Senate Intelligence Bill Aims to Label WikiLeaks — and Maybe the Journalists Who Look Like Them — Spooks

I’m reading the draft Senate Intelligence Authorization for 2018; in a follow-up, I will lay out why it is a remarkably useful bill, particularly in the way it addresses vulnerabilities identified in the wake of the Russian efforts to tamper with our election.

But there is a major point of concern, one which led Senator Ron Wyden to vote against the bill in committee. Attached to a must-pass bill, it holds that it is the sense of Congress that WikiLeaks resembles a non-state hostile intelligence service.

SEC. 623. SENSE OF CONGRESS ON WIKILEAKS.

It is the sense of Congress that WikiLeaks and the senior leadership of WikiLeaks resemble a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors and should be treated as such a service by the United States.

In explaining his opposition to the provision, Wyden laid out all the unintended consequences that might come from labeling WikiLeaks a hostile intelligence service. “My concern is that the use of the novel phrase ‘non-state hostile intelligence service’ may have legal, constitutional, and policy implications, particularly should it be applied to journalists inquiring about secrets,” stated Senator Wyden. “The language in the bill suggesting that the U.S. government has some unstated course of action against ‘non-state hostile intelligence services’ is equally troubling. The damage done by WikiLeaks to the United States is clear. But with any new challenge to our country, Congress ought not react in a manner that could have negative consequences, unforeseen or not, for our constitutional principles. The introduction of vague, undefined new categories of enemies constitutes such an ill-considered reaction.”

Wyden has a point. If WikiLeaks is treated as an intelligence service, for example, then anyone having extensive conversations with them can be targeted for surveillance. Any assistance someone gives — like donations — can be deemed a potential criminal violation. And a lot of people who access and support Wikileaks because of the content it publishes may be deemed suspect.

Wyden did find other things in the bill to praise, including three things he sponsored, two of them explicitly tied to the Russian threat:

  1. A report on the threat to the United States from Russian money laundering. The amendment calls on intelligence agencies to work with elements of the Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, such as the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), to assess the scope and threat of Russian money laundering to the United States.
  2. Requires Congressional notification before the establishment of any U.S.-Russia cybersecurity unit, including a report on what intelligence will be shared with the Russians, any counterintelligence concerns, and how those concerns would be mitigated.
  3. A report from the Intelligence Community on whether cyber security vulnerabilities in the U.S. cell network, including known vulnerabilities to SS7, are resulting in foreign government surveillance of Americans. The report follows on a study by the Department of Homeland Security that found major, widespread weaknesses in U.S. mobile networks.

But he nevertheless voted against the bill to register his concerns about the new label for WikiLeaks.

The WikiLeaks language would sure make it harder for Trump to exchange information with Julian Assange in exchange for a pardon. But tacking this onto such an otherwise useful bill seems like a bad idea.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

11 replies
  1. SpaceLifeForm says:

    Which senator(s) pushed in the WL language?

    Senator Wyden is absolutely correct to oppose such language in the bill. Pure slippery slope.

    Finally some traction on SS7. Very good. How many years have I been pointing out that SS7 is a huge security hole? Hell, I have lost track.

  2. SpaceLifeForm says:

    OT: (EW tweet) Trump Doctrine

    “Give Generals more authority to commit human rights violations, knowing full well press will never hold *them* accountable”

    It is not just generals. It is anyone allegedly in a position of ‘authority’. It’s ‘turtles all the way down’ to your local sheriff.

    Hence, lack of proper response to Charlottesville vs response to Barcelona.

    Trump thinks he is superior because he has been brainwashed into believing the US is superior to other countries. And he believes that since he is the ‘leader’ of the superior country, he must be, like, you know, a totally awesome dude.

    He can call it terorism when convenient, but when antifa people in U.S. are attacked (whom therefore would never vote for Trump in 2020), he really is just a honey badger.

    This is how fascists think. They think they are superior. They are self-deluded.

    They have no vision.

  3. SpaceLifeForm says:

    “is not something that should have happened in America,”

    Kinda sounds like belated trump-speak, correct?

    You would be wrong.

    This is a must read. Charlottesville woke this catholic priest up. Former KKK.

    This is a must read. Serious. Must read.
    If you do not read it, you want to remain clueless.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/08/22/my-actions-were-despicable-catholic-priest-steps-down-after-revealing-he-was-a-ku-klux-klan-member-decades-ago/

    Aitcheson went on: “Racists have polluted minds, twisted by an ideology that reinforces the false belief that they are superior to others.”

    [See the connection to my above post? One thinking they are superior]

    [So many dots, no time]

  4. SpaceLifeForm says:

    OT? (nothing seems to be anymore)

    And of course, yet again, I must point out that four times is beyond enemy action.

    Always, always remember this:

    Once is happenstance.
    Twice is coincidence.
    Three times is enemy action.
    Four times, you are not fucking paying attention.

    AWS, USN both at level 4. WTF?

    AIS. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automatic_identification_system

    https://thenextweb.com/insider/2017/08/22/the-us-navy-is-investigating-possibility-of-cyber-attack-in-latest-collision/#.tnw_MjEpW9aT

    • bmaz says:

      Hi there. How much time in your life have you spent actually dealing with the DOJ? Hmmm?  I spent a little today, and have spent a great deal over the last three decades.

      For you to sit there and blithely label the entire effort “fascists” is not only asinine, but repulsive intellectually. That is a statement by a person that likes to yap, but doesn’t actually know dick shit about what they are talking about.

      You can talk about the way political appointment officials have tilted things, and I will (or long ago did) decry that. Fine. But your last sentence is beyond reason. Get a grip, and don’t be stupid.

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