2019-04-12

Julian Assange & WikiLeaks – Comments

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

[Daniel] Ellsberg was called The Most Dangerous Man in America by President Nixon’s national security advisor, Henry Kissinger. Now Ellsberg, an articulate and energetic seventy-nine years old, was passing on the baton to Assange—and going one step further. He agreed that Assange was a ‘good candidate for being the most dangerous man in the world’ and he should be ‘quite proud of that’. He also had some advice for Assange. He was ‘not safe physically wherever he is’.

Fowler, Andrew. 2011. The Most Dangerous Man in the World: The Explosive True Story of Julian Assange and the Lies, Cover-Ups and Conspiracies He Exposed. Carlton, Vic: Melbourne University Press.

About two days ago I watched this press conference. The editor-in-chief sums up the fundamentals of journalism in a democratic society: If it’s newsworthy, if it’s in the public interest, and if it’s true — it should be published.

So many of knew Julian Assange’s days in the Ecuadorian embassy were imminently threatened but was not expecting the arrest so soon.

I know many readers of this blog have no time for Assange. I cannot deny I find his narcissism very unlikeable. But that’s not the point, of course. (And yes, I know the reasons others loathe him go well beyond his personality.)

A Real Test

https://twitter.com/ryangrim/status/1116295855122853889

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Important Background

https://twitter.com/Snowden/status/1116285397284290560

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The excerpt of the UNHR document in easier to read size:

The full document is at https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24042&LangID=E

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Good Bullshit-free Analysis and Summary

https://twitter.com/Scottludlam/status/1116522592934879233

….

https://twitter.com/thejuicemedia/status/1116537965268758528

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Link to that Good Summary of What Just Happened / “Bullshit-free Analysis”:

Greenwald, Glenn, and Micah Lee. 2019. “The U.S. Government’s Indictment of Julian Assange Poses Grave Threats to Press Freedoms.” The Intercept (blog). April 12, 2019. https://theintercept.com/2019/04/11/the-u-s-governments-indictment-of-julian-assange-poses-grave-threats-to-press-freedoms/.

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Criminalizing Journalism

https://twitter.com/Snowden/status/1116336550873317377

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Exposing Evidence

https://twitter.com/jeremycorbyn/status/1116424423953903616

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Assange’s Australian Lawyer Comments

https://twitter.com/suigenerisjen/status/1116498291880026112

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The Video Clip

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And finally, a pdf file of the seven page U.S. indictment:

Download (PDF, 225KB)

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21 Comments

  • Clarke Owens
    2019-04-12 12:57:18 GMT+0000 - 12:57 | Permalink

    Looks like the U.S. govt will have to prove that Assange had reason to believe the leak would be advantageous to a foreign govt. (Indictment & U.S. Code provision).

  • proudfootz
    2019-04-12 13:47:04 GMT+0000 - 13:47 | Permalink

    Assange is a publisher, like Katharine Graham who published the Pentagon Papers. A couple of years ago a film was made of the affair with Meryl Streep playing the hero who took the risk of defying the government by exposing its unsavory secrets.

    Maybe in 30 or 40 years Assange will be seen as the hero in this story…

  • SaminWV
    2019-04-12 17:43:43 GMT+0000 - 17:43 | Permalink

    An outstanding perspective. Thank you.

  • Steve Pollard
    2019-04-12 21:20:13 GMT+0000 - 21:20 | Permalink

    I am a long-term follower of this wonderful website, but I usually don’t feel myself qualified to comment on most of the issues discussed here.

    In this specific case, I have to say that other viewpoints are available. Assange and Wikileaks may have done some service in revealing the extent to which US forces in Afghanistan overstepped the boundaries of legitimate action in wartime. But they then went on to release a whole shedload of diplomatic and other material that its authors and recipients had every right to consider as confidential, and which could be calculated to do damage or worse to the Governments concerned.

    Assange and his colleagues assert that none of this stuff should be confidential in the first place. If that principle was followed through across the board, diplomacy would in effect become impossible. But of course he and his acolytes are not consistent: they have never bothered to reveal anything about the diplomatic or military communications of Russia or China, to name just a couple of examples. Maybe they can’t find anything. Maybe they haven’t tried. Maybe they have been encouraged not to try.

    • JBeers
      2019-04-13 12:30:00 GMT+0000 - 12:30 | Permalink

      Not being qualified to discuss matters, for better or worse certainly hasn’t held me back too much.

      There are multiple questions.

      One is whether it is in fact true that Wikileaks (WL) published nothing from Russia. I have read responses to this sort of criticism that it in fact has, but I don’t know. There are similar criticisms about WL’s not having published anything against Israel, though I have also read that it has published US correspondence about Israel that could be embarrassing for Israel. Some go so far as to assert that Assange must therefore be a Mossad operative. However I have read that it has published US correspondence about Israel that could embarrass Israel’s government. Not knowing what has been submitted to WL, I personally have no knowledge of what they have that hasn’t been published, whether it includes a lot from Russia and China–or Israel, I don’t know. I may be wrong, but my impression that they have solicited material from everywhere, though like you I don’t know how hard they have tried.

      WL have set forth material where civilians are killed and, according to some, in a methodical and malicious fashion. I have personally examined little of the material. Questions arise. We can think of governments and militaries of the past who have done so much cold-blooded killing of civilians (“war crimes”) that according to international law, I am given to understand, it is one’s requirement to resist and complain as publicly as possible even at the risk of being imprisoned or killed. In such cases many people would not think highly about claims to secrecy and confidentiality. On the other hand, others assert that killing lots of civilians always happens in war, and that some wars are good, also that some governments are so good that they can appropriately withhold significant disturbing material from their subjects. What does one think of killing civilians and in what situations? Is one’s government and military of a different sort than some of the blatantly horrible ones of the past, or is one living in a bubble in believing them to be especially different? When does it need to be made public and under what conditions (for example, does one publish information about a particularly unnecessary massacre if a secret operative’s cover might be blown)? etc etc etc.

      There are many questions. Scrutiny from different perspectives, including even unusual ones, may be helpful.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-04-16 00:24:39 GMT+0000 - 00:24 | Permalink

      Hi Steve and thanks for the comment. One reason I have not posted here for the last day or two is because I have withdrawn to finish reading/re-reading a couple of serious studies on WikiLeaks and Assange up to 2010/2011. You will be interested in the following comments in relation to your concerns —

      In discussions with WikiLeaks and other major newspapers as they prepared to release the diplomatic cables the media was careful to be sure that no innocent persons were put at risk and they also considered the arguments put out by governments trying to persuade them not to publish:

      [New York Times bureau chief] Baquet understood the most important issue was to protect individuals who had spoken candidly to American diplomats in countries that had oppressive regimes. . . . The New York Times agreed to withhold some of this information.

      . . . The State Department feared that publication of cables that disclosed candid comments by and about foreign officials—including heads of state—would strain relations with those countries. The New York Times was mostly unconvinced by this argument. (Fowler, 204)

      The previous chapter describes in detail the many, many hours invested in carefully reading through documents before their release and removing names that woud possibly be put at risk.

      Contrary to what WikiLeaks was accused of doing there was no mass dump of hundreds of thousands of cables and what was released was carefully redacted beforehand to protect persons who would otherwise be endangered.

      Yet for all its intelligence gathering, the US government still did not understand what WikiLeaks was doing. The White House said it anticipated WikiLeaks would make public ‘several hundred thousand’ cables on Sunday night, according to the New York Times. This was incorrect — Assange would release only a handful of cables at that time. As Ellsberg points out: ‘About half a dozen people in the country are giving Julian credit for having withheld 99 per cent of the 260000 cables. He has put out 1900 cables—less than 1 per cent. No one seems to know that’. It has been called the ‘zombie lie’ that Assange had ‘indiscriminately dumped everything out’. By February 2011 only 4000 cables had been released, leaving approximately 247 000 other documents still to come. (Fowler, 208)

      The fact that WikiLeaks was on occasions more careful than the mainstream media made no difference to the attacks against the organisation that followed the Cablegate releases. (Fowler, 209)

      WikiLeaks disagreed with any assessment that the release was dangerous, arguing that the sites were not directly identified. . . . Yet the degree to which US national security is compromised by the cables is debatable. Reuters news agency reported that ‘a congressional official … said the administration felt compelled to say publicly that the revelations had seriously damaged American interests in order to bolster legal efforts to shut down the WikiLeaks website and bring charges against the leakers’. In truth, internal US government reviews of Cablegate had determined that the leaks had caused only ‘limited damage to US interests abroad’. (Fowler, 215)

      Contrary to many accusations at the time the leaks probably did far more damage to Russia than the United States.

      Then there were the people who argued that the cables did not reveal enough bad behaviour by Americans. On the left this was a cause for disappointment – and, sometimes, suspicion. A small cabal began poring over the cables for evidence of ideological editing or censorship. And why so little on Israel? . . . (Leigh and Harding, 210f)

      The most dramatic such disclosures came not from the Middle East but Russia. It is widely known that Russia – nominally under the control of President Dmitry Medvedev but in reality run by the prime minister, Vladimir Putin – is corrupt and undemocratic. But the cables went much further. They painted a bleak and despairing picture of a kleptocracy centred on Putin’s leadership, in which officials, oligarchs and organised crime are bound together in a “virtual mafia state”. Arms trafficking, money laundering, personal enrichment, protection for gangsters, extortion and kickbacks, suitcases full of money and secret offshore accounts – the American embassy cables unpicked a political system in which bribery totals an estimated $300bn year, and in which it is often hard to distinguish between the activities of government and organised crime. Read together, the collection of cables offered a rare moment of truth-telling about a regime normally accorded international respectability.

      . . . .

      The Guardian published WikiLeaks’ Russia disclosures on 2 December 2010, over five pages and under the striking headline: “Inside Putin’s ‘mafia state’”.

      . . . .

      Undoubtedly, the cables showed the dysfunctional nature of the modern Russian state.

      (Leigh and Harding, 216, 218)

      There are pages detailing the evidence released in the documents for Russia security and intelligence services being in charge of mafia gangs operating not only in Russia but throughout Europe.

      There is no evidence for the major damage supposedly caused by the release of the documents:

      What did we learn from WikiLeaks? The question, as with virtually everything else to do with the leaks, was polarising. There was, from the start, a metropolitan yawn from bien pensants who felt they knew it all. Arabs don’t like Iran? The Russian government is corrupt? Some African countries are kleptocracies? Go on, astonish us. You’ll be telling us next that the pope is Catholic.

      . . . .

      There was little malfeasance in American foreign policy revealed in the documents, so where’s the justification for revealing all? Then there was the US government’s insistence that the leaks were endangering lives, wrecking Washington’s ability to do business with its allies and partners, and helping terrorists.

      What these arguments missed was the hunger for the cables in countries that didn’t have fully functioning democracies or the sort of free expression enjoyed in London, Paris or New York. Within hours of the first cables being posted the Guardian started receiving a steady stream of pleading requests from editors and journalists around the world wanting to know what the cables revealed about their own countries and rulers. It was easier to call the revelations unstartling, dull even, if one lived in western Europe, rather than in Belarus, Tunisia, or in any other oppressive regime.

      This was as powerful a case for the WikiLeaks disclosures as any. It was not particularly edifying to see western commentators and politicians decrying the public interest in the publication of information which was being avidly, even desperately, sought after by people in far off countries of which they doubtless knew little. Who was to say what effect these disclosures would have, even if, on one level, they were revealing things that were in some sense known? The very fact of publication often served as authentication and verification of things that were suspected.

      (Leigh and Harding, 210f)

      But more importantly than this, they included disclosures of things citizens are entitled to know. This is true for Americans and non-Americans. The cables discussed human rights abuses, corruption, and dubious financial ties between G8 leaders. They spoke of corporate espionage, dirty tricks and hidden bank accounts. In their private exchanges US diplomats dispense with the platitudes that characterise much of their public job; they give relatively frank, unmediated assessments, offering a window into the mental processes at the top of US power. The cables were, in a way, the truth.

      The constant principle that underpinned the Guardian’s selection – what to print and what not – was whether a cable contained material that was in the larger public interest. Nowhere was this more clear-cut than with a classified directive from July 2009 that revealed the US government was spying on the United Nations, and its low-key South Korean secretary general, Ban Ki-moon.

      (Leigh and Harding, 212)

      What did this worldwide pattern of diplomatic secrets actually all mean? Some commentators saw it as proof that the United States was struggling to get its way in the world, a superpower entering a long period of relative decline. Others thought the revelations at least showed the bureaucracy of the state department in a fairly good light. In the Guardian, Timothy Garton Ash confessed he had been impressed by the professionalism of the US diplomatic corps – a hard-working and committed bunch. “My personal opinion of the state department has gone up several notches,” he wrote. “For the most part … what we see here is diplomats doing their proper job: finding out what is happening in places to which they are posted, working to advance their nation’s interests and their government’s policies.”

      (Leigh and Harding, 224)


      Fowler, Andrew John. 2011. The Most Dangerous Man in the World: The Inside Story on Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks Secrets. Carlton, Vic: Melbourne University Press.

      Leigh, David, and Luke Harding. 2011. Wikileaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy. London: Guardian Books.


    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-04-16 00:42:54 GMT+0000 - 00:42 | Permalink

      This looks like an appropriate moment to comment on Jim West’s bent comment on Assange (I’d try to point out to Jim his failure to do due diligence in checking his sources before posting but each time I have posted to him before he ignores me or posts on his blog a straight out lie about what I wrote.)

      He wrote at https://zwingliusredivivus.wordpress.com/2019/04/11/julian-assange-is-putins-lapdog/

      Assange is an indecency. A puppet of Putin. A Russian’s lapdog.

      @michaeldweiss — When the Guardian editors told him they would redact the names of Afghans mentioned in the cables whose lives would be otherwise endangered, Assange said: “Well, they’re informants. So, if they get killed, they’ve got it coming to them. They deserve it.”

      That quote comes from Leigh and Harding. Here is that passage in context. It opens with a quote from Declan Walsh, the Guardian‘s Pakistan-based correspondent:

      “I told David Leigh I was worried about the repercussions of publishing
      these names, who could easily be killed by the Taliban or other militant
      groups if identified. David agreed it was a concern and said he’d raised
      the issue with Julian, but he didn’t seem concerned. That night, we went out
      to a Moorish restaurant, Moro, with the two German reporters. David
      broached the problem again with Julian. The response floored me. ‘Well,
      they’re informants,’ he said. ‘So, if they get killed, they’ve got it coming to
      them. They deserve it.’ There was, for a moment, silence around the table. I
      think everyone was struck by what a callous thing that was to say.

      “I thought about the American bases I’d visited, the Afghan characters
      I’d met in little villages and towns, the complex local politics that coloured
      everything, and the dilemmas faced by individuals during a bloody war.
      There was no way I’d like to put them at risk on the basis of a document
      prepared by some wet-behind-the-ears American GI, who may or may not
      have correctly understood the information they were receiving. The other
      thing that little exchange suggested to me was just how naive – or arrogant
      – Julian was when it came to the media. Apart from any moral
      considerations, he didn’t seem to appreciate how the issue of naming
      informants was likely to rebound on the entire project.”

      Davies, too, was dismayed by the difficulty of persuading Assange to
      make redactions. “At first, he simply didn’t get it, that it’s not OK to publish
      stuff that will get people killed,” Davies said. The Guardian reporter had
      been studying Task Force 373, a shadowy special operations group
      whose job was to capture or kill high-ranking Taliban. One war log was
      especially troubling: it described how an unnamed informant had a close
      relative who lived an exact distance south-east of the named target’s
      house and “will have eyes on target”. Clearly it was possible to work out
      these identities with the help of some local knowledge, and to publish the
      log might lead to the Taliban executing both Afghans. But Assange,
      according to Davies, was unbothered. For all his personal liking of the
      WikiLeaks founder, says Davies: “The problem is he’s basically a
      computer hacker. He comes from a simplistic ideology, or at that stage he
      did, that all information has to be published, that all information is good.”

      In fairness to Assange, he eventually revisited his view, despite the
      technical difficulties it posed for WikiLeaks. And by the time the US state
      department cables were published, five months later, Assange had entirely
      embraced the logic of redaction, with his role almost that of a mainstream
      publisher. Short of time before the Afghan launch, he removed wholesale
      the 15,000 intelligence files, listed as “threat reports”, which were most
      likely to contain identifying details. This left some identities still
      discoverable in the main body of the cables, a fact which Rupert Murdoch’s
      London Times published prominently. Despite their supposed disapproval
      of WikiLeaks, the paper had pointed to information that could have helped
      the Taliban to murder people. By the time the Iraq logs were launched,
      Assange had time to construct a more sophisticated editing programme,
      which redacted a vast number of names. And when it came to publishing
      the diplomatic cables, on the face of it at least, Assange had abandoned
      his original ambition to dump out everything. He contented himself during
      the course of 2010 with only publishing a small fraction of the cables –
      those whose text had already been individually redacted by journalists from
      the five print media partners.

      In the end, then, all these anxieties about the fate of informants
      remained purely theoretical. By the end of the year in which WikiLeaks
      published its huge dump of information, no concrete evidence whatever
      had surfaced that any informant had suffered actual reprisals. The only
      reports were of defence secretary Robert Gates telling a sailor aboard a
      US warship in San Diego, “We don’t have specific information of an
      Afghan being killed yet.” CNN reported on 17 October that, according to a
      senior Nato official in Kabul, “There has not been a single case of Afghans
      needing protection or to be moved because of the leak.”

      Leigh and Harding, 111-112

      As for being a Russian lapdog, my previous comment quoted enough to demonstrate that WikiLeaks published far more damaging material about Russia than it did about America. I don’t expect Jim to change his mind or apologize, though.

  • JBeers
    2019-04-13 12:34:24 GMT+0000 - 12:34 | Permalink

    Noteworthy how this posting on Assange follows “All the Way”.

    I wonder whether this topic is has made it much into the public discussions in Australia, whether, for example, candidates in the election have commented on it.

  • John Roth
    2019-04-13 17:29:33 GMT+0000 - 17:29 | Permalink

    My understanding, from the publisher’s comments at Talking Points Memo, is that there is a bright-line distinction between what’s permissible and what’s not. It’s based on a very simple criterion: who initiated the disclosure. The first disclosure from Chelsea Manning to Wikileaks falls squarely on the protected side: Wikileaks had nothing to do with what she did – that was solely her action. To use the example from TPM: it dropped into their laps from the sky. Once they started helping her and asking her to make more disclosures, though, it equally clearly falls on the other side. This is apparently long-standing and settled law in the US; it’s not a case where the Trump administration is trying to stifle the press.

    I don’t find arguing from a position of moral outrage to be particularly productive; the jury will decide whether there is enough evidence to convict, and again from the TPM analysis, the maximum sentence is apparently 5 years, not life.

    • Gregory Doudna
      2019-04-13 18:43:48 GMT+0000 - 18:43 | Permalink

      What is settled law is not the full issue here. Daniel Ellsberg, one of the heroes of our time, violated settled law in releasing the Pentagon Papers, and has told of being prepared to spend a long prison term as the likely consequence for his action. In Ellsberg’s case, the charges against him were thrown out on a procedural technicality by a judge and he was not convicted, but it could easily have gone the other way. Similarly, Vanunu of Israel and many others. Public opinion matters in cases such as this. There is a rich and honorable tradition in America of civil disobedience in which sometimes the moral thing to do is wilful violation of settled law, the right thing for the public to do is support it, and the right thing for juries to do is refuse to convict even in the face of unequivocal evidence of illegality.

      • Scot A. Griffin
        2019-04-13 22:13:47 GMT+0000 - 22:13 | Permalink

        You’re drawing the wrong parallel from history.

        Manning was Ellsberg. Assange/Wikileaks was the NY Times.

        Manning did go to jail.

        If all Assange/Wikileaks did was what the NY Times did, there should be no criminal liability.

  • Scot A. Griffin
    2019-04-13 22:01:01 GMT+0000 - 22:01 | Permalink

    Assange’s defenders spend a lot of time on allegations in the indictment that merely provide context but that are not an element of the charged offense. As a lawyer, Glenn Greenwald knows better, which makes his tweet extremely disingenuous.

    Simply put, Assange is charged with a conspiracy to hack a government computer. The facts as alleged indicate that the conspiracy resulted in a failed attempt to hack that yielded no additional information.

    In his article, Glenn argues that “two facts in particular have been utterly distorted by the DOJ and then misreported by numerous media organizations.”

    Glenn’s first fact, that the “key allegation” is not new is irrelevant. Yes, the Obama administration exercised its prosecutorial discretion and chose not to seek an indictment of Assange for trying to help crack a password, but that exercise did not and does not preclude the Trump administration from taking a different approach.

    Glenn’s second “fact” is a howler that is flatly rebutted by paragraph 9 of the indictment. The password Assange allegedly attempted to help in cracking was the administrator’s password, i.e., the password of a super-user with greater access privileges than Manning enjoyed. Seriously. The DOJ says it right there in paragraph 9. Glenn just makes stuff up.

    To be clear, while I don’t care about Assange one way or another, I do care about protecting free speech and a free press. As a lawyer, I likely would have let the Obama administration’s decision no to pursue and indictment here stand because there is a big difference between charging somebody and convicting them, but that’s a judgment call, and seeking an indictment was within the realm of reason.

    I have grown weary and wary of Glenn’s work these days because it is often intentionally misleading. As soon as he speaks up, I fact check him and usually find he is saying misleading things, if not outright lies.

    • JBeers
      2019-04-14 21:01:27 GMT+0000 - 21:01 | Permalink

      It is good to focus on facts. I personally have come to the conclusion that I need to be skeptical of any source. I therefore try to go to disparate sources, hoping to gain some sense that might be approximately correct. I can honestly right that I would not be astonished if my current impression on this and other matters turn out to be badly wrong.

      It is good that you noted that there may well have been a violation of law, despite the clamor that the matter is one only of free speech and freedom of the press.

      Nevertheless, I believe that there are a couple of things that are more important than the law, as important as it is: facts, and what is right.

      First, the facts, and not just of whether law was violated. There is considerable muddle about what happened in general with various hacks or leaks, for example. People of different opinions have axes to grind; many write confusingly; others with potentially useful knowledge may in theory be under gag orders or may otherwise have reason not to want to stick their necks out.

      Second, even more important is what is right. Slavery was legal at one point in the US. In fact, if I recall my history correctly, it was a felony to help an escaped slave, according to law tested in courts with legal propriety. Later racial segregation was legal, and after full and apparently legally proper judicial review.

      Another problem with focusing on law more than on the constellation of facts or on ethics is the matter of selective prosecution. At least in some US jurisdictions, at least in some eras, for example, it has been or was common for governmental officials to arrest, prosecute, and punish blacks disproportionately for offenses for which whites were typically not arrested. Perhaps those who might embarrass the powers that be were at special risk for stringent prosecution in grey zone areas for severer charges, as well as annoying, even torturous or lethal extrajudicial treatment by officials deriving great power from their positions and their connections, including with the established press. Meanwhile whites with connections, such as those who might be embarrassed by any questioning the Jim Crow system, literally were able to get away with murder.

      I do not mean to imply that prosecuted or persecuted blacks were always innocent, or that the persecuted never ever violated the law or ethics. Moreover a variety of really bad actors over the years have undoubtedly improperly claimed to be victims of persecution in order to get away with having done all sorts of bad stuff.

      There are many, many, many laws and as you suggest sometimes there are prosecutions and sometimes not. Very hard to figure out.

    • Grabrich
      2019-04-15 00:07:15 GMT+0000 - 00:07 | Permalink

      Hi Scot,

      You said:

      “Glenn’s second “fact” is a howler that is flatly rebutted by paragraph 9 of the indictment. The password Assange allegedly attempted to help in cracking was the administrator’s password, i.e., the password of a super-user with greater access privileges than Manning enjoyed. Seriously. The DOJ says it right there in paragraph 9. Glenn just makes stuff up.”

      However, in the Intercept article, Greenwald/Lee state:

      “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.”

      I’m not sure what you mean by “Glenn just makes stuff up”. Yes, it’s a bit of a catch 22, for in order to use another person’s username, Manning (allegedly) needed to access the hashes which was only possible via the administrator’s info. But Greenwald/Lee did mention this in the article.

      Richard G.

  • Neil Godfrey
    2019-04-14 03:32:50 GMT+0000 - 03:32 | Permalink

    Publisher or Source? — A Debated Question

    Much of the debate would settle around WikiLeaks’ legitimacy as a media organisation deserving the same privileges as any other, including newspapers, in the way it operates with respect to leaked material and the protection of sources. It’s a grey and slippery area for newcomers.

    The way WikiLeaks arrived on the world stage in early 2010 proved it was no ordinary media organisation. It posted a leaked video of a US military helicopter killing unarmed civilians in a Baghdad street and provocatively called it ‘Collateral Murder’. When we tracked Assange down in Melbourne for an interview for ABC TV’s Foreign Correspondent program, he was keen to lay out his views about the old media, much of which he described as ‘stillborn’ — in other words, dead. He wanted to build a more open relationship with the public where they too, not just the journalists, could see the raw data and make their own decisions.

    The gunship video, showing US troops killing unarmed civilians, had been part of that, but the title ‘Collateral Murder’ drew fierce criticism that WikiLeaks had a hidden agenda. Assange was making steadfast enemies, particularly in the US military. He seemed well aware of that, and moved around and slept in a different house almost every night. (Fowler, xiv)

    . . . .

    By arguing that Assange was only a source, the New York Times could distance itself from Assange, stressing that it just took the information and had nothing else to do with him. If he was a journalist, the relationship was much closer and the New York Times ran the risk of being implicated in any connection Assange had with Bradley Manning. (161)

    . . . .

    In an interview with him in December 2010, Assange was talking carefully and deliberately. ‘So if they’re trying to say I conspired with Bradley Manning, anyone who conspires with me, is, if you like, a chain in the conspiracy, so that’s all about fear and management.’ Assange added: … but if you’re going to do that I understand you’ve been forced into certain positions by real politic process’. It might be necessary ‘for legal reasons [to call WikiLeaks] a source, fine, but don’t fuck’n denigrate us’. He understood that the New York Times may ‘need to be not truthful because of threats’. In a final word on the issue, he points out that if he is a source and only a source, shouldn’t the journalists that used him as a source protect him?

    That was certainly the view of Max Frankel who had ‘overseen the defence of the New York Times in the Pentagon papers case forty years earlier’. Frankel wrote to the Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger after the first Cablegate material, attaching a copy of a memo he had written at the time when his newspaper was under pressure to reveal the identity of its source, Daniel Ellsberg. ‘We reject collaboration or revelation of our sources for the larger reason that ALL [his capitals] sources deserve to know that they are protected by us, he wrote.’ These seem to be words from another era, because it’s not how Julian Assange was treated if he was just a source.

    Whatever he was to the New York Times others consider him a journalist. After interviewing Assange for six hours, the US 60 Minutes reporter Steve Kroft said, Ί definitely consider him to be a publisher which is the important thing. I mean if he is not a publisher then people at 60 Minutes online, or the New York Times online, aren’t publishers either. I mean he operates an Internet site and he publishes material.’

    The federal secretary of Australia’s Media and Arts Alliance, Christopher Warren, underlines this view, ‘What Assange and his colleagues are doing is journalism. There’s no doubt about that,’ he said. ‘One of the most important tasks of journalism is to uncover and inform people of things that other people would rather keep hidden. They’ve certainly done that.’ (162f)

    Fowler, Andrew. 2011. The Most Dangerous Man in the World: The Explosive True Story of Julian Assange and the Lies, Cover-Ups and Conspiracies He Exposed. Carlton, Vic: Melbourne University Press.

    • Michael Macrossan
      2019-04-14 08:56:13 GMT+0000 - 08:56 | Permalink

      The issue of whether Assange is a journalist or not (he is) seems irrelevant. There is no journalist’s privilege to commit crimes or attempt to commit crimes. Remember when News Ltd hacked celebrities phones, i.e. committed crimes, to get good stories which their readers loved? It would have been just as bad if News Ltd encouraged others to hack those phones for them and, as an inducement, promised not to reveal the names of those who did the hacking for them. No one would claim that Assange can’t be charged with rape (or something similar) in Sweden “because he is a journalist trying to get a story”. Naturally Assange will not be charged in the US with publishing something, but with a clearly defined crime.

      One could argue that governments concoct false or weak charges of criminal activity to intimidate journalists they don’t like, but that is a different issue, which has to be addressed by showing the crime has not been proved, or convincing the British authorities that the US charges have an illegitimate purpose, and extradition should not be granted.

      I assume first Assange has to face some skipping bail charges in the UK (again, an ordinary criminal charge, against which a journalist has no special immunity).

  • Neil Godfrey
    2019-04-14 05:11:08 GMT+0000 - 05:11 | Permalink

    Publisher or Source? — The Debate, continued

    Assange bedevils the journalists who work with him because he refuses to conform to any of the roles they expect him to play. He acts like a leaking source when it suits him. He masquerades as publisher or newspaper syndicate when that’s advantageous. Like a PR agent, he manipulates news organisations to maximise publicity for his ‘clients’, or, when moved to, he threatens to throw info-bombs like an agent provocateur. He’s a wily shape-shifter who won’t sit still, an unpredictable negotiator who is forever changing the terms of the deal. . .” — Slate’s media columnist, Jack Shafer, quoted by Leigh and Harding, 6f.

    . . . We certainly had our moments of difficulty and tension during the course of our joint enterprise. They were caused as much by the difficulty of regular, open communication as by Assange’s status as a sometimes confusing mix of source, intermediary and publisher. Encrypted instant messaging is no substitute for talking. And, while Assange was certainly our main source for the documents, he was in no sense a conventional source – he was not the original source and certainly not a confidential one. Latterly, he was not even the only source. He was, if anything, a new breed of publisher-intermediary – a sometimes uncomfortable role in which he sought to have a degree of control over the source’s material (and even a form of “ownership”, complete with legal threats to sue for loss of income). When, to Assange’s fury, WikiLeaks itself sprang a leak, the irony of the situation was almost comic. The ethical issues involved in this new status of editor/source became more complicated still when it was suggested to us that we owed some form of protection to Assange – as a “source” – by not inquiring too deeply into the sex charges levelled against him in Sweden. That did not seem a compelling argument to us, though there were those – it is not too strong to call them “disciples” – who were not willing to imagine any narrative beyond that of the smear. (Leigh and Harding, 7)

    Leigh, David, and Luke Harding. 2011. Wikileaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy. London: Guardian Books.

  • Grabrich
    2019-04-14 23:55:45 GMT+0000 - 23:55 | Permalink

    Hi Neil,

    Yesterday, Chris Hedges, on his TV show, On Contact, interviewed Vijay Prashad regarding the Assange arrest. I couldn’t find it on youtube, but here it is from RT’s website:

    https://www.rt.com/shows/on-contact/456464-assange-arrest-extradition-prashad/

    Richard G.

  • Pingback: (Why are) Biblioblogs Silent on the Julian Assange Arrest? |

  • Neil Godfrey
    2019-04-16 09:22:24 GMT+0000 - 09:22 | Permalink

  • Peter Grullemans
    2019-09-21 15:22:56 GMT+0000 - 15:22 | Permalink

    Thank you to all who contributed to this rich and vital discussion. The law is an ass. Those in power exploit it to their advantage. Julian has embarrassed them and they have sought to punish and shut him up and thereby set a precedent and warning to other whistle-blowers and journalists. It’s up to us in Australia now to keep contacting our members of parliament to demand that our government take steps to bring Julian home and rethink our foreign policy and distance itself from the US, recognising that those who control the US government and it’s military-industrial complex are the bully that is provoking non-Christian religious people such as Islamic extremists to actually be more aggressive against Australia ! We need a song, and I had better write it – “Middle Class Get of Your Arse”.

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