Parallel Tracks: Project Veritas Served on Their Subpoena Stance

There’s a temporal problem in Project Veritas’ initial motion to appoint a Special Master to sort through materials seized from James O’Keefe in a search on November 6.

In one place, it described that, “At 6:00 AM on Saturday, November 6, 2021, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) executed a search warrant at Mr. O’Keefe’s home.” In another, it described that, “On November 5, 2021, at approximately 6:00 AM, the FBI executed search warrants at the homes of two former Project Veritas journalists, seizing their cell phones and other electronic devices.” But the very next paragraph describes that the O’Keefe search happened two days after the initial search: “Approximately two days later, the FBI executed a search warrant at the home of James O’Keefe.” Then, the letter describes that, “on November 4, 2021 – two days before its search of Mr. O’Keefe’s home — the undersigned had accepted service of a grand jury subpoena directed to Project Veritas.” Shortly thereafter, the letter says the earlier search happened on November 4, not November 5. “On November 4, 2021, at about the same time that FBI agents finished searching the home of a former Project Veritas journalist.”

Even while incorrectly stating that the initial search happened on November 5, the filing (and a subsequent one) don’t describe precisely when NYT’s Mike Schmidt twice reached out for comment about the searches, a key part of their obviously false narrative that Schmidt had to have gotten tipped off by the FBI.

The searches happened on November 4 and 6, at 6AM. I asked Mike Schmidt when he reached out but he didn’t respond, though Eric Cochran’s motion to appoint a Special Master says Schmidt reached out approximately an hour after the 3-hour search happened, so around 10AM.

The incorrect claim in that initial filing that the first searches occurred on November 5 may be nothing more than a typo, but sorting through the timeline alerted me to a chronological detail of some import that PV may want to obscure. PV got word themselves of the investigation, and reached out to one of the prosecutors involved, Mitzi Steiner, to find out more about the investigation on October 26. After Steiner refused to reveal anything about the investigation, lawyers for PV offered to accept a subpoena the next day, promising they had “material and helpful information” to the investigation. But after DOJ sent a subpoena on November 4 — almost certainly after the first searches, which targeted former PV staffers — PV persistently refused to say whether it would comply with the subpoena.

[T]he Government has repeatedly offered to be flexible about the Subpoena’s return date if Project Veritas confirms that it will comply with the requests therein. Project Veritas has repeatedly declined to do so, and similarly declines in its motion here to represent that it will comply.

And after PV repeatedly declined to ask for an extension in response to reassurances they would comply with the subpoena, they used the search on O’Keefe as an excuse to try to get such an extension.

Judge Analisa Torres denied PV’s request for an extension, which could have significant repercussions going forward.

There are several implications of this timeline. First, DOJ may believe, with some justification, that by first serving a subpoena on PV in response to their invitation to do so, only to have them equivocate about whether they would comply, they had fulfilled DOJ’s requirements to seek alternative resolutions, short of a search. That is, PV’s own games may have led to the search on O’Keefe.

The other issue is how this affects PV’s ability to claim expansive privilege protections. When PV alerted DOJ that it not only knew of the investigation, but who was leading it, DOJ likely took measures to identify how they had learned of the investigation. That’s a good way to identify attempts to obstruct an investigation. For example, after it became clear that Roger Stone was tampering in the Mueller investigation in 2018, Mueller obtained a pen register to learn with whom, besides Michael Caputo, Stone was communicating. That appears to be what alerted Mueller to how panicked Stone was by the Andrew Miller interview. That, in turn, is something that may have helped them obtain probable cause on the others. In a directly relevant example, for example, DOJ learned that Lev Parnas had deleted his iCloud account, which seems to be one of the things that helped SDNY obtain warrants for Rudy’s cloud-based accounts in 2019. When co-conspirators attempt to coordinate stories or delete evidence, it makes it a lot easier to obtain warrants.

As a result, there may be information pertaining to PV’s involvement in the alleged theft in three different places. First, I would be shocked if SDNY had not obtained the cloud-based communications of O’Keefe, Eric Cochran, and Spencer Meads. That said, DOJ has already indicated that it knows key communications of interest took place on Telegram, and it’s unclear what access DOJ has to that, independent of the phones Telegram texts were sent on. Then there are the contents of their phones, which may (and uncontroversially could) be subjected a Special Master review. If Torres grants PV’s request for a Special Master, it would give PV an opportunity to at least understand what the full legal exposure is. But then there’s the matter of the subpoena. I would be unsurprised if PV filed a challenge to the subpoena, which might go before Chief Judge Laura Taylor Swain rather than Judge Torres, and might be sealed as a grand jury matter. But this is a subpoena they invited, which will make it a lot harder to claim the subpoena was improper.

With Michael Cohen, the government was able to demonstrate during the Special Master review that some of the materials that Cohen might otherwise have tried to claim were privileged were not, in part because they had already seized his cloud communications (including his Trump Organization emails, which were hosted and turned over by Microsoft). Here, if PV responded to the subpoena at all, the government get a privilege log, laying out why PV thinks conversations O’Keefe had with 45 different lawyers were really privileged, thereby committing PV and O’Keefe to the claims they made in a subpoena response (assuming, of course, they don’t buy time by challenging the subpoena).

Whatever the merit — or abuses — of the focus on PV, PV’s games on the subpoena may have made efforts to protect O’Keefe far more difficult. And their game-playing with the subpoena will make it more difficult for other news outlets in the future to have DOJ treat efforts to accommodate reasonable requests in good faith.

It’s a complex issue and we don’t have enough information to know whether DOJ’s case — that PV was involved in the theft of Ashley Biden’s diary itself, and so not protected under any First Amendment precedent that might otherwise be available to them — is solid or if it instead charges them for involvement after the diary was already stolen, the First Amendment standard under Bartnicki which applies to journalists and non-journalists alike. PV is also trying to shield materials — including donor information and claimed attorney-client privileged materials — along with anything purporting to relate to journalism. The seeming desperation to hide donor information (which normally wouldn’t be involved in the scope of such a request) raises real questions about the sincerity of their journalistic claims, particularly given the recent revelation that PV would let donors dictate the timing of PV’s publications. And as DOJ noted in its response to PV’s motion for a Special Master to review the seized material, PV is not trying to protect the identities of its purported (second-hand) sources for the diary, so some protections that might otherwise apply do not here.

It is troubling that DOJ seized records from O’Keefe citing crimes that suggest liability for a crime after the fact, because if PV genuinely was only involved after the fact, it would pose a dangerous precedent for actual journalists. But the games that PV appears to have played with their subpoena dangle — and some changes they’ve already made to their story — suggest there my be more to the story.

Timeline

These events are covered by three SDNY dockets: 21-mc-813 for James O’Keefe, 21-mc-819 for Eric Cochran, and 21-mc-825 for Spencer Meads.

2020

October 12: O’Keefe sends email, not mentioning Ashley Biden by name (but clearly referring to her) explaining his decision not to publish “Sting Ray” Story.

October 25: National File publishes pages from Ashely Biden’s diary, linking parallel New York Post campaign targeting Hunter. It explains the provenance of the diary this way:

National File also knows the reported precise location of the physical diary, and has been told by a whistleblower that there exists an audio recording of Ashley Biden admitting this is her diary.

[snip]

National File obtained this document from a whistleblower who was concerned the media organization that employs him would not publish this potential critical story in the final 10 days before the 2020 presidential election. National File’s whistleblower also has a recording of Ashley Biden admitting the diary is hers, and employed a handwriting expert who verified the pages were all written by Ashley. National File has in its posession a recording of this whistleblower detailing the work his media outlet did in preparation of releasing these documents. In the recording, the whistleblower explains that the media organization he works for chose not to release the documents after receiving pressure from a competing media organization.

November 3: PV provides the diary to local law enforcement in FL.

2021

October 26: Paul Calli call DOJ, asks for AUSA Mitzi Steiner, and asked to speak about the PV investigation; Steiner asked how Calli had obtained her name, what else he had obtained, and declined to speak with Calli.

October 27: Lawyers for Project Veritas inform the DOJ that they will accept service for a subpoena relating to the investigation

November 3, 3:49 PM: Search warrants for Eric Cochran and Spencer Meads approved.

November 4, AM: FBI executes search warrants on former PV employees, Cochran and Spencer Meads.

November 4: PV lawyers accept service of subpoena.

November 4, one hour after the search: Mike Schmidt reaches out to Cochran and O’Keefe for comment about the investigation.

November 5, 11:18 AM: Warrant for O’Keefe authorized

November 5: NYT publishes story on investigation including language that PV would later baseless claim had to have come from the FBI.

November 6: FBI executes a search warrant on James O’Keefe

November 6: Schmidt contacts O’Keefe for comment.

November 6: Lawyers for Project Veritas ask the FBI to sequester material from the phone.

November 7: DOJ declines PV’s request and states the FBI has complied with all media guidelines.

November 8, 6:11PM: DOJ emails PV and tells them the extraction may start as soon as the next day.

November 8: After PV says it’ll file a legal challenge, FBI says it’ll only stop extraction after PV files such a challenge.

November 10: On behalf of PV, Calli Law moves to appoint a Special Master.

November 11, 12:51-12:53AM: Calli asks for confirmation that DOJ stopped extraction and review on O’Keefe’s phone on November 8.

November 11, 7:57AM: DOJ responds that the substantive review of O’Keefe’s phone was paused upon filing of motion on November 10.

November 11; 2:13PM: Judge Analisa Torres sets initial briefing schedule; in response to Torres order, DOJ stops extraction of O’Keefe phone.

November 12: In response to DOJ request, Torres extends briefing schedule.

November 12: Greenberg Traurig lawyer Adam Hoffinger, representing Eric Cochran, asks for Special Master to apply to materials seized from him, as well.

November 12: Letter signed by FL attorney Brian Dickerson but apparently docketed by NY lawyer Eric Franz asks for Special Master to apply to Spencer Meads

November 12, 3:49PM: Calli asks for clarification on review and extraction.

November 12, 3:59PM: DOJ responds that, “upon the filing of your motion, the Government paused the review of all material obtained from the search of your  client’s residence.”

November 14: Calli submits clarification letter regarding extraction and review.

November 15: Torres sets schedule in Cochran docket.

November 15: DOJ requests permission to reply to PV on November 19.

November 15: Calli requests inquiry into government leaks to NYT.

November 16: Torres grants permission to respond on November 19.

November 16: Ian H. Marcus Amelkin asks to delete initials of PV source, A.H., from docket.

November 17: Torres denies Amelkin request without prejudice.

November 17: Cochran motion to appoint Special Master.

November 18: For Meads, Dickerson formally moves for Special Master (and also complains that FBI seized dated devices).

November 19: Calli requests extension on response deadline for PV subpoena.

November 19: Government files opposition to request for Special Master and inquiry into purported leaks.

November 19: DOJ requests permission to respond to motion for extension on subpoena. Torres grants request.

November 21: DOJ opposition to extend subpoena deadline.

November 21: Government motion to oppose unsealing affidavits.

November 22: Torres denies motion for extension on subpoena.

November 22: PV reply to government opposition to Special Master.

November 23: Torres denies motion (including from RCFP) to unseal affidavits.

November 23: Cochran reply to government opposition to unseal affidavits.

November 24: Meads reply to refusal to unseal affidavits, including letters from House and Senate complaining to DOJ.

Charlie Savage Plays with His Magic Time Machine To Avoid Doing Journalism

Charlie Savage just did something astonishing in the name of press freedom. He said that the truth doesn’t matter now, in 2021, because he reported a different truth eleven years ago.

He took issue with my headline to this piece, noting that he was obfuscating the facts about the Julian Assange prosecution so as to shoehorn it into a story about actual journalists.

Charlie made several obfuscations or clear errors in that piece:

  • He didn’t explain (as he hasn’t, to misleading effect, in past stories on Assange) the nature of the 2nd superseding indictment and the way it added to the most problematic first superseding one
  • He said the 2019 superseding indictment (again, he was silent about the 2020 superseding indictment) raised the “specter of prosecuting reporters;” this line is how Charlie shoehorned Assange into a story about actual journalists
  • He claimed that the decision to charge Assange for “his journalistic-style acts” arose from the change in Administrations, Obama to Trump (and specifically to Bill Barr), not the evidence DOJ had obtained about Assange’s actions over time

Charlie presented all this as actual journalism about the Assange prosecution, but along the way, he made claims that were either inflammatory and inexact — a veritable specter haunting journalism — or, worse, what I believe to be false statements, false statements that parrot the propaganda that Wikileaks is spreading to obscure the facts.

The “specter” comment, I take to be a figure of speech, melodramatic and cynical, but mostly rhetorical.

The silence about the 2020 superseding indictment is a habit I have called Charlie on before, but one that is an error of omission, rather than of fact.

It’s this passage that I objected to at length:

But the specter of prosecuting reporters returned in 2019, when the department under Attorney General William P. Barr expanded a hacking conspiracy indictment of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, to treat his journalistic-style acts of soliciting and publishing classified information as crimes.

Obama-era officials had weighed charging Mr. Assange for publishing leaked military and diplomatic files, but worried about establishing a precedent that could damage mainstream news outlets that sometimes publish government secrets, like The Times. The Trump administration, however, was undeterred by that prospect.

As presented, this passage made several claims:

  1. “Obama-era officials” had considered charging Assange for publishing activities, but “Obama-era officials” did not do so because it might damage “mainstream news outlets” like the NYT
  2. The reason that the Trump administration was willing to charge Assange for publishing was because they were “undeterred” from the prospect of doing damage to the NYT
  3. DOJ under Billy Barr expanded a hacking conspiracy “to treat his journalistic-style acts of soliciting and publishing classified information as crimes”

I believe the last claim is largely factual but misleading, as if the operative issue were Barr’s involvement or as if Barr deliberately treated Assange’s “journalistic-style acts” — as distinct from that of actual journalists — as a crime. There may be evidence that Barr specifically had it in for WikiLeaks or that Barr (as distinct from Trump’s other Attorneys General) treated Assange as he did out of the same contempt with which he treated actual journalists. There may be evidence that Barr — whose tenure as AG exhibited great respect for some of the journalists he had known since his first term as AG — was trying to burn down journalism, as an institution. But Charlie provides no evidence of that, nor has anyone else I know. (Indeed, Charlie’s larger argument presents evidence that Barr’s attacks on journalism, including subpoenas that may or may not have been obtained under Barr in defiance of guidelines adopted under Eric Holder, may only differ from Obama’s in their political tilt.)

Of course, one of the worst things that the Trump Administration did to a journalist, obtaining years of Ali Watkins’ email records, happened under Jeff Sessions, not Barr.

The first and second claims together set up a clear contrast. Obama-era officials — and by context, this means the entirety of the Obama Administration — did not prosecute Assange for publication because of what became known — based off a description that DOJ’s spox Matthew Miller gave publicly in 2013 — as the NYT problem, the risk that prosecuting WikiLeaks would endanger NYT. But the Trump Administration was willing to charge Assange for publication because they didn’t think the risk that such charges posed to the NYT were all that grave or damaging or important.

There’s no way to understand these two points except as a contrast of Administrations, to suggest that Obama’s Administration — which was epically shitty on leak investigations — wouldn’t do what the Trump Administration did do. It further involves treating the Department of Justice as an organization entirely subject to the whims of a President and an Attorney General, rather than as the enormous bureaucracy full of career professionals who guard their independence jealously, who even did so, with varying degrees of success, in the face of Barr’s unprecedented politicization of the department.

It’s certainly possible that’s true. It’s possible that Evan Perez and three other CNN journalists who reported in 2017 that what actually changed pertained to Snowden simply made that report up out of thin air. It’s certainly possible that under a President who attempted to shut down the Russian hacking investigation to protect Assange even after his CIA Director declared war on Assange, who almost blew up the investigation into Joshua Schulte, who entertained pardoning Assange in 2016, in 2017, in 2018, and in 2020, at the same time viewed the Assange prosecution as a unique opportunity to set up future prosecutions of journalists. It’s certainly possible that Billy Barr, who sabotaged the Mike Flynn and Roger Stone prosecutions to serve Trump’s interests, went rogue on the Assange case.

But given the abundant evidence that this prosecution happened in spite of Trump’s feelings about WikiLeaks rather than because of them, you would need to do actual reporting to make that claim.

And, as noted, I asked Charlie whether he had done the reporting to sustain that claim before I wrote the post…

… just as I — months earlier — asked Charlie why he was falsely claiming Assange was charged in 2018 rather than within a day of a Russian exfiltration attempt in 2017, something that probably has far more to do with why DOJ charged Assange when and how they did than who was Attorney General at the time.

After his bullshit attempt to explain that date error away, Charlie removed the date, though without notice of correction, must less credit to me for having to fact check the NYT.

Anyway, Charlie apparently didn’t read the post when I first wrote it, but instead only read it yesterday when I excused Icelandic journalists for making the same error — attributing the decision to prosecute Assange to Billy Barr’s animus rather than newly discovered evidence — that Charlie had earlier made. And Charlie went off on a typically thin-skinned tirade. He accused me (the person who keeps having to correct his errors) of being confused. He claimed that the thrust of my piece — that he was misrepresenting the facts about Assange — was “false.” He claimed the charges against and extradition of Assange was a precedent not already set by Minh Quang Pham’s extradition and prosecution. He accused me of not grasping that this was a First Amendment argument and not the journalism argument he had shoehorned it into. He suggested my insistence on accurate reporting about the CFAA overt acts against Assange (including the significance of Edward Snowden to them) was a “hobbyhorse,” and that I only insisted on accurate reporting on the topic in an effort to, “us[e] something [Charlie] said as a peg to artificially sex it up (dumb NYT!) even though it doesn’t actually fit.” He then made a comment that still treats the prosecution of Assange as binary — the original indictment on a single CFAA charge or the first superseding indictment that added the dangerous Espionage Act charges — rather than tertiary, the second superseding indictment that, at least per Vanessa Baraitser, clearly distinguished what Assange did from what journalists do.

That’s when things went absolutely haywire. Pulitzer prize winning journalist Charlie Savage said that his repeated claim that the charges against Assange arose from a change in Administration rather than a changed understanding of Assange did not rely on what Miller said, because he had “been writing since 2010 about deliberations inside DOJ re wanting to charge Assange/WL,” linking to this story.

 

That is, Charlie presented as a defense to my complaint that he was misrepresenting what happened in 2016 and 2017 by pointing to reporting he did in 2010, which — I pointed out — is actually before 2013 and so useless in offering a better reason to cling to that 2013 detail rather than rely on more recent reporting. Because DOJ did not have the same understanding of WikiLeaks in 2010 as they got after Julian Assange played a key role in a Russian intelligence operation against the United States, obtained files from a CIA SysAdmin after explicitly calling on CIA SysAdmins to steal such things (in a speech invoking Snowden), attempted to extort the US with those CIA files, and then implicitly threatened the President’s son with them, Charlie Savage says, it’s okay to misrepresent what happened in 2016 and 2017. Charlie’s reporting in 2010 excuses his refusal to do reporting in 2021.

Given his snotty condescension, it seems clear that Charlie hasn’t considered that, better than most journalists in the United States, I understand the grave risks of what DOJ did with Assange. I’ve thought about it in a visceral way that a recipient of official leaks backed by an entire legal department probably can’t even fathom. But that hasn’t stopped me from trying to understand — and write accurately about — what DOJ claims to be doing with Assange. Indeed, as someone whose career has intersected with WikiLeaks far more closely than Charlie’s has and as someone who knows what people very close to Assange claim to believe, I feel I have an obligation to try to unpack what really happened and what the real legal implications of it are, not least because that’s the only way to assess where DOJ is telling the truth and whether they’re simply making shit up to take out Assange. DOJ is acting ruthlessly. But at the same time, at least one person very close to Assange told me explicitly she wanted me to misrepresent the truth in his defense, and WikiLeaks has been telling outrageous lies in Assange’s defense with little pushback by people like Charlie because, I guess, he thinks he’s defending journalism.

As I understand it, the entire point of journalism is to try to write the truth, rather than obfuscate it in an attempt to protect an institution called journalism. It does no good to the institution — either its integrity or the ability to demonstrate the risks of the Assange prosecution — to blame it all on Billy Barr rather than explore how and why DOJ’s institutional approach to Assange has changed over time.

Charlie Savage’s Obfuscations in the Service of Claiming Julian Assange Is a Journalist

Everyone is fighting for press freedoms again, and therefore lots of people are misrepresenting the facts about Julian Assange’s prosecution in purported defense of press freedom again.

These are the paragraphs with which UK Judge Vanessa Baraitser distinguished what Julian Assange is accused of from what “ordinary investigative journalists” entitled to protection in the UK or European Union do.

99. As part of his assistance to Ms. Manning, [Assange] agreed to use the rainbow tools, which he had for the purpose of cracking Microsoft password hashes, to decipher an alphanumeric code she had given him. The code was to an encrypted password hash stored on a Department of Defence computer connected to the SIPRNet. It is alleged that had they succeeded, Ms. Manning might have been able to log on to computers connected to the network under a username that did not belong to her. This is the conduct which most obviously demonstrates Mr. Assange’s complicity in Ms. Manning’s theft of the information, and separates his activity from that of the ordinary investigative journalist.

100. At the same time as these communications, it is alleged, he was encouraging others to hack into computers to obtain information. This activity does not form part of the “Manning” allegations but it took place at exactly the same time and supports the case that Mr. Assange was engaged in a wider scheme, to work with computer hackers and whistle blowers to obtain information for Wikileaks. Ms. Manning was aware of his work with these hacking groups as Mr. Assange messaged her several times about it. For example, it is alleged that, on 5 March 2010 Mr. Assange told Ms. Manning that he had received stolen banking documents from a source (Teenager); on 10 March 2010, Mr. Assange told Ms. Manning that he had given an “intel source” a “list of things we wanted” and the source had provided four months of recordings of all phones in the Parliament of the government of NATO country-1; and, on 17 March 2010, Mr. Assange told Ms. Manning that he used the unauthorised access given to him by a source, to access a government website of NATO country-1 used to track police vehicles. His agreement with Ms. Manning, to decipher the alphanumeric code she gave him, took place on 8 March 2010, in the midst of his efforts to obtain, and to recruit others to obtain, information through computer hacking.

101. Mr. Assange, it is alleged, had been engaged in recruiting others to obtain information for him for some time. For example, in August 2009 he spoke to an audience of hackers at a “Hacking at Random” conference and told them that unless they were a serving member of the US military they would have no legal liability for stealing classified information and giving it to Wikileaks. At the same conference he told the audience that there was a small vulnerability within the US Congress document distribution system stating, “this is what any one of you would find if you were actually looking”. In October 2009 also to an audience of hackers at the “Hack in the Box Security Conference” he told the audience, “I was a famous teenage hacker in Australia, and I’ve been reading generals’ emails since I was 17” and referred to the Wikileaks list of “flags” that it wanted captured. After Ms. Manning made her disclosures to him he continued to encourage people to take information. For example, in December 2013 he attended a Chaos computer club conference and told the audience to join the CIA in order to steal information stating “I’m not saying don’t join the CIA; no, go and join the CIA. Go in there, go into the ballpark and get the ball and bring it out”.

Assange is not an “ordinary investigative journalist,” according to the judge who ruled that his extradition would not violate journalistic protections, because he allegedly:

  • Tried to help Manning hack a password
  • Solicited hacks of Iceland
  • Identified a vulnerability in a US server and encouraged people to use it
  • In a speech invoking WikiLeaks’ role in helping Edward Snowden to flee to what ended up being Russia, allegedly encouraged people to join the CIA with the express intent of stealing files from it

A key point for Baraitser is this was all happening at the same time, Assange was allegedly soliciting hacks in Iceland even as he attempted to help Manning crack a password, and Manning knew about the other hacking.

Charlie Savage mentions none of this in a story explaining that Julian Assange’s extradition and prosecution, “raised the specter of prosecuting reporters.” He doesn’t even mention the second superseding indictment at all, the one that lays out (among other things) the allegation that Assange entered in a conspiracy to hack Stratfor, a hack that at least six people on both sides of the Atlantic already did time for.

But the specter of prosecuting reporters returned in 2019, when the department under Attorney General William P. Barr expanded a hacking conspiracy indictment of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, to treat his journalistic-style acts of soliciting and publishing classified information as crimes.

From there, Charlie tells a narrative that WikiLeaks has been pushing as part of Assange’s extradition defense, a claim that because DOJ Public Affairs head Matthew Miller said, in November 2013, that DOJ could not distinguish Julian Assange from what the NYT does, that means that the Obama Administration continued to face that challenge for the remaining three years of the Obama Administration, long after Miller left, and right through the time WikiLeaks played a key role in a Russian intelligence-led attack on American democracy. As Charlie presents it — citing no sources or public records, and I asked him if he was relying on any and he didn’t respond — the decision to prosecute Julian Assange arose not so much from a subsequent investigation that came to distinguish Assange’s actions from those of journalists, but instead because the Trump Administration “was undeterred” about the prospect of damaging “mainstream news outlets.”

Obama-era officials had weighed charging Mr. Assange for publishing leaked military and diplomatic files, but worried about establishing a precedent that could damage mainstream news outlets that sometimes publish government secrets, like The Times. The Trump administration, however, was undeterred by that prospect.

For now, the First Amendment issues are on hold as Mr. Assange fights extradition from Britain. Soon after the Biden administration took office, the Justice Department pressed forward with that extradition effort in British court, leaving the charges in place.

But that was before Mr. Garland was sworn in — and before the latest uproar about the escalating aggression of the Justice Department’s leak investigation tactics prompted him to focus on drafting a new approach that, he testified, will be “the most protective of journalists’ ability to do their jobs in history.”

It’s Trump’s doing, not the result of further investigation, Charlie reports, as news.

The WikiLeaks narrative that Charlie repeats unquestioningly is inconsistent with an April 2017 report — one Assange’s journalism professor expert witness claims to have been unable to find with the magic of Google — that what came to distinguish Assange from other journalists was his role in helping Edward Snowden.

The US view of WikiLeaks and Assange began to change after investigators found what they believe was proof that WikiLeaks played an active role in helping Edward Snowden, a former NSA analyst, disclose a massive cache of classified documents.

We now know, four years later, that not just DOJ but even “mainstream news outlets” considered what WikiLeaks did to help Snowden something other than journalism.

Bart Gellman’s book (which was published before the most recent superseding indictment) not only lays out how WaPo’s lawyers told Gellman that he and Laura Poitras could not safely, under the law, play the role (which is referenced in the superseding indictment against Assange that Charlie doesn’t mention) that WikiLeaks would end up playing, helping Snowden get asylum in what ended up be an adversarial nation. Gellman even cites communications he and Poitras sent to Snowden in real time explaining that taking steps to help Snowden get asylum in what might be, and as it happens turned out to be, a hostile country was not journalism.

We had lawyered up and it showed. “You were clear with me and I want to be equally clear with you,” I wrote. “There are a number of unwarranted assumptions in your email. My intentions and objectives are purely journalistic, and I will not tie them or time them to any other goal.” I was working hard and intended to publish, but “I cannot give you the bottom line you want.”

Poitras wrote to him separately.

There have been several developments since Monday (e.g., your decision to leave the country, your choice of location, possible intentions re asylum), that have come as a surprise and make [it] necessary to be clear. As B explained, our intentions and objectives are journalistic. I believe you know my interest and commitment to this subject. B’s work on the topic speaks for itself. I cannot travel to interview you in person. However, I do have questions if you are still willing to answer them. [my emphasis]

In other words, WaPo’s own lawyers made it clear that helping an intelligence source obtain asylum in another country is not journalism and might, instead, be viewed by the US government as abetting espionage.

Given Charlie’s focus on the transition from the Trump to Biden Administration, there’s something else glaringly absent from his story: the official record on the government response to WikiLeaks’ role in the 2016 election attack. Admittedly, great swaths of that discussion remain redacted (which suggests there’s stuff we may not know), but the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report the Obama Administration’s response to the 2016 Russian interference campaign discussed how part of that process involved “develop[ing] a complete understanding of WikiLeaks.”

The executive branch struggled to develop a complete understanding of WikiLeaks. Some officials viewed WikiLeaks as a legitimate news outlet, while others viewed WikiLeaks as a hostile organization acting intentionally and deliberately to undermine U.S. or allies’ interests.

In other words, in 2016 — three years after the Miller quote that WikiLeaks has trained obedient journalists to parrot unquestioningly — the government came to some new “complete” understanding of WikiLeaks. One of the most important players in this process was then White House Homeland Security Advisor, Lisa Monaco. Her interview with the committee is cited repeatedly in the unredacted passages of the report.

Admittedly, Monaco’s views on how or whether her own understanding of WikiLeaks changed as part of that process do not appear in the report. The SSCI report redacts what those Obama officials came to understand about WikiLeaks in the waning days of the Obama Administration. But, in a story presented as “news,” it seems important to consider how that process might influence Monaco’s understanding of the case against Assange, given that one of the last things she did when last in government was struggle to respond to an attack on American democracy in part because the government treated WikiLeaks as a journalistic outlet for far too long during the attack. Whatever she believes, Monaco knows far more than Matthew Miller, or us, for that matter. We might not agree with her thus far non-public understanding of WikiLeaks, but even the four year old understanding of WikiLeaks she brought to her position as Deputy Attorney General surely will have a bigger influence on DOJ’s decisions about Assange going forward than what the Public Affairs guy said eight years ago.

It’s not that I disagree that some of the charges against Assange — particularly for publishing the names of US and Coalition informants — present a dangerous precedent. They do, and those risks are important to talk about, accurately and honestly. On that note, though, it’s again worthwhile to see how Baraitser distinguishes Assange (note, the circumstances of the release of the informant names is the area where Assange presented the most evidence to challenge the government’s evidence).

The defence submits that, by disclosing Ms. Manning’s materials, Mr. Assange was acting within the parameters of responsible journalism. The difficulty with this argument is that it vests in Mr. Assange the right to make the decision to sacrifice the safety of these few individuals, knowing nothing of their circumstances or the dangers they faced, in the name of free speech. In the modern digital age, vast amounts of information can be indiscriminately disclosed to a global audience, almost instantly, by anyone with access to a computer and an internet connection. Unlike the traditional press, those who choose to use the internet to disclose sensitive information in this way are not bound by a professional code or ethical journalistic duty or practice. Those who post information on the internet have no obligation to act responsibly or to exercise judgment in their decisions. In the modern era, where “dumps” of vast amounts of data onto the internet can be carried out by almost anyone, it is difficult to see how a concept of “responsible journalism” can sensibly be applied.

[snip]

Free speech does not comprise a ‘trump card’ even where matters of serious public concern are disclosed (see Stoll above), and it does not provide an unfettered right for some, like Mr. Assange, to decide the fate of others, on the basis of their partially informed assessment of the risks.

[snip]

The New York Times published the following condemnation on 25 July 2012:

“The Times and the other news organizations agreed at the outset that we would not disclose —either in our articles or any of our online supplementary material — anything that was likely to put lives at risk or jeopardize military or antiterrorist operations. We have, for example, withheld any names of operatives in the field and informants cited in the reports. We have avoided anything that might compromise American or allied intelligence-gathering methods such as communications intercepts. We have not linked to the archives of raw material. At the request of the White House, The Times also urged WikiLeaks to withhold any harmful material from its Web site.”

This is a distinctly European decision. That’s true because in Europe, unlike the US, such protections are tied to being a journalist. Plus Baraitser argued that under EU law, Assange’s release violated privacy protections that simply don’t exist in the US. Mind you, it’s one thing to say the NYT won’t publish details that might endanger military operations and another thing to say such revelations shouldn’t be protected by the First Amendment. Even if WikiLeaks is a “hostile organization acting intentionally and deliberately to undermine U.S. or allies’ interests,” (as SSCI described), that should not, itself, surpass the First Amendment consideration.

But it underscores the point. There are First Amendment problems with the publication charges and, to a lesser extent, the other Manning-focused ones. But Assange actually wouldn’t be the first person extradited from the UK significantly for publication activities, the same thing happened to Minh Quang Pham for the few months he spent as AQAP’s graphic designer. That precedent has not only gone virtually unnoticed, but did little to harm the press freedom of others in the US. Not only are the First Amendment risks of Assange’s prosecution not tied to whether or not Assange is a journalist, but the effort to reinvent both the history of his prosecution and what he is accused of to turn him into a journalist has led a bunch of journalists and press freedom advocates to violate the principles that are supposed to distinguish journalism.

Flashbacks to the 2015 Campaign

Katy Tur at SXSW
[h/t nrkbeta Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) ]

Several years ago, I got Mrs Dr Peterr Katy Tur’s book Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History. Tur had been the NBC reporter assigned to the Trump campaign in 2015 and 2016, and listening to the impeachment coverage yesterday and the coverage this morning, one episode she recounted in the book came flashing back . . .

In Dec 2015, three days before Trump announced his pledge to institute a Muslim travel ban, Trump got rattled at a rally in Raleigh NC where protesters coordinated their efforts and threw him off his game, interrupting his speech every couple of minutes from different parts of the arena. Disgusted, Trump abruptly left the podium and started shaking hands offstage, and Tur sent out a simple tweet describing what had happened.

Right before lunch the next day, Hope Hicks wrote her to say “Katy, Mr. Trump thought your tweets from last night were disgraceful. Not nice! Best, Hope.” Shortly thereafter, the media gets the word about the travel ban Trump intended to announce that night, and that becomes the big story of the day with Katy doing liveshots all afternoon. That evening, before a rally inside the USS Yorktown (an aircraft carrier-turned-museum in Charleston harbor), Trump blasted her with four attack tweets in the span of four minutes.

Tur says the rally’s specific location was a surprise, in that it wasn’t held on the carrier deck but inside the belly of the ship, with the media crowded into a pen.

Yes, we are in a pen: a makeshift enclosure made of bicycle racks and jammed full of desks, reporters, and camera equipment. We’re in the middle of the carrier, slammed against the right side wall. As usual, almost all of Trump’s supporters are white and a lot of them are looking at us, not exactly kindly. The campaign and Secret Service force us to stay inside the pen while Trump is onstage. They even discourage bathroom breaks. None of them have a good explanation for why we’re kept separate from the supporters. Are we the threat or are they?

Trump starts his rambling speech, and the crowd eats it up. Then Trump opens up on the media.

“The mainstream media,” Trump says. “These people back here, they’re the worst. They are so dishonest.”

Hoots and hollers.

And then I hear my name.

“She’s back there, little Katy. She’s back there.”

Trump then calls her a liar several times, and a third rate reporter several times as well, before pivoting to a more general attack on the media. Finally, once he’s got the crowd sufficiently whipped up, he formally announces the Muslim ban, and the crowd which she described earlier as looking at her like “a large animal, angry and unchained” went nuts.

She goes live with Chris Matthews as Trump leaves the stage, and when she’s done with that, Chris Hayes takes over and wants to keep her on the air for the lead story on his show that followed Matthews’.

[Trump] supporters are taking their time to leave. They’re still whipped up. I know someone is going to start yelling at me as soon as I start talking. So I do what I always do. I find the pinhole deep in the back of the lens and I tune everything else out.

A couple of minutes later, I’m done. The crowd that had gathered behind my live shot is gone except for a few stragglers, yelling at me. They’re five feet away, held back by those lousy bicycle racks. A Trump staffer shoos them away. MSNBC has cleared me and my bosses want [her cameraman/sound tech] Anthony and me to get out of there as quickly as we can. I don’t quite understand why until we pack up and start to head out. A Trump staffer stops me and says “These guys are going to walk you out.”

I look over and see two Secret Service agents. Thank goodness. They walk Anthony and me along the gangway back to our car. It’s pitch black and I’m nervous. We’re parked with the crowd.

Once we’re moving, I take a look at my phone. My mom has called. And called. And called. I dial her back. “Are you okay? Where are you staying? Can someone stay with you? You need security!? She is crying. And it hits me.

I’m a target.

On that day in December 2015, the security professionals of the US Secret Service recognized that Trump was dangerously inciting a mob, and stepped in to protect the target he had singled out.

On January 6, 2021, Trump again incited a mob, and this time there was no one to stop them.

The Baraitser Decision’s Impact (or Not) on Journalism

Before and since Joe Biden was inaugurated, Julian Assange supporters are unsurprisingly pushing for Biden to direct DOJ to adopt a different stance in the prosecution of Assange.

I suspect that’s unlikely. Indeed, while I’m not sure how any of this would work under the extradition law or be tempered by the UK’s rejection of extradition based on humanitarian grounds and ongoing appeal of that decision, I think it more likely that DOJ does one of the following:

  • Supersedes the existing indictment to incorporate (at least) Vault 7
  • Adds conspiring with Russia, potentially showing a timeline of doing so that goes back up to a decade
  • Charges non-national security crimes (the quid pro quo for the pardon and possibly extortion) as a way to get around the finding that he’d be put in a SuperMax
  • Indicts an omnibus conspiracy naming others, or
  • Asks the UK to prosecute Assange under the equivalent crimes (including, possibly, for Vault 7)

I think that not because I believe Joe Biden will be shitty or good on issues pertaining to journalism or because I have it in for Assange. I think that because unlike virtually everyone weighing in on this topic (Alexa O’Brien is the sole exception I know of) I’ve actually been covering what has happened to WikiLeaks cases in the US and the public record shows that the US government as a whole and DOJ as an institution — not Presidents Obama, Trump, or Biden — have come to the conclusion that WikiLeaks is not a journalistic institution.

To that end, I want to return to Vanessa Baraitser’s ruling in Assange’s case, because most people weighing in about how and why Biden might change course are misrepresenting what she said about two issues.

The first issue pertains to the impact of her ruling on journalism. Yes, Baraitser ruled for the US. But all she had to do on this issue was weigh whether the crimes alleged in the indictment have a parallel in UK law (which in this case would be the far more onerous Official Secrets Act) and are permitted under European Convention on Human Rights law’s Article 10.

With regards to the former, Baraitser could have just noted that the Official Secrets Act clearly criminalizes the publication of classified information like that covered by the indictment. That was what most people I know honestly expected (even if they didn’t say as much publicly).

She didn’t. With regards most charges, her ruling relied heavily on the intersecting conspiracies alleged in the superseding indictment that most Assange boosters have not read, one to violate the Espionage Act and the other to violate CFAA (hacking). For the bulk of the charges (the ones covered by Theory One in this post), Baraitser described what Assange does to include a hacking element.

Mr. Assange is accused of aiding and abetting Ms. Manning in her theft and disclosure of the information, as an accessory to her offending. The defence submits that no offence is committed by Mr. Assange unless he has engaged in a criminal activity separate from Ms. Manning’s act of whistle-blowing. However, in my judgment, Mr. Assange’s alleged activities went beyond the mere encouragement of a whistle-blower.

Tseehe [sic] design and purpose of WikiLeaks, it is alleged, was to obtain protected information and publish it. Mr. Assange was willing to achieve this, it is alleged, through computer hacking, both by engaging in hacking activities himself but also by recruiting and soliciting others to do the same. This is amply demonstrated in the request in his work with various hacking groups. His work with Ms. Manning, it is alleged, was part of this plan.

[snip]

At the same time as these communications, it is alleged, he was encouraging others to hack into computers to obtain information. This activity does not form part of the “Manning” allegations but it took place at exactly the same time and supports the case that Mr. Assange was engaged in a wider scheme, to work with computer hackers and whistle blowers to obtain information for Wikileaks. Ms. Manning was aware of his work with these hacking groups as Mr. Assange messaged her several times about it. For example, it is alleged that, on 5 March 2010 Mr. Assange told Ms. Manning that he had received stolen banking documents from a source (Teenager); on 10 March 2010, Mr. Assange told Ms. Manning that he had given an “intel source” a “list of things we wanted and the source had provided four months of recordings of all phones in the Parliament of the government of NATO country-1; and, on 17 March 2010, Mr. Assange told Ms. Manning that he used the unauthorised access given to him by a source, to access a government website of NATO country-1 used to track police vehicles. His agreement with Ms. Manning, to decipher the alphanumeric code she gave him, took place on 8 March 2010, in the midst of his efforts to obtain, and to recruit others to obtain, information through computer hacking

[snip]

In relation to Ms. Manning, it is alleged that Mr. Assange was engaged in these same activities. During their contact over many months, he encouraged her to obtain information when she had told him she had no more to give him, he identified for her particular information he would like to have from the government database for her to provide to him, and, in the most obvious example of his using his computer hacking skills to further his objective, he tried to decipher an alphanumeric code she sent to him. If the allegations are proved, then his agreement with Ms. Manning and his agreements with these groups of computer hackers took him outside any role of investigative journalism. He was acting to further the overall objective of WikiLeaks to obtain protected information, by hacking if necessary. Notwithstanding the vital role played by the press in a democratic society, journalists have the same duty as everyone else to obey the ordinary criminal law. In this case Mr. Assange’s alleged acts were unlawful and he does not become immune from criminal liability merely because he claims he was acting as a journalist.

Thus, even though she didn’t have to do so to rule for the US on this point, she nevertheless distinguished what Assange does from what journalists do because, as alleged in the indictment and in actual fact, hacking is such a central part of what Assange does. It’s not clear she would have gotten to this ruling without the language included in the superseding indictment (a superseding indictment which, again, virtually all Assange boosters either willfully ignore or are genuinely ignorant exists). But as it happened, she relied heavily on the language in the superseding indictment and very clearly distinguished what Assange does from what journalists do.

Of particular interest (because this is the language in the indictment that I believe sets up adding Vault 7 to the indictment), Baraitser accepted the US government’s description of Assange recruiting people to hack.

Mr. Assange, it is alleged, had been engaged in recruiting others to obtain information for him for some time. For example, in August 2009 he spoke to an audience of hackers at a “Hacking at Random” conference and told them that unless they were a serving member of the US military they would have no legal liability for stealing classified information and giving it to Wikileaks. At the same conference he told the audience that there was a small vulnerability within the US Congress document distribution system stating, “this is what any one of you would find if you were actually looking”. In October 2009 also to an audience of hackers at the “Hack in the Box Security Conference” he told the audience, “I was a famous teenage hacker in Australia, and I’ve been reading generals’ emails since I was 17” and referred to the Wikileaks list of “flags” that it wanted captured. After Ms. Manning made her disclosures to him he continued to encourage people to take information. For example, in December 2013 he attended a Chaos computer club conference and told the audience to join the CIA in order to steal information stating “I’m not saying don’t join the CIA; no, go and join the CIA. Go in there, go into the ballpark and get the ball and bring it out”.

Again, it’s not just that Assange solicited people to share classified information with him (which journalists do), but that he also explicitly encourages people to hack to get it.

And while the way Baraitser distinguished Assange from others in her ruling on the three most dangerous charges, publishing informants’ identities (Theory Three in this post), is less compelling, she nevertheless went beyond a ruling on the act itself. She distinguished Assange’s publication online (in bulk, though that distinction is less clear and not one of great comfort to someone who also publishes online) from traditional journalism.

More importantly, Baraitser talked about the balancing involved in Article 10 (particularly with regards to the right of private life).

The defence submits that, by disclosing Ms. Manning’s materials, Mr. Assange was acting within the parameters of responsible journalism. The difficulty with this argument is that it vests in Mr. Assange the right to make the decision to sacrifice the safety of these few individuals, knowing nothing of their circumstances or the dangers they faced, in the name of free speech. In the modern digital age, vast amounts of information can be indiscriminately disclosed to a global audience, almost instantly, by anyone with access to a computer and an internet connection. Unlike the traditional press, those who choose to use the internet to disclose sensitive information in this way are not bound by a professional code or ethical journalistic duty or practice. Those who post information on the internet have no obligation to act responsibly or to exercise judgment in their decisions. In the modern era, where “dumps” of vast amounts of data onto the internet can be carried out by almost anyone, it is difficult to see how a concept of “responsible journalism” can sensibly be applied.

[comparison with other outlets and their condemnation of him]

The law already constrains in various ways what may be published in order to avoid damage to private interests. For example, the High Court recently awarded damages against the Associated Newspaper Ltd, after the MailOnline website published an article , reporting on the arrest of the claimant in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing, and disclosing details capable of leading to his identification (Alaedeen Sicri v Associated Newspapers Limited, [2020] EWHC 3541 (QB)). Free speech does not comprise a ‘trump card’ even where matters of serious public concern are disclosed (see Stoll above), and it does not provide an unfettered right for some, like Mr. Assange, to decide the fate of others, on the basis of their partially informed assessment of the risks.

This was not necessarily a national security stance. Rather, in language that would apply equally to Assange’s indiscriminate publication of the DNC and Podesta emails (as well as the publication of the Turkish and Saudi emails), Baraitser argued that Assange’s publication in bulk was not protected because it did not and could not properly weigh the risk to others.

This part of the ruling, in particular, would not translate into US law. There is no such privacy balance in the US outside of much weaker defamation laws. And so this part of the ruling does not offer much comfort with regards the existing charges as precedent in the US context.

But that’s an issue Assange supporters have with US law, not with the Baraitser ruling.

With regards to the impact on journalism, Baraitser ruled that the charges before her (which contrary to a lot of WikiLeaks propaganda, doesn’t include the Collateral Murder video) were distinguishable from what journalists do.

As such, unless press organizations want to claim hacking is within the job description of journalists, this ruling should not chill journalism.

There’s certainly real concern about the charges as precedent in the US, particularly the publishing charges. But that’s different than the Baraitser ruling itself.

Update: Corrected ECHR thanks to Chetnolian.

The Intercept’s Silence about Edward Snowden’s Inclusion in Julian Assange’s Charges

Back in October, I beat up The Intercept’s Micah Lee for writing a post that purported to cover the “crumbling” hacking case against Julian Assange by working from an outdated indictment rather than the superseding one that added 50-some paragraphs to the overt acts alleged in the single count for conspiracy to hack. Micah made a half-assed and still factually inaccurate “correction” (without crediting me for pointing out the embarrassing error) that utterly misunderstands US conspiracy law, and claimed events since 2011 had tolled whereas the original password hacking attempt had not.

In the 2020 indictment, attempting to portray Assange as a hacker rather than a journalist, the government listed other instances of Assange allegedly directing hacking activity by people other than Manning — but did not add to the charges against him, prompting a discussion of whether the statute of limitations on the alleged new crimes had expired. Assange’s lawyers called the newest evidence “‘make weight’ allegations designed to bring all of this back within the limitation period.” It remains to be seen if the U.S. government will pursue this reaching strategy. At the moment it seems that these supplemental allegations are peripheral to the first, and only clearly chargeable, instance described by the government that could be conceived as a conspiracy to commit a computer crime — providing marginal support for a case which is, at its core, already weak.

In short, having been alerted to the superseding indictment, The Intercept’s resident expert on hacking utterly dodged the allegations made in that expanded charge, not so much as mentioning what they were.

At the time, I promised to return to Micah’s embarrassing piece after I finished some more pressing issues.

It turns out, the problem at The Intercept is broader than just Micah’s piece.

A recent post from Charles Glass suggests that if President Biden were to “remove the Espionage Act charges against Assange,” it would amount to the withdrawal of his extradition application entirely.

WHEN JOE BIDEN becomes president of the United States on January 20, a historic opportunity awaits him to demonstrate America’s commitment to the First Amendment. He can, in a stroke, reverse four years of White House persecution of journalism by withdrawing the application to extradite Julian Assange from Britain to the U.S.

[snip]

By removing the 1917 Espionage Act charges against Assange, Biden would be adhering to the precedent established by the administration in which he served for eight years as vice president. President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice investigated Assange and WikiLeaks for three years until 2013 before deciding, in the words of University of Maryland journalism professor Mark Feldstein, “to follow established precedent and not bring charges against Assange or any of the newspapers that published the documents.” Equal application of the law would have required the DOJ to prosecute media outlets, including the New York Times, that had as large a hand in publicizing war crimes as did Assange himself. If prosecutors put all the editors, publishers, and scholars who disseminated WikiLeaks materials in the dock, there would not be a courtroom anywhere in America big enough to hold the trial. Obama decided against it, knowing it would represent an unprecedented assault on freedoms Americans hold dear.

Glass went on to repeat the grossly erroneous claims about the history of Assange’s prosecution made at the extradition hearing by journalism history professor Mark Feldstein, who literally submitted a filing to the hearing admitting he wasn’t familiar with what the public record actually says about it.

That Glass ignored the hacking charge against Assange is remarkable given that, along with the erroneous piece from Micah, an earlier post from him is one of the few that addressed the (now superseded) CFAA count.

In addition, The Intercept did a Deconstructed show on the hearing in October. It, too, adopted the erroneous fairy tale about why the Trump Administration charged Assange when the Obama Administration did not. And while it introduced the allegation that Assange is a hacker, it then reverted to the so-called New York Times test, suggesting that if the publishing activities of Assange cannot be distinguished from the NYT’s, then it means Assange cannot and should not be prosecuted.

RG: Supporters of the prosecution of Assange make a number of arguments: That Assange is not a “real” journalist. He’s a hacker. He’s a traitor. He recklessly endangered lives and so he deserves no protection as a journalist. All of this is wrong.

The First Amendment isn’t worth the parchment it’s written on if it’s not respected, and defended, in the broader culture of the United States. People have to support it. Once that support erodes, it tends not to come back. That’s why authoritarians, when they want to curtail a particular freedom, usually find the most unsympathetic target they can, hoping nobody will come to his defense. Then once a new precedent is established, all bets are off. With Assange, Trump and Barr think they’ve found just such a man. It’s up to us not to take the bait.

[snip]

Kevin Gosztola: I think the key thing about Trevor Tim[m]’s testimony is destigmatizing the work of WikiLeaks, or even demystifying it. Because what you have through the U.S. government’s targeting of Wikileaks over the past decade is a concerted effort to make it seem like what WikiLeaks does is not journalism. And so the counter to that through the defense’s case is to make it abundantly clear that this is not reasonable; that in fact, everything that WikiLeaks does, from when it accepts the documents, when it tries to authenticate them, to when it makes media partnerships, to also make sure that names are redacted, to make sure that sensitive details are understood fully before the documents are published. And I think you see that this is the way to keep investigative journalism robust in the 21st century.

RG: I thought Trevor’s point was interesting that The New York Times does not get a press badge from the U.S. government. You know, it isn’t, and it shouldn’t be, up to the U.S. government to decide who is and who is not a journalist.

And the idea of who is or is not a responsible journalist is different from what is illegal or legal conduct, which I also thought was important because the prosecution wants to say: Well, he’s an irresponsible person, so therefore, he doesn’t have these protections. And the counter is no, it’s not up to the government to say what’s responsible or irresponsible journalism. You know, the government creates laws, and if the laws are violated, then you can start your prosecution. But if not, you can’t. And it’s never been against the law to publish classified information. It’s against the law to leak it, if you have access to it. But it’s not against the law to publish it.

As I have said over and over, I agree that the Espionage Act charges against Assange, as charged, pose a real threat to journalism (though so do the Trump DOJ’s other prosecutions of Espionage as a conspiracy, including the Henry Kyle Frese case where DOJ used a Title III wiretap to obtain evidence, and the Natalie Sours Edwards case where the Treasury Department attempted to achieve prior restraint on Jason Leopold, prosecutions that have gotten far less attention).

But I also think the sheer amount of shitty propaganda and outright lies people are telling in service of Julian Assange do their own damage to journalism. It is possible to discuss the risk that Assange’s prosecution on the Espionage charges poses without ignoring large swaths of the public record or even, as The Intercept has done in these three pieces and much of their earlier coverage, the actual charges.

The Intercept’s silence on the superseding indictment is all the more notable because of the way its founding act plays a part.

As I laid out here and here, the superseding charge incorporates a number of other overt acts in the CFAA conspiracy, going through 2015 (and seemingly setting up another superseding indictment that covers publications from 2015 through 2017). The new overt acts include a number of things that absolutely distinguish Assange and WikiLeaks from journalists and publishers. Of particular note, they allege that Julian Assange:

  • Entered into an agreement with individuals involved in Gnosis and Lulzsec before those individuals carried out the hack of Stratfor and remained in the agreement during and after the hack. This is a case where five of the people Assange allegedly entered into a conspiracy with have already pled guilty, in both the UK and US (as well as Ireland), making the primary proof required at trial that Assange did enter into agreement with the other co-conspirators, not that the hack occurred.
  • Directed Siggi to hack a WikiLeaks dissident to destroy incriminating evidence implicating Assange. While I’m less certain whether Siggi took steps to advance this conspiracy (and Siggi has credibility problems as a witness), I know of multiple different allegations that dissidents, sources, and competing outlets were similarly targeted for surveillance, with one WikiLeaks dissident claiming to have been hacked and threatened after a political split with the group.
  • Helped Edward Snowden flee, both by sending Sarah Harrison to facilitate his flight and creating distractions, and then using WikiLeaks’ assistance as a means to recruit further hackers and leakers.

The last one seems particularly irresponsible for The Intercept to suppress as they have, particularly given four other details:

  • Snowden’s description of setting up Tor bridges for Iranians with other Tor volunteers in the extended Arab Spring, making it highly likely he had a relationship with Jake Appelbaum before he took his NSA job in Hawaii.
  • Bart Gellman’s description of how Snowden worked to “optimize” his own outcome to encourage others to leak, mirroring Harrison’s stated motive for helping him flee.
  • The government’s suggestion that Daniel Everette Hale — Jeremy Scahill’s alleged source for his drone reporting — was inspired to leak by Snowden.
  • Snowden’s own (recent) treatment of three Intercept sources — along with Hale, Reality Winner and Terry Albury — as a group meriting a Trump pardon, something that will likely make Hale’s defense at trial next year more difficult.

The government’s theory about Snowden as a recruitment tool is really problematic (though I suspect the government plans to make it a lot more specific after inauguration, even before Hale’s trial next year). But it is also the case that publishers don’t usually help their sources flee as a way to ensure they’ll recruit future leakers and hackers (indeed, in his book, Gellman talked at length about how careful he was to avoid crossing that line when Snowden tried to trick him into it).

One can argue that WikiLeaks was heroic for doing so. One can argue that the US empire has what’s coming to it and so WikiLeaks was right to help Snowden flee. But one can’t argue that the overt acts alleged in the CFAA count of the superseding indictment are things that journalists routinely do. And, if proven, that gets the government well beyond the New York Times test.

Importantly, if you’re engaging in a debate about Assange’s fate but ignoring credible allegations that Assange did a bunch of things that journalists do not do, you should not, at the same time, claim you’re serving journalism. You’re serving propaganda (particularly if you’re also telling a fairy tale about what changed in 2016 and 2017).

All the more so if you’re The Intercept. The government has alleged that one thing that distinguishes Julian Assange from journalists — and they’re right — is that he sent someone halfway around the world to save the guy who created the opportunity to create The Intercept in the first place. Unless Assange is pardoned before Trump leaves (and maybe even then, since many of the acts Assange is charged with are more obviously illegal in the UK), this allegation is going to remain out there.

The founding possibility for The Intercept has now been included as an overt act in a hacking indictment. One way or another, it seems The Intercept needs to address that.

After Wailing That No One Was Reporting on the Hunter Biden Laptop, Glenn Greenwald Is Now Wailing because Ben Collins Did

As I’ve addressed both here and on Twitter (post 1, post 2), Glenn Greenwald has written at least three error-ridden posts wailing that no one has written about the Hunter Biden laptop that Steve Bannon and Rudy Giuliani used to seed an attempted attack on Joe Biden.

In an apparent attempt to generate more subscribers to his Substack of non-stop Hunter Biden laptop posts, Glenn continues to wail about people doing actual journalism. Yesterday, for example, he attacked Brandy Zadrozny (who was recently targeted directly by Glenn’s buddy Tucker Carlson) and Ben Collins, claiming that their reporting on organized disinformation efforts,  “is not journalism: it’s quashing of dissent.”

Collins responded with a long thread of the reporting that he had done over the last year, describing along the way the victims of such disinformation.

Among those stories, Collins included a story where he reported that a month before the Hunter Biden laptop was “discovered,” a fake person was pushing it.

Just days before the election, then, Collins was doing precisely what Glenn was demanding, reporting on the Hunter Biden laptop. Only, he wasn’t telling the precise story Glenn wanted told about the “laptop.”

One month before a purported leak of files from Hunter Biden’s laptop, a fake “intelligence” document about him went viral on the right-wing internet, asserting an elaborate conspiracy theory involving former Vice President Joe Biden’s son and business in China.

The document, a 64-page composition that was later disseminated by close associates of President Donald Trump, appears to be the work of a fake “intelligence firm” called Typhoon Investigations, according to researchers and public documents.

The author of the document, a self-identified Swiss security analyst named Martin Aspen, is a fabricated identity, according to analysis by disinformation researchers, who also concluded that Aspen’s profile picture was created with an artificial intelligence face generator. The intelligence firm that Aspen lists as his previous employer said that no one by that name had ever worked for the company and that no one by that name lives in Switzerland, according to public records and social media searches.

One of the original posters of the document, a blogger and professor named Christopher Balding, took credit for writing parts of it when asked about it and said Aspen does not exist.

Glenn replied to Collins’ thread with a ridiculously dickish response, then tried to suggest that because Collins is paid by NBC, he must be a fraud.

To recap then. Glenn has spent weeks suggesting no one at big media outlets was reporting on the Hunter Biden laptop.

Collins noted that he did.

Glenn’s response to was to call him a fraud because he did that reporting at NBC.

I guess it wasn’t reporting he was really after.

Doesn’t Anyone in the Media Read the Actual Election Laws?

Election Resolution Judges
(h/t Lance Fisher and used under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic [CC BY-SA 2.0])

Back in the day, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and all elections were conducted either with paper ballots or “pull the lever” machines, my high school government class was given an election season project. For the precinct around our high school, we were to do four things: (1) canvas the neighborhood to determine who was registered and who was not, (2) work to increase the number of registered voters, (3) try to get as many of these folks to the polls on election day as possible, and (4) report back to the teacher how it all went.

Shorter #4: It was a blast.

Oh, it was a lot of work, too. Lots of knocking on doors (and going back and back again when no one was home), and also lots of reading the elections laws. What were the deadlines? What did we have to do in order to be polling place observers, so that we could see who voted in the morning in order to start making calls or knocking on doors in the afternoon and evening? What were we allowed to do in the polling place, and what were we not allowed to do? Who would make the GOTV visits in the afternoon and early evening? Who had a driver’s license and a vehicle, so we could offer rides to the polls, if needed? Who could be available to babysit, if needed?

In a precinct that generally had turnout of around 30%, that year it hit 70%. We weren’t allowed to be advocates for a candidate or ballot proposition (this was a non-partisan school project, after all), but simply were trying to get as many folks as possible to the polls, and we did a damn good job. In the years that followed, I’m sure there were campaign strategists who looked at that number and figured it must have been a typo, because it never came close to that again.

Since high school, I’ve worked on a number of campaigns, from local school board stuff to Paul Simon’s presidential campaign and a bunch at every level in between. One thing I’ve never forgotten is simple: read the election law.

With all the “will we have a winner on Election Night?” blather, it seems few in the media have bothered to do that one very simple thing.

So let’s give it a try, OK? From the Missouri Revised Statutes, Chapter 115:

115.508. Certification of election prohibited prior to noon on Friday after election day.—Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, no election authority or verification board shall certify election results, as required under section 115.507, before noon on the Friday after election day.

What? You mean it’s illegal (at least in Missouri) for an election board – city, county, or state – to certify a winner before Friday?

115.507. Announcement of Results by verification board, contents, when due—abstract of votes to be official returns.—
1. Not later than the second Tuesday after the election, the verification board shall issue a statement announcing the results of each election held within its jurisdiction and shall certify the returns to each political subdivision and special district submitting a candidate or question at the election. The statement shall include a categorization of the number of regular and absentee votes cast in the election, and how those votes were cast; provided however, that absentee votes shall not be reported separately where such reporting would disclose how any single voter cast his or her vote. When absentee votes are not reported separately the statement shall include the reason why such reporting did not occur. Nothing in this section shall be construed to require the election authority to tabulate absentee ballots by precinct on election night.

What? You mean that each election jurisdiction has two weeks to submit their certification, and ballot counters don’t have to pull an all-nighter on election night?

115.430. Provisional ballots, used when, exceptions, procedure, counted when, how—rulemaking authority—free access system established—provisional ballot only used,when—no jurisdiction in state courts to extend polling hours.—
All provisional ballots cast by voters whose eligibility has been verified as provided in this section shall be counted in accordance with the rules governing ballot tabulation. Provisional ballots shall not be counted until all provisional ballots are determined either eligible or ineligible and all provisional ballots must be processed before the election is certified.

Here’s part of why you can’t certify a winner before Friday, and you get two weeks to finish the count. By Missouri state law, every individual provisional ballot has to be either accepted or rejected before ANY provisional ballots are actually tabulated and added to the regular count. If you get a lot of provisional ballots, or if there are lots of challenges to these ballots, this could take a while. And if you have both of those things, it *will* take a while.

What is reported on election night is — and always has been — unofficial. When you go to any state’s election website next Tuesday evening and frantically refresh the page to get the latest numbers, they will tell you that these results are unofficial. They aren’t official until at least a couple of days later, after every precinct has verified and counted all their provisional ballots, checked all their math, and filed a formal certification with their Secretary of State. Careful media voices may project a winner on election night, but it’s not official until the certification of the results is complete.

And at least in Missouri, that is not allowed to happen before the Friday after the election, and could be as much as two weeks after election day.

Look, I get it. I want to know who will win all kinds of different races as soon as anyone, but it’s not an automatic sign of any nefarious goings on if no clear winner is projected on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. More than anything, it’s a sign that everyone from the election judge in your local polling place on up to the Secretary of State wants to be really sure that they got the count right before they declare it to be official.

I know that Donald Trump doesn’t know election law, or even the mechanics of how elections work once the polls close, and I have no illusions about educating him on that subject. I just wish the media would quit imitating his ignorance.

Steve Bannon, Guccifer 2.0, Glenn Greenwald, and Me: How Glenn Greenwald Defends “Smear Artist & Cowards”

Glenn Greenwald has appointed himself the guardian of suspected Russian disinformation on social media, spending much of the last several days wailing that Twitter and Facebook took measures to prevent a sketchy NY Post story from going viral on their platforms, and calling it censorship.

Glenn misrepresents why Maggie got attacked

Glenn’s story wailing about those measures is riddled with contradiction. For example, a man who spends most of his time making exaggerated or unsubstantiated attacks on journalists on Twitter, spent two paragraphs complaining about the treatment of Maggie Haberman after she retweeted the article — from her former employer — with no caveats.

BUT THE POST, for all its longevity, power and influence, ran smack into two entities far more powerful than it: Facebook and Twitter. Almost immediately upon publication, pro-Biden journalists created a climate of extreme hostility and suppression toward the Post story, making clear that any journalist even mentioning it would be roundly attacked. For the crime of simply noting the story on Twitter (while pointing out its flaws), New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman was instantly vilified to the point where her name, along with the phrase “MAGA Haberman,” were trending on Twitter.

(That Haberman is a crypto-Trump supporter is preposterous for so many reasons, including the fact that she is responsible for countless front-page Times stories that reflect negatively on the president; moreover, the 2016 Clinton campaign considered Haberman one of their most favorable reporters).

Glenn suggests a viral, organic response to Maggie’s RT — coming largely from regular users, not other journalists — was instead led by journalists. Glenn defends Maggie against being a “crypto-Trump supporter” in the same breath where he claims each and every person complaining about her initial uncritical response is a “pro-Biden journalist[].” And one of the most famously abrasive people on Twitter accused others of creating “a climate of extreme hostility” on the platform.

But the real problem is how he misrepresents Maggie’s role and the reason for the response. This was about virality.

In fact, at first, Maggie did not point out the flaws in the story. Importantly (because Matt Taibbi is claiming that the Steele dossier was reported on before the 2016 election without noting that the most important instance of this involved someone reporting on the investigative response to the dossier, not the dossier itself, and Glenn is similarly misrepresenting where and on what terms outlets reported on the dossier), Maggie gave the story credibility by quoting a line from the piece in such a way that it suggested the FBI might be investigating Hunter Biden because of the discoveries on the dodgy laptop rather than (as NBC has reported) investigating whether Hunter Biden was victimized by Russian spies.

Only after Maggie and Jake Sherman (who treated the Post story similarly) got criticized, did they begin to point to the obvious problems with the story.

Sherman even expressed regret for the way he had responded uncritically at first, tweets which Maggie RTed (though she offered no such mea culpa of her own).

The complaint was that two serious journalists were giving a shoddy story credibility before they had read it closely enough to see all the problems with it, which not only served to launch the story out of the frothy right (which Steve Bannon has said was entirely the point of packaging the story in this way), but with their significant follower counts, played a key role in making the story go viral.

In other words, while Glenn complains about the viral hostility in response to Maggie’s tweet, he doesn’t consider how her own tweet played a central role in making the story go viral.

Glenn presents a two social media platform effort to cut down on viral disinformation as a Democratic plot

Glenn then presents the social media decision to prevent the Post story from going viral on their platforms both as a response to the uproar over the initial viral response to it and as a Democratic plot.

The two Silicon Valley giants saw that hostile climate and reacted. Just two hours after the story was online, Facebook intervened. The company dispatched a life-long Democratic Party operative who now works for Facebook — Andy Stone, previously a communications operative for Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, among other D.C. Democratic jobs — to announce that Facebook was “reducing [the article’s] distribution on our platform”: in other words, tinkering with its own algorithms to suppress the ability of users to discuss or share the news article. The long-time Democratic Party official did not try to hide his contempt for the article, beginning his censorship announcement by snidely noting: “I will intentionally not link to the New York Post.”

Twitter’s suppression efforts went far beyond Facebook’s. They banned entirely all users’ ability to share the Post article — not just on their public timeline but even using the platform’s private Direct Messaging feature.

Early in the day, users who attempted to link to the New York Post story either publicly or privately received a cryptic message rejecting the attempt as an “error.” Later in the afternoon, Twitter changed the message, advising users that they could not post that link because the company judged its contents to be “potentially harmful.”

He even accuses these social media platforms of working together to do this (an accusation that has legal implications), even while describing responses and explanations for those responses that are not actually the same, undermining his claim.

In sum, the two Silicon Valley giants, with little explanation, united to prevent the sharing and dissemination of this article.

Glenn is, as is his wont, being very selective about how he pitches these Silicon Valley companies. He chooses not to describe how Facebook board member Peter Thiel has, like Glenn, been chumming around with right wing racists. He chooses not to explain how Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s Global Public Policy head, had a far more senior job in the W Administration than Andy Stone has ever held. And in his tweets in aftermath of this post, which focus closely on the impact of Facebook’s monopoly position, Glenn makes no mention of a blockbuster WSJ story describing how Facebook tweaked its algorithms to disfavor Mother Jones and also describing private dinners that Mark Zuckerberg has had with Ben Shapiro (the story came out after Glenn originally posted his post though Glenn has updated the post after it was initially published). He also conflates one report saying tech workers lean — centrist — Democratic with the suggestion the entire industries do.

Glenn treats this response — the suppression of links to the article but not discussions of the content — as censorship, going on to conflate the suppression of virality with outright censorship.

Private-sector repression of speech and thought, particularly in the internet era, can be as dangerous and consequential. Imagine, for instance, if these two Silicon Valley giants united with Google to declare: henceforth we will ban all content that is critical of President Trump and/or the Republican Party, but will actively promote criticisms of Joe Biden and the Democrats. 

You need go no further than to Glenn’s endless rants about this to prove that the outlets are not censoring content. They simply attempted to avoid being willful tools in the viral dissemination of propaganda, not the information itself.

Glenn’s selective concerns about monopoly

Glenn goes on to say some funny things about monopoly. He quotes from an article citing an HJC report on Facebook’s monopoly status, but (while he links the report), not the report itself.

In June, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law launched an investigation into the consolidated power of Facebook and three other companies — Google, Amazon and Apple — and just last week issued a sweeping report which, as Ars Technica explained, found:

Facebook outright “has monopoly power in the market for social networking,” and that power is “firmly entrenched and unlikely to be eroded by competitive pressure” from anyone at all due to “high entry barriers—including strong network effects, high switching costs, and Facebook’s significant data advantage—that discourage direct competition by other firms to offer new products and services.”

The report doesn’t address Twitter (because Twitter is not a monopoly). So instead, Glenn cites how many journalists use Twitter.

While Twitter still falls short of Facebook in terms of number of users, a 2019 report found that “Twitter remains the leading social network among journalists at 83%.” Censoring a story from Twitter thus has disproportionate impact by hiding it from the people who determine and shape the news.

This suggests that Glenn is concerned about the same thing Bannon is, ensuring that this story breaks out of the right wing echo chamber to be magnified by people like Maggie Haberman.

Glenn then makes some batshit crazy comments about Section 230, suggesting that only behemoths like Facebook benefit from it, and equating Section 230 with a specific exemption on antitrust law.

Beyond that, both Facebook and Twitter receive substantial, unique legal benefits from federal law, further negating the claim that they are free to do whatever they want as private companies. Just as is true of Major League Baseball — which is subject to regulation by Congress as a result of the antitrust exemption they enjoy under the law — these social media companies receive a very valuable and particularized legal benefit in the form of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields them from any liability for content published on their platforms, including defamatory material or other legally proscribed communications.

As Glenn surely knows, The Intercept, a mid-sized journalistic outlet, is protected by Section 230. Even teeny tiny emptywheel is protected by Section 230. To suggest that Facebook and Twitter uniquely benefit from it is simply ridiculous. We here at emptywheel monitor our comment threads fairly aggressively, but because of Section 230, we won’t go to prison if one of you decides to use the comment threads as part of your Russian intelligence operation.

Glenn endorses social media taking actions for the public interest but not the ones HJC suggested social media needs to take

From there, Glenn takes what — for a claimed First Amendment absolutist like he used to be — is fairly stunning. He suggests that the monopoly status of Facebook (and everyone else who benefits from Section 230, he suggests by context, but he cannot possibly mean that) means they owe a “dut[y] to the public interest.”

No company can claim such massive, unique legal exemptions from the federal law and then simultaneously claim they owe no duties to the public interest and are not answerable to anyone.

That is, in a piece that bitches mightily that Facebook and Twitter took steps to prevent a shoddy story that may have been seeded by documents stolen by Russia from going viral on their platforms, Glenn argues strongly that Facebook and Twitter should take steps to serve the public interest.

Let’s take this moment to go back to that report that Glenn links but does not cite. Glenn goes on at length about the dangers of concentration in social media, some complaints of which are valid and some of which are misstated. But here’s what the report from which he has been providing a second-hand quotation says about one major danger of concentration in social media: it helps spread dis- and misinformation and breaks down accountability in reporting.

Finally, because news is often accessed online through channels other than the original publication—including search results, voice assistants, social platforms, or news aggregators— journalism has increasingly become “atomized” or removed from its source and placed alongside other content.315 In the context of audio news, one market participant noted that aggregating different news sources can create a bad experience for users.316 The aggregation of different news sources without editorial oversight can also cause reputational harm to news publishers, such as when highly credible reporting appears alongside an opinion-based news source.317

Indirectly, the atomization of news may increase the likelihood that people are exposed to disinformation or untrustworthy sources of news online. When online news is disintermediated from its source, people generally have more difficulty discerning the credibility of reporting online. This process may also “foster ambivalence about the quality and nature of content that garners users’ attention,” particularly among young people.318

For example, during the Subcommittee’s sixth hearing, Subcommittee Chairman David N. Cicilline presented Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg with evidence of a Breitbart video that claimed that “you don’t need a mask and hydroxychloroquine is a cure for COVID.” 319 As he noted, within the first five hours of this video being posted, it had nearly “20 million views and over 100,000 comments before Facebook acted to remove it.” 320 Mr. Zuckerberg responded that “a lot of people shared that, and we did take it down because it violate[d] our policies.” 321 In response, Chairman Cicilline asked if “20 million people saw it over the period of five hours . . . doesn’t that suggest, Mr. Zuckerberg, that your platform is so big that, even with the right policies in place, you can’t contain deadly content?” 322 Mr. Zuckerberg responded by claiming that Facebook has a “relatively good track record of finding and taking down lots of false content.” 323

Moreover, because there is not meaningful competition, dominant firms face little financial consequence when misinformation and propaganda are promoted online.324 Platforms that are dependent on online advertising have an incentive to prioritize content that is addictive or exploitative to increase engagement on the platform.325 And the reliance on platforms by advertisers has generally diminished their ability to push for improvements in content standards. As a news publisher explained in a submission to the Subcommittee:

As advertisers have become more reliant on dominant search and social platforms to reach potential consumers, they have lost any leverage to demand change in the policies or practices of the platforms. In the era of newspapers, television, radio, or indeed direct sales of digital advertising online, there was a connection between advertising and the content it funds, creating a high degree of accountability for both parties in that transaction. This maintained high content standards, and enabled advertisers to demand or pursue change from publishers whose content standards fell. While many high-quality publishers continue to operate stringent policies in relation to the digital advertising that they permit to appear within their services, in a world of programmatic audience trading that self-regulated compact between advertisers and platform does not exist.326

During the Subcommittee’s sixth hearing, Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD) raised this concern. As he noted, in July 2020, Facebook faced an advertiser boycott by hundreds of companies.327 This effort, which has been spearheaded by the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, a coalition of civil rights groups organizing in protest of “the rapid spread of hate messages online, the presence of boogaloo and other right-wing extremist groups trying to infiltrate and disrupt Black Lives Matter protests and the fact that alt-right racists and anti-Semitic content flourishes on Facebook.” 328

As a result of this campaign, more than a thousand major companies—including Disney, CocaCola, and General Motors—announced that they would pull $7 billion in advertisements on Facebook as part of the Stop Hate for Profit boycott.329 But as Representative Raskin pointed out during the hearing Facebook does not “seem to be that moved by their campaign.” 330

That is, the report that Glenn refers to approvingly but does not cite actually connects concentration in social media to the way platforms are more likely to spread disinformation, propaganda, and exploitative content. The report describes the specific consequences that can arise — people ignore best practice during a pandemic — when social media companies act too slowly to prevent disinformation from achieving virality on their platforms.

Effectively, then, the report that Glenn cites favorably says that the public interest is served when social media platforms prevent disinformation from going viral on their platforms.

Glenn endorses requiring that monopolistic social media platforms answer to the public interest, invokes a report laying out what that public interest would be, and then wails because two platforms have done precisely what his argument suggests they should do, limit how their platforms are used to spread disinformation, propaganda, and exploitative content.

Glenn utterly confuses content, source material, propagandistic packaging of that source material, and discussion of that propagandistic packaging

In the later part of his screed, Glenn makes some important points about the inconsistency of Twitter’s evolving explanation for why it is limiting the virality of the Post pieces. He’s absolutely right that there should be some transparency and thought put into these policies, and an attempt to apply them consistently both between partisan sides but also globally, where social media more often caters to the whims of local governments to crack down on dissidents.

But amid those very good points, Glenn ties himself in knots, confusing precisely what it is he’s talking about.

Remember, the problem Glenn is complaining about is that after the Post posted some stories that he admits make “overblown” claims, published scandalous photos for which there’s “no conceivable public interest in publishing,” and offered an “explanation of how these documents were obtained [that] is bizarre at best,” Facebook and Twitter chose not to let those stories go viral on their platforms.

Glenn focuses in his post on the NYPost’s storied history.

Founded in 1801 by Alexander Hamilton, only three U.S. newspapers are more widely circulated.

But he doesn’t discuss that the woman writing these stories appears to have been installed at the Post from Hannity solely to publish them at the Post (this kind of shell game within the Murdoch empire also facilitated the Seth Rich hoax, per discovery in the Rich family lawsuits).

Post deputy political editor Emma-Jo Morris’ reports on Biden this past week constitute the sum total of her professional bylines. (That is, other than some posts Morris wrote in the summer of 2015 as a college intern for the conservative Washington Free Beacon.)

Prior to joining the Post in early spring, Morris’ most prominent media job involved her three years and eight months as a producer for Hannity, the Fox News star who is one of the president’s closest advisers. Morris did not reply to requests for comment sent to her social media accounts.

That is, while Glenn nods to the problems with the Post story, he doesn’t even examine how the reporter came to show up there, only to have Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon (the latter of whom Glenn doesn’t mention) drop these stories into her lap, details which go to her reliability. He ignores those details in a column that complains that social media platforms are throttling the virality of the Post story — but not the underlying allegations.

To illustrate how this undermines Glenn’s claims of censorship, recognize that there are four levels of the story here:

  • The claims about Burisma (which have been debunked by expert witnesses testifying under oath); discussions of these claims have not been throttled at all
  • Emails that the Post allegedly learned about from Bannon and received from Rudy, who in turn claims to have received them (using his attorney as a cut-out) from a repair store, but which neither the Post nor Rudy nor Bannon will share with others; if these emails were made publicly available, Twitter might throttle access to them under its prior “hacking” rule, but not necessarily its revised one
  • Several stories by a Hannity producer installed at the Post just before she wrote these stories; two social media companies have taken measures to limit the viral sharing of the stories, largely by limiting how readily users can access the stories directly via links posted on the social media sites
  • Discussion of the story and its production, of which this post, Glenn’s column, and his social media rants are part; that Glenn can rant at length on Twitter is proof that the social media companies are not “censoring” the discussion about them

The only thing at issue here are the Post stories. Not the underlying allegations; not (yet) the emails, if Bannon and Rudy ever decided to share them; not discussions about the Post stories.

In the section of his column discussing the actions by Facebook and Twitter, Glenn correctly limits his discussion to the article itself (without always noting that the issue was links to the article, not discussion of it).

But in his discussion claiming censorship more generally, Glenn conflates [links to] the story with the content of the story itself.

Then there is the practical impact of Twitter and Facebook uniting to block content published by a major newspaper. It is true in theory that one can still read the suppressed article by visiting the New York Post website directly, but the stranglehold that these companies exert over our discourse is so dominant that their censorship amounts to effective suppression of the reporting.

[snip]

THE GRAVE DANGERS posed by the censorship actions of yesterday should be self-evident. Just over two weeks before a presidential election, Silicon Valley giants — whose industry leaders and workforce overwhelmingly favor the Democratic candidate — took extraordinary steps to block millions, perhaps tens of millions, of American voters from being exposed to what purports to be a major exposé by one of the country’s oldest and largest newspapers.

[snip]

Do we really want Facebook serving as some sort of uber-editor for U.S. media and journalism, deciding what information is suitable for the American public to read and which should be hidden from it after teams of journalists and editors at real media outlets have approved its publication? [my emphasis]

Preventing a story from being spread virally from a platform, without preventing it from being discussed, in no way prevents “tens of millions … of American voters from being exposed to what purports to be a major exposé,” (though, in fact, the stories mostly recycle the same old allegations that experts have debunked under oath). It simply requires those engaging in the discussion — including via Glenn’s rants on Twitter or via stories about the Post stories, including Glenn’s column, which Twitter has not throttled — to go find that story itself.

Glenn’s theory that authentic emails justify serving as a mouthpiece for Russian intelligence

I’m most interested in how Glenn sprinkles a theory in this column that he has espoused in the past to defend his regurgitation of emails stolen by the GRU in 2016. He suggests that — so long as emails or other source documents are authentic — it doesn’t matter if they’ve been packaged up by a hostile intelligence agency (or a Murdoch propagandist installed expressly for the purpose). In this case, he suggests that until the Bidens prove the emails are not authentic, then the story which Glenn acknowledges overhypes what is claimed to be in the emails might “corroborate” a story largely debunked by experts testifying under oath.

While the Biden campaign denies that any such meetings or favors ever occurred, neither the campaign nor Hunter, at least as of now, has denied the authenticity of the emails.

[snip]

While these emails, if authenticated, provide some new details and corroboration, the broad outlines of this story have long been known: Hunter was paid a very large monthly sum by Burisma at the same time that his father was quite active in using the force of the U.S. Government to influence Ukraine’s internal affairs.

[snip]

The Post’s explanation of how these documents were obtained is bizarre at best: They claim that Hunter Biden indefinitely left his laptop containing the emails at a repair store, and the store’s owner, alarmed by the corruption they revealed, gave the materials from the hard drive to the FBI and then to Rudy Giuliani.

While there is no proof that Biden followed through on any of Hunter’s promises to Burisma, there is no reason, at least thus far, to doubt that the emails are genuine. And if they are genuine, they at least add to what is undeniably a relevant and newsworthy story involving influence-peddling relating to Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine and his trading on the name and power of his father, now the front-runner in the 2020 presidential election. [my emphasis]

As I noted on Twitter, if Glenn consulted with The Intercept’s security expert, Micah Lee, Micah could explain that — at least given the publicly available metadata — there very much is reason to doubt the emails as presented are actual emails.

But even disclaiming knowledge of the technical problems with the provenance of the emails, Glenn nevertheless admits that the Post’s explanation for how these emails dropped in its lap is “bizarre at best.” Having admitted that, though, he puts the onus on the Bidens to deny the authenticity of these emails, not the journalists reporting on them. It’s not enough for Joe Biden to provide solid evidence (his calendar) explaining why the allegation construed from these emails is not true, the Bidens must disprove the authenticity of the emails (which would entail treating this story as credible, and giving it air).

Crazier still, Glenn takes no responsibility himself to assess whether the emails actually prove what the Post claims they do, a distinction between the authenticity of emails versus the accuracy of the interpretation derived from the emails. He states, as fact, that if the emails prove authentic it will “provide some new details and corroboration” and “add to” the existing allegations about Burisma. Except that’s not true! They’ll only add corroboration if the content of the emails is read correctly and if that correct reading logically ties the evidence (a claim about a meeting that was offered but not scheduled) to allegations that are newsworthy, much less misconduct. What the Post has floated falls far short of that, yet because it included pictures Glenn doesn’t find newsworthy and a claim to have actual emails, Glenn doesn’t scrutinize whether the reading of the emails demonstrates both an accurate interpretation and news value.

In other words, Glenn has totally abdicated assessing for himself whether the emails dangled say what a biased presenter claims they say, and even if they do, whether that really backs the allegations that have been debunked by experts testifying under oath. Thus far, they don’t.

Glenn’s defense of the Post story replays his defense of his own publication of emails stolen by GRU

As I said, this is a theory of journalism Glenn has espoused before, when defending his willingness to publish emails stolen by the GRU. He uses that theory, for example, when asked to defend this October 9, 2016 article, presenting as “news” that the Hillary campaign:

  • Pitched Maggie Haberman on a story she subsequently gave “somewhat more critical than what the Clinton memo envisioned” coverage of
  • Specified what should be treated as on the record and off when speaking with journalists
  • Had a list of surrogates, some of whom were paid by the campaign, who would appear on cable news
  • Hosted off the record gatherings with journalists

As the story concedes, none of that was really newsworthy. Glenn justified posting documents from sources that had just been described as Russian cut-outs by saying the documents “provide a valuable glimpse” into how all campaigns work the press.

All presidential campaigns have their favorite reporters, try to plant stories they want published, and attempt in multiple ways to curry favor with journalists. These tactics are certainly not unique to the Clinton campaign (liberals were furious in 2008 when journalists went to John McCain’s Arizona ranch for an off-the-record BBQ). But these rituals and dynamics between political campaigns and the journalists who cover them are typically carried out in the dark, despite how significant they can be. These documents provide a valuable glimpse into that process.

Glenn has not, as far as I’m aware, reported on a far more interesting role Maggie played in 2016, where Rick Gates leaked information to her as a way to get it into Roger Stone’s hands. Perhaps he didn’t report on that because the documents were legally released as part of a trial, or perhaps because finding them would take actual work, rather than repackaging what an interested party fed him in much the same way that Hillary fed the press.

Glenn vetted that story the same way he seems to think the Post story should be vetted: by asking the victim if the documents are accurate and, absent a denial that they are accurate, publishing them as “news.”

Given more than 24 hours to challenge the authenticity of these documents and respond, [Nick] Merrill did not reply to our emails.

Here’s how, in a column published on October 9, Glenn justified publishing stolen documents that — he ultimately admitted — weren’t really newsworthy but for which he had been given an exclusive.

The emails were provided to The Intercept by the source identifying himself as Guccifer 2.0, who was reportedly responsible for prior significant hacks, including one that targeted the Democratic National Committee and resulted in the resignations of its top four officials. On Friday, Obama administration officials claimed that Russia’s “senior-most officials” were responsible for that hack and others, although they provided no evidence for that assertion.

As these internal documents demonstrate, a central component of the Clinton campaign strategy is ensuring that journalists they believe are favorable to Clinton are tasked to report the stories the campaign wants circulated.

Even here, Glenn muddles things. Guccifer 2.0 was a persona. While it claimed responsibility for the hacks, virtually all experts by this point in October 2016 had presented public evidence for why they believed GRU (which Glenn does not mention in the piece) was responsible for the hack. This is the move that Glenn has — for years! — defended by saying, about his decisions to publish stolen emails, that it is “fundamental” that journalists must “report on newsworthy information legitimately in the public interest,” even if the source is bad or had bad motives (or, Glenn doesn’t say this but implies it, is a hostile intelligence agency trying to tamper in an election).

Other than “harm to innocents,” there is no excuse or justification for journalists to refuse to report on newsworthy information legitimately in the public interest – including claims that the source of that information is bad or had bad motives. This principle is fundamental.

Note what Glenn doesn’t consider here: whether the source is bad and has been proven to be a liar.

It turns out that Glenn and I had a bit of an exchange with Guccifer 2.0 just days before he decided to post documents that weren’t newsworthy because he was given an exclusive.

On October 4, 2016 — just after WikiLeaks had promised to release files that everyone believed would be Clinton Foundation documents, Guccifer 2.0 posted some party documents claiming they were Clinton Foundation documents.

I tweeted, without linking the site or Guccifer 2.0’s tweet announcing the release, noting that the documents probably weren’t Clinton Foundation documents. Within twenty minutes, Glenn asked why I said that, and I noted, two minutes later, that the documents might be authentic, but they were not what Guccifer 2.0 said they were.

According to Glenn’s long-term standard — publishing documents believed to be authentic, so long as some thin public interest can be described — I guess he would support publishing them. According to journalistic standards, however, publishing something from someone who had recently been caught lying ought to raise real questions about reliability.

Forty minutes after my original tweet and about twenty after my exchange with Glenn, the persona RTed my tweet, explaining away my objections.

Shortly after RTing me, the Twitter persona followed me.

This makes Glenn’s decision to post those documents on October 9, 2016 all the more inexcusable. Less than a week before Glenn posted the least justifiable story of many of his unjustifiable 2016 uses of stolen documents, someone he (then) trusted had pointed out that the persona was a liar. But he posted the unnewsworthy documents, on the schedule that served the persona, anyway.

Those who make “slimy insinuations” based off authentic documents are “smear-artists & cowards”

Of course, this rush to publish documents simply because you have documents, even if they provide no new evidence to “corroborate” stories already debunked by experts testifying under oath, can end up tainting by insinuation. That’s the entire point, and that’s what happened with this Post story.

Don’t take my word for it. Take Glenn Greenwald’s.

Last year, when DOJ released the first bunch of 302s under the BuzzFeed FOIA for the Mueller Report backup, numerous people (I’m sure I was one of them), pointed out this reference in a February 2018 Mueller interview with Steve Bannon. In the context of a series of questions about his knowledge of Trump Organization’s ties to Russia, he was asked about what appears to be the fall 2017 story (which we now know was a limited hangout) of Michael Cohen’s efforts to pursue a Trump Tower Moscow with Felix Sater.

Bannon described how he claimed to assess the validity of the story: he reached out to “his contacts at the Intercept, Fox, the Guardian and ABC News,” who all had no further information, which did not surprise him. And, I guess at that point, he dropped the issue.

Understand, Bannon (the guy behind the Post story) is a liar, and this interview in particular was full of false story after false story. Bannon probably was lying in all his interviews about his knowledge of Trump’s business ties to Russia (including elsewhere in this same interview). It may be that when Cohen released a carefully crafted cover story, Bannon really did call up some news outlets rather than people who would actually know. It may be that Bannon invented the story about calling news outlets altogether.

It’s just weird, though, that Bannon named the Intercept before Fox, and frankly weird that Bannon would claim to call an outlet with zero expertise on this issue to find out if they had heard anything.

Whatever the explanation — whether it was the inexplicable truth, Bannon lied about calling these outlets, or Bannon lied about his knowledge of the Trump Tower deal — that he made the claim is curious.

When it was posted with absolutely no claims about what it meant, Glenn went ballistic, accusing people who screen capped a curious reference to be “using slimy insinuations about who it [sic] is without having the courage to say it explicitly.”

Using Glenn’s method, of course, one could have asked him if the 302 of an official investigation officially released by DOJ was authentic, and that would be enough — according to Glenn — to merit not just publishing it in a story, but doing so while making other insinuations not backed by the evidence.

When something far less intrusive, based off documents legally FOIAed, happened to Glenn, he accused those of posting screen caps from official 302s of being smear merchants.

But when Steve Bannon is behind it and even the claimed provenance of the documents is absurd and the more likely provenance is quite suspect, Glenn demands that such insinuations must be allowed to go viral on Facebook and Twitter — anything less is censorship.

Former Daily Caller Editor Reveals He Was Forced to Publish Oleg Deripaska

In the wake of the Senate Intelligence Report’s scathing description of Oleg Deripaska’s key role in Russia’s 2016 election interference, a former editor from the Daily Caller, Eric Owens, reveals that his bosses — Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel — forced him to publish an Oleg Deripaska column that he recognized as sloppy propaganda.

Back in 2018, I was the opinion editor for The Daily Caller. I had worked for the website for about five years as a journalist and editor. I really believed in what we were doing. I believed in what founders Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel said they were building. (More on that later.)

In early March 2018, Deripaska submitted an opinion piece to The Daily Caller. He didn’t submit it directly to me or through the Caller’s conventional submissions process. Presumably, villainous Russian billionaires are above such hoi polloi procedures. Instead, Daily Caller publisher Patel contacted me directly one day saying he had received Deripaska’s op-ed. He wanted to know how I felt about it.

I hated it. Anyone with a passing knowledge of European politics would know who Deripaska is and what he represents. I had been in the U.S. foreign service for a bit, so, of course, I knew.

More importantly, Deripaska’s op-ed itself was—and remains—an extraordinary exercise in audacious Russian propaganda.

[snip]

[I]n the case of the 2018 Deripaska op-ed, which I myself published and placed despite my own doubts and qualms, The Daily Caller was the plaything of a Russian billionaire working directly with Russian spies who used conservative media to spout completely false and fabulous conspiracy theories.

At the time, I suggested Deripaska’s column seemed to be an attempt to get ahead of disclosures like we saw in the DOJ IG and SSCI Reports, which make it clear that Deripaska was working both sides of the dossier, ratcheting up the legal pressure on Paul Manafort even while sending Konstantin Kilimnik on errands of “collusion” with him.

Then, after explaining on what authority he is sharing all this information — “My lawyer testified these facts to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Nov. 3,” — Deripaska claims third hand that Jones told his lawyer that Fusion is a “shadow media organization helping the government,” funded by a “group of Silicon Valley billionaires and George Soros.”

Among other things then, this is a very crafty attempt to get information submitted to the close-lipped SSCI, but probably not to SJC or HPSCI where everything leaks, into the public.

So Deripaska, presumably using one hell of a ghost writer, manages to spin a Paul Singer funded effort as a Soros cabal.

As noted above, there’s good reason to believe that Deripaska is the mastermind of the entire strategy of discrediting the dossier as a way to discredit the Mueller investigation. The last time he tried to discredit the investigation directly, prosecutors dinged Paul Manafort for violating the gag rule in the DC case; any bets they have the red line of this effort? Yet the name Manafort doesn’t appear here, so perhaps (especially as Manafort is officially on the clock in EDVA after his arraignment today as well as DC) Deripaska’s just getting around the gag.

As you read this work of art (really!), keep the following in mind: for all that Deripaska puts the focus on Jones and Nuland, he never gets around to explaining why Chuck Grassley thinks he had a role in the dissemination of the dossier, too. Or why he demanded immunity to testify to SSCI. At that level this may be an attempt to get ahead of disclosures about his role in the dossier.

Kudos to Owens for revealing the back story to this column and for disavowing the swamp of frothy right wing media.

The Daily Caller is no longer an alternative news organization. Breitbart is no way in hell any kind of alternative news organization.

These aren’t alternative news websites. Too many times, they are alternative realities, complete with alternate sets of facts. It’s an epistemological nightmare.

But the available evidence suggests Owens is wrong when he attributes the placement to clickbait.

I can’t speak for Patel or for Carlson, who had largely left The Daily Caller for cable-news stardom by then, but the general sentiment at the Caller always seemed to be that all publicity—and, of course, all those precious, precious page views—was wonderful. The throng of page views was certainly good for my little opinion section, which had been downright beleaguered before I took over.

As I noted at the time, Deripaska’s column was entirely coherent with one of the Daily Caller’s most assiduous journalistic efforts, Chuck Ross’ efforts to make everything about the Russia story into the dossier and the dossier into a discredited rag, with absolutely no reflection on the implications if it got filled with disinformation. Chuck Ross’ journalistic project has been, for years, to fulfill precisely the strategy that Paul Manafort pitched after returning from a meeting with one of Deripaska’s GRU-linked aides, to conflate the dossier with the Russian investigation and as it became increasingly clear that the dossier had been soaked in disinformation, thereby discredit the entire effort to protect America from people like Deripaska.

It’s important that Owens reveal that the people running the Daily Caller forced him to publish obvious propaganda.

It just raises questions about the continuity between that decision and the non-stop focus pretending the dossier equals the Russian investigation.

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