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Charlie Savage Plays with His Magic Time Machine To Avoid Doing Journalism

Charlie Savage just did something astonishing in the name of press freedom. He said that the truth doesn’t matter now, in 2021, because he reported a different truth eleven years ago.

He took issue with my headline to this piece, noting that he was obfuscating the facts about the Julian Assange prosecution so as to shoehorn it into a story about actual journalists.

Charlie made several obfuscations or clear errors in that piece:

  • He didn’t explain (as he hasn’t, to misleading effect, in past stories on Assange) the nature of the 2nd superseding indictment and the way it added to the most problematic first superseding one
  • He said the 2019 superseding indictment (again, he was silent about the 2020 superseding indictment) raised the “specter of prosecuting reporters;” this line is how Charlie shoehorned Assange into a story about actual journalists
  • He claimed that the decision to charge Assange for “his journalistic-style acts” arose from the change in Administrations, Obama to Trump (and specifically to Bill Barr), not the evidence DOJ had obtained about Assange’s actions over time

Charlie presented all this as actual journalism about the Assange prosecution, but along the way, he made claims that were either inflammatory and inexact — a veritable specter haunting journalism — or, worse, what I believe to be false statements, false statements that parrot the propaganda that Wikileaks is spreading to obscure the facts.

The “specter” comment, I take to be a figure of speech, melodramatic and cynical, but mostly rhetorical.

The silence about the 2020 superseding indictment is a habit I have called Charlie on before, but one that is an error of omission, rather than of fact.

It’s this passage that I objected to at length:

But the specter of prosecuting reporters returned in 2019, when the department under Attorney General William P. Barr expanded a hacking conspiracy indictment of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, to treat his journalistic-style acts of soliciting and publishing classified information as crimes.

Obama-era officials had weighed charging Mr. Assange for publishing leaked military and diplomatic files, but worried about establishing a precedent that could damage mainstream news outlets that sometimes publish government secrets, like The Times. The Trump administration, however, was undeterred by that prospect.

As presented, this passage made several claims:

  1. “Obama-era officials” had considered charging Assange for publishing activities, but “Obama-era officials” did not do so because it might damage “mainstream news outlets” like the NYT
  2. The reason that the Trump administration was willing to charge Assange for publishing was because they were “undeterred” from the prospect of doing damage to the NYT
  3. DOJ under Billy Barr expanded a hacking conspiracy “to treat his journalistic-style acts of soliciting and publishing classified information as crimes”

I believe the last claim is largely factual but misleading, as if the operative issue were Barr’s involvement or as if Barr deliberately treated Assange’s “journalistic-style acts” — as distinct from that of actual journalists — as a crime. There may be evidence that Barr specifically had it in for WikiLeaks or that Barr (as distinct from Trump’s other Attorneys General) treated Assange as he did out of the same contempt with which he treated actual journalists. There may be evidence that Barr — whose tenure as AG exhibited great respect for some of the journalists he had known since his first term as AG — was trying to burn down journalism, as an institution. But Charlie provides no evidence of that, nor has anyone else I know. (Indeed, Charlie’s larger argument presents evidence that Barr’s attacks on journalism, including subpoenas that may or may not have been obtained under Barr in defiance of guidelines adopted under Eric Holder, may only differ from Obama’s in their political tilt.)

Of course, one of the worst things that the Trump Administration did to a journalist, obtaining years of Ali Watkins’ email records, happened under Jeff Sessions, not Barr.

The first and second claims together set up a clear contrast. Obama-era officials — and by context, this means the entirety of the Obama Administration — did not prosecute Assange for publication because of what became known — based off a description that DOJ’s spox Matthew Miller gave publicly in 2013 — as the NYT problem, the risk that prosecuting WikiLeaks would endanger NYT. But the Trump Administration was willing to charge Assange for publication because they didn’t think the risk that such charges posed to the NYT were all that grave or damaging or important.

There’s no way to understand these two points except as a contrast of Administrations, to suggest that Obama’s Administration — which was epically shitty on leak investigations — wouldn’t do what the Trump Administration did do. It further involves treating the Department of Justice as an organization entirely subject to the whims of a President and an Attorney General, rather than as the enormous bureaucracy full of career professionals who guard their independence jealously, who even did so, with varying degrees of success, in the face of Barr’s unprecedented politicization of the department.

It’s certainly possible that’s true. It’s possible that Evan Perez and three other CNN journalists who reported in 2017 that what actually changed pertained to Snowden simply made that report up out of thin air. It’s certainly possible that under a President who attempted to shut down the Russian hacking investigation to protect Assange even after his CIA Director declared war on Assange, who almost blew up the investigation into Joshua Schulte, who entertained pardoning Assange in 2016, in 2017, in 2018, and in 2020, at the same time viewed the Assange prosecution as a unique opportunity to set up future prosecutions of journalists. It’s certainly possible that Billy Barr, who sabotaged the Mike Flynn and Roger Stone prosecutions to serve Trump’s interests, went rogue on the Assange case.

But given the abundant evidence that this prosecution happened in spite of Trump’s feelings about WikiLeaks rather than because of them, you would need to do actual reporting to make that claim.

And, as noted, I asked Charlie whether he had done the reporting to sustain that claim before I wrote the post…

… just as I — months earlier — asked Charlie why he was falsely claiming Assange was charged in 2018 rather than within a day of a Russian exfiltration attempt in 2017, something that probably has far more to do with why DOJ charged Assange when and how they did than who was Attorney General at the time.

After his bullshit attempt to explain that date error away, Charlie removed the date, though without notice of correction, must less credit to me for having to fact check the NYT.

Anyway, Charlie apparently didn’t read the post when I first wrote it, but instead only read it yesterday when I excused Icelandic journalists for making the same error — attributing the decision to prosecute Assange to Billy Barr’s animus rather than newly discovered evidence — that Charlie had earlier made. And Charlie went off on a typically thin-skinned tirade. He accused me (the person who keeps having to correct his errors) of being confused. He claimed that the thrust of my piece — that he was misrepresenting the facts about Assange — was “false.” He claimed the charges against and extradition of Assange was a precedent not already set by Minh Quang Pham’s extradition and prosecution. He accused me of not grasping that this was a First Amendment argument and not the journalism argument he had shoehorned it into. He suggested my insistence on accurate reporting about the CFAA overt acts against Assange (including the significance of Edward Snowden to them) was a “hobbyhorse,” and that I only insisted on accurate reporting on the topic in an effort to, “us[e] something [Charlie] said as a peg to artificially sex it up (dumb NYT!) even though it doesn’t actually fit.” He then made a comment that still treats the prosecution of Assange as binary — the original indictment on a single CFAA charge or the first superseding indictment that added the dangerous Espionage Act charges — rather than tertiary, the second superseding indictment that, at least per Vanessa Baraitser, clearly distinguished what Assange did from what journalists do.

That’s when things went absolutely haywire. Pulitzer prize winning journalist Charlie Savage said that his repeated claim that the charges against Assange arose from a change in Administration rather than a changed understanding of Assange did not rely on what Miller said, because he had “been writing since 2010 about deliberations inside DOJ re wanting to charge Assange/WL,” linking to this story.

 

That is, Charlie presented as a defense to my complaint that he was misrepresenting what happened in 2016 and 2017 by pointing to reporting he did in 2010, which — I pointed out — is actually before 2013 and so useless in offering a better reason to cling to that 2013 detail rather than rely on more recent reporting. Because DOJ did not have the same understanding of WikiLeaks in 2010 as they got after Julian Assange played a key role in a Russian intelligence operation against the United States, obtained files from a CIA SysAdmin after explicitly calling on CIA SysAdmins to steal such things (in a speech invoking Snowden), attempted to extort the US with those CIA files, and then implicitly threatened the President’s son with them, Charlie Savage says, it’s okay to misrepresent what happened in 2016 and 2017. Charlie’s reporting in 2010 excuses his refusal to do reporting in 2021.

Given his snotty condescension, it seems clear that Charlie hasn’t considered that, better than most journalists in the United States, I understand the grave risks of what DOJ did with Assange. I’ve thought about it in a visceral way that a recipient of official leaks backed by an entire legal department probably can’t even fathom. But that hasn’t stopped me from trying to understand — and write accurately about — what DOJ claims to be doing with Assange. Indeed, as someone whose career has intersected with WikiLeaks far more closely than Charlie’s has and as someone who knows what people very close to Assange claim to believe, I feel I have an obligation to try to unpack what really happened and what the real legal implications of it are, not least because that’s the only way to assess where DOJ is telling the truth and whether they’re simply making shit up to take out Assange. DOJ is acting ruthlessly. But at the same time, at least one person very close to Assange told me explicitly she wanted me to misrepresent the truth in his defense, and WikiLeaks has been telling outrageous lies in Assange’s defense with little pushback by people like Charlie because, I guess, he thinks he’s defending journalism.

As I understand it, the entire point of journalism is to try to write the truth, rather than obfuscate it in an attempt to protect an institution called journalism. It does no good to the institution — either its integrity or the ability to demonstrate the risks of the Assange prosecution — to blame it all on Billy Barr rather than explore how and why DOJ’s institutional approach to Assange has changed over time.

WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden Champion Sociopathic Liars and Sloppy Thinking

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

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

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

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

The article proves it doesn’t understand US law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

100. At the same time as these communications, it is alleged, he was encouraging others to hack into computers to obtain information. This activity does not form part of the “Manning” allegations but it took place at exactly the same time and supports the case that Mr. Assange was engaged in a wider scheme, to work with computer hackers and whistle blowers to obtain information for Wikileaks. Ms. Manning was aware of his work with these hacking groups as Mr. Assange messaged her several times about it. For example, it is alleged that, on 5 March 2010 Mr. Assange told Ms. Manning that he had received stolen banking documents from a source (Teenager); on 10 March 2010, Mr. Assange told Ms. Manning that he had given an “intel source” a “list of things we wanted” and the source had provided four months of recordings of all phones in the Parliament of the government of NATO country-1; and, on 17 March 2010, Mr. Assange told Ms. Manning that he used the unauthorised access given to him by a source, to access a government website of NATO country-1 used to track police vehicles. His agreement with Ms. Manning, to decipher the alphanumeric code she gave him, took place on 8 March 2010, in the midst of his efforts to obtain, and to recruit others to obtain, information through computer hacking. [italics and bold mine]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlie Savage’s Obfuscations in the Service of Claiming Julian Assange Is a Journalist

Everyone is fighting for press freedoms again, and therefore lots of people are misrepresenting the facts about Julian Assange’s prosecution in purported defense of press freedom again.

These are the paragraphs with which UK Judge Vanessa Baraitser distinguished what Julian Assange is accused of from what “ordinary investigative journalists” entitled to protection in the UK or European Union do.

99. As part of his assistance to Ms. Manning, [Assange] agreed to use the rainbow tools, which he had for the purpose of cracking Microsoft password hashes, to decipher an alphanumeric code she had given him. The code was to an encrypted password hash stored on a Department of Defence computer connected to the SIPRNet. It is alleged that had they succeeded, Ms. Manning might have been able to log on to computers connected to the network under a username that did not belong to her. This is the conduct which most obviously demonstrates Mr. Assange’s complicity in Ms. Manning’s theft of the information, and separates his activity from that of the ordinary investigative journalist.

100. At the same time as these communications, it is alleged, he was encouraging others to hack into computers to obtain information. This activity does not form part of the “Manning” allegations but it took place at exactly the same time and supports the case that Mr. Assange was engaged in a wider scheme, to work with computer hackers and whistle blowers to obtain information for Wikileaks. Ms. Manning was aware of his work with these hacking groups as Mr. Assange messaged her several times about it. For example, it is alleged that, on 5 March 2010 Mr. Assange told Ms. Manning that he had received stolen banking documents from a source (Teenager); on 10 March 2010, Mr. Assange told Ms. Manning that he had given an “intel source” a “list of things we wanted” and the source had provided four months of recordings of all phones in the Parliament of the government of NATO country-1; and, on 17 March 2010, Mr. Assange told Ms. Manning that he used the unauthorised access given to him by a source, to access a government website of NATO country-1 used to track police vehicles. His agreement with Ms. Manning, to decipher the alphanumeric code she gave him, took place on 8 March 2010, in the midst of his efforts to obtain, and to recruit others to obtain, information through computer hacking.

101. Mr. Assange, it is alleged, had been engaged in recruiting others to obtain information for him for some time. For example, in August 2009 he spoke to an audience of hackers at a “Hacking at Random” conference and told them that unless they were a serving member of the US military they would have no legal liability for stealing classified information and giving it to Wikileaks. At the same conference he told the audience that there was a small vulnerability within the US Congress document distribution system stating, “this is what any one of you would find if you were actually looking”. In October 2009 also to an audience of hackers at the “Hack in the Box Security Conference” he told the audience, “I was a famous teenage hacker in Australia, and I’ve been reading generals’ emails since I was 17” and referred to the Wikileaks list of “flags” that it wanted captured. After Ms. Manning made her disclosures to him he continued to encourage people to take information. For example, in December 2013 he attended a Chaos computer club conference and told the audience to join the CIA in order to steal information stating “I’m not saying don’t join the CIA; no, go and join the CIA. Go in there, go into the ballpark and get the ball and bring it out”.

Assange is not an “ordinary investigative journalist,” according to the judge who ruled that his extradition would not violate journalistic protections, because he allegedly:

  • Tried to help Manning hack a password
  • Solicited hacks of Iceland
  • Identified a vulnerability in a US server and encouraged people to use it
  • In a speech invoking WikiLeaks’ role in helping Edward Snowden to flee to what ended up being Russia, allegedly encouraged people to join the CIA with the express intent of stealing files from it

A key point for Baraitser is this was all happening at the same time, Assange was allegedly soliciting hacks in Iceland even as he attempted to help Manning crack a password, and Manning knew about the other hacking.

Charlie Savage mentions none of this in a story explaining that Julian Assange’s extradition and prosecution, “raised the specter of prosecuting reporters.” He doesn’t even mention the second superseding indictment at all, the one that lays out (among other things) the allegation that Assange entered in a conspiracy to hack Stratfor, a hack that at least six people on both sides of the Atlantic already did time for.

But the specter of prosecuting reporters returned in 2019, when the department under Attorney General William P. Barr expanded a hacking conspiracy indictment of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, to treat his journalistic-style acts of soliciting and publishing classified information as crimes.

From there, Charlie tells a narrative that WikiLeaks has been pushing as part of Assange’s extradition defense, a claim that because DOJ Public Affairs head Matthew Miller said, in November 2013, that DOJ could not distinguish Julian Assange from what the NYT does, that means that the Obama Administration continued to face that challenge for the remaining three years of the Obama Administration, long after Miller left, and right through the time WikiLeaks played a key role in a Russian intelligence-led attack on American democracy. As Charlie presents it — citing no sources or public records, and I asked him if he was relying on any and he didn’t respond — the decision to prosecute Julian Assange arose not so much from a subsequent investigation that came to distinguish Assange’s actions from those of journalists, but instead because the Trump Administration “was undeterred” about the prospect of damaging “mainstream news outlets.”

Obama-era officials had weighed charging Mr. Assange for publishing leaked military and diplomatic files, but worried about establishing a precedent that could damage mainstream news outlets that sometimes publish government secrets, like The Times. The Trump administration, however, was undeterred by that prospect.

For now, the First Amendment issues are on hold as Mr. Assange fights extradition from Britain. Soon after the Biden administration took office, the Justice Department pressed forward with that extradition effort in British court, leaving the charges in place.

But that was before Mr. Garland was sworn in — and before the latest uproar about the escalating aggression of the Justice Department’s leak investigation tactics prompted him to focus on drafting a new approach that, he testified, will be “the most protective of journalists’ ability to do their jobs in history.”

It’s Trump’s doing, not the result of further investigation, Charlie reports, as news.

The WikiLeaks narrative that Charlie repeats unquestioningly is inconsistent with an April 2017 report — one Assange’s journalism professor expert witness claims to have been unable to find with the magic of Google — that what came to distinguish Assange from other journalists was his role in helping Edward Snowden.

The US view of WikiLeaks and Assange began to change after investigators found what they believe was proof that WikiLeaks played an active role in helping Edward Snowden, a former NSA analyst, disclose a massive cache of classified documents.

We now know, four years later, that not just DOJ but even “mainstream news outlets” considered what WikiLeaks did to help Snowden something other than journalism.

Bart Gellman’s book (which was published before the most recent superseding indictment) not only lays out how WaPo’s lawyers told Gellman that he and Laura Poitras could not safely, under the law, play the role (which is referenced in the superseding indictment against Assange that Charlie doesn’t mention) that WikiLeaks would end up playing, helping Snowden get asylum in what ended up be an adversarial nation. Gellman even cites communications he and Poitras sent to Snowden in real time explaining that taking steps to help Snowden get asylum in what might be, and as it happens turned out to be, a hostile country was not journalism.

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

Poitras wrote to him separately.

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

In other words, WaPo’s own lawyers made it clear that helping an intelligence source obtain asylum in another country is not journalism and might, instead, be viewed by the US government as abetting espionage.

Given Charlie’s focus on the transition from the Trump to Biden Administration, there’s something else glaringly absent from his story: the official record on the government response to WikiLeaks’ role in the 2016 election attack. Admittedly, great swaths of that discussion remain redacted (which suggests there’s stuff we may not know), but the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report the Obama Administration’s response to the 2016 Russian interference campaign discussed how part of that process involved “develop[ing] a complete understanding of WikiLeaks.”

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

In other words, in 2016 — three years after the Miller quote that WikiLeaks has trained obedient journalists to parrot unquestioningly — the government came to some new “complete” understanding of WikiLeaks. One of the most important players in this process was then White House Homeland Security Advisor, Lisa Monaco. Her interview with the committee is cited repeatedly in the unredacted passages of the report.

Admittedly, Monaco’s views on how or whether her own understanding of WikiLeaks changed as part of that process do not appear in the report. The SSCI report redacts what those Obama officials came to understand about WikiLeaks in the waning days of the Obama Administration. But, in a story presented as “news,” it seems important to consider how that process might influence Monaco’s understanding of the case against Assange, given that one of the last things she did when last in government was struggle to respond to an attack on American democracy in part because the government treated WikiLeaks as a journalistic outlet for far too long during the attack. Whatever she believes, Monaco knows far more than Matthew Miller, or us, for that matter. We might not agree with her thus far non-public understanding of WikiLeaks, but even the four year old understanding of WikiLeaks she brought to her position as Deputy Attorney General surely will have a bigger influence on DOJ’s decisions about Assange going forward than what the Public Affairs guy said eight years ago.

It’s not that I disagree that some of the charges against Assange — particularly for publishing the names of US and Coalition informants — present a dangerous precedent. They do, and those risks are important to talk about, accurately and honestly. On that note, though, it’s again worthwhile to see how Baraitser distinguishes Assange (note, the circumstances of the release of the informant names is the area where Assange presented the most evidence to challenge the government’s evidence).

The defence submits that, by disclosing Ms. Manning’s materials, Mr. Assange was acting within the parameters of responsible journalism. The difficulty with this argument is that it vests in Mr. Assange the right to make the decision to sacrifice the safety of these few individuals, knowing nothing of their circumstances or the dangers they faced, in the name of free speech. In the modern digital age, vast amounts of information can be indiscriminately disclosed to a global audience, almost instantly, by anyone with access to a computer and an internet connection. Unlike the traditional press, those who choose to use the internet to disclose sensitive information in this way are not bound by a professional code or ethical journalistic duty or practice. Those who post information on the internet have no obligation to act responsibly or to exercise judgment in their decisions. In the modern era, where “dumps” of vast amounts of data onto the internet can be carried out by almost anyone, it is difficult to see how a concept of “responsible journalism” can sensibly be applied.

[snip]

Free speech does not comprise a ‘trump card’ even where matters of serious public concern are disclosed (see Stoll above), and it does not provide an unfettered right for some, like Mr. Assange, to decide the fate of others, on the basis of their partially informed assessment of the risks.

[snip]

The New York Times published the following condemnation on 25 July 2012:

“The Times and the other news organizations agreed at the outset that we would not disclose —either in our articles or any of our online supplementary material — anything that was likely to put lives at risk or jeopardize military or antiterrorist operations. We have, for example, withheld any names of operatives in the field and informants cited in the reports. We have avoided anything that might compromise American or allied intelligence-gathering methods such as communications intercepts. We have not linked to the archives of raw material. At the request of the White House, The Times also urged WikiLeaks to withhold any harmful material from its Web site.”

This is a distinctly European decision. That’s true because in Europe, unlike the US, such protections are tied to being a journalist. Plus Baraitser argued that under EU law, Assange’s release violated privacy protections that simply don’t exist in the US. Mind you, it’s one thing to say the NYT won’t publish details that might endanger military operations and another thing to say such revelations shouldn’t be protected by the First Amendment. Even if WikiLeaks is a “hostile organization acting intentionally and deliberately to undermine U.S. or allies’ interests,” (as SSCI described), that should not, itself, surpass the First Amendment consideration.

But it underscores the point. There are First Amendment problems with the publication charges and, to a lesser extent, the other Manning-focused ones. But Assange actually wouldn’t be the first person extradited from the UK significantly for publication activities, the same thing happened to Minh Quang Pham for the few months he spent as AQAP’s graphic designer. That precedent has not only gone virtually unnoticed, but did little to harm the press freedom of others in the US. Not only are the First Amendment risks of Assange’s prosecution not tied to whether or not Assange is a journalist, but the effort to reinvent both the history of his prosecution and what he is accused of to turn him into a journalist has led a bunch of journalists and press freedom advocates to violate the principles that are supposed to distinguish journalism.

Snowden

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 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.

[snip]

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 Baraitser Decision’s Impact (or Not) on Journalism

Before and since Joe Biden was inaugurated, Julian Assange supporters are unsurprisingly pushing for Biden to direct DOJ to adopt a different stance in the prosecution of Assange.

I suspect that’s unlikely. Indeed, while I’m not sure how any of this would work under the extradition law or be tempered by the UK’s rejection of extradition based on humanitarian grounds and ongoing appeal of that decision, I think it more likely that DOJ does one of the following:

  • Supersedes the existing indictment to incorporate (at least) Vault 7
  • Adds conspiring with Russia, potentially showing a timeline of doing so that goes back up to a decade
  • Charges non-national security crimes (the quid pro quo for the pardon and possibly extortion) as a way to get around the finding that he’d be put in a SuperMax
  • Indicts an omnibus conspiracy naming others, or
  • Asks the UK to prosecute Assange under the equivalent crimes (including, possibly, for Vault 7)

I think that not because I believe Joe Biden will be shitty or good on issues pertaining to journalism or because I have it in for Assange. I think that because unlike virtually everyone weighing in on this topic (Alexa O’Brien is the sole exception I know of) I’ve actually been covering what has happened to WikiLeaks cases in the US and the public record shows that the US government as a whole and DOJ as an institution — not Presidents Obama, Trump, or Biden — have come to the conclusion that WikiLeaks is not a journalistic institution.

To that end, I want to return to Vanessa Baraitser’s ruling in Assange’s case, because most people weighing in about how and why Biden might change course are misrepresenting what she said about two issues.

The first issue pertains to the impact of her ruling on journalism. Yes, Baraitser ruled for the US. But all she had to do on this issue was weigh whether the crimes alleged in the indictment have a parallel in UK law (which in this case would be the far more onerous Official Secrets Act) and are permitted under European Convention on Human Rights law’s Article 10.

With regards to the former, Baraitser could have just noted that the Official Secrets Act clearly criminalizes the publication of classified information like that covered by the indictment. That was what most people I know honestly expected (even if they didn’t say as much publicly).

She didn’t. With regards most charges, her ruling relied heavily on the intersecting conspiracies alleged in the superseding indictment that most Assange boosters have not read, one to violate the Espionage Act and the other to violate CFAA (hacking). For the bulk of the charges (the ones covered by Theory One in this post), Baraitser described what Assange does to include a hacking element.

Mr. Assange is accused of aiding and abetting Ms. Manning in her theft and disclosure of the information, as an accessory to her offending. The defence submits that no offence is committed by Mr. Assange unless he has engaged in a criminal activity separate from Ms. Manning’s act of whistle-blowing. However, in my judgment, Mr. Assange’s alleged activities went beyond the mere encouragement of a whistle-blower.

Tseehe [sic] design and purpose of WikiLeaks, it is alleged, was to obtain protected information and publish it. Mr. Assange was willing to achieve this, it is alleged, through computer hacking, both by engaging in hacking activities himself but also by recruiting and soliciting others to do the same. This is amply demonstrated in the request in his work with various hacking groups. His work with Ms. Manning, it is alleged, was part of this plan.

[snip]

At the same time as these communications, it is alleged, he was encouraging others to hack into computers to obtain information. This activity does not form part of the “Manning” allegations but it took place at exactly the same time and supports the case that Mr. Assange was engaged in a wider scheme, to work with computer hackers and whistle blowers to obtain information for Wikileaks. Ms. Manning was aware of his work with these hacking groups as Mr. Assange messaged her several times about it. For example, it is alleged that, on 5 March 2010 Mr. Assange told Ms. Manning that he had received stolen banking documents from a source (Teenager); on 10 March 2010, Mr. Assange told Ms. Manning that he had given an “intel source” a “list of things we wanted and the source had provided four months of recordings of all phones in the Parliament of the government of NATO country-1; and, on 17 March 2010, Mr. Assange told Ms. Manning that he used the unauthorised access given to him by a source, to access a government website of NATO country-1 used to track police vehicles. His agreement with Ms. Manning, to decipher the alphanumeric code she gave him, took place on 8 March 2010, in the midst of his efforts to obtain, and to recruit others to obtain, information through computer hacking

[snip]

In relation to Ms. Manning, it is alleged that Mr. Assange was engaged in these same activities. During their contact over many months, he encouraged her to obtain information when she had told him she had no more to give him, he identified for her particular information he would like to have from the government database for her to provide to him, and, in the most obvious example of his using his computer hacking skills to further his objective, he tried to decipher an alphanumeric code she sent to him. If the allegations are proved, then his agreement with Ms. Manning and his agreements with these groups of computer hackers took him outside any role of investigative journalism. He was acting to further the overall objective of WikiLeaks to obtain protected information, by hacking if necessary. Notwithstanding the vital role played by the press in a democratic society, journalists have the same duty as everyone else to obey the ordinary criminal law. In this case Mr. Assange’s alleged acts were unlawful and he does not become immune from criminal liability merely because he claims he was acting as a journalist.

Thus, even though she didn’t have to do so to rule for the US on this point, she nevertheless distinguished what Assange does from what journalists do because, as alleged in the indictment and in actual fact, hacking is such a central part of what Assange does. It’s not clear she would have gotten to this ruling without the language included in the superseding indictment (a superseding indictment which, again, virtually all Assange boosters either willfully ignore or are genuinely ignorant exists). But as it happened, she relied heavily on the language in the superseding indictment and very clearly distinguished what Assange does from what journalists do.

Of particular interest (because this is the language in the indictment that I believe sets up adding Vault 7 to the indictment), Baraitser accepted the US government’s description of Assange recruiting people to hack.

Mr. Assange, it is alleged, had been engaged in recruiting others to obtain information for him for some time. For example, in August 2009 he spoke to an audience of hackers at a “Hacking at Random” conference and told them that unless they were a serving member of the US military they would have no legal liability for stealing classified information and giving it to Wikileaks. At the same conference he told the audience that there was a small vulnerability within the US Congress document distribution system stating, “this is what any one of you would find if you were actually looking”. In October 2009 also to an audience of hackers at the “Hack in the Box Security Conference” he told the audience, “I was a famous teenage hacker in Australia, and I’ve been reading generals’ emails since I was 17” and referred to the Wikileaks list of “flags” that it wanted captured. After Ms. Manning made her disclosures to him he continued to encourage people to take information. For example, in December 2013 he attended a Chaos computer club conference and told the audience to join the CIA in order to steal information stating “I’m not saying don’t join the CIA; no, go and join the CIA. Go in there, go into the ballpark and get the ball and bring it out”.

Again, it’s not just that Assange solicited people to share classified information with him (which journalists do), but that he also explicitly encourages people to hack to get it.

And while the way Baraitser distinguished Assange from others in her ruling on the three most dangerous charges, publishing informants’ identities (Theory Three in this post), is less compelling, she nevertheless went beyond a ruling on the act itself. She distinguished Assange’s publication online (in bulk, though that distinction is less clear and not one of great comfort to someone who also publishes online) from traditional journalism.

More importantly, Baraitser talked about the balancing involved in Article 10 (particularly with regards to the right of private life).

The defence submits that, by disclosing Ms. Manning’s materials, Mr. Assange was acting within the parameters of responsible journalism. The difficulty with this argument is that it vests in Mr. Assange the right to make the decision to sacrifice the safety of these few individuals, knowing nothing of their circumstances or the dangers they faced, in the name of free speech. In the modern digital age, vast amounts of information can be indiscriminately disclosed to a global audience, almost instantly, by anyone with access to a computer and an internet connection. Unlike the traditional press, those who choose to use the internet to disclose sensitive information in this way are not bound by a professional code or ethical journalistic duty or practice. Those who post information on the internet have no obligation to act responsibly or to exercise judgment in their decisions. In the modern era, where “dumps” of vast amounts of data onto the internet can be carried out by almost anyone, it is difficult to see how a concept of “responsible journalism” can sensibly be applied.

[comparison with other outlets and their condemnation of him]

The law already constrains in various ways what may be published in order to avoid damage to private interests. For example, the High Court recently awarded damages against the Associated Newspaper Ltd, after the MailOnline website published an article , reporting on the arrest of the claimant in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing, and disclosing details capable of leading to his identification (Alaedeen Sicri v Associated Newspapers Limited, [2020] EWHC 3541 (QB)). Free speech does not comprise a ‘trump card’ even where matters of serious public concern are disclosed (see Stoll above), and it does not provide an unfettered right for some, like Mr. Assange, to decide the fate of others, on the basis of their partially informed assessment of the risks.

This was not necessarily a national security stance. Rather, in language that would apply equally to Assange’s indiscriminate publication of the DNC and Podesta emails (as well as the publication of the Turkish and Saudi emails), Baraitser argued that Assange’s publication in bulk was not protected because it did not and could not properly weigh the risk to others.

This part of the ruling, in particular, would not translate into US law. There is no such privacy balance in the US outside of much weaker defamation laws. And so this part of the ruling does not offer much comfort with regards the existing charges as precedent in the US context.

But that’s an issue Assange supporters have with US law, not with the Baraitser ruling.

With regards to the impact on journalism, Baraitser ruled that the charges before her (which contrary to a lot of WikiLeaks propaganda, doesn’t include the Collateral Murder video) were distinguishable from what journalists do.

As such, unless press organizations want to claim hacking is within the job description of journalists, this ruling should not chill journalism.

There’s certainly real concern about the charges as precedent in the US, particularly the publishing charges. But that’s different than the Baraitser ruling itself.

Update: Corrected ECHR thanks to Chetnolian.

Three Inconvenient Truths about a Hypothetical Trump Pardon for Julian Assange

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

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

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

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

It may not work

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

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

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

A Trump pardon would have to pardon everything through current day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The State of Play: Joshua Schulte and Julian Assange

Last year, it looked like the Joshua Schulte trial, rescheduled in the fall to start January 13, would be done before the extradition hearing for Julian Assange started. Two things changed since then: Schulte got a delay until February 3, and then last month, Assange convinced Judge Vanessa Baraitser to split his extradition hearing into two, the first part lasting a week starting Monday, and then resuming on May 18 for three more weeks.

As a result, both men are in court during the same week, intersecting in interesting ways.

Thus far, Assange’s argument is threefold:

  1. His prosecution is hopelessly political, merely retaliation by the hated President that Assange helped elect, Donald Trump
  2. The evidence in the case against Assange is so weak as to be abusive
  3. A person cannot be extradited for political crimes like the Espionage Act

The first argument is a load of horseshit covering up the fact that the timing of the treatment of WikiLeaks as a non-state hostile intelligence service, the increased surveillance of Assange, and the initial December 21, 2017 charge all stem from WikiLeaks’ burning the CIA by publishing all its hacking tools. It’s horseshit, but it garners a lot of enthusiasm among WikiLeaks supporters who like to conveniently forget that, whatever Assange’s motivations were in 2010 (when he engaged in the acts he is charged with), he nevertheless helped Russia help Trump get elected. That said, even though the claims about what changed in 2017 are horseshit, it doesn’t change that the existing charges against Assange pose a real danger to journalism.

The second argument is far stronger. For each of the theories of prosecution under which Assange is charged — attempting to help Chelsea Manning crack a password, soliciting certain files via WikiLeaks’ wish list, and publishing a bunch of files in which the names of US and British sources were later revealed — Assange has at least a credible defense. Assange never succeeded, and could not have succeeded, in cracking that password. Manning didn’t leak the precise files that WikiLeaks had on its wish list (though did leak some of the same sets). WikiLeaks originally went to some effort to redact the names of sources, only to have a Guardian journalist release the password revealing them. Mind you, the extradition hearing is not the trial itself, so for these defenses to be relevant, WikiLeaks has to prove that the case against Assange is abusively weak.

The third argument, which is being argued today, is a more interesting legal question. Assange claims that the existing Anglo-US extradition treaty, passed in 2003, still prohibits extradition for political offenses like theEspionage Act. The US argues that Assange’s extradition is governed by the Extradition Act of 2003, which did not include such a bar (and also disagrees that these are political crimes). The lawyers are even arguing about the Magna Carta! Judge Vanessa Baraitser seems inclined to side with the US on this point, but the question will surely be appealed. Mind you, one of the charges against Assange, CFAA, is in no way a political offense, and the UK has not barred its own citizens, much less foreign citizens hanging out in foreign embassies, from being extradited on the charge (though several hackers, most recently Lauri Love, have challenged their extradition to the US for CFAA on other grounds).

Yesterday, Assange’s defense spent a good deal of time making the second argument. The US didn’t respond. Rather, it said it would deal with those issues in the May hearing.

Meanwhile, the Schulte trial is wrapping up, with Schulte doing little to mount a defense, but instead preparing an appeal. Yesterday, Schulte asked that an instruction on the defendant not testifying be added to the jury instructions (normally, these are included from the start, but Schulte has been claiming he would testify all this time). Today, Schulte told the court that Steve Bellovin won’t testify because he never got access to all the data Judge Paul Crotty ruled he couldn’t have access to (not mentioning, however, that the restrictions stemmed from Crotty’s own CIPA judgment).

I’m still unclear on the status of the witness, Michael. Schulte is trying to submit his CIA investigative report in lieu of finishing cross-examination (which is where things had left off). But it still seems possible that Crotty would require his testimony to be resumed, giving the government another opportunity to redirect his testimony. This is all likely happening today, but given that there’s so little coverage of the trial, we won’t know until Thursday.

Before all this happened, however, the jailhouse informant provided very damning testimony against Schulte, not only describing how Schulte obtained a phone (swapping an iPhone for a Samsung that he could load all the apps he wanted on it), but also claiming that Schulte said, “Russia had to help him with what he was doing,” launching an information war.” I had learned of similar allegations of ties or willingness to forge them with Russia via several sources in the past. And Schulte’s own jailroom notebooks include hints of the same, such as a bullet point describing how Russia could help the US “destroy itself.”

And his final plan — which the informant alerted his handlers to just before Schulte launched it — included some “Russia pieces.”

As part of the same plan to get fellow SysAdmins to leak all their secrets to WikiLeaks, then, Joshua Schulte was also hoping to encourage Russia to attack the US.

I’ve long said the Vault 7 case, if it were ever added to Julian Assange’s charges (including an extortion charge, which would also not be a political crime), would be far more damning and defensible than the ones currently charged. Filings from November suggested that the government had come to think of Schulte’s leaks to WikiLeaks as the last overt act in an ongoing conspiracy against the United States.

And by 2018, Schulte had come to see leaking to WikiLeaks as part of the same plan encouraging Russian attacks on the US, precisely the allegation WikiLeaks has spent years trying to deny, especially in the wake of Assange’s cooperation in Russia’s election year operation.

It’s not clear whether the US will add any evidence to the original 2010 charges against Assange before May (though Alexa O’Brien has pointed to where additional evidence might be), but the statement they’re waiting until then to rebut the solid defense that WikiLeaks is now offering suggests they might. That might reflect a hope that more coercion against Chelsea Manning will produce that additional evidence (she has renewed her bid to be released, arguing that such coercion has obviously failed). Or it might suggest they’ve got plans to lay out a broader conspiracy if and when Schulte is convicted.

Assange’s lawyers pushed for the delay to May in the first place. If the US government uses the extra time to add charges related to Vault 7, though, the delay may make a significant difference in the posture of the case.