Daniel Hale, Citizenfive

Jeremy Scahill: So if I have a confidential source who’s giving me information as a whistleblower and he works within the US government and he’s concerned about what he perceives as violations of the Constitution, and he gets in touch with me…

Bill Binney: From there on they would nail him and start watching everything he did, and if he started passing data, I’m sure they’d take him off the street. I mean, the way you have to do it is like Deep Throat did in the Nixon years — meet in the basement of a parking garage. Physically.

— Citizenfour

Last week, drone whistleblower Daniel Hale pled guilty. In pleading guilty, Hale admitted that he was the source behind The Intercept‘s Drone Papers package of stories that provided new details about the drone program as operated under President Obama. He also may have made clear that Laura Poitras’ film, Citizenfour, isn’t so much about Snowden, as it has always been described, but about Hale.

Hale pled guilty to one of five counts against him, Count 2 of the superseding indictment, 18 USC §793(e), for retaining and transmitting National Defense Information to Jeremy Scahill (Scahill was referred to as “the Reporter” in charging documents).

Before Hale pled guilty, the government released a list of exhibits it planned to use at trial. The exhibit list not only shows the government would have introduced a picture of Hale meeting publicly with Scahill at an event for the latter’s Dirty Wars, texts Hale sent to his friend Megan describing meeting Scahill, emails between Scahill and Hale sent months before they moved their communication to Jabber (those all were mentioned in the Indictment), but it included texts Hale and Scahill exchanged between January 24 and March 7, 2014, continuing after Hale had started the process of printing off documents at the contractor where he worked which he would ultimately send to Scahill. (The exhibit list doesn’t describe via what means they sent these texts and there are no correlating Verizon records prepared as exhibits covering that period, meaning they may not be telephony texts but instead could be the Jabber chats mentioned in the indictment, or maybe Signal texts). The government also would have introduced up to seven types of proof that Hale had printed each of the documents he was charged with, and badge records showing he was in his office and logged onto the relevant work computer each time those documents were printed out.

The government would also have submitted, for each of the agencies where Hale ever held clearance — NSA, DOD, a JSOC Task Force, NGA, and Air Force — a certification that the agency had no evidence that Hale had made any whistleblower complaints.

Unless those 2014 texts were from Jabber, there’s nothing in the exhibit list that obviously shows that the government was intending to introduce proof of three Jabber chats the government reconstructed that Hale had with Scahill, though those were mentioned in the indictment.

At the change of plea hearing last Thursday, the government refused to dismiss the four other counts against Hale, which Hale’s attorney, Todd Richman, said raised concerns that the government might revert to those charges if Judge Liam O’Grady didn’t sentence Hale harshly enough. O’Grady (who seemed as concerned about the possibility Hale might harm himself between now and the July 13 sentencing as anything else) as much as said that, if the government tried that, it would still amount to the same sentence, signaling he would have sentenced Hale with a concurrent sentence for all counts, had he gone to trial.

The plea agreement has not been released yet, but pleading guilty days before the trial was to start will give Hale a slight reduction in his sentence, but he’s still facing a draconian sentence for revealing details about the drone program.

That said, given what EDVA prosecutors — including Hale prosecutor Gordon Kromberg, who is the lead prosecutor on the Assange case — did to Chelsea Manning and Jeremy Hammond, I worry they might try something similar with Hale. From the start, the government has been interested in Hale for how he fit in the series of document leaks that started with Chelsea Manning and continued through Vault 7. That came up in mostly sealed filings submitted early in Hale’s prosecution.

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

And the government intended to submit exchanges between Hale and Scahill about Snowden and Chelsea Manning at trial.

There are two things that appear in the Statement of Facts Hale pled guilty to that don’t appear in the indictment.

First, the biographical language that explains how Hale enlisted in the Air Force, quit in May 2013, and only then got a job at a defense contractor where he had access to the files he ultimately leaked, is slightly different and generally abbreviated (leaving out, for example, that Hale was assigned to the NSA from 2011 to 2013, overlapping with Snowden). However, the Statement of Facts adds the detail that, “In July 2009, while the United States was actively engaged in two wars,” Hale first enlisted. It’s as if to suggest that Hale knew he would end up killing people when he signed up to join the Air Force.

Of more interest, the Statement of Facts includes an admission that Hale authored an anonymous document that prosecutors had planned to use at trial.

Mr. Hale authored an essay, attributed to “Anonymous,” that became a chapter in a book published by the Reporter’s online news outlet (defined as Book 2 in the Superseding Indictment).

It’s a chapter in The Assassination Complex, a free-standing publication based on the documents Hale released.

The government first requested to use this document at trial in a sealed motion, accompanied by 6 exhibits, submitted on September 16, 2019 as part of the first wave of motions. But the judge didn’t resolve that request until November 17, 2020, a month after a hearing on that and other requests. In his order, O’Grady permitted the government to enter the chapter into evidence, but reminded them the jury gets to decide whether they believe the evidence is authentic or not.

The Court hereby ORDERS that the Government’s Motion to Admit an Anonymous Writing as an Admission of the Defendant (dkt. 54) is GRANTED, as the Court stated in the October 13 hearing; the government will be permitted to present the book chapter attributed to an anonymous author. Federal Rule of Evidence 901(a) requires the proponent of a piece of evidence to authenticate it before it can be admitted. United States v. Smith, 918 F.2d 1501,1510 (11th Cir. 1990). The Court’s role in determining whether evidence is authentic is limited to that of a gatekeeper in assessing whether the proponent has offered a satisfactory foundation.” United States v. Vidacak, 553, F.3rd 344, 349 (4th Cir. 2009). The court finds that the government has laid satisfactory foundation for the purpose of admitting the evidence at trial. It now falls to the jury to determine whether the evidence is indeed what the government says it is: an anonymous writing that was written by Defendant admitting to the conduct of which he is accused.

At trial, it seems, the government would have treated this chapter as a confession. There are three exhibits in their trial exhibit list — stills and video of an Obama event in June 2008 — that suggest they planned to authenticate it, in part, by pointing to the anonymous author’s admission that he shook then-Candidate Obama’s hand in 2008 and showing pictures of the exchange.

In 2008 I shook hands with Senator Obama when he came through my town on his way to the White House. After his inauguration he said, “Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.” I firmly believe those principles are crucial to an open society, which is why I was compelled to reveal this information. If this administration lacks the courage to uphold its promises to the people, then I and others like me will do so for them.

So after having made their case that this was Hale, they then would have asked the jury to consider it a confession that he was the leaker described throughout The Intercept‘s reporting on the drones.

But with Hale’s guilty plea, there’s no evidentiary value to this chapter anymore. (That is, unless the government wants to argue that the specific Tide Personal Numbers Hale listed in the chapter — TPN 1063599 for Osama bin Laden and TPN 26350617 for Abdul Rahman al-Awlaki — amount to new disclosures not included in the charged releases.) Hale has already admitted, under oath, to being the anonymous source referred to by journalists throughout the rest of the book.

What the admission that he was part of the book publication does do, however, is tie Hale far more closely with Snowden, who wrote a hubristic introduction for the book. In it, he tied his leaks with Manning’s and in turn his with Hale’s.

[U]nlike Dan Ellsberg, I didn’t have to wait forty years to witness other citizens breaking that silence with documents. Ellsberg gave the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and other newspapers in 1971; Chelsea Manning provided the Iraq and Afghan War logs and the Cablegate materials to WikiLeaks in 2010. I came forward in 2013. Now here we are in 2015, and another person of courage and conscience has made available the set of extraordinary documents that are published here.

I noted, when Snowden called for Trump to pardon Hale along with The Intercept‘s other sources, Terry Albury and Reality Winner, he effectively put a target on Hale’s back, because it suggested those leaks all tied to him. All the more so, I now realize, given the way this Snowden essay suggests Hale’s leaks have some tie to him.

Snowden ended the introduction by suggesting there were far more people like Manning, himself, and Hale waiting to drop huge amounts of documents than there were the “insiders at the highest levels of government” guarding the monopoly on violence.

The individuals who make these disclosures feel so strongly about what they have seen that they’re willing to risk their lives and their freedom. They know that we, the people, are ultimately the strongest and most reliable check on the power of government. The insiders at the highest levels of government have extraordinary capability, extraordinary resources, tremendous access to influence, and a monopoly on violence, but in the final calculus there is but one figure that matters: the individual citizen.

And there are more of us than there are of them.

Yet the book suggests the links between Manning, Snowden, and Hale are merely inspirational.

Not so Citizenfour.

There’s a scene of the movie, quoted above, where Bill Binney warns Jeremy Scahill that if he wanted to publish documents from a source we now know to be Hale, with whom (trial exhibits would have shown) Scahill had already met in public, emailed, and texted during the period Hale was leaking, then (Binney instructed Scahill) he needed to do so by meeting in person, secretly.

It was probably too late for Hale by the time Binney gave Scahill this warning.

Then there’s the film’s widely discussed closing scene, showing a meeting where Glenn Greenwald flew to Moscow to update Snowden about “the new source” that has come to The Intercept. Apparently believing he’s using rockstar operational security, he’s writing down — on camera!!! — how The Intercept is communicating with this new source, bragging (still writing on camera about a source that had first reached out to Scahill via email and in person) that “they’re very careful.” One of the things he seems to write down is “Jabber,” chats from which the government obtained and might have released at Hale’s trial. In the scene, Greenwald continues to sketch out the contents of several of the documents — including one of the first ones to be published — that Hale just admitted he shared with The Intercept.

But in retrospect, the most important part of this sequence is where — against video footage showing Snowden and Lindsey in Moscow together — Poitras reads an email, dated April 2013 (a month before Hale quit the Air Force and NSA within days after Snowden fled to Hong Kong). She offers no explanation, not even naming the recipient of the email.

Let’s disassociate our metadata one last time, so we don’t have a clear record of your true name and our final communication chain. This is obviously not to say you can’t claim your involvement. But as every trick in the book is likely to be used in looking into this, I believe it’s better that that particular disclosure come on your own terms. Thank you again for all you’ve done. So sorry again for the multiple delays but we’ve been in unchartered territory with no model to benefit from. If all ends well, perhaps the demonstration that our methods worked will embolden more to come forward.

That email has received far less attention than Greenwald’s confident descriptions to Snowden of how someone inspired by his actions has come forward. But I remember when first viewing Citizenfour (which I watched long after it first came out), I had the feeling that Snowden was only feigning surprise when Greenwald told him of this new source and described the signals intercepts for the drone program going through Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

That is, that unexplained email may suggest that Hale met Snowden while both were at the NSA, and that days before the first Snowden releases, Hale quit, reached out to a close associate of Greenwald, then (months later) found a new job in the intelligence community where he could get files that would expose certain details of the drone program. The government had planned to introduce other movies at Hale’s trial. But Citizenfour was not on the exhibit list.

Update: PseudonymousInDenver has persuaded me this is a reference to Poitras, not to someone else.

That’s a detail I hadn’t realized before: Hale reached out to Scahill, then quit the Air Force and NSA, and only then got a new job that gave him access to files he ended up leaking.

I have no idea what the government intends to do, now that it has Hale admitting that he participated in this book in which Snowden promised a legion of similar leakers. I have always been concerned the government would go after Scahill. But now I think this is about Snowden.

Since last year, the government has explicitly argued that WikiLeaks considered its help to Snowden as part of a recruiting effort for further leakers (a detail of Julian Assange’s most recent superseding indictment that literally every one of Snowden’s closest associates has studiously avoided mentioning). They’re not making that up. It’s something Snowden admitted in his own book, and Bart Gellman described that Snowden was thinking the same as he leaked to Gellman. As noted, the government appears to have made a similar argument in sealed filings with Hale.

But one thing they seem to have demanded before they let Hale plead out before trial was a further admission, one that makes the Snowden tie more explicit.

Update: On Twitter, Hale corrected me that that TPN is for Awlaki’s son, not for Awlaki himself.

The Most Counterproductive Letter in Defense of Julian Assange

How seriously do you think the Joe Biden Administration is going to take a letter that,

  • Implicitly treats helping Edward Snowden flee Hong Kong to Russia (one of the overt acts Julian Assange is currently charged with) as a journalistic activity
  • Was written by an organization on the board of which Edward Snowden serves, without any disclosure of the relationship (or that another Freedom of the Press Foundation board member, Laura Poitras, decided in real time that such activities weren’t journalism, thereby eliminating the New York Times problem the letter claims still exists)
  • Treats the Julian Assange extradition request as a Trump Administration decision at a time when Biden is trying to emphasize that DOJ represents the country, not one president
  • Ties the Assange prosecution to Trump’s other politicization of DOJ when the evidence shows the opposite happened, that Trump abused power to attempt to protect Assange (in her ruling, Judge Baraitser also noted that Trump in no way treated WikiLeaks like he treated journalistic outlets)
  • Relies on dated 2013 reporting about the sum total of WikiLeaks’ actions targeting the US, ignoring much of the public record since, not to mention the grave damage incurred by a release — Vault 7 — that had almost no news value, which was allegedly leaked while Acting Deputy Attorney General John Carlin (who will probably field this letter) was in charge of DOJ’s National Security Division
  • Exhibits zero familiarity with the 54-page report — citing testimony from Biden Administration members Avril Haines, Lisa Monaco, Susan Rice, Tony Blinken, Samantha Power, Denis McDonough, and John Kerry — that concluded one reason the Obama Administration didn’t respond in more timely fashion to Russia’s attack on the 2016 election was because of a delayed understanding of how WikiLeaks had been “coopted” by Russia:

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


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

The letter claims to want to protect a “robust” press. But this letter fails to meet journalistic standards of transparency or accuracy.

Nevertheless, the following organizations signed onto such a (in my opinion) counterproductive letter:

  • Access Now
  • American Civil Liberties Union
  • Amnesty International – USA
  • Center for Constitutional Rights
  • Committee to Protect Journalists
  • Defending Rights and Dissent
  • Demand Progress
  • Electronic Frontier Foundation
  • Fight for the Future
  • First Amendment Coalition Free Press
  • Freedom of the Press Foundation
  • Human Rights Watch
  • Index on Censorship
  • Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University
  • National Coalition Against Censorship
  • Open The Government
  • Partnership for Civil Justice Fund
  • PEN America
  • Project on Government Oversight
  • Reporters Without Borders
  • Roots Action
  • The Press Freedom Defense Fund of First Look Institute
  • Whistleblower & Source ProtectionProgram (WHISPeR) at ExposeFacts

I have a great deal of respect for these organizations, have worked for several of them, and have received funding in the past from Freedom of the Press Foundation. I agree with the sentiment of the letter that some of the current charges against Assange pose a risk to journalism. I believe these organizations could have written an effective letter to Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson (or, more effectively and with better targeting, to Carlin).

Instead, they signed onto a letter that violates several of the principles of journalism they claim to want to defend.

The WaPo Solution to the NYT Problem: Laura Poitras’ Misrepresentation of Assange’s 18th Charge

If you were the average NYT reader who is unfamiliar with the developments in the prosecution against Julian Assange, reading this excellent Laura Poitras op-ed calling for, “the Justice Department [to] immediately drop these charges and the president [to] pardon Mr. Assange,” might lead you to believe there were 17 charges under the Espionage Act and the original password cracking as the single overt act in a CFAA (hacking) charge, all of them 10 years old.

That was when the Justice Department indicted Julian Assange, the founder and publisher of WikiLeaks, with 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act, on top of one earlier count of conspiring to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

The charges against Mr. Assange date back a decade, to when WikiLeaks, in collaboration with The Guardian, The New York Times, Der Spiegel and others, published the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, and subsequently partnered with The Guardian to publish State Department cables. The indictment describes many activities conducted by news organizations every day, including obtaining and publishing true information of public interest, communication between a publisher and a source, and using encryption tools.

Of course, as emptywheel readers, you know that DOJ superseded the indictment against Assange in June, and with it extended the timeline on the CFAA conspiracy charge through 2015.

Even the original CFAA charge described a relationship between Assange and Manning that goes beyond what journalists do (I think I understand why DOJ charged it and may return to explain that in days ahead). But the current one credibly charges Assange in the same conspiracy to hack Stratfor that five other people have already pled guilty to, meaning the only question at trial would be whether DOJ can prove Assange entered into the conspiracy and took overt acts to further it, something they appear to have compelling proof he did.

The superseding indictment also describes Assange ordering up the hack of a WikiLeaks dissident. That’s not something anyone should be defending, and there’s good reason to believe it was not an isolated incident.

Poitras’ silence about the superseding indictment, however, is all the more striking given that it includes WikiLeaks’ efforts to help Edward Snowden to flee among the overt acts in the CFAA conspiracy. (I emailed Poitras to ask whether she even knows of the superseding indictment, which she may not, given the crappy coverage of it; I will update if she responds.)

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

85. In June 2013, a WikiLeaks associate [Sarah Harrison] traveled with Snowden from Hong Kong to Moscow.


87. At the same presentation [where Assange and Jake Appelbaum encouraged people to join the CIA to steal files, Appelbaum] said “Edward Snowden did not save himself. … Specifically for source protection, [Harrison] took actions to protect [Snowden]. … [I]f we can succeed in saving Edward Snowden’s life and to keep him free, then the next Edward Snowden will have that to look forward to. And if we look also to what has happened to Chelsea Manning, we see additionally that Snowden has clearly learned….”


90. In an interview of May 25, 2015, ASSANGE claimed to have arranged distraction operations to assist Snowden in avoiding arrest by the United States. [listing several operations, including using “presidential jets,” suggesting that the US may have searched Evo Morales’ plane in response to disinformation spread by WikiLeaks] [bolded brackets original, other brackets my own]

With these passages, DOJ wrote the first draft of what I suspect will be expanded in the near future into a dramatically different story than the one we know about Edward Snowden (whether it will be sustainable or not is another thing). And Laura Poitras, who didn’t mention these overt acts in her op-ed, was at least adjacent to many key events in this story. For example, Poitras is likely one of the few people who would know if Snowden was in contact with Jake Appelbaum before he got a job in Hawaii and started scraping files related and unrelated to programs of concern, as Snowden himself hinted in his book. If he was, then several parts of the story that Snowden has always told are probably not true.

Similarly, Poitras’ film Risk briefly hints at tensions between Poitras and Assange over how the Snowden files would be released. That, too, suggests that WikiLeaks may have had a bigger role on the front end in Snowden’s theft of NSA documents than is publicly known.

Most importantly, at least as Bart Gellman tells it in his book, both he and Poitras were quite explicit, in the wake of requests from Snowden to help him prove his identity to obtain asylum in a foreign country, about where journalism ended and sharing classified files with foreign governments might begin.

Snowden had asked Gellman to ensure that the WaPo publish the first PRISM file with his PGP key attached. At first, Gellman hadn’t thought through why Snowden made the request. Then he figured it out.

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

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

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

How could I have missed this? Poitras and I did not need the signature to know who sent us the PRISM file. Snowden wanted to prove his role in the story to someone else. That thought had never occurred to me. Confidential sources, in my experience, did not implicate themselves—irrevocably, mathematically—in a classified leak. As soon as Snowden laid it out, the strategic logic was obvious. If we did as he asked, Snowden could demonstrate that our copy of the NSA document came from him. His plea for asylum would assert a “well-founded fear of being persecuted” for an act of political dissent. The U.S. government would maintain that Snowden’s actions were criminal, not political. Under international law each nation could make that judgment for itself. The fulcrum of Snowden’s entire plan was the signature file, a few hundred characters of cryptographic text, about the length of this paragraph. And I was the one he expected to place it online for his use.

Idiot. Remember “chain of custody”? He came right out and told you he wanted a historical record.

My mind raced. When Snowden walked into a consulate, evidence of his identity in hand, any intelligence officer would surmise that he might have other classified information in reach. Snowden said he did not want to hand over documents, but his language, as I read it that night, seemed equivocal. Even assuming he divulged nothing, I had not signed up for his plan. I had agreed to protect my source’s identity in order to report a story to the public. He wanted me to help him disclose it, in private, as a credential to present to foreign governments. That was something altogether different.

Gellman realized — and Poitras seemed to agree in texts Gellman published in the book — that this request might amount to abetting Snowden’s sharing of secrets with a hostile government.

LP: oh god fuck

BG: He’s in a position to provide that material. He may be under compulsion. We REALLY can’t do anything that could abet or be perceived to abet that.

LP: of course

BG: I just wanna be a goddam journalist

Gellman and Poitras discussed the request with the lawyers WaPo consulted regarding the Snowden publications. In what might be the chilling consultation with a First Amendment lawyer that Poitras describes in her oped, one lawyer seems to have raised concerns about aiding and abetting charges, and had them both write explicit notes to Snowden denying his request to publish his key. In those notes, as published by Gellman, both drew a bright line between what they considered journalistic — protecting his identity and publishing the newsworthy files while balancing risk — and what was not.

Everyone on the call agreed that we would carry on with our story plans and protect the source’s identity as before. No one but Poitras and I knew Snowden’s name anyway. But Kevin Baine, the lead outside counsel, asked me in a no-bullshit tone to level with him. Had I ever promised to publish the full PRISM presentation or its digital signature? I had not, and Poitras said the same. Our source framed both those points as “requests” before he sent the document. Poitras and I had ducked and changed the subject. Why engage him in a hypothetical dispute? Depending on what the document said, publication in full might have been an easy yes. “You have to tell him you never agreed to that,” Baine said. Poitras and I faced a whole new kind of legal exposure now. We could not leave unanswered a “direct attempt to enlist you in assisting him with his plans to approach foreign governments.”


We hated the replies we sent to Snowden on May 26. We had lawyered up and it showed. “You were clear with me and I want to be equally clear with you,” I wrote. “There are a number of unwarranted assumptions in your email. My intentions and objectives are purely journalistic, and I will not tie them or time them to any other goal.” I was working hard and intended to publish, but “I cannot give you the bottom line you want.”

Poitras wrote to him separately.

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

If Assange (or anyone associated with him) is ever tried on the superseding indictment, I’d be surprised if these passages weren’t introduced at trial. Here you have two of the key journalists who published the Snowden files, laying out precisely where WikiLeaks fails the NYT problem that DOJ, under Obama, could never get past in any prosecution of Julian Assange.

“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,” said former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller told the Post. “And if you are not going to prosecute journalists for publishing classified information, which the department is not, then there is no way to prosecute Assange.”

In 2013, before the first Snowden files got published, Gellman and Poitras and the Washington Post solved the New York Times problem. Helping Snowden flee to a foreign country — which, given Snowden’s plan to meet them in Hong Kong, they assumed might include to an adversarial nation like China — was not journalistic and, seemingly even according to the journalists, might be abetting Snowden’s sharing of files with a hostile foreign government.

Which is why Poitras’ silence about these charges in her bid to dismiss the charges against Assange undermines her argument.

Again, I absolutely agree with Poitras that the Espionage charges, as charged, pose a real risk to journalism. But the government is going to use the CFAA charge to explain how Assange’s methods are different from journalists. And Poitras’ own actions may well be part of that proof.

Laura Poitras Chips at the Terrorism Lie

Laura Poitras has another piece in Spiegel laying out NSA’s spying on diplomats — this time focusing on how NSA acquired blueprints of the new EU building in NYC to facilitate tapping it all.

To a significant degree, Poitras lays out how the NSA does what other countries at least try to do as well. While the US has certain advantages in conducting such spying (like having the UN headquartered in NYC and dominating telecom infrastructure), in principle it is assumed spy agents will spy on senior people from other countries.

But a key point of Poitras’ piece is that top officials — up to and including President Obama — have led the American people to believe all this spying focuses only terrorism. Indeed, she points to a line of the speech Obama gave a few weeks back that suggested terrorism was the only reason the government conducted this dragnet (this is the full quote — Poitras breaks up the quote into two; I think it is slightly more ambiguous but at the same time more assertive like this).

I think the main thing I want to emphasize is I don’t have an interest and the people at the NSA don’t have an interest in doing anything other than making sure that where we can prevent a terrorist attack, where we can get information ahead of time, that we’re able to carry out that critical task. We do not have an interest in doing anything other than that.

This was a response to a journalists’ question, not part of Obama’s prepared speech. Nevertheless, the President stood up publicly and claimed that the NSA does not “have an interest in doing anything other than … prevent[ing] a terrorist attack.”

That is a false statement.

Had Obama said preventing terrorism was one of several primary goal, the reported sole focus of the US person phone records dragnet, had he said that he and the NSA have other interests, it might be a fair comment. But it is not the case that the only interest of the NSA is to find advance intelligence on potential terrorist attacks.

And, as Poitras also points out, Obama made these comments in an effort to make people trust the dragnet. The comment came in direct response to a question about trust.

I wanted to ask you about your evolution on the surveillance issues. I mean, part of what you’re talking about today is restoring the public trust. And the public has seen you evolve from when you were in the U.S. Senate to now. And even as recently as June, you said that the process was such that people should be comfortable with it, and now you’re saying you’re making these reforms and people should be comfortable with those. So why should the public trust you on this issue, and why did you change your position multiple times?

And it came in a speech where Obama talked about trust a number of times, including offering his asinine dishwashing metaphor.

Q Can you understand, though, why some people might not trust what you’re saying right now about wanting to —


Q — that they should be comfortable with the process?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the fact that I said that the programs are operating in a way that prevents abuse, that continues to be true, without the reforms. The question is how do I make the American people more comfortable.

If I tell Michelle that I did the dishes — now, granted, in the White House I don’t do the dishes that much — (laughter) — but back in the day — and she’s a little skeptical, well, I’d like her to trust me, but maybe I need to bring her back and show her the dishes and not just have her take my word for it.

And so the program is — I am comfortable that the program currently is not being abused. I’m comfortable that if the American people examined exactly what was taking place, how it was being used, what the safeguards were, that they would say, you know what, these folks are following the law and doing what they say they’re doing.

But it is absolutely true that with the expansion of technology — this is an area that’s moving very quickly — with the revelations that have depleted public trust, that if there are some additional things that we can do to build that trust back up, then we should do them. [my emphasis]

Obama suggests Snowden’s revelations — and not his, James Clapper’s, and Keith Alexander’s lies about the programs — have chipped away at trust. In a press conference in which Obama falsely claimed this was solely about terrorism.

If Obama and everyone else want to start rebuilding credibility, they need to stop lying, and get rid of the more substantive liars like Clapper and Alexander. But they also need to square with the American people about what this dragnet is for. Congress has repeatedly rejected internet-based surveillance to protect Hollywood IP and to socialize the private cybersecurity risk of corporate owners of critical infrastructure. Even Congress doesn’t approve the use of this technology for some applications.

And until the government stops pretending this is exclusively about terrorism, and stops pretending that terrorism is an existential threat or even the country’s greatest one, it will continue to lose credibility.