This is Part 4 in a series on Julian Assange’s legal case and trial-by-media. In Part 1 I discussed the value of Wikileaks, in Part 2 I discussed the Obama administration’s secret legal action, and in Part 3 I discussed the Swedish sexual assault case.
Mainstream media coverage of Wikileaks has been ridiculous, constantly emphasising the ethics of publishing leaked documents rather than the conspiracies exposed by them. They also push words like “hack”, “hacking”, and “hacker” when in reality Wikileaks publishes material leaked to them by whistleblowers.
This misreporting reached a new depth after the DNC and Podesta emails released in 2016, with the entire establishment accusing Wikileaks of obtaining them from Russian government hackers (though this accusation is not mentioned in the current extradition request). A detailed debunking of “Russiagate” is beyond the scope of this post, but I’ll debunk Assange’s alleged involvement.
The accusation that Wikileaks is a front for Russian intelligence began when whistleblower Edward Snowden was granted asylum by Russia. In reality, Snowden originally stopped in Russia while en route to Ecuador, but then the US cancelled his passport so he had to seek asylum there. Snowden says: “They did it on purpose to be able to say, ‘He’s a Russian spy.’” Then in 2015, British journalist Tom Harper claimed Snowden may have provided the Russians with redacted data. When asked how he knew this, Harper replied:
We picked up on the story a while back, from an extremely well placed source in the Home Office, and then carried on trying to substantiate what was going on through various sources in various agencies throughout Britain. And then finally presented the story to the government, and they effectively confirmed what you read in today’s Sunday Times.
In other words, he had only the word of the British government, and considered different agencies within it to be independent sources.
Likewise, the notion that the DNC emails were hacked by anyone, let alone the Russians, is merely an unverifiable claim made by the American intelligence agencies and former FBI Director Robert Mueller. It’s a lot like their previous unverifiable claim, also delivered by Mueller, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. It’s also a recycling of their classic Cold War shtick that dissidents were Soviet infiltrators. The only reason why the pronouncements of American intelligence are so widely believed is because the mainstream media reports them as unquestionable fact. Why? These are organizations whose job is to lie convincingly.
Mueller recently released his long-awaited final report, and it turns out even Mueller concludes there is insufficient evidence for many aspects of the Russiagate narrative. Although Mueller accuses Russia of hacking the DNC emails and giving them to Wikileaks, he stops short of alleging that Wikileaks knew their source(s) were Russian.
Assange has stated unequivocally: “Our source is not the Russian government.” He’s also said that while it’s possible the DNC has experienced hacks from foreign states, that is being misleadingly conflated with the emails he received through a leak. In this light it’s interesting to note that although Mueller writes with certainty about Russia hacking the DNC and Wikileaks releasing emails, he hedges when he mentions the two together: “During these connections, Unit 26165 officers appear to have stolen thousands of emails and attachments, which were later released by Wikileaks in July 2016.” The probable reason for Mueller’s weasel words is that, astonishingly, the DNC didn’t allow even the FBI to look at their servers, instead showing them only to a company called CrowdStrike.
I do not pretend to understand the technicalities of hacking. But I do know the hacking claim has been disputed by a group called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, including former NSA technical director William Binney. They argue that publicly available metadata shows the DNC emails were downloaded at a speed of 22.7 megabytes per second, impossible to achieve long-distance over the internet but quite normal when transferring files to a thumb drive. Moreover, documents released by Wikileaks show the CIA are capable of planting the fingerprints of Russian malware.
Assange refuses to disclose the true identity of the leaker, but he initially hinted that it was DNC staffer Seth Rich. Five days after the DNC emails were downloaded, Rich was murdered on the street in what was allegedly a “botched robbery”. Wikileaks has offered a reward for information about the murder. Later when Democratic Party strategist Donna Brazile was being interviewed on her book admitting some aspects of how the DNC was rigged in favor of Hillary, she brought up the murder in a way that implied it could have been politically motivated:
Mueller also argues that Wikileaks deliberately timed their release of the Podesta emails to coincide with the Trump pussy-grabbing tape. But in reality, it was Wikileaks who announced their scoop ahead of time, so if anything, it was the Trump tape that was timed to coincide with the Podesta emails.
The lack of evidence for Mueller’s accusations has not stopped the mainstream media reporting as unquestioned fact that Assange collaborated with the Russians. For example the New York Times writes:
In 2016, some of Mr. Assange’s former American sympathizers turned sharply against him after he made WikiLeaks into an enthusiastic instrument of Russia’s intervention in the American presidential election, doling out hacked Democratic emails to maximize their political effect, campaigning against Hillary Clinton on Twitter and promoting a false cover story about the source of the leaks.
The Mueller report’s section on Wikileaks’ alleged association with the Trump campaign is almost entirely redacted and therefore impossible to evaluate, so I assume it is unproven. Mueller never tried to interview Assange.
In the UK the Guardian, though still doing much good reporting on climate change, has revealed its true colors as a gatekeeper shaping the boundaries of socially acceptable left-wing thought.
The Guardian has published a number of baseless stories about Assange. The worst example was entitled “Manafort held secret talks with Assange in Ecuadorian embassy” (then quietly retitled to add “sources say”). Attributed entirely to unnamed sources, it claims that Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort visited Assange in the embassy on several imprecise dates. For a full deconstruction, see this video by independent journalist Gordon Dimmack.
In reality, if Manafort had gone anywhere near the embassy he would appear in surveillance footage (British and Ecuadorian), so why is there no such evidence? Nor does he appear in official embassy logs earlier obtained by the same newspaper, but the Guardian claimed to have acquired another embassy document mentioning “Paul Manaford” and “Russians”. This part of the story seems particularly implausible to me – would Ecuadorians really expend less effort to remember Russians’ names than Americans’ names?
The Guardian has since edited the article to conceal a third author, Fernando Villavicencio, after Wikileaks pointed out Villavicencio had previously been caught forging Ecuadorian government documents. The Guardian has even refused to answer any questions from other reporters about the story. Wikileaks has crowdfunded $60,000 to sue the Guardian, and tweeted:
This is just the most absurd example of a three-year international media campaign desperately trying to link Wikileaks to Trump associates. An associate called Roger Stone was accused of predicting the Podesta emails leak when he tweeted “it will soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel”, but in reality he tweeted that two months earlier about an unrelated Podesta scandal. Stone’s claims were dismissed by Wikileaks even in internal communications that were later leaked. On another occasion, CNN claimed “multiple sources” had confirmed that Donald Trump himself had received early access to Wikileaks emails, when in reality CNN had merely misread the date of a single source. The best “evidence” is that Wikileaks and Donald Trump Jnr twice exchanged private messages on Twitter, but that was only brief communication in which Wikileaks unsuccessfully asked Jnr to leak Trump’s tax returns – it doesn’t seem to indicate a long-term relationship.
Miscellaneous other ideological smears
A less extreme version of the Russian smear is the argument that even if Assange is independent, he is unfairly biased against America, the Democratic Party, and Hillary Clinton. That is a matter of opinion, but it’s worth pointing out Wikileaks has released files about Russian surveillance, tweeted against Russian censorship, and worked with anti-Putin punk band Pussy Riot. They have also released documents on the Syrian government, the Republican Party, and Donald Trump; and many of the Manning files were from the George W. Bush era. And Assange has said he admires the US constitution’s ideal of free speech.
I think the reason Assange focuses his criticism on the American empire is because it pretty much rules the world; the reason he focused his criticism on the Democratic Party is because it was in government; and one reason Assange so vocally opposes Clinton is because a leaked document showed she advocated assassinating him with a drone.
It is true that in 2015 in Wikileaks’ leaked internal messages, someone expressed the opinion that a Republican administration’s wars might face more opposition from politicians and the media. That turned out to be false, but for reasons they could not have predicted: on foreign policy the Democrats now attack Trump from the right rather than from the left.
However, Assange was never a Trump supporter. In 2016, Assange said Clinton or Trump was like “cholera or gonorrhea”, and referred to Trump as “unpredictable”. He later said in response to accusations of bias:
WikiLeaks is a hostage to fortune because we do specialize on encouraging whistleblowers and other sources to step forward, and then analyzing what we get from them. And we specialize on really big scoops. You can’t go: “Oh look, we have this massive scoop about corruption in the DNC. Now we need to balance this with a massive scoop about corruption in the RNC.” …
It’s kind of flattering that there’s a view that WikiLeaks is omnipotent in its ability to get hold of massive scoops whenever it wants… Massive scoops are hard to come by, and they come at their own time, not when you think we need to engage in a bit of balancing operation so people stop falsely saying that we’re Republican-aligned.
Leaks about Trump have been published in the mainstream media. Perhaps Republican leakers have felt no need to go to Wikileaks to get the information out there, whereas Democrat leakers have gone to Wikileaks because they feared the mainstream media would bury the story.
Along with the Russia narrative have been various attempts to paint Assange as right-wing (with one article even accusing him of “anarcho-fascism”, a contradiction in terms). In reality, Assange describes himself as “not a groupist”, and I think it’s fair to say most of his beliefs align more with the left than with the right. In the 2013 Australian federal election Assange ran a Wikileaks Party (now defunct), and at the time I summarized their politics as follows:
Aims to provide independent scrutiny of government; support internet freedom; require security and police agencies to have a warrant for digital surveillance and report on such activity; protect whistleblowers and journalists with national shield laws; expose influence of foreign powers; increase diversity of media ownership by promoting non-profit media, establishing a content innovation fund, and opposing any attempts to privatize the ABC and SBS; oppose Australia’s alliance with the US; and demand the government reverse the “PNG solution”, reverse excisions of Australian territory, process asylum seekers in Australia, cap immigration detention at 45 days, allow full media access to detention centres, and be accountable in assessment of asylum claims. Their climate policy acknowledges the need for a significant proportion of Australian coal reserves to remain unburned and proposes to: combat secrecy in the relationship between government and the fossil fuel industry, review the Climate Change Authority Caps and Targets Review to ensure it is evidence-based, ensure ETS legislation addresses criticisms of the EU scheme, reduce fossil fuel subsidies, support renewable energy and R&D, and ensure the transition from coal does not hurt communities.
However, these policy positions were overshadowed in the media by controversial preference lists that Wikileaks submitted to the Australian Electoral Commission, which contained some far-right parties. These preference lists were decided by Glenn Druery’s Minor Parties Alliance, something in which almost all Australian minor parties participate so that each has a chance of getting elected; it is not ideological except perhaps on Druery’s part. Moreover, preference tickets are entirely voluntary, so voters were quite free to vote 1 Wikileaks and then order the rest of their preferences as they wished.
Assange is sometimes accused of anti-Semitism, based on a handful of alleged remarks with unclear context. In recent years it has become clear that “anti-Semite” is a standard smear against anyone who criticizes Israel or its role in the foreign policy of other countries – the same tactic has been deployed against Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Tulsi Gabbard in the US. But there are also Jews who do not support the Israeli government and the system of thought control being pushed in their names. Indeed there are Jews who support Wikileaks, as Wikileaks says: “We treasure our strong Jewish support and staff, just as we treasure the support from pan-Arab democracy activists and others who share our hope for a just world.”
Another constant smear, predictably considering the sexual allegations, is that Assange is a “misogynist”. This is based mainly on Assange’s occasional criticisms of feminism, usually in relation to how he has been treated in his sexual assault case. For example, in a 2017 documentary deliberately recut to portray Assange as misogynistic, he referred to the Swedish government’s actions as “a thoroughly tawdry radical feminist political positioning thing”. Considering the facts I covered in Part 3, this seems a reasonable opinion. The same documentary also downplayed the role of Wikileaks’ female members, and portrayed Assange as giving dismissive responses to Lady Gaga – but that was probably because Gaga asked about his favorite food.
But let’s suppose for the sake of argument that Assange and Wikileaks do hold some of the biases they are accused of. It’s not clear that this sets them apart from mainstream journalism. Isn’t there also plenty of bias in mainstream media? There’s certainly an anti-Assange bias. And is it even possible for a human being to be totally unbiased?
In conclusion, Russiagate is nonsense and the media have unfairly maligned Assange.
In Part 5, I will examine Ecuador’s pretexts for expelling Assange from the embassy.