That speech was met with instant criticism from Republicans and conservative media.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, condemned Omar for trivializing the deadliest terror attack in American history.
“You described an act of terrorism on American soil that killed thousands of innocent lives as ‘some people did something,’” Crenshaw said of Omar in a tweet. “It’s still unbelievable, as is your response here.”
1. I never called you un-American.
2. I did not incite any violence against you.
3. You described an act of terrorism on American soil that killed thousands of innocent lives as “some people did something.”
The right-leaning New York Post published a dramatic front page Thursday with the screaming headline “ Here’s your something.”
Former FBI Investigator and now CNN Legal Analyst James Gagliano called Omar’s tweet a “false equivalence”
“President Bush made this statement days after World Trade Center was reduced to rubble, as he stood atop the smoking pile. I was there,” Gagliano said. “We, in FBI, were working to determine involvement in conspiracy, following evidence.”
Omar and other Democratic freshman lawmakers have said that criticizing her for speaking about her experiences as a Muslim American puts her in danger.
“I’m not going to quote the NY Post’s horrifying, hateful cover,” tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. “She‘s done more for 9/11 families than the GOP who won’t even support healthcare for 1st responders- yet are happy to weaponize her faith.”
Amid the whispers and soft golf-clapping of Masters Tournament patrons, there’s something else that’s keeping them quiet. Sitting amid strangers, golf fans have to watch the game.
If they get bored, there’s nothing to look at but the green hills and the wry smile of Tiger Woods. No one is allowed to bring a cellphone.
Augusta National Golf Club, annual host of the Masters on the first full week of April, is one of the few places in the world that still maintains a cellphone ban.
Former Masters chairman Billy Payne vowed in 2017 to maintain the rule to protect the aura of the professional golf tournament.
“I just don’t think it is appropriate,” Payne said during a press conference. “The noise is an irritation to, not only the players, the dialing, the conversation, it’s a distraction. And that’s the way we have chosen to deal with it.”
If you try to break the rules, the Masters’ leadership doesn’t mess around. Smuggle your phone onto the property, and you could be banned for life.
Current chairman Fred Ridley said Wednesday that the ban sets the Masters apart. “I think our patrons appreciate our cellphone policy,” he said. “It’s part of the ambiance of the Masters. … I don’t believe anyone should expect the policy to change in the near future, if ever.”
Some speculate that the ban may soon disappear since cellphones are now so ubiquitous, and users are typically smart enough to know how to turn off their volume. But the Masters isn’t the only event to guard its low-tech charm. Even some performers have embraced the cellphone ban.
Artists such as Alicia Keys and The Lumineers, and even comedians like Dave Chappelle, have banned phones at their performances. A few years ago, Adele called out a fan mid-concert for filming her. “You can enjoy it in real life,” she said, “rather than through your camera.”
Whether phones are bothering performers or distracting patrons from the purpose of attending an event in real life, rather than watching from a couch, a cellphone ban can help everyone live in the present. At the Masters, it’s a good reminder to stop and smell the azaleas.
President Trump’s choice to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Matthew Albence, in the past talked down conditions for migrants critics say are inhumane.
Albence, as deputy director of ICE, said in a Capitol Hill hearing last summer that the agency’s detention centers were “more like summer camp.”
His appointment comes after a major shake-up at the Department of Homeland Security this week. The department head Kirstjen Nielsen resigned midweek. Her original designated successor, ICE acting Director Ron Vitiello, saw his nomination pulled when Trump said he wanted to go with someone who would be “tougher” on immigration.
Albence, in constrast, represents a more hard-line stance for the Trump administration, ordering in a memo written in 2017 that immigration officers should act against all undocumented immigrants — not just ones that had committed additional crimes.
“I think he is what the administration is looking for,” Claude Arnold, a former special agent at ICE, told BuzzFeed News.
Investigations now shift onto the Obama administration as Attorney General William Barr says there was spying and surveillance on the Trump campaign and President Trump said it was treasonous. This enters us into a new age of politics and hopefully justice and the deep state criminals are now in the cross-hairs.
President Trump has made clear that a quick roll out of next-generation wireless networks, known as 5G, is a priority. On Friday, the Trump administration is set to back that push with real investment. As confirmed by several news outlets, the Federal Communications Commission is set to announce that both new slices of airwaves will be up for auction and that the administration will set up a “Rural Digital Opportunity Fund” that will put $20.4 billion over 10 years toward boosting connectivity.
That’s exactly what the administration should be doing. Investing in wireless infrastructure is key to facilitating the next generation of innovation that is likely to be the basis of future economic growth.
For an idea of how important that investment is, it’s worth considering Uber. Car sharing is not a novel idea (taxis have been around for quite some time), but allowing individual users with access to high-speed internet on their phones to connect and purchase rides is. That was only possible because of advancements in wireless technology. Even faster and better-connected networks are likely to yield similarly disruptive and economically beneficial innovations.
Trump is right to want the U.S. to be a leader in those innovations as the country as well as individual companies and consumers are likely to reap huge benefits. Building out networks to under-served areas and making available more airwaves which will underpin 5G capabilities are important steps and the Trump administration is right to invest in them.
That being said, these investments do little to push back on U.S. concerns about Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. That’s because despite putting money into infrastructure, no U.S. company currently manufactures the equipment needed for 5G networks. This is where Huawei has emerged as a major player and is well positioned to dominate the industry. Although other foreign companies such as Nokia, Ericsson, and Samsung, have also been focused on 5G equipment and benefited from government investments, the U.S. has not prioritized our own domestic development of 5G equipment.
If the Trump administration is serious about winning the race to deploy 5G while keeping the technology firmly in U.S. control, their next focus should be on ensuring that China’s Huawei faces real competition in the equipment market. For now though, Trump should be applauded for his announcement on Friday that will help lay the foundations for 5G capabilities in the U.S.
Outrage by liberals and Democrats over Attorney General William Barr noting that “spying did occur” on the 2016 Trump campaign is a sorry example of moving the goal posts. Last year, the active debate was not over whether spying occurred — which it did by a reasonable use of the word — but whether it was justified. Barr was careful not to weigh in on that debate. Yet Democrats, spurred on by their liberal base and supported by the media, have been out to portray Barr’s statement as some sort of shocking betrayal of his role as the nation’s top law enforcement officer.
“Perpetuating conspiracy theories is beneath the office of the Attorney General,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., fumed in calling for Barr to retract his statement. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Barr’s statement, “strikes another destructive blow to our democratic institutions.”
Yet last year, it wasn’t being disputed that among other things, that the FBI conducted surveillance of Carter Page, a former Trump campaign official, that included wiretapping after obtaining a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant. In a 2018 memo by none other than Schiff, minority Democrats on the intelligence committee argued, “DOJ and FBI would have been remiss in their duty to protect the country had they not sought a FISA warrant and repeated renewals to conduct temporary surveillance of Carter Page, someone the FBI assessed to be an agent of the Russian government.”
At the time, Republicans had been arguing that the FBI launched the investigation into Russian interference on the basis of a dossier that was based on research funded by the DNC and Clinton campaign. Democrats were arguing that “Christopher Steele’s raw intelligence reporting did not inform the FBI’s decision to initiate its counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016.” Instead, they argued that it began with information the FBI received that Russians were wooing a different Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos.
Outside Congress, the debate also focused on whether there was “probable cause” for the FISA warrant, which those pushing back against Trump and Republicans argued that there was.
“Commentators like National Review’s Andrew McCarthy try to discredit the Mueller investigation by sliming the process to spy on a former Trump advisor,” argued an op-ed from the liberal Brennan Center for Justice. “Here’s why they’re wrong.”
So, the issue they were taking with conservative McCarthy was that he was attacking “the process” that was used “to spy on a former Trump advisor” — rather than arguing about whether the spying occurred.
Indeed, the article itself is a case that the FISA warrant was totally justified.
“Now that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) application for an order to surveil former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page has been released in heavily redacted form, the attacks on the FBI’s application have been predictably loud yet incorrect,” the op-ed read. “They miss the critical question related to such an application: Was there probable cause to believe that Page was an agent of a foreign power?”
So, the “critical question” concerned not whether there was surveillance, but whether there was probable cause, to which the Brennan Center argued, “the unredacted portions easily meet this probable cause standard and support the FISA court’s multiple orders.”
The surveillance and wiretapping was thus indisputable, as was the fact that it allowed investigators to go back to when Page did work on the Trump campaign. It also doesn’t even get into the fact that, according to the New York Times, “Agents involved in the Russia investigation asked [Stefan] Halper, an American academic who teaches in Britain, to gather information on Mr. Page and George Papadopoulos, another Trump campaign foreign policy adviser.”
This is all perfectly consistent with what Barr said.
“I think spying did occur. But the question is whether it was predicated — adequately predicated,” Barr testified before Congress. “I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated, but I need to explore that. I think it’s my obligation. Congress is usually very concerned about intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies staying in their proper lane.”
The only part he’s stating unequivocally is that there was spying. He is not making a claim that the FISA warrant was illegally obtained on the basis of a Clinton-funded discredited dossier. He just said it was worthy of looking into to make sure the process was proper.
So then the only real argument is if Barr was wrong to use the word “spying” rather than saying “surveillance did occur” or “wiretapping did occur.”
But, even if people want to litigate this issue, it should be seen as a reasonable use of the word. My colleague Byron York noted several examples of the New York Times describing wiretapping as spying.
After the House voted to reauthorize FISA last year, the Brennan Center issued a press release headlined, “U.S. House Votes to Authorize Warrantless Domestic Spying on Americans.” The bill, it warned, would “endorse warrantless searches of millions of Americans’ online and phone communications.” The release quoted co-director of the Brennan Center, Elizabeth Goitein, as saying, “The House just voted to turn the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act into a tool for domestic spying on Americans.”
This isn’t to say it’s hypocritical, as in this case, the discussion was about allowing warrantless access, whereas in the previous case, the argument was that there was probable cause for a warrant. But again, a debate over whether a warrant is justified on the basis of probable cause is different than whether the underlying government activity can be described as spying. It’s reasonable to argue that yes it can.
After nearly seven years holed up inside the cramped Ecuadorian Embassy in London, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is dreading the prospect of violent attacks on him in an American prison, one of his regular visitors told ABC News’ The Investigation podcast on Thursday.
In an interview for ABC News’ “The Investigation” podcast conducted one day after Assange’s long-anticipated arrest by London police and court appearance on a 2012 bail jumping warrant and U.S. extradition request, one of his most frequent visitors described Assange’s fears of being sent to a US prison and subjected to violence inside.
“He did say he was worried that, if he was in a normal American prison, being beaten up,” war documentary filmmaker and former Taliban hostage Sean Langan, who has spent more than 50 hours with Assange in the past year, told ABC News. Langan’s last visit to Assange at the embassy was on March 22, he said.
“And then I said, ‘Well, the chances are you’re most likely’ — slightly gallows humor, it didn’t make him feel better – ‘you’re most likely going to be put into one of those federal Supermax prisons where you won’t see a soul,” said Langan, an ABC News contributor.
Perhaps most surprising to many who saw his leaks of embarrassing Democratic party emails during the 2016 campaign — which Special Counsel Robert Mueller has alleged were hacked by Russian spies in an effort to hurt rival Hillary Clinton’s chances — Assange was often sharply critical of Trump in casual conversation with a handful of visitors.
Langan says Assange described longtime Trump friend and political adviser Roger Stone and Donald Trump Jr. as intellectually incapable of a conspiracy, much less one that included WikiLeaks or him, and he rejoiced when Special Counsel Robert Mueller recently closed his investigation without indicting him for conspiring with Russian military intelligence to tilt the U.S. election.
“‘Those bunch of clowns’ — that was the exact quote — ‘those bunch of clowns couldn’t conspire and organize this kind of thing’,” Langan recalled Assange telling him. “He certainly did not hold [President Trump] in high regard. He was quite dismissive.”
Langan and Vaughan Smith, an Assange confidant and owner of London’s Frontline Club, began making “social visits” — as the Ecuadorian Embassy called them — with Assange in early November. The pair was among the first people summoned by the controversial publisher of sensitive secrets after Ecuador lifted a ban on his visitors and most of his communications, a loosening of restrictions on Assange that lasted six months in 2018.
Inside, they didn’t find an apartment littered with cat dropping or feces on the wall — as alleged by his Ecuadorian hosts who over time turned against their notorious asylee — but instead the “claustrophobic” quarters of a man in poor health toughing out intense surveillance of the tiny rooms he has occupied since entering the embassy in August, 2012.
That year, fearing he would extradited to the United States, Assange skipped out on his bail during a rape inquiry in Sweden. The rape inquiry was dropped two years ago but reopened today in the wake of Assange’s removal from the embassy in London, Swedish prosecutors said. Assange has denied the rape allegation.
Assange shared his recollections with Langan in five-hour rolling conversations at a table between two speakers meant to deter electronic surveillance by Ecuador or other countries. One speaker blared symphony music and the other David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” Langan told ABC News.
Asked about a controversial November, 2018 report in the Guardian newspaper that Assange had met with Trump 2016 campaign manager Paul Manafort — since convicted on financial crimes related to lobbying in Virginia and in Washington — he was adamant it never happened. “He said, ‘That’s [bull]. Never met him.’ So he strongly denied that,” Langan said.
The Guardian report has not been matched by any other major news organization or corroborated since it was published.
Langan said that Assange seemed to acknowledge that he had communicated with Guccifer2.0, an online persona Mueller has said in a U.S. indictment was really an amalgam of Russian spies who stole the Democratic party emails and coordinated with WikiLeaks to leak them, but said that he believes Assange was unaware of Guccifer 2.0’s true identity.
Langan said that Assange complained to him that other news outlets were communicating with Guccifer2.0 too but the U.S. government was unfairly picking on him.
“I took it to be a non-denial denial,” Langan said.
With his arrest and the prospect of a trial in the U.S. for computer intrusion relating to WikiLeaks document dumps of military and intelligence secrets almost a decade ago, Langan said Assange now realizes “that he could face the rest of his life in isolation.”
The idea of further confinement weighs on Assange, he said.
Julian Assange’s arrest at the Ecuadorean embassy in London was carried out in a specific way, to make sure he could not press a mysterious panic button that he said could bring dire consequences for Ecuador, its foreign minister said.
The WikiLeaks founder was carried out of Ecuadorean embassy in Kensington, London, on Thursday morning by a group of British police officers. It came after Ecuador revoked his political asylum, alleging repeated bad behavior during his almost-seven-year stay.
During this stay, Assange allegedly threatened Jaime Merchan, the country’s ambassador to the UK, with activating some kind of panic button that would bring down the embassy if he were arrested or felt in danger.
The claim was made by Ecuadorean foreign minister Jose Valencia in a speech on Thursday to the country’s National Assembly, according to The Associated Press (AP) and Reuters.
Assange leaving a London police station after his Thursday arrest.Peter Nicholls/Reuters
Assange had said that the button would bring “devastating consequences,” the AP reported, in a summary of Valencia’s remarks.
It is not clear exactly what form the “panic button” took: whether it was a physical device or a metaphor for some other easily-activated insurance measure.
It is also unclear exactly what leverage Assange thought he had over Ecuador. But, according to Valencia, it was serious enough for Ecuador to warn British authorities and carry out the raid in such a way that Assange was not able to get back into his room after learning of his impending arrest.
Ecuador granted Assange asylum in June 2012, when he was trying to evade warrants for his arrest in Sweden and the UK.
He had failed to appear in court to face charges of sexual assault in Sweden, which he denies. He was also wanted in the UK for breaching prior bail conditions.
A police van outside the Ecuadorean embassy in London after Assange’s arrest on Thursday.Peter Nicholls/Reuters
‘We’ve ended the asylum of this spoiled brat’
Ecuador’s president announced the removal of Assange’s asylum in a Thursday video statement, saying: “The patience of Ecuador has reached its limit on the behavior of Mr Assange.”
Hours after Assange’s arrest he said in a separate speech: “We’ve ended the asylum of this spoiled brat,” according to the AP.
Lenín Moreno said that Assange breached the conditions of his stay by installing prohibited electronic equipment in the embassy. Moreno said Assange also mistreated security guards, and accessed the embassy’s security files during his stay.
The Ecuadorean government also told Assange in a memo that he deliberately pointed a studio lamp at a security camera in a room where he received guests, according to government memos released by the WikiLeaks founders’ supporters in February.
Assange greeting supporters at the Ecuadorean embassy in May 2017.Associated Press
Ecuador’s troubles with Assange went beyond security concerns.
Maria Paula Romo, Ecuador’s interior minister, said Thursday that Assange had been “allowed to do things like put feces on the walls of the embassy and other behaviors of that nature,” according to Reuters.
Ecuadorean authorities deemed this behavior, which happened at least once, an act of defiance and disrespect to his hosts, the AP reported. Assange’s lawyer attributed it to “stomach problems,” Reuters reported.
asdfA graphic showing Assange’s living area at the embassy.GraphicNews
In a separate memo, Ambassador Merchan also sent Assange complaints that he was playing the radio loudly while meeting visitors — which “disturbed the work being carried out by the embassy.”
The government said it spent a total of $6.2 million on his upkeep and security between 2012 and 2018.
Ecuador’s expulsion of Assange also comes amid a protracted political dispute within the Latin American country.
His ouster comes after years of international and domestic political wrangling between Moreno and his predecessor, Rafael Correa, who granted Assange asylum in 2012.
Moreno has also accused WikiLeaks of being behind an anonymous website that said Moreno’s brother created offshore companies to fund his family’s luxurious lifestyles in Europe while Moreno was working there for the UN, Reuters reported.
Julian Assange kept a lot of secrets while he was cooped up in a cramped corner room at the Ecuadoran embassy in London. But as his seven-year tenure there ended ignominiously on Thursday, one final mystery captured the attention of the international community.
What will happen to Embassy Cat?
The asylum seeker’s furry friend was Assange’s only consistent companion during some of his lonely years as a self-styled political refugee.
We’ll tell you what’s true. You can form your own view.
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The cat had a significant internet following of its own – though its views hewed suspiciously close to its human’s – and it was apparently a fixture at the embassy, with a penchant for pouncing on Christmas tree ornaments and for defusing tension as the WikiLeaks founder tangled with a bevy of world leaders.
It was named for its famous home, but occasionally went by “James” or “Cat-stro” after the Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s death in 2016.
Embassy Cat’s Twitter and Instagram accounts – with 31,000 and 5,000 followers, respectively – also monopolised the coveted market for cybersecurity-meets-cat puns (the cat was reportedly interested in “counter-purrveillance”).
So when police stormed the Ecuadoran embassy, arrested Mr Assange and took him into custody after a US federal court unsealed an indictment charging him with conspiracy, many worried about the fate of the feline.
Would the cat’s asylum end, too? Or was it just beginning? Would someone adopt it, or would it also face extradition to the United States? Would it fall victim to a vast conspiracy? Did it know too much?
“Is Julian Assange’s cat going to be okay though?” one person asked.
“I do hope that someone looks after his cat, who must be very confused about all this,” another said.
A third simply stated: “Am worried about … his cat.”
While it is unclear exactly what happened to Embassy Cat, multiple sources have indicated that it long ago left its home.
Italy’s la Repubblica newspaper reported in November 2018 that the cat was gone. But, according to the paper, its departure was for its own good, a benevolent gesture by its owner.
The author, who visited Mr Assange for the story, wrote that “Not even the cat is there anymore … Assange has preferred to spare the cat an isolation which has become unbearable and allow it a healthier life.”
Sputnik News, the Russian government-funded Kremlin organisation and diligent reporter of Embassy Cat developments, said it had contacted the Ecuadoran embassy about the cat and a spokesperson confirmed that it has been gone for months.
“It is not here since September, I think,” the official told Sputnik. “It was taken by Mr Assange’s associates a long ago … It is not here. We are not a pet store, so we do not keep pets here.”
James Ball, an early employee of WikiLeaks who defected after three months at the organisation, said on Twitter that the embassy gave the cat to a shelter “ages ago”. He also wrote that he “genuinely offered to adopt it,” though it doesn’t appear that Mr Assange took him up on it.
But the person closest to Mr Assange to comment on Embassy Cat, a member of his legal team, said Mr Assange gave the cat to a family member after the Ecuadoran embassy threatened to take the pet to a shelter.
“Ecuador also threatened to put Assange’s cat in the pound,” said Hanna Jonasson in a tweet. “Incensed at the threat, he asked his lawyers to take his cat to safety. The cat is with Assange’s family. They will be reunited in freedom.”
In 2018, the Ecuadoran embassy gave Mr Assange a set of house rules that instructed him to clean his bathroom and take better care of his cat. The rules warned him that he must look after its “well-being, food and hygiene”, or risk losing it, the BBC reported.
If reports of the cat being mistreated are true, then it’s likely happier in its new home, wherever that is, said John Bradshaw, a scholar and expert on cats, dogs and their relationships with humans.
“It seems quite possible that the cat may not have been particularly attached to Mr Assange anyway,” Mr Bradshaw told The Washington Post. “If it’s already been moved, I would guess that it is missing the Embassy more than it misses him.”
Other media reports have suggested that the cat is less a companion and more of a public relations strategy. Mr Assange has told tabloids that the cat was a gift from his children, but a source who allegedly knows him well told the New Yorker something quite different.
“Julian stared at the cat for about half an hour, trying to figure out how it could be useful, and then came up with this: Yeah, let’s say it’s from my children,” the source said. “Everything is PR – everything.”
As for the new owners, Mr Bradshaw advised them to keep the cat as an indoor-only pet, since it grew up as such in the embassy. If allowed outside after its repatriation, it may try to escape and return to its old home in the London neighbourhood.
“It will probably try to get back to Knightsbridge,” Mr Bradshaw said, “and likely fall foul of the traffic”.
In the end, the man who reportedly smeared feces on the walls of his lodgings, mistreated his kitten, and variously blamed the ills of the world on feminists and bespectacled Jewish writers was pulled from the Ecuadorian embassy looking every inch like a powdered-sugar Saddam Hussein plucked straight from his spider hole. The only camera crew to record this pivotal event belonged to Ruptly, a Berlin-based streaming-online-video service, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of RT, the Russian government’s English-language news channel and the former distributor of Julian Assange’s short-lived chat show.
RT’s tagline is “Question more,” and indeed, one might inquire how it came to pass that the spin-off of a Kremlin propaganda organ and now registered foreign agent in the United States first arrived on the scene. Its camera recorded a team of London’s Metropolitan Police dragging Assange from his Knightsbridge cupboard as he burbled about resistance and toted a worn copy of Gore Vidal’s History of the National Security State.
Vidal had the American national-security establishment in mind when he wrote that polemic, although I doubt even he would have contrived to portray the CIA as being in league with a Latin American socialist named for the founder of the Bolshevik Party. Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno announced Thursday that he had taken the singular decision to expel his country’s long-term foreign guest and revoke his asylum owing to Assange’s “discourteous and aggressive behavior.”
According to Interior Minister María Paula Romo, this evidently exceeded redecorating the embassy with excrement—alas, we still don’t know whether it was Assange’s or someone else’s—refusing to bathe, and welcoming all manner of international riffraff to visit him. It also involved interfering in the “internal political matters in Ecuador,” as Romo told reporters in Quito. Assange and his organization, WikiLeaks, Romo said, have maintained ties to two Russian hackers living in Ecuador who worked with one of the country’s former foreign ministers, Ricardo Patiño, to destabilize the Moreno administration.
We don’t yet know whether Romo’s allegation is true (Patiño denied it) or simply a pretext for booting a nuisance from state property. But Assange’s ties to Russian hackers and Russian intelligence organs are now beyond dispute.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 12 cyberoperatives for Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate for the General Staff (GRU) suggests that Assange was, at best, an unwitting accomplice to the GRU’s campaign to sway the U.S. presidential election in 2016, and allegedly even solicited the stolen Democratic correspondence from Russia’s military intelligence agency, which was masquerading as Guccifer 2.0. Assange repeatedly and viciously trafficked, on Twitter and on Fox News, in the thoroughly debunked claim that the correspondence might have been passed to him by the DNC staffer Seth Rich, who, Assange darkly suggested, was subsequently murdered by the Clintonistas as revenge for the presumed betrayal.
Mike Pompeo, then CIA director and, as an official in Donald Trump’s Cabinet, an indirect beneficiary of Assange’s meddling in American democracy, went so far as to describe WikiLeaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.” For those likening the outfit to legitimate news organizations, I’d submit that this is a shade more severe a description, especially coming from America’s former spymaster, than anything Trump has ever grumbled about TheNew York Times or TheWashington Post.
Russian diplomats had concocted a plot, as recently as late 2017, to exfiltrate Assange from the Ecuadorian embassy, according to The Guardian. “Four separate sources said the Kremlin was willing to offer support for the plan—including the possibility of allowing Assange to travel to Russia and live there. One of them said that an unidentified Russian businessman served as an intermediary in these discussions.” The plan was scuttled only because it was deemed too dangerous.
In 2015, Focus Ecuadorreported that Assange had aroused suspicion among Ecuador’s own intelligence service, SENAIN, which spied on him in the embassy in a years-long operation. “In some instances, [Assange] requested that he be able to choose his own Security Service inside the embassy, even proposing the use of operators of Russian nationality,” the Ecuadorian journal noted, adding that SENAIN looked on such a proposal with something less than unmixed delight.
All of which is to say that Ecuador had ample reasons of its own to show Assange the door and was well within its sovereign rights to do so. He first sought refuge in the embassy after he jumped bail more than seven years ago to evade extradition to Sweden on sexual-assault charges brought by two women. Swedish prosecutors suspended their investigation in 2017 because they’d spent five years trying but failing to gain access to their suspect to question him. (That might now change, and so the lawyers for the claimants have just filed to reopen the cases.) But the British charges remained on the books throughout.
The Times of London leader writer Oliver Kamm has noted that quite apart from being a “victim of a suspension of due process,” Assange is “is a fugitive from it.” Yet to hear many febrile commentators tell it, his extradition was simply a matter of one sinister prime minister cackling down the phone to another, with the CIA nodding approvingly in the background, as an international plot unfurled to silence a courageous speaker of truth to power. Worse than that, Assange and his ever-dwindling claque of apologists spent years in the pre-#MeToo era suggesting, without evidence, that the women who accused him of being a sex pest were actually American agents in disguise, and that Britain was simply doing its duty as a hireling of the American empire in staking out his diplomatic digs with a net.
As it happens, a rather lengthy series of U.K. court cases and Assange appeals, leading all the way up to the Supreme Court, determined Assange’s status in Britain.
The New Statesman’s legal correspondent, David Allen Green, expended quite a lot of energy back in 2012 swatting down every unfounded assertion and conspiracy theory for why Assange could not stand before his accusers in Scandinavia without being instantly rendered to Guantanamo Bay. Ironically, as Green noted, going to Stockholm would make it harder for Assange to be sent on to Washington because “any extradition from Sweden … would require the consent of both Sweden and the United Kingdom” instead of just the latter country. Nevertheless, Assange ran and hid and self-pityingly professed himself a “political prisoner.”
Everything about this Bakunin of bullshit and his self-constructed plight has belonged to the theater of the absurd. I suppose it’s only fair that absurdity dominates the discussion now about a newly unsealed U.S. indictment of Assange. According to Britain’s Home Office, the Metropolitan Police arrested Assange for skipping bail, and then, when he arrived at the police station, he was further arrested “in relation to a provisional extradition request from the United States.”
The operative word here is provisional, because that request has yet to be wrung through the same domestic legal protocols as Sweden’s. Assange will have all the same rights he was accorded when he tried to beat his first extradition rap in 2010. At Assange’s hearing, the judge dismissed his claims of persecution by calling him “a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interests.” Neither can his supporters.
A “dark moment for press freedom,” tweeted the NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden from his security in press-friendly Moscow. “It’s the criminalization of journalism by the Trump Justice Department and the gravest threat to press freedom, by far, under the Trump presidency,” intoned The Intercept’s founding editor Glenn Greenwald who, like Assange, has had that rare historical distinction of having once corresponded with the GRU for an exclusive.
These people make it seem as if Assange is being sought by the Eastern District of Virginia for publishing American state secrets rather than for allegedly conniving to steal them.
The indictment makes intelligible why a grand jury has charged him. Beginning in January 2010, Chelsea Manning began passing to WikiLeaks (and Assange personally) classified documents obtained from U.S. government servers. These included files on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and U.S. State Department cables. But Manning ran into difficulties getting more documents, owing to the limitations of her modest security clearance.
At this point, Assange allegedly morphed from being a recipient and publisher of classified documents into an agent of their illicit retrieval. “On or about March 8, 2010, Assange agreed to assist [Chelsea] Manning in cracking a password stored on United States Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Networks, a United States government network used for classified documents and communications,” according to the indictment.
Assange allegedly attempted to help Manning do this using a username that was not hers in an effort to cover her virtual tracks. In other words, the U.S. accuses him of instructing her to hack the Pentagon, and offering to help. This is not an undertaking any working journalist should attempt without knowing that the immediate consequence will be the loss of his job, his reputation, and his freedom at the hands of the FBI.
I might further direct you to Assange’s own unique brand of journalism, when he could still be said to be practicing it. Releasing U.S. diplomatic communiqués that named foreigners living in conflict zones or authoritarian states and liaising with American officials was always going to require thorough vetting and redaction, lest those foreigners be put in harm’s way. Assange did not care—he wanted their names published, according to Luke Harding and David Leigh in WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy. As they recount the story, when Guardian journalists working with WikiLeaks to disseminate its tranche of U.S. secrets tried to explain to Assange why it was morally reprehensible to publish the names of Afghans working with American troops, Assange replied: “Well, they’re informants. So, if they get killed, they’ve got it coming to them. They deserve it.” (Assange denied the account; the names, in the end, were not published.)
James Ball, a former staffer at WikiLeaks—who argues against Assange’s indictment in these pages—has also remarked on Assange’s curious relationship with a notorious Holocaust denier named Israel Shamir:
Shamir has a years-long friendship with Assange, and was privy to the contents of tens of thousands of US diplomatic cables months before WikiLeaks made public the full cache. Such was Shamir’s controversial nature that Assange introduced him to WikiLeaks staffers under a false name. Known for views held by many to be antisemitic, Shamir aroused the suspicion of several WikiLeaks staffers—myself included—when he asked for access to all cable material concerning ‘the Jews,’ a request which was refused.
Shamir soon turned up in Moscow where, according to the Russian newspaper Kommersant, he was offering to write articles based on these cables for $10,000 a pop. Then he traveled to Minsk, where he reportedly handed over a cache of unredacted cables on Belarus to functionaries for Alexander Lukashenko’s dictatorship, whose dissident-torturing secret police is still conveniently known as the KGB.
Fish and guests might begin to stink after three days, but Assange has reeked from long before he stepped foot in his hideaway cubby across from Harrods. He has put innocent people’s lives in danger; he has defamed and tormented a poor family whose son was murdered; he has seemingly colluded with foreign regimes not simply to out American crimes but to help them carry off their own; and he otherwise made that honorable word transparency in as much of a need of delousing as he is.
Yet none of these vices has landed him in the dock. If he is innocent of hacking U.S. government systems—or can offer a valid public-interest defense for the hacking—then let him have his day in court, first in Britain and then in America. But don’t continue to fall for his phony pleas for sympathy, his megalomania, and his promiscuity with the facts. Julian Assange got what he deserved.
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