Posts

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

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Lee for writing a post that purported to cover the “crumbling” hacking case against Julian Assange by working from an outdated indictment rather than the superseding one that added 50-some paragraphs to the overt acts alleged in the single count for conspiracy to hack.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Failed Whistleblower to Journalistic Source: Natalie Sours Edwards Mounts a Credible Public Interest Defense

Natalie Sours Edwards, one of the sources for a series of BuzzFeed stories on Treasury and a larger, global series on Suspicious Activity Reports, submitted her sentencing memorandum last night. It is probably the most convincing example of a whistleblower-turned-leaker telling her story to explain why she did what she did. And while she was charged under a different statute than the Espionage Act — there’s a specific law prohibiting the leaking of SARs — it is a laudable effort to make a public interest defense.

She spends much of her submission (as most do) describing her background — her Native American upbringing, the series of jobs she had after obtaining a PhD in national security decision-making, first at ATF, then at CIA, and then at Treasury’s FinCEN. Not long after she moved to Treasury, she grew concerned about a number of things she was seeing: She believed Treasury was making some organizational changes without first getting congressional approval.

By April of 2016, TFI was considering a proposal to move several employees from FinCEN to OIA. May Sours Edwards and other members of FinCEN’s upper management questioned the legality of the proposed realignment. In an email to John Farley, Acting Director of Executive Office for Asset Forfeiture (TEOAF), Dr. Edwards raised concerns about whether the transfers would be consistent with Congressional appropriations and whether OIA was moving forward in spite of a direction from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence not to proceed until the Committee had reviewed the plans for the reallocation of funds.

She was concerned — as was the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board — that Treasury had never instituted guidelines protecting Americans’ privacy when accessing records under 12333. (I had written about this problem before this period.)

Did OIA, as a member of the intelligence community, have the authority to collect and retain data domestically. Under Executive Order 12333 (“E.O. 12333”) IC entities, which OIA is, are permitted to collect information on “United States persons” only if the organization has promulgated guidelines for doing so and had them reviewed and approved by the Attorney General.11 Dr. Edwards questioned whether OIA had signed guidelines. Counsel for OIA hostilely, in Dr. Edwards’ estimation, disagreed with her interpretation of EO 12333. She believed he deliberately denigrated her during the meeting in front of the other participants in an attempt to bully her into agreeing with his position. She did not acquiesce.

11Executive Order 12333 provides in pertinent part as follows. “2:3 Collection of Information. Agencies within the Intelligence Community are authorized to collect, retain or disseminate information concerning United States persons only in accordance with procedures established by the head of the agency concerned and approved by the Attorney General, consistent with the authorities provided in Part 1 of this Order.”

After she had shared these concerns with Congress, she believed that Jacob Lew had knowingly lied to Congress about whether there were whistleblowers at Treasury.

On September 22, 2016, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew testified before the House Financial Services Committee. https://www.c-span.org/video/?415661- 1/secretary-jack-lew-testifies-financial-stability-report&start=9046. Representative Fitzpatrick specifically asked him whether the proposed realignment was consistent with the existing budget, the issue Dr. Edwards had been raising. He also the Secretary whether there were any whistleblowers at Treasury. Representatives Jeb Hensarling and Sean Duffy later sent a follow-up congressional letter to Secretary Lew, expressing concern that the proposed “changes may violate appropriations requirements, civil service rules, and constraints on gathering and use of financial intelligence data.” They also noted that it was “troubling that Treasury is moving forward with the proposed reallocation with the intention to complete the process before a new Administration takes over in January 2017 and despite bipartisan requests to process at a more deliberate pace.” Id.

Something else of significance happened during the hearing. In response to a question from Representative Fitzpatrick, Secretary Lew stated that he was unaware of any whistleblowers in the Treasury Department. Dr. Edwards was taken aback and concerned. She was a whistleblower, a fact well known to Treasury OIG.

In the wake of that hearing, she believed that her clearance was pulled, briefly, as retaliation.

On September 27, 2016, a week after the contentious OIA-FinCEN meeting, someone at OIA ordered that Dr. Edward’s SCI (Sensitive Compartmentalized Information) clearance and her access to the SCIF (Sensitive Compartmentalized Information Facility) be revoked. Dr. Edwards questioned the basis for the action. Her clearance was reinstated the following day. Email of September 28, 2016, from May Edwards to Elizabeth Ortiz, attached hereto as Exhibit XX

She submitted two whistleblower complaints — to Treasury IG and to OSC. The latter found that she had engaged in protected activity (meaning that she had been a whistleblower), but ruled against her claims of retaliation on narrow grounds.

By letter dated May 21, 2018, OSC informed Dr. Edwards that they were closing her file. OSC concluded that Dr. Edwards’ reports to her “leadership, OIG, Congress and OSC all likely constitute ‘protected activity’ or whistleblowing under the law.” May 21, 2018, letter from OSC to Dr. Edwards, attached hereto as Exhibit HHH at 4. Further, Dr. Edwards could establish that her “management knew about [her] whistleblowing regarding, at a minimum, the issues [she] raised directly to them.” However, OSC made several findings that it concluded were fatal to Dr. Edwards’ claim that she had been retaliated against as a whistleblower. OSC could not find that there was a substantial likelihood that Treasury Secretary Lew knew of Dr. Edwards’ allegations when he testified before Congress that there were no whistleblowers in Treasury. Id. at 3. The email that outlined OMB’s direction to Treasury on communicating with Congress about the FinCEN/TSI realignment was not improper because it appeared to be directing Treasury officials not to discuss the issue in their official capacities as opposed to directing them in their individual capacities on their rights to report suspected wrongdoing to Congress

A Treasury IG Report ruled against her based on an alternative explanation provided for why the PKI of FinCEN employees had been pulled.

While finding that the problem with the IC PKI certificates was solely the result of inadvertence, the author of the audit did note that “the present working relationship between OIA and FinCEN related to the IC PKI process is strained.” Id. at 3. The two Treasury components had a “fundamental disagreement” about FinCEN’s need for access to the IC PKIs and more broadly about FinCEN’s autonomy.

She even explains how — after she started working with Jason Leopold — Ron Wyden complained that FinCEN was withholding information on Russian interference and its ties with Donald Trump.

In addition to her concern about OIA’s handling of realignment and the PKIs issue, Dr. Edwards grew to question whether FinCEN was providing complete information in response to Congressional requests for information. She was not alone in that belief. On May 10, 2017, Senator Ron Wyden made a floor statement placing a hold on the nomination of Sigal Mandelker for the position of Under Secretary of TFI. His office issued a statement explaining the Senator’s reasoning:

Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today placed a hold on the nomination of Sigal Mandelker to be Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. Wyden said he will maintain that hold until the Treasury Department provides the Senate Intelligence Committee and Senate Finance Committee information and documents related to Russia and its financial dealings with President Trump and his associates.

On Tuesday, May 9, Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner announced that the Committee had made a request to the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). https://www.wyden.senate.gov/news/press-releases/wyden-announces-hold-ontreasury-nominee-until-administration-produces-documents-on-russian-dealingswith-trump-associates. On September 22, 2017, Senator Wyden put a hold on another Treasury Assistant Secretary nominee, Isabelle Patelunas, again because of Treasury’s “refusal to provide documents related to Russia.” https:// www.wyden.senate.gov/news/press-releases/wyden-announces-hold-ontreasury-nominee-over-agencys-refusal-to-provide-documents-related-to-russia.

It’s in that context that — she described — she started working with Leopold to get Congress to return its attention to misconduct at Treasury.

When Congress’ attention to the issues May believed vitally affected the security of this country flagged, she began communicating with Jason Leopold, a reporter with the online publication BuzzFeed News. He told her that he shared her concern for national security. He assured her that the only way to revive Congressional interest was through media attention. He promised to – and did – introduce her to additional Congressional staffers. At his encouragement, she provided him with Suspicious Activity Reports (“SARs”) and other internal Treasury Department documents. He wrote articles that disclosed that information. She was arrested. He was not.

[snip]

Although Congress by then had done little to curb Treasury’s behavior, Dr. Edwards continued to believe that the only way to ensure that those responsible for the improper behavior were held accountable was through Congress. Leopold encouraged this belief: By writing articles, he could get the proper attention for the issues she believed were of vital importance to national security. This was a theme he returned to more than once when he sought information from Dr. Edwards: He could use what she gave him to write stories that would force Congress to investigate her allegations. (September 27, 2017: “We do need to keep momentum going so this story is crucial.” October 16, 2017: “We are going for the next story – keep momentum going with 12333.” January 11, 2018: “Listen, I am going to make a case that we need to leak something and report it. I am going to reach out to some of your colleagues. But this is getting ridiculous and I need to get their attention…By their attention I mean Congress).

Importantly, given the way she was charged (with a conspiracy to leak these SARs, with Leopold identified as a co-conspirator would be) she describes how hard Leopold worked to champion her efforts in Congress.

Throughout 2017 and 2018, Leopold told Dr. Edwards in their WhatsApp conversations that he was committed to her cause of uncovering and remedying corruption in the Treasury Department. He told her at times that he was acting on behalf of Congressional staff members in seeking information from her. He sought to arrange meetings for Dr. Edwards with members of Congress or their staff. Such meetings did take place. Leopold attended meetings with Dr. Edwards. Staffers encouraged Dr. Edwards to provide information they sought about the inner workings of the Treasury Department, including whether the requirements of the Bank Secrecy Act were being enforced by financial institutions as required to assist U.S. government agencies.

Remember: Before the global SARs reporting effort came out, Treasury issued a statement that can only be viewed as an attempt at prior restraint, a threat against Leopold.

Edwards’ sentencing memorandum says that the Probation office recommended two years of probation.

Dr. Sours Edwards faces no mandatory minimum term of incarceration. As discussed above, the relevant range under the United States Sentencing Guidelines, both as stipulated in the plea agreement and as determined by United States Probation, is zero to six months. PSR at ¶4, p. 28. Probation has recommended that the Court sentence Dr. Sours Edwards to a two-year term of Probation.

It is unclear whether this will work — whether Edwards will get probation. It is equally unclear whether Leopold’s laudable efforts to double down on his reporting, to raise global attention to the issue, will bring about reform at banks or in the US.

But this is what every other leaker I’ve covered has tried to do, far less persuasively: an attempt to make a public interest defense for leaking to a journalist.

Treasury Threatens to Prosecute Reporters Trying to Reveal What Rod Rosenstein and Richard Burr Would Not

WikiLeaks supporters like to claim the May 2019 superseding indictment against Assange uniquely threatens journalism by treating routine journalistic activities — such as requesting sensitive information — as part of a conspiracy to leak.* That’s not entirely true.

As I’ve noted, well before Assange’s superseding indictment, in October 2018, DOJ charged Natalie Sours Edwards — one of several presumed sources for a series of BuzzFeed stories on Suspicious Activities Reports pertaining to those investigated for their ties to Russia — in such a way to treat Jason Leopold as a co-conspirator. Both the complaint justifying her arrest and the indictment include a conspiracy charge that describes how Edwards (and another unindicted co-conspirator) worked with Reporter-1, including one request pertaining to Prevezon captured on Signal.

c. As noted above, the October 2018 Article regarded, among other things, Prevezon and the Investment Company. As recently as September 2018, EDWARDS and Reporter-1 engaged in the following conversation, via the Encrypted Application, in relevant part:

EDWARDS: I am not getting any hits on [the CEO of the Investment Company] do you have any idea what the association is if I had more information i could search in different areas

Reporter-1: If not on his name it would be [the Investment Company]. That’s the only other one [The CEO] is associated with Prevezon Well not associated His company is [the Investment Company]

On January 13, Edwards pled guilty to one charge, the conspiracy one, though without any sign of cooperation.

In fact, Edwards is not the only case charged like this. While he was charged after Assange’s superseding indictment, Henry Frese, a DIA analyst who leaked reports on China to some NBC reporters, was not just charged in a similar conspiracy charge, but was wiretapped to collect evidence implicating the reporters. Because he cooperated, there’s little to prevent Trump’s DOJ from charging the journalists after the election except Trump’s well-established support for an adversarial press.

The way in which DOJ charged Edwards has become newly critical given an announcement Treasury made yesterday, in the wake of reports about how Donald Trump was never investigated for his financial vulnerability to Russia. The unit of Treasury that collects and analyzes Suspicious Activity Reports released a statement threatening “various media outlets” who were planning to publish stories on SARs.

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) is aware that various media outlets intend to publish a series of articles based on unlawfully disclosed Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs), as well as other sensitive government documents, from several years ago.  As FinCEN has stated previously, the unauthorized disclosure of SARs is a crime that can impact the national security of the United States, compromise law enforcement investigations, and threaten the safety and security of the institutions and individuals who file such reports.  FinCEN has referred this matter to the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Inspector General.

BuzzFeed has always treated their source for the Treasury story as a whistleblower, reporting not just a dispute over access to reports for intelligence reports, but also on the damning Russian information that got ignored.

As Edwards has moved closer to sentencing, she developed irreconcilable differences with her original attorneys over what she called a coerced guilty plea. And documents filed in the case provide some explanation why.

While the substance of her appeal is not entirely clear, it’s clear that she claimed legal access to certain documents — presumably SARs — as a whistleblower.

In the appellants “official capacity” as a government employee from 2015-Jan 2020 and as a whistleblower from 2015 to current, the specific documents were used during the Congressional Request Inquires & Letters from 2015-2018, the Office of Special Counsel’s investigations from 2017-2020 and the appellants legal access to the exculpatory material from 2018 to current per 31 C.F.R. § 103 “official disclosures responsive to a request from an appropriate Congressional committee or subcommittees; and prosecutorial disclosures mandated by statute or the Constitution, in connection with the statement of a government witness to be called at trial, the impeachment of a government witness, or as material exculpatory of a criminal defendant.1

As a government employee I could disclose any information in a SAR (including information in supporting documentation) to anyone, up to and including the person who is the subject of the SAR, so long as the disclosure was “necessary to fulfill the official duties of such officer or employee”2 which I did as a whistleblower and as an employee; however, once I medically resigned, 31 C.F.R. § 103 provided the legal exculpatory material as a whistleblower, administrative appellate and criminal defendant to disclose the information in court proceedings. Furthermore, the appellant was adhering to the courts upholding that disclosures must be specific and detailed, not vague allegations of wrongdoing regarding broad or imprecise matters. Linder v. Department of Justice, 122 M.S.P.R. 14, 14 (2014); Keefer v. Department of Agriculture, 82 M.S.P.R. 687, 10 (1999); Padilla v. Department of the Air Force, 55 M.S.P.R. 540, 543– 44 (1992).

After she tried to use the documents in her appeal of a whistleblower complaint, the Treasury Department Inspector General shared them with the prosecutors in her case, who in turn cited them in her presentencing report.

The agency has argued throughout the appellant no longer is an employee of the agency, the pro se appellant agrees. The agency Inspector General should not have been notified of the administrative proceedings of the court because the appellant is not an employee of the agency. There is no statue or policy that gives the agency the right to notify the agency IG of the “procedural motion” prior “to notify the other party”. Regulation 5 C.F.R. § 1201.55(a) does not state “notify Inspector General” rather it does state “to notify the other party”. The pro se appellant argues notifying the Inspector General prior to “the other party” is a violation of the pro se appellants fifth amendment.

[snip]

[T]he agency/agency IG notified the appellants criminal prosecutors of the disclosures in the IRA case. As explained above, the disclosures are permissible per 31 C.F.R. § 103. Due to the agency/agency IG notification to the government prosecutors, the prosecution requested increased sentencing in the sentencing report for the appellant/defendant thus violating the defendants fifth amendment in the criminal proceeding.

Edwards further claimed that the government withheld her original complaint to coerce her to plead guilty.

The Federal Judge found merit and significant concerns in the “letter and substantial documentation” the whistleblower defendant/appellant provided to the court concerning violation of fifth amendment, conflict of interests pertaining to the prosecution/counsel, coercion of the plea deal, criminal referral submitted against agency IG, the letter defendant sent to Attorney General Sessions and Special Counsel Mueller, etc., all elements withheld from the Federal court by both the prosecution and defense counsel.

Edwards has been assigned a new attorney (who may have convinced her not to submit this complaint as part of sentencing), and her sentencing has been pushed out to October.

There’s no way to assess the validity of her complaint or even her representation of what happened with the judge in her case, Gregory Woods. What her complaint shows, however, is that there’s a packet of information she sent to Mueller and Sessions (possibly implicating and/or also sent to Congress), summarizing some reports she believes got ignored.

If those reports show what Rod Rosenstein and Richard Burr worked so hard not to investigate, it might explain why Treasury is threatening legal consequences for reporting on them. And given how DOJ already structured this prosecution, they might well be threatening to treat reporting on the President’s vulnerabilities as a conspiracy to leak SARs protected by statute.


*WikiLeaks supporters also cite the risk of Assange being subjected to US Espionage Act prosecution. While that risk is real, in his case, the most dangerous charges (for leaking the names of US and Coalition informants) would likely be far easier to prosecute under the UK’s Official Secrets Act, which still could happen if he’s not extradited. The actions described in his indictment are arguably more explicitly criminalized in the UK than the US, even if their sentences are not as draconian.

Rubber Biscuit Trash Talk

Eh, late start here. Been tied up on Twitter reading and discussing the FOIA doc dump obtained and published by Jason Leopold and Anthont Cormier of Buzzfeed. Check Marcy’s Twitter feed and other posts here for that, it is….something. Somehow or another in the process we got off on Blues Brothers lyrics, so that is today’s music.

Hate to say it, but Harbaugh and the Wolverweenies have their groove back. After flattening a good Notre Dame team last week, they are killing Maryland today. Number 8 Georgia at number 6 Florida looks to be one hell of a game. Earlier in the year, the Dawgs would have been an easy pick, but not now, and not at the Swamp (Grrr, I buggered that up, game is in Jacksonville, of course, and not the Swamp). New grandfather Jim will likely weigh in. Utah and Washington should be a good Pac-12 game, but it is in Seattle so, despite the Utes’ number 9 ranking, don’t sleep on the Huskies. Same goes for Oregon at USC Trojan land. In the meantime, everybody awaits LSU at Alabama next week.

In the pros, the Niners beat Arizona in a surprisingly close game Thursday night. If Pat Peterson had not had an atrocious game for the Cardinals may well have won that game. Oh well, the Niners move on undefeated. The Vikings at Chefs may be good. Cousins is on a roll and Mahomes, if he plays, is still slightly hobbled. That is a pick em. The Jets at the Fins is a laugher. The obvious best game of the week is Patriots at Ravens. The Ravens are good, and they are at home. Lamar Jackson is exactly the kind of QB that give the Pats fits, and the Baltimore defense is outstanding, still. Not going to bet against Bill Bel and Brady, but this is a real test, and in the primetime of SNF.

That’s it for this week folks, hoop it up.

The Theory of Prosecution You Love for Julian Assange May Look Different When Applied to Jason Leopold

The WaPo confirmed something Seamus Hughes disclosed last night: Sometime before August 22, EDVA had filed a sealed complaint (not indictment) against Julian Assange.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been charged under seal, prosecutors inadvertently revealed in a recently unsealed court filing — a development that could significantly advance the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and have major implications for those who publish government secrets.

The disclosure came in a filing in a case unrelated to Assange. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kellen S. Dwyer, urging a judge to keep the matter sealed, wrote that “due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.” Later, Dwyer wrote the charges would “need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested.”

Dwyer is also assigned to the WikiLeaks case. People familiar with the matter said what Dwyer was disclosing was true, but unintentional.

The confirmation closely follows a WSJ story describing increased confidence that the US will succeed in extraditing Assange for trial.

The confirmation that Assange has been charged has set off a frenzy, both among Assange supporters who claim this proves their years of claims he was indicted back in 2011 and insisting that charging him now would amount to criminalizing journalism, and among so-called liberals attacking Assange lawyer Barry Pollack’s scolding of DOJ for breaking their own rules.

I’ve long been on record saying that I think most older theories of charging Assange would be very dangerous for journalism. More recently, though, I’ve noted that Assange’s actions with respect to Vault 7, which had original venue in EDVA where the Assange complaint was filed (accused leaker Joshua Schulte waived venue in his prosecution), go well beyond journalism. That said, I worry DOJ may have embraced a revised theory on Assange’s exposure that would have dire implications for other journalists, most urgently for Jason Leopold.

There are, roughly, four theories DOJ might use to charge Assange:

  • Receiving and publishing stolen information is illegal
  • Conspiring to release stolen information for maximal damage is illegal
  • Soliciting the theft of protected information is illegal
  • Using stolen weapons to extort the US government is illegal

Receiving and publishing stolen information is illegal

The first, theory is the one that Obama’s DOJ rejected, based on the recognition that it would expose NYT journalists to prosecution as well. I suspect the Trump Administration will have the same reservations with such a prosecution.

Conspiring to release stolen information for maximal damage is illegal

The second imagines that Assange would be charged for behavior noted in the GRU indictment — WikiLeaks’ solicitation, from someone using the persona of Guccifer 2.0, of material such that it would be maximally damaging to Hillary Clinton.

On or about June 22, 2016, Organization 1 sent a private message to Guccifer 2.0 to “[s]end any new material [stolen from the DNC] here for us to review and it will have a much higher impact than what you are doing.” On or about July 6, 2016, Organization 1 added, “if you have anything hillary related we want it in the next tweo [sic] days prefable [sic] because the DNC [Democratic National Convention] is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after.” The Conspirators responded, “ok . . . i see.” Organization 1 explained, “we think trump has only a 25% chance of winning against hillary . . . so conflict between bernie and hillary is interesting.”

After failed attempts to transfer the stolen documents starting in late June 2016, on or about July 14, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, sent Organization 1 an email with an attachment titled “wk dnc link1.txt.gpg.” The Conspirators explained to Organization 1 that the encrypted file contained instructions on how to access an online archive of stolen DNC documents. On or about July 18, 2016, Organization 1 confirmed it had “the 1Gb or so archive” and would make a release of the stolen documents “this week.”

Significantly, WikiLeaks (but not Roger Stone) was referred to in the way an unidicted co-conspirator normally is, not named, but described in such a way to make its identity clear.

This is a closer call. There is a Supreme Court precedent protecting journalists who publish stolen newsworthy information. But it’s one already being challenged in civil suits in ways that have elicited a lot of debate. Prosecuting a journalist for trying to do maximal damage actually would criminalize a great deal of political journalism, starting with but not limited to Fox. Note that when the founders wrote the First Amendment, the norm was political journalism, not the so-called objective journalism we have now, so they certainly didn’t expect press protections to be limited to those trying to be fair to both sides.

Such a charge may depend on the degree to which the government can prove foreknowledge of the larger agreement with the Russians to damage Hillary, as well as the illegal procurement of information after WikiLeaks expressed an interest in information damaging Hillary.

Mueller might have evidence to support this (though there’s also evidence that WikiLeaks refused to publish a number of things co-conspirators leaked to them, including but not limited to the DCCC documents). The point is, we don’t know what the fact pattern on such a prosecution would look like, and how it would distinguish the actions from protected politically engaged journalism.

Soliciting the theft of protected information is illegal

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

This is, in my opinion, a possible way DOJ would charge Assange that would be very dangerous. I’m particularly worried because of the way the DOJ charged Natalie Mayflower Edwards for leaking Suspicious Activity Reports to Jason Leopold. Edwards was charged with two crimes: Unauthorized Disclosure of Suspicious Activity Reports and Conspiracy to Make Unauthorized Disclosures of Suspicious Activity Reports (using the same Conspiracy charge that Mueller has been focused on).

In addition to describing BuzzFeed stories relying on SARs that Edwards saved to a flash drive by October 18, 2017 and then January 8, 2018, it describes a (probably Signal) conversation from September 2018 where Leopold — described in the manner used to describe unindicted co-conspirators — directed Edwards to conduct certain searches for material that ended up in an October story on Prevezon, a story published the day before Edwards was charged.

As noted above, the October 2018 Article regarded, among other things, Prevezon and the Investment Company. As recently as September 2018, EDWARDS and Reporter-1 engaged in the following conversation, via the Encrypted Application, in relevant part:

EDWARDS: I am not getting any hits on [the CEO of the Investment Company] do you have any idea what the association is if I had more information i could search in different areas

Reporter-1: If not on his name it would be [the Investment Company]. That’s the only other one [The CEO] is associated with Prevezon Well not associated His company is [the Investment Company]

Based upon my training and experience, my participation in the investigation, and my conversations with other law enforcement agents familiar with the investigation, I believe that in the above conversation, EDWARDS was explaining that she had performed searches of FinCEN records relating to Prevezon, at Reporter-l’s request, in order to supply SAR information for the October 2018 Article.

Edwards still has not been indicted, two weeks after her arraignment. That suggests it’s possible the government is trying to persuade her to plead and testify against Leopold in that conspiracy, thereby waiving indictment. The argument, in that case, would be that Leopold went beyond accepting stolen protected information, to soliciting the theft of the information.

This is the model a lot of people are embracing for an Assange prosecution, and it’s something that a lot of journalists not named Jason Leopold also do (arguably, it’s similar but probably more active than what James Rosen got dubbed a co-conspirator in the Stephen Jin-Woo Kim case).

Charging Leopold in a bunch of leaks pertaining to Russian targets would be a nice way (for DOJ, not for journalism) to limit any claim that just Assange was being targeted under such a theory. Indeed, it would placate Trump and would endanger efforts to report on what Mueller and Congress have been doing. Furthermore, it would be consistent with the aggressive approach to journalists reflected in the prosecution of James Wolfe for a bunch of leaks pertaining to Carter Page, which involved subpoenaing years of Ali Watkins’ call records.

In short, pursuing Leopold for a conspiracy to leak charge would be consistent with — and for DOJ, tactically advantageous — the theory under which most people want Assange charged.

Using stolen weapons to extort the US government is illegal

Finally, there’s the fourth possibility, and one I think is highly likely: charging Assange for his serial efforts to extort a pardon from the US government by threatening to release the Vault 7 (and ultimately, a single Vault 8 live malware) files.

This post shows how, starting in January 2017, Assange (and Oleg Deripaska) representative Adam Waldman was reaching out to top DOJ officials trying to negotiate a deal and using the release of the Vault 7 documents as leverage.

This post shows how, the second time Assange tweeted Don Jr asking for an Ambassadorship, he included a threatening reference to Vault 8, WikiLeaks’ name for the actual malware stolen and leaked from CIA, the first file from which Assange had released days earlier.

[B]ack in November 2017, some outlets began to publish a bunch of previously undisclosed DMs between Don Jr and Wikileaks. Most attention focused on Wikileaks providing Don Jr access to an anti-Trump site during the election. But I was most interested in Julian Assange’s December 16, 2016 “offer” to be Australian Ambassador to the US — basically a request for payback for his help getting Trump elected.

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

In the wake of the releases, on November 14, 2017, Assange tweeted out a follow-up.

As I noted at the time, the offer included an implicit threat: by referencing “Vault 8,” the name Wikileaks had given to its sole release, on November 9, 2017 of an actual CIA exploit (as opposed to the documentation that Wikileaks had previously released), Assange was threatening to dump more hacking tools, as Shadow Brokers had done before it. Not long after, Ecuador gave Assange its first warning to stop meddling in other countries politics, explicitly pointing to his involvement in the Catalan referendum but also pointing to his tampering with other countries. That warning became an initial ban on visitors and Internet access in March of this year followed by a more formal one on May 10, 2018 that remains in place.

Notably, Ecuador may have warned Assange back then to stop releasing America’s malware from their Embassy; those warnings have laid the groundwork for the rigid gag rules recently imposed on Assange on risk of losing asylum.

Immediately after this exchange, accused Vault 7/8 leaker Joshua Schulte had some Tor accesses which led to him losing bail. They didn’t, however, lead BOP to take away his multiple devices (!?!?!). Which means that when they raided his jail cell on or around October 1, they found a bunch of devices and his activity from 13 email and social media accounts. Importantly, DOJ claims they also obtained video evidence of Schulte continuing his efforts to leak classified information.

The announcement of that raid, and the additional charges against Schulte, coincided with a period of increased silence from WikiLeaks, broken only by last night’s response to the confirmation Assange had been charged.

I think it possible and journalistically safe to go after Assange for releasing stolen weapons to extort a criminal pardon. But most of the other theories of prosecuting Assange would also pose real risks for other journalists that those rooting for an Assange prosecution appreciate and rely on.

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

The Kiriakou Conundrum: To Plea Or Not To Plea

There are many symbols emblematic of the battle between the American citizenry and the government of the United States in the war of transparency. One of those involves John Kiriakou. Say what you will about John Kiriakou’s entrance into the public conscience on the issue of torture, he made a splash and did what all too few had, or have since, been willing to do. John Kiriakou is the antithesis of the preening torture monger apologist in sullen “big boy pants”, Jose Rodriquez.

And, so, people like Kiriakou must be punished. Not by the national security bullies of the Bush/Cheney regime who were castigated and repudiated by an electorate who spoke. No, the hunting is, instead, by the projected agent of “change”, Barack Obama. You expect there to be some difference between a man as candidate and a man governing; the shock comes when the man and message is the diametric opposite of that which he sold. And, in the sling of such politics, lies the life and fate of John Kiriakou.

Why is the story of John Kiriakou raised on this fine Saturday? Because as Charlie Savage described, Kiriakou has tread the “Path From Terrorist Hunter to Defendant”. Today it is a path far removed from the constant political trolling of the Benghazi incident, and constant sturm and drang of the electoral polling horserace. It is a critical path of precedent in the history of American jurisprudence, and is playing out with nary a recognition or discussion. A tree is falling in the forrest and the sound is not being heard.

You may have read about the negative ruling on the critical issue of “intent to harm” made in the federal prosecution of Kiriakou in the Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA) last Tuesday. As Josh Gerstein described:

Prosecutors pursuing former CIA officer John Kiriakou for allegedly leaking the identities of two other CIA officers involved in interrogating terror suspects need not prove that Kiriakou intended to harm the United States or help a foreign nation, a federal judge ruled in an opinion made public Wednesday.

The ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema is a defeat for Kiriakou’s defense, which asked the judge to insist on the stronger level of proof — which most likely would have been very difficult for the government to muster.

In 2006, another federal judge in the same Northern Virginia courthouse, T.S. Ellis, imposed the higher requirement in a criminal case against two former lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

However, Brinkema said that situation was not parallel to that of Kiriakou, since he is accused of relaying information he learned as a CIA officer and the AIPAC staffers were not in the government at the time they were alleged to have received and passed on classified information.

“Kiriakou was a government employee trained in the classification system who could appreciate the significance of the information he allegedly disclosed. Accordingly, there can be no question that Kiriakou was on clear notice of the illegality of his alleged communications.

Gerstein has summarized the hard news of the court ruling admirably, but there is a further story behind the sterile facts. By ruling the crucial issue of “intent” need not be proven by the accusing government, the court has literally removed a critical element of the charge and deemed it outside of the due process proof requirement, much less that of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

What does that mean? In a criminal prosecution, it means everything. It IS the ballgame.

And so it is here in the case of United States v. John Kiriakou. I am going to go a little further than Gerstein really could in his report, because I have the luxury of speculation. As Josh mentioned:

On Tuesday, Brinkema abruptly postponed a major motions hearing in the case set for Wednesday and a hearing set for Thursday on journalists’ motions to quash subpoenas from the defense. She gave no reason for canceling the hearings.

HELLO! That little tidbit is the everything of the story. I flat out guarantee the import of that is the court put the brakes on the entire case as a resultnof an off the record joint request of the parties to facilitate immediate plea negotiation. As in they are doing it as you read this.

There is simply no other reason for the court to suspend already docketed process and procedure in a significant case, much less do so without a formal motion to extend, whether by one party or jointly. That just does not happen. Well, it does not happen unless both parties talked to the court and avowed a plea was underway and they just needed the time to negotiate the details.

So, what does this mean for John Kiriakou? Nothing good, at best. Upon information and belief, Kiriakou was offered a plea to one count of false statements and no jail/prison time by the original specially designated lead prosecutor, Pat Fitzgerald. But the “word on the street” now is that, because the government’s sheriff has changed and, apparently, because Kiriakou made an effort to defend himself, the ante has been ridiculously upped.

What I hear is the current offer is plead to IIPA and two plus years prison. This for a man who has already been broken, and whose family has been crucified (Kiriakou’s wife also worked for the Agency, but has been terminated and had her security clearance revoked). Blood out of turnips is now what the “most transparent administration in history” demands.

It is a malicious and unnecessary demand. The man, his family, and existence are destroyed already. What the government really wants is definable precedent on the IIPA because, well, there is not squat for such historically, and the “most transparent administration in history” wants yet another, larger, bludgeon with which to beat the baby harp seals of whistleblowing. And so they act.

To date, there have been no reported cases interpreting the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA), but it did result in one conviction in 1985 pursuant to a guilty plea. In that case, Sharon Scranage, a former CIA clerk, pleaded guilty for providing classified information regarding U.S. intelligence operations in Ghana, to a Ghanaian agent, with whom she was romantically involved. She was initially sentenced to five years in prison, but a federal judge subsequently reduced her sentence to two years. That. Is. It.

So, little wonder, “the most transparent administration in history” wants to establish a better beachhead in its fight against transparency and truth. John Kiriakou is the whipping post. And he is caught in the whipsaw….prosecuted by a maliciously relentless government, with unlimited federal resources, and reliant on private defense counsel he likely long ago could no longer afford.

It is a heinous position Kiriakou, and his attorneys Plato Cacheris et. al, are in. There are moral, and there are exigent financial, realities. On the government’s end, as embodied by the once, and now seemingly distant, Constitutional Scholar President, and his supposedly duly mindful and aware Attorney General, Eric Holder, the same moralities and fairness are also at issue. Those of us in the outside citizenry of the equation can only hope principles overcome dollars and political hubris.

Eric Holder, attorney general under President Barack Obama, has prosecuted more government officials for alleged leaks under the World War I-era Espionage Act than all his predecessors combined, including law-and-order Republicans John Mitchell, Edwin Meese and John Ashcroft.
….
“There’s a problem with prosecutions that don’t distinguish between bad people — people who spy for other governments, people who sell secrets for money — and people who are accused of having conversations and discussions,” said Abbe Lowell, attorney for Stephen J. Kim, an intelligence analyst charged under the Act.

The once and previous criticisms of John Kiriakou, and others trying to expose a nation off its founding tracks, may be valid in an intellectual discussion on the fulcrum of classified information protection; but beyond malignant in a sanctioned governmental prosecution such as has been propounded against a civilian servant like John Kiriakou who sought, with specificity, to address wrongs within his direct knowledge. This is precisely where, thanks to the oppressive secrecy ethos of the Obama Administration, we are today.

Far, perhaps, from the “hope and change” the country prayed and voted for in repudiating (via Barack Obama) the festering abscess of the Bush/Cheney regime, we exist here in the reality of an exacerbated continuation of that which was sought to be excised in 2008. Kiriakou, the human, lies in the whipsaw balance. Does John Kiriakou plead out? Or does he hold out?

One thing is certain, John Kiriakou is a man, with a family in the lurch. His values are not necessarily those of those of us on the outside imprinting ourselves on him.

If the government would stop the harp seal beating of Mr. Kiriakou, and at least let the man stay with his family instead of needlessly consuming expensive prison space, that would be one thing. But the senseless hammer being posited by the out for blood successor to Patrick Fitzgerald – Neil MacBride, and his deputy William N. Hammerstrom, Jr. – is scurrilous.

Rest assured, far from the hue and cry on the nets and Twitters, this IS playing out on a very personal and human scale for John Kiriakou while we eat, drink and watch baseball and football this weekend.