[WSMDiscuss] Fwd: Julian Assange's arrest is a direct assault on press freedom and a threat to freedoms everywhere

Jai Sen jai.sen at cacim.net
Fri Apr 12 22:28:20 CEST 2019

Friday, April 12, 2019

Freedoms in movement…

[Even if many of us – and Assange himself - expected that at some point, this would happen, nevertheless, here are some of many, fundamental implications of Assange’s arrest, for journalists and for movements, everywhere… This is Empire :

Chomsky : Arrest of Assange Is “Scandalous” and Highlights Shocking Extraterritorial Reach of U.S.

Democracy Now!

Julian Assange's charges are a direct assault on press freedom, experts warn

Parts of the indictment go head-to-head with basic journalistic activities protected by the first amendment, academics say

Ed Pilkington <https://www.theguardian.com/profile/edpilkington>
The U.S. Government’s Indictment of Julian Assange Poses Grave Threats to Press Freedoms

Glenn Greenwald <https://theintercept.com/staff/glenn-greenwald/>, Micah Lee <https://theintercept.com/staff/micah-lee/>
From hatred to love to cold indifference: Trump's changing tune on Wikileaks

In 2016 Trump was WikiLeaks’ number one salesman but now Julian Assange can expect little sympathy from the US president

David Smith <https://www.theguardian.com/profile/davidsmith> in Washington

            As always, thanks for the interview with Noam Chomsky, Amy and others at Democracy Now!, and for this compilation, Patrick !


Chomsky: Arrest of Assange Is “Scandalous” and Highlights Shocking Extraterritorial Reach of U.S.

Democracy Now!

https://www.democracynow.org/2019/4/12/chomsky_arrest_of_assange_is_scandalous?utm_source=Democracy+Now%21&utm_campaign=de80f0b3e7-Daily_Digest_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_fa2346a853-de80f0b3e7-191570137 <https://www.democracynow.org/2019/4/12/chomsky_arrest_of_assange_is_scandalous?utm_source=Democracy+Now%21&utm_campaign=de80f0b3e7-Daily_Digest_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_fa2346a853-de80f0b3e7-191570137>    

Attorneys for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange are vowing to fight his possible extradition to the United States following his arrest in London, when British police forcibly removed Assange from the Ecuadorean Embassy, where he had taken asylum for almost seven years. On Thursday night, Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman spoke to Noam Chomsky about Assange's arrest, WikiLeaks and American power.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman in Boston, as we sit down with Noam Chomsky for a public conversation. I asked him about the arrest of Julian Assange.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, the Assange arrest is scandalous in several respects. One of them is just the effort of governments—and it’s not just the U.S. government. The British are cooperating. Ecuador, of course, is now cooperating. Sweden, before, had cooperated. The efforts to silence a journalist who was producing materials that people in power didn’t want the rascal multitude to know about—OK?—that’s basically what happened. WikiLeaks was producing things that people ought to know about those in power. People in power don’t like that, so therefore we have to silence it. OK? This is the kind of thing, the kind of scandal, that takes place, unfortunately, over and over.

To take another example, right next door to Ecuador, in Brazil, where the developments that have gone on are extremely important. This is the most important country in Latin America, one of the most important in the world. Under the Lula government early in this millennium, Brazil was the most—maybe the most respected country in the world. It was the voice for the Global South under the leadership of Lula da Silva. Notice what happened. There was a coup, soft coup, to eliminate the nefarious effects of the labor party, the Workers’ Party. These are described by the World Bank—not me, the World Bank—as the “golden decade” in Brazil’s history, with radical reduction of poverty, a massive extension of inclusion of marginalized populations, large parts of the population—Afro-Brazilian, indigenous—who were brought into the society, a sense of dignity and hope for the population. That couldn’t be tolerated.

After Lula’s—after he left office, a kind of a “soft coup” take place—I won’t go through the details, but the last move, last September, was to take Lula da Silva, the leading, the most popular figure in Brazil, who was almost certain to win the forthcoming election, put him in jail, solitary confinement, essentially a death sentence, 25 years in jail, banned from reading press or books, and, crucially, barred from making a public statement—unlike mass murderers on death row. This, in order to silence the person who was likely to win the election. He’s the most important political prisoner in the world. Do you hear anything  about it?

Well, Assange is a similar case: We’ve got to silence this voice. You go back to history. Some of you may recall when Mussolini’s fascist government put Antonio Gramsci in jail. The prosecutor said, “We have to silence this voice for 20 years. Can’t let it speak.” That’s Assange. That’s Lula. There are other cases. That’s one scandal.

The other scandal is just the extraterritorial reach of the United States, which is shocking. I mean, why should the United States—why should any—no other state could possibly do it. But why should the United States have the power to control what others are doing elsewhere in the world? I mean, it’s an outlandish situation. It goes on all the time. We never even notice it. At least there’s no comment on it.

Like, take the trade agreements with China. OK? What are the trade agreements about? They’re an effort to prevent China’s economic development. It’s exactly what they are. Now, China has a development model. The Trump administration doesn’t like it. So, therefore, let’s undermine it. Ask yourself: What would happen if China did not observe the rules that the United States is trying to impose? China, for example, when Boeing or Microsoft, some other major company, invests in China, China wants to have some control over the nature of the investment. They want some degree of technology transfer. They should gain something from the technology. Is there something wrong with that? That’s how the United States developed, stealing—what we call stealing—technology from England. It’s how England developed, taking technology from more advanced countries—India, the Low Countries, even Ireland. That’s how every developed country has reached the stage of advanced development. If Boeing and Microsoft don’t like those arrangements, they don’t have to invest in China. Nobody has a gun to their heads. If anybody really believed in capitalism, they should be free to make any arrangement they want with China. If it involves technology transfer, OK. The United States wants to block that, so China can’t develop.

Take what are called intellectual property rights, exorbitant patent rights for medicines, for Windows, for example. Microsoft has a monopoly on operating systems, through the World Trade Organization. Suppose China didn’t observe these. Who would benefit, and who would lose? Well, the fact of the matter is that consumers in the United States would benefit. It would mean that you’d get cheaper medicines. It would mean that when you get a computer, that you wouldn’t be stuck with Windows. You could get a better operating system. Bill Gates would have a little less money. The pharmaceutical corporations wouldn’t be as super-rich as they are, a little less rich. But the consumers would benefit. Is there something wrong with that? Is there a problem with that?

Well, you might ask yourself: What lies behind all of these discussions and negotiations? This is true across the board. Almost any issue you pick, you can ask yourself: Why is this accepted? So, in this case, why is it acceptable for the United States to have the power to even begin to give even a proposal to extradite somebody whose crime is to expose to the public materials that people in power don’t want them to see? That’s basically what’s happening.

> Begin forwarded message:
> From: Patrick Bond <pbond at mail.ngo.za>
> Subject: [Debate-List] (Fwd) In defense of journalist Julian Assange, captured by US-UK regimes for outing imperialism
> Date: April 12, 2019 at 5:32:54 AM EDT
> To: DEBATE <debate-list at fahamu.org>, R2K WG <r2k_working_groups at googlegroups.com>

(The Committee to Protect Journalists said the wording of the charges contained “broad legal arguments about journalists soliciting information or interacting with sources that could have chilling consequences for investigative reporting and the publication of information of public interest”.)

Julian Assange's charges are a direct assault on press freedom, experts warn

Parts of the indictment go head-to-head with basic journalistic activities protected by the first amendment, academics say

Ed Pilkington <https://www.theguardian.com/profile/edpilkington> in New York

 @edpilkington <https://twitter.com/edpilkington>
Fri 12 Apr 2019 

The charge sheet <https://www.justice.gov/usao-edva/pr/wikileaks-founder-charged-computer-hacking-conspiracy> accusing Julian Assange of engaging in criminal theft of US state secrets contains a direct assault on fundamental press freedoms and could have a devastating effect on the basic acts of journalism, leading first amendment scholars and advocacy groups have warned.

Prosecutors in the eastern district of Virginia released on Thursday an indictment against the WikiLeaks founder that has been under seal since March 2018. It will now form the basis of the US government’s request for Assange to be extradited from the UK to Alexandria to face trial.

Academics and campaigners condemned large chunks of the indictment that they said went head-to-head with basic activities of journalism protected by the first amendment of the US constitution. They said these sections of the charges rang alarm bells that should reverberate around the world.

Yochai Benkler, a Harvard law professor who wrote the first major legal study <http://benkler.org/Benkler_Wikileaks_current.pdf> of the legal implications of prosecuting WikiLeaks, said the charge sheet contained some “very dangerous elements that pose significant risk to national security reporting. Sections of the indictment are vastly overbroad and could have a significant chilling effect – they ought to be rejected.”

Carrie Decell, staff attorney with the Knight First Amendment Institute <https://knightcolumbia.org/> at Columbia University, said the charges “risk having a chill on journalism”. She added that the tone of the indictment and the public release from the Department of Justice that went with it suggested that the US government desired precisely that effect.

“Many of the allegations fall absolutely within the first amendment’s protections of journalistic activity. That’s very troubling to us.”

Among the phrases contained in the indictment that have provoked an uproar are:

“It was part of the conspiracy that Assange encouraged Manning to provide information and records from departments and agencies of the United States.” It is a basic function of journalism to encourage sources to provide information in the public interest on the activities of government.

“It was part of the conspiracy that Assange and Manning took measures to conceal Manning as the source of the disclosure of classified records to WikiLeaks.” Protecting the anonymity of sources is the foundation stone of much investigative and national security reporting – without it sources would not be willing to divulge information, and the press would be unable to fulfill its role of holding power to account.

“It was part of the conspiracy that Assange and Manning used the ‘Jabber’ online chat service to collaborate on the acquisition and dissemination of the classified records.” The indictment similarly refers to a dropbox. Both Jabber and Dropbox are communication tools routinely used by journalists working with whistleblowers.

A key element of the indictment is a new allegation that Assange actively engaged in helping Manning try to crack a password that allowed the US soldier to gain unauthorized and anonymous access to highly sensitive military computers. At the time, in 2010, Manning was working as an intelligence analyst at a forward operating base outside Baghdad.

Experts on freedom of the press and speech were generally more relaxed about that narrow charge, standing on its own, in that it essentially accuses Assange of violating computer hacking laws – specifically the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act – in a way that has no first amendment protection. If prosecutors succeed in presenting evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to that effect, it is unlikely to arouse fierce opposition across the board.

Bradley P Moss, deputy executive of the James Madison Project, a public-interest group focusing on US intelligence and national security, said he was unflustered by the hacking allegation. “I have no concerns about the broader ramifications for press freedoms, whether in the US or elsewhere. What Julian Assange <https://www.theguardian.com/media/julian-assange> did is what journalists are trained not to do.”

But fears for the chilling impact of the prosecution were rampant. The Center for Constitutional Rights, whose late president Michael Ratner was Assange’s lawyer in the US, warned that the threat posed by the indictment was increased by having a president in the White House hostile to the media.

“This is a worrying step on the slippery slope to punishing any journalist the Trump administration chooses to deride as ‘fake news’,” it said.

Two advocacy groups working in the field of press freedom also waded in. The Committee to Protect Journalists <https://cpj.org/2019/04/cpj-troubled-by-prosecution-of-julian-assange.php> said the wording of the charges contained “broad legal arguments about journalists soliciting information or interacting with sources that could have chilling consequences for investigative reporting and the publication of information of public interest”.

Freedom of the Press Foundation <https://freedom.press/news/trump-administrations-indictment-julian-assange-threatens-core-press-freedom-rights/> said: “Whether or not you like Assange, the charge against him is a serious press freedom threat and should be vigorously protested by all those who care about the first amendment.”


The Intercept

The U.S. Government’s Indictment of Julian Assange Poses Grave Threats to Press Freedoms

Glenn Greenwald <https://theintercept.com/staff/glenn-greenwald/>, Micah Lee <https://theintercept.com/staff/micah-lee/>
April 12 2019, 2:53 a.m.
The indictment of Julian Assange unsealed today <https://www.justice.gov/usao-edva/pr/wikileaks-founder-charged-computer-hacking-conspiracy> by the Trump Justice Department poses grave threats to press freedoms, not only in the U.S. but around the world. The charging document <https://www.justice.gov/usao-edva/press-release/file/1153481/download>and accompanying extradition request from the U.S. Government, used by the U.K. police <https://twitter.com/metpoliceuk/status/1116302894259679233> to arrest Assange once Ecuador officially withdrew its asylum protection, seeks to criminalize numerous activities at the core of investigative journalism.

So much of what has been reported today about this indictment has been false. Two facts in particular have been utterly distorted by the DOJ and then misreported by numerous media organizations.

The first crucial fact about the indictment is that its key allegation – that Assange did not merely receive classified documents from Chelsea Manning but tried to help her crack a password in order to cover her tracks – is not new. It was long known <https://www.politico.com/story/2011/12/defense-manning-was-overcharged-070787?paginate=false> by the Obama DOJ and was explicitly part of Manning’s trial, yet the Obama DOJ – not exactly renowned <https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/30/opinion/sunday/if-donald-trump-targets-journalists-thank-obama.html> for being stalwart guardians of press freedoms – concluded it could not and should not prosecute Assange because indicting him would pose serious threats to press freedom. In sum, today’s indictment contains no new evidence or facts about Assange’s actions; all of it has been known for years.

The other key fact being widely misreported is that the indictment accuses Assange of trying to help Manning obtain access to document databases to which she had no valid access: i.e., hacking rather than journalism. But the indictment alleges no such thing. Rather, it simply accuses Assange of trying to help Manning log into the Defense Department’s computers using a different user name so that she could maintain her anonymity while downloading documents in the public interest and then furnish them to WikiLeaks to publish.

In other words, the indictment seeks to criminalize what journalists are not only permitted but ethically required to do: take steps to help their sources maintain their anonymity. As long-time Assange lawyer Barry Pollack put it <https://twitter.com/Isikoff/status/1116343484552708098>: “the factual allegations…boil down to encouraging a source to provide him information and taking efforts to protect the identity of that source. Journalists around the world should be deeply troubled by these unprecedented criminal charges.”

That’s why the indictment poses such a grave threat to press freedom. It characterizes as a felony many actions that journalists are not just permitted but required to take in order to conduct sensitive reporting in the digital age.

But because the DOJ issued a press release <https://www.justice.gov/usao-edva/pr/wikileaks-founder-charged-computer-hacking-conspiracy> with a headline that claimed that Assange was accused of “hacking” crimes, media outlets mindlessly repeated this claim even though the indictment contains no such allegation. It merely accuses Assange of trying to help Manning avoid detection. That’s not “hacking.” That’s called a core obligation of journalism.

The history of this case is vital for understanding what actually happened today. The U.S. Government has been determined to indict Julian Assange and WikiLeaks since at least 2010, when the group published hundreds of thousands of war logs and diplomatic cables revealing numerous war crimes and other acts of corruption <https://www.salon.com/2010/12/24/wikileaks_23/> by the U.S., the U.K. and other governments around the world. To achieve that goal, the Obama DOJ empaneled a Grand Jury in 2011 <https://www.theguardian.com/media/2011/may/11/us-opens-wikileaks-grand-jury-hearing> and conducted a sweeping investigation into WikiLeaks, Assange and Manning.

But in 2013, the Obama DOJ concluded that it could not prosecute <https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/julian-assange-unlikely-to-face-us-charges-over-publishing-classified-documents/2013/11/25/dd27decc-55f1-11e3-8304-caf30787c0a9_story.html?utm_term=.a5ca2f419894> Assange in connection with publication of those documents because there was no way to distinguish what WikiLeaks did from what the New York Times, the Guardian and numerous media outlets around the world routinely do: namely, work with sources to publish classified documents.

The Obama DOJ tried for years to find evidence to justify a claim that Assange did more than act as a journalist – that he, for instance, illegally worked with Manning to steal the documents – but found nothing to justify that accusation and thus never indicted Assange (as noted, the Obama DOJ since at least 2011 was well aware of the core allegation of today’s indictment – that Assange tried to help Manning circumvent a password wall so she could use a different user name – because that was all part of Manning’s charges <https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/04/11/julian-assange-arrested-media-journalism-analysis-226650>).

So Obama ended eight years in office without indicting Assange or WikiLeaks. Everything regarding Assange’s possible indictment changed only at the start of the Trump administration. Beginning in early 2017, the most reactionary Trump officials were determined to do what the Obama DOJ refused to do: indict Assange in connection with publication of the Manning documents.

As the New York Times reported late last year <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/16/us/politics/trump-administration-assange-wikileaks.html>, “Soon after he took over as C.I.A. director, [current Secretary of State] Mike Pompeo privately told lawmakers about a new target for American spies: Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.” The Times added that “Mr. Pompeo and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions unleashed an aggressive campaign against Mr. Assange, reversing an Obama-era view of WikiLeaks as a journalistic entity.”

In April, 2017, Pompeo, while still CIA chief, delivered a deranged speech <https://theintercept.com/2017/04/14/trumps-cia-director-pompeo-targeting-wikileaks-explicitly-threatens-speech-and-press-freedoms/> proclaiming that “we have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us.” He punctuated his speech with this threat: “To give them the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for. It ends now.”

From the start, the Trump DOJ made no secret of its desire to criminalize journalism generally. Early in the Trump administration, then-Attorney General Sessions explicitly discussed <https://www.huffpostbrasil.com/entry/sessions-jailing-journalists-media_n_5984dcbae4b041356ebfc875> the possibility of prosecuting journalists for publishing classified information. Trump and his key aides were open about how eager they were to build on, and escalate, the Obama administration’s progress in enabling journalism in the U.S. to be criminalized <https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/30/barack-obama-press-freedom-strong-media-stop-donald-trump>.

Today’s arrest of Assange is clearly the culmination of two years of efforts by the U.S. Government <https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/verabergengruen/ecuador-julian-assange-anti-american-embassy-london> to coerce Ecuador – under its new and submissive President, Lenin Moreno <https://theintercept.com/2018/05/16/ecuadors-ex-president-rafael-correa-denounces-treatment-of-julian-assange-as-torture/> – to withdraw the asylum protection which that country extended to Assange in 2012. Rescinding Assange’s asylum would enable the U.K. to arrest Assange on minor bail-jumping charges pending in London and, far more significantly, to rely on an extradition request from the U.S. Government to send him to a country to which he has no connection (the U.S.) to stand trial relating to leaked documents.

Indeed, the Trump administration’s motive here is clear. With Ecuador withdrawing its asylum protection and subserviently allowing the U.K. to enter its own embassy to arrest Assange, Assange faced no charges other than a minor bail-jumping charge in the U.K. (Sweden closed its sexual assault investigation <https://theintercept.com/2017/05/19/sweden-withdraws-arrest-warrant-for-julian-assange-but-he-still-faces-serious-legal-jeopardy/> not because they concluded Assange was innocent but because they spent years unsuccessfully trying to extradite him). By indicting Assange and demanding his extradition, it ensures that Assange – once he serves his time in a London jail for bail-jumping – will be kept in a British prison for the full year or longer that it takes for the U.S. extradition request, which Assange will certainly contest, to wind its way through the British courts.

The indictment tries to cast itself as charging Assange not with journalistic activities but with criminal hacking. But it is a thinly disguised pretext for prosecuting Assange for publishing the U.S. Government’s secret documents while pretending to make it about something else.

Whatever else is true about the indictment, substantial parts of the document explicitly characterize as criminal exactly the actions that journalists routinely engage in with their sources, and thus constitutes a dangerous attempt to criminalize investigative journalism.

The indictment, for instance, places great emphasis on Assange’s alleged encouragement that Manning – after she already turned over hundreds of thousands of classified documents – try to get more documents for WikiLeaks to publish. The indictment claims that “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.’”

But encouraging sources to obtain more information is something journalists do routinely. Indeed, it would be a breach of one’s journalistic duties not to ask vital sources with access to classified information if they could provide even more information so as to allow more complete reporting. If a source comes to a journalist with information, it is entirely common and expected that the journalist would reply: can you also get me X, Y and Z to complete the story or to make it better? As Edward Snowden said this morning <https://twitter.com/Snowden/status/1116342647327797249>, “Bob Woodward stated publicly he would have advised me to remain in place and act as a mole.”

Investigative journalism in many, if not most, cases, entails a constant back and forth between journalist and source in which the journalist tries to induce the source to provide more classified information, even if doing so is illegal. To include such “encouragement” as part of a criminal indictment – as the Trump DOJ did today – is to criminalize the crux of investigative journalism itself, even if the indictment includes other activities you believe fall outside the scope of journalism.

As Northwestern Journalism Professor Dan Kennedy explained in the Guardian <https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/dec/16/julian-assange-wikileaks-eric-holder> in 2010 when denouncing as a press freedom threat the Obama DOJ’s attempts to indict Assange based on the theory that he did more than passively receive and publish documents – i.e., that he actively “colluded” with Manning:

The problem is that there is no meaningful distinction to be made. How did the Guardian, equally, not “collude” with WikiLeaks in obtaining the cables <https://www.theguardian.com/world/the-us-embassy-cables>? How did the New York Times not “collude” with the Guardian when the Guardian gave the Times a copy following Assange’s decision to cut the Times out of the latest document dump?

For that matter, I don’t see how any news organisation can be said not to have colluded with a source when it receives leaked documents. Didn’t the Times collude with Daniel Ellsberg when it received the Pentagon Papers <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Ellsberg> from him? Yes, there are differences. Ellsberg had finished making copies long before he began working with the Times, whereas Assange may have goaded Manning. But does that really matter?

Most of the reports about the Assange indictment today have falsely suggested that the Trump DOJ discovered some sort of new evidence that proved Assange tried to help Manning hack through a password in order to use a different username to download documents. Aside from the fact that those attempts failed, none of this is new: as the last five paragraphs of this 2011 Politico story demonstrate <https://www.politico.com/story/2011/12/defense-manning-was-overcharged-070787?paginate=false>, that Assange talked to Manning about ways to use a different user name so as to avoid detection was part of Manning’s trial and was long known to the Obama DOJ when they decided not to prosecute.

There are only two new events that explain today’s indictment of Assange: 1) the Trump administration from the start included authoritarian extremists such as Jeff Sessions and Mike Pompeo who do not care in the slightest about press freedom and were determined to criminalize journalism against the U.S.; and 2) with Ecuador about to withdraw its asylum protection, the U.S. Government needed an excuse to prevent Assange from walking free.

A technical analysis of the indictment’s claims similarly proves the charge against Assange to be a serious threat to First Amendment press liberties, primarily because it seeks to criminalize what is actually a journalist’s core duty: helping one’s source avoid detection. The indictment deceitfully seeks to cast Assange’s efforts to help Manning maintain her anonymity as some sort of sinister hacking attack.

The Defense Department computer that Manning used to download the documents which she then furnished to WikiLeaks was likely running the Windows operating system. It had multiple user accounts on it, including an account to which Manning had legitimate access. Each account is protected by a password, and Windows computers store a file that contains a list of usernames and password “hashes,” or scrambled versions of the passwords. Only accounts designated as “administrator,” a designation Manning’s account lacked, have permission to access this file.

The indictment suggests that Manning, in order to access this password file, powered off her computer and then powered it back on, this time booting to a CD running the Linux operating system. From within Linux, she allegedly accessed this file full of password hashes. The indictment alleges that Assange agreed to try to crack one of these password hashes, which, if successful, would recover the original password. With the original password, Manning would be able to log directly into that other user’s account, which – as the indictment puts it – “would have made it more difficult for investigators to identify Manning as the source of disclosures of classified information.”

Assange appears to have been unsuccessful in cracking the password. The indictment alleges that “Assange indicated that he had been trying to crack the password by stating that he had ‘no luck so far.’”

Thus, even if one accepts all of the indictment’s claims as true, Assange was not trying to hack into new document files to which Manning had no access but rather trying to help Manning avoid detection as a source. For that reason, the precedent that this case would set would be a devastating blow to investigative journalists and press freedom everywhere.

Journalists have an ethical obligation to take steps to protect their sources from retaliation, which sometimes includes granting them anonymity and employing technical measures to help ensure that their identity is not discovered. When journalists take source protection seriously, they strip metadata and redact information from documents before publishing them if that information could have been used to identify their source; they host cloud-based systems such as SecureDrop, now employed by dozens of major newsrooms around the world <https://securedrop.org/directory/>, that make it easier and safer for whistleblowers, who may be under surveillance, to send messages and classified documents to journalists without their employers knowing; and they use secure communication tools like Signal, and set them to automatically delete messages.

But today’s indictment of Assange seeks to criminalize exactly these types of source-protection efforts, as it states that “it was part of the conspiracy that Assange and Manning used a special folder on a cloud drop box of WikiLeaks to transmit classified records containing information related to the national defense of the United States.” 

The indictment, in numerous other passages, plainly conflates standard newsroom best practices with a criminal conspiracy. It states, for instance, that “it was part of the conspiracy that Assange and Manning used the ‘Jabber’ online chat service to collaborate on the acquisition and dissemination of the classified records, and to enter into the agreement to crack the password […].” There is no question that using Jabber, or any other encrypted messaging system, to communicate with sources and acquire documents with the intent to publish them, is a completely lawful and standard part of modern investigative journalism. Newsrooms across the world now use similar technologies to communicate securely with their sources and to help their sources avoid detection by the government.

The indictment similarly alleges that “it was part of the conspiracy that Assange and Manning took measures to conceal Manning as the source of the disclosure of classified records to WikiLeaks, including by removing usernames from the disclosed information and deleting chat logs between Assange and Manning.”

Removing metadata that could help identify an anonymous source, such as usernames, is a critical step in protecting sources. Indeed, in 2017, the Intercept published <https://theintercept.com/2017/06/05/top-secret-nsa-report-details-russian-hacking-effort-days-before-2016-election/> a top secret NSA document claiming that Russian military intelligence played a role in hacking U.S. election infrastructure during the 2016 election. The person accused and convicted of having provided the document, whistleblower Reality Winner <https://theintercept.com/2018/08/23/reality-winner-sentenced-leak-election-hacking/>, had already been arrested by the time the story was published.

The Intercept was widely criticized <https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/06/the-mysterious-printer-code-that-could-have-led-the-fbi-to-reality-winner/529350/> when computer security experts discovered that the document included nearly-invisible yellow “printer dots” that track exactly when and where it was printed, which most modern printers add to every document that gets printed. While there’s no evidence that these printer dots contributed to Winner becoming a suspect (the FBI’s affidavit <https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/federal-government-contractor-georgia-charged-removing-and-mailing-classified-materials-news> says she was one of only six people who had printed this document, and the only one of those who had email contact with The Intercept), they could have aided an investigation, and the Intercept, as its editor-in-chief acknowledged <https://theintercept.com/2017/07/11/first-look-to-support-defense-of-reality-winner-in-espionage-act-prosecution/>, should have taken greater care to remove this metadata before publishing the document.

That is because it is not only common but ethically required for a journalist to do everything possible to protect a source from detection. Virtually the entirety of the accusations against Assange in today’s indictment consist of him doing exactly that.

For that reason, the indictment, at its core, clearly seeks to criminalize what investigative journalism necessarily entails in order for to be effective. That is why civil liberties organizations, press freedom groups <https://freedom.press/news/civil-liberties-groups-condemn-trump-admins-indictment-julian-assange/> and political figures from around the world – including Jeremy Corbyn <https://twitter.com/jeremycorbyn/status/1116424423953903616>, U.S. Congress members Ro Khanna <https://twitter.com/RoKhanna/status/1116460705765646336> and Tulsi Gabbard <https://twitter.com/TulsiGabbard/status/1116446982342529024>, former Senator Mike Gravel <https://twitter.com/MikeGravel/status/1116387680231796736>, Brazilian <https://twitter.com/ggreenwald/status/1116451848758677504> and Indian <https://twitter.com/cpimspeak/status/1116286008662712320> leftist political parties, and the ACLU <https://www.aclu.org/news/aclu-comment-julian-assange-arrest> – have vehemently denounced today’s arrest of Assange.

Assange is a deeply polarizing figure. That’s almost certainly why the Trump DOJ believes it could get away with indicting him based on a theory that would clearly endanger core journalistic functions: because it hopes that the intense animosity for Assange personally will blind people to the dangers this indictment poses.

But far more important than one’s personal feelings about Assange is the huge step this indictment represents in the Trump administration’s explicitly stated goal to criminalize journalism that involves reporting on classified information. Opposition to that menacing goal does not require admiration or affection for Assange. It simply requires a belief in the critical importance of a free press in a democracy.


From hatred to love to cold indifference: Trump's changing tune on Wikileaks

In 2016 Trump was WikiLeaks’ number one salesman but now Julian Assange can expect little sympathy from the US president

David Smith <https://www.theguardian.com/profile/davidsmith> in Washington

 @smithinamerica <https://twitter.com/smithinamerica>
Fri 12 Apr 2019 

When Donald Trump <https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/donaldtrump> was in Ohio, he declared: “Boy, I love reading WikiLeaks.” In Michigan, he proclaimed: “This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove.” In Pennsylvania, he confessed: “WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks.”

It was the run-up to the 2016 presidential election and Trump was WikiLeaks’ number one salesman. But on Thursday, with the website’s founder Julian Assange under arrest, the US president was singing a different tune. “I know nothing about WikiLeaks,” Trump said. <https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-president-moon-jae-republic-korea-bilateral-meeting/> “It’s not my thing.”

The jarring shift illustrated, critics say, the shameless opportunism and hypocrisy of president. Whether it hints at anything about his alleged links to Russia remains altogether murkier.

Matthew Miller, <https://vianovo.com/people/matthew-miller> former director of public affairs at the justice department, said: “His ethics have always been situational at best so I’m not surprised he’s out disclaiming any knowledge. He has no concern about the broader ethics of any situation, only what’s best for him. It’s pretty simple, really.”

Looking disheveled with pony tail and long beard, Assange, 47, was hauled out of the Ecuadorian embassy <https://www.theguardian.com/media/2019/apr/11/julian-assange-charged-with-computer-hacking-conspiracy> in London on Thursday after taking refuge there for nearly seven years. He is facing extradition to the US for conspiring with Chelsea Manning, a former army intelligence analyst turned whistleblower, to break a password for a classified government computer in 2010.

This was long before Trump became president and, at first glance, the connection to him appears tenuous. The indictment against Assange was brought not by Special Counsel Robert Mueller but by prosecutors in Virginia and the justice department’s national security division.

Yet the justice department could still supplement their indictment with a new one containing more serious charges. Manning was imprisoned last month <https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/mar/08/chelsea-manning-judge-jails-wikileaks-case> after she refused to testify about WikiLeaks before a grand jury in Virginia, implying that prosecutors’ work related to Assange is not complete.

He can clearly expect little sympathy from Trump, whose attitude towards WikiLeaks <https://www.theguardian.com/media/wikileaks> has evolved from hatred to love to cold indifference.

The anti-secrecy site was once lionised by the left for holding the American political establishment and military industrial complex up to the light. In 2010 it released, in cooperation with publications including the Guardian <https://www.theguardian.com/world/the-war-logs>, more than a quarter of a million classified cables from American embassies around the world.

Back then, Republicans expressed fury at Assange. Trump himself said: <https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/04/11/why-trumps-non-answer-julian-assange-is-so-inexplicable/?utm_term=.4fa771e0c6d5> “I think it’s disgraceful. I think it should be like death penalty or something.”

 <https://www.theguardian.com/media/2019/apr/12/hatred-love-cold-indifference-julian-assange-trump-wikileaks#img-1>Just six years later, it was a very different story. WikiLeaks came to be seen as a tool of the Trump election campaign as, with his explicit encouragement, it published emails from Democrats believed to have been stolen by Russian intelligence operatives.

In July 2016, a dump of Democratic National Committee material appeared designed to embarrass Hillary Clinton on the eve of the party convention. In October, emails hacked from Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, were published <https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/oct/07/wikileaks-hillary-clinton-paid-wall-street-speeches> just minutes after the release of a video in which Trump was caught boasting about groping women.

Seizing the gift, candidate Trump cited WikiLeaks 141 times at 56 events, according to a count by NBC News. <https://www.msnbc.com/stephanie-ruhle/watch/trump-says-wikileaks-141-times-in-month-before-election-1096403523611?wpisrc=nl_daily202&wpmm=1> He was breezy and blase about how the hacked emails were obtained. A poster of Assange hung backstage at his debate war room, the Associated Press reported.

The relationship between the campaign and WikiLeaks – and indeed Russia – remains shrouded in mystery. Behind the scenes, Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr, was in direct communication with WikiLeaks <https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/nov/13/donald-trump-jr-communicated-with-wikileaks-during-final-stages-of-election> in the final stages of the 2016 campaign.

Roger Stone, a Trump confidante and self-declared “dirty trickster”, repeatedly boasted of connections to WikiLeaks and of having advance knowledge of the organisation’s publication plans. In January, Mueller indicted Stone <https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jan/25/roger-stone-indictment-arrest-analysis> on charges including obstruction of an official proceeding, witness tampering and making false statements. He has pleaded not guilty.

Stone was apparently in touch with his friend Jerome Corsi, a conservative activist and conspiracy theorist, about WikiLeaks during the final months of the campaign. Corsi has defended Stone, claiming that he was the source of a suspicious tweet from Stone in August 2016 predicting that it would soon be Podesta’s “time in the barrel”. Corsi predicted his own indictment <https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/nov/12/jerome-corsi-roger-stone-robert-mueller-trump-russia> by Mueller was but was spared.

As for Assange himself, he claimed to remain neutral in 2016. Asked by Democracy Now <http://www.democracynow.org/2016/7/25/julian_assange_choosing_between_trump_or> whether he wanted Clinton or Trump to win, he memorably replied: “You’re asking me, do I prefer cholera or gonorrhea?”

And once Trump won election, WikiLeaks quickly fell out of favour. The president told the Associated Press <https://www.apnews.com/c810d7de280a47e88848b0ac74690c83> in 2017 that he did not “support or unsupport” its release of the hacked emails. Asked whether Assange should be arrested, he replied: “I am not involved in that decision, but if they want to do it, it’s OK with me.”

Last year further tantalising details emerged when an indictment against 12 Russians described WikiLeaks’ role in publishing the emails. While it said the site had worked to coordinate the release of information, there was no allegation that it solicited the hacking of Democratic email accounts or worked with Russians.

According to Attorney General William Barr, Mueller found no evidence of collusion <https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/mar/24/mueller-report-donald-trump-barr-congress-russia> between the Trump campaign and Moscow. But until Mueller’s full report is released, it is unclear what he found about WikiLeaks, its interactions with the campaign – or whether it could lead to further charges.

Miller said: “It’s certainly possible. We have no way of knowing if the US government has been able to obtain any evidence of Assange knowingly communicating with Russian intelligence agents.”


Jai Sen

Independent researcher, editor

jai.sen at cacim.net <mailto:jai.sen at cacim.net>
Now based in New Delhi, India (+91-98189 11325) and in Ottawa, Canada, on unceded Anishinaabe territory (+1-613-282 2900) 

Current associations : www.cacim.net <http://www.cacim.net/> / http://www.openword.net.in

CURRENT / RECENT publications :

Jai Sen, ed, 2018a – The Movements of Movements, Part 2 : Rethinking Our Dance. Ebook and hard copy available at PM Press <http://www.pmpress.org/>
Jai Sen, ed, 2018b – The Movements of Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ?, Indian edition. New Delhi : AuthorsUpfront, in collaboration with OpenWord and PM Press.  Hard copy available at MOM1AmazonIN <https://www.amazon.in/dp/9387280101/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1522884070&sr=8-2&keywords=movements+of+movements+jai+sen>, MOM1Flipkart <https://www.flipkart.com/the-movements-of-movements/p/itmf3zg7h79ecpgj?pid=9789387280106&lid=LSTBOK9789387280106NBA1CH&marketplace=FLIPKART&srno=s_1_1&otracker=search&fm=SEARCH&iid=ff35b702-e6a8-4423-b014-16c84f6f0092.9789387280106.SEARCH&ppt=Search%20Page>, and MOM1AUpFront <http://www.authorsupfront.com/movements.htm>
Jai Sen, ed, 2017 – The Movements of Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ?.  New Delhi : OpenWord and Oakland, CA : PM Press.  Ebook and hard copy available at PM Press <http://www.pmpress.org/>
Jai Sen, ed, 2016a  – The Movements of Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ? and Jai Sen, ed, 2016b – The Movements of Movements, Part 2 : Rethinking Our Dance (both then forthcoming from New Delhi : OpenWord and Oakland, CA : PM Press), open access ADVANCE PREFINAL ONLINE MOVEMENT EDITIONS @ www.cacim.net <http://www.cacim.net/>
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