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.

UK Judge Refuses to Extradite Julian Assange on Humanitarian Grounds [Update with Bail Denial]

Update: On Wednesday, Baraitser denied Assange bail while the US appeals based largely on the fact that he jumped bail the last time he was trying to avoid extradition. Assange’s team tried to make the case that COVID should get him released but provided Baraitser different numbers than the official ones.

UK judge Vanessa Baraitser has just released her ruling on Julian Assange’s extradition. While she found for the prosecution on all substantive legal issues, she found that Julian Assange was suicidal and extradition to what would almost certainly be confinement under Special Administrative Measures in the US would likely lead to his suicide.

Mr. Assange faces the bleak prospect of severely restrictive detention conditions designed to remove physical contact and reduce social interaction and contact with the outside world to a bare minimum. He faces these prospects as someone with a diagnosis of clinical depression and persistent thoughts of suicide. Whilst I found Professor Fazel’s approach to risk to be helpful, I accepted Professor Kopelman’s view that statistics and epidemiology take you only so far. As he puts it, whether the evaluation of risk is “high” or “very high” the risk is one which is “very real”.

Seventhly, notwithstanding the strong and constant support he receives from his family and friends, Mr. Assange has remained either severely or moderately clinically depressed throughout his detention at HMP Belmarsh. He has remained on an ACCT, the care planning process for prisoners identified as being at risk of suicide or self-harm, since his arrival at HMP Belmarsh, aside from a brief period at the end of December 2019. His prison medical notes record numerous occasions on which he had told the In-Reach prison psychologist, Dr. Corson, and other medical staff (for example a prison nurse) that he had suicidal or self-harming thoughts, felt despairing or hopeless and had made plans to end his life. He has made frequent requests for access to the prison’s Samaritans phone. On 5 May 2019, half of a razor blade was found in his cell, inside a cupboard and concealed under some underwear. Shortly after this, on 19 May 2019, an ACCT review stated that Mr. Assange was finding it hard to control the thoughts of self-harm and suicide. In the healthcare wing, concerns about his health and his suicidality led to a plan for him to be monitored with observations nocturnal checks. Mr. Assange is prescribed anti-depressants (citalopram and mirtazapine) and a low dose of quetiapine (used as an anti-depressant, mood stabiliser or anti-psychotic, with a mildly sedating effect in low doses). I accept that there are entries in the notes which indicate a much better mood and lighter spirits at times, however the overall impression is of a depressed and sometimes despairing man, who is genuinely fearful about his future.

For all of these reasons I find that Mr. Assange’s risk of committing suicide, if an extradition order were to be made, to be substantial.

[snip]

I am satisfied that, if he is subjected to the extreme conditions of SAMs, Mr. Assange’s mental health will deteriorate to the point where he will commit suicide with the “single minded determination” described by Dr. Deeley.

This outcome was always the most likely way Assange would be able to avoid extradition, and in many ways it is the most just. It means that the good things that Assange has done — in helping expose American human rights abuses — were also the reason he avoided extradition.

Unless I missed it, she has yet to rule whether she’ll let Assange out on bail while the US appeals.

Update: Assange’s lawyers will submit a bail application for him on Wednesday, and the US government has immediately asked for an appeal.

Russian Flight: The Timing of the Assange Charges

The Department of Justice charged Julian Assange when they did to stave off an attempt to help Assange flee to Russia.

That’s one important takeaway from the date of the complaint, December 21, 2017. Days earlier, Ecuador had submitted diplomatic credentials for Assange to the British government, with the intent that he would move (or, according to the less reliable Guardian, be secretly exfiltrated) to Russia under protection of diplomatic status.

Ecuador last Dec. 19 approved a “special designation in favor of Mr. Julian Assange so that he can carry out functions at the Ecuadorean Embassy in Russia,” according to the letter written to opposition legislator Paola Vintimilla.

“Special designation” refers to the Ecuadorean president’s right to name political allies to a fixed number of diplomatic posts even if they are not career diplomats.

But Britain’s Foreign Office in a Dec. 21 note said it did not accept Assange as a diplomat and that it did not “consider that Mr. Assange enjoys any type of privileges and immunities under the Vienna Convention,” reads the letter, citing a British diplomatic note.

Ecuador abandoned its decision shortly after, according to the letter.

British authorities have said they will arrest Assange if he leaves the embassy, meaning he would have needed to be recognized as a diplomat in order to travel to Moscow.

The US finalized the complaint the same day the UK rejected the Ecuadorian request (though the accompanying 26-page affidavit suggests it been in the works for some time). The next day the US sent a formal extradition warrant to the UK. All this happened under dramatically increased (and visible) surveillance from Ecuador’s security contractor, UC Global; Assange boosters have tried to spin this attempt as a US kidnapping attempt, which is presumably what they would have called a failed exfiltration attempt.

The timing of two of the other sets of charges against Assange can also be fairly readily explained. Assange was formally indicted on March 6, 2018, the day before the 8-year statute of limitations on the CFAA charge would expire. The most recent superseding indictment, obtained on June 24, 2020, expanded the CFAA conspiracy charge through 2015, which seems to be another effort to expand the conspiracy before statutes toll. The next overt acts in WikiLeaks’ efforts to undermine the US came in March and April 2016. Unless Assange is pardoned and released (as I’ve noted, a pardon may not have the effect Assange boosters want it to), I think it highly likely DOJ will supersede again after inauguration to include, at a minimum, the Vault 7 publication, and probably some overt acts tied to the 2016 election interference. Depending on UK willingness to add to the total charges, the US might well add foreign agent charges they’ve alluded to.

Only the timing of the indictment adding the Espionage charges on May 23, 2019 can’t be readily explained (though it came in the wake of the Mueller Report and the larger Russian investigation which is, per the SSCI Report, what led to a better understanding of the degree to which Russia had “co-opted” WikiLeaks).

It is a testament to the power of WikiLeaks’ propaganda efforts that the entire focus on Julian Assange’s prosecution has been on false claims about why DOJ decided to prosecute him while Trump was President and not on the specific timing of the first charge against him, which ties it to Assange’s relationship with Russia.

Quite honestly, the US probably would have been far better off had Assange’s attempt to flee to Russia succeeded. That would have made clear even to the dead-enders that Assange had become little more than a Russian tool, and thereby diminished WikiLeaks’ allure and efficacy as a cover for leaks going forward. Instead, they’ve made of Assange a martyr about whom most journalism organizations in the world are enthusiastically repeating false propaganda.

Footnote: The Day Before Roger Stone Received a Pre-Written Pardon, He Lied about the Ongoing Investigation into His Conspiracy with Russia

As I noted here, Roger Stone’s pardon appears to have been all packaged up, covering only the crimes for which he has already been found guilty, before Billy Barr left DOJ and the pardons were rolled out.

Which is why I’m intrigued that Roger Stone went on The Gateway Pundit to lie about the investigation into him just yesterday. In what appears to be an interview of himself, Stone makes several assertions. First, he includes me among those who — he claims — were “obsessed with the idea that I was working with WikiLeaks and WikiLeaks was working with the Russians.”

It wasn’t just the nut jobs like Mother Jones ,the Daily Beast , Salon and nutty bloggers like Marcy Wheeler but allegedly responsible media outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and CNN and MSNBC became obsessed with the idea that I was working with WikiLeaks and WikiLeaks was working with the Russians.

I’m flattered Stone felt the need to include me in this esteemed list without, this time, threatening to sue me for reporting things that would later be confirmed in court documents. It’s a testament to how closely Stone has always read me.

Stone wrote this self-interview for a more specific purpose, however: To claim that the Mueller Report passages unsealed the day before the election concluded he had no ties to WikiLeaks.

At midnight on election day November 3rd, 2020- the busiest news day of the year and timed to get as little press coverage as possible, the United States Department of Justice released the remaining unredacted sections of the Mueller Report regarding me specifically, in which they had admitted that despite two years of intense investigation, spending millions to pour through every aspect of my life, dragging 36 witnesses to the grand jury and after obtaining all my electronic communications for four years ( literally millions of e-mails and pages of documents, tax returns, banking and financial records –they found no factual evidence of any collaboration or coordination between me and WikiLeaks regarding the release of emails regarding John Podesta, the Democratic National committee or Hillary Clinton or that I had any advance knowledge of the timing, content or source of their disclosures).

He says that this passage proves that:

“The Office determined that it could not pursue a Section 1030 conspiracy charge against Stone for some of the same legal reasons. The most fundamental hurdles, though, are factual ones.1279 As explained in Volume I, Section III.D.1, supra, Corsi’s accounts of his interactions with Stone on October 7, 2016 are not fully consistent or corroborated. Even if they were, neither Corsi’s testimony nor other evidence currently available to the Office is sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Stone knew or believed that the computer intrusions were ongoing at the time he ostensibly encouraged or coordinated the publication of the Podesta emails. Stone’s actions would thus be consistent with (among other things) a belief that he was aiding in the dissemination of the fruits of an already completed hacking operation perpetrated by a third party, which would be a level of knowledge insufficient to establish conspiracy liability. See State v. Phillips, 82 S.E.2d 762, 766 (N.C. 1954) (“In the very nature of things, persons cannot retroactively conspire to commit a previously consummated crime.”) (quoted in Model Penal Code and Commentaries § 5.03, at 442 (1985).

[additional content that Stone doesn’t include]

“Regardless, success would also depend upon evidence of WikiLeaks’s and Stone’s knowledge of ongoing or contemplated future computer intrusions-the proof that is currently lacking.”

Unsurprisingly, Stone does not include the footnote modifying this passage which, as I noted at the time, made it clear there were still ongoing investigations, plural, into this question at the time Mueller closed up shop on March 22, 2019.

1279 Some of the factual uncertainties are the subject of ongoing investigations that have been referred by this Office to the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office.

That is, the passage said the exact opposite of what Stone said it did. It said that, presumably in part because Roger Stone’s aide Andrew Miller had stalled on his grand jury testimony for a year, the investigation into whether Stone could be charged in the CFAA conspiracy with Russia was not yet complete, not after two years of investigation.

And having lied about what the unsealed passage says, Stone then complains that Judge Amy Berman Jackson withheld it from his lawyers.

Judge Amy Berman withheld this from my lawyers at trial. The Mueller’s dirty cops concluded in their report that even if they had found evidence that I had received documents from Assange of WikiLeaks and passed them to anyone, which I did not and for which they found no evidence whatsoever, it would not have been illegal. The whole thing was a hoax.

ABJ withheld it, of course, because DOJ was still investigating, even as recently as April 2020 when DOJ unsealed warrants that made that clear. DOJ withheld that passage so Stone wouldn’t know that the witness tampering case into him was just one step in an ongoing investigation, one that remained focussed on whether Roger Stone conspired with Russia or — indeed — had even served as an Agent of Russia.

Stone goes on to complain that only BuzzFeed, along with right wing propaganda sites Washington Examiner (who launched the investigation into Stone in the first place) and Zero Hedge, misreported the significance of this detail.

The only three news outlets who reported on this shocking election day admission that there was no evidence found that would support this narrative were BuzzFeed, who successfully brought the lawsuit for the release of this material, the Washington Examiner and ZeroHedge. Where were the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Huffington Post, The Atlantic, The Hill, Politico, Salon, Vox, Vice, CNN, MSNBC, NBC and the Business Insider – all of who were quick to smear me as a “go-between for WikiLeaks and the Trump Campaign” but none of whom reported on the stunning conclusions of Mueller’s thugs.

He didn’t mention me in this case, because I correctly reported that the Mueller language actually said the exact opposite of what Stone claims.

Hours before he received a pardon for lying to cover up his real go-between with WikiLeaks — which a good deal of evidence suggests was Guccifer 2.0 — Roger Stone did an interview of himself where he falsely claimed the Mueller Report had finished its investigation only to fall short of proving that he was conspiring with Russia.

That’s a crime, it should be noted, for which Stone was not pardoned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LP: oh god fuck

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

LP: of course

BG: I just wanna be a goddam journalist

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

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

[snip]

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

Poitras wrote to him separately.

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

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

“The problem the department has always had in investigating Julian Assange is there is no way to prosecute him for publishing information without the same theory being applied to journalists,” said former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller told the Post. “And if you are not going to prosecute journalists for publishing classified information, which the department is not, then there is no way to prosecute Assange.”

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

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

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

Joshua Schulte Undermines the WikiLeaks Claim to Publish “Whistleblowers”

In this post, I noted that The Intercept — including Micah Lee — had fairly systematically ignored the most recent superseding indictment against Julian Assange, and as such had ignored the overt acts in it tied to helping Edward Snowden flee. I think the outlet has real ethical responsibility to actually report the truth of that detail — which they should do in any case to address the legally suspect aspects of some of the claims made about Snowden.

I’d like to look at an earlier Micah Lee post, not because of anything it (necessarily) says about The Intercept, but as background for a larger post about WikiLeaks I hope to move towards. In an article subtitled, “The Trump Administration Is Using the Full Power of the U.S. Surveillance State Against Whistleblowers,” Micah laid out how (according to his read of what he claimed were the court filings) the government had found a bunch of “whistleblowers.” Before he gets there, though, he describes the subjects of his post to be “government whistleblowers” who, only after they see something wrong, do they reach out to journalists and share information.

GOVERNMENT WHISTLEBLOWERS ARE increasingly being charged under laws such as the Espionage Act, but they aren’t spies.

They’re ordinary Americans and, like most of us, they carry smartphones that automatically get backed up to the cloud. When they want to talk to someone, they send them a text or call them on the phone. They use Gmail and share memes and talk politics on Facebook. Sometimes they even log in to these accounts from their work computers.

Then, during the course of their work, they see something disturbing. Maybe it’s that the government often has no idea if the people it kills in drone strikes are civilians. Or that the NSA witnessed a cyberattack against local election officials in 2016 that U.S. intelligence believes was orchestrated by Russia, even though the president is always on TV saying the opposite. Or that the FBI uses hidden loopholes to bypass its own rules against infiltrating political and religious groups. Or that Donald Trump’s associates are implicated in sketchy financial transactions.

So they search government databases for more information and maybe print some of the documents they find. They search for related information using Google. Maybe they even send a text message to a friend about how insane this is while they consider possible next steps. Should they contact a journalist? They look up the tips pages of news organizations they like and start researching how to use Tor Browser. All of this happens before they’ve reached out to a journalist for the first time.

Having laid out certain assumptions not just that all these people are whistleblowers, but also about what whistleblowing entails (and made certain claims about motive that don’t necessarily match the claimed motive of some of the subjects of the story, though some of that has become public since Micah wrote this), Micah explains that Joshua Schulte is an exception with regards to how he was caught.

Of the four Espionage Act cases based on alleged leaks in the Trump era, the most unusual concerned Joshua Schulte, a former CIA software developer accused of leaking CIA documents and hacking tools known as the Vault 7 disclosures to WikiLeaks. Schulte’s case is different from the others because, after the FBI confiscated his desktop computer, phone, and other devices in a March 2017 raid, the government allegedly discovered over 10,000 images depicting child sexual abuse on his computer, as well as a file and chat server he ran that included logs of him discussing child sexual abuse images and screenshots of him using racist slurs. Prosecutors initially charged Schulte with several counts related to child pornography and later with sexual assault in a separate case, based on evidence from his phone. Only in June 2018, in a superseding indictment, did the government finally charge him under the Espionage Act for leaking the hacking tools. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

He doesn’t return to Schulte’s case for the rest of the piece.

About the rest of the subjects of the story, Micah describes how, whether the subject took some measure to protect himself (such as with Terry Albury and James Wolfe) or did not (such as Reality Winner), they all got caught. What they all have in common is that they were among a very limited circle of people who had access to the stuff that got leaked, and therefore could be ultimately identified with more investigation.

I think Micah’s comment was meant to suggest that Schulte wasn’t identified that same way, but was instead identified only after he was busted for child porn. I texted Micah at the time and let him know that’s not what the court records reflect (he had not, in fact, reviewed the affidavits in the court docket). By that point, a slew of the warrants in the case had been revealed, including the first ones, which showed that Schulte was identified as a suspect almost immediately, in part the same way the others were — because he was one of three people who had access to the files believed to have been leaked. (It would later become clear that at least a few more people had access to the server and that the files were copied on a different, more incriminating date than FBI originally suspected.)

Micah never corrected his post.

Of note, however, even that initial warrant raised real questions about any claim that Schulte was a whistleblower — a claim WikiLeaks made it its first Vault 7 post.

In a statement to WikiLeaks the source details policy questions that they say urgently need to be debated in public, including whether the CIA’s hacking capabilities exceed its mandated powers and the problem of public oversight of the agency. The source wishes to initiate a public debate about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons.

That first warrant revealed that Schulte,

  • Had already restored his access to the exact files in question without authorization once (FBI would later discover he did this at least two more times)
  • Was pissy about something that had nothing to do with the hacking CIA did with the tools that Schulte wrote, basically a juvenile work dispute with a colleague
  • Had laid a paper trail in the weeks before he left CIA, making a claim to be a whistleblower, but the claim was not backed by any prior record of concern (per the FBI agent who admittedly should not be trusted on face value)

That is, even that first affidavit suggested that Schulte had used the claim to be a whistleblower as cover.

Schulte declined to present much of a defense at his first trial, a decision that (given the hung jury) absolutely was the right decision. So we can’t claim to have fully assessed all his claims to be a whistleblower, claims he made in pro se filings and deceitful Tweets he intended to post from jail. He chose not to make that case personally and he didn’t need to make the case to avoid a guilty verdict.

That said, all the evidence presented at trial strongly backs the initial FBI assessment that he was just an angry shithole who thought he was god, aiming to get back at people at the CIA he thought had dissed him. Indeed, two pieces of evidence submitted seriously undermine his claim to be a whistleblower, because they show he acted in ways that would be inconsistent from someone who genuinely had the concerns Schulte claimed to have — both a concern about the role of contractors and about security.

First, at one point when he was pissy because the CIA had contracted with a consultant to finish off a project that had been taking too long under him, Schulte actually considered become a contractor. Yes, he was pissy that a contractor could take away his project. But considering a job as a contractor is inconsistent with his claims about the use of them. It makes the claims translated into the WikiLeaks statement yet another cover for Schulte’s own resentment.

Then, at trial, the government showed that Schulte himself was responsible for setting up a root password that he allegedly used to steal the files. That is, to the extent the files were totally insecure from someone like Schulte, they were insecure because Schulte set them up to be. So not only was he not complaining to anyone else about the insecurity of these files, he was the one making them insecure.

Again, maybe Schulte could make a persuasive case he leaked these files to expose wrong-doing. But thus far, every piece of evidence suggests not only that Schulte was not a whistleblower, that every time he wrote up a claim to be one he otherwise told identifiable lies, and that he’s mostly just a rage-driven dude who decided to burn the CIA to the ground for spite.

Now, if WikiLeaks is a publisher, as it claims, that doesn’t necessarily matter. Journalists get information from sources operating out of a variety of motives, and personal pique is a common one. Except it raises the stakes on the newsworthiness of the files published. And on that front, WikiLeaks (on Twitter especially) vastly oversold the newsworthiness of the CIA files it published. Yes, it was useful for security firms to have CIA’s files identified publicly. But there was never anything published showing that CIA was operating outside of its mandate, and much of what was published showed tools that would be narrowly targeted. Just as importantly, CIA wasn’t actually doing anything particularly exotic with its hacking files. Spies were spying, news at 11.

I’ve written before about how a close associate of Assange’s sternly asked me to downplay Schulte because he hurt the public case for Julian Assange. I think that’s partly the allegations of child porn, racism, and sexual assault against him. People associated with WikiLeaks also knew before it was public that there was evidence involving Schulte implicating Russia (though the record on what the import of various pieces of evidence about Schulte pertaining to Russia mean is very mixed; Sabrina Shroff argued fairly convincingly that some of what is there stems from work Schulte was doing for his cellmate). Still, that may be another reason WikiLeaks boosters don’t want anyone to talk seriously about Schulte, because in the wake of Julian Assange working with Russia to get harm Hillary, their next big source also had some tie, of uncertain nature, to Russia.

But the existing record on Schulte, at least, not only undermines WikiLeaks’ claim to facilitate whistleblowers. On the contrary, WikiLeaks gave a disgruntled spook an easy way to burn the place down. More importantly, somewhere along the way, Schulte decided to cloak his bitter revenge plot inside a false claim to be a whistleblower.

People can certainly still defend WikiLeaks as an outlet permitting disgruntled spooks to burn their agencies to the ground out of spite. Certainly, if you believe the CIA is inherently, uniquely evil, you might still champion this leak. But on the Vault 7 leak, WikiLeaks boosters should be clear that’s what they’re doing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Nappies and Law Enforcement Spying

One of the most scandalous revelations from the Julian Assange extradition hearing — that the company that handled the security for the Ecuadoran Embassy, UC Global, sought to obtain a diaper from one of Stella Morris’ children — may have a very logical explanation: The FBI would need to know whether they had to treat communications between Assange and Morris with spousal privilege. The FBI did precisely the same thing with Roger Stone when they went to some length to figure out whether Kristin Davis’ son was Stone’s child before they interviewed her in the investigation of Stone.

Indeed, once you read through the muddles and inconsistencies, what the two witnesses who submitted testimony about UC Global’s surveillance of Assange (Witness One, Witness Two) described is utterly consistent with FBI surveillance and inconsistent with CIA surveillance.

Witness Two is more detailed and credible than Witness One. That’s easily shown in two ways. First, Witness Two admits that after David Morales got a contract with Sheldon Adelson in 2016, it led to speculation that he was working with US authorities. UC Global employees discussed how he “could” be cooperating with US authorities (a dumb speculation to begin with).

I remember that after David Morales had returned from the United States, at a meeting with the rest of the staff he affirmed that we were moving into “the premier league”. After this I became aware that David Morales was making regular trips to the United States, the context of which my boss, David Morales, repeated to his having “gone to the dark side”. I also recall Morales’s wife’s social media recording the recurring trips to the United States, specifically to New York and Washington, via her Instagram account (with the profile @moda_koko), which prompted ongoing commentary from staff that Mr Morales could be cooperating with US authorities. [my emphasis]

Witness One presents that as fact (unlike Witness Two, Witness One has none of the records or claims he makes documented, another thing that makes Witness Two far more credible).

After returning from one of his trips to the United States, David Morales gathered all the workers in the office in Jerez and told us that “we have moved up and from now on we will be playing in the big league”. During a private conversation with David, I asked him what he was referring to when he said we had moved up into “the big league”. David replied, without going into further detail, that he had switched over to “the dark side” referring to cooperating with US authorities, and as a result of that collaboration “the Americans will get us contracts all over the world”.

In addition to the new contract, after Morales’s return from Las Vegas and his comments about “the big league” and switching to “the dark side”, I learned through my conversation with Davis Morales that he had entered into illegal agreements with U.S. authorities to supply them with sensitive information about Mr. Assange and Rafael Correa, given that UC Global was responsible for the embassy security where Mr. Assange was located.

He does so, even though he didn’t leave UC Global — because Morales was selling everything to “the enemy, the United States” — until 2017 (or possibly even later, after Assange’s arrest).

Thus, I came to realize that David Morales decided to sell all the information to the enemy, the United States, which is the reason I put an end to my professional relationship with him.

If he were certain Morales was working for the dark side in 2016, by his own claims, he would have left then.

Similarly, Witness Two includes the details that explain why Adelson would give Morales a contract when his yacht already had security: it was to protect his kids when they were in Europe.

I remember that Sheldon Adelson himself – who is on the public record as being very close to President Donald Trump—increased his ties with UC Global because at one point David Morales was personally put in charge of the security of the magnate and his children when they visited Europe, in their Summer trips to Nice and Ibiza.

Witness One doesn’t consider such explanations.

That is to say, the contract was to provide security to the luxury boat during the short period during which it found itself in Mediterranean waters. But the most striking thing about it was that the boat had its own security, which consisted of a sophisticated security detail, and that the contract consisted in adding an additional person, in this case, David Morales, for a very short period of time, through which David Morales would receive an elevated sum.

The difference in credibility is important, because Witness One focuses closely on Adelson, whereas Witness Two barely focuses on it. Witness Two — who unlike Witness One had a direct role in the increased surveillance on Assange — mentions it only in passing.

For good reason. Any claim of a connection between the 2016 Adelson contract and surveillance that ratcheted up much later makes no sense.

And that’s important because, while Witness Two describes UC Global being vetted as early as January 2017, he describes (and Witness One agrees) that the increased surveillance started in June or July of that year, with the most intense surveillance starting in December 2017.

I recall that between June and July 2017, I was summoned by David Morales to form a task force of workers at our headquarters in Jerez. The purpose of this unit was to execute, from a technical perspective, the capture, systematization and processing of information collected at the embassy that David Morales requested. So, I was tasked with executing David Morales’s orders, with the technical means that existed in the embassy and additional measures that were installed by order of Morales, in addition to the information gathered by the UC Global employees who were physically present in the diplomatic mission. This unit also had to travel to London every month to collect information.

There are still inconsistencies with Witness Two’s testimony, mind you, including a request in May that he says was part of the task force that didn’t start until a month later. But effectively he provides compelling evidence that, starting in June 2017, the surveillance that UC Global was doing on Assange went up, and then in December it went up considerably.

That’s consistent with the substance — though not the headline claims — of a presentation that Andrew Müller-Maguhn did on this almost a year ago. Add in the report that Morales shared information with an IP in Alexandria, VA, and the surveillance is completely consistent with being part a criminal investigation conducted out of the EDVA grand jury known to be investigating not just Assange, but also accused Vault 7 source Joshua Schulte at the time. Within months, there would be several more investigations predicated against Assange, investigations that would have nothing to do with journalism (and, if DOJ investigated Assange’s attempt to extort immunity using the Vault 7 files, that too would have nothing to do with journalism).

That almost seems like what this paragraph, from the prosecution closing argument, suggests — that, sure, they did have Assange under surveillance but that’s because he was sitting on CIA’s hacking tools and was planning an exfiltration from the embassy to Russia.

Fifth: allegations which Assange makes about being surveilled in the Embassy are not evidence that this prosecution is politically motived. In short, taking the defence evidence at its highest, even if Assange was surveilled by or on behalf of the United States, which is not admitted, that does not demonstrate that this prosecution is politically motivated. Surveillance may evidence wider concern about a risk an individual poses or concern to know their movements. Surveillance may demonstrate a state’s interest in apprehending an individual but that does not make a prosecution for criminal conduct politically motivated.

As I’ve said before, UC Global had a legal presence in the US and as such would be subject to subpoena by a grand jury. Surveillance records are routinely obtained from grand juries. While I imagine they’d get Ecuador’s consent for this, by fall 2016 — and especially after the Vault 7 releases — Ecuador was pretty sensitive about the way Assange was using their embassy as a base for crimes that were pissing off multiple countries.

You can argue this level of surveillance was really overbearing (and you’d be right). But WikiLeaks’ backers keep telling the story without mentioning that it came during precisely the period when the FBI was investigating Assange for a whole bunch of stuff, almost all of which had nothing to do with journalism. You can argue that the 2010 charges are dangerous (they are!). But to argue that Assange shouldn’t be investigated for extortion, conspiring with those who hacked Americans, illegally participating in an American election, and entering into a quid pro quo to get a pardon is not an argument about journalism.

Trump’s Pardon Jenga, Starting with the Julian Assange Building Block

I was going to wait to address Trump’s likely use of his power of clemency in the days ahead until it was clear he was going to leave without a fight and I will return to it once that’s clear. But there have already been a slew of pieces on the likely upcoming pardons:

None of them mentions Julian Assange (though Graff does consider the possibility of a Snowden pardon, which I consider related, not least for the terms on which Glenn Greenwald is pitching a package deal as a way for Trump to damage the Deep State).

I would argue that unless a piece considers an Assange pardon, it cannot capture the complexity facing Trump as he tries to negotiate a way to use pardons (and other clemency) to eliminate his legal exposure itself.

I’m not saying Trump’s decision on whether to give Assange a pardon is his hardest decision. But it may be one a few that could bring any hope of protecting himself falling down.

Trump has talked about pardons, generally, covering a number of crimes in which he himself (or a family member) is implicated:

  • Asking DHS officials to violate the law in order to build the wall
  • Working with the National Enquirer to capture and kill damaging stories during the 2016 election
  • Dodging impeachment
  • Steve Bannon’s Build the Wall grift (which likely implicates Jr)

There are others whom Trump would give a pardon because they’re loyal criminals, like Ryan Zinke or Commerce Officials and others who’ve lied in court. There are hybrid cases; in addition to Bannon, Erik Prince has legal exposure both for his own lies that protected Trump, but also for his efforts to sell mercenary services to hostile foreign governments. And Rudy Giuliani has committed his own crimes as well as possible crimes to protect the President. With the possible exception of Rudy (who still might claim attorney client privilege to refuse to testify about Trump), those pardons create challenges, but they’re highly likely (unless Trump made some pardons contingent on remaining in power).

Then there’s the Mueller Report. In 2019 testimony to HPSCI, Michael Cohen credibly described Jay Sekulow considering mass “pre-pardons” in the summer of 2017 in an attempt to make the Russian investigation go away. But the Mueller Report itself only obviously talks about five pardons:

  • An extensive discussion of the reasons why pardons for Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone would amount to obstruction (a sentiment with which Billy Barr once agreed)
  • A discussion of Robert Costello’s efforts to broker silence from Cohen in exchange for a pardon and almost certainly a still-redacted referral of Costello for the same; Costello is currently Rudy Giuliani’s attorney
  • A question about discussions of a Julian Assange pardon, even while the report did not mention or obscured the tie with underlying evidence proving such an effort occurred, possibly as a part of a quid pro quo to optimize the WikiLeaks releases

There are difficulties — albeit surmountable ones — for pardons of Flynn and Manafort, not least because Billy Barr has found other ways for Trump to keep them out of jail (so far), even while issuing a DOJ ruling that his prior pardon dangles are not obstruction. Costello is someone who has no privilege directly with Trump and so might implicate him personally in trading pardons for silence if Trump himself is not pardoned.

But Stone (and quite possibly Don Jr) is indelibly tied to an Assange pardon.

It’s possible something might make this easier between now and January 20. If British Judge Vanessa Baraister rules on January 4, 2021 in favor of Julian Assange’s Lauri Love gambit, arguing that American prisons are not humane for those on the autism spectrum, then there’s a decent chance he’ll beat extradition. If not, his chances are slim. And even if he beats extradition the UK could choose to prosecute him on Official Secrets Act charges tied to Vault 7.

That presents Trump limited choices. He could pardon just Stone (and Don Jr, who will undoubtedly get a broad pardon in any case). But then both could be coerced to testify against Assange under threat of contempt or perjury from a Biden DOJ.

He could pardon all three, including a broad pardon (including Vault 7) for Assange. But if he did that, it could complete the conspiracy, a quid pro quo tied to Russian interference in 2016. That would make a Pence pardon of Trump much more politically costly; it would likewise make a Trump self-pardon much more toxic for even a very partisan SCOTUS to rubber stamp.

But if he doesn’t pardon Assange, he risks pissing of those who helped him in 2016, with whatever repercussions that would have for Trump Organization funding going forward. To sum up:

  • Pardoning just Stone and Jr would expose them to coercion to testify against Assange and maybe others
  • Pardoning all three would make Trump’s own pardons much less defensible to those who would have to ensure he himself got immunity
  • Pardoning Assange at all would complete the conspiracy Mueller never charged
  • Not pardoning Assange might risk ire from Russia

I’m not saying he can’t find a way out of this dilemma. But it is one of the reasons why Trump’s pardon gambit is far more complex than others are accounting for.

“A Digital Pearl Harbor:” The Ways in Which the Vault 7 Leak Could Have Compromised US and British Assets’ Identities

The Julian Assange extradition defense yesterday started presenting evidence that Assange suffers from conditions — Aspergers, depression, and suicidal tendencies — that would make US prisons particularly lethal. It’s the defense that Lauri Love used to avoid extradition, and is Assange’s most likely chance of success. And given our inhumane prisons, it’s a perfectly fair defense against his extradition.

Before that, though, the most interesting evidence submitted by Assange’s team pertained to the three charges that he identified the identities of US and Coalition (and so, British) informants in the Afghan, Iraq, and Cablegate releases. For each of those releases, Assange’s team presented evidence that someone else — Cryptome, in one case, some Guardian journalists in another — released the informants’ identities first. At one point, the lawyer for the US seemed to suggest that Assange had made such disclosures more readily available after the identities had already been published. But Assange can only be extradited for charges that are illegal in the UK as well, and while the UK’s Official Secrets Act explicitly prohibits the publication of covert identities, it does not prohibit republication of names.

In other words, it’s the one evidentiary question where I think WikiLeaks might have the better case (the government has yet to present its own counter-evidence, and Assange has to prove that the charges are baseless to prevent the extradition, so it’s a high hurdle).

The question is particularly interesting for several reasons. Publishing the names of informants is the one charge specifically tied to publication, rather than conspiring to get Chelsea Manning to leak, making it dangerous for journalism in a different way than most of the other charges (save the CFAA charge).

But also because — in a Mike Pompeo screed that many WikiLeaks witnesses have cited completely out of context, in which the then-CIA Director named WikiLeaks a non-state hostile intelligence agency — he accused WikiLeaks of being like Philip Agee, a disillusioned CIA officer who went on to leak the identities of numerous CIA officers who was credibly accused of working with Cuban and Russian intelligence services.

So I thought I’d start today by telling you a story about a bright, well-educated young man. He was described as industrious, intelligent, and likeable, if inclined towards a little impulsiveness and impatience. At some point, he became disillusioned with intelligence work, and angry at his government. He left the government and decided to devote himself to what he regarded as public advocacy: exposing the intelligence officers and operations that he had sworn to keep secret. He appealed to agency employees to send him leads, tips, suggestions. He wrote in a widely-circulated bulletin quote “We are particularly anxious to receive – and anonymously, if you desire – copies of U.S. diplomatic lists and U.S. embassy staff,” end of quote.

That man was Philip Agee, one of the founding members of the magazine CounterSpy, which in its first issue, in 1973, called for the exposure of the CIA undercover operatives overseas. In its September 1974 issue, CounterSpy publicly identified Richard Welch as the CIA station chief in Athens. Later, Richard’s home address and phone number were outed in the press, in Greece. In December 1975, Richard and his wife were returning home from a Christmas party in Athens. When he got out of his car to open the gate in front of his house, Richard Welch was assassinated by a Greek terrorist cell.

At the time of his death, Richard was the highest-ranking CIA officer killed in the line of duty. He had led a rich and honorable life – one that is celebrated with a star on the agency’s memorial wall. He’s buried at Arlington National Cemetery, and has remained dearly remembered by his family and colleagues.

Meanwhile, Philip Agee propped up his dwindling celebrity with an occasional stunt, including a Playboy interview. He eventually settled down as the privileged guest of an authoritarian regime – one that would have put him in front of a firing squad without a second thought had he betrayed its secrets instead of ours.

Today, there are still plenty of Philip Agees in the world, and the harm they inflict on U.S. institutions and personnel is just as serious today as it was back then. They don’t come from the intelligence community, they don’t all share the same background, or use precisely the same tactics as Agee, but they are soulmates. Like him, they choose to see themselves under a romantic light as heroes above the law, saviors of our free and open society. They cling to this fiction even though their disclosures often inflict irreparable harm on both individuals and democratic governments, pleasing despots along the way.

The one thing they don’t share with Agee is the need for a publisher. All they require now is a smartphone and internet access. In today’s digital environment, they can disseminate stolen U.S. secrets instantly around the globe to terrorists, dictators, hackers and anyone else seeking to do us harm.

The reference to Richard Welch is inaccurate (in the same way the claim that WikiLeaks is responsible for release of these informants’ identities could be too). Much of the rest of what Pompeo said was tone-deaf, at best. And that Pompeo — who months earlier had been celebrating WikiLeaks’ cooperation with Russia in interfering in the 2016 election — said this is the kind of breathtaking hypocrisy he specializes in.

Still, I want to revisit Pompeo’s insinuation, made weeks after the release of the Vault 7 files, that Julian Assange is like Philip Agee. The comment struck me at the time, particularly given that the only thing he mentioned to back the claim — also floated during the Chelsea Manning trial — was that WikiLeaks’ releases had helped al-Qaeda.

And as for Assange, his actions have attracted a devoted following among some of our most determined enemies. Following the recent WikiLeaks disclosure, an al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula member posted a comment online thanking WikiLeaks for providing a means to fight America in a way that AQAP had not previously envisioned. AQAP represents one of the most serious threats to our country and around the world today. It’s a group that is devoted not only to bringing down civil passenger planes but our way of life as well. That Assange is the darling of these terrorists is nothing short of reprehensible. Have no doubt that the disclosures in recent years caused harm, great harm, to our nation’s national security, and they will continue to do so for the long term.

They also threaten the trust we’ve developed with our foreign partners when that trust is crucial currency among allies. They risk damaging morale for the good officers at the intelligence community and who take the high road every day. And I can’t stress enough how these disclosures have severely hindered our ability to keep you all safe.

But given what we’ve learned about the Vault 7 release since, I’d like to consider the multiple ways via which the Vault 7 identities could have — and did, in some cases — identify sensitive identities. Pompeo’s a flaming douchebag, and the CIA’s complaint about being targeted like it targets others is unsympathetic, but understanding Pompeo’s analogy to Agee provides some insight into why DOJ charged WikiLeaks in 2017 when it hadn’t in 2013.

Vault 7, justifiably or not, may have changed how the government treated WikiLeaks’ facilitation of the exposure of US intelligence assets.

Before I start, let me emphasize the Vault 7 leak is not charged in the superseding indictment against Assange, and Assange’s treatment of Vault 7 may be radically different than his earlier genuine attempts to at least forestall or delegate the publication of US informant identities. Even if DOJ’s understanding of WikiLeaks’ facilitation of the exposure of US intelligence assets may have changed with the Vault 7 release, DOJ understanding may not be correct. Nor do I think this changes the risk to journalism of the current charges, as charged.

But it may provide insight into why the government did charge those counts, and what a superseding indictment integrating the Vault 7 leak might look like.

First, although WikiLeaks made a big show of redacting the identities of the coders who developed the CIA’s hacking tools (as they did with the 2010 and 2011 releases), some were left unredacted in the content of the release. That may be unintentional. But the first FBI affidavit against accused Vault 7 leaker Joshua Schulte noted that the pseudonyms of the two other SysAdmins who had access to the files were left unredacted in the first release, something that suggests more intentional disclosure, one that would presumably require the involvement of Schulte or someone else who knew these identities.

i. Names used by the other two CIA Group Systems Administrators were, in fact, published in the publicly released Classified Information.

ii. SCHULTE’s name, on the other hand, was not apparently published in the Classified Inforamtion.

iii. Thus, SCHULTE was the only one of the three Systems Administrators with access to the Classified Information on the Back-Up Server who was not publicly identified via WikiLeaks’s publication of the Classified Information.

A subsequent WikiLeaks release (after the FBI had already made it clear he was a, if not the, suspect) would include Schulte’s username, but I believe that is distinguishable from the release of the other men’s cover names.

Schulte would later threaten to leak more details (including, presumably, either his cover or his real name) on one of those same guys, someone he was particularly angry at, from jail, including the intriguing hint that he had been exposed in the Ashley Madison hack.

 

At trial, Schulte’s lawyer explained that the leaking he attempted or threatened from jail reflected the anger built up over almost a year of incarceration, but there’s at least some reason to believe that the initial Vault 7 release intentionally exposed the identities of CIA employees whom Schulte had personal gripes with, or at the very least he hoped would be blamed other than him.

Then there’s the damage done to ongoing operations. At trial, one after another CIA witness described the damage the Vault 7 leak had done. While the testimony was typically vague, it was also more stark in terms of scale than what you generally find in CIA trials.

After describing the leak the “equivalent of a digital Pearl Harbor,” for example, Sean Roche, who was the Deputy Director for Digital Innovation at the time of the leak, testified how on the day of the first release, the CIA had to shut down “the vast, vast majority” of operations that used the CIA tools (at a time, of course, when the CIA was actively trying to understand how Russia had attacked the US the prior year), and then CIA had to reach out to those affected.

It was the equivalent of a digital Pearl Harbor.

Q. What do you mean by that?

A. Our capabilities were revealed, and hence, we were not able to operate and our — the capabilities we had been developing for years that were now described in public were decimated. Our operations were immediately at risk, and we began terminating operations; that is, operations that were enabled with tools that were now described and out there and capabilities that were described, information about operations where we’re providing streams of information. It immediately undermined the relationships we had with other parts of the government as well as with vital foreign partners, who had often put themselves at risk to assist the agency. And it put our officers and our facilities, both domestically and overseas, at risk.

Q. Just staying at a very general level, what steps did you take in the immediate aftermath of those disclosures to address those concerns?

A. A task force was formed. Because operations were involved we had to get a team together that did nothing but focus on three things, in this priority order. In an emergency, and that’s what we had, it was operate, navigate, communicate, in that order. So the first job was to assess the risk posture for all of these operations across the world and figure out how to mitigate that risk, and most often, the vast, vast majority we had to back out of those operations, shut them down and create a situation where the agency’s activities would not be revealed, because we are a clandestine agency.

The next part of that was to navigate across all the people affected. It was not just the CIA. There were equities for other government agencies. There were, of course, equities at places and bases across the world, where we had relationships with foreign partners. People heeded immediately, were calling and asking what do I do, what do I say?

And the third part of that was to communicate, which was — in the course of looking at this as a what systemic issues led to the ability to have our information out there — was to document that and write a report that would serve as a lessons learned with the idea of preventing it from ever happening again. [my emphasis]

Notably, given that Assange could be vulnerable to Official Secrets Act charges in the UK if this leak affected any British intelligence officers or assets, Roche mentioned “foreign partners” twice in just this short passage. You don’t get very far down the list of CIA’s foreign partners before you’ve damaged MI6 assets.

Of course, shutting down ongoing operations would not have been enough to protect CIA’s assets. It took just 40 days for Symantec and Kaspersky to publicly identify the tools described in the Vault 7 releases as those found targeting their clients. If the CIA (or its foreign partners) had used human assets to introduce malware into target computers, as a number of these tools required, then those assets might be easily identifiable to the organizations affected.

Part of that same leak Schulte attempted from jail explains how this might work. He described how a tool from a particular vendor (which he would have named) was actually “Bartender,” by name presumably a watering hole attack, which had been released in Vault 7.

Had he succeeded in tweeting this out, Schulte would have identified either a cover organization or one in which CIA had recruited assets which was loading malware onto target computers while also loading some kind of vendor software.

I’m not defending CIA’s use of such assets to provide a side-helping of malware when targeted organizations install real software, though all major state-actors do this. But what Schulte (without any known active involvement of WikiLeaks, though he did continue to communicate with WikiLeaks, at least indirectly, while in jail) was allegedly attempting to do was burn either a cover organization or CIA assets, who would have been immediate targets if not exfiltrated. And it provides a good example of what could have happened over and over again on March 7, 2017, when these files were first released.

But there’s one other, possibly even more significant risk.

WikiLeaks has, in the past, preferentially withheld or shared files with Russia and other countries. Most obviously, at least one file hacked as part of the Syria Files which was damning to Russia never got published, and Emma Best claimed recently there were far more. The risk that something like that would have happened in this case is quite real. That’s because the files were leaked at a time when WikiLeaks was actively involved in another Russian operation. There was a ten month delay between the time the files were allegedly shared (in early May 2016) and the time WikiLeaks published them on March 7, 2017. The government has never made any public claim about how they got shared with WikiLeaks. Details of contacts between Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks demonstrate that it would have been impossible to send the volume of data involved in this hack directly to WikiLeaks’ public facing submission system in the time which Schulte did so, and several people familiar with the submission system at the time of that hack have suggested it served more as cover than a functional system. That suggests that Schulte either would have had to have prior contact with WikiLeaks to arrange an alternate upload process, or shared them with WikiLeaks via some third party (notably, Schulte bragged in jail that compressing data to do this efficiently was one of his specialties at CIA).

At trial, even though the government in no way focused on this evidence themselves, there was (inconsistent) evidence that Schulte planned to involve Russia in his efforts to take revenge on the CIA. I’ve heard a related allegation independently.

Remember, too, that WikiLeaks has never published the vast majority of the code for these tools, even though Schulte did leak it, which would make it still easier to identify anyone who had used these tools.

So imagine what might have happened had Russia gotten advance notice (either via WikiLeaks, a WikiLeaks associate, or Schulte himself) of these tools? Russia would have had months — starting well before US intelligence had begun to understand the full extent of the election year operation — to identify any of the CIA tools used against it. To be clear, what follows is speculative (though I’m providing it, in part, because I’m trying to summarize the Vault 7 information so people who are experts on other parts of the Russian treason case can test the theory). But if it had, the aftermath might have looked something like Russia’s prosecution of several FSB officers for treason starting in December 2016. And the response — if CIA recognized that its assets had already been compromised by the Vault 7 release — might look something like the Yahoo indictment charging one of the same FSB officers rolled out, with great fanfare, on March 15, just over a week after the Vault 7 release (DOJ obtained the indictment on February 28, after the CIA knew that WikiLeaks had the release coming and months after the treason arrest, but a week before the actual release). That is, Russia might move to prosecute months before the CIA got specific notice, using the years-old complaints of Pavel Vrublevsky to hide the real reason for the prosecution, and the US might move to disclaim any tie to the FSB officers by criminally prosecuting them and identifying many of the foreign targets they had used Yahoo infrastructure to spy on. Speaking just hypothetically, then, that’s the kind of damage we’d expect if any country — and Russia has been raised here explicitly — got advance access to the CIA tools before the CIA did its damage mitigation starting on March 7, 2017.

This scenario (again, it is speculative at this point) is Spy versus Spy stuff, the kind of thing that state intelligence agencies pull off against each other all the time. But it’s not journalism.

And even the stuff that would have happened after the public release of the CIA files would not just have exposed CIA collection points, but also, probably, some of the human beings who activated those collection points.

WikiLeaks would have you believe that nothing that happened after 2013 could change DOJ’s understanding of those earlier exposures of US (and British) assets.

But the very same Mike Pompeo speech that they’ve all been citing explained precisely what changed.

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