The Assange Animus and the Spy Trial Ahead
By John Kendall Hawkins
There's a schadenfreude going around when it comes to Julian Assange. I can feel the seethe and bristle crawling up my neck. Some people seem to want him to suffer for what he's done. And, believe you me, he's done plenty.
This came home to me in a most unpleasant way recently when I interviewed Larry "Ratso" Sloman, 60s counterculture chronicler and author of several books extolling that generation's genius, including On the Road with Bob Dylan; Reefer Madness: A History of Marijuana; and, my favorite period explainer, Steal This Dream, an oral biography of the inimitable Abbie Hoffman. During the interview Ratso, when asked about today's counterculture, replied, "What counterculture?" But it was what he said about Julian that picked my sad guitar. I go, "On a related matter, any insights you'd like to share about Assange and/or Ed Snowden?" Ratso goes,
Sure. F*ck Assange and Greenwald too, while we're at it. Two Putin puppets that are complicit in bringing us the biggest subversion of democracy in American history.
I was stunned! Is this Left today? Coming from Ratso! A nickname derived from the loveable but irascible Dustin Hoffman-driven heroin addict in Midnight Cowboy who dies shivering on a bus south going to Florida, old ladies rubbernecking, with that wah-wah harmonica dirge soundtrack, that made me cry. And then, Ratso stuck it in, adding:
Can we trade Snowden for those two?
This shibbered me timbers to the marrow. The apostasy! Assange, the Crucified, who might die for the sins of the New World Order. Who only wanted some radical transparency from the Empire and not a little privacy for himself. Now in isolation. Looking haggard, done, to the delight of the MIC corporates and military mighty mouths. (Remember Hillary's laugh about Gaddafi and one-liner about Assange?: "Can't we just drone him?").
I myself had no animus toward Assange other than what I have against many Aussies -- the prevailing arrogance and presumption -- but had been briefly peeved when he didn't answer my letter to him at Belmarsh Prison that included a thoughtful homage to his work and a Heinrich Heine poem ("Fragen") to buoy his spirits. What am I, a potted plant? I thought. But then I learned that he probably never got the message -- local gendarme yokels probably read it and yucked it up from behind mirrored glasses issued by the Security State -- and I felt validated again.
Animus Right. Aside from Hillary, a crypto right winger who, Wiki-leaked emails showed, had been hauling in a quarter million dollars per pep talk ("Keep Pay for Play Alive!") before assembled, dissembling Wall Street figures, other storms gathered full of sheet lightning and agreed that Assange had to go. Trump's AG William Barr worked on the extradition from the UK. Trump's Secretary of State Mike Pompeo allegedly led a group of CIA-involved operatives in seeing that Assange kidnapped (rendered) and/or assassinated. And Trump, who during his 2016 presidential campaign had said, "I love Wikileaks" (because published emails had dirtied up Hillary's reputation), later came to see him as an enema of the state. It was revealed last year through a Yahoo News article that
"Discussions over kidnapping or killing Assange occurred "at the highest levels" of the Trump administration, said a former senior counterintelligence official. "There seemed to be no boundaries."
No boundaries at all, when you're a target of animus.
In addition, of course, Assange was being accused -- mostly from the left (rolls eyes) -- of being in collusion with the Russians in their "hack" of the DNC and Assange's later reliance on documents placed on Guccifer 2.0, allegedly by the Russians. (Assange himself, a former hacktivist, pointed out how the CIA playbook included methods for leaving false cyber footprints to make it look like the Russians had done it.) Neither Left nor Right, but Libertarian, Glenn Greenwald calls the Russiagate evidence empty to this day, pointing out that the Intelligence Community (IC) "assessment" that followed the so-called DNC hack was led by Obama tongue-henchmen John Brennan (CIA) and James Clapper (NSA), both "liars," by tradecraft, as Greenwald still points out repeatedly, who went on to help shape and control the narrative for a while as paid consultants to the MSM.
Obama could "do stuff, too." Like drone American citizens, for instance.
Lefty Animus. Laura Poitras, co-founder of The Intercept along with Glenn Greenwald, and Academy Award winner for her film Citizenfour (2014), made Risk a couple of years later, a documentary film that, while extolling the courage and righteousness of Assange and Wikileaks for revealing global deep state secrets, also targeted his supposed misogyny. It came out during the 2016 presidential campaign and rattled his personal credibility, while perhaps subliminally aligning his presumed sexism with Trump's splashy indifference to alleged sexual assaults, including the infamous "p*ssy grab" bus tape and the MSM swooning over Stormy Daniels' betrayed honor. Assange was furious at Poitras's portrayal (and betrayal), at a time when the Swedes wanted him back for questioning over possible rape charges, as she unintentionally shivved him with the film. Assange responded with a conspiracy theory:
I could almost relate to his sentiment having been put on edge in graduate English seminar back in the 90s by a then-adventing Critical Feminist Theorist. Laura's critique, no matter how true, didn't help Assange's cause. But Julian's riposte may have hurt him more. Animus, Anima.
But perhaps more animostuous toward Assange was the hit he took from Ed Snowden in his memoirs, Permanent Record, in which he perhaps tellingly only mentions Assange and Wikileaks just a few times. Snowden discusses how his first impulse was to hand his NSA revelations over to Wikileaks, but hesitated, because, he writes,
Due to the governmental backlash and media controversy surrounding the site's redaction of the Manning materials, WikiLeaks decided to change course and publish future leaks as they received them: pristine and unredacted. [p. 187]
This would be a crucial change that affected how the US government viewed Assange as a publisher, calling his "pristine and unredacted" leaks potentially dangerous for agents in the field, which set him up for prosecution under the Espionage Act later. Snowden, if he sensed this, doesn't say, but does add,
I knew that the story the NSA documents told about a global system of mass surveillance deployed in the deepest secrecy was a difficult one to understand --a story so tangled and technical that I was increasingly convinced it could not be presented all at once in a "document dump," but only by the patient and careful work of journalists, undertaken, in the best scenario I could conceive of, with the support of multiple independent press institutions. [p.187]
This last clause from Snowden is telling.
But later he shows sincere gratitude for how Wikileaks (guided by Assange's instructions) helped Snowden escape from Hong Kong and lead to his eventual asylum in Russia. Snowden writes in PR,
People have long ascribed selfish motives to Assange's desire to give me aid, but I believe he was genuinely invested in one thing above all" -- helping me evade capture. That doing so involved tweaking the US government was just a bonus for him, an ancillary benefit, not the goal. It's true that Assange can be self-interested and vain, moody, and even bullying" -- after a sharp disagreement just a month after our first, text-based conversation, I never communicated with him again... -- but he also sincerely conceives of himself as a fighter in a historic battle for the public's right to know, a battle he will do anything to win. It's for this reason that I regard it as too reductive to interpret his assistance as merely an instance of scheming or self-promotion. [emphasis mine, p.228-9]
It's hard to say how much Snowden's decision to seek out journalists from the MSM (and the future Intercept founders Poitras and Greenwald), but his take on Assange's style of journalism didn't help.
More animus, this time from an award-winning source from what passes as left-center journalism in Australia, Andrew Fowler, who I interviewed a while back after he released an updated edition of his 2013 Assange study, The Most Dangerous Man in the World: The Explosive True Story of the Lies, Cover-ups, and Conspiracies He Exposed.. The last book with a similar title was about Daniel Ellsberg, who recounts in his last book, Doomsday Machine, how he feared that Secretary of State under Nixon, Henry Kissinger, was looking to liquidate him. Fowler's is a decent book, with interesting details, but was probably subsumed by the deluge of Snowden revelations that began to 'burst upon the scene,' as the Bard from Duluth would say, as well as the subsequent manhunt and escape later detailed in Nowhere to Hide, a Pultizer-winning book by Greenwald and Citizenfour, an Oscar-winning film by Poitras. But what made it stand out for me was Fowler's seeming over-reliance on the views of the CIA and Pentagon that painted Assange in a light the book's title suggests -- the most dangerous man in the world. Indeed, as a madman.
There are two examples in the book that stand out as under-critically analyzed. In each instance, presumed actions by Assange are referred to by US authorities as "Pearl Harbor' level events. Example one occurs as NASA is set to launch the nuclear-powered Galileo space probe from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in October 1989. Julian Assange was 18 and was part of a hacktivist group that had already hacked the Pentagon, putting it out there that his group was opposed to the global war machine in Washington. Now, Fowler recounts, Assange and his group allegedly hacked the Galileo probe launch and potentially filled the pants of the engineers at the control center with compost heapings you could grow roses out of. Fowler describes the scene:
As hundreds of NASA staff across the United States turned up for work and turned on their computers, all was not well. Instead of the normal screen saver with the NASA logo, a rude sign popped up across their terminals: Your Computer Has Been Wanked.
The frantic staff couldn't get into their computers -- the screen taunting them with "delete, delete, delete." They feared another Challenger accident, this time with nuclear material dispersed. Fowler quotes the head of NASA's cyber security, Ron Tecanti,
'We had a shuttle on the launch pad about to launch that had plutonium energy canisters for its power source. If this blew up like the Challenger did, all of this plutonium was going to kill everybody in Florida,' he pointed out.
NASA regains control and the incident is seen as a hoax. Then come the magic words:
Even so, Tencati says he's not exaggerating when he describes the attack at the time as feeling like 'an electronic Pearl Harbour'. [my emphasis]
Again, there's not much analysis, and what there is doesn't seem to trust Assange's denial of being involved in the declaration of war 'hoax'. Fowler continues,
Although nobody was ever charged with the Wank Worm attack, Assange admits it came from the Melbourne hacker group. But he is coy about the involvement of The International Subversives. No one knows who wrote the program for the worm, he maintains. [my emphasis] On the next page Fowler details how Assange's life was falling apart and how "careless" he was getting with details of members of the Subversives, potentially exposing them to police investigation.
Two Pearl Harbors caused in one lifetime is a lot of harbored angst and anger building from national security operatives like a beautiful turd between the oyster shells.
The second example is after Wikileaks was mysteriously gifted the CIA's full set of hacking tools known as Vault 7, which they proceeded to publish. Fowler speaks with CIA management regarding and writes, "The documents provided an insight into the CIA's operations, according to security analysts, but they did not give away the organisation's key capabilities." Nevertheless, the Agency over-reacted, although Fowler doesn't call them on it. He continues:
Even so, the leak clearly rattled the agency. Sean Roche, the deputy director of digital innovation at the CIA, remembers the reaction from those inside the CIA. He said he got a call from another CIA director who was out of breath: 'It was the equivalent of a digital Pearl Harbor.' [my emphasis]
You find yourself saying, Cut the sh*t -- to the CIA and to Fowler for setting it up for the reader that way. Who's to say that Vault 7 wasn't a gift horse you needed to look in the mouth. As Roche's allusion to the sneak attack in Hawaii suggests that Assange was declaring war by publishing the Vault 7 tools, more critical analysis should have been forthcoming. The NASA and Vault 7 events are at the heart of profiling Assange as a "non-state enemy combatant" making him drone-eligible in America's right wing eyes. Fowler might have explicitly analyzed what he implicitly suggests, given his ostensible Assange supporter status.
But the biggest elephant in the room full of pygmies is the one that has glared at me for the last 25 years: Assange is an Australian. Animus. When I watched Assange tell CBS's 60 Minutes Steve Kroft, back in 2011, that he and the Wikileaks team live up to values modeled after the American Revolution, I got queasy:
This is about where Kroft begins to reveal his gambit -- working Assange into anti-American sentiment. Yanks are on board the Wikileaks train, he says. But Kroft wonders if Assange understands how typical Americans (non-hackers) regard him. Weird, paranoid, cult-like, says Kroft.
Of course, the sad reality is that, outside university-aged activist types, few Americans pay much attention to Assange or really know what he's about. They are available for shaping by an MSM horse-whispered to by the intelligence community.
And that's the irony and where my own animus kicks in the door. Some part of me wonders who does this guy think he is exposing US state secrets, toying with the US military, revealing CIA spy tools, and publishing American emails that deconstruct political personas? He's not an American.
In fact, I begin to get worked up over what seems sometimes an Aussie project to bring down America by revealing her dirty underwear for all to see. There's John Pilger bringing us the astonishing revelation of the heart and soul of American foreign policy -- laid out there by the late ex-CIA operative Duane Clarridge, who all but crowed about the Agency's work in bringing down "What's-His-Name" in Chile on 9/11 1974, and how the CIA, he said, would do that to any country that got in the way of American national security, adding that "If you don't like it world, lump it. We're not putting up with any nonsense."
Throw in Rupert Murdoch and the total disruption of the American MSM with the NY Post, Wall Street Journal and Fox News. And if you really wanted to push it, you could throw in Australia's role in bringing about America's oxycontin epidemic. Most of the poppies used in the pills came from Tasmania, and they were aware of the damage being done. Just think about how discourse in America might be different without the damage these Aussies have caused.
I've resided in Australia for 25 years now. The place is crawling with intelligence operatives. In the Northern Territory is Pine Gap, the command center for coordinates provisioning to drones and jets in the Middle East and Pakistan -- and soon, the way things are looking, for targeting the Chinese not long from now. Assange has never had a major revelation about the Aussie government, although there's surely plenty hidden there. In addition, for all his mighty posturing about being inspired by the principles of the American Revolution, he comes from a "conservative" (Fowler) country that has no Bill of Rights to guarantee liberty.
Animus. Australians, by-and-large don't really seem to give a sh*t about Julian. It wasn't the Liberal Party that got him in trouble with people here, it was Labour, specifically the country's first female prime minister, Julia Gillard, who spoke of Assange's publishing as criminal. Said Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, "The duty of [the Gillard] government was to protect an Australian organisation and citizen and it did just the opposite. It bent over more than any country in the world to publicly satisfy the United States." The Australian government has been noticeably quiet during Assange's entire time on the lam.
More recently, Labour MP Anthony Albanese won the national election and became prime minister. Someone had leaked a year or so ago a comment heard at a meeting somewhere that he favored having Assange released from his legal perils and the matter dropped. The Left felt hope. But Albanese, when he recently met US president Joe Biden, apparently never mentioned Assange and the impending extradition to America to face espionage charges. Today, under minimal pressure, Albanese lashed out and said that he stood by what he said quietly a year ago (Assange should be released), implying that he would tackle the question discreetly, head to head with Biden, not through the press.
Should Assange be released the question remains where would he go? Chances are, if he were to return to Oz, it would be under a kind of gag order. In 2018, the Australian Parliament passed a draconian Espionage Act of its own. Its effect has already played out in real life just as Stella Assange describes below -- mere possession of secret, leaked information, even from whistleblowers can see you jailed. ABC News offices were raided in 2019 by feds looking for information that allegedly implicated Australian soldiers in atrocities committed in Afghanistan; they threatened arrests. So maybe no more Wikileaks.
The animus held toward Assange is likely to be an important factor should he be finally extradited to the US. The Espionage Act of 1917, written at a time when the Bolshevik Revolution was on, and largely intended as resistance to Reds influences, especially the economic threat of collectivism (and communism), is most telling in ts longevity, as it reminds that we are still at war with Russia. The inspiration for the Act was Woodrow Wilson, who delivered a monster 1915 State of the Union speech and implored Congress to pass a law regarding 'spies amongst us and what to do about them'. He said, in part,
There are citizens of the United States, I blush to admit, born under other flags but welcomed under our generous naturalization laws to the full freedom and opportunity of America, who have poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life...Such creatures of passion, disloyalty, and anarchy must be crushed out. They are not many, but they are infinitely malignant, and the hand of our power should close over them at once. They have formed plots to destroy property, they have entered into conspiracies against the neutrality of the Government, they have sought to pry into every confidential transaction of the Government in order to serve interests alien to our own...I need not suggest the terms in which they may be dealt with.
Animus toward 'anarchists.'. Wilson sounds here like a lynch mobster. Then came the Espionage Act of 1917 and the battle between the 1st Amendment versus the disclosure of classified state information seen as in the public interest to have been revealed, began.
If and when Assange is ever extradited from the UK to the US it will be the first time a foreigner has been pulled from overseas, rendered as it were. The Act was meant for Americans, who have been the primary targets of the law over the years. There have been only two foreigners arrested under the Act, David Truong, a South Vietnamese national, and Alfred Zehe, an East German, but both of them were taken stateside. Assange will be the first foreigner forcibly brought to the US, and the first publisher to be arrested under the Act, as many have noted already.
It's bizarre, when you get your head around it, to consider that a guy who comes from a country without a Bill of Rights, but who champions freedom of expression (Wikileaks), could, during the proceedings of his trial without 1st Amendment rights, be a scapegoat for the trashing of America's 1st Amendment, perhaps even the real target of the trial. Real Turd Blossom stuff.
In a GrayZone piece, "Julian Assange's Lawyer in United States Describes What Makes US Prosecution Against Him 'Very Dangerous', Barry Pollock, Assange's lawyer in America, in conversation with investigative journalist Kevin Gosztola, has raised the paradox of this situation:
GOSZTOLA: One of the issues that has become pronounced is we see the U.S. government making this argument that Julian should be denied First Amendment rights while at the same time suggesting they can bring a prosecution under the Espionage Act. But many defense attorneys have defended alleged leakers by claiming the Espionage Act is too broad when it comes to the First Amendment, making First Amendment defenses to try to see how far those might go.
How do you view this dynamic that is part of the U.S. prosecution?
POLLACK: The position that the U.S. is taking is a very dangerous one. The position the U.S. is taking is that they have jurisdiction all over the world and can pursue criminal charges against any journalist anywhere on the planet, whether they're a U.S. citizen or not. But if they're not a U.S. citizen, not only can the U.S. pursue charges against them but that person has no defense under the First Amendment. It remains to be seen whether a U.S. court would accept that position, but that certainly is the position that the government is taking.
In the cases that have been brought under the Espionage Act to date, efforts to build defenses around the First Amendment have been quite unsuccessful. The courts have not [generally allowed or supported defenses] based on the First Amendment. But those are cases where the defendant was a leaker, not a publisher.
This case is unique. The U.S. government has never tried to charge a journalist or a publisher under the Espionage Act. [my emphasis]
But getting back to the question -- who does he think he is? -- Assange is a Woke-up call for Americans. His Wikileaks represents a form of journalism -- reliant on primary documents rather than hearsay -- badly needed in America, as the MSM dissembles, lies outright, hires "ex" intelligence officers as consultants and experts, closes off some important avenues of inquiry by independent journalists by labeling such questioning ''conspiracy theorizing."
Wikileaks has influenced most major independent newspapers and magazines -- each of which offers would-be whistleblowers now a drop box for primary docs. But many MSM outlets, their splash stories having stopped producing ad revenue for their corporate masters, have seemingly turned their backs on Assange and bought into the notion of his "Pearl Harbor" persona. Assange is no terrorist though, and the Press should never have allowed this journalist who has brought so much clarity to the American public about what their government gets up to with their tax dollars without their consent, to be called a "non-state enemy combatant."
Assange's wife, Stella, recently (prior to the UK Home Secretary's decision to affirm Julian's extradition to the US) succinctly and articulately expressed the disappointment at the MSM's dropping of the ball and even betrayal of his cause, while also reminding us that we need to fight for Assange before he is extradited, not when he arrives in America for the political show trial. In an interview with David Miranda -- Glenn Greenwald's marriage partner -- Stella said, in part (slightly edited):
The Trump administration basically took on the Obama war on leaks up a level and wanted to set a precedent by going after the press. And he did that through the prosecution of Julian. And that was, you know, especially instigated by the CIA's wrath over WikiLeaks's publication of Vault 7. So, you know, there's even reports about conversations between the FBI head James Comey and Donald Trump, saying, well, we need to prosecute journalists, we need a head on a pike. And Julian, is that head on a pike.
I think also that there's a bit of complacency in the United States. They see this is as something that's happening in Europe, in the U.K. Julian's in prison. And maybe they think they don't really have to worry about it until he's actually on U.S. soil. But then it's too late. The Biden administration has to drop this now because once he's on U.S. soil, he is accused under the Espionage Act. There is no defense. There is no public interest defense. It is the way the administration has interpreted this very broad and vague piece of legislation. It means that if you receive this information, even if it's from a source -- you haven't taken it -- and you publish it. It's a crime. And he's facing 175 years.
The Miranda interview, minus the 5-minute introduction by Glenn Greenwald, can be seen here.
More recently, independent media groups, the ACLU, individual supporters have begun mobilizing to defend Assange. Here are some ways you can help:
Here is the website for more information: https://assangedefense.org/take-action/
Missing from the suggestions above is the need to pressure Biden to sign an executive order suspending the Espionage Act of 1917 until it is revised or revoked.
There's been a late-breaking development in the Vault 7 submission to Wikileaks worth noting. A piece in the New Yorker reveals that the leaker of Vault 7 secrets may have had a dubious motivation for doing so. "The Surreal Case of a C.I.A. Hacker's Revenge," by Patrick Radden Keefe, who wrote an excellent account of the Sackler family oxycontin debacle, here details a CIA agent's theft and submission of the Vault 7 secrets that made the CIA so angry when they were published by Wikileaks. It's an article definitely worth a read, and, I predict, will become part of the legal fiasco Assange will face should he be extradited to the US. I'd advise caution, however, as Radden appears to be an Intelligence Community (IC) fan boy. Here he asserts the party line that Assange worked with the Russians to hack the DNC in 2016, which Assange openly denied in a PBS NewsHour interview with Judy Woodruff in 2016. But, more telling, was the tone and familiarity Keefe displayed in a podcast series, "Wind of Change," that followed his Sackler story, in which he rather kookily argues that the huge Scorpions hit was actually written by the CIA. His sources were attractive-sounding Agency operatives. It occurred to me that they were playing to his vanity. (I attempted unsuccessfully to contact Keefe for an interview at the time.)
The final question may be: Will animus take down America? Or will it be good old-fashioned hubris?