The Implicit Threat in Julian Assange’s Ambassador Tweet

The other day, I suggested the Twitter Direct Messages between Wikileaks and Don Jr were underwhelming, in that some of the more damning things we might have expected did not show up in those DMs. Since then, several things have become clear. First, there were some time zone inaccuracies behind the timestamps on one of the most inflammatory claims (that Trump immediately tweeted in response to an October 12 DM from Assange; it probably was 75 minutes). And the password Wikileaks shared with Don Jr had been made available to journalists and may have been passed on by Chuck Johnson, who was currying favor with Assange at the time; that minimizes the possibility that such sharing could be deemed a CFAA or other kind of technical violation though puts Johnson more centrally in this picture.

I didn’t say explicitly enough in that post and I should have, though, that I was speaking about Don Jr, not about Wikileaks.

Wikileaks’ contributions do show the organization (and Assange in particular, in those DMs we know involved him) to be self-interested and rabidly anti-Clinton If you haven’t known the latter fact to be true since Hillary did some pretty crazy things in 2010, then you’re new to this rodeo. That said, the tweets did elicit some righteous betrayal from Barrett Brown, which I totally respect given the price he has paid for the claimed idealism of Wikileaks (see also this story).

It’s worth remembering, as Emma Best notes, because they’ve been under unrelenting surveillance since 2010, “WikiLeaks *knew* the DMs were being monitored in real time. It was inevitable that this would leak. Simply calling this dumb misses the point and ignores the tradecraft at play.” Assange, from the refusal of inside information to the demand for an Ambassadorship, was staging a show, and we should remember that.

That said, I’m far more interested in Assange’s subsequent response to the disclosure of the emails, specifically this tweet. In the full DMs released by Don Jr (I think Wikileaks can fairly claim Atlantic took out some context — Atlantic came close to and I think should have just replicated the content of all the DMs, though Brown disagrees), this was the comment Assange made on December 16 asking to be Ambassador.

Hi Don. Hope you’re doing well! In relation to Mr. Assange: Obama/Clinton placed pressure on Sweden, UK and Australia (his home country) to illicitly go after Mr. Assange. It would be real easy and helpful for your dad to suggest that Australia appoint Assange ambassador to DC “That’s a really smart tough guy and the most famous australian you have! ” or something similar. They won’t do it, but it will send the right signals to Australia, UK + Sweden to start following the law and stop bending it to ingratiate themselves with the Clintons. 12/16/16 12:38PM

On Tuesday, Assange posted an ostensible follow-up to that one, renewing his offer to serve as Ambassador.

Note, Assange had originally misspelled Don Jr’s twitter handle, so deleted and reposted it.

This has been taking as trolling, with Assange’s notion that he’d open a hotel in DC, as the Trumps have, with “luxury immunity suites” for whistleblowers.

But even that’s not trolling. It’s a public renewal, more explicit this time, of Assange’s request for a pardon from Trump Sr, though here he drops the “offer” of the claims laundered through Dana Rohrabacher that the emails Assange published to help Trump get elected came from an insider and not Russia. Assange wants the fuck out of his embassy closet, and he’s willing to say that explicitly, now, in a public tweet (as Best noted, making this request visible for all).

Remember, Rohrabacher was always clear that someone (or someones, but Chuck Johnson is clearly one of those people) had made clear that Trump wanted this information. Was Don Jr in on that loop?

It’s the rest of the tweet that got less attention. First, Assange’s promise of “a turbo-charged flow of intel about the latest CIA plots to undermine democracy,” a remarkable reference coming as it does in the wake of Mike Pompeo’s consideration of an alternative narrative for how Wikileaks got emails (as I noted, scheduled even as John Kelly thwarted Rohrabacher’s attempts to meet with Trump directly), not to mention Trump’s screed at John Brennan and others over the weekend.

Assange is agreeing with Trump, even if no one else is, even as the two of them both seek to push an alternative narrative that doesn’t have the Russians orchestrating Assange’s actions for Trump’s benefit, that the CIA is undermining Trump’s presidency.

It’s the hashtag, though, that most observers missed: Vault 8.

Vault 8 is the name Wikileaks has given for its release — started just Friday — of actual source code for CIA’s hacking tools, after long releasing “just” the development notes and manuals for the same tools. I noted then both the way Wikileaks was picking up Shadow Brokers’ narrative about Kaspersky, but also the multiple references to Wikileaks having the same set of NSA files as Shadow Brokers had.

I noted last December that with the December 14 Shadow Brokers release of new NSA tools (just days before Assange joked about being ambassador), the persona seemed to be engaging in extortion: “Nice little NSA here, it’d be shame if anything would happen to it.” Since that time, Shadow Brokers made good on the threat, leading to global cyberattacks. What Assange seems to be doing is similar: no longer a quid pro quo for safety in DC, but now a threat, using CIA, and tools released in CIA’s name, as hostage.

Assange is not offering to release secrets about CIA, but instead weapons leaked or stolen from them. Sure, to the extent the Vault 7 releases haven’t already, that’ll allow others to attribute CIA attacks. But it’ll also devastate the agency and badly undermine US power.

That appears to be where Assange’s request for immunity has gotten.

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.

37 replies
  1. SpaceLifeForm says:

    is was the comment Assange made on December 16 asking to be Ambassador.

    Hi Don. Hope you’re doing well! In relation to Mr. Assange:

    [This implies the writer was not Assange for this tweet. Why not first person?]

    [And, as noted previously, it could not have been Assange as he had no internet at that time]

    [So, is someone inside WL really speaking for JA? Someone needs to do some basic investigative work, and ask JA if he actually wrote various tweets (when he could), and also ask him to confirm approval for those tweets that were allegedly made on his behalf when he was without internet. This requires paper. Someone must visit him. With printouts of the WL tweets from say last few years. It is very possible that various tweets from WL are forged *AND* that they are *INVISIBLE* to the WL account. Where the world can see forged tweets but the account can not see them so they have no idea they are being joe-jobbed on Twitter (old days email)

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_job

    ]

  2. orionATL says:

    for this post of ew’s, the relevant part of this comment made elsewhere is:

    orionATLsays:

    November 16, 2017 at 5:30 pm

    i may not be that interested in the kushner-wikileaks mail exchange, but senators grassley and feinstein definitely are. they are put out that young jared forgot to include them in docs he and his lawyer sent to the senate judiciary committee:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/powerpost/senate-judiciary-panel-kushner-had-contacts-about-wikileaks-russian-overtures-he-did-not-disclose/2017/11/16/402586b4-cb05-11e7-8321-481fd63f174d_story.html?..

  3. orionATL says:

    assange has destroyed his reputation (see b. brown) and pretty well guaranteed that he will be tried and imprisoned in the u. s.

    this is what happens when governments, organizations, or corporations, drive individuals to desperation and rage. it’s the same psychology that explains palestinian terrorism in the face of decades of israeli repression and injustice.

    assange is now a rogue.

    • SpaceLifeForm says:

      Please, make sure you read and understand the joe-job problem I wrote about above.

      It is all about reputation.

      Do not assume that JA was at fault.

      • orionATL says:

        you need to explain what a “joe-joe problem” is.

        you need to explain what you mean by the cryptic “it is all about reputation”.

        julian assange is the head of wikileaks just as jaime dimon is the head of jp morgan and trump the head of usg. they are all three responsible for any major actions their organizations take.

        fwi, i assume assange was communicating to the world diectly thru messages sent to staff or thru staff authorized to speak for him. otherwise, he needs to promptly and convoncingly disavow any comments he did not make or authorize.

        • Avattoir says:

          He/it actually wrote “joe-job” – second part J.O.B. not j.o.e. IOW servant, functionary, gofer.

          Tho it appears it/he posteth with forked keyboard, given by definition gofers go per the boss’ directions.

          Not debating (at all) Ms. Wheeler on her post, but I do think there’s an element of ‘save me’ begging in it. It might have been assumed that Assange of all people would understand what a user of disposable people Trump is, but OTOH that might require to much self effacement.

          • SpaceLifeForm says:

            In Joe-job, the job part means operation, an op, a job. To screw up Joes reputation.

            Read the link I posted.

        • SpaceLifeForm says:

          The Joe-job problem.

          Lets say I can fake a message that you, orionATL allegedly wrote.

          An email, a tweet, a blog post, a facebook message, etc.

          But it was not really you.

          It is a forgery.

          You did not write it.

          And the forged message is defamatory or worse.

          And many people read it and attribute it to you.

          Even though you did not write it (it’s a forgery), your reputation is still damaged.

          Because others may believe it without knowing that it is forged.

  4. harpie says:

    o/t for bmaz, who tweeted:

    Give @LouiseLinton credit though, at least, apparently, she did not shamelessly tag her sponsors while on the government dime…….this time

    Maybe so, but there still may have been a message. See:
    Louise Linton and Steve Mnuchin’s Money Moment; NYT [Fashion and Style]; Vanessa Friedman; 11/16/17 

    […] So what does it say that for her recent close-up Ms. Linton dressed in black, with long leather dominatrix gloves, a long leather skirt, wide black belt, black blouse and black stilettos? […] 

    • orionATL says:

      who knows. maybe steve is in for the time of his young married life, if that’s what he craves :)

      “you play the prez and i’ll be sec of the treasury”.

  5. pdaly says:

    Seems to me Assange is growing desperate, with the news of Mueller’s investigation rolling up some of the Trump network,  that his  (Assange’s) options for a pardon under Trump are dwindling. Wonder why Assange doesn’t just contact Mueller (or did he?) to cut a deal while the Mueller investigation is still unfolding?

  6. Karl Kolchak says:

    It’ll “devastate” the CIA?  The agency responsible for torture, rendition, assassinations, predator drone strikes on civilians, testing of psychosis-inducing drugs on unsuspecting victims, overthrowing democratic governments and meddling in the affairs and elections of just about every nation on Earth?

    If that’s true, Assange is the greatest world hero of the 21st century.  And I’m so old I remember when Democrats seriously attempted to disband the CIA as a threat to democracy and didn’t keep cheering them on.

  7. orionATL says:

    this paragraph really grates on me, i. e., the best part :

    “… It’s worth remembering, as Emma Best notes, because they’ve been under unrelenting surveillance since 2010, “WikiLeaks *knew* the DMs were being monitored in real time. It was inevitable that this would leak. Simply calling this dumb misses the point and ignores the tradecraft at play.” Assange, from the refusal of inside information to the demand for an Ambassadorship, was staging a show, and we should remember that… ”

    well, i don’t know what “show” the cognescenti (dare i say “elite”) will remember, but i pretty much can guarantee that 12 good and true will not focus on “tradecraft” – as an aside, i agree with best about “limited hangout”, an uninformative, cutesy, i’m-in-the-know term, but i also despise using the pretentious term “tradecraft” for deception and thuggery.

    the jury will focus (or be focused by a prosecutor) on assange’s encouragement to trump to contest the election if he loses. that’s bad form in america, very bad form.

    and, for all of us peons (who do not appreciate tradecraft worth a damn), what will count is that our computers have been relentlessly invaded and our communications, and sometimes identities, stolen and that that son of a bitch of a defendant released some of the most potent malware in the digital world.

    if best wants to call that “tradecraft” she is free; i call assange’s behavior in the last year and a half being made stupid and culpable by frustration and anger.

  8. Anon says:

    @pdaly what possible deal could Assange offer Meuller? I can see how he might think that Trump might want something that he has (or is willing to say), or that he believes the CIA/Kelly can pressure Trump to save the hostage, but it is not clear to me that Muller is in the same space.

    What Muller wants is Trump. What Assange did was DM Trump’s (seemingly) idiot son. But that is nothing special and certainly nothing impeachmant-worthy in and of itself. Unless he is going to offer some leaked Russian emails that are so far unknown.

    • orionATL says:

      i’m not sure, but for one assange is almost certain to know who gave him the dem documents he leaked. knowing that with certainly would lead mueller’s investigators on a winding trail back to the russians. what would make that journey worth the effort is that investigators might meet amerians/british/russian emigrees and republicans/democrats/neutral political operatives, together with the money men payrolling those efforts to influence the election.

      i don’t think mueller just wants trump, at least hope not. i hope what he wants is to know with certainty who were the political operatives connecting assange and the russians and assange to the trump campaign or its arms-length retainers.

  9. Aristonicus says:

    Talk about two cultures separated by a common language. JA knows there is no way that he would ever be the Australian ambassador even if Trump asked the Australian government nicely.
    In Australian parlance, this request by Mr Assange is just him being a “Stirrer” or “Sh*t Stirrer”.
    http://www.slang-dictionary.org/australian-slang/Stirrer
    Picture a young Julian in the school yard pestering the head master, “Sir, Sir, me and the boys have got together and had a vote that we all go home early this arvo…” As humour it is about at that level.

  10. pseudonymous in nc says:

    Still think it’s interesting that all of the tweets mentioning Wikileaks from the idiot’s account were “Twitter for iPhone”, which I strongly suspect means Assange-groupie and over-promoted web bro Parscale.

    As for Assange, I was around prominent supporters of his in late 2010 when he was holed up in Ellingham Hall. He has fucked over everybody who behaved in good faith and reserved judgement towards him. He wasn’t “driven to desperation”, he’s a dirty shitty man who abused his notoriety. He has burned every bridge and bitten every hand that fed him apart from whichever ones feed him now and provide him a stationery cupboard as a home, and he’ll bite those if he feels the need.

  11. zonefreezone says:

    1. I do not share the antipathy for Assange that pervades this site.

    2. My reaction to these communications: Oh please, can Julian Assange not commit satire?

    (ducks) incoming

  12. Galactus-36215 says:

    Marcy

    In the Assange ambassador tweet, why is Assange referring to himself in the 3rd person?

    Seems odd that he speaks this way. It’s as if someone else is speaking about him using his account.

    Why doesn’t Assange use the pronoun “I or me”, saying “why doesn’t your dad appoint me ambassador?”

    • Galactus-36215 says:

      Also, in the followup tweet you cite regarding the confirmation of the ambassadorship (Nov 14, 2017), Assange uses the pronoun “our” saying to TrumpJr “Our offer…..”

      Generally, one would think this refers to Wikileaks, but it could refer to an actual 3rd party knowingly using Assange’s twitter account to communicate with Trump Jr. I say knowingly because Assange has not publicly refuted the accuracy of any of the DMs.

      This in turn begs the following questions: Is another 3rd party using Assange’s twitter account? And if so, who is this person and why is Assange protecting his/her identity?

  13. MT says:

    Not buying that the NSA is this incompetent, Rogers especially. This all suits a John Birch Military agenda (i.e. the ones that hijacked Trump) of stomping on the NeoLib/Con CIA/State Dept, who had been taking an increasingly militaristic role. Since AI development and entirely new types of weaponry (look who had the biggest increase in the last leaked Intelligence budget – National Geospatial Intelligence program – 108%) the future of men in uniform was looking increasingly bleak as the technocrats stepped in. The recent purge of compromised Admirals/Generals is another indication that the military is reasserting/protecting itself against the CIA takeover/pushback. This still all looks like a build up to a cyber 911 with WL (who also had a few “purges” last year) playing a useful tool and a viable explanation (they’ve been prepping the business community for this recently – the NIAC report.)

    I still don’t believe Trump, wants or ever wanted to be president (he’s not that stupid either.) But a cyber 911 will allow a reality-TV showman and petty criminal, who was never meant to be president, to step down quickly and retire to the Virgin Islands with Billary, and a more “presidential ” unity candidate can step in in the aftermath of a national crisis. Everyone loves “W”? – just kiddin’ (I hope.)

  14. bmaz says:

    I gots some news for you guys. Mueller will not be cutting an immunity deal with Assange, nor does he have the putative authority and jurisdiction to do so. This shit is just crazy talk fueled by a pent up narcissistic asshole in a broom closet in London. Seriously, yer killing me.

  15. Hystlit says:

    In which Assange’s world-class needling drives two more statist apple-polishers into squeaky conniption fits.

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