Lefties Learn to Love Leaks Again

Throughout the presidential campaign, observers have noted with irony that many on the right discovered a new-found love for WikiLeaks. Some of the same people who had earlier decried leaks, even called Chelsea Manning a traitor, were lapping up what Julian Assange was dealing on a daily basis.

There was a similar, though less marked, shift on the left. While many on the left had criticized — or at least cautioned about — WikiLeaks from the start, once Assange started targeting their presidential candidate, such leaks became an unprecedented, unparalleled assault on decency, which no one seemed to say when similar leaks targeted Bashar al-Assad.

Which is why I was so amused by the reception of this story yesterday.

After revealing that Donald Trump’s Secretary of State nominee “was the long-time director of a US-Russian oil firm based in the tax haven of the Bahamas, leaked documents show” in the first paragraph, the article admits, in the fourth paragraph that,

Though there is nothing untoward about this directorship, it has not been reported before and is likely to raise fresh questions over Tillerson’s relationship with Russia ahead of a potentially stormy confirmation hearing by the US senate foreign relations committee. Exxon said on Sunday that Tillerson was no longer a director after becoming the company’s CEO in 2006.

The people sharing it on Twitter didn’t seem to notice that (nor did the people RTing my ironic tweet about leaks seem to notice). Effectively, the headline “leaks reveal details I have sensationalized” served its purpose, with few people reading far enough to the caveats that admit this is fairly standard international business practice (indeed, it’s how Trump’s businesses work too). This is a more sober assessment of the import of the document detailing Tillerson’s ties with the Exxon subsidiary doing business in Russia.

This Guardian article worked just like all the articles about DNC and Podesta emails worked, even with — especially with — the people decrying the press for the way it irresponsibly sensationalized those leaks.

The response to this Tillerson document is all the more remarkable given the source of this leak. The Guardian reveals it came from an anonymous source for Süddeutsche Zeitung, which in turn shared the document with the Guardian and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The leaked 2001 document comes from the corporate registry in the Bahamas. It was one of 1.3m files given to the Germany newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung by an anonymous source.


The documents from the Bahamas corporate registry were shared by Süddeutsche Zeitung with the Guardian and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in Washington DC.

That is, this document implicating Vladimir Putin’s buddy Rex Tillerson came via the very same channel that the Panama Papers had, which Putin claimed, back in the time Russia was rifling around the DNC server, was a US intelligence community effort to discredit him and his kleptocratic cronies, largely because that was the initial focus of the US-NGO based consortium that managed the documents adopted, a focus replicated at outlets participating.

See this column for a worthwhile argument that Putin hacked the US as retaliation for the Panama Papers, which makes worthwhile points but would only work chronologically if Putin had advance notice of the Panama Papers (because John Podesta got hacked on March 19, before the first releases from the Panama Papers on April 3).

There really has been a remarkable lack of curiosity about where these files came from. That’s all the more striking in this case, given that the document (barely) implicating Tillerson comes from the Bahamas, where the US at least was collecting every single phone call made.

That’s all the more true given the almost non-existent focus on the Bahamas leaks before — from what I can tell just one story has been done on this stash, though the documents are available in the ICIJ database. Indeed, if the source for the leaks was the same, it would seem to point to an outside hacker rather than an inside leaker. That doesn’t mean the leak was done just to hurt Tillerson. The leak, which became public on September 21, precedes the election of Trump, much less the naming of Tillerson. But it deserves at least some notice.

For what it’s worth, I think it quite possible the US has been involved in such leaks — particularly given how few Americans get named in them. But I don’t think the Panama Papers, which implicated plenty of American friends and even the Saudis, actually did target Putin.

Still, people are going to start believing Putin’s claims that this effort is primarily targeted at him if documents conveniently appear from the leak as if on command.

I am highly interested in who handed off documents allegedly stolen by Russia’s GRU to Wikileaks. But I’m also interested in who the source enabling asymmetric corruption claims, as if on demand, is.

12 replies
  1. Yastreblyansky says:

    As one of the people you seem to be laughing at here, I want to say my attitude has hardly changed since I got excited over the first two Chelsea Manning dumps. Some leaks are absolutely in the public interest, others (like the third Manning dump, with its silly gossip focus) not so much. The leaks of DNC emails were irresponsible in my view, but the editorial treatment–the drip-by-drip release timed with the post-convention and the canned interpretation by who knows whom–was worse.

    To me WiliLeaks’ best days are really gone and new sources have replaced them. The Panama Papers leak was a wonderful thing and very well handled, and these new Bahamas Leaks (perhaps Süddeutsche Zeitung got them from the same source as Panama Papers) are also praiseworthy.

    • emptywheel says:

      1) If SZ got these from the same source as PP (which is what I suggested in the post), then it suggests they were stolen, including a bunch of attorney client conversations.

      2) If someone leaks hundreds of thousands of docs, but only reports on Tillerson, how is the Bahamas Leak generally, rather than this story about Tillerson, which reports on known details, “praiseworthy”?

  2. SpaceLifeForm says:

    You do not have to ‘hand off’ documents if
    you have backdoored the website and can upload them directly. Much easier when the principal is stuck in an embassy somewhere.

    (do not forget the emails on the site that had exploits still there. Turkey emails)

  3. SpaceLifeForm says:

    OT(not really, just more fascism):  

    We are disappointed that IBM CEO Ginni Rometty’s open letter to President-elect Donald Trump does not affirm IBMers’ core values of diversity, inclusiveness, and ethical business conduct. For our mutual aid and protection, we call on IBM to expand diversity recruitment programs, and we assert our right to refuse participation in any U.S. government contracts that violate constitutionally protected civil liberties. We call on IBM to demonstrate commitment to our Business Conduct Guidelines and to prevent perceived influence peddling through Trump affiliated businesses. Lastly, in the present context of insecurity and unpredictability, we call on IBM to return to our traditions of high worker retention and morale by making retirement plans equitable once again.

    If we cannot boldly and openly affirm our commitment to diversity, then who are we? 




  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Au contraire. There is something decidedly “untoward” (the author presumably meant “not illegal”), in the most powerful oil industry CEO being a director of a Russia-focused development company based in a tax haven jurisdiction: Tax avoidance.

    Anecdotally, the difference between illegal tax “avoidance” and legal if questionable tax “planning” used to be 5-10 years in a federal penitentiary. Now it’s whether a tax adviser gets a client’s business or makes partner. “Everybody’s doing it, it would be foolish for us not to,” is the usual rationale, one that The Donald adores. One could say the same of serial gross sexual imposition by a tycoon.

    Tax havens exist so that their users can avoid paying taxes by using and abusing loopholes in inconsistent national tax regimes. Tax havens are also secrecy jurisdictions. They enable global theft, usually through money laundering, whether by the CIA, a drug lord, a global bank or a tinpot dictator in a resource rich developing country. The aggregate loss of tax revenue is hundreds of billions of dollars a year. It helps make sense of the idea that the first world exists because there is a third world, and vice versa.

    The US political, business and legal cultures may condone tax havens and their purposes. (In this, we are not alone.) Do we have to make one of their most adept practitioners our lead spokesperson for American global affairs?

    • emptywheel says:

      Let me be clear: I think Tillerson is a mistake and Exxon’s business model, and business, horrible.

      But! All this did was make known details in Tillerson’s resume look spookier than they are. That is, the MEANS is no different than the MEANS by which normal, if unsavory, political maneuvering in the DNC emails looks worse if you leak emails drip drip drip and then scream about them w/o context.

      There are a lot of people fairly questioning that means, in part because it leads to decontextualized stories (as I noted the ICIJ story here was far better). If the means is a problem it should be a problem generally.

    • El Cid says:

      Very good comments about tax planning.  At the Harvard business school we learned that stealing an automobile is grand larceny, stealing 100 million$ is finance.  :)

  5. DannyD says:

    I’ve always loved the leaks, I think we all should. In some ways, the ‘Court of public opinion’ is the ONLY court that the rich & powerful are accountable to these days.  Let’s be honest…If the HRC campaign and the DNC were NOT busy colluding behind the scenes, all the mail would be about scheduling conflicts and empty toner cartridges…100% non-news items.  Not victim blaming here, just making the obvious point that email dumps are only dangerous if there’s actually something there.  It’s the old “If you’ve got nothing to hide…” argument made right back to the same folks that are telling us surveillance is keeping us safe, and we should trust them.  Leaks are the citizen’s way of surveilling government officials, and I love that Trump is getting a taste of his own medicine now too, perhaps there are items coming up that will absolutely disqualify him before inauguration day.

    The leak that I’m not so secretly hoping for though….  ‘Secret NASA emails show that a giant meteor will obliterate Washington DC on Jan 20th…Trumplethinskin and his cabinet of science deniers proclaim it’s a conspiracy and vow to attend anyway”

  6. aksack says:

    It’s a shame what this blog has become. Totally unhinged so that now you are equating leaks about things like killing people, and then killing the innocent medics from ambulances that showed up to help the people, with reporting leaks that happen to be true about a government appointee, his connections to a country that is alleged to have hacked campaign emails in order to influence an election, and the business practices he engages in. Gee I wonder what his position on the sanctions in Russia will be? Can’t look into it, because every leak is equal, both sides do it, blah blah blah.

    Also, this blog reports on Wikileaks, saying liberals now hate them, but rarely, if ever, mention that Wikileaks was caught holding back emails that would be embarrassing to Russia and Russian oligarchs, even though they have routinely released documents that will put innocent women and children at risk in countries with extremist Muslims. Maybe something like that coming to light would account for a lot of liberals no longer seeing a lot of credibility in Wikileaks, or maybe the constant stream of “alt-right” BS and lies on their Twitter feed might do it. Much better to embrace the “both sides do it” bullshit we get everywhere else.

    • bmaz says:

      Man, that is a load. First off, it is you that seem to be making false equivalences. Secondly, if those are your takes on the written work here, you are not reading very closely.

  7. lefty665 says:

    “While many on the left had criticized — or at least cautioned about — WikiLeaks from the start, once Assange started targeting their presidential candidate, such leaks became an unprecedented, unparalleled assault on decency, which no one seemed to say when similar leaks targeted Bashar al-Assad.”

    Were there Wikileaks about Sanders or the Greens?  Seems it’s largely neolibs, elites and Dems following the party line who were supporting Hillary and hysterical about things like her Goldman-Sachs speeches coming out. “Unparalleled assault on decency” is a good way to put it. It was not a lot of us who are actually on the left, unless you consider the left as all those lesser evil supporters one half step left of the right most dingbat. Hillary was certainly not a left wing candidate, she had more in common with her earlier incarnation as a Goldwater Girl than she did with Sanders.  Her vote totals reflect that she did not appeal to us actual lefties all that much.

    It’s a good post, and I appreciate that you are exploring this and the recent anti Russian propaganda and hysteria. It’s looking like we’re going to be hard pressed for rationality over the next several years, from Repubs and Dems alike. Thank you.

    It does however hurt a little to be grouped with the neo libbers, DLCers and low information folks who have been hysterical for Hillary all as fellow traveling lefties.


    • lefty665 says:

      Sigh, I guess you’re right. As I poke a little deeper it does look like a bunch of folks who should know better, and are at least nominally lefties, have jumped on “the Russians done it” bandwagon. Pretty shortsighted. All it does by deflecting blame for losing the election from Hillary and the party establishment is prevent the reform that could save the party from oblivion.

      Well, not quite all, it fuels a new McCarthyism too. Guess we’ll have to opportunity to see if the Dems can convince a majority of the country they are unfit to hold office at any level. Go for it Dems, keep up the denial, displacement and embrace hysteria while coddling the elites that have brought you down.

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