The Yahoo Story about All the Things CIA Wasn’t Allowed to Do Against WikiLeaks

When last we saw Zach Dorfman get a big scoop, he managed to present claims about Eric Swalwell appropriately cooperating with the FBI in a counterintelligence investigation so wildly out of context that the story fed false claims about Swalwell for most of a year.

His big story about Mike Pompeo’s vendetta against WikiLeaks — with Sean Naylor and Michael Isikoff — is bound to be a similar example.

Wherein paragraph 100-something debunks paragraphs 1 and 2

The first two paragraphs claim that there were discussions about assassinating Julian Assange.

In 2017, as Julian Assange began his fifth year holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London, the CIA plotted to kidnap the WikiLeaks founder, spurring heated debate among Trump administration officials over the legality and practicality of such an operation.

Some senior officials inside the CIA and the Trump administration even discussed killing Assange, going so far as to request “sketches” or “options” for how to assassinate him. Discussions over kidnapping or killing Assange occurred “at the highest levels” of the Trump administration, said a former senior counterintelligence official. “There seemed to be no boundaries.”

Paragraph 12 says that lots of those things described in paragraphs one and two weren’t approved.

There is no indication that the most extreme measures targeting Assange were ever approved, in part because of objections from White House lawyers, but the agency’s WikiLeaks proposals so worried some administration officials that they quietly reached out to staffers and members of Congress on the House and Senate intelligence committees to alert them to what Pompeo was suggesting. “There were serious intel oversight concerns that were being raised through this escapade,” said a Trump national security official.

Around about paragraph 67 the piece describes Mike Pompeo asking for “the art of the possible,” something CIA Directors have a history of doing as a way to think outside the box.

Soon after the speech, Pompeo asked a small group of senior CIA officers to figure out “the art of the possible” when it came to WikiLeaks, said another former senior CIA official. “He said, ‘Nothing’s off limits, don’t self-censor yourself. I need operational ideas from you. I’ll worry about the lawyers in Washington.’” CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., sent messages directing CIA stations and bases worldwide to prioritize collection on WikiLeaks, according to the former senior agency official.

Around the 90s, Yahoo claims someone learned second-hand that Trump asked about killing Assange, but then suggests that wasn’t real, then describes top CIA officials talking about killing Assange, then admits such plans may have never gotten to the White House.

Some discussions even went beyond kidnapping. U.S. officials had also considered killing Assange, according to three former officials. One of those officials said he was briefed on a spring 2017 meeting in which the president asked whether the CIA could assassinate Assange and provide him “options” for how to do so.

“It was viewed as unhinged and ridiculous,” recalled this former senior CIA official of the suggestion.

It’s unclear how serious the proposals to kill Assange really were. “I was told they were just spitballing,” said a former senior counterintelligence official briefed on the discussions about “kinetic options” regarding the WikiLeaks founder. “It was just Trump being Trump.”

Nonetheless, at roughly the same time, agency executives requested and received “sketches” of plans for killing Assange and other Europe-based WikiLeaks members who had access to Vault 7 materials, said a former intelligence official. There were discussions “on whether killing Assange was possible and whether it was legal,” the former official said.

Yahoo News could not confirm if these proposals made it to the White House. Some officials with knowledge of the rendition proposals said they had heard no discussions about assassinating Assange.

And then well past paragraph 100, Yahoo admits the plans to assassinate Assange went nowhere, in significant part because doing so would be illegal.

A primary question for U.S. officials was whether any CIA plan to kidnap or potentially kill Assange was legal. The discussions occurred under the aegis of the agency’s new “offensive counterintelligence” authorities, according to former officials. Some officials thought this was a highly aggressive, and likely legally transgressive, interpretation of these powers.

Without a presidential finding — the directive used to justify covert operations — assassinating Assange or other WikiLeaks members would be illegal, according to several former intelligence officials. In some situations, even a finding is not sufficient to make an action legal, said a former national security official. The CIA’s newfound offensive counterintelligence powers regarding WikiLeaks would not have stretched to assassination. “That kind of lethal action would be way outside of a legitimate intelligence or counterintelligence activity,” a former senior intelligence community lawyer said.

In the end, the assassination discussions went nowhere, said former officials.

The idea of killing Assange “didn’t get serious traction,” said a former senior CIA official. “It was, this is a crazy thing that wastes our time.”

As to the discussions of kidnapping Assange, both the UK and NSC nixed those ideas, though White House Counsel lawyer John Eisenberg (who is presented as the hero of the Yahoo story, and who was a national security lawyer at DOJ during the Bush Administration when such things did get approved) worried that CIA would do it without alerting him and others, and so pressed DOJ to indict Assange if they were going to.

“There was a discussion with the Brits about turning the other cheek or looking the other way when a team of guys went inside and did a rendition,” said a former senior counterintelligence official. “But the British said, ‘No way, you’re not doing that on our territory, that ain’t happening.’” The British Embassy in Washington did not return a request for comment.

In addition to diplomatic concerns about rendition, some NSC officials believed that abducting Assange would be clearly illegal. “You can’t throw people in a car and kidnap them,” said a former national security official.

In fact, said this former official, for some NSC personnel, “This was the key question: Was it possible to render Assange under [the CIA’s] offensive counterintelligence” authorities? In this former official’s thinking, those powers were meant to enable traditional spy-versus-spy activities, “not the same kind of crap we pulled in the war on terror.”

In short, this is a very long story that spends thousands of words admitting that its lead overstates how seriously this line of thought, particularly assassination, was pursued.

I will have lots more to say about several things that discredit this story. But for now that’s the important thing: The story admits that the story oversells its lead.

Yahoo describes the changing view regarding WikiLeaks

The story is useful because it lays out a chronology that few people understand, how over years the US view on Assange gradually changed (the view is entirely based on “former” officials and likely doesn’t reflect even what happened with Assange in the last years of the Trump Administration). The events it describes that led to a gradual change in the way the US treated Assange as depicted in this story are:

  • In response to the 2010 releases, the Obama Administration, “restricted investigations into Assange and WikiLeaks”
  • “In the wake of the Snowden revelations, the Obama administration allowed the intelligence community to prioritize collection on WikiLeaks,” no longer requiring a warrant for intel; but when “top intelligence officials” tried to get the White House to deem people like Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald “information brokers,” Obama refused
  • In spite of the changes described as occurring in 2013, in 2015 DOJ remained, “very protective,” of its authorities over whether to charge Assange and whether to treat WikiLeaks “like a media outlet”
  • “The events of 2016 ‘really crystallized’ U.S. intelligence officials’ belief that the WikiLeaks founder ‘was acting in collusion with people who were using him to hurt the interests of the United States,’ … But there was still ‘sensitivity on how we would collect on them.'” [Yahoo says NSA “surveilled” Guccifer 2.0’s Twitter accounts but we know that DOJ obtained warrants to read them, as well, which it doesn’t mention]
  • Yahoo presents a series of seemingly conflicting claims about how things changed in 2016, but does say that shortly before Trump took over Obama’s view on WikiLeaks underwent a “sea change”
  • On April 13, 2017, over a month after the first Vault 7 releases, Pompeo declared WikiLeaks a non-state hostile intelligence agency, thereby accessing “offensive counterintelligence” activities to use against WikiLeaks, including disruption efforts (though the article suggests none were ever used); this label did result in far more collection on WikiLeaks associates traveling around the world
  • In summer 2017, Pompeo embraced proposals to kidnap Assange, which was ultimately pitched to the British, but they refused and NSC officials argued it would be illegal
  • In December 2017, the Five Eyes worked together to thwart a believed Russian exfiltration attempt, and on the same day, DOJ charged Assange by complaint
  • In April 2019, Assange was booted from the Embassy and arrested under a single CFAA count, which DOJ has twice superseded (Yahoo makes no mention of the second superseding indictment and the story seems to drop well before the end of the Trump Administration; it makes no mention of whether Gina Haspel continued the policies pursued by Pompeo after he moved to State in 2018)

The timeline laid out here conflicts with virtually everything Assange claimed about the genesis of his charges during his extradition hearing: showing that Assange’s help getting Snowden out of Hong Kong is what started the process of revising views of WikiLeaks, showing that the US changed their understanding of Assange in 2016, not in 2017, as Assange repeatedly claimed in his extradition hearing, and showing that things really started ratcheting up after the Vault 7 release, at a time when Assange was also under investigation for several things unrelated to journalism (though Yahoo doesn’t mention those investigations, even though they are public), and was therefore separate from Trump’s election or Jeff Sessions’ later leak-driven commitment to crack down on journalists.

In short, amidst a jillion words making claims that the article itself discredits, the article proves that Assange lied, repeatedly, in his extradition hearing, and that the precipitating event in originally charging him was credible information about a Russian exfiltration plot.

Roger Stone reporter Michael Isikoff appears to be unfamiliar with the entire Roger Stone case

One thing that this story never explains is why, if the entire Trump Administration were so opposed to Assange as they claim, Pompeo would have to declare WikiLeaks a non-state hostile intelligence service rather than relying on a Presidential finding to spy on WikiLeaks’ associates.

The immediate question facing Pompeo and the CIA was how to hit back against WikiLeaks and Assange. Agency officials found the answer in a legal sleight of hand. Usually, for U.S. intelligence to secretly interfere with the activities of any foreign actor, the president must sign a document called a “finding” that authorizes such covert action, which must also be briefed to the House and Senate intelligence committees. In very sensitive cases, notification is limited to Congress’s so-called Gang of Eight — the four leaders of the House and Senate, plus the chairperson and ranking member of the two committees.

But there is an important carveout. Many of the same actions, if taken against another spy service, are considered “offensive counterintelligence” activities, which the CIA is allowed to conduct without getting a presidential finding or having to brief Congress, according to several former intelligence officials.

Often, the CIA makes these decisions internally, based on interpretations of so-called “common law” passed down in secret within the agency’s legal corps. “I don’t think people realize how much [the] CIA can do under offensive [counterintelligence] and how there is minimal oversight of it,” said a former official.

That’s what gave Pompeo broader authorities to operate on his own (and thereby creating the risk he might try to assassinate Assange without White House knowledge). But it’s also what limited his options legally. Had Pompeo gotten a finding, kidnapping and assassination would be less obviously prohibited, and just the Gang of Eight would have been briefed. But by making this announcement publicly, everyone learned about it. Ron Wyden predictably raised concerns (and there was a perennial battle over whether Congress would agree with Pompeo’s label as a sense of Congress).

Effectively, Pompeo got fewer authorities and more political pushback, literally the opposite of why Yahoo claims why he went this route.

I don’t know the answer. But I do know that this story’s treatment of Trump is bizarre and ignores a lot of known facts, so it’s possible the answer is the most obvious one: Pompeo couldn’t get a Presidential finding because the President wouldn’t sign off.

As noted above, the article does describe that a source heard second-hand that Trump asked for options to kill Assange, though it doesn’t date it more specifically than spring 2017 and dismisses the statement as one of Trump’s routine attacks.

The story describes that Mike Pompeo was terrified of briefing Trump on the Vault 7 breach, the first releases of which were published on March 7, 2017.

Pompeo, apparently fearful of the president’s wrath, was initially reluctant to even brief the president on Vault 7, according to a former senior Trump administration official. “Don’t tell him, he doesn’t need to know,” Pompeo told one briefer, before being advised that the information was too critical and the president had to be informed, said the former official.

It doesn’t explain, then, whether Pompeo, or Jim Comey, was the source of the briefing that Trump promptly shared with Tucker Carlson literally the day when the FBI would first interview suspected Vault 7 source Joshua Schulte in an urgent attempt to prevent him from fleeing the country with his diplomatic passport. It sure as hell doesn’t explain how the President, in his first known big leak of classified information, almost blew the entire Vault 7 investigation, and how that’s consistent with a plan to assassinate Assange.

Even crazier, especially given Michael Isikoff’s participation in the story, is that there’s no mention of the disclosures that came out as part of the Roger Stone investigation and the Mueller investigation more generally.

No later than November 15 (and possibly even before the election), Trump’s rat-fucker was working with Assange’s lawyer brokering a pardon deal.

In April, Stone called on Pompeo to resign for his comments in the wake of Vault 7.

Stone took to InfoWars on April 18, calling on Pompeo to either provide proof of those Russian ties or resign, defending the release of the Vault 7 tools along the way.

The Intelligence agencies continue to insist that Julian Assange is an active Russian Agent and that Wikileaks is a Russian controlled asset. The agencies have no hard proof of this claim whatsoever. Assange has said repeatedly that he is affiliated with no nation state but the Intelligence Agencies continue to insist that he is under Russian control because it fits the narrative in which they must produce some evidence of Russian interference in our election because they used this charge to legally justify and rationalize the surveillance of Trump aides, myself included.


President Donald Trump said on Oct, 10, 2016 “I love Wikileaks” and Pompeo who previously had praised the whistleblowing operation now called Wikileaks “a non-state hostile Intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia”. Mr. Pompeo must be pressed to immediately release any evidence he has that proves these statements. If he cannot do so ,the President should discharge him.


Julian Assange does not work for the Russians. Given the import of the information that he ultimately disclosed about the Clinton campaign, the Obama administration and the deep secrets in the CIA’s Vault 7, he has educated the American people about the tactics and technology the CIA has used to spy on ordinary Americans.

Assange personally DMed Stone to thank him for the article, while claiming that Pompeo had stopped short of claiming that WikiLeaks had gotten the stolen DNC emails directly, thereby making WikiLeaks like any other media outlet.

On or about April 19, 2017, Assange, using Target Account 2, wrote to Stone, “Ace article in infowars. Appreciated. But note that U.S. intel is engages in slight of hand maoevers [sic]. Listen closely and you see they only claim that we received U.S. election leaks \”not directly\” or via a \”third party\” and do not know \”when\” etc. This line is Pompeo appears to be getting at with his \”abbeted\”. This correspnds to the same as all media and they do not make any allegation that WL or I am a Russia asset.”

The Mueller investigation even showed that in the very same time period where Pompeo was considering assassination attempts on Assange, Trump’s rat-fucker was leveraging the “highest level of Government” to address Assange’s issues.

On June 10, 2017, according to affidavits submitted as part of the Mueller investigation, Roger Stone DMed Julian Assange and told him he was doing everything he could to “address the issues at the highest level of Government.”

57. On or about June 10, 2017, Roger Stone wrote to Target Account 2, “I am doing everything possible to address the issues at the highest level of Government. Fed treatment of you and Wikileaks is an outrage. Must be circumspect in this forum as experience demonstrates it is monitored. Best regards R.” Target Account 2 wrote back, “Appreciated. Of course it is!”

Nine days after the rat-fucker who had a notebook that recorded all the communications he had with Trump during the election described working at the highest level of government to help Assange, Trump attempted to shut down the entirety of the hack-and-leak investigation.

On June 19, 2017, according to the Mueller Report, the President dictated a message for Corey Lewandowski to take to Jeff Sessions, telling the (recused) Attorney General to meet with Robert Mueller and order him to limit his investigation only to future election meddling, not the election meddling that had gotten Trump elected.

During the June 19 meeting, Lewandowski recalled that, after some small talk, the President brought up Sessions and criticized his recusal from the Russia investigation.605 The President told Lewandowski that Sessions was weak and that if the President had known about the likelihood of recusal in advance, he would not have appointed Sessions.606 The President then asked Lewandowski to deliver a message to Sessions and said “write this down.” 607 This was the first time the President had asked Lewandowski to take dictation, and Lewandowski wrote as fast as possible to make sure he captured the content correctly.608 The President directed that Sessions should give a speech publicly announcing:

I know that I recused myself from certain things having to do with specific areas. But our POTUS . .. is being treated very unfairly. He shouldn’t have a Special Prosecutor/Counsel b/c he hasn’t done anything wrong. I was on the campaign w/ him for nine months, there were no Russians involved with him. I know it for a fact b/c I was there. He didn’t do anything wrong except he ran the greatest campaign in American history.609

The dictated message went on to state that Sessions would meet with the Special Counsel to limit his jurisdiction to future election interference:

Now a group of people want to subvert the Constitution of the United States. T am going to meet with the Special Prosecutor to explain this is very unfair and let the Special Prosecutor move forward with investigating election meddling for future elections so that nothing can happen in future elections.610

Days after Roger Stone told Julian Assange that he was trying to resolve matters at the highest level of government, the President of the United States tried to issue a back channel order that would shut down the investigation into Assange — and by association, Stone.

And it went on like that for some time, possibly up to the time when Mueller asked Trump about any pardon discussions for Assange. Only after that did Don Jr’s buddy tell former Sputnik employee Cassandra Fairbanks that the pardon discussion was off, whereupon she flew to London to tell Assange herself.

Particularly pertinent to the question of why CIA was working via offensive counterintelligence authorities rather than a Presidential finding, in October, after weeks of prodding from Trump, Pompeo took a meeting with Bill Binney to hear a theory that would have undermined the entire Intelligence Community’s attribution of the DNC hack via which emails shared with WikiLeaks were stolen. According to The Intercept’s report of the meeting, it led others in the Intelligence Community to worry that Pompeo had stopped heeding intelligence, particularly regarding Russia, that Trump didn’t like.

Some senior CIA officials have grown upset that Pompeo, a former Republican representative from Kansas, has become so close to Trump that the CIA director regularly expresses skepticism about intelligence that doesn’t line up with the president’s views. Pompeo has also alienated some CIA managers by growing belligerent toward them in meetings, according to an intelligence official familiar with the matter.


[I]ndications of Pompeo’s willingness to support Trump at the risk of tainting the intelligence process have occasionally broken into the open in recent months. In August, the Washington Post reported that Pompeo had taken the unusual step of having the CIA’s Counterintelligence Mission Center, which would likely play a role in any inquiries by the agency into Russian election meddling, report directly to him. That move has raised concerns within the agency that Pompeo is seeking to personally control the CIA’s efforts to investigate accusations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

At the very least, by fall this put Pompeo in a more precarious position regarding his vendetta against Assange.

The thing is, the hero of this Yahoo story, John Eisenberg, must know parts of this story, because he was a key part of efforts to protect Trump. He played a role in protecting Mike Flynn after he lied to the FBI and an even bigger role in protecting Trump after he tried to coerce election help from Ukraine, so who knows what his motives really are here. But he certainly must know these details … but they don’t show up in the story.

Crazier still, Isikoff must know parts of these stories, because he reported on the Stone case.

Yet not only don’t those details appear in this story, but the depiction of an entire Administration, save for heroes like John Eisenberg, intent on assassinating Julian Assange is inconsistent with those public facts about Trump’s repeated efforts to undermine any attribution implicating Assange to say nothing of discussions of pardons for Assange.

The truth may be somewhere in the middle, with Trump vacillating between wanting to kill Assange and wanting to liberate him (in this story, however, he’s quoted complaining that Assange was treated badly). But what the President did to undermine the investigation targeting Assange seems to be as important a part of this story as the claim that he mouthed off once about the possibility of assassinating Assange, something he has done with a slew of other journalists and perceived enemies.

The UC Global timeline

Among all the 30 sources cited in the story and the reports that CIA ratcheted up spying on WikiLeaks associates under Pompeo, Yahoo didn’t succeed in getting more clarity on the — by the end of 2017 — very intrusive surveillance of Assange inside the Ecuadorian Embassy by a contractor called UC Global, citing just one source confirming the US did have access to video surveillance without even naming UC Global or revealing which agency UC Global was working with.

A former U.S. national security official confirmed that U.S. intelligence had access to video and audio feeds of Assange within the embassy but declined to specify how it acquired them.

So instead of new information from those 30 sources, Yahoo instead relies on the prior reports from some UC Global whistleblowers. As I noted here, based on their Assange extradition hearing testimony, one of them is quite credible while the other is far less so.

It’s important that Yahoo relies on the whistleblowers, because it provides another way, along with the public details they inexplicably leave out, to test their narrative. Yahoo describes, accurately, that UC Global was sharing information with the US by mid-2017 (the credible witness described key developments in June and July).

By late 2015, Ecuador had hired a Spanish security company called UC Global to protect the country’s London embassy, where Assange had already spent several years running WikiLeaks from his living quarters. Unbeknownst to Ecuador, however, by mid-2017 UC Global was also working for U.S. intelligence, according to two former employees who testified in a Spanish criminal investigation first reported by the newspaper El País.

Yahoo doesn’t note, however, that data collection first started to expand in 2016, and formal vetting for what was presumably this relationship started by January 24, 2017, just one day after Pompeo was confirmed.

I also recall that once Donald Trump won the elections, at the end of 2016, the collection of information intensified as Morales became more obsessed with obtaining as much information as possible.


On 24 January 2017, once Donald Trump had acceded to the presidency of the United States, David Morales sent a message over Telegram in which he wrote, “Well, I want you to be alert because I am informed that we are being vetted, so everything that is confidential should be encrypted […] That’s what I’m being told. Everything relates to the UK issue. I am not worried about it, just be alert […] The people vetting are our friends in the USA”.

That is, this process started after WikiLeaks’ cooperation with Russia in 2016 caused a “sea change” in US treatment of Assange, but before Pompeo’s vendetta in response to Vault 7.

And while the surveillance absolutely ratcheted up during that summer (so potentially consistent with Pompeo’s vendetta, but also at a time when WikiLeaks was also under several different criminal investigations), Yahoo neglects to mention that the really intrusive surveillance came in December, at the same time (it reports) that the IC had credible reports of an exfiltration attempt.

In early December 2017, I was instructed by David Morales to travel with a colleague to install the new security cameras. I carried out the new installation over the course of several days. I was instructed by Morales not to share information about the specifications of the recording system, and if asked to deny that the cameras were recording audio. I was told that it was imperative that these instructions be carried out as they came, supposedly, from the highest spheres. In fact, I was asked on several occasions by Mr. Assange and the Political Counsellor Maria Eugenia whether the new cameras recorded sound, to which I replied that they did not, as my boss had instructed me to do. Thus, from that moment on the cameras began to record sound regularly, so every meeting that the asylee held was captured. At our offices in UC Global it was mentioned that the cameras had been paid for twice, by Ecuador and the United States, although I have no documentary evidence to corroborate this assertion.

The story Yahoo tells significantly amounts to Mike Pompeo proposing some illegal options to take out Assange, only to be thwarted by (at a minimum) the lawyers in place to prevent such things — though there’s good reason to believe DOJ played a big role in it too. And then, at a time when Pompeo had lost or was losing his bid to pursue illegal activities, the Five Eyes (presumably including Australia) identified and countered a Russian exfiltration attempt.

That presumably changed a lot of things about how the IC dealt with Assange. But those details don’t appear in this story. Aside from the mentions of DOJ successfully retaining the gatekeeper role on these questions in 2015 and 2017 (something I have some, albeit limited, reason to believe continued through 2019), the story doesn’t consider — at all! — the various criminal investigations at the time, not even the one that Isikoff has covered in the past.

Crazier still, it presents this as a story about the Trump Administration, while ignoring public details about a key player in that Administration — some guy named Trump — was doing that at the least conflicted with Pompeo’s actions.

Pompeo is and was batshit crazy and I’m glad, for once, the lawyers managed to rein in the CIA Director. But this seems to be, largely, a story about crazy Mike Pompeo being reined in by lawyers.

41 replies
  1. Ginevra diBenci says:

    Why would Pompeo, in any of his roles but certainly at CIA, entertain a plan like kidnapping that would play right into Assange’s martyr mythology? Was this just a Trump appeasement strategy?

  2. subtropolis says:

    How is that lede overstated?! The later paragraphs do not “debunk” it at all. The bottom line is that assassination was discussed, including by both the president and DCI. That the notion was kiboshed doesn’t change that. This “went nowhere” because there was enough friction to keep it from being given the green light by endorsing it through a Presidential Finding, at which point it becomes an operation. (From the looks of it, it didn’t even get close to that stage due to clearer heads.) That doesn’t change the fact that, it was not only brought up, but the DCI had ordered the Directorate of Operations to figure out how to go about doing it.

    Hell, that the British were sounded out on kidnapping him shows that this wasn’t just idle chat in the Rose Garden. I’d be the first to denounce that clown show for its utter disregard for formalities, but the fact that this was discussed with British Intelligence and/or the Foreign Office is evidence enough that this was being pushed hard.

    There’s nothing at all contradictory about this article. It reveals yet more of the crazy shit that was being discussed in this so-called administration. That it was shut down is a Good Thing but it was clearly being seriously discussed at “the highest levels”. Read Woodward’s Veil, about Bill Casey’s term at the CIA, for similar anecdotes. The book has received deserved complaints but it nonetheless reveals how these kinds of boondoggles come about. And, sometimes, are killed in the crib.

    • emptywheel says:

      The piece itself says the Trump comments were nothing. Unsurprisingly so bc he would say this kind of stuff all the time, about people who weren’t targets of the CIA.

      It’s a bunch of breathless crap.

      • GKJames says:

        Isn’t it newsworthy in and of itself that the national security machinery discussed, debated, and asked for legal advice on the question? Sure, Yahoo set up the article to induce clicks. But it’s useful to know that, for Pompeo, who has aspirations for high office, there is no limit to executive power.

        • emptywheel says:

          Yes. But it is dishonest to get those clicks and then bury the fact that really nothing happened, at least wrt assassination, 100 paragraphs down.

    • kotodama says:

      I agree. There’s nothing inaccurate in the lede, despite all the breath expended in the OP insisting that there was. Like or dislike Assange and his conduct—and I find him and his supporters insufferable and his conduct mostly despicable, although the gov’t’s Javert-like pursuit of him is also sort of pathetic—the fact that the gov’t even discussed potentially whacking him is seriously disturbing. Of course the plan was nixed—because it would be blatantly illegal on so many levels. That doesn’t make it any less disturbing though.

      Maybe the OP has something meaningful to say aside from making an unfounded critique of the article, but the OP is such an incoherent hot mess I can’t be bothered to go looking for that proverbial needle.

      • bmaz says:

        Hi there first time caller. First off, what exactly is “OP” that you repeatedly use?

        “Javert-like pursuit of him”. What a joke. Is the US not supposed to enforce laws against hostile interests? Was Assange entitled to hide like a coward from the rape charges in Sweden? Is that your belief? What planet are you from? And buying off on this the government legitimately considered “whacking him” is asinine.

        As a coda, as I think I understand, if not sure, what “OP” is, I do not give a damn if you can “be bothered to go looking for that proverbial needle”. Don’t. And don’t bother returning here. Every time there is an Assange piece discussed here, the little Assange Cult weasels show up.

        Get lost.

  3. Spencer Dawkins says:

    Ah, the good old days! When we could open almost any political blog and find articles about Trump complaining that he was being treated unfairly. That train was never late. And that phrase in a Sessions press announcement would have been a flat-out tell that the announcement had been dictated by Trump.

    • Leoghann says:

      My thought exactly. Even at that relatively-early time, that pathetic style of speech would have identified itself as belonging only Trump.

  4. Leoghann says:

    IMHO, Yahoo ceased being a news organization in approximately 1952. A friend forwarded a link to this article today, and my immediate reply was “that headline reeks of clickbait.” Although parts of it read like a good potboiler, after getting through about 40%, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was reading the script to a soap opera, and that there was no “there” there. And I went on to something else. I do see your point about the timeline it shows, and thank you for pointing that out. I think the first objection I began to have was that Roger Stone is portrayed as having changed his mind and tactics repeatedly, with nothing in all that verbiage showing any overarching viewpoint. My observation of Ratfucker is that he is indeed a Terrible Person(tm), but he isn’t dumb, and he always has a plan, or several.

    In regard to Ginevra’s question, I’d say that, while both are treacherous and cruel, neither Pompeo nor his orange boss are the type to bother with any knowledge of psychology. Assange’s martyrdom myth may be obvious to you and me, but very doubtfully to Pompous Ass.

    • Ginevra diBenci says:

      Leoghann, I agree with you about Trump and Pompeo’s combined Psychology Quotient (low teens?). They are lust-for-power types who consider such pursuits trivial and frivolous. But what I had in mind was the potential of this miscreant mission for rendering Assange into a kind of Super Martyr in the eyes of his clan–and for recruiting even more followers to his cause Che Guevara style. There’s no hero like a dead hero?

      • bmaz says:

        This assumes there was really such a master plan. Why would anyone believe that on such crappy reports? Don’t take the BS reports at face value.

        • Ginevra diBenci says:

          bmaz, nothing about this says Master Plan to me. It reads more like Yahoo got some morsels of tasty pseudo-gossip, which are likely based in some truth but at this point it’s hard to tell how much. I’m more interested in separating out the Pompeo strand, because as much as his lack of morality disgusts me, I do believe he had some brains. I am just wondering if they got boiled away by Trump first thing, or if there was strategery behind this nonsensical quest.

  5. d4v1d says:

    The troubling off-stage machinations aside, when viewed from altitude, the result was Assange was severely constrained at that point, still alive, but at long last in shackles. The trick now is to keep him that way, an imperative the Yahoo story advances not a wit. (But they made the cash register ring with some ad views?)

  6. harpie says:

    A few days ago, Justin Hendrix linked to a Jay Rosen recommendation of this Dan Froomkin post:

    Press Watch mission statement: Political journalism needs a reset Dan Froomkin September 23, 2021

    No one can possibly argue that modern political journalism has fulfilled its essential mission of creating an informed electorate.
    So it’s long past time for a reset. […]

    My goal here is to challenge business as usual and spur some self-reflection – ideally from the elite political reporters and editors themselves, but if not, then from the people who employ them and the people who keep them in business.

    It’s also to call attention to excellent political journalism that can define best practices going forward.

    And, I admit, it’s also to put into words the often inchoate fury that readers of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other elite, influential news organizations so often feel after reading or watching a work of political journalism that does not acknowledge the urgency of the moment, lacks historical context, offers a megaphone to liars and provocateurs, normalizes radical extremist white Christian nativism, and projects a white male right-of-center gaze under the guise of objectivity. […]

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      [I]t’s also to put into words the often inchoate fury that readers of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other elite, influential news organizations so often feel after reading or watching a work of political journalism that does not acknowledge the urgency of the moment, lacks historical context, offers a megaphone to liars and provocateurs, normalizes radical extremist white Christian nativism, and projects a white male right-of-center gaze under the guise of objectivity.

      This is a great summation of what’s wrong with the NYT, the WP and much of the MSM. They are failing at a critical moment. It’s why the NYT’s outlandish and expensive “public outreach” campaign is doomed – because it’s really a FB-style marketing campaign, remarkable for its insincerity and the absence of a public editor. As he does, Froomkin provides examples of how to do it better, sounding a veritable trumpet before the MSM’s walls of hubris and greed.

      • Leoghann says:

        And just this morning, NYT announced the formation of a “dynamic new team” whose mission is to broaden their readership base and their appeal. So if you thought the both-sidesism was bad before, just stand back (not too close, to avoid being splattered on) and watch.

  7. Alex Marthews says:

    Your take on Trump seems to be spot on. It is indeed misleading to suggest that Trump and Pompeo were on a similar page regarding Assange, and I agree that on the available information, Pompeo either didn’t ask for a presidential finding because he reasonably suspected he wouldn’t get one, or, perhaps, did ask and was refused. It’s very likely that Trump viewed efforts to get Assange as part of a deep state plot to get Roger Stone and, thereby, him; and that’s all that Trump has ever fundamentally cared about.

    But the Yahoo story also depicts more than a single individual proposing things that other parties found unacceptable. I’m glad that NSC that provided the key pushback on efforts that extended to serious diplomatic discussions to prevent Assange escaping to Russia, that, if put into effect, could easily have been construed as an act of war. The CIA was willing to wage a gunbattle in London’s streets, and get the Brits to shoot out the tires of a putative Russian rescue plane, and to have good journalists like Laura Poitras redesignated as non-journalists, all to prevent what’s essentially a PR embarrassment of Assange becoming a fugitive in Russia, outside US government control. That’s extraordinary.

    If it were all about the allegations of criminal hacking – which I still have trouble distinguishing from the laudable actions Assange took to publish the Collateral Murder video – this level of risk-taking, diplomatic pressure, and paranoia would be grossly disproportionate. The Obama administration was already going to extraordinary and disingenuous lengths to defund and defang Wikileaks, deeply implicating Keir Starmer among others; but did not find a way to prosecute him, for fear of collateral damage to press freedoms. Pompeo’s CIA, as we can see, went even further, and there’s little sign so far of the Biden administration backing off. So to me, the US government’s actions with respect to Assange seem far more consistent with a deep sense of offended majesty, of political offense at his conduct: That, in his journalistic capacity, he kept obstinately publishing secrets that deeply embarrassed the US government at the highest levels, including the military (war crimes), the Democratic Party (the Podesta emails), and the CIA (Vault 7).

    The prosecutions of others for the same hacking behavior, and the hacking charge itself, seem to me to have been pursued only because they are key to facilitating Assange’s extradition and trial in the United States; the hacking charge is only of value in that it enables the US to pretend that this isn’t a politically motivated extradition.


    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      A “deep sense of offended majesty?” I’m at as cynical as any other commentator here – certainly about the gulf between what the US says its legal and foreign policy ideals are and what it really does. The Gitmo show trials are a stellar example that approaches the level of Texas justice. But I am persuaded by EW’s many posts on this subject that “offended majesty” ain’t remotely what this is about.

    • bmaz says:

      Hi Alex, your first comment here is a steaming load of bunk (even if it is not really your first comment here now, is it?). The CIA was not willing to engage “in gunbattle in London’s streets”, that is just ludicrous. The Brits had been all over the Ecuadoran Embassy, so, no, it is hyperbole, not extraordinary.

      The Obama Administration did not have to go to “extraordinary and disingenuous lengths to delegitimize WL, WL did that all by themselves. And using Keir Starmer as a pawn? Lol. You do understand that Assange cowardly hid out like a bug in the Embassy from Swedish RAPE charges, right? There were no secret indictments as Assange routinely lied and claimed. It was all bullshit. That you apparently bought off on.

      “Offended majesty”? What a load of shit. Assange did indeed seem to commit serious crimes, and that is without even getting into the Vault 7 facts. And if you do not think the Vault 7 facts are beyond the pale, you are a disingenuous fool.

      And, of course the charges are facilitating the extradition, what in the world do you think extradition contemplates?? Politically motivated? What a joke, that is just the standard contrived horse manure of the Assange Cult. Thanks for playing.

      • Alex Marthews says:

        Yes, you’re right: This isn’t my first comment here, though it’s been a little while.

        The quotation from the article is as follows:

        “In response, the CIA and the White House began preparing for a number of scenarios to foil Assange’s Russian departure plans, according to three former officials. Those included potential gun battles with Kremlin operatives on the streets of London, crashing a car into a Russian diplomatic vehicle transporting Assange and then grabbing him, and shooting out the tires of a Russian plane carrying Assange before it could take off for Moscow. (U.S. officials asked their British counterparts to do the shooting if gunfire was required, and the British agreed, according to a former senior administration official.)”

        “That’s just ludicrous” is not a reasoned response to this article. But I think you’re trying to say that there’s no way what the article says here is true. Maybe! Articles are sometimes wrong.

        But if it were true that, in case of an effort by the Russians to exfiltrate Assange, the CIA was willing to consider scenarios of “potential gun battles” with Russians, and having the Brits shoot out the tires of a Russian plane to prevent that exfiltration, that would indeed make reasonable people worry about the CIA. The mere willingness, to me, shows a skewed sense of priorities. It certainly looks to me like the CIA’s attitude to Assange, like Churchill’s towards India, is “not quite sane.”

        If Assange were to flee to Russia, so what? He doesn’t himself have any secrets useful to Russian intelligence. One has to assume that the scenarios the CIA was reviewing, were oriented towards averting the likely outcome, and the only outcome of his flight would be that Wikileaks would be able to operate rather more easily with him free rather than him not free. So, I deduce that the CIA’s main priority, in reviewing these scenarios, was to disable Assange from engaging in journalistic activity embarrassing to US interests.

        The Obama administration did make strenuous efforts to block payments to Wikileaks: The blockade involved Bank of America, VISA, MasterCard, PayPal and Western Union, and attracted substantial criticism at the time.

        Yes, I understand that the Swedish government sought to interview Assange in relation to sexual assault allegations. He was never charged. It’s true that suspects in sexual assault cases who are guilty in fact are often never charged, thanks to lack of evidence, and I have no reason to suppose Assange not capable of the sexual harassment and “stealthing” that formed the basis of the Swedish investigation. However, Nils Melzer, UK Special Rapporteur on Torture, investigated the case in 2019 and reviewed the original documents in Swedish, in which he is fluent. He notes, “According to the testimony of the woman in question, a rape had never even taken place at all. And not only that: The woman’s testimony was later changed by the Stockholm police without her involvement in order to somehow make it sound like a possible rape.” The interview with Melzer is here:

        Then, the prospect of possible charges, based on testimony changed by police, was held over his head for more than nine years. Assange repeatedly offered to give testimony on the allegation in Sweden, if coupled with a formal undertaking to not extradite him to the United States. Sweden repeatedly refused. During nine years, the British Crown Prosecution Service, led at the time by Keir Starmer, pressured the Swedes to also refuse to interview him in the UK, and also pressed them not to drop the charges; one leaked email shows them telling the Swedes, “Don’t you dare get cold feet!”. Eventually, in 2019, after the US unveiled their indictment, the Swedish government dropped the investigation, saying, “The evidence is not strong enough to form the basis of an indictment.” So, the notion that he was facing “Swedish RAPE charges” misrepresents what occurred.

        A few questions for you:
        – If the prospect of his trial in the US was “bullshit”, why would Sweden refuse to guarantee he would not be extradited to the US?
        – If there was no such prospect, is it just a gigantic coincidence that the US in fact did turn out to want him extradited to face Espionage Act charges?
        – Doesn’t the 2019 indictment (and whatever existed before it; see suggest that he in fact had a “well-founded fear of political persecution”, and therefore that Ecuador had properly granted him asylum?
        – If Ecuador properly granted him asylum, doesn’t it seem like a misrepresentation also to say that he was in their embassy “hiding out like a bug”?

        In the end, Ecuador, under heavy US pressure, withdrew its grant of asylum, and was promptly rewarded with tens of billions of dollars in foreign aid. I don’t see how you can disregard the broader political context here.

        What we see here is entirely consistent with the US, UK and Swedish governments colluding to disrupt Wikileaks, which they perceived as a mortal threat to the governmental secrecy that enables crimes infinitely greater than Assange’s to be planned and to go unpunished. The stakes, unfortunately, for both journalism and governmental accountability, could not be higher.

        • bmaz says:

          Yes, I know it was not your first comment. And, yes, I read the article. It is complete shit, as is your original comment, and this one. And who is “we” Kemosabe? Because I see absolute horse manure from the WL and Assanganista cult. Every time you try to pollute this blog with that nonsense, I will be waiting for you.

        • Alex Marthews says:

          You seem to like it, so I wonder if the tactic of simply saying, “the opposing argument is complete sh*t, horse manure, and the product of a cult”, ever works for you in court?

        • bmaz says:

          Lol. I do fine, thanks. You are a clown. By the way, you are not an opposing lawyer, this is not a courtroom, and you wandered in here with your bleating garbage. Get lost.

        • vvv says:

          Well, I for one kinda enjoyed laughing at that guy’s crap.

          (Ain’t if funny how a day and a 1/4 after I feel “late” in responding?)

  8. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Stephanie Mencimer has written a deeply unsatisfying, long form article that purports to explain Brett Kavanaugh’s finances. Her conclusions: conspiracy theorists are nuts, Kavanaugh doesn’t need the money [actually, he does, but his parents don’t], and who in their right mind bribes a federal judge – it’s a crime – when collectively they can buy the whole bench.

    “Here’s the Truth About Brett Kavanaugh’s Finances: No, liberals, the Koch brothers don’t own him,” requires eight paragraphs to set-up its conclusions, which are wet noodles compared to her title. The credit card debt? He bought a bunch of season tickets and other stuff for his friends. They paid him back. Honest. Every penny. The debt exceeded Kavanaugh’s annual salary as an appellate court judge. Who does that for friends, presumably many of whom are wealthier than he is?

    The country club and house mortgage debts, which combined exceeded a million dollars? Money from dad, apparently, who was a lifelong lobbyist for the cosmetics industry. He retired with a $13 million cash payout. (How many Avon and Mary Kay parties did it take to pay for that?) So, daddy could have advanced Brett some of his inheritance, but did he? Mencimer does not say and neither does Kavanaugh. She simply takes at face value Kavanaugh’s assertion that, “We have not received financial gifts other than from our family,” and says that any other explanation is “improbable.” The careful phrasing carves a big hole, but Kavanaugh does not say who drove through it. Mencimer’s credulity would be frustrating in a high school newspaper reporter.

    Mencimer does note that Kavanaugh is especially tenacious. He spent his whole life “checking boxes,” determined to get on the federal bench and make it to the Supremes. She does not dwell on his arch-conservative politics, that he sucked up to the FedSoc and the conservative high and mighty at every level, or that he was so woefully unqualified when George W. Bush catapulted him from White House aide to the DC Circuit that Bush had to nominate him four times (2002-05) before the Senate confirmed him on a party-line vote. She does note that the Judicial Crisis Network pledged to spend $10 million to put Kavanaugh on the Supremes. But instead of pursuing where that and other money backing Brett came from, Mencimer dismisses it by saying the pledge fueled the left’s conspiracy theories, which is her main concern.

    Mencimer does not spend time on the sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh, or the drinking or bullying, other than to say that they derailed any thoughtful investigation into his finances. Mencimer does not fill that gap: she has no names, no receipts, and Kavanaugh refused to cooperate with her story. She does concede that, “Kavanaugh never seemed to escape his image as an overprivileged frat boy whose success stemmed more from political hackery than from a brilliant legal mind.” Sometimes, it’s hard to escape reality.

    • bmaz says:

      Stephanie has been around a long time, and has done some excellent work over the years. This one is, indeed, unsatisfying.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        The lack of curiosity was as troublesome as the false finality in the headline. Where, for example, did the gobs of money backing Kavanaugh come from and what was expected in return? Mencimer relies on credulous assumptions, without questioning the lack of evidentiary support for them. “Just trust me,” went out with Harry Truman.

        The total cash paid out is large – more than six times Kavanaugh’s income from the DC Circuit, almost five times his expected income from the Supremes – even if it’s peanuts to a millionaire lobbyist. Mencimer frames the “why illegally bribe a single judge when you can legally buy the bench” argument, but does not pursue it or explain where Kavanaugh fits into it.

        Mencimer’s lede is that, in the absence of facts and credible explanations, leftist nuts have evolved conspiracy theories. And the sun rises in the East. The important story is that neither the FBI nor the Senate investigated Kavanaugh’s finances or anything else. That the coverage of Kavanaugh’s alleged troubled sexual history overwhelmed reporting on everything else seems to be a feature, not a bug. Something else her editors chose not to look into.

        • Ginevra diBenci says:

          For anyone curious about that money, I would again recommend Ann Nelson’s Shadow Network. Nelson locates the nodal points where the enormous sums (whose provenance she unearths with some terrific reporting) are gathered and from which they are dispersed to pursue exactly such goals as securing a seat on SCOTUS for Kavanaugh. And Barrett. And Gorsuch. And Alito. And Roberts, too, although his handlers aren’t thrilled with all his decisions.

          I’ve found Nelson’s book fascinating and terrifying, in equal measure.

  9. Silly but True says:

    Critics of Assange / Wikileaks have very reasonably changed nearly as much as Assange / Wikileaks have over the years.

    This whole Trump / Pompeo divide continues the same type of experience best exemplified by Pam Anderson — Anderson is a longtime liberal Democrat, early and longtime supporter of Barack Obama, who’s been longer-time and relatively extremely die-hard supporter of legalization of marijuana, animal rights, and environmental issues.

    Assange has pretty well been able to scramble everything: Pompeo saw Wikileaks the same way Hillary Clinton does. Clinton is a hawk, as is Pompeo.

    • bmaz says:

      Who in the world gives a rats ass about Pam Anderson? I have thought Assange was a sketchy asshole from the very start. And he is. Maybe the reason both Clinton and Pompeo hate Assange is because he is a cancer and a sham that has committed serious crimes.

  10. mospeck says:

    Mike Pompeo, West Point top of his class ..either one stupid motherfucker or a Russian tool nogoodnik. Meanwhile back over there in the Russian gas station with nukes there appears to be a plethora of recent espionage investigations:
    vlad, look under your tea leaves or in your shoes or underwear for from whence it will come. My bet is on your oligarch pals, but it could be death from above from a spook micro chopper (we build those, btw).
    Near his end Uncle Joe was said to be paranoid ..Rasputin, likewise.
    Max will give you tips on how it’ll happen. Russia will be the better for it if you just get in the car.

  11. Bradford Cole says:

    Bizarre or telling that Isikoff goes on Credico’s show to talk about the WL conspiracy to subvert 2016 election that Credico was part and parcel of.

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