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Snowden

WikiLeaks’ Intent in Publishing (and Not Publishing) CIA’s Hacking Tools Was To Wreck the Agency

Several things are missing from Yahoo’s clickbait story about the things CIA was not permitted to do in the wake of learning its hacking tools had been stolen. An important one is any mention that WikiLeaks helped Edward Snowden flee Hong Kong with the specific intent of inspiring someone like Joshua Schulte, the alleged Vault 7 leaker, to steal those files with the goal of “wrecking” the CIA.

In Yahoo’s original story, it mentions the first superseding indictment against Assange, but not the second.

The U.S. government unsealed its initial indictment of Assange the same day.

That indictment focused exclusively on allegations that in 2010, Assange offered to help Manning, the Army intelligence analyst, crack a password to break into a classified U.S. government network, an act that would have gone beyond journalism. But in a move that drew howls from press advocates, prosecutors later tacked on Espionage Act charges against Assange for publishing classified information — something that U.S. media outlets do regularly.

That’s not uncommon among those reporting on the Julian Assange case who haven’t followed it closely, as is true of the three journalists on this piece. But the omission is particularly problematic for their story.

Then, in a follow-up reporting Mike Pompeo’s comments that some of the story is true (he implies much is fiction, but he’s also a liar so I don’t put much stock in that), Yahoo quoted Ben Wizner twice, identifying him only as an ACLU lawyer.

“We now know that this unprecedented criminal case was launched in part because of the genuinely dangerous plans that the CIA was considering,” said Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “This provides all the more reason for the Biden Justice Department to find a quiet way to end this case.”

[snip]

Wizner, the ACLU lawyer, said Pompeo’s comments effectively “just verified the truth of the [Yahoo News] story. Because the only reason to prosecute someone is that they revealed legitimate classified information. … This was public interest journalism of the first order and the question is whether the public has a right to know that the government is engaged in this kind of conduct.”

Describing Wizner as an ACLU lawyer here, and not the defense attorney for Ed Snowden, is journalistic malpractice. (Plus, Ben is wrong: the Yahoo story makes it clear that the Russian exfiltration attempt was the precipitating event, not what Pompeo had considered but not pursued six months earlier.)

That’s because Snowden is personally implicated in the Vault 7/Vault 8 leak (and in fact named in the superseding indictment that Yahoo chose not to mention). As Snowden himself described in his book, WikiLeaks helped him flee Hong Kong with the specific intent of ensuring that he had a better outcome than Chelsea Manning did.

It was only once we’d entered Chinese airspace that I realized I wouldn’t be able to get any rest until I asked Sarah [Harrison] this question explicitly: “Why are you helping me?” She flattened out her voice, as if trying to tamp down her passions, and told me that she wanted me to have a better outcome. She never said better than what outcome or whose, and I could only take that answer as a sign of her discretion and respect.

As Bart Gellman described in his book, Snowden attempted to take several steps to achieve the same goal.

After meeting with the Post editors, I remembered that I could do an elementary check of the signature on my own. The result was disappointing. I was slow to grasp what it implied.

gpg –verify PRISM.pptx.sig PRISM.pptx

gpg: Signature made Mon May 20 14:31:57 2013 EDT

using RSA key ID ⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛

gpg: Good signature from “Verax”

Now I knew that Snowden, using his Verax alter ego, had signed the PowerPoint file himself. If I published the signature, all it would prove to a tech-savvy few was that a pseudonymous source had vouched for his own leak. What good would that do anyone?

In the Saturday night email, Snowden spelled it out. He had chosen to risk his freedom, he wrote, but he was not resigned to life in prison or worse. He preferred to set an example for “an entire class of potential whistleblowers” who might follow his lead. Ordinary citizens would not take impossible risks. They had to have some hope for a happy ending.

To effect this, I intend to apply for asylum (preferably somewhere with strong Internet and press freedoms, e.g. Iceland, though the strength of the reaction will determine how choosy I can be). Given how tightly the U.S. surveils diplomatic outposts (I should know, I used to work in our U.N. spying shop), I cannot risk this until you have already gone to press, as it would immediately tip our hand. It would also be futile without proof of my claims—they’d have me committed—and I have no desire to provide raw source material to a foreign government. Post publication, the source document and cryptographic signature will allow me to immediately substantiate both the truth of my claim and the danger I am in without having to give anything up. . . . Give me the bottom line: when do you expect to go to print?

Alarm gave way to vertigo. I forced myself to reread the passage slowly. Snowden planned to seek the protection of a foreign government. He would canvass diplomatic posts on an island under Chinese sovereign control. He might not have very good choices. The signature’s purpose, its only purpose, was to help him through the gates.

Whether or not the government will argue that this shared goal amounts to entering into a conspiracy, it is unquestionable that both Snowden and WikiLeaks shared the goal of encouraging more leakers.

And as the second superseding indictment that Yahoo omitted from their story lays out, after successfully delivering Snowden to the protection of Russia, Assange publicly called on people to join the CIA as Systems Administrators with the goal of “wrecking or disabling” the organization.

83. In June 2013, media outlets reported that Edward J. Snowden had leaked numerous documents taken from the NSA and was located in Hong Kong. Later that month, an arrest warrant was issued in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, for the arrest of Snowden, on charges involving the theft of information from the United States government.

84. To encourage leakers and hackers to provide stolen materials to WikiLeaks in the future, ASSANGE and others at WikiLeaks openly displayed their attempts to assist Snowden in evading arrest.

85. In June 2013, a WikiLeaks association [Sarah Harrison, described as WLA-4 in the indictment] traveled with Snowden from Hong Kong to Moscow.

86. On December 31, 2013, at the annual conference of the Chaos Computer Club (“CCC”) in Germany, ASSANGE, [Jacob Appelbaum] and [Harrison] gave a presentation titled “Sysadmins of the World, Unite! A Call to Resistance.” On its website, the CCC promoted the presentation by writing, “[t]here has never been a higher demand for a politically-engaged hackerdom” and that ASSANGE and [Appelbaum] would “discuss what needs to be done if we re going to win.” ASSANGE told the audience that “the famous leaks that WikiLeaks has done or the recent Edward Snowden revelations” showed that “it was possible now for even a single system administrator to … not merely wreck[] or disabl[e] [organizations] … but rather shift[] information from an information apartheid system … into the knowledge commons.” ASSANGE exhorted the audience to join the CIA in order to steal and provide information to WikiLeaks, 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.”

87. At the same presentation, in responding to the audience’s question as to what they could do, [Appelbaum] said “Edward Snowden did not save himself. … Specifically for source protection [Harrison] took actions to protect [Snowden] … [i]f we can succeed in saving Edward Snowden’s life and to keep him free, then the next Edward Snowden will have that to look forward to. And if look also to what has happened to Chelsea Manning, we see additionally that Snowden has clearly learned….” [my emphasis]

Less than three years later, someone — allegedly Joshua Schulte, who is accused of repeatedly hacking development servers to restore his administrator privileges over the backup files that were stolen — did just that.

And all the evidence submitted at Schulte’s trial suggests that his goal in sharing both the development notes that WikiLeaks published and the source code that (with just a few exceptions) WikiLeaks did not was to wreck the Agency out of vengeance for what he saw as unfair treatment of him in a personnel dispute.

One can still believe that it is noble to help a former intelligence official flee to Russia with the goal of encouraging more leaks. One can even explicitly share the goal of wrecking the CIA. But to understand the CIA’s reaction to the leak of its hacking tools in 2017, one has to understand that after Julian Assange helped Snowden flee to Russia, he used having done so to explicitly encourage someone like Joshua Schulte to steal files that would wreck the CIA.

WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden Champion Sociopathic Liars and Sloppy Thinking

WikiLeaks boosters have embraced a really bizarre new entry in the propaganda case to support Julian Assange this weekend: An article by two Icelandic journalists that purports to prove that, “The veracity of the information contained [in the June 2020 superseding indictment against Julian Assange] is now directly contradicted by the main witness, whose testimony it is based on.” This is an article about Sigurdur Ingi Thordarson, AKA Siggi, the sociopath that Assange chose to hang out with for a period in 2010 to 2011, who does have a role but by no means the “main” role in the case against Assange. The journalists who wrote the article present as credible Siggi’s claim, from someone that everyone agrees is a pathological liar, that he’s telling the truth now, rather than when he testified to US authorities in 2019.

The journalists who wrote the article and all the WikiLeaks boosters who have embraced it are arguing that the article somehow proves that an avowed liar is telling the truth now about lying in the past. Even as WikiLeaks boosters are pointing to the Icelandic legal judgment that Siggi is a sociopath, they are once again welcoming him into the WikiLeaks fold because the avowed liar claims to have lied.

This is what Assange’s boosters are now staking his defense on: convincing you to accept the words of liars as truth.

Except, Siggi retracts nothing substantive that is alleged in the indictment, so this drama is instead a demand that you accept the word of a liar rather than read the documents to show that the liar’s claims are irrelevant to the charges against Assange.

The article proves it doesn’t understand US law

Before I get into how little of what the article presents even relates to the indictment, let me show how badly the authors misunderstand (or misrepresent) US law. The last eight paragraphs of the article insinuate that, because US prosecutors gave Siggi immunity for testimony in 2019, he exploited that immunity to commit new crimes in Iceland. The suggestion starts by claiming that the outdated NYT Problem remained true in 2017 and parroting the WikiLeaks claim that therefore what must have changed was the appointment of Bill Barr (who was confirmed after the initial complaint and first indictment had already been obtained).

Although the Department of Justice had spent extreme resources attempting to build a case against Julian Assange during the Obama presidency, they had decided against indicting Assange. The main concern was what was called “The New York Times Problem”, namely that there was such a difficulty in distinguishing between WikiLeaks publications and NYT publications of the same material that going after one party would pose grave First Amendment concerns.

President Donald Trump’s appointed Attorney general William Barr did not share these concerns, and neither did his Trump-appointed deputy Kellen S. Dwyer. Barr, who faced severe criticism for politicizing the DoJ on behalf of the president, got the ball rolling on the Assange case once again. Their argument was that if they could prove he was a criminal rather than a journalist the charges would stick, and that was where Thordarson’s testimony would be key.

I don’t fault journalists in Iceland from repeating this bit of propaganda. After all, even Pulitzer prize winning NYT journalists do. But the NYT problem was overcome when WikiLeaks did something in 2013 — help Edward Snowden get asylum in Russia — that the journalists involved at the time said was not journalism. What’s novel about this take, however, is the claim that career prosecutor Kellen Dwyer was “Trump-appointed.” Dwyer has been an EDVA prosecutor through four Administrations, since the George W Bush administration.

I assume that the reason why it’s important for this tale to claim that Dwyer was appointed by Barr is to claim the immunity agreement under which Siggi — and several other known witnesses to this prosecution — testified did something it didn’t.

In May 2019 Thordarson was offered an immunity deal, signed by Dwyer, that granted him immunity from prosecution based on any information on wrong doing they had on him. The deal, seen in writing by Stundin, also guarantees that the DoJ would not share any such information to other prosecutorial or law enforcement agencies. That would include Icelandic ones, meaning that the Americans will not share information on crimes he might have committed threatening Icelandic security interests – and the Americans apparently had plenty of those but had over the years failed to share them with their Icelandic counterparts.

All the agreement does is immunize the witness against prosecution for the crimes they admit during interviews with prosecutors they were part of, so as to avoid any Fifth Amendment problem with self-incrimination. This is not about hiding Siggi’s role in WikiLeaks; it has been public for a decade. Moreover the article even described the US sharing just the kind of security threat information this paragraph claims they did not.

Jónasson recalls that when the FBI first contacted Icelandic authorities on June 20th 2011 it was to warn Iceland of an imminent and grave threat of intrusion against government computers. A few days later FBI agents flew to Iceland and offered formally to assist in thwarting this grave danger. The offer was accepted and on July 4th a formal rogatory letter was sent to Iceland to seal the mutual assistance.

All that immunity did was provide DOJ a way to ask Siggi about his role at the time. It didn’t immunize future crime in Iceland, nor did it give him any incentive to claim Assange asked him to hack things he hadn’t.

That’s the extent to which these journalists are spinning wildly: getting the facts about the prosecutors and the law wrong in a piece claiming to assess how Siggi recanting what they assume he told prosecutors in 2019 would affect the indictment.

Siggi’s purportedly retracted claims in several cases don’t conflict with the indictment

And, even beyond claiming Siggi is the “main witness” against Assange, they seem to misunderstand the indictment, in which Siggi’s actions play a role in a limited set of overt acts in a Computer Fraud and Abuse Act charge. Because there are so many ways that Assange allegedly engaged in a long-ranging effort to encourage hackers, jurors could find Assange guilty even if none of the Siggi events were deemed credible, and he is central (though his testimony may not be) to just a portion of the overt acts in the CFAA charge.

In fact, this piece never once cites the indictment directly.

Instead, they cite Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s ruling on Assange’s extradition. They cite fragments though, not the single paragraph about Siggi’s role in the CFAA charge that is relevant (indeed, was key) to her decision:

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. [italics and bold mine]

Baraitser includes the overt acts involving Siggi — that Siggi gave Assange “stolen banking documents,” may have been his source for “a list of things he wanted” including recordings from Parliament, and provided Assange access to an Icelandic police website — not for Siggi’s role in the action, but for Assange’s representations to Chelsea Manning about them. “Mr. Assange told Ms. Manning … Mr. Assange told Ms. Manning … Mr. Assange told Ms. Manning” certain things about Siggi, and what mattered most is that Assange made the claims, not whether what Assange claimed to Manning was true or not, because it was part of getting her to leak more documents.

The two times Stundin does cite Baraitser’s judgment, they cite it misleadingly, particularly with regards any claims made about the indictment. The sole citation to the critical paragraph of Baraitser’s ruling I cited above appears this way:

More deceptive language emerges in the aforementioned judgment where it states: “…he [Assange] used the unauthorized access given to him by a source, to access a government website of NATO country-1 used to track police vehicles.”

This depiction leaves out an important element, one that Thordarson clarifies in his interview with Stundin. The login information was in fact his own and not obtained through any nefarious means. In fact, he now admits he had been given this access as a matter of routine due to his work as a first responder while volunteering for a search and rescue team. He also says Assange never asked for any such access.

As noted above in bold, in the critical paragraph pertaining to Siggi of the ruling, this topic matters solely for how it related to Assange’s interactions with Manning. And where she introduces the allegation earlier in her ruling, Baraitser makes no claim that Siggi’s access was unauthorized, only that Assange’s was.

It is alleged that Mr. Assange kept Ms. Manning informed about these hacking activities: on 5 March 2010, he told her that he had received stolen bank documents from a source (Teenager); on 10 March 2010, he told her that, in response to a “list of things we wanted”, a source had provided him with four months of recordings from phones located within the Parliament of a “NATO country 1”; on 17 March 2010, he told her that he had used the access, given to him by a source, to obtain unauthorised access a government website used to track police vehicles, in “NATO country 1”. [italics and bold mine]

No one is claiming that Siggi obtained the access via nefarious means. Rather, Baraitser claims only that Assange’s — who was not an Icelandic first responder — was unauthorized, to which Siggi’s purported retraction is irrelevant.

And the indictment provides further context — context that addresses another of Stundin’s claims.

41. In early 2010, a source provided ASSANGE with credentials to gain unauthorized access into a website that was used by the government of NATO Country-1 to track the location of police and first responder vehicles, and agreed that ASSANGE should use those credentials to gain unauthorized access to the website.

42. On March 17, 2010, ASSANGE told MANNING that ASSANGE used the unauthorized access to the website of the government of NATO Country-1 for tracking police vehicles (provided to ASSANGE by a source) to determine that NATO Country-1 police were monitoring ASSANGE.

43. On March 29, 2010, WikiLeaks posted to its website classified State Department materials regarding officials in the government of NATO Country-1, which Manning had downloaded on February 14, 2010.

Again, what is key here is that the credentials were unauthorized for Assange (which they were), that Assange went on to tell Manning about it, and that those things happened when Manning was leaking documents pertaining to Iceland as well. Nothing in Siggi’s supposed recantation is even relevant to that.

Similarly, Stundin complains that Baraitser referred to a file from an Icelandic bank as “stolen,” when Siggi says that he understood the file to have been leaked by whistleblowers, not stolen.

One is a reference to Icelandic bank documents. The Magistrate court judgement reads: “It is alleged that Mr. Assange and Teenager failed a joint attempt to decrypt a file stolen from a “NATO country 1” bank”.

Thordarson admits to Stundin that this actually refers to a well publicised event in which an encrypted file was leaked from an Icelandic bank and assumed to contain information about defaulted loans provided by the Icelandic Landsbanki. The bank went under in the fall of 2008, along with almost all other financial institutions in Iceland, and plunged the country into a severe economic crisis. The file was at this time, in summer of 2010, shared by many online who attempted to decrypt it for the public interest purpose of revealing what precipitated the financial crisis. Nothing supports the claim that this file was even “stolen” per se, as it was assumed to have been distributed by whistleblowers from inside the failed bank.

As noted above, in the key paragraph in Baraitser’s judgment, she described that, “Mr. Assange was engaged in a wider scheme, to work with computer hackers and whistle blowers to obtain information for Wikileaks.” The inclusion of whistleblowers here makes it clear that she understood some of this to be leaked rather than hacked.

Moreover, in the indictment, the claim is about how Siggi’s actions tie to requests Assange made of Manning and (presumably) David House (both of whom were also given immunity to testify, though Manning refused to do so), both of whom took steps to access Icelandic files.

35. In early 2010, around the same time that ASSANGE was working with Manning to obtain classified information, ASSANGE met a 17-year old in NATO Country-1 (“Teenager”), who provided ASSANGE with data stolen from a bank.

[snip]

39. On March 5, 2010, ASSANGE told MANNING about having received stolen banking documents from a source who, in fact, was Teenager.

[snip]

44. On July 21, 2010, after ASSANGE and Teenager failed in their joint attempt to decrypt a file stolen from a NATO Country-1 bank, Teenager asked a U.S. person to try to do so. In 2011 and 2012, that individual, who had been an acquaintance of Manning since early 2010, became a paid employee of WikiLeaks, and reported to ASSANGE and Teenager.

The indictment doesn’t source the claim that the file was stolen to Siggi (certainly, the FBI has other ways of finding out what happens to financial files, and in many contexts, a whistleblower leaking them would amount to theft). Nor does it say Siggi stole it. Nor does Siggi’s understanding of whether it was leaked or stolen matter to the conspiracy indictment at hand, not least given its import to Assange and Manning’s alleged attempts to hack a password so she could leak documents, just what Siggi claims he believed bank employees had done. What matters, instead, is the joint shared goal of accessing it. Nothing Siggi says in his supposed recantation of this story undermines that claim.

Stundin’s third specific denial — that Siggi didn’t himself hack the phone recordings of MPs, but instead received them from a third party — is the single denial of a specific claim made in the indictment.

Thordarson now admits to Stundin that Assange never asked him to hack or access phone recordings of MPs. His new claim is that he had in fact received some files from a third party who claimed to have recorded MPs and had offered to share them with Assange without having any idea what they actually contained. He claims he never checked the contents of the files or even if they contained audio recordings as his third party source suggested. He further admits the claim, that Assange had instructed or asked him to access computers in order to find any such recordings, is false.

The indictment does claim that Siggi obtained these files after Assange requested that Siggi hack things.

In early 2010, ASSANGE asked Teenager to commit computer intrusions and steal additional information, including audio recordings of phone conversations between high-ranking officials of the government of NATO Country-1, including members of the Parliament of NATO Country-1.

[snip]

On March 10, 2010, after ASSANGE told Manning that ASSANGE had given an “intel source” a “list of things we wanted” and the source had agreed to provide and did provide four months of recordings of all phones in the Parliament of the government of a NATO Country-1, ASSANGE stated, “So that’s what I think the future is like ;),” referring to how he expected WikiLeaks to operate.

Siggi denies he hacked anything to get these files, but he does say he got them. He got them, instead, from a third party, unasked. Even if that’s true (and even if the third party wasn’t the intel source), the key point here is that Assange enticed Manning to keep providing requested documents by claiming he had successfully requested and obtained the recorded calls.

The specific denials in this story, even if true, don’t actually deny anything of substance and in one case is completely consistent with the indictment. More importantly, none of these denials are relevant to the way in which Baraitser used them, which is to discuss how Assange’s interactions with Siggi, Manning, and House were part of a unified effort; that unified effort is the only reason Iceland (but not Siggi alone) is key.

The story is silent about or confirms the more serious allegations about Siggi

And the parts of the indictment where Siggi’s role is key, which pertain to Assange’s alleged entry into a conspiracy with Lulzsec to hack Stratfor and to hack a Wikileaks dissident, are unaddressed in this story. For example, Stundin describes reading chat logs Siggi provided — which is not the full set of chatlogs available to the US government, though Stundin claims they must be comprehensive — and finding no proof in the chatlogs that anyone at Wikieaks ordered him to ask other hackers to hack websites. But their focus is on why Siggi asked other hackers to hack Icelandic sites. There’s no mention of hacking US sites.

The chat logs were gathered by Thordarson himself and give a comprehensive picture of his communications whilst he was volunteering for Wikileaks in 2010 and 11. It entails his talks with WikiLeaks staff as well as unauthorized communications with members of international hacking groups that he got into contact with via his role as a moderator on an open IRC WikiLeaks forum, which is a form of live online chat. There is no indication WikiLeaks staff had any knowledge of Thordarson’s contacts with aforementioned hacking groups, indeed the logs show his clear deception.

The communications there show a pattern where Thordarson is constantly inflating his position within WikiLeaks, describing himself as chief of staff, head of communications, No 2 in the organization or responsible for recruits. In these communications Thordarson frequently asks the hackers to either access material from Icelandic entities or attack Icelandic websites with so-called DDoS attacks. These are designed to disable sites and make them inaccessible but not cause permanent damage to content.

Stundin cannot find any evidence that Thordarson was ever instructed to make those requests by anyone inside WikiLeaks. Thordarson himself is not even claiming that, although he explains this as something Assange was aware of or that he had interpreted it so that this was expected of him. How this supposed non-verbal communication took place he cannot explain. [my emphasis]

More bizarre still, Stundin describes Siggi admitting that “Assange was aware of or that he had interpreted it so that this was expected of him.” This actually confirms the most important key allegation pertaining to Lulzsec, that when Siggi was negotiating all this, he claimed to DOJ and still claims now, Assange knew and approved of it. And in fact the indictment alleges that Siggi proved to Topiary he was working with Assange by filming himself sitting with Assange, a non-verbal communication that — because Siggi deleted it — would not have been included in the chatlogs that Stundin insists had to be comprehensive.

To show Topiary that Teenager spoke for WikiLeaks so that an agreement could be reached between WikiLeaks and LulzSec, Teenager posted to YouTube (and then quickly deleted) a video of his computer screen that showed the conversation that he was then having with Topiary. The video turned from Topiary’s computer screen and showed ASSANGE sitting nearby.

In fact, the only specific denial regarding LulzSec in this piece pertains to Sabu, not any of the people that Siggi is alleged to have spoken with.

Thordarson continued to step up his illicit activities in the summer of 2011 when he established communication with “Sabu”, the online moniker of Hector Xavier Monsegur, a hacker and a member of the rather infamous LulzSec hacker group. In that effort all indications are that Thordarson was acting alone without any authorization, let alone urging, from anyone inside WikiLeaks.

There’s no allegation in the indictment pertaining to Siggi’s conversations with Sabu. It alleges he was part of the conspiracy, but not that he spoke with Siggi.

Finally, the one other key allegation involving Siggi in the indictment — that Assange asked him to hack a WikiLeaks dissident — is actually sourced independently to an Assange comment. Nothing in this article denies it specifically, but it’s not even necessarily sourced to Siggi.

There’s no there there in this article. Moreover, all the claims in it — most notably, that Siggi is a sociopath and a liar — have been long known. What the article misunderstands is where Siggi’s testimony may be important, where it served to explain existing documentary files, and the many ways in which DOJ ensured it didn’t rely on such an easily discredited witness. The article also doesn’t understand how co-conspirator statements — statements that have already been made — get entered at trial.

You go to trial with the sociopaths that a target like Julian Assange has chosen to associate with, not with the Boy Scouts you’d like to have as witnesses. But this indictment relies on that sociopath far less than Stundin would have you believe, and Siggi’s purported retractions do very little to rebut the indictment or Baraitser’s ruling about the case. More importantly, the article claims that the DOJ’s purported reliance on a sociopath is fatal, but their argument is based on the claims of that same sociopath.

WikiLeaks boosters claim it exonerates Julian Assange that someone they claim is a liar claims he lied

Admittedly, this is what WikiLeaks always does with their shoddy propaganda claims. They did it with their misrepresentations about a pardon dangle delivered by suspected Russian asset Dana Rohrabacher, they did it with the admission that former Sputnik employee Cassandra Fairbanks personally ferried non-public information about Assange’s prosecution from Don Jr’s best friend to Assange, and they did it with unsupported allegations about UC Global.

They don’t care what the actual evidence is or supports, so long as they have a shiny object that their army of boosters can point to to claim the indictment says something other than it does.

But this one is particularly remarkable because of shit like this.

Edward Snowden, who explained his theft of vast swaths of secret documents based on a claim that he had the judgment to know what he was seeing was abuse, claims to believe that this article “is the end of the case against Julian Assange.” That is, Ed Snowden has displayed for all the world that his critical reasoning skills are so poor that he doesn’t understand that — even if every single thing Siggi is reported to say in this article were true (including his claim that Assange knew and approved of his efforts to forge ties with LulzSec) — it would do little damage to the indictment against Julian Assange.

It amounts to Ed Snowden putting up a sign saying, “Oh sure, I knew better than the entire NSA, but I have such poor critical thinking skills I can’t read through a misleading headline.”

Worse still, what Ed Snowden is telling you to do is to trust the word of someone that — everyone agrees! — is a lying sociopath!! Ed and the entire WikiLeaks booster community here are endorsing the truth claims of someone they acknowledge in the same breath is a liar and a sociopath. What matters for them is not any critical assessment of whether Siggi could be telling the truth, but that the liar is saying what will help them.

Finally, the craziest thing is that Edward Snowden, who not only is personally named in five of the fifty CFAA overt acts, but whose own book confirms key allegations in those five overt acts, pretends that someone else is the star witness. Snowden’s own book, itself, could result in a guilty verdict on the CFAA claim, and the only way to prevent his book from serving that role is for Ed Snowden to claim he himself is a liar. This indictment could only be “poisoned top-to-bottom with false testimony” if Snowden came out tomorrow and claimed he was lying in his own book.

Ed Snowden’s own claim to be telling the truth distinguishes him as a whistleblower rather than a spy. But here, he affirmatively asks you to believe someone everyone agrees is a liar. And based on the belief that that liar was this time telling the truth, Ed asserts that an indictment that implicates his own truth claims is “poisoned top-to-bottom with false testimony.”

Update: One more thing I didn’t stress enough. This story doesn’t claim that prosecutors lied to the UK. Rather, they claim (without evidence about the full set of witnesses and evidence that DOJ relied on), that Siggi misled DOJ about two claims that don’t affect most of the CFAA charge.

Update: I’ve added language making it clear that the claim that Assange knew Siggi was negotiating ties with Lulzsec is still apparently based on what Siggi told DOJ and what he maintains now. That overt act is not the only one showing Assange entering into an agreement before they hacked Stratfor though.

Update: Subtropolis has convinced me to drop the references to Siggi as a child rapist, as he was underage too at the time.

Update: Corrected that the W administration was four Administrations ago.

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.

Snowden

Insurance File: Glenn Greenwald’s Anger Is of More Use to Vladimir Putin than Edward Snowden’s Freedom

Glenn Greenwald risks making his own anger more valuable to Vladimir Putin than Edward Snowden’s freedom.

When WikiLeaks helped Snowden flee Hong Kong eight years ago, both WikiLeaks and Snowden had the explicit goal of using Snowden’s successful flight from prosecution to entice more leakers.

In his book, Snowden described that Sarah Harrison and Julian Assange’s goal in helping him flee Hong Kong was to provide a counterexample to the draconian sentence of Chelsea Manning.

People have long ascribed selfish motives to Assange’s desire to give me aid, but I believe he was genuinely invested in one thing above all—helping me evade capture. That doing so involved tweaking the US government was just a bonus for him, an ancillary benefit, not the goal. It’s true that Assange can be self-interested and vain, moody, and even bullying—after a sharp disagreement just a month after our first, text-based conversation, I never communicated with him again—but he also sincerely conceives of himself as a fighter in a historic battle for the public’s right to know, a battle he will do anything to win. It’s for this reason that I regard it as too reductive to interpret his assistance as merely an instance of scheming or self-promotion. More important to him, I believe, was the opportunity to establish a counterexample to the case of the organization’s most famous source, US Army Private Chelsea Manning, whose thirty-five-year prison sentence was historically unprecedented and a monstrous deterrent to whistleblowers everywhere. Though I never was, and never would be, a source for Assange, my situation gave him a chance to right a wrong. There was nothing he could have done to save Manning, but he seemed, through Sarah, determined to do everything he could to save me. That said, I was initially wary of Sarah’s involvement. But Laura told me that she was serious, competent, and, most important, independent: one of the few at WikiLeaks who dared to openly disagree with Assange. Despite my caution, I was in a difficult position, and as Hemingway once wrote, the way to make people trustworthy is to trust them.

[snip]

It was only once we’d entered Chinese airspace that I realized I wouldn’t be able to get any rest until I asked Sarah this question explicitly: “Why are you helping me?”

She flattened out her voice, as if trying to tamp down her passions, and told me that she wanted me to have a better outcome. She never said better than what outcome or whose, and I could only take that answer as a sign of her discretion and respect.

It’s not just Snowden’s impression, though, that WikiLeaks intended to make an example of him. The superseding indictment against Assange cites several times when Assange invoked WikiLeaks’ role in Snowden’s successful escape to encourage others (including CIA Systems Administrators like Joshua Schulte, who had a ticket to Mexico when the FBI first interviewed him and seized his passports) to go do what Snowden did. British Judge Vanessa Baraitser even included one of those speeches in paragraphs distinguishing what Assange is accused of from legal journalism. And as early as 2017, public reporting said that WikiLeaks’ assistance to Snowden was what changed how DOJ understood WikiLeaks and why it began to consider prosecuting Assange. It wasn’t Trump that led DOJ to stop treating Assange as a journalist, it was Snowden.

According to Snowden’s own words, he shared WikiLeaks’ goal of setting an example to inspire others. In an email that Snowden must have sent Bart Gellman weeks before the exchange between him and Harrison above, Snowden described steps he took to give other leakers (this may be Gellman’s paraphrase), “hope for a happy ending.”

In the Saturday night email, Snowden spelled it out. He had chosen to risk his freedom, he wrote, but he was not resigned to life in prison or worse. He preferred to set an example for “an entire class of potential whistleblowers” who might follow his lead. Ordinary citizens would not take impossible risks. They had to have some hope for a happy ending.

To effect this, I intend to apply for asylum (preferably somewhere with strong internet and press freedoms, e.g. Iceland, though the strength of the reaction will determine how choosy I can be). Given how tightly the U.S. surveils diplomatic outposts (I should know, I used to work in our U.N. spying shop), I cannot risk this until you have already gone to press, as it would immediately tip our hand. It would also be futile without proof of my claims—they’d have me committed—and I have no desire to provide raw source material to a foreign government. Post publication, the source document and cryptographic signature will allow me to immediately substantiate both the truth of my claim and the danger I am in without having to give anything up. . . . Give me the bottom line: when do you expect to go to print?

Citizenfour also quotes Snowden describing how he hoped that proof that his “methods work[]” would encourage others to leak.

If all ends well, perhaps the demonstration that our methods worked will embolden more to come forward.

Snowden’s “methods” don’t work — they certainly haven’t for Daniel Hale, Reality Winner, or Joshua Schulte. But for each, Snowden played at least some role (there is ambiguity about how Schulte really felt about Snowden) in inspiring them to ruin their lives with magical thinking and inadequate operational security.

One of Snowden’s “methods” appears to entail quitting an existing job and then picking another at an Intelligence Community contractor with the intent of obtaining documents to leak. Snowden did this at Booz Allen Hamilton, and his book at least suggests the possibility he did that with his earlier job in Hawaii.

The government justified the draconian sentence that it had negotiated with Winner’s lawyers, in part, by claiming that she premeditated her leak.

Around the same time the defendant took a job with Pluribus requiring a security clearance in February 2017, she was expressing contempt for the United States, mocking compromises of our national security, and making preparations to leak intelligence information

Along with evidence Winner researched The Intercept’s SecureDrop before starting at her new job, the government supported this claim by pointing to three references Winner made to Snowden as or shortly after she started at Pluribus, including texts in which Winner told her sister she was on Assange and Snowden’s side the day the Vault 7 leak was revealed. That was still two months before she took the files she would send to The Intercept.

Had Hale gone to trial, the government would have shown that Hale discussed serving as a source for Jeremy Scahill by May 30, 2013, the day before he left NSA, and discussed Snowden — and hanging out with the journalists reporting on him — the day Snowden came forward on June 9. Then, on July 25, Hale sent Scahill a resume showing he was looking for counterterrorism or counterintelligence jobs. In December, Hale started the the job at Leidos where he would print out the files he sent to The Intercept.

You can think these leaks were valuable and ethical without thinking it a good idea to leave a months-long trail of evidence showing premeditation on unencrypted texts and social media.

Similarly, one of Snowden’s “methods” was to claim he had expressed concerns internally, but was ignored, a wannabe whistleblower stymied by America’s admittedly failed support for whistleblowers, especially those at contractors.

In the weeks before Snowden left NSA, he made a stink about some legal issues and NSA’s training programs (about how FISA Section 702 interacted with EO 12333) that he subsequently pointed to as his basis for claiming to be a whistleblower. The complaint was legit, and one NSA department actually did take notice, but it was not a formal complaint; indeed, it was more a complaint about US law. But his complaint had nothing to do with the vast majority of the documents that have been published based off his files, to say nothing of the far greater set of documents he took. And he made the complaint long after having prepared for months to steal vast amounts of files.

Similarly, Joshua Schulte wrote two emails documenting purported concerns about CIA security, one to a colleague less than a month before he left, which he didn’t send, and then, on his final day, one to CIA’s Inspector General that he falsely claimed was unclassified, a copy of which he was seen taking with him when he packed up. In the first search warrant for Schulte’s house obtained on March 13, 2017, less than a week after the initial Vault 7 release, the FBI had already found those emails and deemed Schulte’s treatment of them as suspect. And when they found a copy of the classified letter to the IG stashed in his headboard, it gave them cause to seize Schulte’s passports on threat of arrest. Snowden’s “methods” didn’t deliver Schulte a “happy ending;” they made Schulte’s apprehension easier.

To the extent Schulte could be shown to be following Snowden’s “methods” (again, that question was not resolved at his first trial) it would be a fairly damning indictment of those methods, since this effort to create a paper trail as a whistleblower was such an obvious attempt to retroactively invent cover for leaks for which there was abundant evidence Schulte’s motivation was spite and revenge. Maybe that’s why someone close to Assange explicitly asked me to stop covering Schulte’s case.

Had Daniel Hale gone to trial, the government undoubtedly would have used the exhibits showing that Hale had never made any whistleblower claims in any of the series of government jobs where he had clearance as a way to push back on his claim of being a whistleblower, though Hale was outspoken about his criticisms of the drone program before he took most of the files he shared with The Intercept. Indeed, given the success of Hale’s earlier anti-drone activism, his case raises real questions about whether leaking was more effective than Hale’s frank, overt witness to the problems of the drone program.

Worse still, Snowden’s boasts about his “methods” appear to have made prosecutions more likely. An early, mostly-sealed filing in Hale’s case, reveals that the government set out to investigate whether Hale was The Intercept’s source because they were trying to figure out whom Snowden had “inspired” to leak.

Specifically, the FBI repeatedly characterized its investigation in this case as an attempt to identify leakers who had been “inspired” by a specific individual – one whose activity was designed to criticize the government by shedding light on perceived illegalities on the part of the Intelligence Community.

That explains why the government required Hale to allocute to being the author of an essay in a collection of Hale’s leaked documents involving Snowden: by doing so, they obtained sworn proof that Hale is the person Snowden and Glenn Greenwald were discussing, while the two were sitting in Moscow, in the closing sequence of Citizenfour. In the scene, Glenn flamboyantly wrote for Snowden how this new leaker and The Intercept’s journalist were communicating, what appears to be J-A-B-B-E-R. That stunt for the camera would have tipped the government off, in cinema release just two months after they had raided Hale’s home, to look for and reconstruct Hale’s Jabber communications with Jeremy Scahill, which they partly succeeded in doing.

Rather than being means to a “happy ending,” then, prosecutors have found Snowden’s “methods” useful to pursuing increasingly draconian prosecutions of people inspired by him.

And now, after Snowden and Greenwald failed to persuade Trump to pardon Snowden, Assange — and in a secondary effort — The Intercept’s sources (perhaps, like Assange, they find the association with Schulte counterproductive, because they didn’t even try to get him pardoned, even though Trump himself almost bolloxed that prosecution), Snowden is left demanding pardons on Twitter for the people he set out to convince leaking could have a “happy ending.”

By associating these leaks with someone being protected by Russia so that — in Snowden’s own words — he could encourage more leaks, Snowden only puts a target on these people’s back, making a justifiable commutation of Winner’s sentence less likely (Winner is due to get out on November 23, two days before the most likely time for Joe Biden to even consider commuting her sentence).

I’m grateful for Snowden’s sacrifices to release the NSA files, but his efforts to lead others to believe that leaking would be easy was bound to, and has, ended badly.

If Vladimir Putin agreed to protect Snowden in hopes that he would inspire more leakers to release files that help Russia evade US spying (as Schulte’s leak did, at a time when the US was trying to understand the full scope of what Russia had done in 2016), the US prosecutorial focus on Snowden-related leakers undermines his value to Putin, probably by design. As that happens, Snowden might reach the moment that observers of his case have long been dreading, the moment when Putin’s utilitarian protection of Snowden will give way to some other equally utilitarian goal.

This is all happening as Putin adjusts to dealing with Joe Biden rather than someone he could manipulate by (at the very least) feeding his narcissism, Donald Trump. It is happening in the wake of new sanctions on Russia, in response to which Putin put US Ambassador John Sullivan on a plane to deliver some message, in person, to Biden. It is happening as Biden’s response to the Colonial Pipeline attack, in which ransomware criminals harbored by Putin shut down US critical infrastructure for fun and profit, includes noting that he and Putin will meet in person soon, followed by the unexplained disabling of the perpetrators in the wake of the attack.

Meanwhile, even as Snowden is of less and less use to Putin, Glenn Greenwald’s utility continues to grow. Snowden, for example, continues to speak out about topics inconvenient to Putin, like privacy. The presence in Russia of someone like Snowden with his own platform and international credibility may become increasingly risky for Putin given the success of protests around Alexei Navalny.

Greenwald, by contrast, seems to have dropped all interest in surveillance and has instead turned many of his grievances — even his complaint that former NSA lawyer Susan Hennessey will get a job in DOJ’s National Security Division, against whom one can make a strong case on privacy grounds — into a defense of Russia. Greenwald spends most of his time arguing that a caricature that he labels “liberals” and another caricature that he labels “the [American] Deep State,” followed closely by another caricature he calls “the  [non-right wing propaganda] Media,” are the most malignant forces in American life. In his rush to attack “liberals,” “the Deep State,” and “the Media,” Greenwald has coddled the political forces that Putin has found useful, including outright racists and other right wing extremists. By the end of the Trump presidency, Greenwald was excusing virtually everything Trump did, up to and including his attempted coup based on the utter denigration of democratic processes. In short, Greenwald has become a loud and important voice in support of the illiberalism Putin favors, to say nothing of Greenwald’s use of a rhetoric unbound by facts.

That Greenwald spends most of his days deliberately inciting Twitter mobs is just an added benefit, to those who want to weaken America, to Greenwald’s defense of fascists.

Most of us who used to know Greenwald attribute his Russian denialism and his apologies for Trump at least partly to his desire to free Snowden from exile. Yet Greenwald’s tantrums, because of their value to Putin, may have the opposite effect.

Stoking Greenwald’s irrational furor over what he calls “liberals” and “the Deep State” and “the Media” would actually be a huge incentive for Putin to deal Snowden to the US, in maximally symbolic fashion. There is nothing that could light up Greenwald’s fury like Putin bringing Snowden to a summit with Biden, wrapped up like a present, to send back on Air Force One. (That’s an exaggerated scenario, but you get my point.)

Plus, if Putin played it right, such a ceremonial delivery of Snowden might just achieve the completion of the Snowden operation, the public release of all of the files Snowden stole, not just those that one or another journalist found to have news value.

The Intelligence Community has, over the years, said a bunch of things about Snowden that were outright bullshit or, at least, for which they did not yet have evidence. But one true thing they’ve said is that Snowden took a great many files that had no imaginable privacy value. Even from a brief period working in the full archive aiming to answer three very discrete questions about FISA, I believe that to be true. While some (including Assange) pressured Snowden and others to release all these files, Snowden instead ensured that journalists would serve a vetting role, and after some initial fumbling, The Intercept did a laudable job of keeping those files safe. So up to now, the fact that Snowden took far more files than any privacy concern — even privacy concerns divorced from all question of nationality — could justify may not have mattered.

But as far as I know there are still full copies out there and Russia would love to spin up Glenn Greenwald’s fury so much he would attempt to burn down his caricature of “The Deep State” in retaliation — much like Schulte succeeded in badly damaging the CIA — by releasing his set.

I believe Russia has been trying to do this since at least 2016.

To be very clear, I’m not claiming that Greenwald is taking money from or is any way controlled by Russia. I am very much not claiming that, in part because it wouldn’t be necessary. Why pay Greenwald for what you can get him to do for free?

And while I assume Greenwald would respect Snowden’s stated wishes and protect the files, like Trump, Greenwald’s narcissism and resentment are very, very easy buttons to push. Greenwald has been heading in this direction without pushing. It would be child’s play to have people friendly to Russia’s illiberal goals (people like Steve Bannon or Tucker Carlson) exacerbate Greenwald’s anger at “the Deep State” to turn it into the frenzy it has become.

Meanwhile, custody of Edward Snowden would be a very enticing dangle for Putin to offer Biden as a way to reset Russia’s relationship with the US. One cannot negotiate with Putin, one can only adjust the points of leverage over each other and hope to come to some stable place, and Snowden has always been at risk of becoming a bargaining chip in such a relationship. By turning Snowden over to the US to be martyred in a high profile trial, Putin might wring the last bit of value out of Snowden. All the better, from Putin’s standpoint, if Greenwald were to respond by releasing the full Snowden set.

For the past four years, Greenwald seems to have believed that if he sucked up to Putin and Trump, he’d win Snowden’s freedom, as if either man would ever deal in good faith. Instead, I think, that process has had the effect of making Greenwald more useful to Russia than Snowden is anymore. And at this point, Greenwald seems to have lost sight of the likelihood that his belligerent rants may well make Snowden less safe, not more.

Update: According to the government sentencing memo for Hale, they didn’t write up the statement of offense, Hale did.

Hale pled guilty without any plea agreement, and submitted his own Statement of Facts. Def.’s Statement of Facts, Dkt. 197 (“SOF”).

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.

Three Inconvenient Truths about a Hypothetical Trump Pardon for Julian Assange

For the last several weeks, there have been floated hints that Donald Trump might pardon Julian Assange. Assange’s supporters — from frothy MAGAts to esteemed journalistic outlets — are fooling themselves about a possible Trump pardon on several counts.

Before I lay out what those are, let me reiterate, again, that I believe the Espionage Act charges against Assange pose a serious risk to journalism (though as written, the CFAA charge does not). I agree that the Chelsea Manning disclosures, which make up most but not all of the charges currently pending against Assange, included a large number of important revelations, many I relied on with gratitude. I’d be perfectly fine if Vanessa Baraitser ruled on January 4 that US prisons were too inhumane for Assange. And I agree that EDVA would be a horrible venue for Assange (though unlike other defendants, DOJ is not simply inventing that jurisdiction for the onerous precedents it offers out of thin air; it is the most obvious venue for Assange because of the Pentagon).

So this is neither disagreement on the risks an Assange prosecution poses, nor is it an endorsement of the prosecution of Assange as it exists. But a pardon would necessarily involve other crimes, in addition to the ones for which he has been charged, and those crimes go well beyond journalism. They may even involve crimes that Assange backers want no part in supporting.

A Donald Trump pardon of Julian Assange will be a very good way of making sure Assange comes to symbolize those other crimes, not earlier laudable releases, and it might not even end his imprisonment.

It may not work

If Trump gives Assange a pardon, it’s not actually clear it will end his legal jeopardy. The existing Espionage Act charges, particularly the ones for publishing names of coalition informants (which would include the UK) are actually more obviously illegal in the UK than the US. Two UK defendants have already pled guilty to a CFAA conspiracy that makes up part of the CFAA charge against Assange. And because the Vault 7 damage assessment presented at the Joshua Schulte trial explicitly included damage to foreign partners, that publication may expose Assange to Official Secrets Act charges in the UK as well. Plus, there are other aspects of the Vault 7 publication, including Assange’s efforts — with the help of a lawyer he shared with Oleg Deripaska — to coerce immunity from the US with them, that may pose legal jeopardy in the UK if he is pardoned in the US.

I’ve likened the Assange extradition to that of AQAP graphic designer Minh Quang Pham, and this may be another similarity. In that case, as soon as it became clear that the legal disposition that Theresa May was attempting in the UK might not work, SDNY promptly indicted Pham, ensuring Pham would remain in custody no matter what happened in the UK. I wouldn’t be surprised if the reverse happened in the eventuality of an Assange pardon in the US. That is, DOJ may already have sent the UK the evidence to support prosecution of Assange in the UK for some of the things the US would otherwise like to try him on. Indeed, that is consistent with the way the US charged Assange within a day of when Ecuador applied for diplomatic credentials for Assange; the UK has already proven to be in almost immediate coordination with the US on this.

The UK would surely rather the US do the job, but particularly because of the damage the Vault 7 release caused the Five Eyes, I don’t rule out the UK prosecuting Assange if the US could not.

A Trump pardon would have to pardon everything through current day

Assange’s boosters appear to think a pardon would cover just the existing Espionage charges pertaining to the Chelsea Manning leaks (plus the CFAA charge, which is no longer limited to the password crack attempt, though virtually all his boosters ignore the substance of that charge).

That, of course, wouldn’t work. Unless Assange were immediately whisked away to a country that doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the US, he could quickly be charged in a virtually identical indictment covering Vault 7 (and the US could charge it in any case as a way to pressure whatever country he was in). Only, on every charge, the claims now being made to defend Assange — about newsworthiness, about intentionality of revealing protected identities, about the push to leak entire databases — would be far weaker arguments with respect to Vault 7 than with respect to the Manning leaks. Just as one example, WikiLeaks left the identities of the people Joshua Schulte was angry at unredacted in the Vault 7 release, which would make it easier for prosecutors to show forethought and malice for revealing those identities than is the case in (especially) the Cable leaks. And that, again, ignores how Assange repeatedly used the files in an attempt to coerce immunity from the US.

Several close WikiLeaks associates have told me after the initial indictment they were glad it didn’t include Vault 7, because that’s a lot harder to defend against. The US might prefer it for that reason.

So an Assange pardon would have to include some language like, “all offenses against the United States prior to the pardon” — a pardon akin to what Gerald Ford gave Richard Nixon.

Surely, if Trump is going to pardon Assange anyway, he would be willing to do that. Trump’s gonna make Oprah look stingy in the next few weeks, after all. But legally, for a pardon for Julian Assange to stick, it would have to cover all crimes he committed against the US through the present day.

That of course shouldn’t bother Assange supporters — it accords him even broader protection than Mike Flynn got. But it does mean that the pardon would be assessed on the entirety of Assange’s actions, the record of which remains significantly classified and the public record with which virtually no Assange booster — up to and including extradition hearing “expert” witnesses — exhibit familiarity. In other words, they’re arguing blind, without knowing what they’re asking to pardon.

Because an Assange pardon would need to extend through the present it would be tainted by Trump’s own corruption, possibly including litigation

If a Trump pardon for Assange were written broadly enough to stick, it would almost certainly include a conspiracy involving Trump himself, possibly including Russia’s GRU, granting a pardon for Assange in exchange for the optimization of the Podesta files. The pardon itself would likely be a crime for Trump. And that raises the stakes on it.

When WikiLeaks supporters hear “Assange pardon,” they seem to immediately think, “Dana Rohrbacher.” That’s significantly because Assange’s lawyers, in a deliberate use of Assange’s extradition hearing to sow propaganda (of which this is by no means the only example), had Jen Robinson submit testimony describing how Rohrabacher attempted to broker a pardon for Assange in August 2017, a pardon that was contingent on claiming Russia was not behind the 2016 theft of DNC documents.  The testimony was meant to support Assange’s claim that his prosecution is political, a claim that involved misrepresenting the public record in many ways.

When Assange’s team brought this up in his extradition hearing, the lawyer for the US emphasized that Trump didn’t sanction this offer. That’s credible (and backed by contemporaneous reporting), mostly because at the time John Kelly was assiduously gate-keeping offers like this. So WikiLeaks’ focus on the Rohrabacher pardon dangle, while accurate (Robinson is far too ethical to misrepresent things), also falsely suggests that that pardon dangle was the only, or even the most important, pardon discussion between Trump and Assange. It wasn’t. And WikiLeaks knows that, because key WikiLeaks supporters — Randy Credico and Margaret Kunstler — were involved with the one still under criminal investigation.

It is a fact that the Mueller Report stated that they had referred ongoing investigations into whether Roger Stone took part in Russia’s hacking conspiracy to the DC US Attorney’s Office for further investigation. It is a fact that, when the court unsealed warrants against Stone in April, they revealed an ongoing investigation into Stone for the hacking, for conspiracy, and for serving as a foreign agent of Russia, one that Mueller had hidden from Stone. It is a fact that Randy Credico testified under oath he had put Stone in touch with Margaret Kunstler to discuss a pardon for Assange. Credico is evasive about when this discussion began, including whether the discussion started before the election. Texts submitted at trial show Stone and Credico discussed asylum and Credico’s tie to Kunstler on October 3, 2016, in a period when Stone had multiple phone calls with Credico as well as some presumed to be with Trump. Stone appears to have had lunch with Trump on October 8, the day after the Podesta emails dropped. Mike Flynn testified that after the Podesta files dropped, Trump’s closest advisors discussed reaching out to WikiLeaks. Shortly after that, Stone did reach out to WikiLeaks, and WikiLeaks reached out to Don Jr. WikiLeaks reached out to both after Trump won. And according to affidavits obtained against Stone, he and Kunstler started communicating over Signal starting on November 15, seven days after the election. As of October 1 of this year, significant swaths of Kunstler’s two interview reports with Mueller prosecutors remained sealed with redactions protecting an ongoing investigation.

If Stone is to be believed, he pursued this effort to get Assange a pardon at least through 2018. Two things are clear, however. Days after Stone told Assange he was working with the “highest level of Government” to resolve Assange’s issues, Trump directed Corey Lewandowski to direct Jeff Sessions to shut down the entire retroactive Russian investigation. Trump already took an overt act to respond to Stone’s entreaties to help Assange, one documented in Twitter DMs and notes Trump demanded Lewandowski take down. And after Mueller asked Trump about an Assange pardon, Don Jr’s best buddy Arthur Schwartz told Cassanda Fairbanks, “a pardon isn’t going to fucking happen” (she ultimately flew to London to tell Assange what Schwartz told her in person). Nevertheless, Stone’s buddy Tucker Carlson had Glenn Greenwald on pitching one to Trump — as a great way to get back at The [American] Deep State — in September.

To be clear: If Trump pardons Assange for all crimes against the United States, the pardon will still work for Assange (again, unless the UK decides to file charges against Assange instead). And I expect a great deal of Assange’s most loyal boosters won’t give a shit about what all was included in the pardon. Indeed, WikiLeaks’ most loyal fans believe it was a good thing for Assange to partner with the GRU in 2016 to undermine a democratic election.

But if Trump pardons Assange, these details are virtually guaranteed to come under close scrutiny in the months ahead, all the more so if he tries a self-pardon, because this would be one thing that even the 6 Republican majority on SCOTUS might find unreasonable, and it would be the quickest way to prove that not just Stone, but Trump himself, conspired to optimize the files stolen by Russia.

If all that were to happen after he was safe in Oz, Assange probably wouldn’t care, nor would I if I were in Assange’s position. But those backing an Assange pardon are — because of details that virtually none of them understand — cheering Trump to do one of the most corrupt things he would have done over the course of the last five years.

“A Digital Pearl Harbor:” The Ways in Which the Vault 7 Leak Could Have Compromised US and British Assets’ Identities

The Julian Assange extradition defense yesterday started presenting evidence that Assange suffers from conditions — Aspergers, depression, and suicidal tendencies — that would make US prisons particularly lethal. It’s the defense that Lauri Love used to avoid extradition, and is Assange’s most likely chance of success. And given our inhumane prisons, it’s a perfectly fair defense against his extradition.

Before that, though, the most interesting evidence submitted by Assange’s team pertained to the three charges that he identified the identities of US and Coalition (and so, British) informants in the Afghan, Iraq, and Cablegate releases. For each of those releases, Assange’s team presented evidence that someone else — Cryptome, in one case, some Guardian journalists in another — released the informants’ identities first. At one point, the lawyer for the US seemed to suggest that Assange had made such disclosures more readily available after the identities had already been published. But Assange can only be extradited for charges that are illegal in the UK as well, and while the UK’s Official Secrets Act explicitly prohibits the publication of covert identities, it does not prohibit republication of names.

In other words, it’s the one evidentiary question where I think WikiLeaks might have the better case (the government has yet to present its own counter-evidence, and Assange has to prove that the charges are baseless to prevent the extradition, so it’s a high hurdle).

The question is particularly interesting for several reasons. Publishing the names of informants is the one charge specifically tied to publication, rather than conspiring to get Chelsea Manning to leak, making it dangerous for journalism in a different way than most of the other charges (save the CFAA charge).

But also because — in a Mike Pompeo screed that many WikiLeaks witnesses have cited completely out of context, in which the then-CIA Director named WikiLeaks a non-state hostile intelligence agency — he accused WikiLeaks of being like Philip Agee, a disillusioned CIA officer who went on to leak the identities of numerous CIA officers who was credibly accused of working with Cuban and Russian intelligence services.

So I thought I’d start today by telling you a story about a bright, well-educated young man. He was described as industrious, intelligent, and likeable, if inclined towards a little impulsiveness and impatience. At some point, he became disillusioned with intelligence work, and angry at his government. He left the government and decided to devote himself to what he regarded as public advocacy: exposing the intelligence officers and operations that he had sworn to keep secret. He appealed to agency employees to send him leads, tips, suggestions. He wrote in a widely-circulated bulletin quote “We are particularly anxious to receive – and anonymously, if you desire – copies of U.S. diplomatic lists and U.S. embassy staff,” end of quote.

That man was Philip Agee, one of the founding members of the magazine CounterSpy, which in its first issue, in 1973, called for the exposure of the CIA undercover operatives overseas. In its September 1974 issue, CounterSpy publicly identified Richard Welch as the CIA station chief in Athens. Later, Richard’s home address and phone number were outed in the press, in Greece. In December 1975, Richard and his wife were returning home from a Christmas party in Athens. When he got out of his car to open the gate in front of his house, Richard Welch was assassinated by a Greek terrorist cell.

At the time of his death, Richard was the highest-ranking CIA officer killed in the line of duty. He had led a rich and honorable life – one that is celebrated with a star on the agency’s memorial wall. He’s buried at Arlington National Cemetery, and has remained dearly remembered by his family and colleagues.

Meanwhile, Philip Agee propped up his dwindling celebrity with an occasional stunt, including a Playboy interview. He eventually settled down as the privileged guest of an authoritarian regime – one that would have put him in front of a firing squad without a second thought had he betrayed its secrets instead of ours.

Today, there are still plenty of Philip Agees in the world, and the harm they inflict on U.S. institutions and personnel is just as serious today as it was back then. They don’t come from the intelligence community, they don’t all share the same background, or use precisely the same tactics as Agee, but they are soulmates. Like him, they choose to see themselves under a romantic light as heroes above the law, saviors of our free and open society. They cling to this fiction even though their disclosures often inflict irreparable harm on both individuals and democratic governments, pleasing despots along the way.

The one thing they don’t share with Agee is the need for a publisher. All they require now is a smartphone and internet access. In today’s digital environment, they can disseminate stolen U.S. secrets instantly around the globe to terrorists, dictators, hackers and anyone else seeking to do us harm.

The reference to Richard Welch is inaccurate (in the same way the claim that WikiLeaks is responsible for release of these informants’ identities could be too). Much of the rest of what Pompeo said was tone-deaf, at best. And that Pompeo — who months earlier had been celebrating WikiLeaks’ cooperation with Russia in interfering in the 2016 election — said this is the kind of breathtaking hypocrisy he specializes in.

Still, I want to revisit Pompeo’s insinuation, made weeks after the release of the Vault 7 files, that Julian Assange is like Philip Agee. The comment struck me at the time, particularly given that the only thing he mentioned to back the claim — also floated during the Chelsea Manning trial — was that WikiLeaks’ releases had helped al-Qaeda.

And as for Assange, his actions have attracted a devoted following among some of our most determined enemies. Following the recent WikiLeaks disclosure, an al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula member posted a comment online thanking WikiLeaks for providing a means to fight America in a way that AQAP had not previously envisioned. AQAP represents one of the most serious threats to our country and around the world today. It’s a group that is devoted not only to bringing down civil passenger planes but our way of life as well. That Assange is the darling of these terrorists is nothing short of reprehensible. Have no doubt that the disclosures in recent years caused harm, great harm, to our nation’s national security, and they will continue to do so for the long term.

They also threaten the trust we’ve developed with our foreign partners when that trust is crucial currency among allies. They risk damaging morale for the good officers at the intelligence community and who take the high road every day. And I can’t stress enough how these disclosures have severely hindered our ability to keep you all safe.

But given what we’ve learned about the Vault 7 release since, I’d like to consider the multiple ways via which the Vault 7 identities could have — and did, in some cases — identify sensitive identities. Pompeo’s a flaming douchebag, and the CIA’s complaint about being targeted like it targets others is unsympathetic, but understanding Pompeo’s analogy to Agee provides some insight into why DOJ charged WikiLeaks in 2017 when it hadn’t in 2013.

Vault 7, justifiably or not, may have changed how the government treated WikiLeaks’ facilitation of the exposure of US intelligence assets.

Before I start, let me emphasize the Vault 7 leak is not charged in the superseding indictment against Assange, and Assange’s treatment of Vault 7 may be radically different than his earlier genuine attempts to at least forestall or delegate the publication of US informant identities. Even if DOJ’s understanding of WikiLeaks’ facilitation of the exposure of US intelligence assets may have changed with the Vault 7 release, DOJ understanding may not be correct. Nor do I think this changes the risk to journalism of the current charges, as charged.

But it may provide insight into why the government did charge those counts, and what a superseding indictment integrating the Vault 7 leak might look like.

First, although WikiLeaks made a big show of redacting the identities of the coders who developed the CIA’s hacking tools (as they did with the 2010 and 2011 releases), some were left unredacted in the content of the release. That may be unintentional. But the first FBI affidavit against accused Vault 7 leaker Joshua Schulte noted that the pseudonyms of the two other SysAdmins who had access to the files were left unredacted in the first release, something that suggests more intentional disclosure, one that would presumably require the involvement of Schulte or someone else who knew these identities.

i. Names used by the other two CIA Group Systems Administrators were, in fact, published in the publicly released Classified Information.

ii. SCHULTE’s name, on the other hand, was not apparently published in the Classified Inforamtion.

iii. Thus, SCHULTE was the only one of the three Systems Administrators with access to the Classified Information on the Back-Up Server who was not publicly identified via WikiLeaks’s publication of the Classified Information.

A subsequent WikiLeaks release (after the FBI had already made it clear he was a, if not the, suspect) would include Schulte’s username, but I believe that is distinguishable from the release of the other men’s cover names.

Schulte would later threaten to leak more details (including, presumably, either his cover or his real name) on one of those same guys, someone he was particularly angry at, from jail, including the intriguing hint that he had been exposed in the Ashley Madison hack.

 

At trial, Schulte’s lawyer explained that the leaking he attempted or threatened from jail reflected the anger built up over almost a year of incarceration, but there’s at least some reason to believe that the initial Vault 7 release intentionally exposed the identities of CIA employees whom Schulte had personal gripes with, or at the very least he hoped would be blamed other than him.

Then there’s the damage done to ongoing operations. At trial, one after another CIA witness described the damage the Vault 7 leak had done. While the testimony was typically vague, it was also more stark in terms of scale than what you generally find in CIA trials.

After describing the leak the “equivalent of a digital Pearl Harbor,” for example, Sean Roche, who was the Deputy Director for Digital Innovation at the time of the leak, testified how on the day of the first release, the CIA had to shut down “the vast, vast majority” of operations that used the CIA tools (at a time, of course, when the CIA was actively trying to understand how Russia had attacked the US the prior year), and then CIA had to reach out to those affected.

It was the equivalent of a digital Pearl Harbor.

Q. What do you mean by that?

A. Our capabilities were revealed, and hence, we were not able to operate and our — the capabilities we had been developing for years that were now described in public were decimated. Our operations were immediately at risk, and we began terminating operations; that is, operations that were enabled with tools that were now described and out there and capabilities that were described, information about operations where we’re providing streams of information. It immediately undermined the relationships we had with other parts of the government as well as with vital foreign partners, who had often put themselves at risk to assist the agency. And it put our officers and our facilities, both domestically and overseas, at risk.

Q. Just staying at a very general level, what steps did you take in the immediate aftermath of those disclosures to address those concerns?

A. A task force was formed. Because operations were involved we had to get a team together that did nothing but focus on three things, in this priority order. In an emergency, and that’s what we had, it was operate, navigate, communicate, in that order. So the first job was to assess the risk posture for all of these operations across the world and figure out how to mitigate that risk, and most often, the vast, vast majority we had to back out of those operations, shut them down and create a situation where the agency’s activities would not be revealed, because we are a clandestine agency.

The next part of that was to navigate across all the people affected. It was not just the CIA. There were equities for other government agencies. There were, of course, equities at places and bases across the world, where we had relationships with foreign partners. People heeded immediately, were calling and asking what do I do, what do I say?

And the third part of that was to communicate, which was — in the course of looking at this as a what systemic issues led to the ability to have our information out there — was to document that and write a report that would serve as a lessons learned with the idea of preventing it from ever happening again. [my emphasis]

Notably, given that Assange could be vulnerable to Official Secrets Act charges in the UK if this leak affected any British intelligence officers or assets, Roche mentioned “foreign partners” twice in just this short passage. You don’t get very far down the list of CIA’s foreign partners before you’ve damaged MI6 assets.

Of course, shutting down ongoing operations would not have been enough to protect CIA’s assets. It took just 40 days for Symantec and Kaspersky to publicly identify the tools described in the Vault 7 releases as those found targeting their clients. If the CIA (or its foreign partners) had used human assets to introduce malware into target computers, as a number of these tools required, then those assets might be easily identifiable to the organizations affected.

Part of that same leak Schulte attempted from jail explains how this might work. He described how a tool from a particular vendor (which he would have named) was actually “Bartender,” by name presumably a watering hole attack, which had been released in Vault 7.

Had he succeeded in tweeting this out, Schulte would have identified either a cover organization or one in which CIA had recruited assets which was loading malware onto target computers while also loading some kind of vendor software.

I’m not defending CIA’s use of such assets to provide a side-helping of malware when targeted organizations install real software, though all major state-actors do this. But what Schulte (without any known active involvement of WikiLeaks, though he did continue to communicate with WikiLeaks, at least indirectly, while in jail) was allegedly attempting to do was burn either a cover organization or CIA assets, who would have been immediate targets if not exfiltrated. And it provides a good example of what could have happened over and over again on March 7, 2017, when these files were first released.

But there’s one other, possibly even more significant risk.

WikiLeaks has, in the past, preferentially withheld or shared files with Russia and other countries. Most obviously, at least one file hacked as part of the Syria Files which was damning to Russia never got published, and Emma Best claimed recently there were far more. The risk that something like that would have happened in this case is quite real. That’s because the files were leaked at a time when WikiLeaks was actively involved in another Russian operation. There was a ten month delay between the time the files were allegedly shared (in early May 2016) and the time WikiLeaks published them on March 7, 2017. The government has never made any public claim about how they got shared with WikiLeaks. Details of contacts between Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks demonstrate that it would have been impossible to send the volume of data involved in this hack directly to WikiLeaks’ public facing submission system in the time which Schulte did so, and several people familiar with the submission system at the time of that hack have suggested it served more as cover than a functional system. That suggests that Schulte either would have had to have prior contact with WikiLeaks to arrange an alternate upload process, or shared them with WikiLeaks via some third party (notably, Schulte bragged in jail that compressing data to do this efficiently was one of his specialties at CIA).

At trial, even though the government in no way focused on this evidence themselves, there was (inconsistent) evidence that Schulte planned to involve Russia in his efforts to take revenge on the CIA. I’ve heard a related allegation independently.

Remember, too, that WikiLeaks has never published the vast majority of the code for these tools, even though Schulte did leak it, which would make it still easier to identify anyone who had used these tools.

So imagine what might have happened had Russia gotten advance notice (either via WikiLeaks, a WikiLeaks associate, or Schulte himself) of these tools? Russia would have had months — starting well before US intelligence had begun to understand the full extent of the election year operation — to identify any of the CIA tools used against it. To be clear, what follows is speculative (though I’m providing it, in part, because I’m trying to summarize the Vault 7 information so people who are experts on other parts of the Russian treason case can test the theory). But if it had, the aftermath might have looked something like Russia’s prosecution of several FSB officers for treason starting in December 2016. And the response — if CIA recognized that its assets had already been compromised by the Vault 7 release — might look something like the Yahoo indictment charging one of the same FSB officers rolled out, with great fanfare, on March 15, just over a week after the Vault 7 release (DOJ obtained the indictment on February 28, after the CIA knew that WikiLeaks had the release coming and months after the treason arrest, but a week before the actual release). That is, Russia might move to prosecute months before the CIA got specific notice, using the years-old complaints of Pavel Vrublevsky to hide the real reason for the prosecution, and the US might move to disclaim any tie to the FSB officers by criminally prosecuting them and identifying many of the foreign targets they had used Yahoo infrastructure to spy on. Speaking just hypothetically, then, that’s the kind of damage we’d expect if any country — and Russia has been raised here explicitly — got advance access to the CIA tools before the CIA did its damage mitigation starting on March 7, 2017.

This scenario (again, it is speculative at this point) is Spy versus Spy stuff, the kind of thing that state intelligence agencies pull off against each other all the time. But it’s not journalism.

And even the stuff that would have happened after the public release of the CIA files would not just have exposed CIA collection points, but also, probably, some of the human beings who activated those collection points.

WikiLeaks would have you believe that nothing that happened after 2013 could change DOJ’s understanding of those earlier exposures of US (and British) assets.

But the very same Mike Pompeo speech that they’ve all been citing explained precisely what changed.

Julian Assange’s First Witness, Journalism Professor Mark Feldstein, Professes to Be Unfamiliar with the Public Record on Assange

The first day of the Julian Assange extradition hearing was a predictable circus.

Assange’s lawyers tried two legal tactics.

First, they tried to get parts of the second superseding indictment excluded from the proceedings. They claimed they hadn’t had time to review it with Assange. While I’m sympathetic to the difficulties imposed by Assange’s imprisonment amid COVID measures, WikiLeaks supporters have at the same time been (correctly) complaining that the documents on which the new allegations are based have been public for some time.

In any case, it didn’t work. Judge Vanessa Baraister said that she had offered Assange the opportunity to raise this complaint in the last hearing.

Judge Baraister similarly rejected a bid to delay the hearing until January (not incidentally the period when, if a Trump pardon for Assange would be forthcoming, it would take place), on largely the same basis.

Next, Professor Mark Feldstein — a journalism professor at University of Maryland — tried to present his testimony. Technical problems forced Baraister to delay proceedings until tomorrow.

That has left the public with copies of Feldstein’s prepared testimony and a supplement before he has the opportunity to present it and lawyers for the US to grill him in response. That may be unfortunate, because Feldstein’s original testimony has some key errors and omissions, and in his supplement he professes a lack of familiarity with the public record in this case.

Let me be clear: I wholeheartedly agree with large swaths of Professor Feldstein’s testimony. Donald Trump has waged unprecedented attacks on members of the news media, both verbally and through policy. I agree, too, that the First Amendment is not limited to journalists, and that political advocacy like Assange’s has a storied place in the history of journalism. I agree that some of the stories based off Chelsea Manning’s leaks were blockbusters (Feldstein predictably starts by listing Collateral Murder, which is not charged, and his effort to include all the files that were charged strays much further from the ones that have been most important.) His history of classified leaks is useful, though in some places he seems to misunderstand what was new and what wasn’t revealed until the release of declassified documents. His statement speaks at length about the dire problem with overclassification (though in one case, he cites a John McCain accusation about Obama’s motive for leaking as fact, a claim that hasn’t held up to subsequent events; he later cites McCain as a classification villain). I even agree with some, though not all, of his analysis of how the charges against WikiLeaks threaten normal journalistic activities like soliciting, receiving, and publishing documents, and protecting confidential sources. (Feldstein never goes so far as to defend helping a source hack something.) His testimony is valuable for the background on journalism it offers.

But Feldstein’s account of how the Assange prosecution arose out of Donald Trump’s election — which occurred with Assange’s help!!! — not only invents claims he doesn’t support, but makes several telling errors in citation.

Donald Trump’s election changed the calculus. The month after his inauguration, the president met with FBI director James Comey and brought up the issue of plugging leaks. Comey suggested “putting a head on a pike as a message” and Trump recommended “putting reporters in jail.”83 Three days later, he instructed his attorney general to investigate “criminal leaks” of “fake” news reports that had embarrassed the White House.84 According to press accounts, the new administration soon “unleashed an aggressive campaign” against Assange. CIA director Mike Pompeo publicly attacked WikiLeaks as a “hostile intelligence service” that uses the First Amendment to “shield” himself from “justice.” In private, he briefed members of Congress on a bold counterintelligence operation the agency was conducting that included the possible use of informants, penetrating overseas computers, and even trying to directly “disrupt” WiliLeaks, a move that made some lawmakers uncomfortable.85 A week later, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at a news conference that journalists “cannot place lives at risk with impunity,” that prosecuting Assange was a “priority” for the new administration, and that if “a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.” 86 The new leaders at the Justice Department dismissed their predecessors’ interpretation that Assange was legally indistinguishable from a journalist and reportedly began “pressuring” their prosecutors to outline an array of potential criminal charges against him, including espionage. Once again, career professionals were said to be “skeptical” because of the First Amendment issues involved and a “vigorous debate” ensued. 87 Two prosecutors involved in the case, James Trump and Daniel Grooms, reportedly argued against charging Assange.88 But in April of 2019, Assange was arrested in London—even though “the Justice Department did not have significant evidence or facts beyond what the Obama-era officials had when they reviewed the case.”89

83 Abramson, “Comey’s wish for a leaker’s ‘head on a pike.’”

84 “Remarks by President Trump in Press Conference,” WH.gov (Feb. 16, 2017); Charlie Savage and Eric Lichtblau, “Trump Directs Justice Department to Investigate ‘Criminal Leaks,’” New York Times (Feb. 16, 2017); Barnes, et al, “How the Trump Administration Stepped up Pursuit of WikiLeaks’ Assange.”

85 CIA, “Director Pompeo Delivers Remarks at CSIS” (April 13, 2017): www.cia.gov/news-information/speechestestimony/2017-speeches-testimony/pompeo-delivers-remarks-at-csis.html.

86 “Sessions Delivers Remarks,” Justice.gov. [sic]

87 Matt Zapotosky and Ellen Nakashima, “Justice Department debating charges against WikiLeaks members,” Washington Post (April 20, 2017); Adam Goldman, “Justice Department Weighs Charges Against Julian Assange,” New York Times (April 20, 2017).

88 Devlin Barrett, Matt Zapotosky and Rachel Weiner, “Some federal prosecutors disagreed with decision to charge Assange under Espionage Act,” Washington Post (May 24, 2019). 89 Barrett, et al, “Prosecutors Disagreed.”

The first citation (83) is to a 2018 story on Jim Comey’s memos memorializing conversations about leaks damaging to Trump, not WikiLeaks. The second (84) refers to an effort to go after those who damaged Trump. The next three sentences are attributed to Mike Pompeo’s designation of WikiLeaks as a non-state hostile actor in April 2017 (85), in the wake of the Vault 7 leaks, but two of those sentences (bolded) are not actually sourced to Pompeo’s comments, but instead to news accounts not specified in the relevant footnote. The next sentence combines what Jeff Sessions said on April 20, 2017 and what he said on August 4, 2017; perhaps Feldstein aims to cover that up by not including a date or a citation in the remarks in question (see footnote 86; Sessions’ April 20 comments don’t appear to be on the DOJ website), but suggesting Sessions’ August comments were about Assange is a move that WikiLeaks has made elsewhere. Importantly, Feldstein does not footnote one of the most widely cited reports of that April 20 speech, a CNN report that describes what changed, already in 2017, since DOJ had earlier decided not to prosecute Assange.

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.

[snip]

US intelligence agencies have also determined that Russian intelligence used WikiLeaks to publish emails aimed at undermining the campaign of Hillary Clinton, as part of a broader operation to meddle in the US 2016 presidential election. Hackers working for Russian intelligence agencies stole thousands of emails from the Democratic National Committee and officials in the Clinton campaign and used intermediaries to pass along the documents to WikiLeaks, according to a public assessment by US intelligence agencies.

That is, if Feldstein had reviewed the press coverage more broadly, he would have a ready explanation for why DOJ began to rethink its earlier decision not to charge Assange.

Assange’s own filing may attempt to cover for Feldstein’s citation inaccuracy, claiming that Feldstein cited that April WaPo story rather than ““Sessions Delivers Remarks,” Justice.gov”.

Then came the political statement of Attorney General Sessions on 20 April 2017 that the arrest of Julian Assange was now a priority and that ‘if a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail’ [Feldstein quoting Washington Post article of Ellen Nakashima, tab 18, p.19].

But even that April 20, 2017 WaPo article he claims to rely on doesn’t help him. In fact, it disputes Feldstein’s account of Trump’s animus towards WikiLeaks.

Trump has had a fluid relationship with WikiLeaks, depending largely on how the group’s actions benefited or harmed him. On the campaign trail, when WikiLeaks released Podesta’s hacked emails, Trump told a crowd in Pennsylvania, “I love WikiLeaks!” But when it came to the release of the CIA tools, he did not seem so pleased.

“In one case, you’re talking about highly classified information,” Trump said at a news conference earlier this year. “In the other case, you’re talking about John Podesta saying bad things about the boss.”

The actual words cited in part to the WaPo in Feldstein’s testimony (naming Ellen Nakashima, not Matt Zapotosky) don’t appear in the April story but in the NYT story cited. The rest relies on a [Devlin Barret and] Zapotosky story fairly obviously sourced to prosecutor James Trump, whom Zapotosky covered in the Jeffrey Sterling case and other EDVA cases but who — the story admits — wasn’t on the team anymore even when Assange was originally charged (presumably meaning December 2017 on just a CFAA charge that would accord with AUSA Trump’s concerns about an Espionage charge), and who would therefore have no visibility into what went into the May 2018 superseding indictment of Assange, much less the one on the table now.

In short, a key paragraph in Feldstein’s testimony, which is cited repeatedly in both Assange’s briefs on the case (one, two), is a scholarly shit-show.

And that’s before you consider the chronology of it, omitting as it does the Vault 7 leak which all the Assange-specific comments were responding to, which started on March 7, 2017.

That’s not the only problem with Feldstein’s citations. Feldstein also footnotes a claim that Assistant Attorney General for DOJ’s National Security Division John Demers, “declared that ‘Julian Assange is no journalist’ and thus not protected under the free press clause of the US Constitution’s First Amendment” with a citation to news reports on the indictment, rather than the remarks as prepared rolling out the indictment. While the story from Charlie Savage that Feldstein cites responsibly quotes Demers in context, the full statement makes it clear that it’s not only not a comment directly about the First Amendment, but that Demers never mentions the First Amendment.

The Department takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy and we thank you for it. It is not and has never been the Department’s policy to target them for their reporting.

Julian Assange is no journalist. This made plain by the totality of his conduct as alleged in the indictment—i.e., his conspiring with and assisting a security clearance holder to acquire classified information, and his publishing the names of human sources.

Indeed, no responsible actor—journalist or otherwise—would purposely publish the names of individuals he or she knew to be confidential human sources in war zones, exposing them to the gravest of dangers.

This continues WikiLeaks’ longstanding effort to suggest the government has made First Amendment claims about Assange that obscure what they have actually said. (AUSA Gordon Kromberg does appear to have addressed the First Amendment in ways WikiLeaks has claimed that others have, but his affidavit is not yet public.)

While Kromberg’s testimony is not yet public, in one of the government’s filings made public today, the government hints at what Kromberg may have said at more length, noting that Feldstein only cites part of — but not the entirety — of a news report on Assange.

The principal evidence upon which the defence relies to demonstrate the existence of a such a decision is a newspaper article dated 25 November 2013 [Sari Horowitz, “Julian Assange is unlikely to face US Charges over publishing classified documents”, Washington Post]; Cited by Professor Feldstein at §9 page 18. 39.

Professor Feldstein omits important sections of the report upon which he relies to demonstrate a “decision” not to prosecute:

“The officials stressed that a formal decision has not been made, and a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks remains impaneled, but they said there is little possibility of bringing a case against Assange, unless he is implicated in criminal activity other than releasing online top-secret military and diplomatic documents.

And:

“WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson said last week that the anti-secrecy organization is skeptical “short of an open, official, formal confirmation that the U.S. government is not going to prosecute WikiLeaks.” Justice Department officials said it is unclear whether there will be a formal announcement should the grand jury investigation be formally closed”.

So, in response to Kromberg, Feldstein dug himself a very much deeper hole.

In a supplemental filing, Assange expert witness Mark Feldstein claimed and exhibited that he’s not familiar with the public record (though he cleaned up some of his prior citation errors). In it, he claimed the only way to know the truth about the Assange prosecution would be from leaks of grand jury or White House documents. “[T]he reporting I cited by the New York Times and Washington Post is to date the only public source of information about the behind-the-scenes maneuvering to prosecute Assange,” he claimed in a filing submitted on July 5, 2020.

The government insists that the Trump administration’s prosecution of Assange is not politically motivated. It dismisses my contrary conclusion—and that of other expert witnesses—by saying that we “primarily rely on a select number of news articles…and the hearsay within them.”

Indeed, my declaration relied on news accounts that the Obama administration decided not to prosecute Assange because of concerns that doing so would violate the First Amendment. 2 In particular, I cited comments that Matthew Miller, the former spokesman for the Obama Justice Department, made in an interview with the Washington Post: “The problem the department has always had in investigating Julian Assange is there is no way to prosecute him for publishing information without the same theory being applied to journalists. And if you’re not going to prosecute journalists for publishing classified information, which the department is not, then there is no way to prosecute Assange.” The Post reported that prosecutors called this the “New York Times problem”—that if they indicted Assange for publishing the documents leaked by Chelsea Manning, then they would also have to also indict the New York Times for doing the same.3

I also noted that the Trump administration decide to reject this interpretation and cited a New York Times report that its new appointees running the Justice Department began “pressuring” prosecutors to indict Assange, although two career prosecutors argued against doing so on First Amendment grounds. I also cited the article’s finding that “the Justice Department did not have significant evidence or facts beyond what the Obama-era officials had when they reviewed the case”4 and concluded that the decision to indict Assange was not an evidentiary decision but a political one.5

As the government knows, internal prosecutorial deliberations are not a matter of public record. White House and Justice Department documents that would shed further light on the political dimensions of the case—emails, internal memos, grand jury transcripts, and other records—are kept secret by the government. Thus, the reporting I cited by the New York Times and Washington Post is to date the only public source of information about the behind-the-scenes maneuvering to prosecute Assange.

Like so much other questionable conduct by the Trump administration, revelations about the unorthodox nature of this prosecution came to light only because of the vigilance of a free and vigorous press.

1 Gordon D. Kromberg, “Declaration in Support of Assange Extradition,” US v. Assange (Jan. 17, 2020), ¶18-19, pp. 8- 9.

You have got to be fucking kidding me!!

I invite Professor Feldstein to assign his undergraduate journalism students with the task of trying to discover any Trump, White House, and National Security views about WikiLeaks and Julian Assange that might explain why DOJ decided not to prosecute in 2013 but did prosecute in 2017, 2019, and 2020.

His first year undergraduate students might note the proximity between the April 2017 Assange-related announcements (the Jeff Sessions of which he obscures with his dodgy citation) and the release of the Vault 7 files in March 2017, which burned the CIA hacking ability to the ground.

They also might point to Trump’s tweets celebrating WikiLeaks to suggest that while Trump might hate the traditional press, he spent most of the 2016 campaign celebrating WikiLeaks.

Feldstein’s second year undergraduate students might look to the obvious places — like the Mueller Report — for some views about how Trump ordered campaign staff to go chase down WikiLeaks’ releases. Not only do the descriptions completely undermine Feldstein’s claim that Trump treats WikiLeaks like he does traditional media outlets, but it shows that the Department of Justice conducted an extensive investigation implicating WikiLeaks after the 2013 Matthew Miller quote he relies on. Indeed, exceptional sophomores might note that a redaction error in the Mueller Report makes it clear that a Mueller prosecutorial decision about foreign donations pertains to WikiLeaks, a detail released in 2019 that James Trump would not have been privy to.

Junior year journalism students might refer to the Stone trial testimony to see what it said about Trump’s relationship with WikiLeaks. Really astute journalism students would note that Randy Credico testified that Donald Trump’s rat-fucker Roger Stone actually reached out to Randy Credico in an effort to broker a pardon for Assange.

Q. Had you put Mr. Stone directly in touch with Ms. Kunstler after the election?

A. Yes, I did.

Q. And why had you done that?

A. Well, sometime after the election, he wanted me to contact Mrs. Kunstler. He called me up and said that he had spoken to Judge Napolitano about getting Julian Assange a pardon and needed to talk to Mrs. Kunstler about it. So I said, Okay. And I sat on it. And I told her–I told her–she didn’t act on it. And then, eventually, she did, and they had a conversation.

The same astute budding journalists might look at the trial record and discover how long those pardon discussions lasted — continuing well past the time Mike Pompeo and Jeff Sessions were discussing prosecuting journalists and/or Assange.

Senior journalism students might even tie that testimony to a question Robert Mueller asked — but didn’t really get an answer about — regarding whether Trump had considered an Assange pardon.

Donald Trump refused to answer a question under oath about whether he considered pardoning Julian Assange during the transition period between when WikiLeaks releases helped get him elected and his inauguration, something that makes it pretty clear the President treats WikiLeaks and Assange, which helped him get elected, differently than he does journalists who did not.

Professor Feldstein says he’d need a leak to discover that.

There’s a slew more that graduate students might discover but that Feldstein professed to be helpless to discover himself, such as the warrant that makes it clear Stone reached out to WikiLeaks lawyer Margaret Kunstler — to discuss an Assange pardon, WikiLeaks supporter Randy Credico testified to under oath — seven days after Trump got elected.

Or the other Stone warrant making it clear that after several of the media reports Feldstein relies on, Mueller’s team was just beginning to obtain warrants implicating Assange, in part for election-related crimes that have nothing to do with the Espionage Act. Or yet another that suggests DOJ was investigating WikiLeaks, in part, for conspiracy and Foreign Agent charges in August 2018.

Diligent journalism students — budding journalists not intimidated by redaction marks — might even look to the multiple SSCI Reports that address the government’s evolving understanding of WikiLeaks, particularly those that show how the many conflicting views in 2016 came to change to believe that WikiLeaks had been coopted by Russia.

Despite Moscow’s history of leaking politically damaging information, and the increasingly significant publication of illicitly obtained information by coopted third parties, such as WikiLeaks, which historically had published information harmful to the United States. previous use of weaponized information alone was not sufficient for the administration to take immediate action on the DNC breach. The administration was not fully engaged until some key intelligence insights were provided by the IC, which shifted how the administration viewed the issue.

Here, in public view, is indication that not just DOJ but the entire Intelligence Community came to shift their view of WikiLeaks and Assange as they investigated how Russia had attacked US democracy in 2016. But Mark Feldstein testified in his supplemental testimony that he could only discover that if someone leaked it to him.

Finally, Feldstein’s students might seek to understand the workings of a grand jury from the same place journalists always have, from those called to testify before them. Had they done so, they would at a minimum discover the Jeremy Hammond description of how he refused to testify for what would be the last superseding indictment against Assange, in which he described prosecutors twice claiming (without evidence) that Assange is “a Russian spy.”

“What could the United States government do that could get you to change your mind and obey the law here? Cause you know” — he basically says — “I know you think you’re doing the honorable thing here, you’re very smart, but Julian Assange, he’s not worth it for you, he’s not worth your sacrifice, you know he’s a Russian spy, you know.”

[snip]

He implied that all options are on the table, they could press for — he didn’t say it directly, but he said they could press for criminal contempt. … Then he implies that you could still look like you disobeyed but we could keep it a secret — “nobody has to know I just want to know about Julian Assange … I don’t know why you’re defending this guy, he’s a Russian spy. He fucking helped Trump win the election.”

The claims of a prosecutor as he’s trying to coerce testimony don’t affirm the veracity of the claim. Hammond’s claims in no way prove that Assange is a Russian spy or even that DOJ believes he is. But it does indicate what DOJ’s then-current claims were, in March 2020, before the most recent superseding indictment against Assange. They would indicate that the prosecutors asking for the extradition of Julian Assange claim to believe he is a Russian spy.

There is an embarrassment of public documents describing how the US government’s view of Assange changed between 2013 and 2020, as well as plenty that show DOJ was obtaining new legal process well after DOJ decided not to prosecute Assange. That doesn’t mean their view is correct or that it in any way mitigates the risk to journalism. But it does mean their view is discoverable by anyone who wants to check the public record.

And yet journalism Professor Mark Feldstein professes to be helpless to explain why DOJ charged Assange in 2017 and 2019 and 2020 but not in 2013, not unless someone leaks to him what DOJ and Trump and the rest of the US government were really thinking. And so instead, he offered a paragraph that falls apart completely if you simply read his source material, to say nothing of the public record.

Feldstein gives himself a bit of an excuse by claiming that his scholarly statement doesn’t address what happened after 2011 (a focus that may come from WikiLeaks’ lawyers — recall that someone close to Assange scolded me for reporting accurately on what WikiLeaks had done in 2016 and afterwards).

It should be noted that this report addresses only WikiLeaks disclosures in 2010-2011, the time period when Assange is accused of violating the Espionage Act; it does not discuss the website’s previous or subsequent document releases.

But you can’t claim to provide expert testimony about what DOJ was doing in 2017 without considering what WikiLeaks had done in the interim, and how that might change investigative tactics and conclusions (and did, in fact, lead DOJ to reconsider the evidence they had).

The record shows that — far from treating Assange with the disdain Trump harbored towards traditional journalists — Trump’s close associates entertained numerous discussions about pardons, and Trump himself refused to deny that under oath to Mueller. It further shows that the targeting of Wikileaks immediately followed the Vault 7 leaks burned the CIA’s hacking capacity to the ground (a prosecution that Trump himself almost blew up hours before the FBI confiscated Schulte’s passports). Finally, there is an abundance of evidence discoverable in the public record by any diligent journalism student that the understanding of WikiLeaks significantly evolved after the decisions not to charge Assange in 2013, in part because a national security investigation sought to figure out how badly Russians had tampered in our election, and in part because Trump got all kinds of help in the election from foreigners (including Assange).

Mark Feldstein claims in his expert testimony that what is happening to Julian Assange is just part of Trump’s larger assault on the press.

Seen in this light, the administration’s prosecution of Julian Assange is part and parcel of its campaign against the news media as a whole. Indeed, Assange’s criminal indictment under the US Espionage Act is arguably its most important action yet against the press, with potentially the most far-reaching consequences.

But he makes that claim while also admitting zero familiarity about the public record concerning Assange which shows the opposite.

The Julian Assange prosecution presents serious risks to journalism. But none of those excuse shoddy journalism — a failure to even consult the public, official record — in support of his case. That’s what Assange’s first witness is planning to do.

Update: Cleaned up the post and fixed a date.

The US Government Formed a New Understanding of WikiLeaks after 2016

Julian Assange’s substantive extradition hearing starts today. (I’m collating a list of journalists covering it from the live feed.)

I view the proceeding with great ambivalence.

I definitely agree that some of the charges against him — there are two theories of publishing charges: conspiring by asking for specific files, including entire databases, and publishing the identities of informants — pose a threat to the press. That said, the Trump Administration has used one of the same theories it is using against Assange to threaten journalists even in the last week (and was, before his superseding indictment) with virtually no cries of alarm from those defending Assange. In addition, charging him for exposing the identities of US and Coalition sources is a well-established crime in the UK, the Official Secrets Act, and (because Coalition sources were included among those WikiLeaks is accused of exposing) could be charged if the extradition against him fails.

The CFAA charge against Assange — particularly as expanded in the latest superseding indictment — does not pose any unique threat to journalism. Indeed, Assange’s alleged co-conspirators in the bolstered CFAA charge were already prosecuted, on both sides of the Atlantic, so there’s no question that the underlying hacking is a viable charge. WikiLeaks supporters have pointed to the unreliability of Siggi and Sabu to question those charges. They’ve focused less on the immunity granted David House for his testimony, though at trial Assange’s lawyers would focus on that, too. They might argue, too, that the US government has spun this particular conspiracy well outside the bounds where participants had made common agreement (if they kept spinning, after all, FireDogLake might get swept up for Jane Hamsher’s ties to House and defense of Manning back in the day).  But those are complaints about the strength of the government case, not the appropriateness of extradition. I suspect the government case is far stronger than shown in the indictment, which currently relies only on publicly available evidence.

Assange’s defense will call a number of experts (Kevin Gosztola discusses them here), many though not all of whom will present important, valid points. They’ll raise important issues about the free speech implications of this case, the dangers of the Espionage Act, America’s atrocious standards of incarceration, and the EDVA venue; the latter three of these, however, are in no way unique to Assange (and venue for him in EDVA is uncontroversial, unlike it has been for others charged in a district where a jury is virtually guaranteed to include people tied to the national security world). They’ll raise evidentiary complaints to which the lawyer representing the US government will present counterarguments. They’ll talk a lot about the Collateral Murder video, which was not charged.

WikiLeaks’ supporters will also exploit the US government’s Mike Pompeo problem, in this case by misrepresenting a comment he bombastically made about the First Amendment when declaring WikiLeaks a non-state hostile actor in the wake of the Vault 7 release.

No, Julian Assange and his kind are not the slightest bit interested in improving civil liberties or enhancing personal freedom. They have pretended that America’s First Amendment freedoms shield them from justice. They may have believed that, but they are wrong.

[snip]

Third, we have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us. To give them the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for. It ends now.

[snip]

DIRECTOR POMPEO: Yeah, First Amendment freedoms. What I was speaking to there was, as – was a little less constitutional law and a lot more of a philosophical understanding. Julian Assange has no First Amendment freedoms. He’s sitting in an embassy in London. He’s not a U.S. citizen. So I wasn’t speaking to our Constitution.

What I was speaking to is an understanding that these are not reporters don’t good work to try to keep you – the American government honest. These are people who are actively recruiting agents to steal American secrets with the sole intent of destroying the American way of life. That is fundamentally different than a First Amendment activity, as I understand them, and I think as most Americans understand them. So that’s what I was really getting to.

We’ve had administrations before that have been squeamish about going after these folks under some concept of this right-to-publish. No one has the right to actively engage in the threat of secrets from America with the intent to do harm to it.

This is not the first time the Trump Administration has had a Mike Pompeo problem when prosecuting WikiLeaks-related crimes, nor should it be the last. I believe Joshua Schulte’s attempts to call Pompeo forced the government to back off its claim that Schulte’s decision to leak to WikiLeaks — allegedly in April 2016 and so months before the future CIA Director was still celebrating WikiLeaks leaks of DNC files — was by itself proof of his intent to damage the US. That’s particularly true as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo torches the infrastructure of Human Rights in the world. While I, in no way, believe the Assange prosecution arises from any personal animus Pompeo has for Assange, Pompeo’s role in it and his clear retaliation against the ICC last week will be easy to use to delegitimize the Assange prosecution.

So WikiLeaks will have a lot of good points to present in the next several weeks.

But they’re also expected to tell a number of cynical lies, including with respect to pardon dangles in the US, lies that will detract from the otherwise very important principles they will raise.

I believe the prosecution of Julian Assange as charged poses a number of dangers to journalism.

But I also believe the government has evidence — some of which it may not want to share during extradition and some of which it may not ever share — that Assange is precisely what they say he is, someone with an entire intelligence infrastructure uniquely targeting the US. Of particular note (as I said regarding one of the new allegations in the CFAA charge), I know of multiple allegations, of mixed but in some cases impeccable credibility, that WikiLeaks has used its infrastructure to spy on protected entities — journalists, lawyers, former associates — going back years, long before UC Global allegedly ratcheted up the spying on Assange. The NYT doesn’t spy on its competitors to find out how they might undermine its unique role, and WikiLeaks itself says such spying on Assange is improper, so there’s no basis to claim that when WikiLeaks does it, it’s all good.

Still, even if Assange is the head of a non-state hostile intelligence agency, does that merit prosecution? While the US has sanctioned the heads of hostile state intelligence agencies, with a few notable exceptions, they don’t extend their jurisdiction overseas to prosecute them.

In addition, the allegations of involvement in Russia in all this are well-founded. The folks involved in the LulzSec chatrooms now incorporated into Assange’s CFAA charge acknowledge there were Russians there as well, though explain that the whole thing was so chaotic no one thought that much about it. Only those who aggressively ignore the public case afford WikiLeaks any deniability that it did Russia’s work in publishing the stolen Democratic files in 2016. The Joshua Schulte trial presented evidence he wanted to work with Russia too; while the evidence presented (almost incidentally, a point I hope to return to one day) at trial is quite ambiguous, I first learned about his willingness to work with Russia months before any such allegation made it into a court filing. In addition, I know of one much earlier instance where someone in WikiLeaks’ infrastructure had similar such interests. And that’s before all the allegations that WikiLeaks diverted files damaging to Russia over years.

All of those are my views about the ambivalence of this extradition proceeding, whatever those are worth as someone who has followed WikiLeaks closely from the beginning.

But there’s another point that has gotten virtually no attention, particularly not from WikiLeaks supporters who often make false claims about the investigation into WikiLeaks that conflict with this point. The government’s understanding of WikiLeaks changed after 2016, and so changed after the Obama Administration decided that prosecuting WikiLeaks posed “a New York Times problem.” The multi-volume Senate Intelligence Report talks about this repeatedly, though virtually all instances (such as this passage from Volume III) remain heavily redacted.

A different passage from the same volume, however, explicitly calls WikiLeaks a “coopted third party.”

Despite Moscow’s hist01y of leaking politically damaging information, and the increasingly significant publication of illicitly obtained information by coopted third parties, such as WikiLeaks, which historically had published information harmful to the United States. previous use of weaponized information alone was not sufficient for the administration to take immediate action on the DNC breach. The administration was not fully engaged until some key intelligence insights were provided by the IC, which shifted how the administration viewed the issue.

And, to the very limited extent you can trust the view of a prosecutor trying to coerce testimony from Jeremy Hammond, the people who will prosecute Assange if he’s extradited claim he’s a Russian spy.

This has important implications for the case against Assange, implications that his supporters make aggressive efforts to obscure. First, the surveillance of Assange almost certainly ratcheted up because of actions Assange took in 2016 and 2017, actions that aren’t protected by journalism. As a foreigner who negotiated the receipt of documents with a presumed Russian mouthpiece, Guccifer 2.0 — in what was surely theater played out on Twitter DMs — Assange and WikiLeaks made themselves targetable as foreign intelligence targets in an attempt to learn about the Russian attack on the US. Assange’s multiple efforts to offer Trump’s campaign a unique benefit — picked up in investigative collections targeting others — made Assange a criminal target in a foreign donation investigation, one Mueller declined to prosecute for First Amendment reasons (50 USC 30121 is cited in the single Mueller warrant admitted to be targeting WikiLeaks that has been publicly released). And because of some overt ongoing communications with Joshua Schulte over the course of the former CIA programmer’s prosecution, WikiLeaks’ communications would be collected incidentally off of collection targeting him as the primary suspect in the leak.

Thus, even before Pompeo declared WikiLeaks a non-state hostile actor, Assange had done things that made him targetable in a way that he hadn’t previously been. And burning down the CIA’s hacking capability behind thin claims of public interest and then continuing to communicate with the presumed source surely didn’t help matters.

And, according to multiple public, official government documents, that changed the US government’s understanding of what WikiLeaks is. Public documents make it clear that witnesses (including but not limited to David House) provided new testimony as the government came to this new understanding, even beyond the government’s ill-fated attempt to coerce more testimony out of Chelsea Manning and Hammond. I know of at least two non-public investigative steps the government took as well. On August 20, 2018 — two days before a prosecutor wrote a gag request in EDVA that mistakenly mentioned the sophistication of Assange and the publicity surrounding his case and eight months after Assange was first charged — a Mueller warrant targeting a Guccifer 2.0 email account described an ongoing investigation into whether WikiLeaks and others were conspiring and/or a Foreign Agent, which suggests a similar amount of activity targeting Assange directly in EDVA. The government conducted a great deal of investigation into Assange — predicated off of either activities that have nothing to do with journalism and/or the fact that there was one obvious source for what might be WikiLeaks most damaging publication — that has happened in recent years.

WikiLeaks supporters will cite something that former DOJ Director of Public Affairs, Matthew Miller, said  about how hard it is to distinguish what WikiLeaks does from what the New York Times does.

The problem the department has always had in investigating Julian Assange is there is no way to prosecute him for publishing information without the same theory being applied to journalists.

But Miller made that comment in 2013, before Assange did things that gave the US government reason, entirely independent of things journalists do, to investigate him and WikiLeaks more aggressively. And even in an Administration that might not be in power were it not for Assange’s actions, even after Trump and his associates considered rewarding Assange with a pardon for his help, that has led to a dramatically different understanding of what WikiLeaks is.

That belief — and the government’s still mostly secret evidence for it — does nothing to mitigate the risks of some of the charges against Assange, as currently charged. But it is a fact that should be considered in the debate.

Update: Fixed date of a Mueller warrant I discussed.

Update: Bridges will be posting all the arguments and statements. Thus far they include:

The Growing WikiLeaks Conspiracy [Indictment]

I want to revisit the superseding Julian Assange indictment with a view to unpacking how the conspiracy charges work in it. Alexa O’Brien and Dell Cameron — both experts on some of the acts described in the indictment — have written really useful pieces on the indictment that don’t, however, fully account for the way DOJ built the charges around two conspiracy charges, one a conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defense information (18 USC 793(g)) and one a conspiracy to commit computer intrusions (18 USC 371). While commenters are right to argue that the Espionage Act related charges risk criminalizing journalism, the CFAA conspiracy charge — particularly as expanded in this superseding indictment — does nothing unusual in charging the conspiracy.

As background to what the government has to do to prove a conspiracy, see this Elizabeth de la Vega thread from 2018. As she notes,

  • A conspiracy needs not succeed
  • Co-conspirators don’t have to explicitly agree
  • Conspiracies can have more than one object
  • But all co-conspirators have to agree on one object of the conspiracy
  • Co-conspirators can use multiple means to carry out the conspiracy
  • Co-conspirators don’t have to know what all the other conspirators are doing
  • Once someone is found to have knowingly joined a conspiracy, he is responsible for all acts of other co-conspirators
  • Statements of any co-conspirator made to further the conspiracy may be introduced into evidence against any other co-conspirator
  • Overt acts taken in furtherance of a conspiracy need not be illegal

Conspiracy charges are a powerful way for the government to charge groups of people (and also a way to charge crimes without showing all the evidence for them). But that’s true whenever it is used, not just against Assange. So if this associative kind of guilt bothers you (often with justification), your problem is with the law and precedents, not with the treatment of Assange.

For the moment, there are two key takeaways from de la Vega’s list: to prove Assange guilty of conspiring to hack various victims, the government only needs to show that he entered into an agreement to break US law and took overt acts to advance that conspiracy.

Here’s how the government presented the elements of this very same hacking conspiracy in Jeremy Hammond’s change of plea hearing (though Assange is charged with conspiring to violate four different CFAA charges, so the conspiracy is larger than what Hammond pled guilty to).

The crime of conspiracy, which is what he’s charged with, the elements are that there existed an agreement or implicit understanding between two or more people to violate a law of the United States, that the defendant knowingly and willingly joined that agreement, and that any one member of the conspiracy committed at least one overt act in the Southern District of New York. And the object of the conspiracy here is computer hacking to obtain information in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(2)(A).

The elements of that offense are that, without authorization, members of the conspiracy agreed to intentionally access a computer, that they obtained information  from a protected computer, and that the value of the information obtained was greater than $5,000.

With regard to venue, I believe that defendant said that, I believe he did say that information was intentionally uploaded to a server located in the Southern District of New York.

The venue for Assange is different — EDVA rather than SDNY. The venue would be uncontroversial in any case, given that the Chelsea Manning-related leaks tie to the Pentagon and so EDVA. That said, when the US government extradites someone from overseas, they get venue wherever the person first enters the US (which is why EDNY, where JFK is located, has a lot of interesting precedents tied to foreigners violating US law). The indictment against Assange notes repeatedly that Assange “will be first brought to the Eastern District of Virginia,” so they plan on obtaining venue in EDVA, with all its harsh precedents on the Espionage Act, by landing him there if and when they get him, on top of the venue they’d already get via the leaks themselves.

Thus, so long as the government can prove that Assange entered into an agreement with co-conspirators to commit illegal hacks, then the government will have plenty of evidence to prove that the conspiracy happened, not least because co-conspirators Chelsea Manning, Jeremy Hammond, and Sabu pled guilty to them. Sigurdur Thordarsson (Siggi) is another key co-conspirator; the reason the government refers to him as “Teenager,” is to signal he was part of the conspiracy while explaining whey he wasn’t prosecuted for it (because he was a minor). The government also refers to Daniel Domscheit-Berg (WLA-2), Jake Appelbaum (WLA-3), and Sarah Harrison (WLA-4) in a way that treats them as co-conspirators; it’s unclear whether that numbering system starts at 2 because it treats Assange as WLA-1 or whether there’s some unnamed conspirator who will be added in the future.

The indictment alleges Assange entered into an agreement to commit CFAA in a number of ways:

  • Agreeing to help Manning crack a password on the same day Manning said the Gitmo detainee briefs were “all [she] really have got left” and Assange said, “curious eyes never run dry in my experience” (¶¶18-21)
  • Asking Siggi to hack Iceland (¶36)
  • Asking David House to decrypt a file stolen from Iceland before going on to hire him (¶44)
  • Agreeing that Siggi should meet with Gnosis, which included getting Laurelei and Kayla to agree to hack for WikiLeaks (¶¶48-49)
  • Publicly stating a link with LulzSec in June 2011 (¶62)
  • Validating Siggi’s outreach to Topiary, in which Siggi said, “WikiLeaks cannot publicly be taking down websites, but we might give a suggestion of something or something similar, if that’s acceptable to LulzSec” (¶¶63-64)
  • Cooperating with Jeremy Hammond, as reflected in Hammond’s statements to Sabu (¶70)
  • Providing Hammond a script to search the emails hacked from Stratfor (¶72)
  • Responding to a Sabu request for targets first by saying they could not do that “for the obvious legal reasons” but then suggesting a target (¶73)
  • Providing Sabu a script for searching emails (¶75)

The reason (one reason, anyway, I suspect there are a bunch more) that — as Cameron notes — the indictment doesn’t describe the earlier parts of the Stratfor hack is because they don’t matter at all to proving Assange was part of the conspiracy. The indictment provides evidence Assange agreed to enter into a conspiracy with LulzSec long before the hack and further evidence he remained actively involved as Hammond tried to exploit it.

Cameron’s piece is inconsistent, as well, when it attributes the hack to Hyrriiya but then claims that Sabu initiated the crime. Neither ultimately matters in the Assange conspiracy indictment, because — to the extent that Hyrriiya’s letter taking credit can be believed without corroboration — he laid out the basis for a conspiracy in the letter in any case, and he, too, would be a member of the conspiracy and that letter, if it could be validated, would be admissible.

As de la Vega described, once someone joins a conspiracy, that person becomes implicated in the acts of all the others in the conspiracy, whether or not one knows about those other acts. Assange agreed to enter into a conspiracy before and after the actual hack of Stratfor, so he’s on the hook for it.

Finally, given that the contemporaneous statements of all the co-conspirators would be admissible, concerns about the credibility of Siggi or any lack of cooperation from Manning and Hammond are less serious than they might otherwise be.

That principle of conspiracies — that once someone joins the conspiracy he is on the hook for everything else — is why (as O’Brien notes), the Espionage abetting charges all take place after the March 8 agreement to help hack a password. Before that, DOJ might be thinking, Assange might be playing a typical role of a publisher, publishing classified information provided to him, but after that, they seem to be arguing, he was part of the crime. An awful lot hangs on that agreement to crack a password (remember, a conspiracy doesn’t need to be successful to be charged), which is the main thing that distinguishes the Manning-related charges from journalism. But the government may be planning to tie WikiLeaks’ targeting of Iceland — which was not charged as a Manning-related crime but which involves conspiring to hack materials related to materials that Manning provided — with the Espionage charges.

As I’ve repeatedly argued, though, this dual structure — one conspiracy to hack, and another to steal National Defense Information from the US — sets up the Vault 7 leak perfectly, the charge that for some reason WikiLeaks associates want no tie to. The government will show, among other things, that even after WikiLeaks published the Vault 7 files, WikiLeaks published Joshua Schulte’s blogs, in which he attempted to provide details of the skills he deployed at CIA. The government will likewise show that Schulte, in attempting, from prison, to convince others to leak, fits into their theory that WikiLeaks was recruiting others to leak.

That’s one of many reasons why I expect Vault 7 to eventually be added to this indictment. Thus far, the government has obtained two indictments just as statutes of limitation might toll on the overt acts (the first being the agreement to crack a password, and the second to be the recruiting efforts five years ago). So I wouldn’t be surprised if, in April of next year, the government supersedes this again to include Vault 7, including some of the same charges (such as exposing the identities of covert officers) we already see in this indictment.

The real question, however, is if the government includes Russians as co-conspirators in a future superseding indictment. There were Russians in the chat rooms behind the Stratfor hack. And the existing conspiracy to hack charge is the same charge (though with slightly different counts) as two of the charges against the GRU officers who hacked the Democrats in 2016. Plus, there are repeated references in the Schulte trial about outreach to Russia (these references are quite ambiguous, but I hope to explain why that might be in the nearish future); I had heard about that outreach before it was publicly disclosed.

When the government made its last ditch attempt to get Hammond to testify before the grand jury, according to Hammond’s account, they twice claimed to Hammond that Assange was a Russian spy. And when he asked why Assange wasn’t charged in the 2016 hack-and-leak, the prosecutor appears to have suggested the extradition would take a long time, which might mean they could add those charges in a superseding indictment.

If the government eventually argues that Russians were part of this conspiracy from very early on, then the charges will look very different if and when Assange gets extradited.