September 19, 2019 / by 


Government Admits Brig Commander Improperly Put Bradley Manning on Suicide Watch

Quantico entrance. (photo: crowdive on Flickr)

The government has admitted to MSNBC that the Brig Commander at Quantico improperly put Bradley Manning on suicide watch last week.

The officials told NBC News, however, that a U.S. Marine commander did violate procedure when he placed Manning on “suicide watch” last week.

Military officials said Brig Commander James Averhart did not have the authority to place Manning on suicide watch for two days last week, and that only medical personnel are allowed to make that call.

The official said that after Manning had allegedly failed to follow orders from his Marine guards. Averhart declared Manning a “suicide risk.” Manning was then placed on suicide watch, which meant he was confined to his cell, stripped of most of his clothing and deprived of his reading glasses — anything that Manning could use to harm himself. At the urging of U.S. Army lawyers, Averhart lifted the suicide watch.

So Manning allegedly fails to follow an order and the Brig Commander decides he loses his glasses and is stripped of his clothing?

Remember, Manning has not been convicted of anything yet.

The rest of the article describes that the government has been unable to link Manning to Julian Assange. Maybe that’s why they took his glasses away.

Update: This certainly puts the events from Quantico yesterday in a different light. According to MSNBC, government lawyers realized last week Manning had been improperly treated. By preventing David House from visiting Manning yesterday, they made sure that he wouldn’t have confirmation of that from Manning directly. But since Jane and David’s comments said they’d be back next week, DOD realized they’d need to ‘fess up themselves.

Cheney/Obama Justice: 3 Detainees + 1 Jailed Whistleblower = 19,000 Rich Tax Cheats

As a July 1, 2009 Wikileak cable released by Norway’s Aftenposten makes clear, the US and Switzerland included the acceptance of three Gitmo detainees and a settlement in a suit accusing UBS of harboring tax cheats–along with an effort to shut down a Swedish company’s business with Iran–in negotiations “resolving all issues between our countries.”

1. (S) Summary: Swiss Minister for Economics and Trade Doris Leuthard called CDA in to advise that the Swiss Federal Councilors had decided in a special session to shut down Swedish firm Colencos commercial activities in Iran. The Minister also reaffirmed the commitment of the Swiss government to accept several detainees from Guantanamo Bay for resettlement in Switzerland. Minister Leuthard made it clear that these two activities were linked to the achievement of a political settlement in the case of Swiss banking giant, UBS. The US court is scheduled to hear arguments in the civil case on July 13 and it is clear that the GOS hopes a settlement can be reached before the hearing date. End Summary.

2. (S) Minister Leuthard began the meeting by describing todays special session of the Federal Council which was focused on what steps the Swiss government could take to advance a political solution of the UBS case. The Council considered action on the Colenco case, long advocated by the USG and a major topic during the February meeting between Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Calmy Rey, was one proactive measure the Swiss government could take in this direction.


4. (S) Leuthard then turned the topic of discussion to Swiss willingness to accept several detainees from Guatanamo for resettlement and encouraged us to provide as much data as possible quickly so that the Swiss could move forward. CDA advised that more bio and medical data had been received today and was being delivered via a separate channel.

5. (S) At this point, Leuthard emphasized that these two actions were “elements showing that Switzerland is committed to resolving all issues between our countries.” To bring home the point, she reiterated that this resolve extended especially to finding a political solution to the UBS case. [my emphasis]

One of the recipients of the cable was Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bruce Swartz.

Mind you, the Swiss minister in question has denied there’s a “direct link.” So maybe not a direct quid pro quo–just Switzerland “indirectly” doing us two big favors in exchange for our DOJ limiting how many of the rich tax cheats we pursue in Switzerland. But the favors may go both ways: among those reportedly involved in the UBS scandal were American politicians.

It’s bad enough that we traded 3 detainees (two were some of the Uighurs not even the US government claims had anything to do with terrorism, so we should have been able to settle them in the US) for a deal that ended up shielding most of the tax cheats first targeted in the UBS probe.

But not long after the negotiations, we sentenced the whistleblower in the case, Bradley Birkenfeld, to 40 months in prison.I’m still wandering through the docket, but there’s a bunch of sealed documents in it starting the month before this Wikileak cable and continuing up to the point where the judge gave Birkenfeld more time in prison than prosecutors requested.

Birkenfeld’s imprisonment is considered one of the most egregious examples of the government prosecuting whistleblowers rather than the criminals they expose. Perhaps there’s more to Birkenfeld’s troubling imprisonment than it first appeared?

Gulet Mohamed’s Interrogation without Counsel: Is this the New Miranda Policy?

Gulet Mohamed, the teen held in Kuwait, allegedly beaten, and interrogated by the FBI while in custody, is finally back in the United States. But before he reunited with his family, he was subjected to one more interrogation without his lawyer.

FBI agents have detained and are interrogating Gulet Mohamed, an American teen who was detained in Kuwait for a month, without counsel at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, DC, Mohamed’s lawyer said Friday morning.


Mohamed’s family and lawyer claim that Mohamed has asked FBI officials for counsel multiple times during previous questioning. US legal and constitutional restrictions generally require that custodial interrogations stop when a subject asks for his lawyer. That rule does not seem to have been followed in this case. Mohamed traveled to Yemen and Somalia, two hotbeds of anti-American extremism, in 2009 (to visit family and learn Arabic, his family says). But he has not been charged with a crime in any country.

Now, Baumann points out that interrogations should stop once an American asks for counsel.

Or at least that’s the way things used to be.

But as Justin Elliot reported yesterday, the Administration has changed its Miranda policy. Only, it hasn’t explained what the change entails.

The Obama administration has issued new guidance on use of the Miranda warning in interrogations of terrorism suspects, potentially chipping away at the rule that bars the government from using information in court if it was gathered before a suspect was informed of his right to remain silent and to an attorney.

But the Department of Justice is refusing to publicly release the guidance, with a spokesman describing it in an interview as an “internal document.” So we don’t know the administration’s exact interpretation of Miranda, even though it may have significantly reshaped the way terrorism interrogations are conducted.


Asked about the administration’s current stance on Miranda, Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd sent along this statement about the new guidance that was sent to “relevant agencies”:

As demonstrated most recently after the attempted terrorist bombings last Christmas and in Times Square last spring, law enforcement has the ability to question suspected terrorists without immediately providing Miranda warnings when the interrogation is reasonably prompted by immediate concern for the safety of the public or the agents. Because of the complexity of the threat posed by terrorist organizations and the nature of their attacks — which can include multiple accomplices and interconnected plots — we have formalized guidance that outlines the appropriate use of the well-established public safety exception to providing Miranda rights. To ensure that law enforcement is aware of the flexibility that the law gives them in these circumstances, the guidance has been distributed to relevant agencies.

So are the repeated interrogations of Mohamed without counsel a sign of what DOJ has permitted?

Mind you, today’s interrogation was probably something much more similar. As the experience of Wikileaks volunteer Jacob Appelbaum, who has been interrogated at the border on three different occasions, shows, our government maintains it can subject anyone crossing into our country to this treatment.

Yet that doesn’t explain the interrogations in Kuwait, coming after Mohamed says he was beaten.

So should we conclude the new Miranda policy allows beating and interrogations with no counsel so long as they take place in other countries?

So, Amazon, Visa, PayPal, Was It Worth Accepting Government Lies?

Mark Hosenball reports that aside from some pockets of short-term damage, the impact of the Wikileaks leak of diplomatic cables has been embarrassing, but not damaging.

Internal U.S. government reviews have determined that a mass leak of diplomatic cables caused only limited damage to U.S. interests abroad, despite the Obama administration’s public statements to the contrary.

A congressional official briefed on the reviews said the administration felt compelled to say publicly that the revelations had seriously damaged American interests in order to bolster legal efforts to shut down the WikiLeaks website and bring charges against the leakers.

“I think they just want to present the toughest front they can muster,” the official said.

But State Department officials have privately told Congress they expect overall damage to U.S. foreign policy to be containable, said the official, one of two congressional aides familiar with the briefings who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.

“We were told (the impact of WikiLeaks revelations) was embarrassing but not damaging,” said the official, who attended a briefing given in late 2010 by State Department officials.


National security officials familiar with the damage assessments being conducted by defense and intelligence agencies told Reuters the reviews so far have shown “pockets” of short-term damage, some of it potentially harmful. Long-term damage to U.S. intelligence and defense operations, however, is unlikely to be serious, they said. [my emphasis]

More important than yet another indication that the Obama Administration has oversold the damage done by Wikileaks is the reason given by Hosenball’s Congressional source as to why they oversold that damage: to bolster legal efforts to shut down Wikileaks’ website.

The Administration lied, says a congressional official, to make it easier to shut down Wikileaks.

Now that’s important for several reasons. First, all this time the government has been pretending that the series of decisions by private corporations to stop doing business with Wikileaks were made by the businesses on their own. Surprise surprise (not!), it seems that the government was affirmatively trying to shut down Wikileaks.

Just as importantly, Hosenball’s story seems to suggest, the government was going to service providers–the same service providers they routinely go to on terrorist investigations–and lying to get them to do the government’s bidding. The government was making claims about the damage of the leak to convince service providers to shut down Wikileaks.

And companies like Amazon, Visa, and PayPal complied.

So, to these companies, now tainted with cooperation in government censorship, was it worth it? Was it worth being branded as a collaborator, knowing you were lied to?

And to Philip Crowley, whom Hosenball quotes talking about “substantial” damage: given your critique of Tunisia’s suppression of social media, and given that we now know you lied in the service of similar repression, do you still want to claim there’s no disjunct between claiming to support free speech while squelching that of Wikileaks?

The US Prevented BabyDoc from Returning in 2006, Why Not Now?

Five years ago, BabyDoc Duvalier applied for a passport for Haiti, threatening to return in a period leading up to elections. As a series of Wikileaks cables make clear, the US pressed hard–with apparent success–to prevent his return to Haiti. One cable shows the US asking France, on January 11, 2006, whether it could prevent Duvalier from leaving that country. Another shows the US raising concerns about Duvalier with Haiti Prime Minister Latortue that same day, and again on January 16. And the US raised the same concerns with the Dominican Republic, first (as far as we can tell from the cables) on January 11 and then again on February 7, 2006.

Over the course of those conversations, the US government tried the following methods to keep Duvalier from returning to Haiti and disrupting the elections:

  • Asking France to help convince Haiti’s interim government to refuse Duvalier the passport (which failed)
  • Asking Latortue to prevent Duvalier from boarding any plane to Haiti
  • Asking Latortue to use informal communication channels to ask Duvalier not to return
  • Getting a commitment from Foreign Minister Herard Abraham, after he had issued the passport, to do anything else he could to prevent Duvalier’s return
  • Getting Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez to prohibit Duvlier from entering his country in transit to Haiti

All of which raises the question why, if the US prevented Duvalier from returning in 2006, they were either unable or chose not to prevent his return this time?

Interestingly, the Guardian provides some background of these efforts in 2006. But they focus entirely on one cable recording discussions with Dominican Republic (the rest of the cables were made available by Aftenposten, the Norwegian paper that somehow got its own set of cables). This has the effect of making it appear that US objections were equally to Duvalier and Aristide (both are mentioned in the cable, though it is clear Duvalier is the worry). Yet the rest of the cables make it clear that the US was panicked about Duvalier’s return.

So is and was the US as concerned this time around about Duvalier’s disruptive influence? Has it simply lost its influence with the various players (who might just be ready for a stronger influence in Haiti, given that country’s problems)? Or did the US give tacit approval for Duvalier’s return, either explicitly or by not making the same efforts this time around as they made in 2006?

Jack Blum’s Client Goes to Wikileaks

A man about to go on trial in Switzerland for breaking that country’s secrecy laws has promised to give details of 2,000 individuals and corporations who are hiding their money in offshore accounts to Wikileaks tomorrow.

The offshore bank account details of 2,000 “high net worth individuals” and corporations – detailing massive potential tax evasion – will be handed over to the WikiLeaks organisation in London tomorrow by the most important and boldest whistleblower in Swiss banking history, Rudolf Elmer, two days before he goes on trial in his native Switzerland.

British and American individuals and companies are among the offshore clients whose details will be contained on CDs presented to WikiLeaks at the Frontline Club in London. Those involved include, Elmer tells the Observer, “approximately 40 politicians”.

Elmer, who after his press conference will return to Switzerland from exile in Mauritius to face trial, is a former chief operating officer in the Cayman Islands and employee of the powerful Julius Baer bank, which accuses him of stealing the information.

That’s interesting enough. But I’m equally interested because of who Elmer’s lawyer is: Jack Blum. Blum explains why Elmer has resorted to leaking this to Wikileaks.

“My understanding is that my client’s attempts to get the banks to act over various complaints he made came to nothing internally,” says Elmer’s lawyer, Jack Blum, one of America’s leading experts in tracking offshore money. “Neither would the Swiss courts act on his complaints. That’s why he went to WikiLeaks.”

Calling Blum, “one of America’s leading experts in tracking offshore money” doesn’t convey the degree to which Blum’s investigations–perhaps most famously of BCCI–exposed the ties of the very powerful to corrupt money. After Blum’s Senate investigation of BCCI got too close to the Democratic fixer Clark Clifford, he was fired; he had to bring his work to NY’s DA and the press to reveal what he had found.

In a book review for HuffPo last year, Blum described how important it is to map the networks that run our world, yet noted that doing so has gotten more difficult since he first started investigating such things.

When I came to Washington 45 years ago to work as an investigator for the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, a senior investigator with years of experience told me that the beginning of any good investigation was a clear understanding of the players. “Everyone you will look at has a history,” he explained. “They will have mentors and sponsors. They will have networks of political and business connections. They will play many roles. If you understand those, everything else will fall into place.”

The advice was sound and has served me well in years of investigations of corporate wrongdoing, organized crime, money laundering, and securities fraud. My career highlights include serving as Special Counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and before that as Assistant Counsel to the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee followed by work as a private lawyer representing victims of financial crime and financial institutions on compliance matters.

Despite the desperate need for such an investigative approach, throughout my career I have been constantly perplexed by the reception to it. A frequent response by newspaper columnists and pundits was to dub me a “conspiracy nut.” Another common response was to call my evidence “anecdotal,” a word uttered with a dismissive sneer.


The approach of looking to the roles, activities, sponsors, and networks of players–be they organized crime figures, politicians, experts, influencers, or some combination thereof–is today, more than ever, imperative. Profound changes in government and society have vastly increased the opportunities for agenda-bearing players wearing multiple hats (and often working in close-knit networks) to significantly influence public policy. Such activity is much less transparent to the public eye than when I first began my career. An amazing variety of corporate entities with strange and complex interrelationships today do much of the work of federal government, virtually substituting for it in some arenas. These entities and their sponsors are harder to identify, more insidious, and much more plentiful than the corporate fronts of yesteryear. [my emphasis]

It says something, I think, that the client of a guy who has gone to such lengths to expose the corrupt money running our world is going to Wikileaks.

American Democracy, Tunisia, and Wikileaks

Update: BBC and al-Jazeera report that Ben Ali has left the country and security forces have arrested family members at the airport.

The simultaneous (and related) unfolding of the uprising in Tunisia and the latest Wikileaks events reveals a great deal about our own country’s support for democracy.

If you aren’t already, I recommend you follow @abuaardvark (aka Mark Lynch) so long as this crisis in Tunisia lasts. Not only is Lynch following the up-to-the-minute events closely on Twitter–such as the news that dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali just sacked his government and will hold elections six months from now. But he also has chronicled the strange silence about this popular uprising in the US, particularly among the NeoCons who used democracy promotion as their excuse to launch an illegal war in Iraq.

Barely a month goes by without a Washington Post editorial bemoaning Egypt’s authoritarian retrenchment and criticizing the Obama administration’s alleged failure to promote Arab democracy. But now Tunisia has erupted as the story of the year for Arab reformers. The spiraling protests and the regime’s heavy-handed, but thus far ineffective, repression have captured the imagination of Arab publics, governments, and political analysts. Despite Tunis’s efforts to censor media coverage, images and video have made it out onto social media and up to Al Jazeera and other satellite TV. The “Tunisia scenario” is now the term of art for activist hopes and government fears of political instability and mass protests from Jordan to Egypt to the Gulf.


Perhaps they’ve had nothing to say simply because there has been little coverage of Tunisia in the Western media, and the United States has few interests or leverage in Tunis, making it a marginal issue for U.S. political debate. Tunisia is not generally on the front burner in American thinking about the Middle East. It’s far away from Israel, Iraq, and the Gulf, and plays little role in the headline strategic issues facing the U.S. in the region. Despite being one of the most repressive and authoritarian regimes in the region, Tunisia has generally been seen as a model of economic development and secularism. Its promotion of women’s rights and crushing of Islamist opposition has taken priority in the West over its near-complete censorship of the media and blanket domination of political society. Indeed, the United States has cared so little about Tunisia’s absolute rejection of democracy and world-class censorship that it chose it for the regional office of MEPI, the Bush administration’s signature democracy promotion initiative.

This is understandable, but hardly satisfying. I can understand the hesitation of U.S. officials to take a strong position on the side of either the protesters or the regime at this point, given the strategic complexities and the implications of taking any rhetorical stance. To my ears, at least, the U.S. message has been muddled, with some officials seeming to take the side of the protesters and warning against too-harsh repression and others seeming to avoid taking a stance. For what it’s worth, I told a State Department official in a public forum yesterday that the absence of major U.S. interests in Tunisia and the real prospect of change there make it a good place for the Obama administration to take a principled stand in favor of public freedoms and against repression.

Click through for his update–a response to a WaPo column regarding such populist uprising as a threat.

With Lynch’s comments in mind, consider two different versions of the role of Wikileaks in this uprising.

Elizabeth Dickinson has a piece that–perhaps too strongly–calls Wikileaks “a trigger and a tool for political outcry” in Tunisia.

Tunisia’s government doesn’t exactly get a flattering portrayal in the leaked State Department cables. The country’s ruling family is described as “The Family” — a mafia-esque elite who have their hands in every cookie jar in the entire economy. “President Ben Ali is aging, his regime is sclerotic and there is no clear successor,” a June 2009 cable reads. And to this kleptocracy there is no recourse; one June 2008 cable claims: “persistent rumors of corruption, coupled with rising inflation and continued unemployment, have helped to fuel frustration with the GOT [government of Tunisia] and have contributed to recent protests in southwestern Tunisia. With those at the top believed to be the worst offenders, and likely to remain in power, there are no checks in the system.”

Of course, Tunisians didn’t need anyone to tell them this. But the details noted in the cables — for example, the fact that the first lady may have made massive profits off a private school — stirred things up. Matters got worse, not better (as surely the government hoped), when WikiLeaks was blocked by the authorities and started seeking out dissidents and activists on social networking sites.

As PayPal and Amazon learned last year, WikiLeaks’ supporters don’t take kindly to being denied access to the Internet. And the hacking network Anonymous launched an operation, OpTunisia, against government sites “as long as the Tunisian government keep acting the way they do,” an Anonymous member told the Financial Times.

Compare that the very weird logic State Department Spokesperson Philip Crowley uses in his speech to a class on media and politics the other day.

No one is a greater advocate for a vibrant independent and responsible press, committed to the promotion of freedom of expression and development of a true global civil society, than the United States. Every day, we express concern about the plight of journalists (or bloggers) around the world who are intimidated, jailed or even killed by governments that are afraid of their people, and afraid of the empowerment that comes with the free flow of information within a civil society.

Most recently, we did so in the context of Tunisia, which has hacked social media accounts while claiming to protect their citizens from the incitement of violence. But in doing so, we feel the government is unduly restricting the ability of its people to peacefully assemble and express their views in order to influence government policies. These are universal principles that we continue to support.  And we practice what we preach. Just look at our own country and cable television. We don’t silence dissidents. We make them television news analysts.

Some in the human rights community in this country, and around the world, are questioning our commitment to freedom of expression, freedom of the press and Internet freedom in the aftermath of WikiLeaks.  I am constrained in what I can say, both because individual cables remain classified, and the leak is under investigation by the Department of Justice. But let me briefly put this in context and then I will open things up for questions.  WikiLeaks is about the unauthorized disclosure of classified information. It is not an exercise in Internet freedom. It is about the legitimate investigation of a crime. It is about the need to continue to protect sensitive information while enabling the free flow of public information. [my emphasis]

He sort of wanders back and forth between a discussion of press freedom and an insistence that persecution of Wikileaks is not a violation of that principle through the rest of his speech, at one point drawing a bizarre analogy between Coke’s secret formula and Google’s search algorithms and the US’ diplomatic secrets, as if our diplomatic secrets are the essence of our identity.

Maybe that was his point.

I find Crowley’s statement in the quoted passage interesting for several reasons. First, there’s the odd non sequitur from Tunisia to Wikileaks, perhaps suggesting some unspoken agreement on Crowley’s part with Dickinson’s assertion that Wikileaks had an affirmative role in fostering this expression of civil society.

But note, too, how Crowley conflates what this speech is supposed to be about–journalism, the Fourth Estate, big-P press, and only the “responsible press” at that–and social media. He says, first, that our country expresses concern about the plight of journalists and bloggers (he doesn’t except journalists from Reuters or al-Jazeera, though he should, considering how many of them we’ve targeted or killed). Those would mostly qualify as “press.” But then he says the State Department has expressed concern about Tunisia, too. And even he admits that Tunisia attempted its suppression of any discussions about the uprising by hacking social media accounts.

Not only does it make the target something different from Crowley’s “responsible press,” but it seems our government has zero ground to stand on in condemning a government’s efforts to use hacking–including DDoS attacks–to prevent its citizens from reading content it finds dangerous (not to mention more old-fashioned efforts at repression, such as shutting down server and funding access).

And from there, conflating “responsible press” and the social media-assisted citizen activism in Tunisia, Crowley then attempts to redefine what Wikileaks is about, distinguishing between the “responsible press” and social media-assisted activism and “the legitimate investigation of a crime” and “the need to continue to protect sensitive information.”

Now, for most of the rest of Crowley’s discussion of Wikileaks, he focuses on the first of the two things he tries to redefine WL as: the investigation of the leak, not admitting the difference between investigating Manning’s alleged leak of the information and investigating Assange’s role in publishing it.

We are a nation of laws, and the laws of our country have been violated. Since we function under the rule of law, it is appropriate and necessary that we investigate and prosecute those who have violated U.S law.  Some have suggested that the ongoing investigation marks a retreat from our commitment to freedom of expression, freedom of the press and Internet freedom.  Nonsense.

That’s safer ground for Crowley. After all, the US’ profoundly undemocratic response to Wikileaks extends not just to investigating and prosecuting Manning and Assange, but also to doing everything in its power to hinder Wikileaks’ publication of the material it already has, including, just like the government of Tunisia, hacking Wikileaks’ website.

Sure, the government has covered its tracks: We can’t prove the US government is the entity that launched DDos attacks on WL. Lieberman has accepted the blame for persuading Amazon to shut down WL’s US-based server. Paypal and various banks have explained they just shut down WL’s use of their respective services out of a seemingly independent desire to interpret their own service agreements in ways that precluded working with WL.

But does anyone doubt that the government was behind all of this?

How odd, Mark Lynch rightly finds it, that our government and pundits have been so silent about the challenge to authoritarianism in Tunisia. But for those, like Crowley, focusing on Tunisia’s technical repression of activists (as opposed to the physical repression of it), that question really could just as well be focused closer to home.

WikiLeaks Media Files: Are They Definitely Fox?

As a number of people are reporting, Julian Assange told John Pilger Wednesday that WikiLeaks has files on some media companies. Thanks to a PDF link made available by The Nation (see 12:05 update), here’s the exact quote from the New Statesman article in question.

If something happens to me or to WikiLeaks, ‘insurance’ files will be released. They speak more of the same truth to power, including the media. There are 504 US embassy cables on one broadcasting organization and there are cables on Murdoch and News Corp.”

I wanted to look at the exact quote, because coverage of this claim has been conflated into “insurance files = 504 cables = Murdoch, News Corp, and Fox.” That is, the assumption is that some of the insurance files pertain to a subset of 504 cables that pertain to a broadcasting organization that given the mention of Murdoch and News Corp, must be Fox.

That’s not necessarily the case: after all, Assange appears to have talked about insurance files, some of which pertain to the media, and then discussed 504 cables on one broadcasting entity, and then mentioned Murdoch and News Corp. It is possible that there are 504 cables on a broadcast outlet — something like ABC, which has a habit of laundering intelligence leaks, or NBC, owned by a defense contractor. These cables might reveal something like the Rent-A-General’s program, first exposed by NYT. And there are files on Murdoch and News Corp. generally (which could include any of his properties worldwide).

Mind you, in its coverage of the issue, the Guardian (which as it points out, has access to all the cables) doesn’t exactly correct such a misimpression, if it is one.

WikiLeaks: Julian Assange claims to have Rupert Murdoch ‘insurance files’

Founder claims WikiLeaks has more than 500 US diplomatic cables on one broadcasting organisation

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, claimed today he was in possession of “insurance” files on Rupert Murdoch and his global media company, News Corporation.

Assange also claimed that WikiLeaks holds more than 500 confidential US diplomatic cables on one broadcasting organisation.

Speaking to journalist John Pilger for an interview to be published tomorrow in the latest edition of the New Statesman, Assange said: “There are 504 US embassy cables on one broadcasting organisation and there are cables on Murdoch and News Corp.”

Assange refers to these specific cables as “insurance files” that will be released “if something happens to me or to WikiLeaks”.

The Guardian has published stories based on more than 700 of the cables and has access to all 250,000.

Which I find all the more interesting, in that it suggests the media involved — including the Guardian, NYT, and Norway’s Aftenposten (which obtained its own complete set of the cables) — all have seen what Assange considers the insurance files relating to Murdoch, if not Fox.

So what would be shocking enough about Fox and or Murdoch to consider it part of an “insurance” file?

Wikileaks Redactions: It’s Not Just the Chinese that Bribe for Oil

Given the past history of how newspapers have redacted (or not) Wikileaks dumps, I was very interested in an article that reveals what the Guardian (or one of its media partners) redacted in a cable on Kazakh corruption. The Guardian summarizes the cable this way:

Top Kazakh energy official reveals the four principal gate-keepers around President Nursultan Nazarbayev, including Timur Kulibayev, the favoured billionaire presidential son-in-law.

But read more closely, it serves to record Ambassador Richard Hoagland’s judgment that KazMunaiGaz First Vice President Maksat Idenov is currently (on January 25, 2010) successfully ensuring that two big hyrdocarbon projects will be developed according to “international standards”–which seems to imply something about the level of bribery involved, but it’s not entirely clear whether that implies less bribery or none at all. The big question, in any case, is whether President Nazarbayev’s son-in-law, Kulibayev, will demand bribes associated with the projects.

But as Israel Shamir reveals in an article for Counterpunch (here’s a Fast Company article with more background on Shamir) there are three details that have been redacted in the Guardian version, all of which make the role of bribery more obvious and point to much closer British, Italian, and US ties to that kind of bribery.

In the first instance, the Guardian version of the cable redacts an explicit reference–attributed to Idenov but not a direct quote from him–to the role of bribery in Kazakhstan and in capitalism more generally. (The bolded text is what is redacted in the Guardian version.)

According to Idenov, in Kazakhstan, market economy means capitalism, which means big money, which means large bribes for the best connected.

But it’s not that analogy which seems to tie the US and Britain more closely to the culture of bribery in Kazakhstan. With two other redactions, the Guardian version of the cable hides the ties between British Gas Country Director for Kazakhstan, Mark Rawlings, and a US citizen recently acquitted of bribery because he had offered the bribes at the behest of the CIA.

When the Ambassador arrived, Idenov was barking into his cell phone, “Mark, Mark, stop the excuses! Mark, listen to me! Mark, shut up right now and do as I say! Bring the letter to my office at 10:00 pm, and we will go together to take it to (Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources, MEMR) Mynbayev at his house.” On ending the call, Idenov explained he was talking to British Gas (BG) Country Director for Kazakhstan Mark Rawlings who had missed the deadline to deliver a letter about arbitration on the Karachaganak super-giant oil-field project (reftel). Still clearly steamed, Idenov alleged, “He’s still playing games with Mercator’s James Giffin,” the notorious AmCit fixer indicted for large-scale bribery on oil deals in the 1990s, whose case drags on in the Southern District Court of New York. “I tell him, ‘Mark, stop being an idiot! Stop tempting fate! Stop communicating with an indicted criminal!’” Idenov asked, “Do you know how much he (Rawlings) makes? $72,000 a month! A month!! Plus benefits! Plus bonuses! Lives in Switzerland but supposedly works in London. Comes here once a month to check in. Nice life, huh?”

As Shamir explains in his article, Giffen was ultimately hailed as a patriot by the judge who dismissed most of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act charges against him in November 2010 (that is, ten months after this cable was written, and around the same time the US signed a new airspace deal with Kazakhstan). Main Justice provides background of how State Department considerations–they didn’t want prosecutors to mention that President Nazarbayev was the recipient of the bribes Giffen was alleged to have arranged–and CIA stonewalling–they refused to provide the details of what Giffen claimed was his role in their “intelligence collecting” operations–led to the dismissal of most of the charges.

Government lawyers stumbled over a combination of problems, including a long-running dispute between prosecutors and intelligence officials who were unwilling to share classified information about Giffen’s dealings with Kazakhstan. A fourth set of prosecutors came into the case earlier this year.

The State Department also balked, according to the lawyers. American diplomats were uneasy with the prospect of offending Giffen’s Kazakh patrons, most notably Nazarbayev, one of the United States’ few reliable friends in Central Asia, where the Chinese and Russians also compete for influence.


The State Department didn’t want prosecutors referring to Nazarbayev as a corrupt leader in their opening statement at trial, though he had been identified in court filings as a recipient of millions of dollars in bribes, said one former prosecutor.

The CIA tied up the discovery process by balking at disclosure of their intelligence gathering methods in Kazakhstan. And the government saw no end in sight. After five pre-trial adjournments, the burden of prosecuting one of the largest FCPA cases in U.S. history had become untenable, six current and former prosecutors said in interviews.

In other words, whoever made the redaction decisions on the Guardian version of the cable chose to hide the fact that British Gas’ representative in Kazakhstan was working closely with Giffen, at a time when Giffen’s criminal bribery case had not yet been dismissed. And it’s worth noting who said what about Giffen: Idenov purportedly told Mark Rawlings, in the Ambassador’s hearing, not to get involved with a man indicted for bribery, and the Ambassador filled in the reference to the ongoing case in SDNY. So the redaction effectively hid both Idenov’s advice–don’t hang out with an indicted briber–and Hoagland’s recognition of the significance of the statement.

Which is similar to the final redaction in the Guardian version of the cable, in which Idenov suggests that both British Gas and Italy’s ENI are corrupt (with the implication they may be prepared to offer bribes to do business in Kazakhstan).

Idenov said he believes he has, so far, the president’s protection. “But the games continue,” he said. Idenov alleged that both BG and Italy’s ENI are corrupt — and Kulibayev is salivating to profit from them — but, so far, Idenov stands in the way. “So long as Nazarbayev says he wants Kashagan and Karachaganak developed according to international standards, that’s what I’ll do.”

The Ambassador describes (but does not quote) Idenov as suggesting that BG and ENI would be willing to offer bribes, and then quotes him saying that so long as Nazarbayev remains supportive, Idenov will develop the projects “according to international standards.” But it is Hoagland who then concludes that means that Idenov “stands in the way.”

Shamir helpfully notes that since this cable was written, Idenov went on to work as Senior VP for ENI.

So without the material redacted in the cable, the chief participants in bribery appear to be China and Russia (with the latter comment an out-of-context note offered by Hoagland).

Idenov alleged that GazProm and China National Petroleum Company “continue to circle like vultures,” hoping that the Kashagan and Karachaganak consortia will implode, and then they can pick up the pieces. “Won’t happen on my watch!” Idenov vowed.


Fugitive former CEO of BTA bank, Mukhtar Ablyazov, accused of embezzling over $1 billion, recently leaked “documentary evidence” to the international media that China’s state companies have bribed Kulibayev over $100 million in recent months for oil deals.

But with the redacted material, it appears that BG and ENI are just as actively participating in the system of bribery as Russia and China–and BG may well have ongoing ties to the CIA, as well.

So that’s what Shamir has revealed with his article.

But what does that say about the redaction process?

He attributes the redactions to choices the Guardian made. But given the collaborative process by which, especially, the NYT and the Guardian worked on this, in which the NYT served as primary liaison with the US government,  it is possible that the NYT got a request from the State Department to eliminate the references to Western companies engaging in bribery, not to mention Giffen’s trial (which would in turn reveal the ties to the CIA). We don’t know who chose to leave out this information, but it serves to protect Americans as much as Brits.

Furthermore, you might be able to make a case that this material should be redacted to protect Idenov. While the first redaction–about the prevalence of bribes–seems particularly silly considering the unredacted allegations about bribery elsewhere, that statement might be interpreted to include Nazarbayev himself. But the other two redactions hide allegations Idenov made about people who are still in play in Kazakhstan, not least his current employer. How will ENI react to learning that Idenov suggested that they were corrupt? Do corporations that hire people in revolving door situations like to pretend the process is not corrupt?

I would guess that the revelation of the redacted material will put Idenov at no more risk than the unredacted allegations already do, which would seem to put him at risk of retaliation from Kulibayev. But the revelations do put the UK and US in a different posture. With the redactions, the cable makes it look as if the UK and US don’t play in this corrupt world. Without them, though, it makes it harder for these countries to pretend–after the publication of the US Ambassador receiving word about BG’s corruption–that they don’t also play the game.

The whole cable may make it harder for the US to engage Kazakhstan (but only in the same way the Giffen trial already would have); but with these allegations unredacted, it makes it harder for the US and UK to pretend their activities in Kazakhstan are untainted.

Update: Corrected the outlet that published the Shamir piece.

Why Did Bradley Manning Allegedly Leak WikiLeaks Two Things before He Verified Assange’s Identity?

To return to the work I was doing yesterday, there’s something odd about the timeline of Bradley Manning’s alleged leaks to WikiLeaks: he appears to give WikiLeaks at least two things–the Rejkjavik 13 cable and the Collateral Murder video–before he verified Julian Assange’s identity.

In the chat logs, Manning explains he first started working with WikiLeaks after they released the 9/11 pager messages.

(12:46:17 PM) Adrian: how long have you helped WikiLeaks?

(12:49:09 PM) bradass87: since they released the 9/11 “pager messages”

(12:49:38 PM) bradass87: i immediately recognized that they were from an NSA database, and i felt comfortable enough to come forward

(12:50:20 PM) bradass87: so… right after thanksgiving timeframe of 2009

That would date it November 24 or 25. Interestingly, the government says Manning’s alleged activities began somewhat earlier, November 19. That may suggest they have reason to believe he may have first accessed materials he was not authorized to access on November 19.

There’s a curious break in the chat logs (where Lamo makes his first efforts to get Manning to talk about operation security, while Manning loses it), after which Manning seems to correct Lamo’s suggestion that he’s a WL volunteer. But that does lead Manning to discuss communicating directly with Assange.

(2:04:29 PM) Manning: im a source, not quite a volunteer

(2:05:38 PM) Manning: i mean, im a high profile source… and i’ve developed a relationship with assange… but i dont know much more than what he tells me, which is very little

(2:05:58 PM) Manning: it took me four months to confirm that the person i was communicating was in fact assange

(2:10:01 PM) Lamo: how’d you do that?

(2:12:45 PM) Manning: I gathered more info when i questioned him whenever he was being tailed in Sweden by State Department officials… i was trying to figure out who was following him… and why… and he was telling me stories of other times he’s been followed… and they matched up with the ones he’s said publicly

(2:14:28 PM) Lamo: did that bear out? the surveillance?

(2:14:46 PM) Manning: based on the description he gave me, I assessed it was the Northern Europe Diplomatic Security Team… trying to figure out how he got the Reykjavik cable…

(2:15:57 PM) Manning: they also caught wind that he had a video… of the Gharani airstrike in afghanistan, which he has, but hasn’t decrypted yet… the production team was actually working on the Baghdad strike though, which was never really encrypted

As I suggested yesterday, that would mean that Manning had not verified Assange’s identity until roughly March 24. That would coincide exactly with the Wikileak Twitter account’s discussion of US and Icelandic surveillance. Of potential note, on March 23, WL said, “We know our possession of the decrypted airstrike video is now being discussed at the highest levels of US command,” which might be information Manning had access to. While not definitive, all of that suggests the public discussion was one way Manning verified “that the person i was communicating was in fact assange.”

But there were at least two things Manning had already allegedly leaked to WikiLeaks: the Collateral Murder video and the Rejkjavik 13 cable. A possible third which I will not deal with here is the intelligence report naming WikiLeaks as a threat to the military, which was released March 18, 2010, but which is not definitely attributable even hypothetically to Manning.

Collateral Murder Timing

WL first reported getting what appear to be the Collateral Murder and Gharani videos on January 8, 2010.

Have encrypted videos of US bomb strikes on civilians we need super computer time

On February 20, it claimed to have cracked the encryption code of what appears to be the Collateral Murder video.

Finally cracked the encryption to US military video in which journalists, among others, are shot. Thanks to all who donated $/CPUs.

For his part, Manning describes just stumbling upon the Collateral Murder video, did some research into what it was, then stewed on it for a month and a half before forwarding to WL.

(03:07:53 PM) Manning: i watched that video cold, for instance

(03:10:32 PM) Manning: at first glance… it was just a bunch of guys getting shot up by a helicopter… no big deal… about two dozen more where that came from right… but something struck me as odd with the van thing… and also the fact it was being stored in a JAG officer’s directory… so i looked into it… eventually tracked down the date, and then the exact GPS co-ord… and i was like… ok, so thats what happened… cool… then i went to the regular internet… and it was still on my mind… so i typed into goog… the date, and the location… and then i see this

(03:11:07 PM) Manning: i kept that in my mind for weeks… probably a month and a half… before i forwarded it to [WikiLeaks]

He dates uploading the video sometime in February.

(02:47:07 PM) Manning: the CM video came from a server in our domain! and not a single person noticed

(02:47:21 PM) Lamo: CM?

(02:48:17 PM) Manning: Apache Weapons Team video of 12 JUL 07 airstrike on Reuters Journos… some sketchy but fairly normal street-folk… and civilians

(02:48:52 PM) Lamo: How long between the leak and the publication?

(02:49:18 PM) Manning: some time in february

(02:49:25 PM) Manning: it was uploaded

(02:50:04 PM) Lamo: uploaded where? how would i transmit something if i had similarly damning data

(02:51:49 PM) Manning: uhm… preferably openssl the file with aes-256… then use sftp at prearranged drop ip addresses

(02:52:08 PM) Manning: keeping the key separate… and uploading via a different means

(02:52:31 PM) Lamo: so i myself would be SOL w/o a way to prearrange

(02:54:33 PM) Manning: not necessarily… the HTTPS submission should suffice legally… though i’d use tor on top of it…

Now, those are seemingly contradictory sets of dates: WL boasts it has Gharani, at least, in January, though the February reference to decrypting it seems to mean Collateral Murder was included in the January announcement. But note that if Manning had first accessed the Collateral Murder video on November 19, a month and a half might put it close to the New Year.

In any case, however, both WL and Manning seem to agree the video was in hand by February, a month before (assuming Manning’s description of the verification process is accurate) Manning verified Assange’s identity.

Rejkjavik 13 Cable Timing

Which brings us to the Rejkjavik 13 cable, which was released first but may have been leaked after the videos, during the period when WL was working on prepping the Collateral Murder video for publication. The Rejkjavik cable obviously had to have been leaked between the time it was written on January 13, 2010 and when it was released on February 18, 2010.* Manning describes the Rejkjavik 13 cable as a test:

(1:48:50 PM) Lamo: give me some bona fides … yanno? any specifics.

(1:49:40 PM) Manning: this one was a test: Classified cable from US Embassy Reykjavik on Icesave dated 13 Jan 2010

(1:50:30 PM) Manning: the result of that one was that the icelandic ambassador to the US was recalled, and fired

(1:51:02 PM) Manning: thats just one cable…

I’m particularly interested in what Manning might mean by test. For a more cautious person, it might have been a test of the security of WL’s submission system. WL had just revamped its submission system as of January 12. And critics of WikiLeaks used this very cable to explain some security problems with the submission and release process.

But it seems likely that, if Manning is the only source for the Collateral Murder video, then he was already using the submission system and presumably was comfortable with its security. Whether or not the January 8 date is accurate, after all, if they were announcing they had decrypted the video on February 20, just days after the Rejkjavik cable was released, then they surely had received it some time earlier.

So it seems clear that Manning wasn’t waiting, generally, to submit material until this test.

But consider the possibility it was a test for both sides?

What’s interesting about the cable is how much it fed directly into WL’s then very active campaign to build support for Iceland’s Modern Media Initiative, making Iceland a kind of free speech haven, and its opposition to IceSave, the “bailout” that Iceland wisely refused via referendum. WL appears not to have announced the release of the cable itself on Twitter. WL did, however, trumpet the release of details of the negotiations between Iceland and the British and Dutch on IceSave. That must explain why, out of all the cables accessible to Manning at that point, he allegedly chose to leak one on Iceland, which would be fairly unspectacular to American readers, but played right into WL’s objectives of the moment. Effectively, what Manning appears to have proven is that he had live access to whatever diplomatic discussions were going on, including the IceSave negotiations WL was following so closely.

Or did he?

If I’m not mistaken, the most recent creation dates for cables released thus far appears to be February 2010 (and there are a good deal of those, dated right up through the end of the month). It’s possible the government reacted immediately to the release of the Rejkjavik cable and restricted access; it’s possible that Manning did a download of the cables shortly after the Rejkjavik one was successfully released and never accessed the cables again. But it’s worth noting that the State Department database appears to end shortly after that first test cable.

Just as interesting, though, is how Manning’s reported verification of Assange’s identity appears to correlate with his leaks. If his estimate that it took him four months to verify Assange’s identity is correct, then it appears he had already leaked at least the Collateral Murder and Gharani videos, the Rejkjavik cable, and possibly the intelligence report.

That is, he didn’t wait to verify Assange’s identity before he leaked material. Though he may have waited before he leaked the big databases: the Afghan and Iraq War logs, and the State Department cables.

The Alleged Software

So did he wait to do something else until he had verified Assange’s identity?

First of all, note that Manning tied having privileged submission ability to a time after two items of big PR interest were hypothetically leaked.

02:56:35 PM) Manning: long term sources do get preference… i can see where the “unfairness” factor comes in

(02:56:53 PM) Lamo: how does that preference work?

(02:57:47 PM) Manning: veracity… the material is easy to verify…

(02:58:27 PM) Manning: because they know a little bit more about the source than a purely anonymous one

(02:59:04 PM) Manning: and confirmation publicly from earlier material, would make them more likely to publish… i guess…

(02:59:16 PM) Manning: im not saying they do… but i can see how that might develop

(03:00:18 PM) Manning: if two of the largest public relations “coups” have come from a single source… for instance

It’s unclear whether he (hypothetically, of course) means the cable and the Collateral Murder video, the cable and the intelligence report, or what. If it was the latter, then it would place this privileged time period sometime in March. If it were the former, that time would be slightly later in April.

Which brings me back to my discussion yesterday: the government’s allegation that Manning introduced software onto his computer some time between November 19, 2009 and April 3, 2010.

SPECIFICATION 4: In that Private First Class Bradley E. Manning, U.S. Army, did, between on or about 19 November 2009 and on or about 3 April 2010, at or near Contingency Operating Station Hammer, Iraq, violate a lawful general regulation, to wit: Paragraph 4-5(a)(3), Army Regulation 25-2, dated 24 October 2007, by wrongfully adding unauthorized software to a Secret Internet Protocol Router network computer.

It’s the date I find so interesting. Whereas the other final dates are, at least in theory, tied to the actual release of a particular item, this one is not (unless it’s tied to the Collateral Murder release just days later).

The relationship between WL and Manning he appears to describe in the chat logs seems to suggest it evolved over time. Given the timing, it appears that several submissions came first. Then came a tailored submission–a cable relating to the IceSave negotiations WL was targeting–and Manning working to verify Assange’s identity. But it appears the bulk of the alleged leaks, the databases, may have come after that.

And note most of that is not currently noted in Manning’s charge sheet. While Manning is charged with passing on 50 cables (possibly during the time period when Lamo was working with authorities), he is only charged with accessing and obtaining information from the 150,000 State cables, not passing them on. And there is absolutely no mention of the Iraq and Afghan War Logs.

*Note: The government lists February 19 as the last possible date when Manning could have leaked the cable, but when the document itself was released it specified,

This document, released by WikiLeaks on February 18th 2010 at 19:00 UTC, describes meetings between embassy chief Sam Watson (CDA) and members of the Icelandic government together with British Ambassador Ian Whiting.

I’m trying to figure out the discrepancy.

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