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.


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.


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.

The Superseding Assange Indictment Tidies Up CFAA Charges

Yesterday, the government released a second superseding indictment against Julian Assange. The EDVA press release explains that no new counts were added, but the language describing the computer hacking conspiracy was expanded.

The new indictment does not add additional counts to the prior 18-count superseding indictment returned against Assange in May 2019. It does, however, broaden the scope of the conspiracy surrounding alleged computer intrusions with which Assange was previously charged. According to the charging document, Assange and others at WikiLeaks recruited and agreed with hackers to commit computer intrusions to benefit WikiLeaks.

It is true the description of the hacking charge has been dramatically expanded, incorporating a bunch of hacks that WikiLeaks was associated with.

But there are a few details of the charges that changed as well. The CFAA charge has actually been reworked, focused on four different kinds of hacks:

  • Accessing a computer and exceeding access to obtain information classified Secret
  • Accessing a computer and exceeding access to obtain information from protected computers at a department or agency of the United States committed in furtherance of criminal acts
  • Knowingly transmitting code that can cause damage,
    • Greater than $5000
    • Used by an entity of the US in furtherance of the administration of justice, national defense, and national security
    • Affecting more than 10 or more protected computers in a given year
  • Intentionally accessing protecting computers without authorization to recklessly cause damage,
    • Greater than $5000
    • Used by an entity of the US in furtherance of the administration of justice, national defense, and national security
    • Affecting more than 10 or more protected computers in a given year

This is a grab bag of hacking charges, and it could easily cover (and I expect one day it will cover) actions not described in this indictment. While adding this grab bag of charges, the indictment takes out a specific reference to the Espionage Act, probably to ensure at least one charge against Assange can in no way be claimed to be a political crime. It also takes out 18 U.S.C. § 641, possibly because the thinking of its applicability to leaking classified information has gotten more controversial.

The indictment also changes the dates on several of the counts. The timeline on the three counts addressing leaking of informants’ identities (something that is criminalized in the UK in ways it is not here, but also the counts that most aggressively charge Assange for the publication of information) now extends to April 2019. The timeline on the hacking charges extends (for reasons I’ll explain below), to 2015. And the overall timeline of Assange’s behavior extends back to 2007, a date that post-dates the earliest WikiLeaks activity and so raises interesting questions about what actions it was chosen to include.

As to the 2015 date, the indictment gets there by discussing WikiLeaks’ role in helping Edward Snowden flee China and the ways WikiLeaks used Snowden’s case to encourage other leakers and hackers. It describes:

  • Sarah Harrison’s trip to Hong Kong in June 2013
  • The presentation Harrison, Jake Appelbaum, and Assange gave in December 2013 encouraging potential leakers to, “go and join the CIA. Go in there, go into the ballpark and get the ball and bring it out,” and claiming that, “Edward Snowden did not save himself … Harrison took actions to protect him”
  • A conference on May 6, 2014 when Harrison recruited others to obtain classified or stolen information to share with WikiLeaks
  • A May 15, 2015 Most Wanted Leaks pitch that linked back to the 2009 list that Chelsea Manning partly responded to
  • Comments Assange made on May 25, 2015 claiming to have created distractions to facilitate Snowden’s flight
  • Appelbaum and Harrison’s efforts to recruit more leakers at a June 18, 2015 event
  • The continued advertisement for Most Wanted Leaks until at least June 2015, still linking back to the 2009 file

I’ll explain in a follow-up where this is going. Obviously, though, the government could easily supersede this indictment to add later leakers, most notably but in no way limited to Joshua Schulte, who first started moving towards leaking all of CIA’s hacking tools to WikiLeaks in 2015.

I argued, in December, that the government appeared to be moving towards a continuing conspiracy charge, one that later hackers and leakers (as well as Appelbaum and Harrison) could easily be added to. Doing so as they’ve done here would in no way violate UK’s extradition rules. And fleshing out the CFAA charge makes this airtight from an extradition standpoint; some of the crimes alleged involving Anonymous have already been successfully prosecuted in the UK.

This doesn’t mitigate the harm of the strictly publishing counts. But it does allege Assange’s personal involvement in a number of hacks and leaks that others — both in the US and UK — have already been prosecuted for, making the basic extradition question much less risky for the US.

Update: I think this allegation in the new indictment is important:

In September 2010, ASSANGE directed [Siggi] to hack into the computer of an individual former associated with WikiLeaks and delete chat logs containing statements of ASSANGE. When Teenager asked how that could be done, ASSANGE wrote that the former WikiLeaks associate could “be fooled into downloading a trojan,” referring to malicious software, and then asked Teenager what operating system the former-WikiLeaks associate used.

I’ve heard allegations from the entire period of WikiLeaks’ prominence of Assange asking to spy on one or another partner or former partner, including protected entities. One relatively recent allegation I know of targeted a former WikiLeaks associate in 2016, after a break on election-related issues. I have no idea whether these allegations are credible (and I know of none who would involve law enforcement). But allegations that Assange considered — or did — spy on his allies undercuts his claim to being a journalist as much as anything else he does. It also raises questions about what WikiLeaks did with the unpublished Vault 7 files.

Update: Dell Cameron, who is the expert on the Stratfor hack, lays out some apparently big holes in the parts of the indictment that pertain to that.

Chelsea Manning’s Release May Not Be the End of Her Troubles

When I wrote this post noting that Judge Anthony Trenga had ordered Chelsea Manning be released, I admitted, I don’t know what it means. I was hoping that when her lawyers released a statement it would bring more clarity. But that statement — released hours after the release — offered no such clarity (though it does make it clear that right now her focus is on recovering from the suicide attempt and malign effects of incarceration, not any celebration of her freedom). It attributed her release to “the apparent conclusion” of the grand jury.

Judge Anthony Trenga today ordered Chelsea Manning’s release from confinement, after the apparent conclusion of the grand jury to which she had been subpoenaed, and before which she refused to testify. He further ordered that she pay $256,000 in fines which accrued each day she refused to cooperate with the grand jury.

Needless to say we are relieved and ask that you respect her privacy while she gets on her feet.

That tells us no more than Trenga’s opinion revealed and arguably shifts the emphasis from “the business of” the grand jury to the grand jury itself. There’s no reason to believe this grand jury expired (it was understood to be a newly seated one last May, which should mean it would have two more months). Rather, written two days after the grand jury appearance scheduled, Trenga’s opinion says the grand jury is done with whatever it was doing.

That’s one of the reasons I focused so closely on what prosecutors told Jeremy Hammond Tuesday, when he also refused to testify before the grand jury. They asserted that Julian 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.”


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.”

Amid suggestions that prosecutors were considering further legal means against Hammond, one of them used the example of Bartleby the Scrivener — whose example Hammond had followed in the grand jury in preferring not to answer questions — to remind that refusing to answer questions led Bartleby to die in prison.

Let me be clear, I’m not saying I agree with that observation, nor am I ceding that prosecutors definitely have proof that Assange is a Russian spy. But unless you believe that Hammond entirely made up these two exchanges, then everyone on all sides of the WikiLeaks divide would do well to take note of it. Julian Assange’s prosecutors are asserting to a witness that he is a Russian spy, which is far more than they’ve put into any indictment, yet.

Hammond suggested that when prosecutors “implied that all options are on the table,” he took that to mean he might be held in criminal contempt. Manning’s camp was expressing similar concerns before the grand jury appointment on Tuesday, that they believed the government might respond to her bid to be released by ratcheting up her legal exposure. But if prosecutors really do believe Assange is a Russian spy, it would give them tools far beyond criminal contempt.

It is a crime by itself in the US to refuse to tell authorities about espionage. As Ron Wyden’s bill to fix the Espionage Act makes clear, prosecutors can charge someone under the Espionage Act for conspiracy, aiding and abetting, accessory after the fact, or misprision of a felony. Misprision is effectively not telling a court or other authority about what you know as soon as possible.

Whoever, having knowledge of the actual commission of a felony cognizable by a court of the United States, conceals and does not as soon as possible make known the same to some judge or other person in civil or military authority under the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years

And under the Espionage Act statute Assange has already been charged under as well as 18 USC § 794 (sharing defense information with a foreign government like Russia), such conspiracy language exposes the person found conspiring not to just three years, but to the same punishments as the person himself. If Julian Assange shared with Russia some of the information Manning shared with him, for example, that may expose her for his acts.

This is why I focused so intently on the language that prosecutors in the Joshua Schulte case were using, treating WikiLeaks as a criminal organization. If the federal government currently conceives of WikiLeaks in these terms, it means Hammond and Manning’s silence may expose them far more than they or their current advisors seem to be envisioning. And that was based off language describing WikiLeaks like an organized crime entity, not someone led by (as prosecutors claimed the other day) a Russian spy.

Again, I am not defending this stance. I’m not saying I agree with it. I’m making an observation that people on all sides of the WikiLeaks divide — but especially those caught in the spell of the lies that Assange’s people are telling to combat extradition — would do well to note.

The government is using language that is far, far more serious than virtually anyone seems to be accounting for, including Manning and Hammond. Prosecutors may well have been blowing smoke to try to cow Hammond into cooperating. Or they may have been putting Hammond on notice of the stakes he was facing.

Hours before She Attempted to Kill Herself, Prosecutors May Have Told Chelsea Manning that Julian Assange Is a Russian Spy

Back when the government first subpoenaed Chelsea Manning, I laid out why that was likely to be counterproductive.

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

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

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

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

Yesterday, Manning tried to kill herself. While the statement released by her lawyers notes that she has a hearing tomorrow on whether she should be freed because no amount of coercion will make her cooperate with the grand jury, the statement is silent about the fact that she was brought before the grand jury yesterday, hours before the suicide attempt.

I know of no account of what happened in that grand jury appearance. But Jeremy Hammond was also brought before the grand jury in advance of a hearing, also on Friday, in a bid to be freed (in Hammond’s case, he’d be released back into federal prison to serve out his sentence for hacking Stratfor). He gave an account of the appearance in an interview yesterday (the part about the grand jury starts after 41:20). Hammond described how, before entering the grand jury, the prosecutor asked whether there was anything the government could do to get him to change his mind about not testifying.

“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.”

The questions he was asked in the grand jury were apparently no surprise: the prosecutor asked whether Assange asked Hammond to hack any websites. Hammond describes the questions as the same as were asked in his last appearance, in September. Because Hammond decided to answer in the same way Bartleby the Scrivener answered questions — by saying he preferred not to answer — the prosecutor afterwards tried to chat up Hammond about world literature. He even reminded that Bartleby died in prison. The prosecutor then repeated that Assange is a Russian spy.

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.”

Hammond asked why Assange wasn’t charged in the 2016 operation, and the prosecutor appears to have responded that the extradition would take a long time. One of the prosecutors reminded Hammond that one of his Anonymous co-defendants was now a professor in the UK. One asked whether Hammond would discuss Sabu, which surprised him. Hammond said that Sabu was the only one who asked him to hack into any websites. The FBI officer in the room pulled out a notebook and started taking notes.

There’s no indication that prosecutors said the same things to Manning as they did to Hammond, though this is the same grand jury and same prosecutors and both are obviously being asked about Assange.

Which means it is likely that hours before Manning attempted to kill herself, prosecutors tried to get her to answer questions about the man she sent entire databases of secrets to by claiming he is a Russian spy. They may well now have evidence of that — but if they used that tack, they were basically asking Manning to testify that the understanding she has of her own actions are entirely wrong and that the sacrifices she made were for a purpose other than the one she believed in.

Sadly, if Hammond is any indication, Manning is also getting a distorted view of the extradition fight over Assange. As I have noted, WikiLeaks supporters are telling at least three outright lies by:

  • Pretending that discussions of a pardon only started in August 2017, in exchange for testimony claiming that Russia didn’t hack the DNC, rather than started well before the FBI investigation into Trump’s campaign was public, as either an implicit or explicit payoff for election assistance
  • Claiming that Mike Pompeo’s designation of WikiLeaks as a non-state hostile intelligence agency was part of the larger attack on the press that formally started four months afterwards and presenting his claim that the First Amendment doesn’t protect someone stealing American secrets solely to destroy America out of context
  • Distorting the timing of UC Global’s increased surveillance of Assange to hide that it followed the Vault 7 publication

These are cynical, transparent lies being spread by a bunch of people claiming to support journalism. Probably, WikiLeaks supporters are also lying about how Assange repeatedly got tipped off to prosecutorial steps against him, presenting that as proof of Trump’s hostility against Assange.

Earlier in yesterday’s interview, Hammond adopted the distorted claim about Pompeo as “proof” that Assange’s prosecution is political and also that Trump has hostility to the guy who helped him get elected. I doubt whether having an accurate understanding of this would have changed Hammond’s decision not to testify, but he does, apparently, believe the lies.

And I doubt whatever prosecutors told Manning yesterday was the sole cause of yesterday’s attempt. Her attorneys had tried unsuccessfully to prevent yesterday’s testimony, which doesn’t make sense in the context of this week’s hearing unless they believed that even appearing before the grand jury would cause Manning a great deal of stress.

I have no idea what Assange’s relationship with Russia is — that’s presumably the entire point of the grand jury. There’s no doubt there were Russians in chat rooms where the Stratfor hack happened and that Assange was in discussions during the hacks. Obviously, Assange played a key role in the 2016 Russian operation as well as efforts after the fact to invent hoaxes to disclaim Russian involvement. And Joshua Schulte expressed (sometimes contradictory) willingness to seek Russian help after he allegedly sent CIA’s hacking tools to WikiLeaks.

But making such claims amid the stress of a grand jury appearance — if they, in fact, did so — isn’t going to help someone who has a history of self-harm.

When Julian Assange Testified before a Nation-State Investigation of a Suspected Spy…

Back on December 20, 2019, Julian Assange testified in a nation-state’s investigation of someone suspected of spying for another nation-state. He testified pursuant to international legal process that got challenged on jurisdictional grounds, but ultimately upheld. While El País provided a report of his testimony, the testimony itself was not open to the press.

As he testified, Chelsea Manning and Jeremy Hammond sat in jail in Alexandria, VA, being held in contempt for refusing to testify, under a grant of immunity, in their own nation-state’s investigation of someone suspected of working with the intelligence services of another nation-state. Related charges are being challenged on jurisdictional issues. Manning, at least, claims she won’t testify because any hearing — like the one Assange testified in — would not be public. Tomorrow, prosecutors in EDVA will bring Manning before the grand jury again, in a third attempt to get her to testify before a hearing on Friday over her motion to be released based on an assertion the coercion of contempt will never bring her to testify.

This is just one irony about the way WikiLeaks supporters are treating the investigation of David Morales, the owner of a security contractor that provided the security for Ecuador’s embassy until 2018. Morales is accused of spying for the CIA — that is, spying for a third country’s intelligence service.

There are some problems or obvious alternative explanations for the accusations against Morales, but even assuming the allegations are true, there is little that separates what Morales would have done from what Assange did on at least one occasion: work as a willing participant in a third country’s intelligence service operation compromising the privacy of private citizens. Indeed, there are allegations of Russian involvement in two other WikiLeaks-related publications: there were Russians active in Stratfor hack chat rooms, and Joshua Schulte allegedly expressed an interest in Russian help (though the allegations are contradictory and post-date the initial leak to WikiLeaks, which I’ll return to).

You might argue that Morales’ surveillance of Assange — on whoever’s authority — constituted a far more serious privacy violation than those WikiLeaks has committed by publishing the private emails of John Podesta and the private information of Turkish, Saudi, and third party citizens. That might be true in first instance, but since some of the people exposed by WikiLeaks’ publications live in authoritarian countries, the secondary effects of WikiLeaks’ publication of details about private individuals might not be.

(I have heard, directly and indirectly, multiple consistent allegations about WikiLeaks itself engaging in practices that constitute privacy violations of the sort implicated by the surveillance of Assange, but it would take a law enforcement investigation to substantiate such claims, most of the affected parties would never want to involve law enforcement, and some investigations would be barred by privilege protections.)

Ultimately, though, Spain’s investigation into UC Global is the same thing the US investigation into WikiLeaks is: a properly predicated nation-state investigation into someone suspected of engaging in espionage-related activities with a foreign intelligence service. There are legitimate reasons why those who respect privacy might support both investigations.

WikiLeaks supporters might argue that it’s different because it’s the United States. That’s a perfectly justifiable stance, but if it’s the basis of supporting one investigation and another, should be admitted explicitly. WikiLeaks supporters might argue it’s different because Assange is the alleged victim, but that doesn’t change that there are victims (and not just spy agencies) that the US is trying to protect with its investigation.

Manning and Hammond say they are refusing to testify because they object to American grand jury practices. That amounts to civil disobedience, which is certainly their prerogative. They are paying a steep price for that civil disobedience (as both already paid with their decisions not to cooperate after pleading guilty). But when WikiLeaks supporters complain about the treatment Manning is suffering for her stance, they might think about the fact that — when it came to testifying in an equivalent inquiry — Julian Assange had none of the objections to testifying.

Methinks Joshua Schulte Doth Protest Too Much over Anonymous

Accused Vault 7 leaker Joshua Schulte — whose trial starts Monday — and the government are having a fight over Paul Rosenzweig’s expert witness testimony again (see this post for the most comprehensive coverage of this dispute). Rosenzweig submitted the Powerpoint he plans to use at trial. Schulte raised objections to the Powerpoint as a whole and to specific slides on it. And the government responded, offering to make some modifications.

The general complaint from Schulte is that the government is using Rosenzweig to introduce otherwise inadmissible hearsay. In one case, the government has agreed to withdraw the claim (a quote from Fred Kaplan, who in my opinion is not particularly reliable with respect to WikiLeaks in any case). The government makes two responses of particular interest. First, that experts are allowed to draw on periodicals to make their conclusions.

Moreover, the defendant’s objection to the introduction of statements from respected news publications ignores that the Rules of Evidence expressly provide for the introduction of such material. Federal Rule of Evidence 803(18) expressly permits the recitation of “[a] statement contained in a . . . periodical . . . if . . . the statement is . . . relied on by the expert on direct examination; and . . . the publication is established as a reliable authority by the expert’s admission or testimony, by another expert’s testimony, or by judicial notice.”

After pulling the Kaplan quote, there’s not really much left in the slide deck that quotes journalistic sources, aside from direct quotes about the diplomatic backlash to the State cables. But what the government doesn’t say is that WikiLeaks presents itself as a respected news publication, which if they truly believe is true should allow introducing the WikiLeaks material as such.

But the government wants to prevent that from coming into evidence (even though Schulte warned that calling Rosenzweig would invite it). Indeed, rather than including material from the About page that Schulte would like to include that makes that point,

The excerpts from the WikiLeaks website are taken out of context. If the government is permitted to introduce two sentences from the lengthy “about” page on, the defense would be entitled to introduce other portions of that page, including that WikiLeaks is a “multi-national media organization and associated library,” that it has “contractual relationships” with more than 100 major media organizations, and that it has won numerous media awards. See

The government has offered to pull this slide:

Rather than conceding (or even mentioning) WikiLeaks’ claim to be a respected media outlet, the government says it can introduce the vast majority of the clips from WikiLeaks’ site because they are not assertions at all.

Indeed, other than WikiLeaks’ statements regarding the content of the Vault 7 leaks, the particular statements from WikiLeaks and Assange about which Mr. Rosenzweig will testify are not “statements” or “assertions” such that the rule against hearsay is even applicable.

That’s true. Some of what Rosenzweig plans to submit includes the pre-release hype WikiLeaks gave the Vault 7 release, including the release purporting to show the US had infiltrated French political parties (which it claimed provided justification for the Vault 7 release) and slides emphasizing the spookiness of the release, including this one invoking Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden in the same breath as Julian Assange.

Other slides capture the instructions WikiLeaks gives to leakers, including to contact WikiLeaks if you have very large submissions (as this was) and to format and dispose of hard drives.

The government will claim Schulte followed some — but not all — of these instructions, in part because he couldn’t dispose of his CIA workstation, and in part because he kept the hard drives and a thumb drive he used to exfiltrate the files.

Mind you, WikiLeaks didn’t warn leakers not to Google everything they were doing as they did it, which is the really damning evidence against Schulte.

In any case, I can’t help but imagine we’ll be seeing this very same slide deck in a trial in EDVA (if Assange is ever extradited), as it shows a continuation of the kinds of activities charged in the existing Assange indictment. Assange’s extradition hearing has been split into two, with the second starting in May, so the government would have plenty of time to add such charges after this trial (which may last a month).

In addition to Rosenzweig’s refusal to include WikiLeaks’ awards (which I would imagine Schulte will bring out on cross in any case, though I honestly wonder why they didn’t bring in their own expert to present such material), one Schulte claim that absolutely has merit is that Rosenzweig should not use the WikiLeaks logo on all these slides.

Each page of the power point has the WikiLeaks logo and name from the WikiLeaks website as if the power point document itself was created by WikiLeaks. This creates a misleading impression and should be removed.

Schulte doesn’t lay out what misleading impression the logo provides, but I would argue it suggests that WikiLeaks endorses some of the content in the slide deck, pertaining to damage or the characterization of certain leaks. The government says this misleading impression can be avoided with an instruction.

With respect to the inclusion of the WikiLeaks logo on the relevant pages of the Demonstrative, WikiLeaks is the subject of his testimony, and it is reasonable to include it as a header. To avoid any confusion, the Government will elicit from Mr. Rosenzweig that the Demonstrative as a whole was prepared as a demonstrative aid for his testimony and was not produced by WikiLeaks.

I vehemently disagree with this stance. Over half of people are visual learners (indeed, the government will rely on visual reenactments to show how they claim Schulte stole the files). The logo on this slide deck ascribes to WikiLeaks things that they would strongly dispute. Particularly given that Rosenzweig is claiming there are three official WikiLeaks channels — the site, the WikiLeaks Twitter account, and Assange’s Twitter account — it is imperative that he differentiate in his presentation between what is official and what is his own analysis.

All of which is to say that, as predicted, calling Rosenzweig will invite a dispute over what kind of organization WikiLeaks really is (which is probably the point).

All that said, I’m frankly stunned that, amidst all the other slides in this presentation — including the one showing convicted leaker Chelsea Manning (whose leaks, the government will show, Schulte viewed as damaging in real time) and admitted leaker Edward Snowden (whom the government will show Schulte was Googling at a key time in August as he was also Googling WikiLeaks for almost the first time) — Schulte objects, again, to the invocation of Anonymous in this slide.

Having not objected that the government will raise Chelsea Manning and not objected that the government will raise Edward Snowden, Schulte is objecting that they’re raising Jeremy Hammond — like Manning, a confessed WikiLeaks source — and a 2010 operation to punish Paypal and others for blacklisting WikiLeaks.

We renew our objections to references to Anonymous, which are irrelevant and prejudicial.

As I have laid out, the way in which Schulte himself adopted the identity of Anonymous as part of his effort to leak to the WaPo from jail links together the three main pieces of evidence of that — his Signal texts with Shane Harris, his ProtonMail account in the name of Anonymous, and his prison notebooks. Schulte’s the one who claimed to be Anonymous, whether or not it’s true (and given the ethics the group adopts about membership, by claiming to be a member he basically is one). Anonymous’ tie to WikiLeaks is clearly admissible evidence based on Schulte’s own actions.

Schulte deems the invocation of Anonymous to suggest “concerted activity” that is more disturbing than simply stealing CIA’s hacking tools and leaking them to WikiLeaks in an effort to burn CIA to the ground out of spite for being made to sit in what Schulte considered an “intern desk” rather than a “prestigious desk with a window,” which is the motive the government says it will present.

The evidence of claimed participation in a shadowy, underground group infamous for cyber-attacks and dumping on WikiLeaks is unduly prejudicial as it suggests concerted activity of a type even more disturbing than what is charged.

The evidence suggests that Schulte adopted at least three personalities to leak from jail, deliberately attempting to present the illusion of concerted activity. Given the concerted concern about Anonymous amid all the equally damning references, perhaps some of Schulte’s imaginary friends aren’t actually imaginary?

As I disclosed in 2018, I provided information to the FBI in 2017. The government recently stated publicly that matters on which I shared information are related to Schulte. Aside from two press inquiries, I have not spoken with the government about Schulte.

The WikiLeaks Conspiracy: The Government Prepares to Argue WikiLeaks Has Always Been an Organized Crime Syndicate

Last June, I ran into some folks who remain very close to Julian Assange. One of them scheduled dinner with me solely to scold me for writing honestly about the things that WikiLeaks had done in the past three years rather than focusing exclusively on the EDVA Espionage indictment charging Assange for things he did almost a decade ago.

The person complained that my factual reporting on 2016 election and — especially — the Vault 7 leak (I think this was the offending post) would undercut whatever unanimity there was among journalists (unanimity that I joined) that the existing charges against Assange were a dangerous precedent for actual journalists. Reporting true details about shitty things Assange had done in recent years on my humble little blog, it was claimed, would dangerously and singlehandedly undercut Assange’s defense.

No, I did not much appreciate the irony of being criticized for accurate reporting by someone purportedly defending journalism.

But I also thought the concerted effort to suppress what Assange had done recently, while perhaps necessary to generate the statements of support from journalists that were forthcoming, was short-sighted, because it misrepresents what Assange is actually facing. The grand jury in EDVA remains (as far as we know) active. The government specifically said, in June, that it needed Chelsea Manning’s testimony for subjects or charges not yet charged and said such charges were not time barred (as would be true of any ongoing conspiracy).

As the government’s ex parte submissions reflect, Manning’s testimony remains relevant and essential to an ongoing investigation into charges or targets that are not included in the superseding indictment. See Gov’t’s Ex Parte Mem. (May 23, 2019). The offenses that remain under investigation are not time barred, see id., and the submission of the government’s extradition request in the Assange case does not preclude future charges based on those offenses, see Gov’t’s Supplement to Ex Parte Mem. (June 14, 2019).

Since then, Jeremy Hammond has joined Manning in believing he can wait out whatever EDVA has in store.

Most of all, Joshua Schulte’s prosecution for the Vault 7 leak — a leak almost no WikiLeaks supporters I know will offer an enthusiastic defense of — kept chugging along. In recent weeks, Schulte has submitted a number of questionable filings claiming the dog ate his homework so he can’t be prepared in time for his trial:

  • The attorney appointed after defense attorneys said they needed one more attorney to prep for trial in time said he couldn’t prep for trial in time, but can’t talk about why not until he’s done with a week-long vacation
  • The government’s (admittedly long) motion in limine repeating details the government disclosed several times before took the defense by surprise
  • The defense can’t make a constitutional challenge to CIPA generally until the judge rules on CIPA specifically (this is the one arguably reasonable request)
  • The defense had no idea the government wasn’t claiming Schulte downloaded a terabyte of data onto a thumb drive that can’t hold that terabyte even though the government told the defense that a year ago and then again in November

But as of now, Schulte’s trial is due to start on January 13, a month and a half before Assange’s first substantive extradition hearing starting on February 25.

And at that trial, the government is preparing to argue that Schulte intended to harm the United States when he leaked these files to WikiLeaks, a stronger level of mens rea than needed to prove guilt under the Espionage Act (normally the government aims to prove someone should have known it could cause harm, relying on their Non-Disclosure Agreements to establish that), and one the government has, in other places, described as the difference between being a leaker and a spy.

To make that argument, the government is preparing to situate Schulte’s leaks in the context of prior WikiLeaks releases, in a move that looks conspicuously like the kind of ongoing conspiracy indictment one might expect to come out of the WikiLeaks grand jury, one that builds off some aspects of the existing Assange indictment.

In a motion opposing Schulte’s effort to disqualify Paul Rosenzweig as an expert witness (see this post for background), the government lays out some of the things it plans to have Rosenzweig explain to the jury. Some of this is dangerous criminalization of security, most notably tying WikiLeaks’ endorsement of Tor and Tails to Schulte’s own use of it.

But some of it fleshes out the scope the government laid out when it first requested to call Rosenzweig.

The Government recognizes the need to avoid undue prejudice, and will therefore limit Mr. Rosenzweig’s testimony to prior WikiLeaks leaks that have a direct relationship with particular aspects of the conduct relevant to this case, for example by linking specific harms caused by WikiLeaks in the past to Schulte’s own statements of his intent to cause similar harms to the United States or conduct. Those leaks include (i) the 2010 disclosure of documents provided to WikiLeaks illegally by Chelsea Manning; (ii) the 2010 disclosure of U.S. diplomatic cables; (iii) the 2012 disclosure of files stolen from the intelligence firm Stratfor; and (iv) the 2016 disclosure of emails stolen from a server operated by the Democratic National Committee.

For example, it will tie WikiLeaks’ failure to redact the identities of US sources in Chelsea Manning’s leaks — something charged in counts 15 through 17 of Assange’s indictment — to Schulte’s behavior. It sounds like Rosenzweig will explain something I’ve alluded to: WikiLeaks apparently left the names of some of Schulte’s colleagues unredacted, which given WikiLeaks’ big show of redacting the files could only have been intentional and would have required coordination with Schulte to do.

Mr. Rosenzweig will testify that WikiLeaks does not typically redact the information that it publicly discloses (even when that information may reveal confidential sources). The Government will introduce evidence, however, that the Classified Information was purportedly redacted when posted online. Mr. Rosenzweig’s testimony will help the jury understand the significance of WikiLeaks’ unique claim to have redacted the Classified Information, including, for example, the period of delay between when Schulte disclosed the Classified Information to WikiLeaks (in or about the spring of 2016) and when WikiLeaks first announced that it would begin to disclose the Classified Information (in or about the spring of 2017). [my emphasis]

One reason Assange made a show of redacting the identities was because he was attempting to extort a pardon at the time, so he had to appear willing to negotiate with DOJ. But it seems likely Rosenzweig will explain that that was just a show and that even as WikiLeaks was making that show it was also ensuring that other CIA SysAdmins might be targeted by foreign governments.

Likewise, Rosenzweig will tie the embarrassment caused by Manning’s releases to Schulte’s own intent to cause damage with his self-described Information War against the US.

The Government intends to introduce evidence (including his statements) of Schulte’s knowledge of Manning’s leak and the need for the U.S. government to maintain secrecy over certain information. Furthermore, the Government also plans to introduce evidence of how Schulte, from the Metropolitan Correctional Center (the “MCC”), declared an “information war” against the United States, pursuant to which he intended to publicly disclose classified information and misinformation, including through WikiLeaks (such as the Fake FBI Document), for the purpose of destroying the United States’ “diplomatic relationships,” and encouraged other U.S. government employees to disclose confidential information to WikiLeaks. Mr. Rosenzweig will explain to the jury generally information other leakers have transmitted to WikiLeaks that the organization published and how foreign governments reacted negatively to WikiLeaks’ disclosure of that information—leading, for example, to the highly-publicized resignation of the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.

Effectively, the government will argue that if you want to conduct an Information War on the US, you choose to leak to WikiLeaks and ensure it will be as damaging as possible. Whatever the circumstances of Manning’s leaks, this uses Schulte’s stated desire to damage the US to retroactively taint what WikiLeaks has claimed in the past was mere journalistic exposure of wrong-doing. That doesn’t necessarily change the First Amendment danger in charging Assange. But it surely attempts to undercut WikiLeaks’ brand as a journalistic entity.

Most interestingly, the government will point to a claim Schulte made to a journalist while writing from jail (one that is plausible given some of his past public postings, but if true, is an unfathomable indictment of CIA’s vetting process) that he once belonged to Anonymous. Rosenzweig will tie this to Anonymous’ decisions to leak the Stratfor cables to WikiLeaks in 2012.

As described in the Government Motions in Limine, in encrypted communications from one of the Contraband Cellphones, Schulte (posing as a third person) stated that he had previously been a member of Anonymous, a group of online hacker activists. Mr. Rosenzweig will testify about how, in 2012, Anonymous and WikiLeaks worked together to release information from a private U.S. intelligence firm.

Of course, Anonymous didn’t just leak the Stratfor cables to WikiLeaks. They also shared files stolen during the Arab Spring and the Syria files. The latter leak provides one of the earliest indicators where the process by which WikiLeaks obtained files may have involvement of Russia, because somehow a file that would have been very damning for Russia never got published. But both would make the story the US wants to tell more complex (though still potentially consistent).

In any case, the focus on Stratfor may explain why the government is holding Jeremy Hammond in contempt to try to get him to testify in the EDVA grand jury, particularly if the government has reason to believe that Schulte was part of that hack.

Finally, the government will use Rosenzweig to explain how, in the wake of the DNC leak and at a time he was in a huff at his CIA bosses again, Schulte did … something in August 2016.

The Government intends to introduce evidence that Schulte transmitted the Classified Information to WikiLeaks in the spring of 2016, that WikiLeaks did not begin to disclose the Classified Information until March 2017, that Schulte was angry with CIA management in August 2016 over a performance review he received, that Schulte’s protective order against Employee-1 was vacated in August 2016, and that, around that same time (i.e., in August 2016), Schulte began to conduct extensive research online about WikiLeaks. The Government intends to offer evidence relating to those searches, including the specific queries Schulte conducted. Schulte has argued in his writings that his August 2016 research was related to WikiLeaks’ August 2016 disclosure of information stolen from a Democratic National Committee server (the “DNC Leak”). Mr. Rosenzweig will testify about the DNC Leak, including the type of information that WikiLeaks actually disclosed in connection with that leak, which will demonstrate why Schulte’s WikiLeaksrelated searches include queries that had nothing to do with the DNC Leak

Side note: Part of the media blitz Assange did in the wake of the DNC leaks included a claim to Chuck Todd that if WikiLeaks ever received information from US intelligence, they would publish it.

Well, it’s a meta story. If you’re asking would we accept information from U.S. intelligence that we had verified to be completely accurate, and would we publish that, and would we protect our sources in U.S. intelligence, the answer is yes, of course we would.

No one else would have, but Schulte would presumably have recognized this as a nod to him, reassurance provided on heavily watched TV that WikiLeaks was progressing towards releasing the files Schulte had leaked. Which is why the likelihood that Schulte also stole a single file reflecting CIA collecting information on who might win the 2012 French presidential election, which WikiLeaks subsequently falsely portrayed as proof that CIA had infiltrated political parties in France rather than asked well-placed sources for readily available information, is of particular interest.

The government, however, is going to point to other Google searches by Schulte from August 2016 that lump Edward Snowden and Shadow Brokers in with WikiLeaks.

For example, in addition to searching for information about WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, its primary leader, Schulte also conducted searches using the search terms “narcissist snowden,” “wikileaks code,” “wikileaks 2017,” “shadow brokers,” and “shadow broker’s auction bitcoin.” “Snowden” was presumably a reference to Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who disclosed information about a purported NSA surveillance program, and “Shadow Brokers” was a reference to a group of hackers who disclosed online computer code that they purportedly obtained from the NSA, beginning in or about August 2016.

I have long wondered whether Vault 7 was not a free-standing leak but instead part of the Shadow Brokers operation.  This seems to suggest the government knows they are. If that’s right, it would suggest that in the period when the government was trying to figure out precisely what Russia had done in 2016, both the NSA and CIA’s ability to spy on Russia (and other countries) would have been been deliberately burnt to the ground. And if Schulte knowingly participated in that — in an effort to ensure that the US would struggle to even learn what Russia had done in 2016 — it would explain why they’re planning on arguing he is more of a spy than a leaker.

Which would, in turn, explain why they took the first steps towards arresting Assange as FBI started putting together the evidence needed to charge Schulte on these leaks in 2017.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying I’m sure they’ll fill all these details in a superseding Assange indictment (though the government said it could not provide Assange the underlying evidence even for the 2010 charges until around Christmas — at which point Schulte will have gone through the CIPA process of declassifying classified information for use in his defense, and they could add charges at least until the February 25 hearing). It may still be that the government won’t want to get into the level of classified detail they’d need to to flesh out that case, particularly if they can’t coerce Manning and Hammond to cooperate.

I’m also not making a normative judgment that this eliminates the very real problems with the way Assange is charged now. Without seeing the government’s case, it’s too soon to tell.

What I’m trying to do is lay out what the government seems to be preparing to argue about WikiLeaks in the Schulte case. No doubt this will get me invited for another stern scolding at dinner, but it’s time to stop pretending Assange is being prosecuted for the understanding of WikiLeaks that existed in 2010. By all means, people can and will still defend Assange for taking on an imperialist America. For much of the world (though presumably not among any Five Eyes governments, including Assange’s home country), that still makes him an important dissident taking on a superpower. There is some merit to that stance, but it also requires arguing that superpowers shouldn’t have democratic elections.

But the government is preparing to argue that, after helping Russia tamper in America’s election, WikiLeaks deliberately burned some of CIA’s collection abilities to the ground, making it harder for the US to figure out how Russia did so. The government is preparing to argue that such actions are consistent with what WikiLeaks has been up to since 2010.

I’ve been expecting we might see an indictment alleging WikiLeaks and its associates were and remain engaged in an ongoing conspiracy (a possibility that, if Manning and Hammond’s lawyers haven’t warned them about, they are being utterly negligent, because the government could well argue that obstructing this investigation by refusing to provide immunized testimony is an overt act furthering the conspiracy).

The citations the government has used to justify Rosenzweig’s testimony are heavily focused on terrorism and mob cases (United States v. Farhane and United States v. Mustafa, which are al Qaeda cases; United States v. El Gammal, which is an ISIL one, and United States v. Rahimi, the self-radicalized Chelsea bomber; United States v. Lombardozzi and United States v. Locascio which are Gambino cases, United States v. Amuso, a Lucchese case), including one RICO case. That’s undoubtedly why Schulte’s lawyers really want Rosenzweig’s testimony excluded, to avoid having WikiLeaks treated like an organized crime syndicate.

But if the government is preparing to claim that WikiLeaks worked with Schulte not only to obtain files it tried to use to extort a pardon but then released them in a way that would hurt America’s efforts to respond to Russia’s 2016 operation, that’s a pretty compelling analogy.

Update: After comments from Stefania Maurizi, I’ve rephrased how I described what happened with the Syria Files. I want to be clear the statement in the post was not based on what I’ve been told by reliable sources about the process by which those files got shared with WikiLeaks.

As I disclosed last year, 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 Government Prepares to Argue that Transmitting Information *To* WikiLeaks Makes the Vault 7 Leak Different

In a long motion in limine yesterday, the government suggested that if Joshua Schulte had just been given a “prestigious desk with a window,” he might not have leaked all of CIA’s hacking tools in retaliation and caused what the government calls “catastrophic” damage to national security.

Schulte grew angrier at what he perceived was his management’s indifference to his claim that Employee-1 had threatened him. Schulte also began to complain about what, according to him, amounted to favoritism toward Employee-1, claiming, for example, that while the investigation was ongoing, Schulte was moved to an “intern desk,” while Employee-1 had been moved to a “prestigious desk with a window.”


The Leaks are the largest illegal disclosure of CIA information in the agency’s history and, as noted above, caused catastrophic damage to national security.

Along the way, the motion provides the most detailed description to date about how the government believes Schulte stole the Vault 7 files from CIA. It portrays him as an arrogant racist at the beginning of this process, and describes how he got increasingly belligerent with this colleagues at CIA leading up to his alleged theft of the CIA’s hacking files, leading his supervisors to recognize the threat he might pose, only to bollox up their efforts to restrict his access to CIA’s servers.

The motion, along with several other submitted yesterday, suggests that the government would like to argue that leaking to WikiLeaks heightens the damage that might be expected to the United States.

Along with laying out that it intends to argue that the CIA charges (stealing the files and leaking them to WikiLeaks) are intertwined with the MCC charges (conducting “information war” against the government from a jail cell in the Metropolitan Correction Center; I explained why the government wants to do so here), the government makes the case that cybersecurity expert Paul Rosenzweig should testify as a witness about WikiLeaks.

Rosenzweig will testify about (i) WikiLeaks’s history, technical and organizational structure, goals, and objectives; (ii) in general terms, prior leaks through WikiLeaks, in order to explain WikiLeaks’s typical practices with regard to receiving leaked classified information, its practices or lack thereof regarding the review and redaction of sensitive information contained in classified leaks, and certain well-publicized harms to the United States that have occurred as a result of disclosures by WikiLeaks; and (iii) certain public statements by WikiLeaks regarding the Classified Information at issue in this case.

Rosenzweig’s testimony would come in addition to that of classification experts (probably for both sides) and forensic experts (again, for both sides; Steve Bellovin is Schulte’s expert).

The expert witnesses were allowed to testify as to the background of the organization Wikileaks; how the U.S. Government uses certain markings and designations to identify information that requires special protection in the interests of national security; the meaning of certain computer commands and what they would do; how various computers, servers, and networks work; how data is stored and transferred by various computer programs and commands; and the examination of data that is stored on computers and other electronics.

The only motion in limine Schulte submitted yesterday objected to Rosenzweig’s testimony. Schulte argues that the government’s expert notice neither provides sufficient explanation about Rosenzweig’s intended testimony nor proves he’s an expert on WikiLeaks. More interesting is Schulte’s  argument that Rosenzweig’s testimony would be prejudicial. It insinuates that Rosenzweig’s testimony would serve to substitute for a lack of proof about how Schulte sent the CIA files to WikiLeaks (Schulte is alleged to have used Tor and Tails to transmit the files, which would leave no forensic trace).

In Mr. Schulte’s case, the government has no reliable evidence of how much information was taken from the CIA, how it was taken, or when it was provided to WikiLeaks. The government cannot overcome a lack of relevant evidence by introducing evidence from other cases about how much information was leaked or how information was leaked in unrelated contexts. The practices of WikiLeaks in other contexts and any testimony about alleged damage from other entirely unrelated leaks is completely irrelevant.

Schulte’s claimed lack of evidence regarding transfer notwithstanding, that’s not how the government says they want to use Rosenzweig’s testimony. They say they want to use his testimony to help prove that Schulte intended to injure the US.

The Government is entitled to argue that Schulte intended to harm the United States, by transmitting the stolen information to WikiLeaks, because he knew or had reason to know what WikiLeaks would do with the information. The fact that WikiLeaks’ prior conduct has harmed the United States and has been widely publicized is powerful evidence that Schulte intended or had reason to believe that “injury [to] the United States” was the likely result of his actions—particularly given that the Government will introduce evidence that demonstrates Schulte’s knowledge of earlier WikiLeaks disclosures, including his own statements.

It does so by invoking WikiLeaks’ past leaks and the damage those leaks have done.

Accordingly, proof that it was foreseeable to Schulte that disclosure of classified information to WikiLeaks could cause “injury [to] the United States” is a critical element in this case. Indeed, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has explicitly stated “that WikiLeaks and its senior leadership resemble a non-state hostile intelligence service.” S. Rep. 115-151 p. 10. In order to evaluate evidence related to this topic, the jury will need to understand what WikiLeaks is, how it operates, and the fact that WikiLeaks’ previous disclosures have caused injury to the United States. The Government is entitled to argue that Schulte intended to harm the United States, by transmitting the stolen information to WikiLeaks, because he knew or had reason to know what WikiLeaks would do with the information.

Notably, the government motion invokes the Senate’s recognition that WikiLeaks resembles “a non-state hostile intelligence service.” That may well backfire in spectacular fashion. That statement didn’t come until over a year after Schulte is alleged to have stolen the files. And the statement was a follow-up to Mike Pompeo’s similar claim, which was a direct response to Schulte’s leak. If I were Schulte, I’d be preparing a subpoena to call Pompeo to testify about why, after the date when Schulte allegedly stole the CIA files, on July 24, 2016, he was still hailing the purported value of WikiLeaks’ releases.

The thing is, showing that the specific nature of the intended recipient of a leak is an element of the offense has never been required in Espionage leak cases before. Indeed, the government’s proposed jury instructions are based off the instruction in the Jeffrey Sterling case. While the government flirted with naming James Risen an unindicted co-conspirator in that case, they did not make any case that leaking to Risen posed unique harm.

Moreover, even before getting into Schulte’s statements about WikiLeaks (most of which have not yet been made public, as far as I’m aware), by arguing the CIA and MCC charges together, the government will have significant evidence not just about Schulte’s understanding of WikiLeaks, but his belief and that they would lie to harm the US. The government also has evidence that Schulte knew that WikiLeaks’ pretense to minimizing harm with the Vault 7 files was false, and that instead WikiLeaks did selective harm in its releases, though it doesn’t want to introduce that evidence at trial.

In other words, this seems unnecessary, superfluous to what the government has done in past Espionage cases, and a dangerous precedent (particularly given the way the government suggested that leaking to The Intercept was especially suspect in the Terry Albury and Reality Winner cases).

That’s effectively what Schulte argues: that the government is trying to argue that leaking to WikiLeaks is particularly harmful, and that if such testimony goes in, it would be forced to call its own witnesses to testify about how past WikiLeaks releases have shown government malfeasance.

This testimony could also suggest that the mere fact that information was released by WikiLeaks necessarily means that it was intended to—and did—cause harm to the United States. These are not valid evidentiary objectives. Instead, this type of testimony would create confusion and force a trial within a trial on the morality of WikiLeaks and the extent of damage caused by prior leaks. If the government is allowed to introduce this evidence, the defense will necessarily have to respond with testimony about how WikiLeaks is a non-profit news organization, that it has previously released information from government whistle-blowers that was vital to the public understanding of government malfeasance, and that any assertion of damages in the press is not reliable evidence.

The government, in a show of reasonableness, anticipates Schulte’s argument about the prejudice this will cause by stating that it will limit its discussion of prior WikiLeaks releases to a select few.

The Government recognizes the need to avoid undue prejudice, and will therefore limit Mr. Rosenzweig’s testimony to prior WikiLeaks leaks that have a direct relationship with particular aspects of the conduct relevant to this case, for example by linking specific harms caused by WikiLeaks in the past to Schulte’s own statements of his intent to cause similar harms to the United States or conduct. Those leaks include (i) the 2010 disclosure of documents provided to WikiLeaks illegally by Chelsea Manning; (ii) the 2010 disclosure of U.S. diplomatic cables; (iii) the 2012 disclosure of files stolen from the intelligence firm Stratfor; and (iv) the 2016 disclosure of emails stolen from a server operated by the Democratic National Committee.

The selected cases are notable, as all of them (with Manning’s leaks seemingly listed twice) involve cases the government either certainly (with the EDVA grand jury seeking Manning and Jeremy Hammond’s testimony) or likely (with ongoing investigations into Roger Stone) currently has ongoing investigations into.

As a reminder: absent an unforeseen delay, this trial will start January 13, 2020 and presumably finish in the weeks leading up to the beginning of Julian Assange’s formal extradition process on February 25. The government has maintained it can add charges up until that point, and US prosecutors told British courts it won’t provide the evidence against Assange until two months before the hearing (so around Christmas).

Schulte’s trial, then, appears to be the opening act for that extradition, an opening act that will undermine the claims WikiLeaks supporters have been making about the journalistic integrity of the organization in an attempt to block Assange’s extradition. Rosenzweig’s testimony seems designed, in part, to heighten that effect.

Which may be why this instruction appears among the government’s proposed instructions.

Some of the people who may have been involved in the events leading to this trial are not on trial. This does not matter. There is no requirement that everyone involved in a crime be charged and prosecuted, or tried together, in the same proceeding.

You may not draw any inference, favorable or unfavorable, towards the Government or the defendant from the fact that certain persons, other than the defendant, were not named as defendants in the Indictment. Do not speculate as to the reasons why other persons were not named. Those matters are wholly outside your concern and have no bearing on your function as jurors.

Whether a person should be named as a co-conspirator, or indicted as a defendant in this case or another separate case, is a matter within the sole discretion of the United States Attorney and the Grand Jury.

As noted, a number of different WikiLeaks supporters have admitted to me that they’re grateful Assange has not (yet) been charged in conjunction with the Vault 7 case, because even before you get to his attempt to extort a pardon with the files, there’s little journalistic justification for what it did, and even more reason to criticize WikiLeaks’ actions as the case against Schulte proceeded.

Yet the obscure proceedings before the EDVA grand jury suggests the government may be pursuing a conspiracy case that starts in 2010 and continues through the Vault 7 releases, with the same variety of Espionage and CFAA charges continuing through that period.

By arguing the CIA and MCC charges in tandem, the government can pretty compellingly make the case that WikiLeaks’ activities went well beyond journalism in this case. But it seems to want to use Rosenzweig’s testimony to make the case more broadly.

[Some of] Where Trump Wants to Go with the Server in Ukraine Story

As I emphasized in this post, before Trump pushed Volodymyr Zelensky to frame Hunter Biden, he first pressed Ukraine’s president to “get to the bottom” of the “what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine.”

The President: I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you are surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.

Contrary to virtually all the coverage on this, there is reason to believe that Bill Barr can get information from Ukraine that will feed the disinformation about the Russian operation. Trump has obviously been told — and not just by Rudy Giuliani (as Tom Bossert believes) — to ask for this, but some of this is probably part of the disinformation that Russia built in to the operation.

Rudy Giuliani wants to frame Alexandra Chalupa

This morning, Rudy Giuliani explained that he wants to know who in Ukraine provided information damning to Trump during the 2016 campaign.

GIULIANI: I have never peddled it. Have you ever hear me talk about Crowdstrike? I’ve never peddled it. Tom Bossert doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I have never engaged in any theory that the Ukrainians did the hacking. In fact, when this was first presented to me, I pretty clearly understood the Ukrainians didn’t do the hacking, but that doesn’t mean Ukraine didn’t do anything, and this is where Bossert…

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, why does the president keep repeating it?

GIULIANI: Let’s get on to the point…

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, this was in the phone call.

GIULIANI: I agree with Bossert on one thing, it’s clear: there’s no evidence the Ukrainians did it. I never pursued any evidence and he’s created a red herring. What the president is talking about is, however, there is a load of evidence that the Ukrainians created false information, that they were asked by the Obama White House to do it in January of 2016, information he’s never bothered to go read. There are affidavits that have been out there for five months that none of you have listened to about how there’s a Ukrainian court finding that a particular individual illegally gave the Clinton campaign information. No one wants to investigate that. Nobody cared about it. It’s a court opinion in the Ukraine. The Ukrainians came to me. I didn’t go to them. The Ukrainians came to me and said…

STEPHANOPOULOS: When did they first come to you?

GIULIANI: November of 2016, they first came to me. And they said, we have shocking evidence that the collusion that they claim happened in Russia, which didn’t happen, happened in the Ukraine, and it happened with Hillary Clinton. George Soros was behind it. George Soros’ company was funding it.

This is an effort to frame Alexandra Chalupa, who while working as a DNC consultant in 2016 raised alarms about Paul Manafort. This is an effort that Trump has pursued since 2017 in part with a story first floated to (!!) Ken Vogel, an effort that key propagandist John Solomon was pursuing in May. Remember, too, that Chalupa was hacked separately in 2016, and believed she was being followed.

Peter Smith’s operation may have asked for help from a hacker in Ukraine

But per the transcript, this is not about Rudy, it’s about Barr. And even leaving Rudy’s antics aside, there is more that Trump may be after.

First, a fairly minor point, but possibly important. According to Charles Johnson, he advised Peter Smith to reach out to Weev for help finding Hillary’s deleted emails.

Johnson said he also suggested that Smith get in touch with Andrew Auernheimer, a hacker who goes by the alias “Weev” and has collaborated with Johnson in the past. Auernheimer—who was released from federal prison in 2014 after having a conviction for fraud and hacking offenses vacated and subsequently moved to Ukraine—declined to say whether Smith contacted him, citing conditions of his employment that bar him from speaking to the press.

At the time (and still, as far as I know), Weev was living in Ukraine. The Mueller Report says that his investigators never found evidence that Smith or Barbara Ledeen (or Erik Prince or Mike Flynn, who were also key players in this effort) ever contacted Russian hackers.

Smith drafted multiple emails stating or intimating that he was in contact with Russian hackers. For example, in one such email, Smith claimed that, in August 2016, KLS Research had organized meetings with parties who had access to the deleted Clinton emails, including parties with “ties and affiliations to Russia.”286 The investigation did not identify evidence that any such meetings occurred. Associates and security experts who worked with Smith on the initiative did not believe that Smith was in contact with Russian hackers and were aware of no such connection.287 The investigation did not establish that Smith was in contact with Russian hackers or that Smith, Ledeen, or other individuals in touch with the Trump Campaign ultimately obtained the deleted Clinton emails.

Weev is a hacker, but not Russian. So if Smith had reached out to Weev — and if Weev had given him any reason for optimism in finding the emails or even the alleged emails that Ledeen obtained — it might explain why Trump would believe there was information in Ukraine that would help him.

CrowdStrike once claimed its certainty on Russian attribution related to a problematic report on Ukraine

But that’s not the CrowdStrike tie.

At least part of the CrowdStrike tie — and what Zelensky actually could feed to Trump — pertains to a report they did in December 2016. They concluded that one of the same tools that was used in the DNC hack had been covertly distributed to Ukrainian artillery units, which (CrowdStrike claimed) led to catastrophic losses in the Ukranian armed forces. When the report came out — amid the December 2016 frenzy as President Obama tried to figure out what to do with Russia given the Trump win — CrowdStrike co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch pitched it as further proof that GRU had hacked the DNC. In other words, according to CrowdStrike, their high confidence on the DNC attribution was tied to their analysis of the Ukrainian malware.

In a now deleted post, infosec researcher Jeffrey Carr raised several problems with the CrowdStrike report. He correctly noted that CrowdStrike vastly overstated the losses to the Ukranian troops, which both an outside analyst and then the Ukranian Defense Ministry corrected. CrowdStrike has since updated its report, correcting the claim about Ukrainian losses, but standing by its analysis that GRU planted this malware as a way to target Ukrainian troops.

Carr also claimed to know of two instances — one, another security company, and the other, a Ukrainian hacker — where the tool was found in the wild.

Crowdstrike, along with FireEye and other cybersecurity companies, have long propagated the claim that Fancy Bear and all of its affiliated monikers (APT28, Sednit, Sofacy, Strontium, Tsar Team, Pawn Storm, etc.) were the exclusive developers and users of X-Agent. We now know that is false.

ESET was able to obtain the complete source code for X-Agent (aka Xagent) for the Linux OS with a compilation date of July 2015. [5]

A hacker known as RUH8 aka Sean Townsend with the Ukrainian Cyber Alliance has informed me that he has also obtained the source code for X-Agent Linux. [11]

Carr argued that since CrowdStrike’s attribution of the DNC hack assumed that only GRU had access to that tool, their attribution claim could no longer be trusted. At the time I deemed Carr’s objections to be worthwhile, but not fatal for the CrowdStrike claim. It was, however, damning for CrowdStrike’s public crowing about attribution of the DNC hack.

Since that time, the denialist crowd has elaborated on theories about CrowdStrike, which BuzzFeed gets just parts of here. Something that will be very critical moving forward but which BuzzFeed did not include, is that the president of CrowdStrike, Shawn Henry, is the guy who (while he was still at FBI) ran the FBI informant who infiltrated Anonymous, Sabu. Because the FBI reportedly permitted Sabu to direct Antisec to hack other countries as a false flag, the denialist theory goes, Henry and CrowdStrike must be willing to launch false flags for their existing clients. [See update below, which makes it clear FBI did not direct this.] The reason I say this will be important going forward is that these events are likely being reexamined as we speak in the grand jury that has subpoenaed both Chelsea Manning and Jeremy Hammond.

So Trump has an incentive to damage not just CrowdStrike’s 2016 reports on GRU, but also CrowdStrike generally. In 2017, Ukraine wanted to rebut the CrowdStrike claim because it made it look bad to Ukranian citizens. But if Trump gives Zelensky reason to revisit the issue, they might up the ante, and claim that CrowdStrike’s claims did damage to Ukraine.

I also suspect Trump may have been cued to push the theory that the GRU tool in question may, indeed, have been readily available and could have been used against the DNC by someone else, perhaps trying to frame Russia.

As I’ve noted, the GRU indictment and Mueller Report list 30 other named sources of evidence implicating the GRU in the hack. That list doesn’t include Dutch hackers at AIVD, which provided information (presumably to the Intelligence Community generally, including the FBI). And it doesn’t include NSA, which Bossert suggested today attributed the hack without anything from CrowdStrike. In other words, undermining the CrowdStrike claims would do nothing to undermine the overall attribution to Russia (though it could be useful for Stone if it came out before his November 5 trial, as the four warrants tied to his false statements relied on CrowdStrike). But it would certainly feed the disinformation effort that has already focused on CrowdStrike.

That’s just part of what Trump is after.

Update: Dell Cameron, who’s one of the experts on this topic, says that public accounts significantly overstate how closely Sabu was being handled at this time. Nevertheless, the perception that FBI (and Henry) encouraged Sabu’s attacks is out there and forms a basis for the claim that CrowdStrike would engage in a false flag attack. Here’s the chatlog showing some of this activity. Hammond got to the Brazilian target by himself.