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The Assange Complaint Was Filed the Day the UK Rejected Assange’s Diplomatic Status

EDVA has released the affidavit and original complaint charging Julian Assange with conspiring with Chelsea Manning to crack a password. Two things support the likelihood that this extradition request arose in response to Ecuador’s attempt to get Assange diplomatic status that would allow it or Russia to exfiltrate him from London.

As I noted earlier, the extradition warrant itself dates to December 22. But the complaint and supporting affidavit date to December 21, 2017. That’s the day, according to multiple reports, that the British government denied Ecuador’s request to grant Assange “special designation” as a diplomat.

Ecuador last Dec. 19 approved a “special designation in favor of Mr. Julian Assange so that he can carry out functions at the Ecuadorean Embassy in Russia,” according to the letter written to opposition legislator Paola Vintimilla.

“Special designation” refers to the Ecuadorean president’s right to name political allies to a fixed number of diplomatic posts even if they are not career diplomats.

But Britain’s Foreign Office in a Dec. 21 note said it did not accept Assange as a diplomat and that it did not “consider that Mr. Assange enjoys any type of privileges and immunities under the Vienna Convention,” reads the letter, citing a British diplomatic note.

The Guardian (which is less reliable when it pertains to stories about Assange) claims that this effort was meant to support an exfiltration attempt, possibly to Russia.

Russian diplomats held secret talks in London last year with people close to Julian Assange to assess whether they could help him flee the UK, the Guardian has learned.

A tentative plan was devised that would have seen the WikiLeaks founder smuggled out of Ecuador’s London embassy in a diplomatic vehicle and transported to another country.

One ultimate destination, multiple sources have said, was Russia, where Assange would not be at risk of extradition to the US. The plan was abandoned after it was deemed too risky.

The operation to extract Assange was provisionally scheduled for Christmas Eve in 2017, one source claimed, and was linked to an unsuccessful attempt by Ecuador to give Assange formal diplomatic status.

The supporting affidavit is notable because it is even more troubling than the indictment itself is for its description of Assange’s work with Manning to publish classified documents.

But it’s also notable for the case it makes that Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy not to hide from the Swedish prosecution but from US prosecution.

Assange has made numerous comments reflecting that he took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid extradition and charges in the United States.

For example, in 2013, the WikiLeaks website posted an affidavit by Assange concerning alleged monitoring of his activities and the search and seizure of his property. In the affidavit, Assange acknowledged that he was “granted asylum after a formal assessment by the government of Ecuador in relation to the current and future risks of persecution and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in the United States in response to my publishing activities and my political opinion. I remain under the protection of Ecuador in London for this reason.” See https://wikileaks.org/IMG/html/Affidavit_of_Julian_Assange.html.

On May 19, 2017, in response to Sweden’s decision to discontinue its investigation regarding suspected rape by Julian Assange, Assange publicly stated, “While today was an important victory and an important vindication … the road is far from over The war, the proper war, is just commencing. The UK has said it will arrest me regardless. Now the United States, CIA Director Pompeo, and the U.S. Attorney General have said that I and other WikiLeaks staff have no rights … we have no first amendment rights.. .and my arrest and the arrest of our other staffis a priority…. The U.K. refuses to confirm or deny at this stage whether a U.S. extradition warrant is already in the U.K. territory. So, this is a dialogue that we want to happen. Similarly, with the United States, while there have been extremely threatening remarks made, I am always happy to engage in a dialogue with the Department of Justice about what has occurred.” https://www.bloomberg.eom/news/articles/2017-05-19/swedishprosecutors-to-drop-rape-investigation-against-assange.

It seems likely that the UK rejected Ecuador’s request, in part, because the US lodged an extradition request, possibly because they learned of the exfiltration plan.

If so, that may change the extradition calculus significantly, even if Sweden refiles its request. The UK may have already agreed that Assange was only ever fleeing US prosecution. Indeed, their decision back in December 2017 may have served precisely to enable the arrest that occurred last Thursday.

If that’s right, there’s little chance the UK will give precedence to Sweden — though Labour within the UK and a number of entities in the EU are fighting this extradition request.

As I’ve noted, this all took place against the background of the Vault 7 prosecution which implicated Assange in far more activities unrelated to journalism, ones that the United States’ Five Eyes partner would likely be very sympathetic to. And that may well be what this indictment was always a placeholder for. Yes, the government may fill in a larger conspiracy in-between 2010 and 2017. But this action seems to have as much to do with what Assange did in 2017 as he was doing in 2010.

Update: Corrected indictment dating to December 22; I meant the extradition warrant.

The Logistics of the Julian Assange Indictment

The extradition request and indictment have been pending while Vault 7 and Roger Stone have percolated

According to a BuzzFeed report from yesterday’s bail hearing in London, Julian Assange’s extradition warrant was dated December 22, 2017.

That means the extradition request came amid an effort by Ecuador to grant him diplomatic status after which he might be exfiltrated to Ecuador or Russia; the extradition request came the day after the UK denied him diplomatic status.

Ecuador last Dec. 19 approved a “special designation in favor of Mr. Julian Assange so that he can carry out functions at the Ecuadorean Embassy in Russia,” according to the letter written to opposition legislator Paola Vintimilla.

“Special designation” refers to the Ecuadorean president’s right to name political allies to a fixed number of diplomatic posts even if they are not career diplomats.

But Britain’s Foreign Office in a Dec. 21 note said it did not accept Assange as a diplomat and that it did not “consider that Mr. Assange enjoys any type of privileges and immunities under the Vienna Convention,” reads the letter, citing a British diplomatic note.

Both events came in the wake of the revocation of Joshua Schulte’s bail after he got caught using Tor, in violation of his bail conditions. And the events came days before Donald Trump’s longtime political advisor Roger Stone told Randy Credico he was about to orchestrate a blanket pardon for Assange.

In early January, Roger Stone, the longtime Republican operative and adviser to Donald Trump, sent a text message to an associate stating that he was actively seeking a presidential pardon for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange—and felt optimistic about his chances. “I am working with others to get JA a blanket pardon,” Stone wrote, in a January 6 exchange of text messages obtained by Mother Jones. “It’s very real and very possible. Don’t fuck it up.” Thirty-five minutes later, Stone added, “Something very big about to go down.”

The indictment used to submit an extradition request yesterday was approved by an EDVA grand jury on March 6, 2018, 13 months ago and just a few months after the extradition request.

That means the indictment has been sitting there at EDVA since a few days before Mueller obtained warrants to obtain the contents of five AT&T cell phones, one of which I suspect belongs to Roger Stone (see this post for a timeline of the investigation into Stone). The indictment has been sitting there since a few weeks before Ecuador first limited visitors for Julian Assange last March. It has been sitting there for three months before the government finally indicted Joshua Schulte, in June 2018, for the leak of Vault 7 files they had been pursuing for over a year (see this post for a timeline of the investigation into Schulte). It was sitting there when, in July, Mueller rolled out an indictment referring to WikiLeaks as an unindicted co-conspirator with GRU on the 2016 election hacks, without charging the organization. It was also sitting there last July when David House testified about publicizing Chelsea Manning’s case to the grand jury under a grant of immunity. It was sitting there when Schulte got videotaped attempting to leak classified information from jail, making any prosecution far easier from a classified information standpoint; that happened right around the time Ecuador ratcheted up the restrictions on Assange. It had been sitting there for 10 months by the time Mueller indicted Roger Stone for lying about optimizing the WikiLeaks release of documents stolen by Russia, again while naming but not charging WikiLeaks. It had been sitting there for 11 months when Chelsea Manning first got a subpoena to testify before an EDVA grand jury, and a full year before she went public with her subpoena. It had been sitting there for over a year when Mueller announced he was finishing on March 22; likewise it has been sitting there ever since Bill Barr announced Trump’s team hadn’t coordinated with the Russian government but remained silent about coordination with WikiLeaks.

In short, the indictment has been sitting there for quite some time and the extradition warrant even longer, even as several different more recent investigations appear to be relentlessly moving closer to WikiLeaks. It has been sealed, assuming it’s the same as the complaint the existence of which was accidentally revealed late last year because, “due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.”

There’s a somewhat obvious reason why it got indicted when it did. As WaPo and others have pointed out, the eight year statute of limitations on the CFAA charges in the indictment would have run last year on March 7, 2018.

But that doesn’t explain why DOJ decided to charge Assange in this case, when Assange’s actions with Vault 7 appear far more egregious, or why the indictment is just being unsealed now. And it doesn’t explain why it got released — without any superseding allegations — now, even while WaPo and CNN report more charges against Assange are coming.

Here’s what I suspect DOJ is trying to do with this indictment.

The discussion of cracking the password takes place as Manning runs out of files to share

First, consider these details about the indictment. As I noted earlier, the overt act it charges as a conspiracy is an agreement to crack a password.

On or about March 8, 2010, Assange agreed to assist Manning in cracking a password stored on United States Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network, a United States government network used for classified documents and communications, as designated according to Executive Order No. 13526 or its predecessor orders.

[snip]

The portion of the password Manning gave to Assange to crack was stored as a “hash value” in a computer file that was accessible only by users with administrative-level privileges. Manning did not have administrative-level privileges, and used special software, namely a Linux operating system, to access the computer file and obtain the portion of the password provided to Assange.

Cracking the password would have allowed Manning to log onto the computers under a username that did not belong to her. Such a measure would have made it more difficult for investigators to identify Manning as the source of disclosures of classified information.

More specifically, the overt act relates to some exchanges revealed in chat logs that have long been public, dating to March 2010 (see this post for a timeline of some related activities from this period, but not this chat; this post describes a chronology of Manning’s alleged leaks). This is a period when Manning had already leaked things to WikiLeaks, including the Collateral Murder video they’re in the process of editing during the conversation and the Iraq and Afghan war logs that were apparently a focus of the David House grand jury testimony.

In the logs, Manning asks whether WikiLeaks wants Gitmo detainee files (a file that, in my opinion, was one of the most valuable leaked by Manning). Assange isn’t actually all that excited because “gitmo is mostly over,” but suggests the files may be useful to defense attorneys (they were! to some of the same defense attorneys defending Assange now!) or if Afghanistan heats up.

Manning says she’s loading one more archive of interesting stuff.

This appears to be the Gitmo files.

Manning explicitly says that’s all she’s got, and then talks about taking some years off to let heat die down, even while gushing about the current rate of change.

Some hours later, amid a discussion about the status of the upload of the Gitmo files that are supposed to be the last file she’s got, Manning then asks Assange if he’s any good at cracking passwords.

He says he has, “passed it onto our lm guy.”

Two days later Assange asks for more information on the hash, stating (as the indictment notes) that he’s had no luck cracking it so far. Then there’s a six day break in the chat logs, at least as presented.

The next day Assange floats getting Manning a crypto phone but then thinks better of it.

These chat logs end the next day, March 18, 2010. As the indictment notes, however, it’s not until ten days later, on March 28, 2010, that Manning starts downloading the State cable files.

Following this, between March 28, 2010, and April 9, 2010, Manning used a United States Department of Defense computer to download the U.S. Department of State cables that WikiLeaks later released publicly.

It’s unclear whether Assange ever cracked the password — but the chat log suggests he involved another person in the conspiracy

Most people have assumed, given what the indictment lays out, that Assange never succeeded in cracking the password. I have no idea whether he did or not, but I’m seeing people base that conclusion on several faulty assumptions. (Update: HackerFantastic notes that Assange couldn’t have broken this password, but goes on to describe how using other code it might be possible; that’s interesting because Manning was alleged to have added additional software onto the network after the initial Linux device, on May 4, 2010.)

First, some people assume that if Assange had succeeded in cracking the password, the indictment would say so. I’m not so sure. The indictment only needs to allege that Assange and Manning entered into a conspiracy — which the indictment deems a password cracking conspiracy — and took an overt act, whether or not the conspiracy itself was successful. The government suggests that Assange’s comment that he’s had “no luck so far” shows that he has taken an overt act, trying to crack it. Nothing else is required for the purposes of the indictment.

Further, several things about the chat log, as received, suggests there may be more going on in the background. There’s the six day gap after that conversation. There’s the contemplation of getting Manning a crypto phone. And then the chat logs as the government has chosen to release them end, though as the government notes, ten days after they end, Manning starts downloading the State cables.

But the record at least suggests that this conspiracy involves at least one more person, the “lm guy.” Maybe Assange was just falsely claiming to have a guy who focused on cracking certain kinds of hashes. Or maybe the government knows who he is.

The reference to him, however, suggests that there’s at least one more person in this conspiracy. The indictment notes there are “other co-conspirators known and unknown to the Grand Jury,” which is the norm for conspiracy indictments. But there are no other details of who else might be included.

Yes, this particular conspiracy is incredibly narrowly conceived, focused on just that password decryption. But there’s also the “Manner and Means of the Conspiracy” language that has (rightly) alarmed journalists so much, describing the goal of acquiring and sharing classified information that WikiLeaks could disseminate, and describing the operational security (Jabber and deleted chat logs) and inducement to accomplish that goal.

In other words, this indictment seems to be both an incredibly narrow charge, focused on a few Jabber conversations between Assange and Manning, and a much larger conspiracy in which Assange and other unnamed co-conspirators help her acquire and transmit classified documents about the US.

The logistics of the conspiracy prosecution(s)

Which brings me back to how this indictment might fit in amidst several larger, parallel efforts to prosecute WikiLeaks in the last 16 months.

This indictment may be the formalization of a complaint used as the basis for what seems to be a hastily drawn extradition request in December 2017, at a time when Ecuador and Russia were attempting to spring Assange, possibly in the wake of the government’s move to detain Schulte.

The indictment does not allege the full Cablegate conspiracy. David House testified months ago. And the government currently has Manning in jail in an attempt to coerce her to cooperate. That coercive force, by the way, may be the point of referencing the Espionage Act in the indictment: to add teeth to the renewed legal jeopardy that Manning might face if she doesn’t cooperate.

But what the indictment does — and did do, yesterday — is serve as the basis to get Assange booted from the embassy and moved into British custody, kicking off formal extradition proceedings.

As a number of outlets have suggested, any extradition process may take a while. Although two things could dramatically abbreviate it. First, Sweden could file its own extradition on the single remaining rape charge against Assange, which might get priority over the US request. Ironically, that might be Assange’s best bet to stay out of US custody for the longest possible time. Alternately, Assange could simply not contest extradition to the US, which would leave him charged in this bare bones indictment that even Orin Kerr suggests is a fairly aggressive charging of CFAA.

Barring either of those things happening, however, the US government now has one suspect in any conspiracy it wants to charge in the custody of a friendly country. It has accomplished that with entirely unclassified allegations, which means any other suspects won’t know anything more than they knew on Wednesday. Anything else it wants to charge — or any other moving parts it needs to pursue — it can now do without worrying too much that Assange will be put in the “boot” of a Russian diplomatic vehicle to be exfiltrated to Russia.

It has between now and at least May 2 — when Assange has his next hearing — to add any additional charges against Assange, while still having them charged under the Rule of Specialty before any possible extradition. It has maybe a month left on the Mueller grand jury.

Meanwhile, several things have happened recently.

First, in recent weeks two things have happened in the Schulte case. His lawyers made yet another bid to get the warrants that justified the initial searches excluded from the protective order. Schulte and his lawyers have been complaining about these warrants from the start, and Schulte’s public comments or leaks about them are part of what got him charged with violating his protective order. From description, it sounds like FBI was parallel constructing other information tying him to the Vault 7 leaks, and fucked up royally in doing so, introducing errors in the process (though the Hal Martin case makes me wonder whether the errors aren’t still more egregious). The government objected to this request, arguing that the warrants would disclose how the CIA stored its hacking documents and asserting that the investigation is definitely ongoing.

The Search Warrant Materials discuss, among other things, the way that the U.S. Intelligence Agency maintained a classified computer system that was integral to the Agency’s intelligence-gathering mission. Broadly disseminating that information would permit a host of potentially hostile actors to glean valuable intelligence about the way the U.S. Intelligence Agency maintained its computer systems or its security protocols, which would harm national security.

[snip]

The defendant’s abbreviated argument for de-designating the Search Warrant Materials is speculative, conclusory, and misguided. First, the defendant claims that the “time for investigation is long gone.” (Def. Let. at 1). The defendant is neither in a position to judge nor the arbiter of when it is appropriate for the Government to end its investigation into one of the largest-ever illegal disclosures of classified information. Simply put, while details are not appropriate for discussion in a public letter, the Government confirms that its investigation is not done and can supply the Court with additional information on an ex parte basis if the Court wishes.

Meanwhile, the government suggested severing the most recent charges — in which it has video surveillance showing Schulte leaking classified or protected information — from the underlying child porn and Vault 7 leaks.

As the Court is aware, trial in this matter is currently set for April 8, 2019. (See Minute Entry for August 8, 2018 Conference). To afford the parties sufficient time to prepare the necessary pretrial motions, including suppression motions and motions pursuant to the Classified Information Procedures Act (“CIPA”), the parties respectfully request that the Court adjourn the trial until November 4, 2019. The parties are also discussing a potential agreement concerning severance, as well as the order of the potentially severed trials. The parties will update the Court on severance and a pretrial motion schedule at or before the conference scheduled for April 10, 2019.

The defense didn’t weigh in on this plan, which (it would seem) would go a long way to eliminating the government’s parallel construction problem. They were supposed to talk about the severance issue in a hearing Monday, but it sounds like the only thing that got discussed was CIA’s refusal to comply with discovery. My guess is that Schulte will try to get those initial warrants and any fruit of them thrown out, and if that doesn’t work then maybe plead down to prevent a life sentence.

Meanwhile, Ecuador has taken steps to roll up people it claims have ties to Assange.

Tuesday, it fired a staffer in the embassy who had been extremely close to Assange (which may be how he learned about the plans to arrest him last week). Then, yesterday, Ecuador detained Swedish coder Ola Bini, alleging he was involved in some of the hacking they’ve accused Assange of. They also claim to know of two Russian hackers involved.

I have no idea if these developments are just Ecuador trying to cover-up corruption or real ties to WikiLeaks or perhaps something in between. There are no trustworthy actors here.

But — as William Arkin also notes — there’s an effort to test whether WikiLeaks has been at the front end of many of these leaks. Aside from WikiLeaks’ reported source for its Saudi Leaks files from Russia, Arkin focuses less on the reasons there are real questions about WikiLeaks’ relationship with Russia. I think we honestly won’t know which of the untrustworthy sides is being more trustworthy until we see the evidence.

Whichever it is, it seems that DOJ is poised to start building out whatever it can on at least one conspiracy indictment against WikiLeaks. The indictment and its implementation yesterday seems primarily to have served as a way to lock down one part — the most volatile one — of the equation. What comes next may assuage concerns about the thinness of this indictment or it may reveal something far more systematic.

In the meantime, Assange is represented by some great lawyers, both in the UK and here. Which at least increases the chances any larger claims DOJ plans to roll out will be tested aggressively.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

The Dangers of the Julian Assange Indictment

I was traveling yesterday when Julian Assange was arrested and pretty fried once I got back. Thanks to bmaz and Rayne for interesting pieces on his arrest. My initial thoughts on his indictment are influenced by CNN’s early report that DOJ expects to add charges and WaPo’s report on how this case moved forward in the last year, along with Orin Kerr’s opinion — which I share — that this is just a placeholder indictment. I’m going to do two or three posts laying out my thoughts on the indictment. This post will argue that the indictment, as written, is both dangerous and counterproductive to what I presume is a larger effort on DOJ’s behalf to go after Assange for actions that are far more removed from core journalistic ones.

Back in November, I laid out four possible theories of prosecution for Assange (I’ve since came to realize we may see more theories, but these are a good rubric for now) as a way to understand how dangerous such an indictment might be for journalism.

  1. Receiving and publishing stolen information is illegal
  2. Conspiring to release stolen information for maximal damage is illegal
  3. Soliciting the theft of protected information is illegal
  4. Using stolen weapons to extort the US government is illegal

In my opinion, this indictment, as written, is closest to the third theory, which I described this way.

Then there’s the scenario that Emma Best just hit on yesterday: that DOJ would prosecute Assange for soliciting hacks of specific targets. Best points to Assange’s close coordination with hackers going back to at least 2011 (ironically, but in a legally meaningless way, with FBI’s mole Sabu).

This is, in my opinion, a possible way DOJ would charge Assange that would be very dangerous.

At its core, Assange is accused of entering into a password cracking conspiracy with Chelsea Manning on March 8, 2010 to be able to access more files on SIPRNet using someone else’s username and password.

On or about March 8, 2010, Assange agreed to assist Manning in cracking a password stored on United States Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network, a United States government network used for classified documents and communications, as designated according to Executive Order No. 13526 or its predecessor orders.

[snip]

The portion of the password Manning gave to Assange to crack was stored as a “hash value” in a computer file that was accessible only by users with administrative-level privileges. Manning did not have administrative-level privileges, and used special software, namely a Linux operating system, to access the computer file and obtain the portion of the password provided to Assange.

Cracking the password would have allowed Manning to log onto the computers under a username that did not belong to her. Such a measure would have made it more difficult for investigators to identify Manning as the source of disclosures of classified information.

Now, I say this is a dangerous indictment for the reasons I laid out in my earlier post. In cases where the sheer act of obtaining leaked files amounts to a crime — as it is in the case of BuzzFeed source Natalie Edwards leaking Suspicious Activity Reports — then a journalist encouraging his source’s leaks, as Jason Leopold allegedly did when he asked Edwards to look up Prevezon, may be criminalized by this indictment.

That said, actually cracking a password (or trying to do so) is something different than simply directing content requests. Making a journalistic request is not itself a criminal act. Attempting to crack a password with the intent to assume the identity of the person probably amounts to identity theft. So while this indictment, as charged, poses real dangers for Leopold, there is a difference of degree.

What is alleged here is perhaps better translated into the brick-and-mortar situation of a journalist going undercover. There are sometimes real ethical problems when doing so, but going undercover is also sometimes necessary to really get to important stories. Going undercover and committing crimes adds yet another ethical problem — but that, too, might be justified ethically if the law itself is designed to protect the powerful or systematic governmental crime (for example, in the case of some financial misconduct or abusive prison conditions). But going undercover using the real identity of someone else to get a story that amounts to committing a crime is something else entirely, because by doing so, you may end up framing the person whose identity you assume in the crime of obtaining that information.

That said, attempted identity theft is not charged here, and so the indictment, as laid out, is closer to the Jason Leopold situation and so poses real risks for important journalism.

DOJ made the risks worse by language describing the matter and means of the conspiracy to include operational security like using Jabber and deleting chat logs and — worst of all — “Assange encourag[ing] Manning to provide information and records from departments and agencies of the United States.” I think all this language, which describes the techniques many journalists working in classified areas may use — could become important to DOJ’s larger project down the road. But I also think including it in this bare bones indictment unnecessarily exposes DOJ to claims that it is trying to criminalize core journalistic behaviors. It also exhibits DOJ’s long-standing suspicion of civilians, of any sort, who take reasonable measures using legal tools to preserve privacy. DOJ is effectively making a normative judgment about privacy tools when it is in the business of making legal judgments.

Moreover, including these descriptions of non-criminal conduct legitimately opened DOJ up for justifiable panic among journalists, who are focusing on this language rather than the password cracking language that is the overt act alleged in the conspiracy, that this indictment sets a dangerous precedent. This is not an indictment for publishing true information that a source broke the law to provide, as many responses to the indictment are claiming, but the press can be excused for describing it as such because of this extraneous language that does relate to core journalistic functions (this is basically the argument Margaret Sullivan makes in this great column).

Finally, one more thing contributed to the justifiable panic among the press. The indictment itself charges only conspiracy to commit computer intrusion and violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (which Kerr, in his thread, suggested may be aggressive charges in and of themselves). But then in the body of the indictment, it states,

to intentionally access a computer, without authorization and exceeding authorized access, to obtain information from a department and agency of the United States in furtherance of a criminal act in violation of the laws of the United States, that is, a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 641, 793(c), and 793(e).

While it otherwise doesn’t allege a violation of the Espionage Act, here it invokes it, effectively shifting the described crime from CFAA to Espionage. There are likely tactical reasons why DOJ did this, which I’ll address in the second posts of this series. But whatever reason they had for invoking the Espionage Act, it rightly heightened the panic among journalists.

Had DOJ done it differently, it might have gotten a different response to the Assange arrest, but now, because of its bone-headed suspicion of civilians using privacy measures and premature invocation of the Espionage Act, DOJ rightly lost the initial round of PR in what will likely be a long campaign and caused justifiable panic among the press.

But as I said above: this indictment is likely just the first installment of a larger set of descriptions of what Assange has done.

The Assange Indictment and The Rule of Specialty

Alright, as most of you have discovered, Julian Assange had his asylum status revoked by Ecuador, and officers of the Met (and presumably Scotland Yard too) were allowed into the Ecuadoran Embassy in London to effectuate arrest of Assange. Don’t be fooled by the breathless cable news coverage, the primary arrest warrant was the UK one from Assange’s 2012 jumping of bail conditions, not the extradition request by the US. In short, Assange would still be in custody right now irrespective of the US extradition request.

To flesh out the rest of Assange’s status, to the extent we currently know it, I will pilfer some of the reportage of the excellent Daniel Sandford of the BBC. Assange was presented immediately to Court One at the Westminster Magistrate’s Court where it was made clear that there were two warrants he was arrested on, not just the US request. Assange pled not guilty. He was NOT ordered to present evidence on his failure to surrender (which is appropriate if he declines). The judge presiding, Michael Snow nevertheless, and quite properly, found Assange guilty of the bail offense. Assange will appear in the higher level Southwark Crown Court for sentencing on the bail offense at a future date not yet specified. He will be back in the Westminster Magistrate’s Court, as of now by video link from his detention facility, on May 2nd regarding the extradition matter.

With that background out of the way, let’s look at the more significant US extradition case. First off, here is the EDVA indictment that was unsealed this morning. As you can see, it is for a single count of computer hacking conspiracy. I think most people expected all kinds of different counts, up to and including espionage crimes. Those were not included, nor were the issues from the Vault 7 case, that easily could have been indicted on outside of any real First Amendment issues.

So, while the indictment could have encompassed far many more charges and issues, it does not and is just this one count.

Why is that important?

Because legal commentators like Jeff Toobin on CNN are having a field day noting that there may be more charges forthcoming. And Shimon Prokupecz of CNN reports DOJ is indeed going to seek “additional charges” against Assange. And why is that important? Because of the Rule of Specialty.

I noted this from almost the first second on Twitter, but few other than Ken White (aka Popehat) seem to have caught on to how this doctrine will come into play in the case of Assange. It is a real issue, though we do not know how it will play out at this early stage of the extradition process.

The Doctrine of Specialty is a principle of International law that is included in most extradition treaties, whereby a person who is extradited to a country to stand trial for certain criminal offenses may be tried only for those offenses and not for any other pre-extradition offenses. Long ago and far away I argued this successfully, but that was in relation to the treaty between the US and Mexico. The Assange case obviously involves a different treaty, the US/UK Extradition treaty of 2003.

So, what does the United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Treaty of 2003 provide? Well, that is contained in Article 18, which reads as follows:

Rule of Specialty

1. A person extradited under this Treaty may not be detained, tried, or punished in the Requesting State except for:
(a) any offense for which extradition was granted, or a differently denominated offense based on the same facts as the offense on which extradition was granted, provided such offense is extraditable, or is a lesser included offense;
(b) any offense committed after the extradition of the person; or
(c) any offense for which the executive authority of the Requested State waives the rule of specialty and thereby consents to the person’s detention, trial, or punishment. For the purpose ofthis subparagraph:
(i) the executive authority of the Requested State may require the submission of the documentation called for in Article 8; and
(ii) the person extradited may be detained by the Requesting State for 90 days, or for such longer period of time as the Requested State may authorize, while the request for consent is being processed.

2. A person extradited under this Treaty may not be the subject of onward extradition or surrender for any offense committed prior to extradition to the Requesting State unless the Requested State consents.
3. Paragraphs 1 and 2 of this Article shall not prevent the detention, trial, or punishment of an extradited person, or the extradition of the person to a third State, if the person:
(a) leaves the territory ofthe Requesting State after extradition and voluntarily returns to it; or
(b) does not leave the territory ofthe Requesting State within 20 days of the day on which that person is free to leave.
4. I f the person sought waives extradition pursuant to Article 17, the specialty provisions in this Article shall not apply.

It is early, but Assange has specifically NOT waived extradition, and I do not expect that will change. In fact, he would be nuts to waive it. But look out for the US requesting the UK to waive the issue pursuant to Article 18(1)(c). I have no idea how the UK would treat such a request (nor whether it may have already been made). But give the UK credit, they take extradition conditions seriously and will not extradite where the death penalty is in play.

The death penalty could be an issue were Assange to be subsequently charged under 18 USC §794 (Espionage Act), which reads:

(a) Whoever, with intent or reason to believe that it is to be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign nation, communicates, delivers, or transmits, or attempts to communicate, deliver, or transmit, to any foreign government, or to any faction or party or military or naval force within a foreign country, whether recognized or unrecognized by the United States, or to any representative, officer, agent, employee, subject, or citizen thereof, either directly or indirectly, any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, note, instrument, appliance, or information relating to the national defense, shall be punished by death or by imprisonment for any term of years or for life, except that the sentence of death shall not be imposed unless the jury or, if there is no jury, the court, further finds that the offense resulted in the identification by a foreign power (as defined in section 101(a) of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978) of an individual acting as an agent of the United States and consequently in the death of that individual, or directly concerned nuclear weaponry, military spacecraft or satellites, early warning systems, or other means of defense or retaliation against large-scale attack; war plans; communications intelligence or cryptographic information; or any other major weapons system or major element of defense strategy.

Now, frankly, I think the US, through the DOJ, would have no problem whatsoever stipulating that the death penalty is off the table for Assange. It is almost a given.

The real question is what becomes of the Assange case in light of the Rule of Specialty. Suppose any superseding indictment does not go into charges outside of the “computer offenses” specified in the current indictment, but seeks to add additional computer offenses in an attempt to increase the sentencing range? Does that violate the spirit of the Rule of Specialty?

There is a lot we simply do not know yet. But this doctrine, and how the US proceeds in light of it, needs to be watched closely as the Assange extradition matter proceeds, both in the UK, and once he is remanded to US custody.

In Subpoenaing Chelsea Manning, the Government Picks a Likely Needless Fight with the Transparency Community Again

I’m bumping this post from earlier in the week. After refusing to answer questions before the grand jury under a grant of immunity, the Judge in this matter, Claude Hilton, held Chelsea Manning in contempt. She has been booked into the Alexandria jail until she either answers the questions or the grand jury expires. 

Here’s an interview Manning did just before going in for her contempt hearing. 

As NYT first reported, a grand jury in EDVA has subpoenaed Chelsea Manning to testify. She has said she’ll fight the subpoena.

Ms. Manning, who provided a copy of the subpoena to The New York Times, said that her legal team would file a motion on Friday to quash it, arguing that it would violate her constitutional rights to force her to appear. She declined to say whether she would cooperate if that failed.

“Given what is going on, I am opposing this,” she said. “I want to be very forthright I have been subpoenaed. I don’t know the parameters of the subpoena apart from that I am expected to appear. I don’t know what I’m going to be asked.”

The WaPo adds details about a grand jury appearance last year by David House. Notably, he appears to have been asked about the Iraq and Afghan war logs, not the State department cables that have been more central to public reporting based off WikiLeaks releases.

Last July, computer expert David House, who befriended Manning in 2010 at a hacker space in Boston he founded, testified for 90 minutes before the grand jury. In an interview, House said he met the WikiLeaks founder in January 2011 while Assange was under house arrest at Ellingham Hall, a manor house 120 miles northeast of London. Assange was fighting an extradition request by Sweden, where he faced an inquiry into allegations of sexual assault.

Assange asked House to help run political operations for WikiLeaks in the United States. “Specifically, he wanted me to help achieve favorable press for Chelsea Manning,” he said.

House, who testified in exchange for immunity, said the grand jury was interested in his relationship with Assange. “They wanted full insight into WikiLeaks, what its goals were and why I was associated with it,” he said. “They wanted explanations of why certain things occurred and how they occurred. . . . It was all related to disclosures around the war logs.”

The WaPo also argues that Manning will have a tough time fighting this subpoena, which is probably right, though I’m not sure how her legal exposure works given the commutation. She may have a real basis to challenge the subpoena (or at least invoke the Fifth) based off a double jeopardy claim.

Setting aside the legal questions though, I think this subpoena raises real tactical ones. Unless the government believes they need to show a newly-understood pattern of behavior on the part of WikiLeaks dating to before the time Julian Assange took refuge in Ecuador’s embassy as part of a bid to boot him, I think this move is likely to backfire, even from the most hawkish government perspective.

Subpoenaing people for stuff that happened nine years ago, when WikiLeaks’ actions are more immediately suspect in the context of the Vault 7 releases, only makes sense if prosecutors are pursuing some new theory of criminal activity. Contra what Steve Vladeck says to the WaPo (that Assange’s charges last year may be about a 10 year statute of limitations tied to the Espionage Act), prosecutors may be pursuing a conspiracy charge that has continued to more recent years, of which the 2009 actions were the first overt acts (which would also toll the statutes of limitation).

But it’s not just the US government that appears to have a new understanding of WikiLeaks’ actions. So do people who have been involved with the organization over the years, particularly in the wake of WikiLeaks’ 2016 efforts to help Russia elect Donald Trump. The public reversals on supporting Assange from Xeni Jardin, Barrett Brown, and Emma Best have been accompanied by a whole lot of reporting (some of it obviously based on leaks of communications from other former insiders) that lay out activities that go beyond the passive receipt of public interest documents and subsequent publication of them. More will surely be coming.

What journalists and activists are presenting about WikiLeaks doesn’t necessarily get the government beyond a First Amendment defense — certainly not one that might put a lot of respectable investigative reporting at risk. But it does undermine Assange’s claims to be a mere publisher.

And unless there’s a really good legal reason for the government to pursue its own of evolving theory of WikiLeaks’ activities, it doesn’t make sense to rush where former WikiLeaks supporters are headed on their own. In virtually all venues, activists’ reversed understanding of WikiLeaks is bound to have more credibility (and almost certainly more nuanced understanding) than anything the government can offer. Indeed, that would likely be especially true, internationally, in discussions of Assange’s asylum claim.

A charge against Assange in conjunction with Vault 7 or the 2016 election operation might accelerate that process, without foreclosing the government’s opportunity to present any evolved understanding of WikiLeaks’ role in the future (especially if tied to conspiracy charges including the 2016 and 2017 activities).

But getting into a subpoena fight with Chelsea Manning is likely to have the opposite effect.

That’s true, in part, because post-commutation a lot of people worry about the impact renewed pressure from the government against Manning will have, regardless of the legal soundness of it. The government wanted Aaron Swartz to become an informant when they ratcheted up the pressure on him between 2011 and 2013. They didn’t get that information. And his suicide has become a key symbol of the reasons to distrust law enforcement and its ham-handed legal tactics.

There’s even good reason to believe history will likely eventually show that FBI’s use of Sabu as an informant likely didn’t get them what they thought they got. And it’s not just Sabu. It is my strong suspicion that we’ll eventually learn that at key moments, the known instincts and habits of the FBI were exploited just as badly as the good faith efforts of transparency activists, even before the Bureau’s bumbling efforts played the perhaps decisive  role in the 2016 election.

We’re at a moment when, amid rising tribalism, both federal law enforcement and the transparency community are actually reassessing. That reassessment is key to being less susceptible to exploitation, on both sides.

But ratcheting up the stakes, as a subpoena of Manning at this moment amounts to, will reverse that trend.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

702 Reauthorization: The Anti-Leak Package

As part of the draft Section 702 Reauthorization released this week, the House Judiciary Committee included what I’ll call the anti-leak package. They’re not actually presented in the same Title, but I want to consider them as a group as a way to consider whether they’ll do anything to make leaking less useful than internal whistleblowing.

The package consists of three things:

  • Increased penalties for improperly handling classified information
  • New protections for FBI whistleblowers and contractor whistleblowers
  • A GAO report on whether classification works

Increased penalties for improperly handling classified information

The first part of the package changes 18 USC 1924, which criminalizes unauthorized retention of classified documents, to make knowingly retaining classified information a felony, while creating a new misdemeanor for negligently retaining classified information.

SEC. 302. PENALTIES FOR UNAUTHORIZED REMOVAL AND RETENTION OF CLASSIFIED DOCUMENTS OR MATERIAL.

Section 1924 of title 18, United States Code, is amended—

(1) in subsection (a), by striking ‘‘one year’’ and inserting ‘‘five years’’;

(2) by redesignating subsections (b) and (c) as subsections (c) and (d), respectively; and 13 (3) by inserting after subsection (a) the following new subsection (b):

(b) Whoever, being an officer, employee, contractor, or consultant of the United States, and, by virtue of his office, employment, position, or contract, becomes possessed of documents or materials containing classified information of the United States, negligently removes such documents or materials without authority and knowingly retains such documents or materials at an unauthorized location shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.

I think this was done to make what Hillary Clinton did a clear felony, so Republicans can squawk about it, rather than solving any real problem.

Which is a pity. Because those who want to write new laws criminalizing the retention and leaking of classified information (something I’m not advocating, but I understand the sentiment), it might be useful to write laws that address the problems we’re actually seeing.

For example, the Espionage Act should be rewritten to make it clear it only applies to real Espionage — the secret sharing of “national defense information” (which should be better defined) with an adversary for some kind of personal benefit. By all means, create something else that applies to the Edward Snowdens and Chelsea Mannings of the world, if you feel the need to. But in that law, do something to ensure that the David Petraeuses of the world — who leaked information to get laid and tell nice stories about himself — don’t get a wrist slap, while people who at least believe their acts to be benefitting the country face life imprisonment.

The degree to which the Espionage statute specifically, and leak prosecutions generally, have become the means to pursue arbitrary retaliation against people who don’t hew a party line undermines the legitimacy of the classification system, which (in my opinion, as someone who has covered most recent leak prosecutions) just leads to more leaking.

In related news, one of the reasons why magistrate Brian Epps Cobb denied Reality Winner bail yesterday is because she admires Snowden and Assange.

In addition, this week’s news that an NSA TAO hacker brought files home and used them on his machine running Kaspersky, thereby alerting Russia to them, suggests the need to consider the impact of even negligent improper handling, because it can have an impact akin to that of Snowden if it is compromised.

Finally, there should be some controls over abuse of Original Classification Authority, both in Prepublication Reviews, to prevent the selective censorship of important stories. And there should be some recognition that OCAs are often not the only source of information (which is one of the problems with the Hillary emails — her staffers were reporting widely known facts that the CIA later claimed a monopoly on, thereby making the information “classified”).

Perhaps the GAO review, below, can go some distance to making this happen.

New protections for contractor whistleblowers

There’s a section that extends the (still inadequate) whistleblower protections of the National Security Act to contractors, while adding protection (just for contractors!) for the reporting of “evidence of another employee or contractor employee accessing or sharing classified information without authorization.” It also adds additional reporting vehicles for FBI contractors (to DOJ or FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility, to FBI’s Inspection Division, or to the Office of Special Counsel).

The bill also adds contractors to those you can’t retaliate against by stripping of security clearance if they’ve made a protected disclosure.

Contractor is defined as “an employee of a contractor, subcontractor, grantee, subgrantee, or personal services contractor, of a covered intelligence community element.”

As I said, this is just the protection extended to intelligence community employees, with enforcement by the President, the same guy who orders up the illegal activities (such as torture or domestic spying) of the IC.

Plus, I’m not sure the language protects against two other problems that have happened with contractors. First, the loss of a contract, which doesn’t seem to be included in the definition of personnel decisions. So an agency could retaliate not by denying a promotion, but simply denying a contract. And, for similar reasons, I’m not sure the language prevents a contractor from retaliating against one of their employees directly, particularly if they’re threatened with losing work.

As I said, I’m not sure on this. I await analysis from the people who work whistleblower issues all the time.

That said, while this is an important improvement that will extend the same inadequate protection that IC employees get to IC contractors, I think it doesn’t necessarily protect against some known kinds of retaliation.

A GAO report on whether classification works

Perhaps most interestingly, the bill asks GAO to conduct on a story on why we’re having so much leakage.

SEC. 303. COMPTROLLER GENERAL STUDY ON UNAUTHORIZED DISCLOSURES AND THE CLASSIFICATION SYSTEM.

(a) STUDY.—The Comptroller General of the United States shall conduct a study of the unauthorized disclosure of classified information and the classification system of the United States.

(b) MATTERS INCLUDED.—The study under subsection (a) shall address the following:

(1) Insider threat risks to the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

(2) The effect of modern technology on the unauthorized disclosure of classified information, including with respect to—

(A) using cloud storage for classified information; and

(B) any technological means to prevent or detect such unauthorized disclosure.

(3) The effect of overclassification on the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

(4) Any ways to improve the classification system of the United States, including with respect to changing the levels of classification used in such system.

(5) How to improve the authorized sharing of classified information, including with respect to sensitive compartmented information.

(6) The value of polygraph tests in determining who is authorized to access classified information.

(7) Whether each element of the intelligence community (as defined in section (4) of the National Security Act of 1947 (50 U.S.C. 3003(4))—

(A) applies uniform standards in determining who is authorized to access classified information; and

(B) provides proper training with respect to the handling of classified information.

(c) COOPERATION.—The heads of the intelligence community shall provide to the Comptroller General information the Comptroller General determines necessary to carry out the study under subsection (a).

(d) REPORT.—Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Comptroller General shall submit to the Committee on the Judiciary and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of the House of Representatives and the Committee on the Judiciary and the Select Committee on Intelligence of the Senate a report containing the study under subsection (a). (e) FORM.—The report under subsection (d) shall be submitted in unclassified form, but may include a classified annex.

I really like the idea of doing such a report (though am not sure GAO can get it done in just 6 months, especially since I’m sure some agencies will filibuster any cooperation). And what a novelty, to finally consider whether polygraphs actually do what they’re claimed to do (rather than get people to confess to dirt that can later be used against them or leaked to China in an OPM hack).

As mentioned above, a really thorough such study should also look specifically at the Prepublication Review process, which is one of the most notorious forms of arbitrary use of classification.

It should also try to quantify how much classification does (abusively) hide mismanagement or law-breaking, especially in the FOIA process.

A truly thorough study would have to include leaks by members of Congress, up to and including the Gang of Four — but that’s never going to happen and so that means of leakage will remain untouched.

A study should also not only review recent leak prosecutions, with a particularly focus on the selectivity with which they’ve been taken, but compare leak prosecutions with the efficacy of internal measures (like stripping someone of clearance), which ODNI has been using more in recent years, at least before Reality Winner.

And a study should do a macro review of the initiatives put in place since Chelsea Manning’s leaks, to review overall compliance (we know NSA and CIA had not fully complied as of last year), and to measure whether those initiatives have done any good.

Finally, for the classified version, the report should include a full measure of how much internal spying is being targeted at government employees and contractors in various CI programs, and whether those are overseen adequately (they’re absolutely not).

Will this all do any good?

As I said, I’m the one lumping these together into a package, not the bill’s authors. I did so, though, to better weigh whether this will do any good — whether we’ll move the balance on necessary discussions for democracy being weighed against genuine need to protect secrets. I think an actual assessment is worthwhile.

But ultimately, I suspect our leak problem stems, in large part, from the degree to which classification (and clearances and leak prosecutions) have all been designed to give the Executive Branch unfettered ability to run an arbitrary system of secrets that does as much to serve nexuses of power as it does to keep the country safe.  Secrets, in DC, have become the coin of power, not the necessary tool to ensure a vibrant and secure democracy.

And I’m not sure this effort will do much to change that.

Mike Morell Resigns Out of Conscience because of [Leaks about] Torture

Former Deputy Director of CIA Mike Morell is resigning from Harvard’s Belfer Center because Harvard’s Institute of Politics has hired Chelsea Manning.

I am writing to inform you that I am resigning, effective immediately, as a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center.

[snip]

I cannot be part of an organization — The Kennedy School — that honors a convicted felon and leaker of classified information, Ms. Chelsea Manning, by inviting her to be a Visiting Fellow at the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics. Ms. Manning was found guilty of 17 serious crimes, including six counts of espionage, for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks, an entity that CIA Director Mike Pompeo says operates like an adversarial foreign intelligence service.

Morell goes on to talk about his great stand of conscience.

[T]he Kennedy School’s decision will assist Ms. Manning in her long-standing effort to legitimize the criminal path that she took to prominence, an attempt that may encourage others to leak classified information as well. I have an obligation to my conscience — and I believe to the country — to stand up against any efforts to justify leaks of sensitive national security information.

[snip]

[I]t is my right, indeed my duty, to argue that the School’s decision is wholly inappropriate and to protest it by resigning from the Kennedy School — in order to make the fundamental point that leaking classified information is disgraceful and damaging to our nation.

Of course, you could replace every instance where Morell invokes leaks with torture. You could replace every instance where Morell mentions Kennedy School’s (allegedly) poor decision and replace it with CIA’s.

And then it would become clear where Morell’s values lie.

Chelsea Manning started leaking because she was asked to support the repression of Iraqis engaged in peaceful opposition to Nuri al-Maliki — a view that came to be conventional wisdom long after Manning was in prison for her actions. Manning also exposed US complicity in torture in Iraq and Condi’s efforts to cover up the CIA’s torture. Manning also served seven years for her crimes, including a period where the US government subjected her to treatment most countries consider torture.

Chelsea Manning, too, took a stand of conscience. She stood against torture, which was disgraceful and damaging to our nation. Morell? He took no stand of conscience against torture. Instead, he stands against leaks about torture with which he was complicit.

Or Maybe America Post-9/11 Inspires More Disillusionment?

Michael Hayden thinks he has an explanation for all the whistleblowers. It’s those damn millennials.

How do you make sure every one of [the people who have clearance] was and remains a loyal American or a loyal member of British security services and so on. Beyond that, Catty, there’s another dynamic at work here. In order to do this kind of stuff, we have to recruit from a certain demographic, and I don’t mean to judge them at all, but this group of millennials and related groups simply have different understandings of the words loyalty and secrecy and transparency than certainly my generation did. And so we bring these folks into the agency, good Americans all, I can only assume, but again, culturally they have different instincts than the people who made the decision to hire them.

The reason Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden leaked vast troves of documents, according to Hayden, is because they’re young and not as loyal as people like him.

That may be true, to a point. Both Manning and Snowden seem to have a cosmopolitanism that a lot of Americans — those Americans raised during the Cold War — don’t have. We live in a globe now, just just America, and it’s possible Manning and Snowden felt some loyalty to humankind, rather than just America.

But there’s another problem with Hayden’s claim. There have been a number of whistleblowers who are of his generation. Consider all the intelligence people who’ve joined VIPS in response to idiotic foreign policy, after all.

Or consider an even more interesting example: Bill Binney. Binney was, during the Cold War, one of the most aggressive spies out there. He has said to me, repeatedly, that he’s the guy who invented Collect it all (though he, of course, wanted privacy protections for Americans). But when his approach came to be rolled out against Americans as part of the War on Terror that Hayden pursued with little self-reflection, Binney balked, quit the NSA, and started complaining that his program had been repurposed to target everyone.

Now, Binney didn’t bring a trove of documents with him. But he’s definitely animated by some of the same things that animated Manning and Snowden.

And Binney is two years older than Hayden.

There are a lot of things that motivate whistleblowers, and Daniel Ellsberg (who is 14 years older than Hayden) has said repeatedly that Snowden is just like he was.

But I do think one thing that has happened is that during the Cold War, for good or ill, Americans believed that they were the force of good. That belief is a lot harder to sustain in this day and age, for a range of reasons (not least the warrantless wiretapping and torture that Hayden facilitated). So just maybe the values remain the same, but America has changed?

On Wikileaks and Chelsea Manning’s Commutation

Today, President Obama commuted Chelsea Manning’s sentence, effective May 17. May she have the fortitude to withstand five more months of prison.

Among the many responses to the commutation, many people are pointing to a tweet Julian Assange wrote in September, promising to agree to US prison if Manning got clemency.

Assange made a very similar comment more recently, on January 12.

To Assange’s credit, he has long called for clemency for Manning; and whatever you think of Assange, his anger against Hillary was in significant part motivated by Clinton’s response to the Manning leaks. Manning might have been able to cooperate against Assange for a lesser sentence, but there was nothing Assange did that was not, also, what the NYT has done.

Indeed, the oddity of Assange’s original tweet is that, as far as has been made public, he has never been charged, not even for aiding Edward Snowden as a fugitive.

Nevertheless, since the comments, Assange’s European lawyer said he stands by his earlier comment (though she points out the US has not asked for extradition).

But I’d like to point to a third tweet, which might explain why Assange would be so willing to be extradited now.

The day after Assange repeated his promise to undergo extradition, just as the uproar over the Trump dossier led Christopher Steele to go into hiding has been roiling, Assange also tweeted a comment at least pretending he thought he might be murdered.

Sure, Assange is paranoid. But while Assange has been hiding behind purportedly American IDed cutouts, claiming plausible deniability that he got the DNC emails from the Russians, he surely knows, now, those people were cut-outs. The Russians, Trump, and any American cutouts that Assange could ID would badly like him to sustain that plausible deniability.

And the Russians have a way of silencing people like that, even in fairly protected places in London.

So while Assange could just be blowing smoke, Assange may well be considering his options, coming to the US on a plea deal versus dealing with Putin’s goons.

All of which might make such deals more attractive.

Update: Here’s Assange’s latest on this.

In Latest Russian Plot, WikiLeaks Reveals Hillary Opposes ISDS

Among the emails released as part of the Podesta leaks yesterday, WikiLeaks released this one showing that, almost a year before she was making the same argument in debates with Bernie Sanders, Hillary was opposed to Investor State Dispute Settlement that is part of the Trans Pacific Partnership. (h/t Matt Stoller) ISDS is the means by which corporations have used trade agreements to operate above the domestic laws of party countries (if you haven’t read this three part series from BuzzFeed to learn about the more exotic ways business are profiting off of ISDS).

The email also appears to echo her later public concern that she had changed her mind on TPP because of KORUS.

After our last talk with HRC, we revised our letter to oppose ISDS and include her caution about South Korea.

Sure, other Podesta emails show Hillary supporting a broad region of free trade (and labor) in the Americas. But this more recent email confirms that the views she expressed in debate were more than just an attempt to counter Bernie’s anti-trade platform.

Whether or not this is newsworthy enough to justify the WL dump, it is noteworthy in light of NYT’s rather bizarre article from some weeks back suggesting that WL always sides with Putin’s goals. As I noted, the article made a really strained effort to claim that WL exposed TPP materials because it served Putin’s interests. Now, here, WL is is releasing information that makes Hillary look better on precisely that issue.

That doesn’t advance the presumed narrative of helping Trump defeat Hillary!

Then, as I noted yesterday, in spite of all the huff and puff from Kurt Eichenwald, the release of a Sid Blumenthal email used by Trump is another case where the WL release, as released, doesn’t feed the presumed goals of Putin.

Which brings me to this Shane Harris piece, which describes four different NatSec sources revealing there’s still a good deal of debate about WL’s ties to Russia.

Military and intelligence officials are convinced that WikiLeaks is an ongoing threat to U.S. national security and privacy owing to its leaks of classified documents and emails. But its precise relationship with Russia has been a subject of internal debate. Some do see the group as being in cahoots with the Kremlin. But others find that WikiLeaks is acting mainly as the beneficiary of stolen documents, not unlike a journalistic organization.

There are some funny aspects to this story. Nothing in it considers the significant evidence that WL is (and has reason to be) affirmatively anti-Hillary, which means its interests may align with Russia, even if it doesn’t take orders from Russia.

It also suggests that if the spooks can prove some tie between WL and Russia, they can spy on it as an agent of foreign power.

But those facts don’t mean WikiLeaks isn’t acting at Russia’s behest. And that’s not a trivial matter. If the United States were to determine that WikiLeaks is an agent of a foreign power, as defined in U.S. law, it could allow intelligence and law enforcement agencies to spy on the group—as they do on the Russian government. The U.S. can also bring criminal charges against foreign agents.

WL has been intimately involved in two separate charges cases of leaking-as-espionage in the US, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. The government has repeatedly told courts that it has National Security/Criminal investigations, plural, into WikiLeaks, and when pressed for details about how and whether the government is collecting on supporters and readers of WikiLeaks, the government has in part hidden those details under a b3 FOIA exemption, meaning a statute prevents disclosing it, while extraordinarily refusing to reveal what statute that is. We certainly know that FBI has used multiple informants to spy on WL and used a variety of collection methods against Jacob Appelbaum, including (according to Appelbaum) physical tails.

So there’s not only no doubt that the US government believes it can spy on WikiLeaks (which is, after all, headed by a foreigner and not a US organization), but that it already does, and has been doing for at least six years.

Perhaps Harris’ sources really mean they’ve never found a way to indict Julian Assange before, but if they can claim he’s working for Putin, then maybe they’ll overcome past problems of indicting him because it would criminalize journalism. If that’s the case, it may be shading analysis of WL, because the government would badly like a reason to shut down WL (as the comments about the direct threat to the US in the story back up).

As I’ve said before, the role of WL in this and prior leak events is a pretty complex one, one that if approached too rashly (or too sloppily) could have ramifications for other publishers. While a lot of people are rushing to collapse this (in spite of what sounds like a continuing absence of directly incriminating evidence) into a nation-state conflict, things like this TPP email suggest it’s not that simple.