender to the court. He could spend 12 months in a British prison for the offense. According to the U.S. Justice Department, the charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion relates to Assange’s alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.

The indictment alleges that in March of 2010, Assange engaged in a conspiracy with U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning, an intelligence analyst later known as Chelsea Manning. According to the indictment, Assange assisted Manning in cracking a password stored on U.S. Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network (SIPRNet), a U.S. government network used for classified documents and communications. “Manning had access to the computers in connection with the private’s duties as an intelligence analyst and was using the computers to download classified records to transmit to WikiLeaks. Cracking the password would have allowed Manning to log on to the computers under a username that did not belong to the private,” the indictment states. “During the conspiracy, Manning and Assange engaged in real-time discussions regarding Manning’s transmission of classified records to Assange. The discussions also reflect Assange actively encouraging Manning to provide more information.

During an exchange, Manning told Assange that “after this upload, that’s all I really have got left.” To which Assange replied, “curious eyes never run dry in my experience.” On May 23rd, the U.S. Justice Department announced that a federal grand jury returned an 18-count superseding indictment charging Assange with offenses that relate to Assange’s alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States.

According to the Justice Department, the superseding indictment alleges that Assange was complicit with Manning in unlawfully obtaining and disclosing classified documents related to the national defense. The indictment alleges that Assange aided and abetted the U.S. Army private in obtaining classified information that was to be used to injure the United States or to advantage a foreign nation.

“After agreeing to receive classified documents from Manning and aiding, abetting, and causing Manning to provide classified documents, Assange then published on WikiLeaks classified documents that contained the unredacted names of human sources who provided information to United States forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to U.S. State Department diplomats around the world,” the indictment states. “These human sources included local Afghans and Iraqis, journalists, religious leaders, human rights advocates,

Demers went on to state that the alleged actions disclosed U.S. sensitive, classified information in a manner that made it available to every terrorist group, hostile foreign intelligence service and opposing military. He also noted that documents relating to these disclosures were even found in the Usama bin Laden compound.

This release, Demers said, made our adversaries stronger and more knowledgeable and the United States less secure. 14 and political dissidents from repressive regimes. Assange’s actions risked serious harm to United States national security to the benefit of our adversaries and put the unredacted named human sources at a grave and imminent risk of serious physical harm and/ or arbitrary detention.”

According to the Justice Department, the superseding indictment alleges that beginning in late 2009, Assange and WikiLeaks actively solicited United States classified information, including by publishing a list of “Most Wanted Leaks” that sought, among other things, classified documents.

“Manning responded to Assange’s solicitations by using access granted to the private as an intelligence analyst to search for United States classified documents and provided to Assange and WikiLeaks databases containing approximately 90,000 Afghanistan war-related significant activity reports, 400,000 Iraq war related significant activities reports, 800 Guantanamo Bay detainee assessment briefs, and 250,000 U.S. Department of State cables,” the superseding indictment states. “Many of these documents were classified at the Secret level, meaning that their unauthorized disclosure could cause serious damage to United States national security. Manning also provided rules of engagement files for the Iraq war, most of which were also classified at the Secret level and which delineated the circumstances and limitations under which United States forces would initiate or conduct combat engagement with other forces.”

Assange is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but if convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison on each count except for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, for which he faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

At the May 23rd announcement, Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said he wanted to thank U.S. Attorney Zach Terwilliger as well as the FBI special agents and the prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia and the National Security Division who investigated this case over the years.

“One of the Department of Justice’s top priorities is to prosecute, and therefore deter, unauthorized disclosures of classified information. In the past two years, we have brought four cases involving the leaks of such information. This is the fifth,” Demers said. “In 2013, Chelsea Manning was convicted by court martial for offenses that involved violations of her military oath to protect and defend the United States. As you know, she provided Julian Assange and WikiLeaks with hundreds of thousands of pages of national defense information. The indictment today charges Julian Assange for his alleged complicity in Manning’s actions, including his explicit solicitation of classified information and his encouraging her to remove classified information from U.S. systems and send it to him.

The indictment also charges Assange for his posting of a narrow subset of classified documents on WikiLeaks that allegedly identified the names of human sources—including local Afghans and Iraqis who were assisting U.S. forces in theater, and those of journalists, religious leaders, human rights advocates, and political dissidents living in repressive regimes. Assange thereby is alleged to have created grave and imminent risk to their lives and liberty.”

Demers went on to state that the alleged actions disclosed U.S. sensitive, classified information in a manner that made it available to every terrorist group, hostile foreign intelligence service and opposing military. He also noted that documents relating to these disclosures were even found in the Usama bin Laden compound.

“Some say that Assange is a journalist and that he should be immune from prosecution for these actions. The Department takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy and we thank you for it. It is not and has never been the Department’s policy to target them for their reporting,” Demers said. “Julian Assange is no journalist. This made plain by the totality of his conduct as alleged in the indictment—i.e., his conspiring with and assisting a security clearance holder to acquire classified information, and his publishing the names of human sources.”

“Indeed, no responsible actor—journalist or otherwise—would purposely publish the names of individuals he or she knew to be confidential human sources in war zones, exposing them to the gravest of dangers. And this is just what the superseding indictment charges Julian Assange with doing. The new charges seek to hold him responsible in light of the full breadth of his illegal conduct.” U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger, for the Eastern District of Virginia, told reporters that he wanted to be clear about what Assange was charged with, and what he was not charged with. “Assange was charged for his alleged complicity in illegal acts to obtain or receive voluminous databases of classified information and for agreeing and attempting to obtain classified information through computer hacking.

But he has not been charged for passively obtaining or receiving classified information. The indictment alleges that Assange published in bulk hundreds of thousands of these stolen classified documents, but he has not been charged for that,” Terwilliger said. “Instead, the U.S. has only charged Assange for publishing a narrow set of classified documents in which Assange also allegedly published the un-redacted names of innocent people who risked their safety and freedom to provide information to the United States and its allies.”

Terwilliger said the sources included local Afghans and Iraqis, journalists, religious leaders, human rights advocates, and political dissidents from repressive regimes. The indictment alleges that Assange knew that his publication of these sources endangered them. “The superseding charges unsealed today are the result of nearly a decade of investigative work by FBI counterintelligence agents,” said FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence John Brown.

 “Today’s charges illustrate the priority the FBI places on enforcing the laws that protect our nation’s security and vital intelligence sources. The FBI is committed to investigating this type of alleged criminal activity no matter how long a case may take.” An extradition hearing for Assange will be held on February 25, 2020.

Paul Davis is a regular contributor to the Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International.

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