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Pompeo’s Latest Attempts To Propel Propaganda On Lab Escape Of SARS CoV-2 Suffer Two Epic Swat-Downs

Recall that back on April 30, I wrote about how the Trump Administration had been orchestrating a propaganda push to claim that SARS CoV-2 was accidentally released from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Of special importance is that the New York Times article I cited on the topic specifically mentioned Mike Pompeo as one of the primary forces behind pushing the story. Recall also that a part of this propaganda effort came from “leaked” State Department cables.

Apparently, getting called out by the New York Times was not enough to deter Pompeo from this effort. He returned to the airwaves on May 3, telling ABC that there is “enormous evidence” that the virus came from the lab. And then “magically”, but in reality following the aluminum tubes playbook straight out of Cheney’s Iraq WMD playbook, a “report” came into the hands of NBC, who published it May 8. The report purportedly relied on “open source” data to make the case that some sort of accident occurred at the lab in late October, prompting officials to shut down the lab and block roads surrounding it. NBC debunked one aspect of the report in their story, noting that a conference at the lab that the report claims was cancelled in this timeframe actually took place as planned.

Yesterday, Erin Banco and colleagues at Daily Beast published what can only be described as one of the most epic slap-downs of fake intelligence I’ve ever seen. Please go read the piece in full, because summarizing cannot properly capture its full glory.

The dissection of the false intelligence in the report begins with work done by Jeffrey Lewis (one of the best follows on Twitter at @ArmsControlWonk), who utterly destroyed the report’s claims regarding satellite data:

What’s more, imagery collected by DigitalGlobe’s Maxar Technologies satellites and provided to The Daily Beast reveals a simpler, less exotic reason for why analysts believed “roadblocks” went into place around the lab after the supposed accident: road construction. The Maxar images also show typical workdays, with normal traffic patterns around the lab, after the supposedly cataclysmic event.

“This is an illustrated guide on how not to do open source analysis,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, who analyzed the MACE report for The Daily Beast. “It is filled with apples-to-oranges comparisons, motivated reasoning, and a complete refusal to consider mundane explanations or place the data in any sort of context.”

That’s right. The report took images showing roads blocked for ordinary road construction and claimed they showed that a catastrophic accident in the lab meant that traffic had to be kept away to prevent exposure to the leaked virus.

But the fun doesn’t stop there. I’ll get to who MACE, who prepared the report, is a bit later. The story continues:

MACE’s analysts tried to establish a “pattern of life” at the Wuhan lab in order to reveal what they claim is an anomaly, one purportedly caused by a leak. The MACE document charts the movement of apparent Wuhan lab personnel into and out of the facility leading up to October, when the alleged leak took place. In one slide, analysts wrote that there is an “18 day gap” in which “there were no observable events” from devices at the lab between Oct. 6 and 24, supposedly suggesting an accidental leak.

In doing so, they appear to have been unaware of a key cultural factor complicating the normal course of events: a holiday. “The first week of October is a golden week in China, which is going to disrupt that pattern,” Lewis said.

Yep. The “anomaly” MACE ascribes to leak was in fact an ordinary holiday when activity would be diminished around the lab for a perfectly ordinary reason.

And the Daily Beast investigators spread the fun around, getting the folks at Bellingcat involved in investigating the claims made in the report:

The Daily Beast asked analysts at the award-winning open source investigative news outlet Bellingcat to review the MACE dossier and evaluate the quality of its conclusions. Within minutes of receiving the dossier, Bellingcat senior investigator Nick Waters disproved one of the MACE document’s claims: that a conference on biosafety lab management at the Wuhan lab scheduled for the first week of November was canceled.

But the conference did take place, as NBC first reported. Waters found a Facebook post from a Pakistani scientist who had attended the event and taken selfies there, including at the BSL-3 laboratory.

Wow. And Waters doesn’t stop there:

He also took a dig at one of the many amateurish elements in the MACE presentation. “Perhaps the authors should have spent more time testing their analysis rather than working out how to crop the eye of Sauron into a logo copy-pasted from the internet,” Waters said.

Okay, I got a huge laugh at the eye of Sauron bit. That’s because I’ve run into the folks behind MACE before. As Daily Beast points out, MACE stands for Multi Agency Collaboration Environment. And according to this link they provide, MACE is hosted at a company in Las Vegas by the name of Sierra Nevada Corporation. Way back in 2011, I wrote about a technology called Gorgon Stare, developed by Sierra Nevada Corporation, that claimed to enable real time remote viewing analysis of entire villages in Iraq or Afghanistan from imaging equipment carried by high-flying drones. Of course, this technology turned out to be a very expensive boondoggle that did nothing to help intelligence-gathering. I can’t help wondering if the eye of Sauron bit was an insider joke at Sierra Nevada that Waters understood and shot right back at them to ridicule this report and the old Gorgon Stare technology.

So, while the MACE report clearly originated in the US, what I haven’t seen yet is a clear indication of just when it surfaced, especially when it surfaced for senior Trump Administration officials and the intelligence community. It would not surprise me if it goes all the way back to the propaganda campaign in mid-April I described in my previous post. The version of the report that NBC published has the last several pages redacted with the description that this was done to protect names from being disclosed. That really makes me wonder if the specific question from John Roberts of Fox News to Trump on April 14 about an intern at the lab being infected and then spreading it to her boyfriend and the wet market was based on the redacted portion of the MACE report. All we know about timing is that the report had made its way to Congressional committees by May 8 when NBC published it.

There is another weak intelligence document, though, that this time is traced directly to the State Department. On May 7, the Sydney Morning Herald debunked a “dossier” that had been leaked from the US embassy in Canberra that the Daily Telegraph (a Rupert Murdoch paper in Australia) wrote about on May 2. The Herald says this about Australian officials  looking for the basis of the dossier:

Senior members of the Morrison government and Australian intelligence agencies at first had trouble finding the document. Eventually they found a research report, based on publicly available information including news reports, which appeared to fit the description. The research paper contained no information that was generated from intelligence gathering, according to people who have read it.

Labor MP Anthony Byrne, the deputy chair of the influential intelligence and security committee, was “incensed” by the report of the dossier. Mr Byrne, one of Parliament’s biggest supporters of the US alliance, directly raised his concerns with senior members of the Morrison government and intelligence agencies, saying Australia shouldn’t accept intelligence that doesn’t exist and fall for a “tricked-up document”.

There are now widespread suspicions within senior ranks of the Australian government and the intelligence community that the document was leaked to The Daily Telegraph by a staff member in the US embassy in Canberra. This suspicion, whether true or not, underlines how the positions between sections of Canberra and Washington national security circles have diverged over the claim. Some senior officials clearly believe the US embassy is pushing a narrative in the Australian media that could be counter to the beliefs and interests of its hosts.

The story continues:

The episode highlights the danger of mischaracterising the work of intelligence agencies. Some of the footnotes in the document contained references to US media reports that were based on unsubstantiated assertions from the US government – the same kind of circular intelligence which resulted in the “children overboard” affair in 2001.

Wow. The Herald also goes there, comparing this propaganda ploy to an Australian false information scandal of similar magnitude to the Iraq WMD operation in the US.

But again, Pompeo and those under him seem to be central to this whole operation. The Daily Telegraph story appeared just a day before Pompeo claimed “huge evidence” and likely was based on a document leaked by a US embassy. And then NBC published the MACE document a few days later. I haven’t seen anyone suggest that the document in Australia is the MACE document, but the Herald’s description and debunking of it sure would fit with them being the same or at least having the same source.

Given Pompeo’s central role in spreading propaganda that has been so easily refuted, I can’t help wondering if we will have another shoe drop on the firing of Steve Linick. Note that in his letter to Congress on the firing (which will be complete at the end of a 30 day clock starting Friday night), Trump said it was based on Pompeo’s suggestion that Linick be fired. Also note that we were first told it was because Linick was investigating Pompeo using State Department personnel to run personal errands. Today, that’s been expanded to cover the fast-tracking of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. But in their article on that, CNN notes:

But at this time, House Democrats say they do not yet know which investigation was the biggest factor behind the decision to dismiss Linick.

“I wouldn’t assign percentages,” a Democratic committee aide said.

Democrats on both the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations committees are interested in learning more about Linick’s investigations into Pompeo, and Engel emphasized the importance of cooperation from the administration in his statement Monday.

“The administration should comply with the probe I launched with Senator Menendez and turn over all the records requested from the Department by Friday,” he said, a reference to Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

I find it hard to believe that Pompeo would have felt truly threatened by either the investigation into using aides for personal errands or expediting the Saudi arms sales. Those just seem like garden variety Trump corruption that gets shrugged off as the next daily outrage appears. However, if Linick had started nosing around the leak of the State Department’s own Wuhan cables and/or the allegation of the leak of the report from the Canberra embassy, I think Pompeo would see a bigger danger. That would represent an investigation into an ongoing propaganda operation in which Pompeo disseminated easily disproved disinformation.

The final beautiful irony here is that if Linick had started such an investigation, it likely was based on open source information. Unlike the MACE information though, this open source information would consist of Pompeo’s own recorded media appearances and the subsequent public debunking of the propaganda. That propaganda getting debunked would be both Pompeo’s direct statements and the debunking of the “supporting” material that appears to have been released either by him or those doing his bidding.

Three Things: The GOP’s Trumpian Death Panels [UPDATE-1]

[Check the byline, thanks! Update at the bottom of this post. /~Rayne]

Remember all the squealing by conservatives and Republican members of Congress back in 2009-2010 during the debate about health care, crying crocodile tears about “death panels“?

Well here they are, death panels brought to you by the same whiny selfish leeches who claimed socialized medicine would result in Democratic bureaucrats picking off Americans to limit health care.

~ 3 ~

I won’t embed video here. Open these links at your own risk, knowing these may be triggering to those who’ve had bad experiences in hospitals.

1 — Bergamo Italy hospital

2 — Brescia and Rome Italy hospitals

But this I’m going to share.

Those are Italian military trucks carrying away the dead to churches and cremation facilities, some outside of Bergamo because Bergamo’s own facilities are at capacity.

This, in a very much pro-life country which is predominantly Catholic.

This, in a country which has more hospital beds per 1000 persons than the U.S.

Some of those patients who are not in ICU have likely been labeled “codice nero” — death is imminent, do not resuscitate — during triage due to the shortage of ventilators. They are more likely to be over 60 years old because they are prioritizing critical care services and equipment for those more likely to survive.

This is what conservatives and Republicans really wanted: death panels, but conducted by the poor overtaxed health care workers who are themselves at risk because of incompetent governance by conservatives and Republicans.

I hope Americans are ready to see the dead hauled away by the truck load after the GOP’s death panel is through with them.

~ 2 ~

$34,927.43.

That’s the price for multiple tests and trips to the ER over seven days for COVID-19 an uninsured Boston-area patient was charged. You can imagine some people aren’t going to want to deal with that bill — or that swamped hospitals may discourage the uninsured — leading to a lack of treatment and more deaths. Many patients will be too sick to hassle with chasing a lower cost approach as charges can vary widely across many health care providers.

A death panel by health care expense.

Capitalism unto death.

~ 1 ~

Death panels may be composed of single individuals.

John Bolton, with Trump’s imprimatur, chose to kill the National Security Council’s pandemic response team, which has now lead to the deaths of Americans.

Mike Pompeo’s crappy diplomatic work failed to develop and build relationships with China, South Korea, other countries facing the same pandemic threat in order to obtain and share usable information and assistance to reduce American deaths.

Jared Kushner and Stephen Miller pulled a grossly negligent EU travel ban out of their asses, executing it so poorly that the resulting crush of travelers in the airports last week will sure increase American deaths in the weeks ahead many times over.

And the malignant narcissist-in-chief continues to push bad information jeopardizing lives both here and abroad after more than two months of inaction. Trump pushed a non-peer reviewed study on hydrochloroquine and azithromycin by tweet today after pushing this drug combo during a presser. There’s already been a run on the anti-malarial potentially hurting lupus patients for whom this has been prescribed; there’ve also been reports of poisonings in Nigeria after users self-medicated with the anti-malarial.

Trump has also mentioned and then lied about the Defense Production Act. There has been no real effort to order production of personal protection equipment for health care workers under the DPA. He’s choosing to expose first responders to COVID-19.

Mass death panels by Trumpism.

~ 0 ~

Sadly, it’s not just Americans who will face so-called conservatives’ death panels. The UK is already entering a state of crisis as its hospitals’ ICUs exceed capacity. There is no sign of constructive decision making by Boris Johnson to alleviate the capacity problem nor realistically halt the rate of infection.

Instead, Johnson’s government and now Trump’s Department of Justice are seeking powers to detain people instead of doing what is already within their ability and purview to do to stem contagion and aid respective health care systems.

Death panels by Tory conservatives and Trump fascists.

By the way, where’s Sarah Palin now? Still licking her polyester-pink wounds after her recent fiasco appearance on The Masked Singer when the show’s death panel gave her the much-deserved axe?

This is an open thread.

UPDATE-1 — 22-MAR-2020 — 11:00 P.M. ET

This video features Rep. Katie Porter’s sister who’s an emergency room physician. She breaks down what the Trump-GOP death panel will decide by the numbers.

Are you one in 50? Or are you one of the 49 which Trump and the GOP have decided in their pro-life hypocrisy won’t be saved?

Meanwhile, Over at Foggy Bottom

“No, you don’t need to be tested. Never mind all those coughing people sitting across the table from you at lunch. I’m sure it’s nothing.”

It’s rough being a career member of the US State Department workforce in the Donald Trump era. In general, much of the work of these people is not particularly affected by the changes in presidential administrations. Passports get issued to US citizens who wish to travel abroad, and visas get processed for those who wish to visit here. Those posted at embassies abroad listen to what is happening around them and report the most interesting stuff back to Foggy Bottom in DC, and they take what they’re told by Foggy Bottom and share it with the country in which they are posted. Big things change, like treaty negotiation postures and diplomatic postures on big picture issues, but the nitty gritty stuff is pretty ordinary and non-controversial.

But now, there’s a new wrinkle: whatever you do, don’t do or say anything that will make the guy who sits in the room with no corners look bad. He does not react well. And that wrinkle makes even the ordinary nitty gritty stuff difficult.

“Domani Spero,” the pseudonym of the author of DiploPundit, means “See you tomorrow, I hope,” which seems a fitting moniker for someone who watches the ins and outs of the State Department. Says he, “DiploPundit wades into leadership and management issues, realities of Foreign Service life, ambassadors and nominations, embassy report cards, current events in countries and regions which may or may not include prominent U.S. interests, and other developments in the international affairs community.” His writing assume that his readers are familiar with State Dept jargon and acronyms, which can put some readers off. On the other hand, for those in and around the US diplomatic community, DiploPundit is a definite place to check in for details that might not make it into general media reporting. Along the way, he occasionally posts items that come from his “burn bag” (State Dept lingo for the receptacle for classified trash that must be burned, rather than taken to the curb), which is his place for receiving anonymous tips. These often come from current State Dept employees, raising issues that they do not feel comfortable in bringing to the attention of their superiors via in-house channels.

Four days ago, DiploPundit noted that the US Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica put out a classic non-denial non-response to a story in the local media. While he didn’t link to the story, he seems to be referring to the Jamaica Observer, which wrote this last Wednesday:

A second case of COVID-19 has been confirmed in Jamaica.

Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton confirmed the second imported case via Twitter this evening.

Dr Tufton said the second case is a US Embassy employee who returned from the UK.

As you might guess, the US Embassy in Kingston started getting calls about this, their response boils down to “we’re aware of the report and will not confirm or deny it, but we’re working with Jamaican authorities and doing a really deep cleaning of all embassy facilities.”

Three days ago, DiploPundit wrote up a Burn Bag post, sent to him by “sickdips”:

“Members of the Embassy community at one post have fallen seriously ill with COVID-19 symptoms, but the State Department will not test them for COVID-19 or *MEDEVAC them. There is already limited medical capacity at many posts, which will be completely overwhelmed as the pandemic spreads. What is MED waiting for? Protecting our people should be our NUMBER ONE PRIORITY.”

MEDEVAC is exactly what it sounds like – medically evacuate – and MED is the acronym for the State Dept’s Bureau of Medical Services. When I went to MEDs page at State.gov, it had nothing but standard “here’s what we do” language and no news items related to COVID-19 among US embassy staffers.

This led me back to that non-denial non-response. In the middle, there’s one sentence that jumped out at me: “The U.S. Department of State has no greater responsibility than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas and locally-employed staff.” Remember what I said at the top? Don’t say or do anything to make the guy who sits in the room with no corners look bad. That’s what’s going on in this statement. “Make sure you tell everyone that we take care of US citizens!”

If sickdips saw this (whether Jamaica is the post about which sickdips was writing or not), it’s probably what prompted sickdips to drop a note to the Burn Bag. Fancy words about protecting the safety of embassy staffers are nice, but actions on the ground like refusing to test after exposure to a known carrier of COVID-19 suggest otherwise.

That was three days ago. The following day, DiploPundit posted a roundup of items about COVID-19 at various embassies, which laid out nine different countries (including Jamaica and Italy) where ordinary services are restricted or the embassies and consulates are completely closed for all but the most extreme emergencies. The list included this observation at the top: “As of this writing, we have not seen any public announcement or guidance from the State Department on COVID-19 for employees or family members. Let us know if we missed any statement from Pompeo or [Undersecretary of State for Management Brian] Bulatao.”

That last sentence was DP poking Pompeo and his chief aide for running the State Department with a very sharp stick, and doing it in a place where everyone in the diplomatic community could and would see it.

That was two days ago. Today, the State Department put out an updated health warning for US citizens thinking about traveling abroad. The short version is this: don’t. The longer version is this:

Global Level 3 Health Advisory – Reconsider Travel

March 15, 2020

The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to reconsider travel abroad due to the global impact of COVID-19. Many areas throughout the world are now experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and taking action that may limit traveler mobility, including quarantines and border restrictions. Even countries, jurisdictions, or areas where cases have not been reported may restrict travel without notice.

On March 14, the Department of State authorized the departure from any diplomatic or consular post in the world of US personnel and family members who have been medically determined to be at higher risk of a poor outcome if exposed to COVID-19.

The first part of that is the language you’d find in a standard State Department warning, albeit these kinds of warning are usually aimed at specific countries or regions, not the whole world. But the second part of that — the part that begins “On March 14 . . . ” — is not standard. Not at all. It sounds to me as if someone at Foggy Bottom who read DiploPundit’s poke tried to address the concern, but “put it out with the trash” late on Saturday, hoping it wouldn’t get too much attention from the general media, and thus incur the wrath of that guy in the room with no corners.

This is a deeply serious development. This kind of “we’ll pull anybody out of anywhere” statement is damn near unheard of, and the only reason I say “damn near” is to give myself wiggle room should someone with greater historical knowledge step up. I can’t think of anything close, ever.

But even so, as broad and sweeping and unheard-of as this is, I don’t think on it’s face it is enough. As DiploPundit notes, “So the ‘authorized departure’ or voluntary evacuation depends on the determination of the local MED unit or based of current medical clearance?” You remember MED – the same folks that wouldn’t authorize testing personnel who had been in contact with an infected person?

Poke, poke, poke.

UPDATE from DiploPundit:

The cable released by State/M Brian Bulatao says: “Effective March 14, 2020, I hereby approve authorized departure (AD) from any diplomatic or consular post of U.S. direct hire employees or eligible family members (EFMs) as listed on employee orders and defined in 14 FAM 511.3 who, after confidential consultation with MED, have determined they are at higher risk of a poor outcome if exposed to COVID-19, or who have requested departure based on a commensurate justification in foreign areas.”

Our source, not from Public Affairs, interpret this to mean that MED approval is not specifically required but you need to refer to MED when you go tell your boss you want out.

The  last time we had a global authorized/ordered departure order was probably during Y2K, was it? (The State Department at that time also issued an edict stating that all embassies must be prepared to be self-sufficient for 30 days by January 1, 2000).

When Trump gave his speech last week about the “foreign virus” and the need to blockade the EU but not the UK, it was clear that Trump was acting out of his usual playbook: xenophobia, build bigger walls, get revenge on your foes and carve out loopholes for your friends. Since then, clearer heads have pushed Trump to include the UK in his travel blockade, as viruses do not care about the color of your passport. I suspect those clearer heads are folks like Anthony Fauci on the medical side and whoever at State authorized the evacuation of any diplomatic staff from any post over medical concerns.

God bless them both, because it clearly takes the concerted effort of a group of people who are willing to make the guy in the room with no corners look bad if he’s doing stuff that will kill innocent people. And make no mistake: he *is* doing stuff that will kill innocent people. (See Jim’s post on the Customs mess at airports last night.)

Domani spero, everybody. See you tomorrow, I hope.

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.

Kim DotCom Posts Evidence Trump’s “Best Friend (Name Redacted)” in Pardon Discussions

Last night, Kim DotCom tried to take credit for brokering the meeting at which Dana Rohrabacher tried to pardon a pardon deal whereby Julian Assange would claim Seth Rich was his source for the DNC emails and Trump would pay him off with a pardon. He posted a bunch of texts with “Trumps best friend (name redacted)” where he pushed his  interlocutor to get Trump to take a public step in favor of the deal.

Only, the name of Trump’s “best friend (name redacted)” was not actually redacted.

While I have no doubt DotCom is overselling his own role in this, it does appear he was talking directly to Sean Hannity about it.

Which would suggest a real continuity between whatever happened when Hannity met Assange in January 2017, not long after Roger Stone reached out to Margaret Kunstler to discuss a pardon, and what happened in August 2017, when Dana Rohrabacher resumed discussion of the pardon. That suggests pardon discussions were not — as WikiLeaks is now falsely portraying — a one-time bid that got rejected, leading to Assange’s prosecution, but rather continued from late December 2016 until at least August 2017, through the time when Mike Pompeo labeled WikiLeaks a non-state hostile intelligence agency.

Hot and Cold Running Mike Pompeo and Other Ridiculous WikiLeaks Defense Claims

Today is the first day of Julian Assange’s fight to avoid extradition. In addition to legitimate First Amendment concerns about extraditing Assange on the charges as written, Assange is challenging the extradition with some very selective story-telling to pretend that he’s being prosecuted for political reasons.

For example, WikiLeaks is pointing to the Dana Rohrabacher pardon discussion in August 2017 to suggest that Trump was extorting Assange, demanding he provide certain details about the 2016 hack (details that are consistent with the lies that Assange told consistently about Russia’s role in the hack-and-leak) or else he would prosecute him. Unsurprisingly, WikiLeaks did not mention that discussions of a pardon started at least as early as December 2016 as payback for his role in the election, and continued in February 2017 as Assange tried to use the Vault 7 files to extort a pardon. If you can believe Roger Stone, pardon discussions continued even after DOJ first charged Assange in December 2017until early January 2018 (though that may have been an attempt to silence Randy Credico and thereby keep details of what really happened in 2016 secret).

WikiLeaks is also misrepresenting the timing of the increased surveillance by UC Global in December 2017 to suggest Assange was always being surveilled that heavily.

I will pass over the intervening period during which Julian Assange continued to have his conversations with his lawyers and family constantly monitored and recorded by a private agency acting on the instructions of US intelligence and for their benefit.

As slides from Andrew Müller-Maguhn make clear, the surveillance only began to really ratchet up in December 2017, after Assange had helped Joshua Schulte burn CIA to the ground (and at a time when WikiLeaks remained in communication with Schulte).

Assange’s team then mis-states when Trump’s war on journalists began, suggesting it preceded the April 2017 targeting of Assange, rather than came in August 2017.

That temporal slight is necessary because Assange’s team is claiming that Mike Pompeo decided to attack WikiLeaks in April 2017 out of the blue, out of some kind of retaliation.

That is why the prosecution of Mr. Assange, based on no new evidence, was now pursued and advocated by the Trump administration, led by spokesman such as Mike Pompeo of the CIA and Attorney General Sessions. They began by denouncing him in April 2017. I refer you to the following:

i. Firstly, the statements of Mr. Pompeo, as director of the CIA, on 13 April 2017, denouncing Julian Assange and WikiLeaks as “a non-state hostile intelligence agency“. [Feldstein, tab 18, p19 and K10] On the same occasion, Pompeo also stated that Julian Assange as a foreigner had no First Amendment rights (See Guardian article, bundle K)

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

That’s thoroughly absurd. Pompeo’s speech was entirely about CIA’s response to have been burned to the ground by WikiLeaks. This passage makes clear that, in his prepared speech at least, Pompeo’s comments about the First Amendment don’t pertain to him being a foreigner at all (I’m going to pull the video).

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

[snip]

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

Here’s what he said in questions:

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.

Mike Pompeo is and always will be a problematic figure to make this argument.

But all the evidence shows that Assange’s surveillance and prosecution arose in response to the Vault 7 leaks, not Trump innate hatred for journalists.

Update: Here are the Prosecution’s Opening Statement and Skeleton Argument.

Joshua Schulte Doubles Down on Forcing Mike Pompeo to Testify in His Trial

As I laid out, accused Vault 7 leaker Joshua Schulte is (predictably) trying to force Mike Pompeo to testify at his trial (the parties apparently have reached an agreement on the rest of Schulte’s human graymail bid). In the single filing submitted under his name since he got added to the trial team, James Branden justifies that request, in part, on what I have noted: the future CIA Director was cheering WikiLeaks’ publication of stolen emails months after Schulte allegedly sent CIA’s hacking tools to WikiLeaks in July 2016.

Further, in this case, the government has sought to establish the grave harm of a WikiLeaks leak while just months after Mr. Schulte allegedly leaked, Sec. Pompeo championed WikiLeaks’s publication of the stolen DNC emails on social media. This disconnect, too, is ripe for examination.

The Senate should never have confirmed such a person to lead the CIA for just this reason: because he would forever lose the ability to claim high ground with regards to WikiLeaks. Given that Pompeo himself is the one who first named WikiLeaks a non-state hostile intelligence service, this seems like a fair basis for questioning.

Branden cites two other reasons to justify calling Pompeo. As CIA Director, he approved the use of sensitive information to obtain search warrants to target Schulte in March 2017, and some of that information turned out to be (slightly) wrong.

Further, less than a week after the disclosure, Sec. Pompeo approved the substance of the first search warrant application, authorizing the FBI to make various statements therein, at least some of which later proved untrue.

Judge Paul Crotty rejected a challenge to these warrants, but putting Pompeo on the stand would provide the defense a memorable way to highlight those details. The government can probably argue, correctly, that Pompeo made no firsthand assertion about the credibility of those details, he simply said the leak was damaging enough that the CIA was willing to share sensitive information in hopes of prosecuting it. There are other reasons that Pompeo’s actions in advance of these warrant applications are of acute interest, but I doubt questions eliciting them would be permitted.

Schulte also wants to ask Pompeo about an imagined role he had in the charging decisions.

The defense also seeks to inquire of Sec. Pompeo whether he directed his staff to push charges against Mr. Schulte to the exclusion of anyone else or to the exclusion of exculpatory evidence.

For a lot of reasons, the government could probably move to exclude this discussion, even if it existed in substance, as prosecutorial decisions don’t get shared with defendants. Still, Schulte seems to have a theory of defense here — some reason he believes Pompeo would want to limit the focus to Schulte — that might be more inculpatory than he imagines.

Joshua Schulte’s Human Graymail Campaign Targets Mike Pompeo

“Graymail” is a term used to describe when a defendant attempts to make a prosecution involving classified information too difficult for the government to pursue by demanding reams of classified evidence that the government either has to water down to make admissible at trial or argue is not helpful to the defense.

As an example, Scooter Libby employed a defense that he didn’t lie to the grand jury about his efforts to expose Valerie Plame, but rather forgot about those efforts, because he was so distracted by everything scary he reviewed in daily Presidential Daily Briefs. He forced the government to substitute a great deal of information from PDBs and almost upended the trial as a result.

It has been clear for some time that accused Vault 7 leaker Joshua Schulte was employing such a strategy, but with a twist. He obviously has been trying to release as much classified information from the CIA as possible, both through legitimate means and via leaking it. But starting last fall, there was a dispute about how Schulte could serve trial subpoenas on CIA witnesses and whether he had to work through prosecutors to do so; Schulte argued the government was trying to learn his defensive strategy by vetting his subpoenas.

The dispute just surfaced again in the form of a government motion in limine to exclude 3 CIA witnesses and require Schulte to provide justifications for a slew of other CIA witnesses he has subpoenaed. At least 63 CIA witnesses have informed the CIA that he has subpoenaed them, and that’s just the ones who have informed the agency.

The Government understands that the defendant has served at least 69 current or former CIA employees with subpoenas in this case. This includes subpoenas for 23 individuals identified in a preliminary witness list the Government provided to the defense as a courtesy on August 16, 2019, which the Court authorized in an Order dated November 26, 2019 (Dkt. 200), and at least 46 additional subpoenas since then. That number reflects those recipients who have informed the CIA’s Office of General Counsel of the latest subpoenas, as required by CIA regulations.1

1 The Government does not know the precise number of subpoenas that the defendant has issued because the Government is only aware of the subpoenas issued to individuals who have reported receiving them to the CIA’s Office of General Counsel.

With respect to this slew of witnesses, the government asks just that Schulte be required to show that they have firsthand knowledge that is relevant to the trial that would not be cumulative.

But with respect to three, the government offers specific objections. The government’s objections to two — a covert field officer and the Center for Cyber Intelligence’s Chief Counsel — seem utterly reasonable. But the government’s objection to a third — Mike Pompeo, who was CIA Director when WikiLeaks published the leaks — is more dubious.

To the extent it’s discernible given redactions in the government’s motion, here are the objections to those three witnesses.

Lisa: Schulte has subpoenaed a woman pseudonymed “Lisa,” a “high up” customer of CIA’s hacking tools. Schulte argues that because CIA officers did not “warn” her about Schulte, it’s proof of his innocence. The government argues that Schulte is trying to call “Lisa” to testify in part to admit into evidence statements that he made to her, which would be hearsay designed to avoid taking the stand himself.

Erin: Schulte wants to call the Chief Counsel of CCI to testify about things she said in an FBI interview about other potential leads to find the culprit behind the theft. Apparently, she raised an off-site event that took place between March 8-10, 2016 that might play a role. According to the original theory of the case, Schulte used an opportunity when everyone else was gone from the office, possibly during that event, to steal these files. But, as the government points out, Schulte didn’t ask “Jeremy Weber” anything about this event when he was on the stand, even though Weber attended it personally. They note Schulte instead wants to ask someone who wasn’t there — Erin — about it. Plus, as the government notes, Erin is the counsel for the victim of this crime, and as such is protected by attorney-client privilege.

Mike Pompeo: Finally, Schulte wants to call Mike Pompeo. The government wants to exclude Pompeo because, during the period when he was a CIA employee as its Director, he had no direct knowledge of the theft.

While Sec. Pompeo was undoubtedly kept informed about the consequences of the defendant’s crimes and the CIA’s response to secure its systems going forward, he–like virtually all similarly situated high-ranking government officials–received that information through briefings and summaries provided by others, which is quintessential inadmissible hearsay, rather than first-hand knowledge of the facts.

Except that’s probably not why Schulte wants to call him. In fact, I predicted Schulte would call Pompeo back in November.

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.

Because of the way the government has argued that Schulte’s choice to leak to WikiLeaks is proof he intended to harm the US, it makes then House Intelligence Chair Mike Pompeo’s celebration of WikiLeaks’ publication of the stolen DNC emails — a celebration that took place months after Schulte is alleged to have sent the emails to WikiLeaks — a pertinent issue.

Given what the government has argued, Pompeo might be required to take the stand and admit that he was just being an asshole who was happy to damage the US if it meant his party would benefit when he celebrated the WikiLeaks publication of stolen DNC emails in July 2016. Of course, that’s the last thing he wants to do — and if he did, his boss, who got elected by cheering such damage, might well fire him. Pompeo’s view of WikiLeaks in July 2016 is all the more relevant given that the government appears to be planning to make … something of the Schulte’s response to these very same leaks.

Schulte is clearly engaged in human graymail with this larger request, and I expect Judge Paul Crotty will agree to the government’s demand that Schulte show some particularized value to each of these CIA witnesses.

But given their efforts to treat WikiLeaks as a particularly damaging kind of leak recipient, I think Schulte may be able to make a compelling argument that Pompeo should have to explain his past enthusiasm for WikiLeaks’ publications.

Dick Cheney’s Apprentice Strikes

John Bolton may lack the courage of Marie Yovanovitch, Jennifer Williams, Fiona Hill, or Alex Vindman. But he learned the art of bureaucratic murder from the master, Dick Cheney. And so it is that after the President’s lawyers have already laid out their defense, it magically happened that NYT learned the damning details about Ukraine in the draft of Bolton’s book that would make his testimony in the impeachment trial monumental.

Apparently, the book describes:

  • In an August meeting about releasing the aid, Trump said he didn’t want to release it until Ukraine sent all documents pertaining to Biden and Hillary
  • Mike Pompeo knew Rudy’s allegations about Marie Yovanovitch were false and believed Rudy may have been working for other clients when he floated them
  • Bolton told Bill Barr that he was mentioned in the call in July; Barr has claimed he only learned that in August
  • Contrary to Mick Mulvaney’s claims, the Chief of Staff was present on at least one call with Rudy
  • Bolton, Pompeo, and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper counseled Trump to releasee the aid almost a dozen times

The details I most relish — not least because Dick Cheney hurt the country using his bureaucratic skills but included none of them in his autobiographical novel — are there bureaucratic details.

Mr. Bolton’s explosive account of the matter at the center of Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial, the third in American history, was included in drafts of a manuscript he has circulated in recent weeks to close associates.

[snip]

White House officials … said he took notes that he should have left behind when he departed the administration.

Bolton has notes. And “close associates” of his have drafts of the manuscript.

Bill Barr may be sending FBI agents out to pick up Bolton’s notes as they went to pick up Jim Comey’s memos detailing Trump’s damning behavior, but at this point, I think Bolton could instead send them to NARA to comply with the Presidential Records Act. And if Barr goes after Bolton, I assume his friends will release the drafts.

Plus, there are several other ways this can get out. Bolton has just won himself an invitation to testify to SDNY about Rudy (and Pompeo may have as well). The House could go after Bolton for investigations of everyone else he implicated — Pompeo, Barr, Mulvaney — all of whom deserve to be impeached themselves.

Already, a significant majority of voters want the Senate to call witnesses like Bolton. Now, if they don’t so they can acquit, it will make this a bigger story going forward.

Mike Pompeo Can Find Proof that Obama Addressed Ukrainian Corruption in Trump’s Joint Defense Agreement

Mike Pompeo had an unbelievably dickish interview with NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly this morning. In spite of the fact that Kelly alerted his staff she intended to ask about Iran and Ukraine, he complained when she turned to Ukraine. He falsely claimed he had defended everyone of his reports, including Marie Yovanovitch. And he reportedly accused Kelly of not being able to find Ukraine on a map (which she promptly did).

I was taken to the Secretary’s private living room where he was waiting and where he shouted at me for about the same amount of time as the interview itself.

He was not happy to have been questioned about Ukraine.

He asked, “do you think Americans care about Ukraine?”

He used the F-word in that sentence and many others. He asked if I could find Ukraine on a map. I said yes, and he called out for aides to bring us a map of the world with no writing. I pointed to Ukraine. He put the map away. He said, “people will hear about this.”

But the craziest thing might be Pompeo’s claim that President Obama did nothing to take down corruption in Ukraine.

Change of subject. Ukraine. Do you owe Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch an apology?

You know, I agreed to come on your show today to talk about Iran. That’s what I intend to do. I know what our Ukraine policy has been now for the three years of this administration. I’m proud of the work we’ve done. This administration delivered the capability for the Ukrainians to defend themselves. President Obama showed up with MREs (meals ready to eat.) We showed up with Javelin missiles. The previous administration did nothing to take down corruption in Ukraine. We’re working hard on that. We’re going to continue to do it. [my emphasis]

Pompeo has to say this, obviously, because a key Trump defense against impeachment is that Joe Biden was supporting, rather than combatting corruption. But a number of impeachment witnesses, including Marie Yovanovitch, explained at length the things Obama had done to combat Ukrainian corruption. It’s one of many reasons why Obama did not give lethal aid to Ukraine. Bruce Ohr, whom Trump has targeted for over a year, worked hard on the issue, too.

But the craziest part of this claim — that Obama did nothing to take down corruption in Ukraine — can be found in Trump’s own Joint Defense Agreement. There are two glaring exhibits of efforts taken under Obama to combat corruption: Dmitro Firtash, who was indicted for bribery by NDIL in 2013, is represented by Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova, who were consulting on Trump’s defense against the whistleblower complaint on October 8, 2019.

So, too, was Kevin Downing, Paul Manafort’s defense attorney. Manafort, of course, was ultimately found guilty of breathtaking corruption in Ukraine in an investigation that started in January 2016. Manafort lied to obstruct an investigation into what he was doing in a meeting on August 2, 2016, where he discussed how to get paid by several of his corrupt Ukrainian paymasters, shared his campaign strategy, and discussed how to carve up Ukraine to Russia’s liking; that investigation started just days later, on August 10, 2016.

In short, Obama’s DOJ opened a number of investigations into Ukrainian corruption. It just turns out that two of the most notorious defendants in those investigations are part of a Joint Defense Agreement with Pompeo’s boss.